Realms Online Interview & Developer Walkthrough (Screens)
Today marks the launch of Realms Online, the newest free-to-play MMORPG from GameSamba. Last week, I had the opportunity to interview some of the folks behind Realms Online as they guided me through an in-game walkthrough.
Developed by NGD Studios and published by GameSamba, Realms Online features three warring factions, each representing its own fantasy mythology:
Syrtis and its lush forests represents the elven mythology; Ignis and its middle-eastern flavor represents the dark elven mythology; Alsius, the dwarven empire, represents the Nordic mythology.
The lineup of gentlemen guiding me through my quest into the world of Realms:
Slava Zatuchny, Director of Marketing and Operations at GameSamba.
Brendon Lindsey, Senior Producer at GameSamba.
Andrés Chilkowski, Studio Director at NGD Studios.
Adrian Lastres, Manager of Operations at NGD Studios.
Marco Antonio Alvares, Lead Programmer at NGD Studios.
As I booted up my game, I inquired about the history of Realms Online and its previous incarnation, Regnum Online.
Slava: GameSamba brought together people with experience in the industry and wanted to become a US publisher, different from the publishers that just bring their games in and say, “Hey, here’s our game. It’s poorly translated, but it made money in Asia and we’ll make some money here; all we have to do is drop it in and profit.” We thought, “That’s not the right way to do things.”
The games that we’re bringing here, we’re trying to localize them, we’re trying to ensure they appeal to the American audiences, they have the right business model, the right support, everything done the right way — the way American players deserve and expect.
This game was initially released in Europe in 2007 under the name Regnum Online. “Regnum,” when translated to English, means Kingdom or Realm. Only a king has kingdoms, but everybody else can have realms, so for our North American launch, we decided to call it Realms Online. It’s a way to translate the name without changing the name.
Since release, this game has undergone many changes, mainly due to player feedback and press reviews. One change has been a huge graphical overhaul — which isn’t done yet — but many changes have gone in to make the game much prettier. For instance, dynamic shadows.
It’s the same game, but overhauled. And now that we’re in the US, one thing I really don’t like about publishers throwing Asian games on America is that they feel you just make money on free-to-play games — you don’t put money into them. In Realms, there will be 24/7 coverage and double coverage during primetime so that there will be live GMs there all the time, guys there to help you, which for a free-to-play game is pretty unusual.
One example of the developers responding to player feedback is with falling damage. Players unanimously disliked falling damage, and usually, developers would say, “Sorry, it’s part of the game world. This is what we feel we need.” But in this case, the developers listened to the feedback and took out the falling damage, because it didn’t add anything to the game.
I joined the rest of the guys in the game world. Realms Online has six classes, each with three skill trees. My character was a bow-wielding elf from the realm of Syrtis; to ensure an even spread of players among the realms, bonus XP is awarded to characters created in underpopulated realms.
It was off-time on the European server we were connected to–bear this in mind as you read on.
Before I could even climb aboard my mount, Brendon said, “Our realm is under attack.”
“Our realm is always under attack,” Slava replied.
I would soon learn he was not exaggerating.
Andrés directed me to look at the moon. I could just make out its subtle movement as it crept towards its zenith, and spun around to see the dynamic shadows accurately representing the lighting direction.
In Realms, one full day/night cycle lasts three hours, meaning each real-life day comprises eight game days.
GameFront: Is this day/night cycle purely aesthetic?
Andrés: Certain creatures only spawn during the night. It’s a feature we added a couple months ago and plan to expand it to quests.
We headed into the warzone.
Located in the center of the world, the warzone is the largest area of the game. Each realm has three forts, and if you hold enemy forts long enough, their realm will become vulnerable to invasion.
By completing certain submissions while conquering enemy territory, you can bestow a tremendous boon upon your realm, selected from a variety of powerful rewards.
We reached a totem; a save point where players respawn after dying. A couple dozen characters — real players, not NPCs — lingered around, organizing themselves for battle.
Andrés rallied the troops with a few words typed into chat, and soon a whole army was following us.
GF: How big can battles get?
Andrés: We’ve seen 300 people in the same area. The whole world is completely continuous; there are no instances. People saw us and joined our group — this happens all around the game world all the time.
We galloped toward an enemy realm until we spotted a smattering of allies retreating toward us. A moment later, we realized why: the enemy was charging.
But the contingent of players accompanying us was even larger than the squad of enemies that chased away our allies, and it was now their turn to retreat — the hunters became the hunted.
We chased the enemy back into Ignus territory. The atmosphere changed as we crossed the border; gone were the pastoral green hills of our elven kingdom. Now, we rode upon sun-burnt desert.
Our fleeing foes retreated to their nearest fort, likely furiously typing warnings of our advancing army in text chat. When we arrived before the fort, the enemy awaited.
Mounted on the fort’s crenelations, they rained down arrows, spells, debuffs, and all manner of particle effects upon us.
As our ranged attackers returned fire, our melee warriors bashed at the door, which was reinforced with iron. The enemy had donated in-game currency to upgrade the defenses of the fort — likely a last-minute resort upon learning of our approach.
Within 10 minutes of being connected to the server — during off-time, no less — we were engaged into a 50-player battle.
Before long, I noticed our numbers had been thinned — our fearsome army was reduced to a few fleeing survivors. We had been routed. Our invasion failed.
We retreated to our fort to lick our wounds, but a few minutes later, the enemy came knocking on our door — a retaliatory attack riding off the momentum of their victory.
They took our fort.
As we regrouped at the save-point, we had one goal: to reclaim our fort.
The battle was tough. We eventually broke down the door and flooded into our fort. 90 players engaged in this battle, some fighting to maintain their foothold in enemy territory, others fighting to take back what was theirs.
We slew the last of the invaders and reclaimed our fort. For a few minutes, we basked in our success, slowly leaving the fort and dispersing.
But as the interview went on, an Ignus army appeared on the horizon. We scrambled back to our fort and climbed atop the crenelations.
The enemy charged.
Never a dull moment in the world of Realms Online.
The Realms team explained that what we just saw was a “ping-pong.” There’s a great deal of back and forth amongst the three forts closest to the borders. But sometimes players will decide to organize themselves for a more tactical assault and attack a fort deeper in enemy territory.
This is where deeper strategies arise.
For instance, bridges form strategic chokepoints. Park a group of people there, and you can hold off reinforcements as your allies try to conquer a fort.
Andrés: When we see an invasion, it’s amazing what these guys do.
GF: Tabula Rasa had a similar fort mechanic, but couldn’t muster enough players to make it work. How will Realms Online succeed where Tabula Rasa failed?
Andrés: Our game is small in terms of landmass. We knew population would be an issue, so we designed the game with that in mind. All the forts are near the center of the world. People can teleport their teammates.
In order to reach critical mass, there is only one save point per war zone. People know where to get together. It’s a very simple design: you have the choke points on the bridges, you have the save points, and you have the forts in a centric area. It’s very easy for people to assemble.
I believe the problem with Tabula Rasa was the setting. It’s easier for users to digest fantasy than sci-fi because it’s much easier to understand that a big sword deals more damage than a small sword, rather than comparing a plasma beam rifle and a laser gun.
Slava: In most games, PvP is an afterthought. Our game was designed from the ground up specifically to encourage this kind of gameplay. It wasn’t designed to try to be the best at everything. Yes, there is PvE, but everything includes the incentive to PvP. There are no disincentives to PvP, such as durability loss — only benefits. We want people to be compelled to engage in the war.
The team explained that PvP grants experience, and that you can level up through PvP alone. You gain more XP for killing players than monsters; however, when leveling with monsters, you can go at your own pace. There is a risk versus reward element.
XP is split between the players that participated in a kill, and players who are in a party will receive an XP bonus — a mechanic designed to encourage team play.
GF: What can you tell me about the quests?
Andrés: The game offers around 500 quests for each realm. Most of the quests are in there in order to support the background storyline and explain why this war is going on.
The quests and leveling is a means to an end. It’s all about the warzone.
GF: Without giving away spoilers, what can you tell me about the storyline?
Realms team: The story is about the war. Each realm has its own reason for going to war. They all want to kill each other. They’ve each got their own motivation for doing it. Every realm thinks they are fighting for Good.
There are three realms because it’s a good way to balance gameplay. If one realm becomes overpowered, the other realms will get back at them.
Earlier this morning, while two big realms were fighting, a smaller realm snuck in and captured a fort.
Each server has a different balance of power. On this server, Syrtis has the highest population, Ignis has the most active population, and Alsius has the most skilled players — population-wise, they are the underdog, but they have accomplished the most invasions. They are the most organized and have the most clans.
GF: What kind of numbers do you expect on launch?
Realms Team: We expect to fill all three servers. We will open new servers once the population reaches 1500 per server.
GF: What kind of premium content can players spend real money on?
Slava: We realized we are a US publisher and must adhere to the US model. There are two types of items that are accepted in the US free-to-play games. The first is an item that saves time. The other is an item that increases your social standing.
Saves time: buying a mount instead of earning it. Buying a teleport scroll instead of running to a location on foot. Gaining XP faster — things like that.
Increases social standing: cosmetic items. Getting a mount that looks different. Items that provide no advantage, but look distinct. There’s no wedding dress in this game yet, but I want to PvP in a wedding dress.
Andrés: Many couples actually got together because of this game.
Slava: We have scales in the office that we use to keep track of relationships broken and formed due to our games.
GF: Where are the scales tipping right now?
Slava: Kind of even; only slightly more towards broken.
We discussed how MMORPGs harbour a sense of community and have forged real-life friendships.
Andrés: We believe PvP games generate possibilities for even closer friendships. Because from the get-go, you have the same goal. Maybe you chose that realm because you like the colors, but once there, you see people fighting side-by-side; it’s a beneficial thing for friendships to form.
There’s a great sense of community amongst our players. We hold an annual party in Argentina called the Regnum Fest. Entire families play this game; husbands, wives, children.
Slava: We think we will have some really great player gatherings. Hopefully players won’t take their rivalries into the physical world.
Andrés: In our servers, for now, we’ve seen a great deal of camaraderie. Players respect skilled adversaries.
If you’re an MMO player, Realms Online is definitely worth checking out. High level or not, you feel like you’re taking part in something big.