Mark Jacobs is a busy man and with Camelot Unchained having entered Alpha, we were fortunate to pull him away from plate spinning for a few moments to talk about Camelot Unchained. We also thought that it'd be a good opportunity to see if any of the Camelot Unchained community had any questions they'd like answering and thanks to them, we were armed with plenty. Understandbly Mark couldn't answer all of them in great detail due to some of the games systems not having been finalized, but as always he was both open and honest. Here's how we got on.
Ten Ton Hammer: To kick us off, I’m a backer of Camelot Unchained and Dark Age of Camelot remains one of, if not my favourite MMORPG of all time. What’s it like for you to be back steering a game that’s considered fairly small budget but one so heavily influenced by a game so many of your backers loved?
Mark: First, thanks so much for your support of both Dark Age of Camelot and Camelot Unchained; it was/is appreciated! As to what it is like to be steering a game like this, well, there’s a lot of pressure. I know we are not making Dark Age of Camelot 2, but also that a lot of our Backers would be happy if we were to deliver it. I also have the additional pressure of knowing that, no matter what, they want us to give them a game that makes them feel as immersed in its world as Dark Age of Camelot did back in 2001.
Ten Ton Hammer: What are some of the key things you’ve learned from DAoC and WAR, that you can apply to Camelot Unchained for the benefit of all the players?
Mark: A number of things - surround yourself only with great people; iterate, iterate, iterate; question everything; don’t be afraid to scrap a system and start again; and most importantly, don’t be afraid to take chances.
Ten Ton Hammer: Its been repeatedly said that Camelot Unchained isn’t for casuals and games that attempt to cater to a more hardcore audience (for want of a better word) often faring poorly in reviews, or only attracting small player bases. Are you prepared for this? Do you care?
Mark: First, I think the terms hardcore, casual, etc. quite frankly suck, and are sometimes misused by developers. In our case, we have tried to separate how long people spend playing a game from their choice of play style. Camelot Unchained is being designed so that people who want to play an RvR-focused game but who don’t have as much time to do so as they did in the past can still compete with players who are willing and able to put in more hours.
This is evidenced by many choices we have made, especially the ones in terms of horizontal progression and the lack of a cash shop. As your readers know, a horizontal progression game is “friendlier” to a wide-range of varied time commitments since a player who has put in 100+ hours won’t be able to breathe on a much less experienced one and kill him like they can in most MMORPGs, including WAR and Dark Age of Camelot. Also, the fact that we don’t have a cash shop for player upgrades, pre-made characters, etc. shows how serious we are about making this system work for players of all types. It would have been simple enough to say “Hey, for those among you who can’t wait to hit XX level, just buy this pre-made!” but we have eschewed that route and always will.
Ten Ton Hammer: How do you think Camelot Unchained is going to differentiate itself from the slew of other "sandbox" and "open-world" PvP MMORPG's that are coming out now or slated to be released over the next couple years?
The same way we did with Dark Age of Camelot back in 2001, by just making a great game. I was asked this question so many times from 1999 through release, and my answer was always the same then as it is now. :) When we do this, everything else will take care of itself.
Ten Ton Hammer: With Alpha testing well under way, was it more difficult than you and the team envisaged to get the game to the stage where it is now? Do you think it’s only going to get more difficult as the game and its design continues to grow?
Mark: Yes, it's likely to become a lot more difficult due to how hard it is to hire qualified senior programmers. When you look at how small a team we have and the fact we're building our own engine mostly from scratch (we are using PhysX on the server-side), what we have pulled off so far has been pretty impressive. However, we have been slowed down because we just couldn’t find the right programmers. And yes, if we still can’t hire them, it will continue to be difficult. However, the good news is that our engine is already capable of supporting large-scale battles in small spaces with strong frame-rates on our target machines (our specs are pretty low, no Titan Blacks required), so that’s a really good start.
Ten Ton Hammer: Now that Alpha has launched, at what stage of development are you currently at? What are the main things your team is working on and are your timetables still on track?
Mark: Alpha! [smiles] For the next couple of months, we will continue our current focus on making the game space feel more like a world, making the game start to feel like a game (and not an engine build) and adding a lot of the core game infrastructure that we need going forward.
Ten Ton Hammer: In your most recent Press Release you’ve discussed C.U.B.E and its importance to Camelot Unchained. Why do you think it’s important to provide players with these tools? Games such as DAoC or Warhammer Online demonstrated perfectly that it wasn’t necessarily needed if maps were well designed…
Mark: Unlike Dark Age of Camelot or WAR, Camelot Unchained promised that players will have a building system. C.U.B.E. is the first step in that process. And, as a bonus feature, we created it that players can test it while in standalone mode; they do not need to be connected to an Alpha server cluster. As I’m writing out this interview, there are about 200 people playing with C.U.B.E.
Ten Ton Hammer: How do you think C.U.B.E compares to the likes of Landmark? Are you hoping it reaches the ease and speed in which players are capable of building?
Mark: C.U.B.E. is different in that it's block-based while Landmark uses voxels. As far as making it easy and fast to build in, it is already pretty fast, and over the next month or so, it is going to get even faster as well as easier as we implement various improvements we are working to add to the system. And if you have seen some of the structures people have built, well, you can see how creative they have been already. Just imagine what they will do in six months, let alone a year, as we add more things to it.
Ten Ton Hammer: Have you found the design and implementation of C.U.B.E to be resource intensive?
Mark: Nope, not at all!
Ten Ton Hammer: You have big plans for crafting but in most MMORPG’s gathering is often neglected. How do you plan to make it more diverse, fun and unpredictable (besides simply placing more valuable stuff closer to the frontline or in The Depths)?
Mark: Fortunately, I have already written a couple of lengthy vision documents for crafting, and based on the feedback from our Internal Testing and Alpha folks, they are pretty happy with my vision for our system. We expect to reveal a good deal of in-depth information in the coming weeks. However, for now, I can say that this crafting system is the most crafter-centric I have ever envisioned.
Ten Ton Hammer: You’ve already written extensively about crafting classes and specializations, will players see something similar for gathering, tracking or harvesting?
Mark: Yes! [smiles]
Ten Ton Hammer: One of the biggest issues facing large scale PvP games (whether it’s AvA in ESO or WvW in Guild Wars 2) are zergs. How will you deal with this aspect of the game? Do you think zerging is unavoidable?
Mark: Zerging, as the dominant play style in the game, is avoidable. The question is whether it's worthwhile going to the lengths that would be necessary in order to eliminate it. I have said that Camelot Unchained is not going to try to prevent zerging by punishing players, but rather by making it the least attractive way to improve/level a character. If we can design the game so that those players who want to be most effective won’t be playing this style, then we are in good shape.
Ten Ton Hammer: Dark Age of Camelot was famed for its heavy use of crowd control (AOE Mez!). Does Camelot Unchained have plans to bring something new to the genre when it comes out?
Mark: Yes [smiles] Crowd control is kinda, ratha...sorta important in a game such as ours.
Ten Ton Hammer: On that same subject, are there any measures being prepared in the event one realm becomes unstoppable, even against the other 2? Will you let this happen or would you balance it in some way?
Mark: We aren’t going to stop people from joining the realm of their choosing, but yes, we will do things to help if things become terribly imbalanced. We are also focusing on the inevitable, which is that no matter what we do (other than Realm locks which we don’t plan on), imbalance will still happen. Thus, one of our design goals is to make it fun even when you are on the short end of the sword. This won’t be easy, but we have some ideas on how to do things a bit differently than other games.
Ten Ton Hammer: I’ve read many people doubt the viability of only leveling through PvP and yet games such as WildStar and Guild Wars 2 allow this. Why do you think some people feel there has to be questing?
Mark: For a number of very good reasons, including having something to do during low population periods on the servers and the fact that most times, beating NPCs isn’t very challenging for people.
Ten Ton Hammer: Lastly, stealth is a make or break issue for many players. Some people love it, some people loathe it. Personally, I’ve always found it bizarre that developers hand classes that can turn invisible, the highest spike damage in the game and few ways to actually detect them. Do you know yet how you’ll approach stealth and when we’ll learn more about it?
Mark: I can guarantee that if we add stealth to the game, it won’t be with a system that allows unlimited stealth, easy in and out stealth, difficult to detect stealth, high damage openers, stunlocks, etc. A system where players get all these things simply won't work well over time. Our approach to stealth is that it has to be a system where stealthers don’t get an automatic “I win!” button no matter how patient they are.
We also want to find ways to give them other things they can do aside from say waiting under a bridge for a victim or two. I think stealth can play a very valuable role in an RvR-focused game like Camelot Unchained, and it is just a matter of time until we figure out how to make that happen without design mechanics that can be abused.
Ten Ton Hammer would like to thank Mark Jacobs for this time and the Camelot Unchained community for some great questions. You can read more about Camelot Unchained by visiting the official website and if you want to become a founder and support its continued development, head on over to the store.
To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Camelot Unchained Game Page.