Planeshift 0.5 Interview: Grinding is Pointless
Questions by Michael Sagoe (mikedot), OnRPG Journalist
Answered by Stefano Angeleri (weltall), PlaneShift Engine Lead
Many MMORPGs like to mention that their games are "free-to-play". However, many companies like to promote free-to-play as a way to get people interested and then push extra content as premium or cash shop services. In short: "free-to-play" doesn't always mean "free-to-enjoy."
However, the developers at Atomic Blue look to change all that with their latest title "PlaneShift". PlaneShift is a 100% free-to-play MMORPG. Unlike other free-to-play MMOs, PlaneShift has no monthly fees, no cash shops and no optional premium content. Everything in PlaneShift is available free to players with no ifs, ands or buts.
I took the time to speak with the lead engineer of PlaneShift to find out more.
OnRPG: Hello! My name is Michael Sagoe (mikedot), newest game journalist for OnRPG.com. Before we jump into the questions,would youplease introduce yourself to the readers?
Sure. I'm a student of information technology from Italy and have been working in console (mostly Playstation 2 and Playstation Portable) and computer development for more than a decade now. I've worked a lot in the homebrew scene and now also in the opensource scene.
Library in Planeshift
OnRPG: Now you say that PlaneShift is a free-to-play MMORPG with no cash shops, no optional premium accounts and no strings attached. Your company is receiving funding for servers and bandwidth through sponsors. Who are these sponsors, exactly?
Right now we have three primary sponsors: the Singapore based Fragnetics, where we hosted the main roleplaying server till recently, the USA based EZ-PC usa, where we have been hosting our internal test server till last year and now is an official server with no roleplaying enforcement, and the most recent one was the Italy based Skylabhost where we have moved just last month our roleplaying server. All these sponsors provided the hardware and bandwidth at no cost for us, because they like our project and want to support our development. As you can see they are all datacenters or hosting providers.
OnRPG: What was the inspiration behind the creation of PlaneShift?
PlaneShift history starts long time ago, when MUDs were the only online multiplayer games. Luca Pancallo, who was playing many different MUDs and was also a dedicated table top RPG player, wished to do something new: adding a graphic interface and a deep and consistent story and background around it. With a group of people he was able to get to a good point on it, but at that point PlaneShift was only 2D. Some years later, around 2001, Luca made up a new team of people, who allowed to bring the game to 3D and to what we see today. Because of this PlaneShift has been one of the very first free 3D MMORPGs in existence.
OnRPG: What sets PlaneShift apart from other MMORPGs on the market?
I think some major points are the role-playing focus in its development, the fact it's entirely free to play without any hidden fees, and the fact we have an Open Source engine where everyone can contribute. This is essentially unique at least in the 3D MMORPG scene. The fact we are providing sources for our client and server, allows also anyone to start their own game with it, with their own content. To my knowledge PlaneShift is the only game with a good status of development where the engine was developed since the beginning as open source. Another major point is the native support for all the major platform (Linux, Windows, MacOSX), which is still quite a rarity in the whole game market not only in MMORPG.
OnRPG: What phase of testing is your client currently in? When do you expect PlaneShift to enter its final stages of production?
We still consider the project in a beta status as it's still being actively developed, although with the latest release (0.5) we reached an high stability server side. It's the first time our server stayed up and operational for over a month without any reboot. We are working on continuous improvements, adding more data (crafting, items, quests), and improving the client stability little by little. The new update system and crash report system, which have been deployed in 0.5, allows us to do more frequent updates and so increase the speed of completion of the game. As for the second question I'd say still some years will be needed but the game can already be perfectly enjoyed almost like a finished product right now.
OnRPG: What are some of the new features included in the latest client?
The last major version of the client was a big leap forward on the engine side on all fronts. It took a year to get there and many mayor additions where implemented since the release of the first client in the 0.5.x series.
Just to cite some of the most important features: we have now support for modern shaders and graphic technologies, player mounts, a new menu based questing system supporting voices, item storage, a background loader allowing to avoid loading time through maps, chat channels, guild alliance chat and an easily skinnable gui with language translation support. Then we have some features which will be deployed really soon like the monster tribe system. A system which will allow NPC to actually breed new ones and to act toward the player as a group and no more as a single entity.
OnRPG: The monster tribe system sounds awesome. Would you care to explain your thoughts on this?
The monster tribe system is something which has been floating around in PlaneShift, as an idea, for long. There have been some first attempts in our code for it but nothing which lead to what we are going to have active very soon. A tribe, as a group of NPCs, allows them to be dynamic, and not static entity as we usually see them. The "population" of each tribe can shrink and grow depending on the actual players' actions, and that's not the only thing which the players will be able to influence. Their behavior will change depending on how players interact with them. If the tribe is being attacked frequently while being in their territory, it's possible they would actually attack the player for revenge, or, if you attack some of them, they would be able to call other tribe members for help, and perform some more coordinated and effective attacks, similarly to what happens in a hunter pack. This allows a greater level of immersion and makes the game world extremely dynamic: you won't know how big is a group of monsters, where are they and how they will react to you... at least till you notice them on your back!
OnRPG: The PlaneShift website mentions that you can enjoy the game as an adventurer or as a citizen. Exactly what kind of rewards can be earned for playing as an average citizen and how?
A world with all super heroes will just flatten them all to normal persons, so in the game society there is need of all the types of citizens: crafters, miners, metallurgists, cooks, fighters, mages ... All have their importance and all have different rewards and benefits. Someone who is dedicated to mining will be able to sell his ores to a metallurgist, which will furnish a crafter. They will then be able to make a sword which will help an adventurer in exploring the wide lands of Yliakum. Each type of character has quests more tailored to him. This aspect will be more visible in the future with the use of the factions system which will provide to the player different challenges, items and possibilities depending on the path they choose.
OnRPG: There is mention that PlaneShift's skill system allows for unlimited professions, so I assume this allows players to create a mix and match between all kinds of professions. Would you care to explain the skill system a bit more?
Sure. PlaneShift allows a player to train any skill with no limitations at all, even though we provide a starting point in the character creation, which gives some levels in a set of skills, depending on the choices of the player, we still allow the player to find a trainer for the skill he's interested in and have him start immediately on what he wishes to learn. So you could easily create characters like battle mages or a fighter who has a basic knowledge of metallurgy. In summary what players can do it is only limited to their willingness to train and their choices, as we don't enforce predefined templates like it happens in games using the classes system. A character in PlaneShift can actually "wake up and decide to change job" with no penalties at all and retaining all the old skills which were learned.
OnRPG: PlaneShift features 12 different races. Which ones among the 12 races are your personal favorites and why?
The one I like most is the Klyros, a winged reptilian race. I've always liked this type of races in various games and in addition I love the setting behind them in PlaneShift: they are a proud race who doesn't let others bend them in any way, not even a god. Earning their respect is something really difficult and is earned through notable or courageous acts. In addition they are strong willed to always reach their goal even at the cost of their life. This is what brought them from their own home world to Yliakum, the place where PlaneShift is set. Another thing I love about them is their psychology; in fact they have a great attachment for the ones of their kin, making themselves call each other brothers and sisters and also their curiosity which brings them to enjoy staying with other races. Another race I like are the Enkidukai, mainly for their tribal customs and high regard on honor they have.
OnRPG: While there is a server for regular play, there is also a server made just for roleplaying. How strongly and often are these rules of roleplaying enforced?
We have a group of really dedicated Game Masters, who are roleplayers themselves, and who actually dedicate time to enforce the rules we have set as much as possible. Just to give an example: all names of new players are checked for compliance to a fantasy medieval environment, and in certain cases GMs are able to rename the wrong ones before the player completes the tutorial. In the other cases, where those names slip from Game Master's attention, experienced players tend to alert them and measures to fix the problem are taken quite fast. When a new player joins, he is guided by the tutorial on how to properly roleplay and respect the rules, and Game Masters will contact him directly in case is needed. More extreme measures are rarely put in action. The most elder members of our players' community are eager to teach newest members how to roleplay, and not only play amongst experts. In addition the Game Master themselves prepare events for players to enjoy. Those events are checked by our background and setting team, and allows the players not only to have an opportunity to roleplay but also to learn additional aspects of the places where PlaneShift is set and so enrich their own roleplays.
OnRPG: Personally, it's great to see actual roleplaying is involved with PlaneShift. I believe that roleplaying with the community as a whole can really help create a sense of immersion while playing that MMORPGs lack these days, don't you agree?
Yes, I agree. Most games are targeted to grinding: something which just brings to people boasting their own character skills and to sites which sells in game money or skill for even real money. Roleplaying is a different way of playing, it can take advantage of what the gameplay gives but also allows players to create big stories or just have a simple day in a different world without all the rushing we are pushed in our daily life. A simple chat with an old friend about what happened with his rivnak ( a horse like creature in PlaneShift ) can really be enjoyable or chatting about the bad luck of being robbed. All these elements give a great importance to roleplaying: something which I really suggest to anyone. A tip: don't be afraid of making mistakes when roleplaying, we all do.
OnRPG: Now there doesn't seem to be any mention of a player vs. player option according to the website. Does PlaneShift feature any player vs. player options?
Yes, PlaneShift has a really good amount of player vs. player options. We have 3 main types of challenges between players.
- The so called Guild Wars which allow the members of the guilds engaged on it to attack each other without notice.
- Then we have the recently added group challenges which provide the same type of environment of the guild wars but group sized.
- Finally we have the classic single player challenges which are available in two major flavors: "PVP areas" where upon entering you can attack any player present in the area and "challenge based" where a player asks the other if he wants to spare on a duel and only if the other agrees they can duel to the death or just to defeat: the winner will be asked if he wishes to kill his opponent or spare his life. The answer to the challenges can also be pre-defined in the client options to always deny or always allow a fight without player interaction.
OnRPG: How often do you receive comments and ideas from players? How much of their opinions shape the world of PlaneShift?
We get feedback very often through forums, the bugtracker, the chat and sometimes also email. In most cases the suggestions are read and taken in account by the developers, even though we don't get many constructive ones. The best way for a player to shape PlaneShift is to help in its creation: just an example of this is the Amedneir project. Amedneir is the development of a new city for the Klyros race, which is entirely community driven and of which we will see soon the first part in game!
OnRPG: So how do you see PlaneShift expanding in the next couple of months?
Things we will for sure see in the next couple of months include wizard robes, ranged weapons with bows and arrows, the tribe system being expanded to more NPC in game and a random spawn point for them all, so they won't just die and re-spawn in the same exact spot all the time. Other things will we see are more different songs, based also on the areas, and sounds from the environment and from the monsters making the whole world more real. Other things are being done, which could probably get in game soon: a faction system which would shape your character more even through quest and which would make choices more weighted on the future possibilities you might have, improvements to the client stability and to the background loader and joypad support. Last, but not last as importance, expansions to the in game areas: like whole new parts and improvements in some, already in game, cities, like Ojaveda, the city built by the Enkidukai on the dome, and the Dakkru's temple, in the death realm, and a new city: Amdeneir the city built by the Klyros on the dome. We are also working on some graphics improvements, like water reflections.
OnRPG: PlaneShift is made available to all as a free-to-play game and as open source coding. What made your team decide to allow open source licensing?
Open source is well known to be the best way to code. It allows finding bugs faster, it allows deploying your product in any platforms, even in those which weren't thought off at the beginning or which aren't accessible to developers, and allows others to reuse the code and to contribute back to it improving it and so delivering a steadily better product. Probably at the time the decision was taken this wasn't so clear yet but still we saw the possible positive points about it, the same positive points which allowed PlaneShift to grow how it is today. Another goal of the development team was, and remains, delivering software which is reusable even for other games; being open source really allows this sort of reuse.
OnRPG: So is there any other comments you would like to add?
As some might know, this project has been going on for long time and more than a commercial venture it is a dream. A dream to get a complete enjoyable game tailored more to roleplaying than pointless grinding. It would be nice if more and more people would like to take part of PlaneShift as players and developers. And we are looking forward for sure to play with each of you!
OnRPG: Well then thank you for your time and I'll be waiting to see what's in store for PlaneShift in the future!