9Dragons Interview: More Than Hack and Slash – Find a Master



Questions by Jeffrey Kerkdijk (Hyarume), OnRPG Journalist
Answered by Steven-Elliot Altman, 9Dragons lead writer & Game Director

Hey Jeffrey, Steven-Elliot Altman here, the 9D Loremaster, and I've been on a long hiatus writing the screenplay for ZEN IN THE ART OF SLAYING VAMPIRES and a new novel coming out in December called THE KILLSWITCH REVIEW. I've just taken the reins again on 9Dragons overseeing content development and creating new events, so Acclaim tagged me to answer your questions. One of the best things about writing an MMO is that it garners a life of its own in your absence, and second to none is the experience of getting to interact with the Players, both in-game and on the message boards, and allowing them to help shape the game. You don't get that experience from any other form of writing I'm aware of. So, thank you to all 9Dragons players for so many years of love!

Onrpg: How is 9Dragons doing since the release of the game?

Steve: It's going strong, Jeffrey. Word of mouth alone keeps bringing new players to our ancient Chinese destination to learn the ways of Kung Fu, and now we're allowing the players themselves to translate the game into about a dozen languages, to share the experience as far as we can. It's been a steady rate of growth since launch, and I guess the fact that majority of 9Dragons players have stuck around since Beta suggests we've captured the essence of something compelling for them.

Onrpg: What makes 9Dragons so different from most other MMORPGs at the market?

Steve: Well, we've won awards for our storyline, and the game really taps in to the psychology of becoming a student of Kung Fu. It's not just "go out there and fight and kill" like other games. 9Dragons is about finding a teacher. Learning thousands of different types of Kung Fu skills from Praying Mantis to Bloody Hands to Drunken Monkey styles, and training them before you can even perform them in difficult mini-games. Learning the meditation techniques you need to revive your character. Questing with a purpose that speaks to a character's identity. There's even some demonstrable wisdom from Confucius to be found. Players come back because they are having an experience through their character, rather than a "akill everything in sight, I am stronger than you experience". And when you're playing 9D alongside like-minded players... it really puts the RP back in MMORPG. And it's free to play, so there's no commitment, no barrier to entry for people to download and try it.

9Dragons Atmosphere

Onrpg: How is the community involved with the development of 9Dragons?

Steve: 9Dragons was one of the first free to play MMOs, and it took us awhile to find common ground with the Players regarding how we'd make enough money to keep our designers and GMs fed enough to keep running the game, while allowing the majority of our players, who want to continue to play for free, the ability to do so. 9Dragons has developed into a creative partnership between Staff and Player. And as we've grown together over the past few years, we've seen that partnership reflected in growing numbers of players who understand that a free MMO supported by those who want to upgrade to Premium Play, makes for a far more creative and supportive game environment than any "You pay us every month or no game for you!" game out there.

Onrpg: Is there any community involvement when it comes to events?

Steve: Yes, tons. As in any game, there is considerable development time between the arrival of new maps and new dungeons and new skill sets. The Game Masters sit in war rooms discussing how to fill that time with creative events, from scavenger hunts to duel competitions to a new event we're about to try out we call CARNIVAL OF SOULS that centers around paying homage to the dead warriors of 9Dragons (because the Chinese pay tribute to their ancestors, hence the genesis of the idea). We put our ideas out to the veteran players, and the players give their imput. We also promote players to VGMs (Volunteer Game Masters) to help us run those events. A while back a player's suggestion led us to initiate an army of Japanese Shogun (mobs) to invade 9Dragons and the Players got to stop their daily PVP against rival clans... to go defend their homeland. Everybody pulled together and once the invasion was thwarted everyone was well-rewarded.

Onrpg: What future content is there planned for 9Dragons?

Steve: Well Jeffrey, two things I am really excited about are the Master & Disciple system we are about to unleash on The land of 9Dragons. Veteran players will assume the roles of Masters and be able to select their own Disciples. Once you have Disciples, both you and your crew are raising all of your experience levels while your "Class is in session." Masters will also be able to gift their Disciples with special weapons and buffs. We think the system is important not only for the "cool factor" but it also enhances our player interactions, one more way that veteran players can help our newbie players learn the rules of the game. It's a game mechanic, but I think it also suits the genre of learning King Fu alongside a Sifu in ancient China quite well, don't you?

And what could be better than that? One word: "Tibet." Our highly anticipated, highest level map is on the way and we hope to release it by Christmas. <The Hermit rubs his prayer beads>

Onrpg: How does the end-game content in 9Dragons work?

Steve: Oh Jeffrey, you would have to capture me and defeat me several times over to get those secrets from me.

Onrpg: How do you keep your players interested in playing the game?

Steve: We run a lot of contests in-game with excellent prizes, and keep changing them based on Player feedback; including GM Quest events, and most recently an event called, "The Dogs Of Lore," which is an event run by a veteran player who was recently promoted to Lore Master status, that is sort of like a game show based on 9Dragons trivia. Those turn-outs are huge because the prizes are unbelievable. A good example of how we interact with our players just happened on Halloween, when we learned a particular drop rate was too low to gather certain tradable Items by the event's end on Sunday... so what did we do for the players? Trick or treat. We decided to extend Halloween until Wednesday. Heck, maybe someday we'll run Christmas in July?

Onrpg: Concerning PvP, how does the PvP system in 9Dragons work?

Steve: Well, we have a system that's pretty unique, based on Player demand, because the early version of 9D had PVP on all maps, but many players wanted to be able to grind in peace. So we split our servers into Player Kill (Asura) and Pleasant (Nirvana) servers, so players could have a choice. Another unique feature we have is that defeating players from opposing Clans gains you good Karma, while defeating someone in an allied clan gains you Bad Karma, with corresponding epithets like "Noble Soul" or "Dweller on The Threshold." Certain levels of Karma are required to wield certain special Items. You're basically unleashing all of your trained Kung Fu and Chi Kung skills in multiple combinations against a player who may be using an entirely different combat style, and there are maps where you are free to PVP, as well as safety zones where you could receive a massive penalty for initiating combat (like movement rate decreased to snail speed). We proudly won an MMOSITE Reader's Choice Award for best PVP Action. "My Praying Mantis defeats your Crane Style, Grasshopper!"

9Dragons War

Onrpg: What do you like the most about 9Dragons?

I like those peaceful moments when I get to take off my administrator hat, when all the players are happily buffed, and I slip into the game as my character "The Hermit" and meet up with some players and join a dungeon run. Then if they are role-playing well, I'll spawn some great monsters that drop the best treasures, and watch the kill. Now and again I find myself chatting with a player in-game, and they can't stop thanking me for speaking to them and taking the time to answer their questions directly, and I always tell them the same thing, "Please Grasshopper, do not thank me. It is I should be thanking you for being part of 9Dragons. Without players like you, there is no game."

Onrpg: Thanks so much for your time!

Steve: No-no, thank you! <The Hermit Bows>

9Dragons is a free to play martial arts Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game for PC set in ancient China. Think of the world of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Enter The Dragon and Drunken Master. Rise from a beggar on the streets to become a master of Kung Fu in Clans like Shaolin, Wu-Tang, or the girls-only Sacred Flower. Train and enjoy new weekly events along with over 5 million players who are eager to teach you and make you part of their guild, in a free game where tremendous attention to detail has been paid to the authenticity of cities, weapons, costumes and realistic Kung Fu moves! Visitthe official site now to start your adventure now, Grasshopper!

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