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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

SOE Takes Seattle

Ah, Seattle. Land of the Space Needle, birthplace of overpriced coffee, hometown of the Super Bowl XL bound Seahawks and also...an SOE outpost?

Yes, take a gander if you will at
this interview with Matt Wilson, head of SOE Seattle.

Abalieno and Cosmik seem to think that SOE Seattle is working on the "free"/new business model MMO that Smed mentioned at the Austin Games Conference in October. You can read my write-up on that here. I agree with their interpretation. The DC Comics MMO SOE is working on is not due out until fourth quarter 2007, so that doesn't fit the timeline of the "mystery game." But Matt's mention of a "different business model" and "an action adventure game that will shake up folks preconceptions about what MMOs can be" would seem to fit the profile.

I originally intended to make fun of this interview the way I did with
the Untold Legends one, but I ended up liking what Matt had to say so I decided not to.

While I like some of his ideas, I'm not blown away by the resume of games he has worked on: Fighter Ace, Ultracorps, Allegiance, Asheron’s Call, and Dungeon Siege. Well, Allegiance was pretty sweet actually. I know some people liked Dungeon Siege, but I personally found it pretty dull.

He also worked on the cancelled MMO Mythica. I dragged up some old previews of Mythica you can check out here and here. It was basically a fantasy MMO but in a Norse setting with a few ideas that sounded somewhat original. You actually would have started the game as a Norse hero who died in battle and was called to Asgard by Odin to wage war on the Fire Giants in the final battle, Ragnorak.

You can read an interview as to why it was cancelled
here. The Microsoft project manager said, "We didn't want to spread ourselves out over multiple MMORPG projects. We analyzed all the projects in the works and decided Mythica was the one to go." I wonder if focusing on Vanguard was a major part of that decision. The community buzz on Mythica was apparently good.

Well, the Mythica team apparently started a company called FireAnt. Their webpage is
still up but only consists of a link to a press release about their acquisition by SOE.

Matt knew Smed "since the Tanarus days," which only goes to show that networking is as important in game development as in other industries. Matt says he plays EQII (along with WoW) so that's a plus.

He seems to be a big fan of the iterative style of game design which I think is a good thing. Without getting too much into a thesis on game design I will give a quick, uninformed definition of what iterative design is:

The main concept of iterative design is to create a playable prototype early on and then refine and test it as much as possible. While the core mechanics may not change much, everything else should be as flexible as possible. The key is playing the game as much as possible as soon as possible to determine what is fun and what isn't. A designer employing iterative design has to embrace change.

Contrast this with earlier methods of game design such as attempting to plan and code the entire game to a near final state and then testing it and fixing bugs. A variation on this is a cascade method in which everyone focuses on part A of the game, tests it, finalizes it and then moves on to part B where the process begins anew.

Iterative design is clearly superior to these methods but I am already rambling far off topic.

Matt mentions using "story and community hooks" without "dumbing things down to Preschool Online." He stresses community as the main factor in the strength of MMO's and brings up being called before a "Guild Tribunal" as his most memorable experience in an online game. I have to agree that it is the social dynamics and drama that are usually the most memorable experiences. Moorgard makes a similar point in
this post.

Matt says, "The coolest part of online gaming is that it’s still very new. It’s the new frontier in game development…and the best is yet to come."

I think he's right about that. I'm not crazy about the business model they are apparently shooting for and I need many more specifics about the actual game, but I will follow it with interest and keep you updated.


Blogger cyan said...

I am really eager to see where this all ends up. I think a new MMO with a new bizmodel could really shake things up, and when things get shook up usually the player comes out on top. We shall see.

Also of note, with AC and some others, it really looks like SOE scooped these guys up MS. I wonder if there is going to be anything related to the PS3 online play going on here also.

12:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the best comes when they start to deal with botters, macroers.

3:47 AM  
Anonymous The Black Cursor said...

Today's post gave me a chuckle as I was reading it during lunch -- I work in software development. Iterative development breaks a project into distinct phases (e.g. inception, elaboration, construction, transition) where different tasks occur using different types of project staff (analysts, developers, etc.).

Inception: project begins; software architecture documents drafted.

Elaboration: software requirements documents drafted and finalized.

Construction: coding based on above requirements and only these requirements.

Transition: alpha, beta, release, updates. At alpha, the software is feature-complete; the purpose of alpha and beta is of course, fixing bugs.

Multiple loops through each phase are typical, and construction can revert to elaboration should requirements change. Ideally, this doesn't happen -- "feature creep" is minimized with iterative development. Iterative development is 'new school'.

Cascade or Waterfall development, is as you mentioned, where the entire team works on task A and proceeds to task B etc. without ever repeating previous tasks. Waterfall development is 'old school'.

Theoretically, MMOs are like any other software, so iterative development should work here as well. It will be interesting to see how this progresses.

Be seeing you...

---> TBC (Trail Blazing Code)

4:36 PM  
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