Topia Online Interview – An Indie Dream Made Reality
By Bryan King, OnRPG Journalist
Answered by: Josh Griffith, Topia Online Lead Developer
Topia Online is one of those MMOs that piques your interest, not necessarily because it’s the perfect MMO concept, but it’s definitely unique. Described as a completely player run game, Topia Online doesn’t just ask for player-built economy, towns, or political alliances, but players will use in-game scripting tools and the in-game map editor to create a world that is completely to their own liking. I got the chance to speak with Josh of Topia Online, to discuss what this Indie MMO can provide for the sandboxer in all of us.
OnRPG: Hello Josh, first off, can you please introduce yourself to readers?
Josh: My name is Josh, and I’m the owner and lead developer of Topia Online. I’ve been a professional software developer for about 10 years. My background mainly consists of writing advanced web applications for enterprise organizations.
OnRPG: At this point in development, would you say that there were any snags your team hit in early development?
Josh: Yes, some of our technology choices have had to change throughout development as we identified problems that will occur in the long-term. For example, originally we were creating all of the character animations by using hand-drawn pixel art. We’ve recently upgraded our engine to support dynamic animations using bones, physics, and transformations.
OnRPG: Did your team have any sort of inspiration while creating the game? Whether it was books, movies, or other games, did you guys utilize some source of media to better shape Topia Online into the imaginative sandbox it is becoming?
Josh: We’re influenced by a lot of games we’ve played in the past, including games such as Ultima Online, Minecraft, Terraria, Dwarf Fortress, and Dungeon Keeper.
OnRPG: Your team is currently utilizing Kickstarter as a funding source, with a goal of $50,000. Kickstarter has come under criticism lately for its traditionally unconventional method of funding. Why did your team decide to utilize Kickstarter as opposed to other methods of funding?
Josh: Kickstarter is an experiment for us, and it’s helped our game get a lot of attention. It hasn’t exactly proven to be a holy beacon of funding for indie companies, but it’s a great opportunity to help prove whether there is an audience for a particular game concept.
OnRPG: How exactly do players go about creating scripts in-game, and how simple would it be for a new player to become acquainted with the system?
Josh: Many players will have no scripting experience when they start playing Topia, and we’ve used that assumption to design tutorials and guides to help them. We’ve already introduced the system to dozens of people that have never written a script, and they are able to tinker and experiment with the examples to produce some interesting effects. We believe that games are an excellent teaching tool, and Topia offers a simple environment to learn a valuable skill.
OnRPG: From a crafting or economic standpoint, what does Topia Online offer for everyone’s inner-merchant?
Josh: Topia’s economy is based on an asset called ‘influence’. It’s not only the central currency, but is also used to learn new skills, hire ‘minions’, claim land, create laws, and sometimes is even used for crafting. Because there are so many deflationary measures, the economy in Topia Online will stay strong and not suffer from drastic inflation like other MMORPGs. Merchants will actually be able to sell goods and then use the influence to raise their skills. This is important, because it allows players to advance without forcing them to ‘grind’ specific activities.
OnRPG: Topia Online boasts a “Hardcore” gameplay system; can you go into more detail about this?
Josh: In order to reduce inflation, provide a challenge to players, and enable a dynamic world with consequence, we’ve had to implement significant penalties for death. In Topia Online, when you die, your character’s equipment will be left behind and he will lose all of his skills. We’ve been careful to create a balance between death penalties and frustration/fun factor. We do not want anyone to get frustrated because they’ve died, so we’ve made sure that skills can be obtained without grinding. Also, influence is associated with your account, which means your new character can rapidly advance using your account’s pool of influence.
OnRPG: In the same vein of thought, how extensive is Topia’s Player versus Player system?
Josh: Since all creatures in Topia Online are controlled by players, there is no such thing as ‘PvE’. However, unlike other MMORPGs, combat in Topia Online is less frequent. Although you may be battling many creatures throughout the day, it will be less about ‘grinding’ and more about removing a player from the world for a strategic benefit or gain.
OnRPG: What exactly is the “Monster Play” feature?
Josh: Unlike other MMORPGs, players control all of the creatures and monsters in Topia Online. Such creatures include wolves, slimes, giant spiders, zombies, elementals, minotaurs, ghosts, and even dragons. A player’s game account accrues ‘monster points’ that he uses to unlock or create monster characters. In order to earn the greater monsters, they must first earn points by playing as simpler creatures. Each creature will earn monster points by performing in a certain way. However, often times monster points are accrued simply by surviving and aging.
OnRPG: What type of player do you feel Topia Online will cater best to? The casual player? The hardcore player?
Josh: We think that Topia will appeal most to more ‘experienced’ players that do not need to be told ‘what’ to do in an online game. Many MMORPGs have a series of rigid quests laid out almost like a ‘theme park’. Players in these MMORPGs are told where to go, and given very simple sets of instructions. Topia Online will be better received from more gamers that are tired of clearing cellars of rats. In other words, it’s going to cater to people that want to try something different.
OnRPG: With a highly expandable interface and low-end graphic requirements, could we potentially see Topia Online on mobile devices?
Josh: Topia Online will indeed be playable on mobile devices. However, many of the ‘editor’ features such as scripting will only be available on desktops.
OnRPG: Where do you see Topia a year after launch?
Josh: A year from Topia’s launch date, the community will have developed hundreds of features that our development team would never have had the budget to create. Vast cities will exist with thriving ecologies, there will be political strife, and there will be thousands of spells, crafts, and advanced tools available that the community has built.
OnRPG: What type of events will Topia Online provide for the community?
Josh: Topia Online will not have any sort of ‘server-scripted’ events. Players on the other hand will trigger drastic changes to the game world through magic and other powers. For example, a player may achieve the skills and resources necessary to create a sort of ‘zombie apocalypse’ that can ripple through the entire game world and raise all of the corpses from the dead. The truth is, we as developers do not know what sort of events the players themselves may end up triggering.
OnRPG: When can we expect to see Topia Online’s release?
Josh: Topia Online has a planned release of late March as long as our Kickstarter is successful.
OnRPG: Anything else for our reader?
Josh: Many have expressed concern of Topia’s fate if our Kickstarter goal is not met. Although it may impact our release plans, we are dedicated to launch the game in 2013 regardless of whether we are able to raise the funds to expand our development team.
To learn more about this title be sure to check out their Kickstarter Page for details!