GDC 2012: Bigpoint Game of Thrones MMO Demo
Over the course of the last year, A Song of Ice and Fire has gone from cult fantasy book series to full-blown pop culture phenomenon. The second season of HBO’s big-budget adaptation premiers in April, and there are multiple licensed games in the works, including an AAA RPG from French developers Cyanide.
Game of Thrones, the free-to-play MMO showed off by Bigpoint at GDC, is the result of a direct licensing deal with HBO, Bigpoint’s first collaboration of the kind. Development began in late 2011, taking advantage of a number of art assets provided by the powerful pay-cable broadcasters, which fans of the show will be sure to recognize.
The events of the game run roughly parallel to the events of the TV show, though players will not play through the main plot of the game. As Bigpoint reps pointed out, however, the episodic and season-based nature of an ongoing TV show is perfectly suited to the kind of gradual content updates an MMO can deliver.
When creating characters, players will choose their father — either a minor noble, a man-at-arms, or a huntsman — and their starting location — North, West, or South. Only later in the game will they declare allegiance to one of the great feudal houses that rule in Westeros, the fictional continent created by author George R. R. Martin.
Though not extensively involved in the creation of the game, Martin did visit the Bigpoint studio to hold lengthy discussions with the developers. He was particularly adamant that the game provide a role for female characters, though not on the battlefield. The author’s historically based fantasy is full of powerful women, but their success is found more in politics and diplomacy.
As players progress through the game, they will engage in PVP combat, foment intrigue, and join factions and guilds. Depending on which faction they belong to, they will be able to deploy different “Hero Cards” (like Jamie Lannister, or a Direwolf) to help their cause. Collaboration among players will enable them affect the political map of Westeros, capturing castles, forts, and keeps by way of large-scale battle (50 v 50, 30 v 30, and 20 v 20, respectively). Guilds will also be able to upgrade and defend their holdings and trade resources.
Though Bigpoint claims combat will be a “key differentiator,” the pre-alpha video they showed of combat in action looked extremely awkward. Animations were jerky, sword strikes felt weightless, and combos — supposedly an important feature — were nowhere to be found. Hopefully the sword-and-board melee system will undergo extensive changes before the game goes live.
Despite the visual features adapted from the HBO show, the game’s aesthetic was worryingly generic. One notable exception was the weather system; a demonstration video showed how Bigpoint designers could mix wind, fog, rain and snow to replicate Westeros’ distinctively harsh climate.
For fans of the series skeptical of the Cyanide game, the prospect of a free-to-play title they can play in their browser is an appealing one. The Game of Thrones MMO will have to show significant improvement to generate true excitement, however.