Citadel of Sorcery Interview - The Revolution Begins
Questions by Darren Henderson (DizzyPW), OnRPG Editor-in-Chief
Answers by Philip Blood, CEO and Director of Game Design at MMO Magic, Inc
Hey this is DizzyPW bringing you an early discussion with the developers at MMO Magic on a title long overdue in the stagnant MMO industry. I’m sure you’ve heard a lot of false promises in the past of ‘real game changers’ that are ‘set to alter the ways MMOs are played.’ Sad fact is this usually translates into ‘hey we have one really cool new feature’ along with a safe build that has shown to be moderately successful by the dev’s competitors.
As such when I started reading last week about an indie title named Citadel of Sorcery, I went in skeptical and left their site intrigued. Here we have a team of industry professionals that know what it’s like to live under the thumb of The Man when trying to bring their own vision of a game to life and finally set out to design their own independent project to free themselves of these shackles. Let’s get into it and learn a bit more from the devs themselves on what sets Citadel of Sorcery so far apart.
DizzyPW: Hello thanks for contacting us about your title, Citadel of Sorcery. Can you introduce yourself and your role at MMOMagic?
Sure, my name is Philip Blood, and I’m the CEO and Director of Game Design at MMO Magic, Inc. I’ve been making computer games since the early 80s when I programmed my first game. I’ve since worked my way up through the industry doing almost every job, until I became a Producer and Lead Designer at two game companies. About eight years ago I formed MMO Magic, Inc. with some other long term game industry veterans.
DizzyPW: You have quite the back story on how this project came to be. Can you give us a short summary of MMOMagic’s history?
Well, at the roots it started when John Savage and I started talking about how the MMO games were not living up to their potential. We felt that MMO games were stuck on giving you the latest graphics and a lot of players together. The makers of these games felt that this was enough, but we were unsatisfied by the game play. At the time I was the Lead Designer at Prolific Publishing, and John was the Art Director. We started talking to other game industry people and they felt the same way.
The problem wasn’t in designing a better game, any long term player of MMOs can tell you that they want more game play and less grinds and repetitive tasks. They can describe how they want a unique experience in a living world. The real issue was simply that the risk in developing the technology and new kinds of tools that can create this kind of persistent living world was, in a word, risky. We even approached our boss, the CEO of Prolific Publishing, Inc. Reichart Von Wolfsheild, with an idea for an MMO. He looked it over, agreed that it was fantastic, and basically told us that it would take ten years to make and millions of dollars. He couldn’t put his entire company’s financial future on hold that long, footing all those costs, to see if it could be done. You know what? He was absolutely right.
So I went back to doing smaller and more typical games for publishers and dreamed of making the game I always wanted to play. The opportunity came along later. I gathered a bunch of like minded industry veterans, designed a new MMO (even more innovative) and showed that initial concept to them. They loved it. But then I explained a sad fact, that no publisher would risk financing this game, they would have to see it working first. We would have to self finance the millions of dollars it would take to at least reach Alpha. This included writing a new kind of game engine and tools from scratch, before we could even start on the game. They believed in the design so much that they agreed to spend the next few years of their lives making the impossible… possible. Not one of those original core team members has left, and we have added a lot more people to the team. And after eight years of self financed work, the MMO Magic team can see the end of the road to Alpha.
DizzyPW: Something I really love about your site CitadelOfSorcery.com is how important storyline and lore is to your team. Are there any particular sources you like to site that inspired it?
In this case I’m going to sound self serving, sorry! I’ve always loved the fantasy genre, and besides Producing and Designing video games, I’ve found the time to write some fantasy novels. My Cathexis and Nexlord series were the inspiration for the story behind the game, though this is a new story (not one of those from the books). However, I would say that other authors influenced my ideas, authors like Steven Brust and Glen Cook, among others.
When it comes to stories, the Lore of the game is only the beginning. Our world history will continue to evolve, and the Lore of the world will progress. Player’s choices and actions will even have a hand in where that story goes. To write our epic story and all of the amazing quests, we brought in other novel quality authors.
DizzyPW: You have some pretty unique races going on. It’s clear you went for the obscure just to further differentiate your title from the norm. What kinds of features do you have in place that may factor into a player’s decision of which race to choose (different stats, starting locations, looks, etc)?
Yes, we decided not to go with the Tolkien standard races (elves, dwarves). This is NOT because we don’t like Tolkien; in fact, I would say that the Lord of the Rings books were the biggest influence on my choice of work in life. We just felt that those races had been done so many times that it was time to add something new. So we designed races from scratch. Even the Gargoyles, though the name is known, are very different from anything previously done. And Humans are quite a bit different. In our world Humans are superstitious, but here is the twist, those superstitions are true! You can learn to use them to your advantage. We wanted Humans to be just as interesting to play as any other race, rather than the ‘vanilla’ type that other games generally paint them.
Each race has a useful feature as well as some role playing elements. Gargoyles can jump from high places and also take some serious impacts. They are very serious and militaristic, but if they ever eat cheese… well, it’s like a drug to them. Verdurens have the ability to camouflage themselves any time they are near plants; they take the long view and are devious plotters. Tyvens can see in the dark better than the other races due to their fox heritage, but tend to like things that are egg shaped. Waerians have gills as well as lungs and can therefore stay underwater or on land for as long as they want. They also think they are a bit better than the rest of the races. And finally the Jenemos, they are nomadic, and tend to stay away from their own kind simply because they ALL have bad luck. Fortunately, this bad luck tends to hit their opponents more than their friends or themselves. But when it does come back to get them, they think that is hilarious. These are just a couple traits for each of the races, there is so much more.
DizzyPW: On that note, what is the deal with the “Fallen Heroes” and what is the player’s overarching goal in the game? Also how does a character progress considering it’s a classless system?
Fallen Heroes are ‘Of the Blood’, which means they were descendants of the first sorcerer, and they have the power of Grim and Radiant energy. Because of this, when they die their spirits go to the First Veil, the place where ghosts and spirits reside. Other souls eventually move on to the second veil, but not those Of the Blood. This is why they can be resurrected into a new body. As a player you are one of the Fallen Heroes; fallen because you died in an evil place long ago called the Dark Halls. But, your spirit is finally rescued and you are given a new body. However, in exchange you are tasked with defeating an evil being called Morphael, who is capturing the free folk of the Reflected Worlds, altering and converting them into his slave creatures. If that isn’t enough, the onetime center of ‘good’ in the world, the Citadel of Sorcery, put there to keep the demons from invading yet again, has fallen into darkness. It is the evil sorcerers who rule there now led by the Eyes of Darkness. They are the ones fighting Morphael. You are asked to join the Citadel where you were once a Hero back when it was run by the Enchantress, but you must secretly work to bring down the evil sorcerers that now rule while also fighting Morphael's forces. Finally, there are the demons, they come from another universe and have broken into this one in several Ages, to feed on the life force of the people here. You must keep them from gaining a new foothold.
Now, as to your character’s progression; in CoS we wanted to get you into the game as swiftly as possible. So all you have to do to start is pick a name, and make a human body. You don’t even have to remain human forever. You don’t have to pick a race until you can learn more about each one, and you don’t have to pick a class, because we don’t have any. Instead, there are five Leagues of Knowledge in the world: Spirit, Magic, Marksman, Hero and Shadow. At any time you may belong to any one or more, of these Leagues. Anytime you do belong to one, you may learn things from that League, what we call Abilities. There are 1890 of these, and an additional 120 Uber Abilities, for over 2,000. Though it is technically possible for a player to get them all, it would take so long that it is really unlikely. Most players will get 50 to 100 over the lifetime of their character. Each Ability is different; they are not power-ups of the same Ability. For that, you can improve any Ability by study and practice. You make your character into what you want it to be, by what things you learn, just like real life. There are systems in place to create some specialties, but these are still by player choice. However, if you just don’t want to work that hard to figure out what kind of Character you want to make, you can visit the University, where councilors will help create a curriculum of Abilities that will assist you in becoming one of their Cadres.
DizzyPW: How does this detailed story translate into game elements and features?
Every Quest is a full story, worthy of a novel or series of movies. They are also customized to each character’s story. When your character arrives in the world, their personal story will begin. They will not be looking for NPCs that give out quests; our game doesn’t work like that. Your story will just unfold, and it will be different from every other player. When you finish a Quest, the next one will naturally flow into your story. If you group with other players, your stories will meld for as long as you remain together, again, just like real life.
In a Quest (or any of the other multiple story types, some longer, some shorter) both you and the game will be making choices that change the path for the story. There will be no useful walk throughs of a quest you can read, because they change too much. These stories allow you to make important decisions and are non-linear. They have a balance of combat and story, and they are a fully interactive plot. You won’t be reading large chunks of text though; we want you to experience the story, not read it. Every quest ends with an epic climax, just like every good story should, but it won’t come out the same for every player, and there are no redos. Your story is your story and no matter what, it continues on. We don’t tell you that you failed or were successful; the outcome is just what happened in your personal story.
DizzyPW: I was sold on this game’s claim to an Earth sized world that changes dynamically on a day to day basis. How much can you tell us about this system and, for that matter, how is this even possible for a small studio like yourselves?
Automation. That’s what makes it possible. To build a world the size of earth using old methods would take 10,000 artists their entire life (likely more). And before I get into the how we made this planet, it is important to understand that though neat, this really isn’t that important to the game. The fact was, it was just as easy to make an entire planet as a smaller world, once we decided to make the technology needed to automate terrain construction. The reason we went with a full planet was to have room to grow. We hope to make several sequel games to Citadel of Sorcery right on these same Reflected Worlds, allowing players to take their character and move them onto these new games. This is one reason we designed them to have no level restrictions and to keep learning, almost endlessly.
Now, back to the planet making. We wrote a tool to create continents, and it naturally forms various biomes based on many factors. Each biome is then detailed down to every known soil type for that kind of biome. At that point we generate the actual planet, but it is like Mars. We then have many systems that use a horde of algorithms to calculate Glacier, Wind, Water and Gravity erosion. We accelerate millions of years of this and carve our world, as well as fill the oceans, lakes and rivers. Next, we use a system we wrote to grow trees and other plants, right down to every blade of grass. These are seeded in the world by the soil types and start to grow. Because of how they were created, they will continue to grow as time in the game passes. In the end, we have a full planet, unseen by human eyes. We have to go explore it to even see what is there, and due to the size even years after it has released, there will still be places no human has explored.
This comes with some good and bad things, let’s start with the bad. It’s TOO big. Travel becomes a problem because of distance and time. To combat this we divide the Reflected Worlds into Territories. Players will adventure in Territories, and even help push their borders out with exploration. This is that ‘good’ part of the full size world, exploration. Players can explore… endlessly. However, our stories will take place in settled territories where travel distances can be reasonable and encounters dense enough. There will always be new Territories opening as the player progresses through the game.
We also had to make some new and interesting ways of traveling across this vast world, more on that another time though.
DizzyPW: Questing seems to be serious business for Citadel of Sorcery. What can players expect from quests that differentiates your title?
Well, everything? Our Quest writers can write any kind of story for this game, so you will get to experience a wide range of different kinds of gameplay. We created a tool set called, the Enact Tool Set, that allows a single Level Designer to take any story and put it into this world. That tool is what makes the gameplay possible. It controls how NPCs think, what their goals are in the world, their population densities, and what they choose to do each day (we can’t even tell you what they are up to!). Enact lets us build a mystery, a war, a kidnapping, you name it, Enact can build it.
But at the heart of it all is choice. Every time a player makes a choice the quest changes, but the game is also making choices, so you never know what is going to happen, and you will need to react to the situation. You’ll need to make a decision, and then live with the consequences of that choice.
Here is a simple example: You are sent to bring a small kingdom back under Citadel control. Upon reaching that kingdom you are approached by revolutionaries that claim the king is working with Morphael. They want you to help them kill the traitorous king and put their man on the throne, and he will agree to work with the Citadel. Upon reaching the King, he informs you that the rebels are in league with an evil cult and are spreading lies about him. He wants the Citadel to help him wipe them out. At that moment the rebels attack and call for you aid in killing the king, and the king asks for your defense… what do you do? If you choose a side, things will change; even if you choose not to take a side that is a choice, and things will change. You will have to base your decision on things you learned along the way, but you will have to decide at that critical moment. What you choose matters, to your story, to the future, and not just this one quest.
DizzyPW: It’s said that every NPC has a purpose and goal in mind. Considering the scale of this title that’s quite a claim. Can you explain this in a bit of detail?
We did away with the monster ‘grid’ system seen in most MMO games. Grid systems place monsters in the world; you get close to them they attack, you kill them, and a few minutes later they pop back into existence, as if what you did doesn’t matter. Instead, we wrote an automated system (part of the Enact Tool Set) that monitors populations in any territory. It also creates objectives for monsters and other enemies and sends them off on their tasks. As a player you will cross paths with these enemies at times. This may mean you run into them, but even more often you will just cross their trail. Tracking is a seriously important Ability in CoS, and we give it to every player as one of the ten starting Abilities. You need it. With Tracking you can see and learn things from those tracks, like who left them, where they are headed, etc. From that you can guess at their destination and possible objective. Example: You cross the tracks of 30 Recreated, and from the direction of their tracks you can look on your map and see they will reach a farm in a few kilometers. Knowing that they are Recreated tells you they are hunting body parts to make more Recreated, and if they take that farm, they will likely take the bodies of the slain back to their hidden lair to build more of their kind. You can then either ignore them, in which case if no one else stops them they will likely be successful, or you can track them down and do them in, or… even ride around in front of them and lay a trap or be waiting at the farm. It’s up to you.
If you kill this group, Enact will know the population of enemies in that area has dropped and it will assign a new group to travel there, with a new objective. These may be something completely different, and they will have a different objective.
DizzyPW: How about the MMO aspects of Citadel of Sorcery? What kinds of advantages do you have for player grouping? For that matter how is instancing used to maintain immersion?
Tactics. Our monsters have varying intelligence levels. This is extremely important to the gameplay and combat. They will adapt and use different tactics based on this, and as players you will need to do the same. Your opponents will use group tactics on you, and if you group up, you will be able to use them as well. Combat with groups is far more interesting than a solo player, and with far more options.
But there is much more. We have two types of Reflected Worlds, we call them Story RWs and Community RWs, both are full sized planets. In SRWs, you and a group of up to eight can adventure in our deep story driven Quests, Missions, League Actions, Expeditions and Adventures. These are so involved that we didn’t want other players in there with you to mess up the story. However, sometimes players want to do things with more than eight people. For that we have the CRWs, which are fully massive multiplayer.
In CRWs we offer different kinds of game play, each tailored to enhance group fun. There are things such as Warfare, where a large objective of the war against Morphael is taking place. Your group gets an assignment in the battle and you must try to succeed. If enough groups work together they can win the overall objective. In Incursions, multiple groups must work together to penetrate into enemy territory, like taking a string of forts deeper and deeper into enemy lands. You must also hold the forts you have already taken. The deeper you go the better the rewards, but the harder it gets. Then there are things like Campaigns, where whole Guilds can take on an objective, or individuals or groups can join a Citadel run Campaign and work with a whole bunch of other players.
DizzyPW: With how important social aspects are in your title, do you have plans for player housing? Guild Housing?
MMOs are social, inherently with that many players in the same world, so we didn’t forget that. We have made some really fun Guild and Player options for social aspects. For example, Guilds can survey and then lease parts of the world. There they may build and continue to expand and improve their Guild Hall over time. They may also give or sublease land to their members, where they can build both housing and a business if they want. This means that players will build their own villages and towns. Other players (not in the Guild) may visit these towns to take advantage of the services offered by the players running businesses.
We also do not require players to choose a server, but allow them to switch to any server at any time, so they can play with whoever they want. The only restriction to this is that Free to Play players can only switch between Free to Play servers, while Pass holders of the game may go to any server, including the Free To Play ones. This way there is always a way for every player to get together with any other player.
DizzyPW: With how random your interactions with NPCs are, I feel like this game is very akin to Skyrim adapted to work in an MMO setting. As such, is there a primary questline a player can work towards, or is the importance all up to the player?
There is no primary quest line, as each player has their own personal quest. There are no Quest givers, so you can’t go get a quest that some other player got from some NPC. The personal story just flows forward for each player naturally. Certainly we have some similarity to story depth with Skyrim, but really our system is completely different, because no two players do the same exact thing. You have your own story.
DizzyPW: Well I’ve drilled you hard enough for information for one day. Wouldn’t want to spoil all the surprises yet after all. Anything else you’d like to share with our player base? Hopefully a rough estimate of alpha or beta testing?
We have no hard date for either one. We are running a Kickstarter starter between about October 9th and November 9th, and invite you to come see the video that will show some of the Pre-Alpha game for the first time. Since Citadel of Sorcery has been self financed from the beginning, the Kickstarter funds will help us to significantly speed up the march to Alpha. Because we don’t know how much will be donated, we can’t yet predict the Alpha date. Once Kickstarter finishes, we will have a better idea and could then estimate the Alpha test date. The more we get, the faster testing will start.
DizzyPW: Thank you for your time and, more importantly, for your efforts to shake up the industry standards.