[This is the first part of a much larger interview with Revival's Lead Systems Designer: Adam Maxwell, a.k.a. Snipehunter from the game's official forums. Revival is an upcoming online multiplayer game being developed by Illfonic (who is currently doing work on Star Citizen, among other projects). The game is attempting to return to the core of what an RPG experience is truly all about, with immersion standing at the forefront of all design decisions - at least so long as the result is feasible.]
TTH Veluux: Thanks for taking the time to sit down with us Adam. Before we get started, why don't you tell us something about yourself?
Adam Maxwell: Sure. I’m one of the two design leads on the project and my focus is primarily architecting the systems and mechanics of the game. I’m the guy designing the sandbox, basically. I’ve been a designer for most of my twenty years in the industry. I’ve also been a producer before, but I started in QA, way back in the day. Revival is my 4th online game and my 20th shipped project... Or will be, anyway.
TTH Veluux: I've often heard some of the Revival team use the term "labor of love" when it comes to developing this game. Can you tell me what about Revival makes you guys so passionate?
Adam Maxwell: Revival really is a dream project for us. Especially for [Creative Director] Kedhrin Gonzalez, [Lead Content Designer] Chris Holtorf and myself: We’ve literally been discussing this since we were working together on Auto Assault, back in 2004. I think for most us, the desire for a game like this comes from our initial MMORPG experiences. I still remember fondly how I’d log into UO and ask myself, “what am I going to do today?” and every day, the answer would be different. Even later, when Chris and I used to play around the time Second age dropped, that still held true and that’s pretty amazing – we played a lot and we didn’t even go to the new lands for months after second age came around. We were busy doing other things.
Ever since, barring a few exceptions, I’ve been asking myself where that style of play went and why it hasn’t evolved alongside so-called "themepark" MMOs. It’s led to me focusing on dynamic content systems in a lot of my work over the last decade. That desire is directly responsible for the event system in Rift, for example. I’ve been trying to bring some of that feeling back in every MMO I’ve ever worked on, but with the prevailing trends pointing towards linear, static content, I can’t really say I’ve been successful. It has been frustrating, in a lot of ways; but now I've got Revival.
I’m not alone in wanting this and Chris and Kedhrin feel just as strongly, as does the rest of the team and, gratifyingly, our early community seems to be just as passionate about recapturing that feeling. Revival is very much our chance of make it happen; to finally buck the trend completely and go back to what we think is important in these online experiences – the sense of living in a world that evolves over time and responds to players. A game that “plays back” and all that cliché implies. Heck, internally we don’t even call it an MMORPG; we call it a Multiplayer Evolving Online World, a MEOW. Sure, partly because it’s funny, but also because it reminds us that what we want is fundamentally different from what MMORPG means, these days.
TTH Veluux: A TheoryForge cohost of mine and I tried to coin the term MMVR (Massively Multiplayer Virtual Realm) for EQNext but I'm not sure it ever gained much traction. The Internet loves cats, so maybe MEOW will be more effective. All you need is a cat mascot.
TTH Veluux: Mislabeling and misrepresentation of content is getting much more common these days, I'm glad you're all sticking to your model and message even with the smallest details. As it pertains to marketing, what plans do you guys have to start creating awareness for this new type of world you're creating?
Adam Maxwell: We're actually taking things pretty slowly on that front, right now. Revival is a pretty complex game and it's going to take some time to get it built and ready. Considering our present funding situation, we're not too worried about building a critical mass of folks who are aware of us yet. So, it's not exactly a hype building thing we're doing right now. Instead we're putting our work out there, talking about the game when folks ask and generally just interacting with the folks that find us to make sure we're hitting all the notes that we think describes our game's vision.
While this does mean that we mostly toil away in obscurity, it's also been surprising advantageous for us in the way that the early community has formed around our effort to build this game. Revival's current community is amazing and the folks who have heard of us and tracked us down are just as passionate as we are about the things we're trying to do. There's an awesome symbiosis at work as a result: features we're iffy about can be discussed with potential players in a way that isn't contentious, and the community's suggestions tend to be on-point more often than not. I know it's sort of a sappy cliché, but right now our community is helping us build this game in ways that I haven't personally experienced except perhaps in the most early alpha stages of an MMO.
TTH Veluux: As someone who has dug deeply through the forums and even contributed some here and there, I definitely agree. That type of feedback is uncommon, and the insight is pretty surprising considering how early on you all are.
Adam Maxwell: We haven't shipped anything close to a game client yet, but already our community is helping us debug features, perfect designs and enhance the sandbox that's at the heart of Revival. I'm really happy about that, like all goofy smiles about it honestly, but at the same time I wonder how long it will last. In some ways I fear the hype train effect; part of me worries about what will happen when hundreds of thousands of folks climb on board. Inevitably, the community will grow and I worry about the signal to noise ratio when that happens.
That said, we can't work in obscurity forever; we're building a game we want millions of people to see. So eventually I'm sure we'll go full bore on marketing and building that sort ubiquitous awareness, but for now I'm really happy with the more low-key, word of mouth, approach we're taking. It's let us connect to the community in a way that I can only consider a glorious luxury, as a designer.
TTH Veluux: On the same line of thinking, has the team considered crowd-funding this at all? It seems like everyone has a Kickstarter these days.
Adam Maxwell: We've talked about going the more traditional crowd-funding route before, but in truth we're sort of against it. Considering all of the success folks have found there, that probably sounds a little strange, but hear me out. Crowd funding on a site like Kickstarter carries with it a ton of overhead and obligation. Whether it's fulfilling backer rewards, or giving Amazon and Kickstarter a chunk of the funds, you're already making compromises and sacrifices with the funding you have, funding meant to go to the game itself.
There's a level of expectation and obligation from your backers that goes with crowd funding as well. I mean, sure Kickstarter isn't an investment platform, but many people look at it that way and they feel like they have certain rights as a result. I'm sure my personal experience colors my opinion, but Revival is a game that's already going against the grain and bucking convention. Our vision is ambitious and risky, but it's also very fragile - it could be compromised very easily.
TTH Veluux: I agree with you on so many levels. I'm not a fan of the way most aspiring MMOs have recently used Kickstarter to give themselves a small revenue boost. So I'm a bit relieved to hear your concerns with the idea.
Adam Maxwell: There was another project I was working on once that was basically a proto-Revival. We developed tons of technology and some of the best design work I'd done in my career up to that point when into the design of its systems to support the Revival-like vision of that game. Yet, flash forward to its release and you'll see a game that has more in common with World of Warcraft than a sandbox MMO.
The reason is perhaps more complex than I'm making it out to be, but at the core it was this: The folks paying the bills were scared of us taking certain risks and so we made changes to assuage those fears. Those changes destroyed the vision of the game. Don't get me wrong, that game that shipped was still good, but it was nothing like the project we'd envisioned when we poured our souls into it.
TTH Veluux: That's something that I believe has plagued far too many recent MMOs. Fear and Innovation don't typically fit very well together.
Adam Maxwell: We can't let that happen with Revival, and since we're mostly self-funded, we presently don't have to. I think that if we did a Kickstarter or something similar that could very easily change. I love our community as it exists right now, but because of the way we're doing things we also don't have any obligation to do what they want. If they were all high-level backers of the game, the pressure to keep them happy might have us making compromises we wouldn't have otherwise made. That's a non-starter for us with Revival. I don't know if that means crowd funding or even traditional funding is off the table completely, but we're not looking to put the game's vision at risk; so we're eschewing that sort of funding right now. Once the vision is more solidified and has some momentum behind it, then that could definitely change.
Of course, the irony is that, without even really meaning to do it that way, we already are sort of crowd-funding via our home sales on the game's website. I think the fact that our early community, including our founders, has been so incredible makes it easy for us to not notice the similarities, but even so it's hard to argue otherwise. Also, the way we're doing it doesn't have the same weight of obligation that crowd funding might, and that's important to us as we want to remain free to shape the game to our vision, rather than crowd expectations.
[Continue reading with part two of this interview.]
I've got another slew of questions that dive into the details on the game's actual mechanics that Adam is taking the time to sit down and answer, so be sure to check back for that here in the near future. For now you can go visit the game's official website and browse around a bit yourself if you find it interesting. There is plenty of information there to whet your appetite about what this game is shaping up to be. The Mission Statement and the Developer Blogs in particular are quite revelatory. Additionally, below you can find an awesome hour-long interview with Adam Maxwell (a.k.a. Snipehunter) myself and a couple guildmates wrangled in for our Revival game livecast.
To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Revival Game Page.