Interplay Unannounced MMORPG Interview

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Interplay Entertainment
Developer:Interplay Entertainment
Release Date:TBA
  • Massively Multiplayer,Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Buy this Game: Amazon ebay
Less than a month ago, Hervé Caen surprised us all by announcing that Interplay was restarting in-house development and had hired none other than Fallout and Troika legend Jason D. Anderson to head their first project. At the time of this interview, Interplay's MMO is officially unnanounced - though everyone assumes it is a Fallout MMO - and thus could not be discussed directly. Still, we were able to pin Jason down for some questions about his return to the video game industry, his MMO philosophy, and what we might expect from the game. Here we go:

GB: Tell us a little about yourself. What have you been up to since Troika closed?

Jason: Once Troika shut down, I took a (much needed) vacation. 10 years in the game industry is a good haul, and it was time for a little break. I spent a few months overhauling my house, remodeling the kitchen and baths, removing the sound room that was in my garage, replacing a balcony, stuff like that. Then I sold it and moved to Phoenix where both my wife and I have family (and housing was much, much more affordable).

I enjoyed working on our last house so much that I bought and fixed up another old house - this one was totally trashed and it took about 3 months of rehabbing to make it livable again. I grew up doing construction, and it felt great to do physical labor again. Game development is very bad for the body. Sitting on your butt all day and eating out at least one meal a day just doesn't work over the long haul.

Then this past spring I designed and built my own swimming pool and spa along with all of the hardscape and landscaping in our rather large backyard. I researched all of the city codes and permits, pool construction techniques and options, learning a ton along the way. Then I drew up all of the plans, contracting out the heavy construction work but taking care of a lot of the smaller details myself. In the 105+ heat I dug out and poured the footer for a 150 foot retaining wall and then built it. I'm pretty sure my subcontractors thought I was insane and couldn't figure out why I wasn't hiring cheap labor to do it - but being unemployed, I'm pretty sure I was the cheapest labor I could find. :) My wife, a couple of nephews and I built and installed all of the rock work, waterfalls, tile and fiber optic lighting. It was a lot of hard work, but very rewarding, especially when you live in Phoenix, where a pool is so very, very nice to have in the summer.

We also homeschool our three daughters, and I've kept busy designing curriculum for them and spending time working with them on their education, which is a reward in itself. Plus - how many people get the chance to spend a couple of years of quality time with their kids? Not very many. The time off has been very rewarding.

GB: How did you end up back at Interplay?

Jason: Even though I have been away from the game industry for the past couple of years, I have kept in contact with people. Hervé has wanted to do this project for a long time, but has not been in a financial position to move forward. He and I have been talking about it for nearly a year and he has worked steadily to get the project up and running. I have always felt that it was one of the few projects that could entice me back into the game industry. I am very happy to finally get a chance to work on it.

GB: Wasn't there any temptation to join your old Troika colleagues Tim Cain at Carbine Studios or Leonard Boyarsky at Blizzard Entertainment?

Jason: The answer to that question is both yes and no. I actually entertained the idea of working at both studios. But when I tried to get in with Leon over at Blizzard, it was obvious that his project lead and I just didn't click. And I never really got around to pursuing Carbine.

Being partners with someone can closely be related to a marriage. Tim, Leon and I were tied together through Troika for 7 years, for better or for worse. Much of those 7 years were spent under a lot of stress with constantly looming milestone deadlines, stressful publisher relations and the constant worry that our project would be canceled or that we wouldn't be able to find a new contract and would have to let all of our employees go (which is ultimately what happened). And while we had a lot of good times, there is also a lot of baggage leftover from Troika.

When Troika fell apart, we drifted a bit. We still talk and get together for lunch every once in a while, but not as much as we used to. I certainly would like to work with them again someday.

GB: What does it feel like to head into a new project after a couple years of retirement from game development?

Jason: I would have to say that enthusiasm is the predominant feeling I have been having. In the 2 years I have been away, I have had time to reflect on what things in the game industry made me happy, and what things made me miserable. I have made a decision to really try and capture what I love about the industry.

The past 2 years have also given me the chance to get back to playing games and BE a gamer again. They have allowed me to look at things with fresh eyes and to actually play games just for the joy of it. I have regained the enthusiasm I had when I first entered the game industry and I am so thankful for it.

Having fun playing games is something many people take for granted, but it is all too easy to lose when you are up close in the industry. When you are in the thick of creating a game, you lose your objectivity while playing other games. You have a tendency to pick them apart, judging the developer's design decisions, art, sound and every little thing. You actually miss out on a lot of the fun of the game because of it - you can't just enjoy the game.

It is no secret that some people who have been in the game industry for a long time become jaded and lose the passion they once felt for creating games. A lot of this shows up as negative or defeatist attitudes. There are plenty of developers out there that aren't even excited about the project they are working on. Negativity like that can become cancerous and stifles the production of a game.

As I am interviewing potential employees for Interplay, I am not only taking a hard look at people's skills, but at their overall attitude on game making and the gaming industry as well. I am very interested in people with a "we can do it!" attitude - something you see much more of at small development houses and top-rated companies like Blizzard. I am trying to put together the best hand-picked team I can so that we can create a really great game. Pessimists need not apply.

GB: Just to clarify as there is some confusion - are you working on an unannounced MMO that isn't Fallout Online?

Jason: Interplay is working on one MMO. It has not been "formally" announced, so I am not able to talk about it yet.

GB: In your opinion, do MMOs have the future?

Jason: I feel that MMOs are definitely here to stay. They are the thing right now and, in my opinion, they are fun. That is the bottom line with a game. Is it fun?

The MMO genre has made it through the fad or passing phase stage and is still around. Whether it will continue in the same form in the future has yet to be seen, but right now MMOs are out there en masse. In contrast, single player CRPGs are slim to none in development and even games that are touting themselves as being CRPGs have turned into action heavy adventure games. And yes, I know V:TM - Bloodlines was one of those - it was built on a shooter engine and we built it to play to the engine's strengths. Plus, I had my heart set on the Vampire vs. Hunters multiplayer part of the game, which sadly never happened.

Personally, I believe it is just part of a cycle. One day in the future, some small team, probably an indie developer, will turn out some type of classic RPG that gets everyone's attention. There will be some technology or new innovation that will make it oh so cool and CRPGs will pop back onto the radar and everyone will start making them again. Game development, like many other things, runs in cycles. We just have to wait for it.

I love to play single player RPGs, but generally if I go back to the old ones, they feel dated, and nothing new has come out that peaked my interest. I also love Jagged Alliance and X-Com type strategy games, but no one is doing those at the moment either.

GB: What would you say are the strengths of massively multiplayer titles in their current form?

Jason: MMOs have many strong points, or reasons that people are drawn to them. A lot of more casual gamers like to Min/Max their characters and the MMOs feed that.

Then there's the social aspect of it - where you get to connect with people, which I see as a big improvement over the single player RPGs. When you have a good experience with other people in an MMO it is very rewarding. You feel good.

I have actually found it is also a good way to keep in touch with people that I wouldn't normally talk to for long periods of time. I hate talking on the phone - nothing personal, just who I am. But I can easily chat with friends and family online while we're playing and it gives us that one more thing in common to tie us together.

GB: If you could name one or two things you want to improve when it comes to MMO standards, what would they be?

Jason: The 2 big things that I always think about improving upon are the storytelling and the character development, because I personally have not been happy with it in any of the MMOs I've played.

I think the core storytelling methods used in current MMOs could be improved on. A lot of the concepts of the worlds I've visited feel very convoluted to me. When you have a couple thousand quests that are given out sporadically, it is very hard to keep the story together. The story can easily get lost in the noise produced by the designers attempting to be creative with their quests. And this can make the world lack cohesion.

True character development is another thing I would like to see improved. It seems like most MMOs have reduced characters to a grouping of stats and a configuration of skills. I don't want to go into details about my ideas at the moment, but I will say that I believe there needs to be a feeling that you are making choices in the world and at the very least I believe these choices should affect your character personally.

GB: The massively multiplayer market basically comes down to World of Warcraft and then everyone else somewhere down the list, which really isn't the case for any other video game genre. How do you feel about stepping into a sector with such an odd market share distribution?

Jason: I don't worry so much about the market share distribution. I know it sounds arrogant, but I am planning on making an awesome MMO. I am trying to put a team together that shares both my enthusiasm and my vision. This question goes back to my feelings of defeatism that you see in the industry.

There are many people who say "Oh, you're making an MMO? And you really think you're going to compete with WoW?" And you would not believe how many times I have heard something along those lines... That is not the attitude I want on my team. I am playing MMOs and I am enjoying them. WarCraft is one of the games I play, but it is not the only one.

I am making a game that I truly believe in and that I am willing to pour my heart and soul into. I am not worried about WarCraft. So many people say "Why Try?", but my response is "Why not?"

GB: Can we ever expect to see you back in the single-player RPG business?

Jason: Well of course. As I've stated in other interviews, I love games. All types of games. Heck, I'd love to work on a tactical turn-based strategy game too. As I stated earlier, something like that will come along, just give it some time.

I will be occupied with this project for a few years, so it might not be me that rebirths the genre, but it will definitely happen. I have no doubt of that. And when it does I'll be right there with the rest of you guys - ready to play!

We'd like to thank Jason for his time and his wife Sharon for prodding him on until he answered these questions. We look forward to hearing more from Jason in the (near) future!