It was a crazy week at the HZ household. My wife spent the week in LA, specifically the Beverly Hills Hilton, because it was her company’s five year anniversary, and they are rolling in money, so they decided to throw a big party. Definitely not your normal business trip! But last weekend, I got to experience something unique, and I hope its not the last time I will do so.
Awhile ago, The Ancient Gaming Noob alerted us all to a Kickstarter Project for an Indie MMO being worked on by some industry vets: Project Gorgon. I admit to being a little skeptical. One reason is that I have very little experience with KS. Another was that I just wasn’t convinced that a small team could pull off making an MMO that I would enjoy and find immersive. They take a lot of work and have long development times, right?
Long story short, the Kickstarter Project only got pledged to about 25% of its goal. And I can tell you in hindsight that we all missed out on a great opportunity. Towards the end of the drive, Eric opened up the server as a “Pre-Alpha” look at the game, with what they had accomplished so far. We got to play around in what I would call the “tutorial” starting area, which lead into at least two overland zones and at least two dungeons. There may have been more, that that’s all I made it to in the short playtime I had over the weekend. The game currently uses “off-the-shelf” stock art assets, some licensed, some donated by fans, and had a pretty basic UI. In other words, its not much to look at right now:
While you can catch up on all the development blogs on Eric’s website, I can tell you in short summary that his ideas on paper – are working in the game. Quite well. The basic idea is a sort of old-school, sandbox MMO. By old-school he doesn’t mean “hard as hell, with no convenience” – he means, if you drop an item on the ground, it stays there. If you milk a cow in the shed, nobody else will be able to run up and milk that cow until it produces more milk. All while not creating a quest that requires every player in the game to stand in line for hours competing for rare cow’s milk. And by sandbox he doesn’t mean you can go around slitting player throats and being an ass, but that one way to get cow’s milk might be to turn yourself into one and learn how to produce it. I kid you not. And I know it sounds crazy, and that you are dubious, which is why I am telling you now – it works!
For character development – from being a cow to being a swordsman, are not classes in the traditional sense. Nor is there a list of 1,001 skills to freeform your character with. Instead there is a series of “skill sets” in the game that come with their own advantages and disadvantages (ranging from mild to severe) that can be learned and then leveled up. Each character can operate two skill sets simultaneously (the left and right side of the armor/health meter in the first picture) and use generates XP that in turn unlocks new skills to use or improves existing skills or generates new perks that come into play while using the set. Most of the sets will also give you a general stat bonus as you level them up, improving your health or stamina (which is used to power all those skills).
I got to play around with Swordsman, Hand to Hand, Combat Psychology, Alchemy, and Fire Magic in my short time. In addition, there are several “tertiary” skills that can be learned and placed on the left hand bar, not requiring an “equipped” skill set. For example in my first screen shot, you can see on the top left that I have learned how to tame rats as a temporary combat pet. This, in the nature of the game, requires cheese. And while the rat will happily protect you if you give it cheese, it will not follow you three zones away from its home. You see how the design philosophy plays out?
The skill sets above are fairly standard ones that you can pick up either at the start of the game as part of the tutorial, or by conversations with various townspeople. But there are also some nonstandard sets. Drinking the bad milk will turn you into a cow, there are ways to learn a Were-Wolf skill set that – yes, requires you to be in wolf form for three days out of every month and which means you won’t be headed into town, unless you have discovered a way to convince the townsfolk not to run in gibbering fear from your presence. For every action and power – there is an opposite reaction and curse.
But you might ask about the gameplay itself – is it fun, or the usual? Well, its a nice twist on the usual. One of the twists is this: you’ll notice there is an armor stat in addition to the health stat. This acts as a sort of second HP bar, that must be depleted before health can be affected. Of course, some attacks do only armor or only health damage and so on. Just this one wrinkle in the usual combat formula creates some interesting side effects that ripple throughout combat. For example, fighting now with a sword and an open hand allows you to take advantage of some great moves from the Swordsman and Hand to Hand set that will break down armor quickly and also do some high health strikes. The downside is that without a shield – your own armor score will not be nearly as high. Magic doesn’t have to do huge DPS bursts to be effective and thus can be balanced along similar parameters with other skill sets, because they can be given some skills that will bypass armor. By the same token, some defensive skills could be programmed to raise your armor – helping a mage against a swordsman, but not as much against another mage!
Group play becomes a nice bundle of give and take as well. An armored giant (high armor) might mean that your groups swordsman takes center stage, while a giant spider (low armor, high health) is best handled by trying to keep it under control while your fire mage whittles down its health. You want a paradigm shift from the unholy trinity that still “feels” right to the players and doesn’t take an advanced MMO degree to learn? This is a great way to make that shift happen.
I have more to say, so I’m going to break this down into two posts. Tomorrow or Wednesday, I’ll talk about crafting, and the world of Project:Gorgon itself. Stay tuned.