Shards Online: An Interview With Derek Brinkmann

We spoke to Derek about the success of Shards Online's campaign and more.

An Interview With Derek Brinkmann

Shards Online, the upcoming sandbox RPG featuring player-run servers from Citadel Studios hit its Kickstarter goal on Wednesday and is now looking toward the future. We spoke to Citadel's Founder and CEO Derek "Supreem" Brinkmann about stretch goals, Shards' playable female character, customization and more.

Citadel is focusing on the stretch goals in their Kickstarter campaign on the heels of their success of hitting the main goal. This isn't the first Kickstarter for Shards: back in May, the team held their original campaign, which had a loftier goal that, unfortunately, was not met. After extending our congratulations for reaching the new $50K goal, Derek spoke about how Citadel went about changing their original expectations.

"We spent the last five months kind of tightening up our presentation, making the game look as great as we can," said Derek. "If we weren't going to raise $320K on Kickstarter, then we had to change our approach. Originally we were going with a more traditional concept of what Alpha is - we're going with the more indie approach toward Alpha [now], which is that we do something that is really fun, something that people are going to enjoy. When we did that we came up with the $50K, backing it up with the other $50K from friends and family, it's going to get us to where we [need to be] to deliver an Alpha build that's going to be a lot of fun."

The stretch goals are now extra things the team wants to work into the Alpha build. Waiting to work stretch goal rewards into a final build "didn't make sense to us," according to Derek. Citadel felt that if the goals were met in for a Kickstarter campaign designed to help the game get to Alpha, then the goals should be in that Alpha build. "Alpha is our shot to show the world that Shards Online is an amazing game."

We discussed the female avatar that will be available in Shards, with Derek stressing that this character is a default option and not part of any stretch goals. Developing the playable character was important to the team because "we never want to force a female or anyone who doesn't want to, to play a male character."

The female character will be "tasteful" - meaning that her armor will actually look as if it would realistically protect her body. Derek offered a great example: "If you're going for an immersive roleplaying game and someone is supposed to be wearing platemail armor, yet half of her skin is showing, it's breaking the immersion of the game because obviously that person is not very well protected and she's supposed to be some kind of tank!"

After a chainmail bikini joke, Derek did comment that he's sure that eventually there will be some equipment that will be "less covering... even the male character may have [an option for] less full armor, but if you want to be fully protected, you will be." If you choose to wear armor that doesn't cover your body well in Shards Online, it's likely it won't protect you as well as a piece of full armor would.

Other playable races haven't been committed to yet, but the team acknowledges that they're desirable options and goals for further down the road. Currently the Kickstarter page only lists through the $100K stretch goal, but Derek told us that the $150K goal is another playable race.

One of the great part about the player-run servers for Shards is that the administrators of a server can create a God (which Derek likened to a Dungeon Master from Dungeons & Dragons) to "watch the world, make sure people are following the rules, and can jump into NPCs to engage with and create a dynamic experience for the players." Controlling an NPC will grant the God the skillset that NPC has, as every NPC in the world has skills and abilities just like players do. "It really opens the doors for a lot of possibilities with roleplayers," Derek commented. The "base immortal" will get basic God powers, so multiple immortals can help interact and help players, keep watch, and report back to the higher Gods.

The basic ruleset offers a way for mortals to earn their way to immortality on their own, but LUA scripting will allow server admins to customize their shard to change or remove this capability, along with a plethora of other choices. Derek thinks that good customization and servers with active, friendly admin will be the successful ones that players will gravitate toward.

While not everyone may want to hardcore roleplay, Derek thinks that "everybody has a little bit of roleplay in them, otherwise they wouldn't be playing an RPG." He explained that the first stretch goal for the campaign is roleplay emote oriented, offering emotions that include actions such as sitting in a chair or laying down in a bed, and expressed his surprise at how so many RPGs are missing these emotes.

Shards Online already has a strong community, and one highly requested feature was Fishing. The interest in Fishing was unexpected, but Citadel ensured to include it, as well as Cooking, as another stretch goal. For those looking to run a server but aren't interested in LUA scripting, yet another stretch goal further down the line will add a story toolkit UI to help with modding custom interactions. Other stretch goals include perma-death rules and an additional map to be added in Alpha One.

Another change from the original concept of the game is that Shards will now be subscription free. Instead of leaning toward the common F2P model, Citadel will instead have a model somewhat similar to that of the original Guild Wars. Derek explained: "That's how we'll continue to cover our server costs and overhead, by releasing expansions on a regular basis. Once you buy the game you get it and can play on our official servers and player-run servers, and as we release expansions it will unlock additional content on those servers."

Citadel Studios is not looking at any type of cash shop model for the game. According to Derek, "The vision of the game is that player-run servers are going to be amazing. Where does a cash shop fit into that? We don't want to force you do anything like that on your server. We want you to have freedom in deciding how the game runs and what items players can achieve."

Before our chat ended Derek gave us a brief look at the game and the new female model. The character has great animations, with leather and padding leather armor currently fitting well on her. The graphics have been worked on since earlier this year, with a lot of focus on getting the lighting and post-processing effects. Minimal bloom has been added to give a bit of extra shine. We also got a sneak peek at the Petra map, which looked very impressive and well-done even in its unfinished state.

"There are games where the world serves the designer, and there are games where the designers serve the world. Unfortunately, a lot of games out there, the world serves the designers. What I mean by that is that the world is built so that you experience some content that the designer wants you to experience. The other side of it, where you have the game designers serving the world... there's a giant world that you build where you put the stories and characters in there, building interaction between them... the content just naturally evolves from it, you don't have to try to force it. You're just in this world where things are happening and you're going to experience them... it's more free-form.

"For true immersion, you need to have a world first. Things [like respawning] don't just happen for any reason. Everything has a cause and effect. If you kill a deer and a new deer pops up somewhere far off in the world, there's no break in immersion there, because you didn't know that deer. With NPCs, it's different... you get to know 'that guy'. He talks to you and tells you his backstory, how his wife was lost... all of a sudden you see him die, then he pops back up... it's like, what the hell is that?"

Thanks to Derek Brinkmann for taking the time to speak with us and make sure you check out the Shards Online Kickstarter and hop into the active Shards IRC!

Ann "Cyliena" Hosler, Managing Editor


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