Sherwood Dungeon Interview: Six Years And Still Going
Questions by Vincent Haoson, OnRPG Journalist
Answered by Gene Endrody
Sherwood Dungeon is one of those rare MMOs which survived in a very competitive market. Operating for six years is no mean feat for any game and Sherwood Dungeon has proven that it can be done. We here at OnRPG were given a chance to talk with Gene Endrody and to get to know the creator and the game more closely.
OnRPG: The game has been operating for six years now, how's the game faring?
Sherwood Dungeon started as a hobby project in the evenings and weekends in 2004. Initially the players came from other projects I was working on but that grew organically through word of mouth over time. I left my day job as a Technical Art Director in the console game industry in 2006 to concentrate on Sherwood full time. My wife joined the company at that time to handle everything not directly related to making or running the games. I wanted to keep the new business cottage-industry based and make a go of things in a non-traditional way that doesn't rely on publishers or VCs. Today Sherwood Dungeon attracts over a million monthly unique players across three game servers that typically peek around 1500 concurrent players each.
OnRPG: Why do you think the game was able to survive this long in an industry that keeps on punching out one new game after another?
Part of the reason for Sherwood's longevity is the grassroots nature of it. Players seem to find it a refreshing change to play an MMO developed by a guy in his basement rather than a large faceless corporation. Because game development is naturally a slower process with just one person, Sherwood was an experiment with a more open process where the players could see the unfinished game evolve over time and participate with their feedback. Launched initially with the minimum possible feature set, Sherwood is never finished and continues to evolve through small updates. Players who return to the game after a few years are usually surprised how these updates have added up over time. I've also worked very hard to keep it free. There aresome optional pets that can be purchased for $5 each, but all the core elements are completely free of charge.
Creating a character in Sherwood
OnRPG: What do you think is the game's advantage over other MMORPGs out now in the market?
Our biggest advantage is ease of entry. Sherwood Dungeon is a free 3D fantasy MMO that runs in your web browser but with the look and feel of a downloadable client or boxed game. We don't require registration or personal information and the shockwave based client that runs in your browser is less than 5 MB in size. This means that most players can go from discovering the game to playing in less than a minute. Players make a judgment about whether this is a quality product worth registering for from actually playing the game. Just enter a character name and you're in. We have the lowest barrier to entry of any MMO on the market.
OnRPG: What makes Sherwood Dungeon different from the other MMORPGs out right now?
The vast majority of fantasy MMO's tend to use a pseudo-turn based approach to combat. In those games, most attacks have cool-down periods that give players time to make a strategic choice for the next attack. As players level, their skill tree expands and those choices become increasingly complex. This cerebral, strategy based game play doesn't feel as immersive and for better or worse, I wanted to make combat in Sherwood feel more in your face. We don't use the traditional tank, DPS, healer trinity and focus more on an action RPG style of melee combat. Combat is skill or twitch based as timing and practice are emphasized over XP level, particularly for PVP where XP levels have no influence. With attack, block, six power moves and amulet attacks there are nine basic moves. This makes Sherwood's combat easy to learn, but because timing is so important a player with skill always has the advantage.
Battle in Sherwood Dungeon
OnRPG: What is the game's most lovable feature for players? Why do they say so?
When Sherwood launched it was a glorified 3D chat room with swords. Early players bought into the idea of what Sherwood could be some day as opposed to what it actually was. The fact that I wanted their feedback to help steer the direction of development was apparently such a rare thing that they were willing to overlook the fact that it was barely a game at that point. These players found it cool to hang out in an unfinished game. There wasn't much to do, so they would invent stuff. That culture of emergent play never left the game. As a result, some of the coolest "features" of Sherwood are not found in the user interface but come from a very active player community.
OnRPG: Why does Sherwood Dungeon allow PvP as early as the first level of the game? Doesn't it affect the game's overall fun factor?
My intention was to make PVP combat a little like Street Fighter, where timing and practice count but XP Level does not. In this way any player is a potential opponent for any other player and you're not running around looking for opponents of the same level. This also means veteran players and new players can hang out in the same areas, and do. Most combat is opt-in and this creates a more relaxed experience when you're just in the mood to hang out. Ganking isn't really possible because it's easy to avoid a fight if you're not in the mood. Just move out of the way or use the ignore feature. If I limit PVP at low levels, there's no incentive for the veterans to recruit new players into clans. Having a few veteran players take you on a clan or room raid is also one of the greatest ways to get introduced to the PVP aspects of the game.
OnRPG: Why does the game allow players to keep switching their class in-game? How does this affect the players overall gameplay?
Viking, Ranger, Undead Skeleton, Dark Knight, Valkyrie or Warrior; the way you look in the world is more of how you feel at that moment than some character choice you made ages ago. We don't have classes but your character's avatar can be changed at any time. I wanted high polygon, well-animated characters you might expect to see in boxed games, even if that meant having to make some compromises on the total number of choices because we're running in a web browser. This approach doesn't affect game play as the character stats are independent from how you look visually in the game.
OnRPG: Can you tell us what the lore is behind the game? How do players come into the story Sherwood dungeon?
In the introductory "Prophecy of Bane" quest series you are introduced to the Darkblood, a cult set on returning the world of Sherwood to the void. The Darkblood worship the oldest of the black dragons, a creature named Bane who can only be defeated by a weapon called the Dragon Claw Scepter. You need to earn six Stones of Power to summon the Dragon Claw in trials of combat throughout the kingdom and defeat Bane in order to fulfill the prophecy. The Prophecy quests are a great way to get acquainted with the kingdom as they keep you moving from location to location. As the game grows we will reveal more about the struggle between the Darkblood and the kingdom.
Lore and environment
OnRPG: Where do you get the ideas on the monsters players are facing in the game? Will you add more to the roster in succeeding patches?
Many of these come from discussion with the players. For example, the Darkblood Valkyrie came from a screenshot that a player had edited and submitted to our Facebook page. It seemed to fit in with what I was planning and made the next update. There was a standing joke in the community regarding upside down flying pink unicorns and although there was no way I was going that far, I did introduce white unicorns to Midnight Glade, a moonlit island with a trading town that launched a few months ago. The unicorns are friendly and walk right up to you but if you hit them they become one of the most vicious creatures in the game. I'm also starting to add more named MOBs to the game. In addition to Bane there is a giant Spider named Agony on the Isle of Heroes that can be summoned along with a variety of challenges in the coliseum there. New quests, weapons, monsters and islands obviously work best when they come together to tell a story. New MOBs will continue to be added through content updates as our lore expands.
OnRPG: Where do you get ideas on the weapons, armor and equipment players can acquire in the game? How big is the game's armory and will you add more in the future?
We've had three weapons updates in the last year and a half. A new selection of swords was introduced along with runes and summoning scrolls. The rune and scrolls are basically our version of a crafting system. We added a set of high level axes and scepters along with the Prophecy of Bane quest series. With the Yuletide update at Christmas we added a gifting feature that included a variety of weapons like cleavers and hammers. These were special gift items looted from monsters that could only be opened once given away to other players. I also added a feature to allow players to customize their shields with a selection of heraldry symbols and colors. This was intended to add a level of personalization that clans or guilds could take advantage of.
OnRPG: How big is the world in Sherwood Online?
Sherwood launched initially with just one island that still exists in the game as the Isle of Ancients. In 2006 I added a procedurally generated dungeon influenced by games like Rogue and Nethack. This vast dungeon increases in difficulty as your go deeper, but allows any player to find a challenge appropriate to their level. Over time I've also added nine new islands like Frostbite, Haunted Palm and Lost Lagoon, each with different climates, themes or palettes. The islands are accessed by portals or commands in the chat console as I've tried to keep long walks between destinations to a minimum in the game.
OnRPG: What's in store for Sherwood players in the succeeding months?
We don't talk much about updates before they are released or discuss specifics about what's in the works and new features usually just appear in the game without advanced notice or hype. This way there's no false expectations and it's just a nice surprise. Players can often get a sense of what's on my priority list from the on-going conversations on the Facebook page, particularly when I ask for feedback on aspects of the game. No player community speaks with one voice, so it's always a tricky balancing act trying to prioritize requests. I try to be transparent about the process and don't treat the players like they are idiots. When I'm forced to make controversial choices, whether or not they agree, at least there's usually an understanding about how I reached that decision. I'm over simplifying how complex this can be, but after six years I've gotten a little better at it.