Questions by Shannon Doyle (Leliah), OnRPG News Editor
There may not be much press about it yet, but Splinters of Ares isn’t your average MMO. It’s a self run crowdfunding project which spans from MMO, to Film, beyond to paper and even into your nose. This ambitious project is being undertaken by Bulltiger Productions and I had the opportunity to talk with three wonderful people involved with the project, Stephen Brent Jenkins, Adam W Rodriguez, and Kate Meehan. I found out about the film, the MMORPG, the development and more.
If you’d like to start, please introduce yourself and tell us what your role is in the development of Splinters of Ares.
Stephen Brent Jenkins, CEO/Creative Producer of Bulltiger Productions. I work on all major aspects of the “Splinters of Ares” MMORPG and the Film “Splinters of Ares: Rogue.”
Adam W Rodriguez, the Chief Writer of the Splinters of Ares IP and the script writer for the film Splinters of Ares: Rogue.
Kate Meehan, CFO, Bulltiger Productions. I’m also working closely with the writers and creative team to shape the cultures in the various zones.
For our readers who may have never heard about Splinters of Ares, could you give us a bit of background not only into the development but also the history of the world?
Jenkins: The Splinters of Ares world is a vast fantasy world set on and around the planet of Ares and its moons and planes. When Adam Wade Rodriguez and I sat down to develop this game, we pulled together our vast knowledge of games, both PC and table top, and cherry picked some of the old gameplay features we were sad to see abandoned as games evolved. We then started expanding on those and adding in features we’d always wanted to see in PC and console games, attempting to marry the visual immersion of a console game with the freedom of table top RPGs. Along with magical and combat options for gameplay
Rodriguez: Brent Jenkins and I have been dreaming up fantastical worlds since we saw Star Wars the first time, so as far as development goes we’ve been at it as long as we can remember.
When we sat down and began mapping the game and film out, the culmination of years of imaginative world building began detailing the World of Ares. We were careful to build an appropriate past that would lead the player and viewer to the future we envision for the franchise. We want the history and the unfolding story of the IP to be full of surprises.
Meehan: As far as the history goes, the entire starting continent in World of Ares is trying to rebuild itself after a major war united the free peoples against invading armies. These allegiances, now that the war is over, are starting to disintegrate. Meanwhile, the wizards, a fairly secretive bunch, are muttering about a terrible prophesy coming to fruition — just as everyone is trying to get back to normal. It’s a pretty terrible time in the history of Ares.
Let’s talk a bit more about the world you’ve created. What inspired the history and lore for Splinters of Ares?
Jenkins: The world ideas and ethos that have gone into the histories of Splinters of Ares come from our team’s wide knowledge base. We incorporated some of our favourite obscure earth-bound mythologies and combined them with inspiration from some of our favourite table top games and fantasy stories. We’ll freely admit to probably having let our imaginations spend too much time exploring Krin and Middle Earth, and questing with Hawk the Slayer, Conan and Wolverine. We’ve worn the pips off way too many D20 dice.
Rodriguez Right around here we introduced Kate to our world, and started building a map. Kate’s knowledge of European history is pretty impressive. This made for a rich dialog and series of brainstorms that resulted in a backstory and lore base that the historians and fantasy fans can give several knowing nods to. Our nerdery knows no bounds and this world reflects that.
Meehan: Our goal in the development of the zones was to base them off cultures that you’re probably vaguely familiar with from history class and set them in regions with similar environments. That familiarity helps with bringing players deeper into the game – if they feel like they’ve been there before, or can already affiliate a region with stories and legends, whether they’re ours or not, the players are already deeper into the game than if we built a world entirely based on fantasy.
Some say that the fantasy genre is oversaturated, especially in the MMO scene. What makes this world different to all the others out there?
Jenkins: Splinters of Ares is hoping to be the forerunner in the evolution of MMOs. Fantasy gaming should be more than plunking your game into a setting where elves run around. We really enjoy the shared elements of storytelling, where players are as much in control of the story as the GMs. With the Morphic world engine, the decisions players make will affect the world around them and how other players are affected as well. We have a highly reactive faction engine that will account for every quest and action the player takes.
Rodriguez: Oversaturated isn’t the word I’d use. I’d say MMO fantasy games are becoming a little too formulaic. A mold has been formed and deviation from that mold might be intimidating to some developers. We have a design that offers what the player wants in a MMO, like quest versatility, a world that actually is affected by the actions of the player. Some of the things players love about table top RPGs.
Continuing along that same vein, let’s talk about gameplay. What is Splinters of Ares going to be like? Will we be sent out to kill 10 rats? Will there be PvP?
Meehan: Screw grinding. Screw it in its ear.
Jenkins: Grinding is the bane of the MMO! PVP …Yes! Battleground, arenas, specialty areas and duels, they will all be here, along with some pretty fun PVE options.
Rodriguez: Less grinding and more PVP is a part of our game play model.
In the crowdfunding video it is said that no two severs will be alike because the players shape the world they live in. This isn’t something typically seen in the MMO genre. Will players be able to play on more than one server, or maybe even transfer if they don’t like how things are going on the server they originally pick?
Jenkins: Through our “Morphic World Engine,” players will change the world around them on a constant basis,
Server transfers will be available from the beginning, but there will be quests you’ll have to accomplish to shift from one temporal time line to another.
Why have you chosen to go the crowdfunding route instead of the more traditional route of finding backers and publishers to start with?
Jenkins: For two reasons. The first is to establish incorporating player feedback into our development process from the very beginning. We think making those systems part of our company culture keeps us tethered to the idea that we’re making games for our players, not for the distributors. The crowd fund is a tidy vehicle for getting our players involved early, and to make a game and film that is based on their feedback, rather than what our investors and distributors want.
The second reason is to buy us a little more creative freedom.
In addition to that, why have you decided to do the funding on your own site instead of one of the popular third party sites like Kickstarter or Indiegogo?
Meehan: While we appreciate the visibility of Kickstarter or Indiegogo, we’re a gaming company. It seemed strange to pay someone else to build something that we should be quite capable of building on our own. We may do an official Kickstarter down the road, but for now, hosting it on our site allows us a lot more flexibility in the amount of time we can keep the campaign running.
Will the crowdfunding project have an end date or will it go until the money is raised? If it does end before you reach the goal what will happen then?
Jenkins: The crowd funder is initially set for six months, but because it’s set up on our own site, we can have it open as long as people seem to want to contribute. Six months just gives us a good window to develop some of our more unique bits of code and software before having to march to the tune of our investors. Regardless, the game and film will be made. The crowdfund lets us be more creative about it.
Trion Worlds currently has the MMO/TV Series Defiance with Syfy which is perhaps the most popular transmedia MMO project at the moment. How will the Splinters of Ares film differ from previous transmedia endeavors?
Jenkins: Trion did a great job, but we want to take it much further. The film is actually the first of a series of films to be released internationally that are tied to game expansions, all of which are influenced by the choices players are making in-game. We’ll also be releasing literary and graphic novels, which feature characters you only see momentarily in the film, but which also intersect with in-game questing. We’re also launching a full suite of mobile apps, which include lighter games, MMO interfaces, and a slew of other bits. We’re really excited about the world we’re building, and we want to figure out as many avenues as possible to share it with you.
Do you have any big names lined up for the film and MMO? Be it from the production end or acting.
Jenkins: Ah ha!
Yes, we’ve got some pretty big names on both the film and game sides. Kalani Streicher (who worked with George Lucas at Lucas Arts on much of the Star Wars Franchise) from Kalani Games has partnered with us for our game development and production. Mick Giles worked with EA and SOE for just about ever, and worked on some of their biggest titles, among a bunch of others.
On the film end, we’re still waiting on ink to dry on some contracts, so we can’t quite announce those yet. Let’s just say it’s a who’s who of our very favourite actors and directors, and we will let you know as soon as our attorneys will allow. But seriously, we’re really excited about the people we’ve managed to bring on board.
Will people all around the world be able to see the film in theater?
Jenkins: Yes. It’ll be released on the big screen, internationally.
What, to you is the single most exciting thing about Splinters of Ares? Other than the fact that you have the pleasure of working on it, of course.
Jenkins: For me, it’s got to be merging games and films together, and the ability to bring players on from the beginning. I like the idea of the players steering the industry, rather than the other way around.
Rodriguez: For me it’s bringing the IP to life. The process is awesome and being able to create a new world based on my ideas and the concepts of the team we have assembled is an incredible experience.
Meehan: I’m totally into the Choose Your Own Adventure aspects of the game. I loved those books as a kid, and the way that the players can shape the world is very exciting.
Finally, let’s talk dates. Do you have any release dates, or betas scheduled?
Jenkins: We could give you some wild guesses on dates, but you know how uncertain MMO development timelines are. We hope to be in alpha next year.
Thank you to Stephen Brent Jenkins, Adam W Rodriguez, and Kate Meehan for taking the time to tell us more about Splinters of Ares. Now, you may be wondering, where does the nose come into this. Well it was just announced yesterday that Splinters of Ares is teaming up with Scent Sciences to bring players custom Splinters of Ares scent packets which will allow the player to smell the game they play. Let’s just hope we don’t run into any rotting zombies. OnRPG will be keeping a close eye on the development of Splinters of Ares and we will be sure to bring you any news as we get it.