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A snip from IGN's interview:
IGNPC: Asheron's Call went against the grain in a number of ways, not only by avoiding some of the traditional fantasy races but also by including a more flexible skill-based character system. What was the motivation behind that decision? Given the continued popularity of elves and wizards in the MMO world, do you feel it was a risk that paid off?
Toby Ragaini: In some ways, I do think we paid a steep price for being "different". It came down to an incomplete understanding of the new player experience. Classes work because they are an easy but interesting decision for starting players to make. The skill-based model of Asheron's Call front loaded a number of decisions and was overwhelming for many users.
Similarly, I think having quasi-realistic human tribes replacing fantasy races was a mistake. It really cut down on the amount of visual difference available to player characters. Having short, burly dwarves and tall, elegant elves provides for instant recognition.
However, in other ways, our willingness to buck the trend paid off. I'm still very proud of the unique backstory and fiction that we developed in Asheron's Call. It provided us with a degree of flexibility that allowed us to surprise users, and introduce monsters and villains that people would experience for the first time. And of course, we also stood out in that our environments offered vast seamless vistas. This was an enormous technical achievement at the time, and represented an incredible engineering accomplishment.
And a snip from Massively's interview:
Can you talk about creating the lore for Asheron's Call? What influenced you? Was it difficult creating a whole universe for such a large game?
All of us on the design team grew up with Dungeons & Dragons, Tolkien, Conan, etc. We were all products of these influences. Personally, I was always inspired by how Tolkien was able to create such a fully actualized world, and while I would like to imagine that we were trying to break from that mold, its almost impossible to do that completely when you're creating a fantasy world.
That green-skinned brute bearing down on you wasn't an "ogre," it was a "banderling." Was there a functional difference? No, not really but it made something familiar seem new again. But honestly, I think exploring the unfamiliar was one of the reasons AC stands out in people's minds. Never knowing what lies over the next hill is very exciting, and AC's original setting made this possible.