Interview: Chris McKibbin on Gods & Heroes: Rome Rising
Not Just Any Minions
Chris McKibbin on Gods and Heroes: Rome Risingby Shayalyn
Who wouldn't want a minion? I mean, you have to admit life would be pretty sweet with someone to wash your socks, make ham and cheese omlettes for breakfast, manage your finances, and defend you to the death when your enemies come to destroy you. The minions in Gods and Heroes: Rome Rising have got your back. Well, okay, maybe they can't cook...but they'll certainly kick enemy butt when you need them to.
And yet, despite how cool minions are, Gods and Heroes--in development by Perpetual Entertainment and published by Sony Online Entertainment--remains a bit of a sleeper when it comes to upcoming MMOs. Although the game should release this year, GnH just doesn't seem to be generating a huge buzz. Yet. Maybe the minions are guilty, despite how cool they are. Minions seem to bring to mind visions of Guild Wars henchmen, giving Gods and Heroes a been-there-done-that vibe for some gamers. But don't write it off. This is actually an intriguing game with what looks to be fun game play, graphics that won't tax slightly older rigs, and a fresh angle where MMOs are concerned--Roman mythology.
The Ten Ton Hammer team--consisting of John "Boomjack" Hoskin, Jeff "Ethec" Woleslagle, Phil "Ralphedelominius" Comeau and myself--interviewed Chris McKibbin, president of Perpetual Entertainment. Chris gave us a brief demo of the game, but much of our talk focused on Perpetual's vision for Gods and Heroes as the game heads to launch.
The first thing one notices about Gods and Heroes is its clean interface, lush scenery, and attractive character models. This is a great looking game. McKibbin took us to Gaul, which he referred to as “the frozen wastes.” We set out in this level 40 area (the game’s level cap will be 50 at launch) with a Nomad. McKibbin demonstrated the myth minion interface panels, showing us how players could change assault formations for their minions, and adjust things like the priest minion’s healing threshold (“You can tell your priest, ‘I want you to heal me when I get to 60%.’”)
"So, you can micro-manage the minions as much as you want," Ten Ton Hammer's Phil Comeau commented.
"You can kind of micro-manager as much as you want, but we didn't want to make it a micro-managing game," said McKibbin. "One of the things that Stieg [Hedlund, design director for Gods and Heroes] is really focused on is that he doesn't want the addition of minions to create a single-class game." Perpetual has taken a proactive approach to prevent every player from specing a build that would become the game's ultimate class at the expense of all the other classes the design team has worked so hard to create and balance.
"Minions are designed to be an extension of the way the classes play the game," McKibbin said. He explained that the key to keeping things interesting was to make every class's game play experience unique. Perpetual didn't work hard to build a balanced Nomad class only to have players decide that the only class worth playing for elder game success is, say, a Priest. "The minion system further defines and builds up the classes instead of making them all the same. We've spent a lot of time making sure that everyone doesn't basically end up a minion master."
Perpetual also believes the path to success is building variety into the gaming experience depending on how players choose to play the game, and with whom. "I think people are going to realize it's a really cool thing [that you can be] in a squad [of players] and have different experiences and be in a squad of minions and have different experiences."
John Hoskin asked whether the existence of minions in Gods and Heroes might take away from a player's investment in their character. "That's a really good question," McKibbin said. "There's a couple of answers. We've thought of that a lot in designing the game, and we've always wanted you to be aligned with and associated with the hero character."
McKibbin explained how myth minions are an earned thing, not a gimme, which increases a player's attachment to the character doing the questing and fighting to collect them. "Minions have abilities that are additive to your abilities as a player." He explained that players start the game alone and quest to receive their first minions at level 3. (This used to happen later in the game around level 6 or 7, but Perpetual recently opted to give players the chance to earn them sooner.) A player's minion squad levels up with the player, and as the player grows and advances in his skills and abilities he also earns the ability to command more minions "And there are unique minions in the world," McKibbin adds, "kind of like Pokemon, and as you level them they unlock new feats. But all of it is done through the mechanism…the fiction that you're a hero character and you're commanding your squad."
"Some of the public is looking at this and thinking, 'Hmm, [these are like] Guild Wars henchmen,'" John Hoskin commented, "and it's really not like that at all. Minions are an extension of the character."
"Right," said McKibbin. "Also, one of the things that you can't do in Gods and Heroes is that you can't just jump in and be any character [on your squad]. Like in Dungeon Siege, you can basically be any character in your troop. But when you do that, you automatically cause players to disconnect from the idea that they are the hero character. In Gods and Heroes you can only be your character."
Hoskin had more questions: "How will the game reach out to the casual player who came from WoW, so that they understand you can jump right into the game without worrying about [the min-max specing]?"
"We're about to unveil a completely redesigned newbie experience--not that we didn't like our previous newbie experience; we did--but part of what we wanted to do with the redesigned newbie experience was to make the game immediately accessible and really deliver on the themes of what makes Gods and Heroes different," answered McKibbin. "So what we're really pushing for with this newbie experience is instant access and instant connection to the idea that every player is a hero of mythology." He explained that the current beta build of Gods and Heroes doesn't feature a tutorial. "We have a tutorial; we may not turn it on," he said. "Even a tutorial is a little bit of a barrier to getting right into the game. So if we can get away with making the game self-explanatory without having the tutorial, then that would be great."
Jeff Woleslagle asked whether Gods and Heroes would offer a templating system to help players build their characters from creation on. "We have something internally and we've been thinking of whether we might release that to the public, maybe on the web," McKibbin said. "If we don't do it, someone else will. But we actually [created a templating system] just so we could get our hands around how many alternatives there are. The minute that you have 6 classes with 2 god selections each and different viable passes through the feat trees and 100 to 150 minions with feats you get a lot of variables."
McKibbin also explained that while Gods and Heroes could potentially be the min-maxer's dream, the game is really built with casual gamers in mind. "There are two types of MMO players," he said. "The majority of the players take time to enjoy the quests and extend their social group and their goal is not to race to the level cap as fast as possible and reach the elder game. The second type of player is the guy who is the big guild elder game player. We designed Gods and Heroes for the player who wants to quest and adventure and enjoy the story. A really powerful benefit of minions that we don't talk about very often is that through minions we allow people to build relatively balanced classes so that two or three people can be in a casual group, or you can even solo and have a full MMO experience."
With its feature-rich system, highly customizable minions, and commitment to casual gaming (although not at the expense of min-maxers and hardcore gamers), Gods and Heroes has a lot to offer. Despite what some gamers may think, this game is a far cry from Guild Wars with a mythology angle. If you're in the market for a new MMO later this year, do yourself a favor and give Gods and Heroes: Rome Rising a look. If you’d like some excellent information on the game, check out the resources below:
Check out Ten Ton Hammer's E3 2007 Coverage