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    Dark Zion

    interview by the_culture

    1- Tell us about yourselves, the company, and why make another MMORPG.

    Rick Delashmit and Jason Spangler are our co-founders and lead programmers. Glenn Israel is our lead artist, and Todd McKimmey is our sound and interface programmer/designer. Every member of the team works on game design. Rick and Jason both served as leads and support staff on Origin's Ultima Online and UOLive. Glenn worked on contract for Interplay's MAX2 and AI: Alien Intelligence, and Todd served as a designer on Ultima Online. Rick and Todd both have extensive histories in MUD development.

    Together, Wombat Games has developed or consulted on the multi-player aspects of a number of projects, including Interplay's upcoming Klingon Academy. We're making Dark Zion because we believe that the MMORPG or online world genre has potential that first and second generation online games allude to, but haven't yet fully explored. We want to see a fully dynamic world with meaningful events that are crafted by players, not by developers. Dark Zion is a game that we want to play as well as develop!

    2- What are some really unique features that will set Dark Zion apart from other MMORPGs?

    The world of Dark Zion is almost completely in the hands of the players. There are no scripted events, no NPCs, no prefabricated cities, no predetermined quests. All social aspects of the game are created by, administered to, and regulated by the players, including governments, laws, and economies in their entirety. Player versus player conflict is encouraged, in trade as well as in battle.

    3- What are/were some of the design difficulties inherent to this type of game?

    Implementation is really our only issue. We have solid ideas of what we want to see in the game; the real work lies in ensuring that each idea meshes contextually with the master design, and maintains the dynamism that we want while still remaining enjoyable for the player. Permanent death, for example, is something that will have to be extensively tested in beta.

    4- Very little has been said regarding the game engine. Is this an in-house creation?

    At this moment, the engine is built in-house. Dark Zion will use a polygonal 3D engine, and will support hardware transformation and lighting, skeletal animation, and dynamic level-of-detail via progressive meshes and subdivision surfaces. Our main goal for this engine is to allow scalability of the gameworld from the low-end user up to future advancements in computer and graphics processors. We expect our client-server software to handle up to 10,000 active players per world; it will also be scalable in terms of depth and technology.

    5- I find the story behind this fascinating. Who came up with that idea, and can anything new be said?

    The history of Dark Zion, like everything else we do, is developed as a team effort. We all wanted to move away from the fantasy genre that is prevalent in contemporary online worlds, but limit or eliminate the elements of science fiction that would interfere with the individual dynamic of role-playing, i.e. weapons of mass destruction, et cetera. The post-apocalyptic feel seemed appropriate. We can't really reveal much of this history, because it will have a subtle but profound effect on gameplay if the players choose to uncover it.

    6- In the FAQ, you touch upon the “control” the player has over the story. In the overall scheme of things, how much control does one have?

    Can one man lead a revolt or change the course of history? A player will have total control over his own character. The amount of control a player will have over his environment and the state of the world around him depends on how much control he can or is willing to assume. We do expect ambitious players to found governments, build economies, and lead revolutions, and their success or failure lies as much in their personalities as in their in-game characteristics. The players are the course of history!

    7- Nothing has been said regarding NPCs, animals, and monsters. Are there plans to include such things?

    There are no NPCs beyond the creatures that populate Dark Zion, all of which are insects of one from or another. However, these insects can be valuable tools to player society as well as a source of conflict for the individual.

    8- The FAQ mentions the game world has no arbitrary rules, no laws, no governments beyond player influence. Sounds to me like total chaos. Can you explain further?

    What this means is that any rules, any laws, and any governments that take shape in Dark Zion will be dictated and enforced by players themselves. We, as the developers, will not create or enforce any laws about player versus player conflict or player killing, et cetera, but we will provide the tools and systems necessary for players to do so if they choose to. There will probably be chaos on Zion at first, but already we're seeing potential players band together to guarantee one form of order or another.

    9- Is there a possible release date in mind?

    We're really not at a stage where we can or want to realistically name a date. Optimistically, we will be ready to beta test in a year or so, with full release within six months to a year of that date. Quality comes first, however; we're going to take ourtime and ensure that Dark Zion is the game we want it to be upon shipping.

    10- How soon will the team have actual screenshots of the game?

    Our demo is in the proof-of-concept or technology stage right now. We're going to delay actual in-game screenshots of Dark Zion until we feel that they are indicative of the look and feel players can expect from the finished product.

    11- What do you think the MMORPG genre is lacking, and what will Dark Zion bring to fill that need?

    The point of online entertainment is a sense of interaction with a game world and its inhabitants, and we believe that, with our current level of technology, this interaction can best be expressed when players themselves feel they have control over the game world. Elements like predetermined quests, static environments, and canned NPC dialogue are the antithesis of meaningful player interaction, so we choose to eliminate them. In their place, we hope to install the tools necessary for players to build a rich and varied experience of their own, through cooperation or conflict.

    12- Is there anything you’d like to add for our readers?

    Zion is your world. We look forward to seeing you in it

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