Excalibur Online Interview with Executive Producer
Questions by Jonathan (Ardua) Doyle OnRPG Journalist
Answered by Jonathan Seidenfeld, Executive Producer, Omniverse Games
OnRPG: Friends, countrymen, lend me your ears. From the days before Camelot we have someone to talk to us about Excalibur Online. Could you introduce yourself to my ear lending friends?
Hello ear lenders! I'm the Executive Producer for Excalibur Online, which means that I oversee the development of the game on behalf of Omniverse Games. I am also the primary point of contact between our developer and co-publisher, Radiance Digital Entertainment. My experience in the game industry goes back well into the days before Camelot - I was part of the original PlayStation launch team with Sony, and before that with Sega for the launch of the Sega CD. Since then I've worked with lots of publishers and developers, and in the last few years I've become very involved in the MMO space.
Excalibur Online City
OnRPG: Excalibur Online is set, in your own words, in the days before Camelot. Could you give us a little taste of the backstory?
Sure. Excalibur Online is set in the period from about 400 AD, when the Romans left Britain, to about 550 AD, when King Arthur is said to have claimed Excalibur and unified the country under his own banner. Those 150 years or so were a period of constant warfare among various British Kingdoms, Saxon invaders, Welsh tribes, and numerous other groups of barbarians and mercenaries. All wanted to gain control over the Britons, and all failed, until King Arthur finally unified the country. That's why we like to say that the game takes place before Camelot.
In Excalibur Online players are given a city somewhere in medieval Britain. They then have to build up enough resources first to defend their city, and ultimately to attack others. It's a constant decision for the player - attack now and conquer, or lay back, strengthen, and defend. We tried to keep as much of the historical element in place as possible - we use the original Roman provinces, and the 100 or so heroes we have to lead player armies are all personalities from the period. You can even find a little historical note about each of them in their profiles.
OnRPG: Battles rage across your Britain as well as the real world. How has Excalibur Online fared against the likes of Evony and Kingory?
Excalibur Online is the newcomer in the category, and just finishing a low key closed beta testing period, so we have not really been competing with anyone - instead we've been concentrating on building up the game, smoothing out some rough edges, and trying to create the best player experience we can. That said, we do have some differentiating features in our army units, technology tree, and in the historical basis of our story as mentioned above. Also, we aim to provide superior customer service and community for our players.
OnRPG: War, what is it good for? Well... gaming obviously, but just how does a new player in Excalibur survive the opening days of the game?
New players get an automatic 5 day or level 15 whichever comes last safety period, during which they cannot be attacked. Obviously joining an alliance will help. It is also possible to make peace treaties and to obtain items that will prevent attack for set periods of time.
OnRPG: How important are alliances in the game and what can you tell us about them?
Alliances can be formed by any player using the Embassy building in their city. Members can use alliances to share information and to join forces for protection, conquest, and intel. In Excalibur Online, alliances really come into their own during the weekly server wide "Battle for Avalon", a massive where the spoils are distributed according to the proportion of troops contributed by each alliance.
OnRPG: Closed beta for Excalibur Online began testing on March 24th, how is it going for you?
The closed beta went very well in that it gave us a chance to test out the various game systems in a live 24/7 environment. Players gave us valuable feedback regarding not only bugs, but suggestions for improvements they'd like to see. Of course we read all the posts and incorporate as much as possible into later versions. The development team has been very accommodating in this regard.
It was also great to see a vibrant community growing up around the game - people sharing tips and strategies, experienced players helping out the newbies, and people just chatting about this and that in the forums. I'll admit to being a little surprised about how sociable people are, especially when their stated goal is to conquer the world and vanquish the other players!
OnRPG: Excalibur Online has a wide range of military units. Was it difficult to balance them for players to prevent an old fashioned Zerg rush?
Not really. Rushing is always going to be part of strategy games, and I don't think it can be prevented. Experienced players will know the value of building strong defenses, and Excalibur Online allows players to build parapets on their city walls. Also, it is advisable to leave a portion of your troops in your city for defense. In cards, we can say the Poker is a game of chance, because the cards are dealt randomly, but an experienced player will almost always win against someone just learning the game. The more one plays, the better one becomes. Most of the balancing among military units in Excalibur Online has to do with how they interact with each other - piercing attack versus heavy armor, ranged attack against siege weapon, that sort of thing.
OnRPG: Given the wide range of units and buildings, how difficult is Excalibur Online to learn if you've never played a browser war game?
Excalibur Online is very easy to learn, even for those who've never played a game in this genre. We use a system of in-game "quests" that actually help the players learn how to do the basics like building up cities, collecting resources, using the chat and mail features, and of course building armies to conquer territory.
OnRPG: At the moment the Item Mall is not available. What can we look forward to in it?
The item mall will go live with the Open Beta, which is happening very soon. Items for sale fall into three classes: acceleration items, resource items, and auxiliary items. Acceleration items like Haste spells or Merlin's Wisdom speed up construction or shorten research time. Most of these items come in 5 levels. Resource items like Earth Magic or Rain Magic increase output of resources such as stone or grain. Auxiliary items include a wide variety of buffs for your hero, peace treaties, and one called the "Relocator", which allows you to move your city to another location anywhere on the map.
It is important to note that none of these items give players an unfair advantage. Most items work on the principle that "time is money" so if you'd rather not wait for your building to finish construction or for your army to finish training, you can purchase an item to speed up the process. Also, the items are very reasonably priced - most cost under a dollar.
OnRPG: As your players battle in the days of yore and your staff battles bugs, is there a date set for Excalibur Online to fully launch?
Excalibur Online will move from the Closed Beta testing phase to Open Beta right around the time your readers see this interview. We invite everyone to check it out!
OnRPG: Is there anything else you would like to add?
MMO games of any genre, be they strategy, sports, or RPGs, all are built around the community of players in the game. Publishers and developers sometimes lose sight of this fact, and end up becoming too mercenary with their players, or make customer service and interaction between player and operator too low a priority. When this happens games tend to dry up and people become dissatisfied and leave. It's all about the community, and we are always striving to find ways for communities to grow and thrive. We do our best to develop a sense of belonging among all of our players, in all of our games.
OnRPG: Thank you for your time!