The CEO of Runestone Game Development talks about the danish MMORPG ‘Seed’, which neither uses a combat-system nor standard quests. Can’t work? ‘WoW’ is the spearhead of innovation? Then you should read further which interesting alternatives ‘Seed’ might offer – and to what kind of player this game could be adressed.
Lars Kroll Kristensen is CEO of Runestone Game Development and currently works with the development team on the completion of ‘Seed’. The computer scientist has a specialisation on artificial intelligence and multimedia. This could be helpful for Runestone’s theory that interactive stories and NPCs with an ingenious arteficial intelligence are the key to innovations in the MMORPG genre.</div>
Hi Lars! On your website you write that ‘Seed’ is more or less intensive in development since 2001. How did Runestone Game Development keep its head above water over this long period of time?
Actually, we have been in development since summer 2003, and have only been a company since late 2003. We are funded by venture capital and business angel capital, and I guess we have kept ourselves alive through sheer stubbornness. (laughs) Obviously, when we approached our investors, we knew this project would take some time and money to complete, so this was calculated into milestone plans and budgets and so on. So far, we have been able to keep these budgets, and be only slightly delayed in the milestone plans.
Why did you choose a science fiction setting?
The choice of a sci-fi setting came after the choice of a heavily RP oriented [MMORPG], and no combat System MMO …
… instead of the obviously very, very popular fantasy genre with swords and Tolkien-style monsters?
With no combat system, fantasy becomes significantly less interesting, while on the other hand a game about knowledge, crafting, and research sits well in a sci-fi setting.
Apropos swords: As you just said, ‘Seed’ does not have a combat system at all. No elves, dwarfs, dragons – and no battles. What is the clue behind your thoughts. Or are you just crazy?
We are quite crazy. It helps in this business. We are not crazy enough though, to think that we can beat the likes of Sony and Blizzard at their own game, so we decided to cater to another segment of players instead. We want to be a game that caters primarily to role players, secondarily to crafters. Also, this is the kind of game we really want to make. If we put in a combat system, this would risk to move the focus away from role play and crafting.
Also, by concentrating on roleplaying as much as we do, we hope to attract a lot of good roleplayers, which again should make for a role playing oriented community. We do realize that we can probably never get a player base of hundreds of thousands, but then, we don’t need that to have a sound business. We would rather cater 100% to 30-40.000 players, than 50% to 200.000 thousand players.
Okay, and what sort of activities do you offer players instead of fighting then? You don’t even want to implement standard quests.
Well, ‘Seed’ is about making the colony work, and about being a part of this colony, and about influencing the development of the game world. This means that players can contribute by repairing stuff that is broken, producing items and components needed by other players or NPCs, by researching and inventing new stuff or maybe by pursuing a political career, building a democratic power base. And of course participating in various stories concerning these gameplays.
So players are able to change the world? How does that look like?
Players can change the world on many levels. An untended repair job can grow worse and can cause pollution that can break player controlled machinery. This can again cause further pollution, causing further machines to break down. These types of avalanche effects are built into the basic world dynamics exactly in order to let people have influence on the world. If they keep broken stuff to a minimum, there will be an impact on their collective productivity.
Another example is administrators: These are democratically elected for a one week term. While “in office” the administrator gets to control some machinery, usable by the whole community. The admin also gets to costumize the machinery, with permanent impact for everyone using them. On a larger scale, players can join projects that can change the in-game properties of all machines in a zone, e.g. giving them more power or better waste disposal capacity. On an even larger scale, production projects can open new locations, by reclaiming unused space in the colony tower. Of course, the larger the effect of a project, the more people and the more effort is required. Some projects will also require the participants to gather political support for the project.
Let’s come back to the background of ‘Seed’. We heard about interactive stories. What’s so interactive about them?
Stories affect, and are affected by the game world. So, for instance an NPC researcher looking for blood samples to help him find a cure for a disease, will only ask for these bloodsamples as long as there is no cure for this disease. When the NPC has gathered sufficiently many blood samples, and certain other stories have also concluded, the disease may get eradicated, and the NPC will now be interested in something else.
What would you say to a iffy player: Why should he or she play just ‘Seed’ instead of ‘World of WarCraft’, ‘EverQuest 2’ or other mainstream MMORPGs?
That depends on why he or she is iffy. (laughs) I would not recommend ‘Seed’ to a hardcore PVP fantasy combat game enthusiast, that does not want to role play, just as I wouldn’t recommend Seed to a FPS gamer. If you love combat and grinding (Which I by the way do once in a while) by all means play WoW or EverQuest. However, If you like role playing, sci fi and strong stories, give Seed a try. I do feel we do these things quite differently from most other MMOs. Who knows, Seed might suit your taste.
Do you intend to release ‘Seed’ outside of Europe as well?
‘Seed’ is launched in North America and Europe [in April] initially. Depending on our level of success and a million other things, we may release [the game] in other territories as well.
And in which languages will it be localized?
Initially, the game client will not be localised, and the official language will be English. As we plan to have a one-shard approach if at all possible, localising the client currently doesn’t make so much sense, but again, depending on success rate and penetration in different languages, we may add localised clients for German, French or Spanish. Currently, our community site <a class="gross" href="http://www.seedthegame.com" target="_blank">www.seedthegame.com</a> is localised to French and German.
Lars, thank you for the talk!