ZAM @ EVE Fanfest 2012: World of Darkness

Find out about all of the new information presented at the Fanfest 2012 panel, in addition to an interview with Senior Producer Chris McDonough on the finer details of creating a sandbox character-based MMORPG.

After the presentation, I managed to briefly catch up with Chris McDonough to get a bit of insight into the development of World of Darkness, some of the team's major MMO inspirations, and what it's like to be developing a character-based sandbox MMORPG.

ZAM: Thanks for taking the time to talk! I'll try to keep this short.

Chris McDonough: My pleasure!

ZAM: Given that World of Darkness will be CCP's big foray into character-based MMORPG development, it's obvious that more parallels will be drawn - in gameplay design and creative approach - between you and other "mainstream" MMORPGs. In terms of spiritual identification, would you say you lean more toward the EVE framework, or more toward traditional MMORPG design? You obviously have the ambitious sandbox approach, but…

Chris: Yeah! In terms of gameplay, well… we're CCP, right? [laughs] It's go big or go home, and we're definitely not trying to make an MMORPG like many of the ones that have come out in the past few years. Bringing sandbox gameplay to a character-based game is a unique challenge, but we've learned so much from EVE Online, the 20 year history of Vampire: The Masquerade and all the live-action player feedback that I think we'll do well in keeping those things together.

ZAM: I think regardless of how World of Darkness turns out, unique will probably be a defining point.

Chris: Definitely!

ZAM: You mentioned bringing sandbox gaming to a character-based universe; do you think there is a higher difficulty in creating this kind of game versus developing a spaceship-based sandbox game like EVE Online?

Chris: Well, the character technology is certainly a big deal. We're trying to make a character system that is unlike anything else on the market. One thing I can say is that we have a very complex clothing system, because we feel that it's important that players can dress their characters like they would in the real world - we want to give them a host of fashion options. It's something we feel is integral to capturing the style and feel of being a vampire; they're elite creatures, they're sexy, they're dangerous, and to let them feel that way is important.

ZAM: For inspiration, you're obviously looking to EVE and its sandbox gameplay, but is there anyone out there who you've really liked in terms of creative direction or approach? Or is World of Darkness something you really want to keep uniquely for your own?

Chris: That's an interesting question! There are a lot of systems that we look at, but there's really not anything we've wanted to be close to. The closest thing we'd want to be like is EVE Online, because there's really nothing else out there like it. However, it's not to say that we haven't taken influences from other games. There are lots of people playing League of Legends; another influential point for us would be Magic: The Gathering for some systems that haven't been revealed yet. But we're a company of gamers, and we play a lot of games! It's hard for influences to not be there.

ZAM: Last question: sandbox gaming in a character-based world has typically been relegated to smaller development studios, like Star Vault's Mortal Online or Adventurine SA's Darkfall. Do you feel it's a huge risk to develop a triple-A character-based sandbox MMORPG, even with World of Darkness' cult following?

Chris: Well, when you look at developing a game like EVE, the danger is enormous. Anytime you're creating something with sandbox systems, how do you test it? If your goal is to create a universe where a thousand people can do something, but it only works when a thousand people do it... it's tough! You have to build the systems, get them in place, and then you have to find a good way to do large-scale testing. And it's not just load-testing, which is fairly easy; it's emergent design testing, it's figuring out how people are going to exploit the system. 

Every time we design something, we ask ourselves, "How will this be abused?" And this was mentioned in the CCP Presents! keynote speech; there are guys like GoonSwarm, whose whole existence is to ruin the game. If you can have that as your expectation and you can anticipate what things will come out of players trying to ruin your game, then I think you've got an advantage there. But that's still tough stuff to test. It takes a particular type of game player to be rallied to an organization that pushes things to their limits.

ZAM: Emergent design sounds like a euphemism for griefing, but I suppose that's part of the natural charm of sandbox gameplay. Thanks so much for your time, and we'll be on your doorstep for new information when the team is ready!

Chris: No problem! Thanks for the chat!

The World of Darkness team hopes to release some new information near the end of 2012. Come back later this week for an in-depth interview with CCP's Chief Marketing Officer, David Reid, as we discuss the mass appeal of EVE Online, CCP's "cloud gaming" vision for the EVE Universe, and more!

Chris "Pwyff" Tom, Editor-in-Chief

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