Horizons: Empire of Istaria Interview

Article Index

Eschalon: Book II

Developer:Artifact Entertainment
Release Date:2003-12-09
  • Massively Multiplayer,Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • First-Person,Third-Person
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay
Artifact Entertainment announced full-scale development of its Horizons MMORPG project on November 1st, 2000. Now, several months later, GameBanshee Horizons has had a chance to talk to David Allen, Lead Game Designer of Horizons: Empires of Istaria, and CEO of Artifact Entertainment hoping to catch a glimpse of how far they've come.

GB: Since your announcement of Horizons' full-scale development, how do you feel about the progress you've made in the last two months with the game? Are you on pace with your original schedule?

David: Horizons is by far the most intense project I have ever worked on - our company has grown exponentially over the past few months (we have over 30 people on site right now, with more to come, and many contractors who are off-site), which has been one reason that I haven't been as involved with the public as I have in the past. Right now, things are coming along great - we have had to deal with some technology issues, but have been cutting through them as quickly as they are handed to us, and moving forward. It's very hard to try to create a game that's on the leading edge of both game play and technology - it takes extra time and effort to find solutions to problems that directly affect the look and feel of the game, as well as the potential game play aspects. To put it simply, it's now my opinion that creating a game of this magnitude is probably one of the hardest things anyone can do in the computer industry.

Believe it or not, we are following our originally outlined schedule very closely - it's a pleasant surprise to see us working through issues as quickly and efficiently as we are.

GB: With regards to the world master system, will their job be entirely devoted to entertaining the players? How large is the staff you have planned for this? Will there be enough of them to go around and keep the players entertained 24/7, or will there be specific times of the day that they will normally work?

David: Yes, we will have a shift of World Masters that work 24/7 - of course most of them will work during the 'core hours', but there will always be somebody available. The main reason for this is that it's the responsibility of the World Masters to keep an eye on the world, and the entire system that supports that particular world. They will monitor everything from economy to harassment to storyline and dynamic content creation and updates. The exact size of this staff hasn't been established, but it is a fairly good handful of people.

GB: Bringing to life the world of Istaria is no doubt a large undertaking for the Horizons team, and there is a strong hope amongst the fan base that you will be able to realize that embarkment. Realism no doubt helps the gamer immerse him/herself in a world away from reality. Sometimes this is detrimental to family functioning, jobs and friends. The question I'm about to ask stems from many of the RPG related discussions I have been privileged to be a part of. I thought it might be interesting for readers of this interview to hear your thoughts on this taboo subject and how you think Horizons will affect today's community of gamers?

David: When I came up with the concept of Horizons and started writing the design spec, the first thing I addressed was the community within the game and how it would be handled and established. This is where the advent of Families came from - I then took it from there. Another foundational basis for Horizons was that "people are responsible for their actions" - which allows the PvP and other 'criminal' supportive systems to play a very important role in the game. Right now, since games are in their infancy, players are able to get away with all sorts of things (this is good and bad, the good being that people can play very differently from how they would be have in the real world), however the potential for grief among other players who are 'preyed' on was always an issue, so I took the approach of putting in responsibilities that would require players to think twice before doing something, but they would still have the freedom to do so. It's very important to me that players have the 'choice' of doing something, but at the same time, the game needs to be designed to keep the misery caused to other players by those choices to a minimum.

We think Horizons is the next generation of MMOG.

GB: You have mentioned often that you hope with the publication of Horizons to bring a change to the gaming industry. What changes do you hope to bring, and what, if anything in today's gaming industry do you think could be better off?

David: I can't talk about the publishing side of Horizons as of yet, but I will say this - fairly soon, an announcement will be made that will give the public an idea of how serious we are with the future of Horizons, and what type of support mechanism we have in the industry. As time goes by, we will also pursue some new publishing styles that are definitely new to this industry.

GB: As lead designer, you have written a lot of the history of Istaria yourself have you not? I have been overwhelmed by the small details I have found in some of the writings on Horizons. Although there are a few gaps and discrepancies which some of the fans have noticed, have these possibly been left on purpose to be expanded on in the future? As a role-player, I like to well-versed in the History of the world to better play the characters I create. What are your plans for the Horizons history and will we ever see a complete history outline or story of the time before the AE Servers go online?

David: Yes, I am the creator of Horizons, and the world of Istaria. I wrote almost all of the base specification that was put up on the website, however it has grown to such a size that I am no longer the only one that works on it - we have an entire team here at Artifact that is dedicated to fleshing out the little pieces of the game and bringing it all together. Many of these 'little holes' you speak of will be filled in, but many of them will be purposely left open as well. We will have a complete set of history for the game, and even more importantly, it will integrate into the game world, and the stories (and quests) that unfold within the game itself.

GB: I know Horizons will be created to keep as many of each type of player happy and entertained: the roleplayers, powergamers, and socialites. Can you tell us how Horizons caters to the different playing styles? Specifically, in what ways are you planning on keeping the roleplaying type of gamer entertained? The powergamer? Socialite?

David: This is an issue that came up long ago when I was writing the original specification. I asked myself how I could create a world that did cater to almost all of the types of gamers out there. It's very hard to explain my approach, but I took a very broad vision of playability and defined it so that it could cater, in some fashion, to all parties to the point they would have enough fun playing the game that they would be hooked. Role-players - absolutely - look at the races, the blood wars, and the themes of the world. Power Gamers - absolutely - a skill system that's incredibly refined and flexible, defining the multitude of different possibilities of character advancement and power. Socializers - very important, since socialization in one way or another is the basis of all MMOGs - the ability to interact with other players, speak in different languages, wear different colored clothing and armor - the ability to define a unique look and feel for ones character has always been extremely important to us. Of course there are many more features, such as the magic system, the quest system, the ability for players to become involved in religious, government, and guild organizations, and more.

GB: With the sooner-than-Horizons release dates for other strong MMORPG contenders such as Anarchy Online, UWO: Origin or possibly Star Wars Galaxies, what do you feel will make consumers give up their hours of work on all those recently-released games (at Horizons release time) to try Horizons?

David: The first thing I want to say is that there is room for many successful MMOG titles in the industry - I actually support this in full - people should have a choice of which game they want to play, and they should be able to make that choice from a multitude of high-quality MMOGs - as a player, this is what I would want, and this is what the industry is going to give in the future.

Of course we want to have the most successful MMORPG in the industry, and I honestly think we have a very good shot at it, but that's only partially what it's about - the other part is about evolving the industry, and whether or not the other companies working on games of this style realize it, in some fashion we are all working together to evolve the on-line entertainment industry in our own fashion. I applaud all of the companies out there that have made the foundational games, and are working on the future games of the on-line industry. I am very excited to be a part of the evolution of this unique group of developers, and hope that Horizons is as successful as we all know it can be.

We are 'aware' of the competition, and in saying that, there is a distinct difference between being 'aware' of the competition and 'worried' of the competition. By being aware, and learning from the competition, we can focus on making the best game that we can and adhering to the base specification as much as possible; not worrying about other projects. In doing this, we are confident that when HORIOZNS releases, it will be leading edge, and will have the 'features' (some of which have not been announced as of yet) that will add that extra flavor that players want, and will entice them to play.

GB: As a designer of worlds, have your personal dreams been met, and do you feel is there anything left you would like to conquer in the realm of fantasy and role-playing?

David: Ask me after Horizons is complete :)

GB: We at GameBanshee would all like to thank David for taking time out of his busy schedule to do this interview and sincerely look forward to the MMORPG they are creating.

David: You're very welcome - thank you for the interview and support of the Horizons community!