Exclusive Gatheryn GDC '09 Interview - Creating an "Advanced Casual" MMO
Ten Ton Hammer: What about player housing? The Sims is obviously a big game in the more “casual” marketplace.
Isa: There’s definitely a lot in the game that will keep players come back over and over again. We’ll have player housing, and the way it will work is that free-to-play and micro-transaction players will be able to save up silver so they can afford an apartment or house, and subscription players will actually be granted ownership of an apartment as part of their “citizenship.”
Whenever a developer for a multi-million dollar smash hit like
style="font-style: italic;">The Force Unleashed
packs up her things and moves to a different development company,
people perk up and take notice. That’s exactly what happened
when former-LucasArts employee Isa Stamos joined up with MindFuse as
the studio director to help create the upcoming “advanced
casual” MMO href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/taxonomy/term/1722"
While at GDC, the Ten Ton Hammer staff was able to chat with Isa about
the finer points of Gatheryn
and how this game may be a gateway for players not exactly familiar
with the MMO experience. Read on!
Ten Ton Hammer: For those
gamers that aren't incredibly familiar with style="font-style: italic;">Gatheryn, what is
the game all about?
is an immersive 3D experience like most MMOs, the meat and potatoes of
Gatheryn is casual gaming. If you look at the top casual games on the
market, we’ve been able to get gameplay into Gatheryn for the
more popular titles and launch them inside our game. What players do in
Gatheryn is play these casual games that have RPG elements tying
The experience is definitely unique. It will hit players that are more
used to casual games, but have an interest in MMOs. I think it will
draw those players in and serve as a gateway to a more immersive gaming
Ten Ton Hammer: How are
new players entering the world?
context for players that are entering the world of style="font-style: italic;">Gatheryn is that
they are “outworlders.” Elymia is a chain of
islands in the middle of the ocean and is experiencing a very
prosperous era. This land has technology that doesn’t exist
anywhere else in the world. Outworlders are very motivated to
come to Elymia to seek their fortunes, because elsewhere
doesn’t have that level of tech.
So that’s why players find themselves in Elymia in the game
Ten Ton Hammer: I've
heard that character creation in Gatheryn
is unique. What can you tell us about it?
character creation system we have in style="font-style: italic;">Gatheryn is pretty
advanced. I would guess that it’s something that casual
gamers haven’t seen before. Even folks who are playing 3D
MMOs haven’t played around with something like this either.
We’ve added a lot of details that players can change. Details
on their faces and bodies are adjustable and there are a lot of
clothing options available right at the start. The style is very
Victorian / steampunk, so the clothing fashion definitely plays a role
in the gameplay.
Ton Hammer: A quick
question on character creation and customizability. Are casual gamers
going to be really motivated to make these really stylized characters?
That’s not something I’d associate with casual
gamers, normally. But you think so?
Isa: Yes I
do. Our character creation is very simple and very focused on the look
of the avatar. We’re not asking people to make a lot of
decisions about who they want their character to be right away. We want
them to have a chance to play the game first.
You’re not selecting a class. You’re not selecting
a profession. You’re not making decisions on your alignment.
You’re really just deciding what you want to look like.
Ten Ton Hammer: What kind
of tutorial do you have in place for new players?
Isa: Once a
player creates their character, they’re then sent to the main
island of Elymia where the player goes through the main tutorial of the
The tutorial actually takes place on top of an airship.
They’re large, slow vehicles with a deck, and there are a
bunch of different activities players can do that will teach them basic
controls and chat to get around in the world.
After arriving at the main island, the players are immediately greeted
by a clockwork robot named Bella Donna that has their first quest.
Ten Ton Hammer: Like the
the cool thing about our world is that we can have robotic characters
in both human form and animal form. It really allows us to draw a thin
line between science fiction, fantasy, and historical fiction.
So then the player is off and running on their first quest, which is to
find shops where they can purchase more clothing, hats, accessories,
and footwear. We even have mechanical arms and legs for players.
Gamers can also accept quests to meet various NPCs to get a sense of
the world through the NPCs flavor text, which also may include
“mystery” quests for players to unravel. Players
can also find quests that help them learn about the various casual
games they can do.
Ton Hammer: Can you
tell us more about the casual games?
casual games are really a lot like jobs and professions.
Ten Ton Hammer: The jobs
and professions from other MMOs?
Isa: Yeah, a
little bit. There will be skills that you actually build while
you’re playing mini-games and micro-games.
An example of a mini-game is going to a chemistry lab and making
potions. Basically, you walk into a chemistry lab and see a station
with a bunch of different beakers on it. When you click on one of those
stations, it actually launches a mini-game.
While you’re playing that game, you can still see your
character and your character is animated and actively making potions.
She’s reacting to the successes and failures in the mini-game
itself. So as you’re making potions, you can be increasing
your alchemy skill at the same time while still giving you an immediate
reward and keeping you connected with the rest of the world. The
potions you create might also be required to help you complete a quest
and things like that.
Ten Ton Hammer: At
launch, how many mini-games are you going to have?
launch, we’re going to have fifteen in the game. In
addition to the mini-games, we’ll also have what we call
As you’re exploring the world, whether you’re in
the city or in the countryside, you can interact with the world. This
is something that, I think, players will have fun with. It’s
very simply stuff, like picking items up off the ground.
For instance, you can go to the beach and pick up seashells. You can go
to the apple orchard and pick up apples, or maybe you stumble across
some scrap metal or equipment that you can piece together or sell. You
can also take these items and use them as raw materials to craft other
There are other activities out there, like what we
call…*laughs*…tree-shaking. Basically, you can
walk up to a tree, hit or kick it, and loot will fall out of the tree.
Ton Hammer: *laughs*
Isa: It ties
into the lore of the world in that airships are flying over all the
time and people are accidentally dropping things! So of course you
might find a fancy new pair of boots in a tree! It’s
definitely a lot of fun, and it has some whimsical qualities to it and
awards players for exploration.
We have a lot of machines and contraptions that exist throughout the
city and the island. By interacting with these machines,
you’re launching a casual game to try to repair these
machines. Fishing, mining, farming, lots of things that are manifested
throughout the world as micro- and mini-games. Players will
definitely be inspired to explore the island and check things out.
Ten Ton Hammer: What
about player housing? The
Sims is obviously a big game in the more
There’s definitely a lot in the game that will keep players
come back over and over again. We’ll have player housing, and
the way it will work is that free-to-play and micro-transaction players
will be able to save up silver so they can afford an apartment or
house, and subscription players will actually be granted ownership of
an apartment as part of their “citizenship.”
You can decorate your home with furnishings that you can craft or
purchase, and you’ll also be able to assign roommates and
have other people live with you or visit you. You basically have the
ability to assign permissions to other players.
You can also choose to designate areas of your home that are public
areas. Some people may want to open up a player shop that way, while
others may want to just show off the things that they’ve
purchased and other things that they’re working on. Or you
could purchase and set up the various mini-game stations in your home.
Basically, you could just set up your own workshop.
Ten Ton Hammer: Will
housing be instanced?
Isa: It will
be instanced space, yes. But once you're in your city district, there
will be very easy ways to teleport yourself back to your house.
Ton Hammer: What
about other things casual players love, like pets?
will be in the game, although they'll be starting off rather simply. At
first, they'll probably just follow the player around, but they will
need to be cared for and played with. There will definitely be lots of
items that you can buy for your pets.
The one thing that's unique about our pet system is that our pets will
range from normal animals to robotic pets like monkeys and chickens
and...we even have a ferret.
Pets are definitely a huge outlet for mini-games, and there lots of
things you can do with your pet.
Ten Ton Hammer: It's
always been MindFuse's goal to release style="font-style: italic;">Gatheryn in
segmented pieces and not release a giant game. Are you getting close to
Isa: We are
getting close to beta, especially since we're planning to release the
game in 2009. The island idea really works well for this type of
release system too. Just to give you a sneak peek, the main island of
Elymia is already built and done. We're just working on some additional
content before we open it up to gamers.
The others islands are pretty well planned out, but eventually we'd
like to expand out even further and reaching the outworld. And by
outworld, I mean other lands that exist outside of Elymia but still are
a part of Gatheryn.
These lands could have different looks; it might be goth or western or
anything else that could parallel the steampunk genre.
Ton Hammer: Gatheryn
touted as a very social game. Are you developing any sort of mechanic
to promote socialization in your game? Or is it a "you build it and
they will come" sort of idea?
definitely going to have all the standard features of a standard MMO:
chat, in-game mail, etc. But I really think that is the standard stuff.
For us, we're really hoping to make activities that are fun for players
to get together and do as a group.
Dances, talent shows, fashion shows, all of these things are things
that we're working on putting into the game. We also want to have
hosted events from MindFuse where players can all gather together for
an event for a pre-scheduled meet-up....a party basically.
Ten Ton Hammer: Are there
ways to reward players that participate in these events without having
a billion GMs?
and we actually want to have a system of achievements to point out the
players that have earned particular social achievements in a given
month. Of course, the achievements wouldn't be limited to simply social
stuff, but giving out prizes to those players that have attended the
most public events is definitely something we're looking at.
Ten Ton Hammer: What
about guilds? Are they going to be a part of the game? Will they have
things to do in Gatheryn?
will be able to form their own guilds, but they will probably focus
around gamers that either enjoy a certain activity like dances or
playing cards, or a certain goal like raising money. We may also see
guilds form around particular mini-games. In that sense, they may be
more like social groups, rather than the normal version of guilds.
Ten Ton Hammer: Finally,
is there anything that players can do to become a part of the style="font-style: italic;">Gatheryn community
at this point in development?
Absolutely! We actually have a community manager who is working on
setting up our beta program, and I think the community is going to
start there. Forums are also on there way, and a fansite kit is coming
together for anyone that wants to put together a fansite. We welcome a
lot of interaction with the different communities; we want to hear from
everyone and talk to them!
Ten Ton Hammer: Great!
Thanks for your time, and we hope to talk to you
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