This afternoon we had an opportunity to speak with Mark Jacobs of EA Mythic about the recent delay of Warhammer Online. This turned out to be a rather long chat, so to avoid inundating you with 23 minutes worth of conversation, we've condensed it into a concise overview of everything discussed. I want to note ahead of time this is specifically regarding the delay of the game, how it affects beta, the Warhammer Online community, and of course, the development of the game.
We kicked things off with one of the most obvious and important pieces to the puzzle of a delay announcement: the community's reaction and subsequent discussion of said delay. He [Mark Jacobs] took initiative to open up dialogue about it ahead of time on several fansites, including Warhammer Alliance. “Exactly how I expected: some positive, some negative, some trolling,” he said. “The vast majority [of fans] feel it was the right decision.”
Mark then reflected on why EA Mythic chose to delay the game again; stating his feelings that they could have released a “good” game in June but why stop at good? “We don’t want a ‘good game’; it’s not what I promised GW, and it’s not what I promised EA. We’re here to make a great game.” Afterward, he also touched on the fact that EA Mythic didn’t want to fall into the trap of releasing too early – a death-knell for many recent MMORPGs to hit the market – but at the same time gave praise to some of the developers who have managed to improve on a rocky release; “The CCP guys have done a tremendous job post-launch,” he said referring to the fact that CCP has continually improved upon EVE Online to make it one of the more successful MMORPGS in recent years.
From there we jumped over to the graphics engine, and whether further improvements and optimizations will be made as a result of the delay. Speed optimizations for rendering will definitely be deployed, continually, both pre- and- post launch, especially in cities, where Mark mentioned the team recently found a few issues and corrected them – vastly improving performance during city raiding scenarios. “We’ve been running large scale events with better frames per second than Camelot,” referring to large-scale battles in Dark Age of Camelot, and how it used to have an impact on performance. Here he assures us that even with a more complex graphics engine with higher detail character models, Warhammer Online’s large-scale RvR will see great results, which is of course crucial since the game is being designed entirely around RvR as an end-game.
Up next we touched on a comment he made about class balance being one reason for the delay. I also mentioned the missing fourth High Elf Career, and whether this was part of the call for the delay. “Nah, not at all,” he said. “When you balance a game, you start building it like a house,” he continued “if something sucks – not that anything sucks right now – but if something sucks, we’re gonna pull it.” This does not mean that EA Mythic will be pulling any classes, just that when they balance the game, they make sure it’s fun, and if a feature isn’t fun – it’s gone, even if that means a class that may need to be replaced.
Another topic up for discussion was the User Interface, and as Mark stated it still needs polish. “It needs more iteration; UI’s are a pain in the butt,” he said. “What Blizzard did was brilliant; what they really did amazing was giving the players the ability to create mods for the game. EverQuest and Dark Age of Camelot did it, but nothing like Blizzard did.” He also recollected on early struggles with the World of Warcraft UI, and how many patches introduced optimizations for it to ensure it was operating at a playable speed for players, “Issues early on were UI speed due to modability, and this is something we have to think about in an RvR game.” That said, he also pointed out that in the end, it comes down to: “Are we doing what’s right and good [for the WAR UI]?”
Finally, while there are a lot of questions regarding Open Beta and the lifting of the NDA popping up, we at Curse know firsthand that server stability is crucial, so I wanted to get Mark’s thoughts on Stress Tests prior to launch, to ensure that EA Mythic can support the droves of fans who will no doubt be flooding the servers on day-one. “Absolutely; one thing to keep in mind: we’ve already invited a ton of people into beta. Think back to World of Warcraft’s numbers for Open Beta, and that’s probably where we are, and we’re not done yet.” EA Mythic plans to deploy quite a few servers to not only test server-specific stability, but the stability of the hardware infrastructure as a whole. “This is not a standalone game; it’s an online game,” he continued, “We will have spare bandwidth, spare servers.” Mark and EA Mythic as a whole hopes that once Open Beta rolls around, it will reaffirm their commitment to ensuring that Warhammer Online has a stable, successful launch. Of course, they’re no stranger to game launches – Dark Age of Camelot was quite possibly one of the most successful launches in the genre’s history in terms of stability. “I’m a firm believer in a bit of overkill,” referring to server hardware.
While we could have gone on and probably spent another hour chatting with Mark, he had to take other calls as well – we can’t be stingy! We’d like to thank EA Mythic and Mark Jacobs for the opportunity to chat briefly about their decision to delay the game until the fall. This isn’t the end though – if you’d like to ask Mark your own questions about the delay, head over to the thread on Warhammer Alliance. Just be sure to pay heed to the rules of the thread!