Alganon Interview: What Is All The Hubbub?
Questions by Vincent Haoson
Answered by David Allen, President and Co-founder of Quest Online and Hue Henry, Director of Development
Alganon slowly picked up steam as 2009 unfolded, keeping its subscribers happy and content. It has already been a few months since the games soft launch and we here at OnRPG got the opportunity to talk to the busy people of Quest Online to give us the scoop with what’s up with the game.
OnRPG: It has been a few months since the game’s soft launch and you’ve been hard at work since then, we’d like to know how is the game faring now and how far are you in refining the game?
David Allen: This week’s launch will fix the major remaining disconnection issue along with numerous quest/data bugs and address the loading speed of the client. February 1st was our milestone for completing this core stability and we’re right on schedule. In addition we have used the soft launch time to refine the core of the product and prepare for the re-launch on March 1st. Things are going very, very well. Alganon is taking shape to be the game we all envisioned.
OnRPG: How long do you think till the game launches? What are the factors are you still looking into before you launch Alganon?
David Allen: March 1st is our re-launch. The goal is refinement, stability, numerous instances, and an assortment of new features. We will announce more details as we approach March 1st.
OnRPG: What were the difficulties that you faced in developing Alganon? It’s no mean feat that you make an MMORPG this huge from the top down, even if you have a very experienced team.
David Allen: The number one issue has always been funding and pairing those funding challenges with adjusted content and release schedules, mainly because we weren’t interested in working with VCs or Investment Bankers. We are completely privately funded by individuals. In addition, developing a true persistent MMOG in today’s economy and market is a whole different game from the challenges that existed just a few years ago. For the first few years, one of the major challenges was acquiring talent capable of working in our virtual environment, but once the core team and processes were put into place that was no longer an issue. The biggest challenge right now is visibility. It’s a catch 22. We didn’t market at all in Dec/Jan because it would have been drowned out by other products, but we needed to release the game, so we decided to do a soft launch. As we prepare for the “real push” over the next month or two, players will see a big shift in Alganon.
OnRPG: Where did you base the lore Alganon is using? What were your inspirations while developing the intricate story that’s part of the Alganon experience?
Hue Henry: For Alganon, we wanted to create a lore that was familiar to fans of the fantasy genre, but was still completely original and something that players would be excited to be a part of. To do this we had two main goals in mind. One of goals was to make the gods into complex characters. We didn’t want the deities of Alganon to be concepts or stereotypical ideas; instead we wanted them to be deep, emotional creatures that have complex relationships, make mistakes, and wage war for personal reasons. They are still beings many times more powerful than any mortal, but they are far from perfect. The antics of the gods drive the majority of the story in Alganon – every action that takes place in the world can be traced back to one of the gods. This makes the idea of paying patronage to the gods an important one, as they are capable of choosing favorites, having enemies, and making world-changing mistakes.
Our second goal was to avoid traditional fantasy races, without losing the traditional fantasy themes. There are no elves, dwarves, or orcs in Alganon, but we have plans to add races that have their own unique twist on “being at one with nature” or “workers of the earth” or being “unnatural monsters that revel in fear and chaos.” These allow our races to be familiar on the surface, but still be completely new, and something that players have not seen before.
As far as inspirations, we looked, but wanted our deities and heroes to be realistic. To achieve this, much of our inspiration comes from history. History’s greatest leaders and most infamous villains were equally flawed characters; their actions can be traced back to their complex psychologies and unusual views on the world. We put some of those same flawed world-views into our major characters so that their actions and decisions would create powerful and realistic stories.”
Epic Combat in Alganon
OnRPG: It seems that Alganon is going to be an epic adventure for players, how big are you expecting the game’s lore to be in the future and how are you going to go about it?
Hue Henry: The lore of Alganon is already epic in proportion, and stands to grow even larger. One of the important elements of our design philosophy is that we want the players to be the central heroes in the stories. Rather than a lore filled with NPCs and fictional groups invented by our devs, we want the lore to be one full of player-characters and player-run guilds. We already have several large guilds on our servers who are working to earn their place in the lore by completing a game-wide event known as The Dawning.
Likewise, we have built the game in such a way that we can take the story in dozens of different directions based on players’ reactions to the existing content. We have complex back stories and future plans for each and every one of the NPC groups that players come across in the game – if we notice players gravitating towards certain content; we will simply choose those plans as the launching point for future content. If the players enjoy the skitter, we have skitter-based storylines ready to go. If they prefer the Peacemantle, we can add Peacemantle content instead. Likewise, we will be adding new groups, and new concepts, giving players even more choice when they help to decide which direction the world progresses.
OnRPG: Speaking of which, how are players going to take part (aside from questing and adventuring) in the game’s overall story? Can actual players be part of the game’s story aside from being just an unknown “adventurer”?
Hue Henry: Like other MMOs, Alganon has the typical set of quests that allow a player to level from 1 to endgame while experiencing a series of engaging stories that introduce them to the world. However, on top of this quest system, we have regular events known as World Evolutions. (The first of these, known as The Dawning – is currently nearing completion as several large guilds are on their way to completing the required tasks.)
These World Evolutions contain quests, the introduction of new creatures and world bosses, and large-scale events that players will be able to participate in. As players complete these tasks, their information is recorded by the server, allowing our development team to know details of how the content was completed and look for exceptional players. We can tell who completed the content first, or in the shortest time, or the most times, or at the lowest level, or any of a multitude of other conditions, and we can use this information as the “official lore” of the world. So, although everyone may get the chance to battle against the Four Storms, our development team will choose certain elements of that battle to record as the official lore. This lore will be documented in game, in the books and dialogs and other lore object found scattered around the world, thus transforming the participants of these events from “unknown adventurer” to a “legend of Alganon.”
OnRPG: One of the things that caught my eye is the inclusion of the study system in the game where even subscribed players can “advance” their characters. Can you give us more details on how this system works?
Hue Henry: The study system is an alternative method of advancement. Players who enter the game will choose an area they wish to study, and their character will begin gaining points towards completing that study. When enough time has passed, the study will complete and the player will gain access to that study’s rewards. Most studies have a small statistical gain associated with them, but the true power of studies comes in their use as keys to unlock additional content.
Some studies are very simple; their primary purpose may simply be unlocking access to other studies. Some studies are more complex, they unlock access to quests or items of great value. For example, there are weapons which deal fire, storm, or even wrath damage. These weapons can only be used by a player who has taken the correct path in their studies. (In Alganon, the type of damage you deal is very important. Creatures have varied resistances and may be highly resistant to one type of damage, and highly vulnerable to another.)
OnRPG: What’s the difference between those who are using the study system and for those who are playing on a daily basis? And on what terms are those who use the study system be at par with the hardcore gamers?
Hue Henry: The true power of the study system is that it provides an alternate method of gaining power in the game. For example, there are weapons and armor in Alganon that drop off of difficult to defeat bosses that require a large group and a significant time investment to acquire. Hardcore players who put in the extra effort will get this gear the way they gear up in other MMOs – they will defeat these bosses multiple times, either waiting for the items to drop, or building up enough tokens to purchase the items directly.
Wonderful Mounts in Alganon
But we realize there are many players who have real-life commitments that prevent them from investing this much in a game. These players can choose, instead, to plan and queue their studies in order to open alternative methods for obtaining the same gear. This way, even though they are at work, or school, or a family outing, they are still working towards getting their gear. Hardcore players will still have the advantage that comes from getting their gear first, and being able to choose alternate studies. While the gamer with real-life responsibilities is studying to gain access to the powerful sword, the hardcore gamer may be studying to get access to daily quests so they can earn additional gold and rewards for their gameplay.
OnRPG: Speaking of the game’s features we were just wondering if the family system is similar to the guild system of other games or will you still be implementing guilds in Alganon? Why take this route?
Hue Henry: The family system is completely separate from the guild system. Players choose a family at the time of character creation, and they choose this family based on what style of gameplay they enjoy. So, for example, if you are a crafter, you will want to join one of the families dedicated to crafting. This will not only provide you with a special chat channel where you can discuss crafting and setup trade deals, but it will also provide you access to special gear and quests that are only available to members of that family.
Guilds, on the other hand, are groups of players who choose to work together inside the game. Players can join a guild, or form their own. Guilds will include players of all different play styles, who will work together to complete some of the game’s more difficult content. By having both systems in place, this allows players to turn to their guild for assistance in play styles they may not personally enjoy (but other people love), but also have a place they can turn to when discussing their own favorite play style. If you are an explorer who loves to find secret areas and beautiful vistas, you can join an explorer family and always have a direct line to other players who are interested in the same type of play. At the same time, you also have a guild you can turn to when you need items crafted or help with combat-based content.
OnRPG: Where did you get the idea of the Talrok race? How did you go about with the race’s history and characteristics?
David Allen: I created the Talrok as a counterpart to the Humans, but I didn’t want to create an ugly race nobody would want to play, and I didn’t want them to be too human. I’m very happy with the way they turned out. Doug Shuler and I spent weeks refining their look and feel, and over the next few months, their looks will continue to be refined as we prepare to introduce new races into the world.
When I created the core history and lore beyond Ardonya and the Gods, the details of the Talrok and the other races all fell together. Alganon will feature a total of eight playable races when everything is integrated, the lore, details, and background of which was all written over three years ago.
OnRPG: Will the other races mentioned in the game (the gnolls, sprites, wisps, Ogran etc.) be included in the race roster in the future? What made you decide to not include them now?
Hue Henry: One of the core philosophies behind Alganon is that we wanted our players to have a say in how the game develops. We wanted to get players into the game as soon as possible, via our soft launch, and get their input and feedback, and then use that feedback to improve the game. To do this, we started with only the two most balanced races, the humans and the Talrok. Since these two races are “jack-of-all-trade”-style races, they allow us to look at what elements of the game our players enjoy most, and we can make choices about our future races based on this feedback. There are numerous races planned for future expansion into Alganon. From the feedback we’ve gotten about our character models and animations from our current players, we are looking at adding the Vesperling and Sylvain as the next pair of races to be added to the game.
OnRPG: It seems that aside from the family, study and consignment everything about the game is somewhat echoing other MMORPGs, what do you think separates Alganon from the rest?
Hue Henry: Except for families, studies, consignment, the unique storyline, the role the deities play in the world, world evolution events, the MyAlganon social networking site, the Dual-Role system, an interdependent crafting system that allows pure crafters to be as important as pure combat players, the fact that every crafting profession is valuable to every class, alternate pathways of advancement that allow players to advance in their own way, beautiful new places to explore and strange new creatures to fight, and a development team that is a part of the community and pays attention to player feedback and input, the remaining changes are very small – not the kind of thing you brag about in an interview.
For example, the fact that the soldier’s first ability, Shield Bash, requires a shield is not a groundbreaking change, but this change, in combination with countless other small differences like it, allows and encourages soldiers in Alganon to level up by increasing their defensive stats. In most MMOs, the melee-tanking class finds it difficult to both level up and improve their tanking skills. Thus, when you group up for the first time, you will find that these so-called tanks have not learned how to play defensively, and, even worse, players who choose these classes find that at end game, their role suddenly changes. They were expected to deal damage while leveling, and now they are expected to play a tank? They have to learn to play all over again. This is not the case in Alganon. As players level up, they learn their primary role and this role stays with them through endgame. This is one of the major reasons why Alganon’s chat channels are not full of people calling each other noobs or shouting, “learn2play!” These improvements make the game fun, but they aren’t exactly the kind of bullet points you put on the back of a box, and so they are often overlooked or written off.
OnRPG: Isn’t it hard to keep up on pleasing a steadily growing community? How do you balance out what the communities want with how you envision the game?
Hue Henry: It is very difficult; however, it is one of our primary goals with Alganon. The secret is to balance based on what choices the community makes while playing, rather than what they say directly. So, we’ve added multiple elements to the game that, internally, we call hooks. These hooks are places where we start down a certain road, just enough to see if players want to go that direction or not. If players choose to go down that path (if they bite the hook), then we will create our next set of content in that direction, and make sure that content is full of new hooks. Then, we watch to see which hooks players nibble on, and move the content in that direction. This way, we are only releasing content that players are interested in.
OnRPG: What kind of community do you want to see in Alganon? Why?
Hue Henry: There are many negatives that come with putting a game online. Every dollar spent or hour of work that goes into bandwidth, servers, and networking code could be spent improving other elements of the game. Lag, especially the lag caused by network latency, is something that cannot be controlled by the game designer. Even worse, online games have to always be on guard from hackers, griefers, and exploiters that can ruin the game for everyone else. These things take away from a game’s potential, but what does going online offer in return?
One thing: Community. The only thing that online games have that offline games do not is other people. That makes it the most important element in an online game. We designed Alganon with this in mind. We designed Alganon to have a mature, cooperative community that works together to create something larger than they could ever do on their own. This includes our crafting system, which is highly interdependent. You cannot master crafting solo. It also includes our level system, which can be played solo, but serves to teach players the skills they will need when they start to group for endgame content. Every aspect of Alganon is built to encourage an open, mature, and respectful community of gamers who love to play MMOs.
OnRPG: What’s in store for players of Alganon in the succeeding weeks?
David Allen: Big changes and enhancements to stability, bug fixes, and details on the upcoming new features and instances slated for March 1st.