Most of the questions in this interview are directly answered by Darkfalls Associate Producer, Tasos Flambouras, though there is also a bit of feedback given by Claus Groval as well, who fills the role of Producer of the game. Darkfall is currently in beta, with a European release slated for January 22nd, 2009.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of Ultima Online was the freedom a player had to roleplay a thief. Will there be game mechanics to support similar actions in Darkfall?
What players in UO enjoyed about thieving was based on a modified die roll. We prefer that the player has more active participation in what's happening in the game, based on conscious design decisions rather than a random artificial chance. Darkfall is a game featuring full loot. After PvP is concluded, one can fully loot his fallen opponent. You can take all the loot, mounts, boats, warhulks, cannons, equipment, even towns away from their owners. This doesn't happen by chance, it requires active participation and risk by the players. It gives everyone a fighting chance to counter and turn the tables on their opponent. It doesn't have to be straight up. You can stalk a player, looking for the right opportunity, and if you do it right he'll never see or hear you coming. This again doesn't happen in a magical way. You do not go invisible. You have to hide in shadows, blend in with the terrain, crouch in the tall grass, take advantage of elevation; you have to make sure you don't make a sound to alert your prey. During testing I watched a large group of players stalking one character. They did it for several minutes before they were detected. It's infinitely more interesting and fun than just clicking a key and waiting for an outcome.
- Aside from entertainment value, what role will dungeons play in Darkfall? Will there be any rare bosses and/or drops? Rare metals and minerals to harvest?
Yes we have all of that, everything you can expect from a dungeon and more. What's turning out to be a unique feature as far as dungeons in MMOGs are concerned is that we don't have instancing. You go into a dungeon, and so do your enemies. You don't just have to contend with the inhabitants of a dungeon but with the other players. As with everything else in Darkfall, there will be a lot of competition in controlling dungeons. Hidden bindstones can be found inside some dungeons where your group can operate out of, giving you a location advantage. You can also find rare treasure chests in some of Darkfall's dungeons, chests that you need special keys to open.
- Recent games have utilized a predictable itemization system, with ultra-frequent, nearly meaingless upgrades. Are Darkfall's items going to be more substantial, less frequent, and more memorable? Will players ever feel an attachment to their items?
In Darkfall crafting is very important, challenging and rewarding. Every item in Darkfall can be created by the players themselves. There are several powerful and rare items, such as the Sithras which are a cross between a whip and a light saber. There are also the racial special weapons which are powerful and unique to each race. Darkfall is of course full loot. If you're running around and flaunting a powerful item, armor etc. you might as well paint a bull's-eye on your forehead. Everyone is going to want it. You can't get too attached to your items in Darkfall unless you want it to sting when you lose them. Aside from full loot, there is also item decay to keep in mind, another way that items get recycled. You need to make careful use of your items if you want to keep them safe.
- Is there a deity system in place, in terms of character development (choosing a deity to worship for example)?
Every race has its own religion. There are also three factions within each race giving out quests based on their agenda. One faction is more spiritual, the other more militaristic, and the last one more intelligence oriented. There are quests having to do with religious matters.
This is all lore and quest related, there is no requirement of a certain level of piety in order to cast certain spells etc. So I would say no, there's no deity system in place in Darkfall.
- What measures, if any, have you taken to balance out certain skill sets so that there isn't only one that dominates all others?
There are several hundred spells and skills in Darkfall. All players have access to most of these, so this does a lot of balancing out of the box where player balance is concerned. Skills and spells in Darkfall are situational. A powerful fireball for example can do a lot of damage to a lot of people, but you have to take into account the problems with friendly fire, and self damage if you launch it to a target too close to yourself.
The skills you use are also going to fit your playstyle. Skills and spells advance by usage and there are so many that it's going to be very difficult for a player to master everything. Furthermore in groups it's more effective to use complimentary skills and spells.
- From all accounts Darkfall's world is quite large. What have you done to assure that the population of each server isn't too spread out?
The world can hold over 10 thousand concurrent users. Even so, the world is very large and won't be overcrowded. Clans can build in designated spots and the distribution of these spots is part of the design. Then we have the distribution of clanstones and bindstones, dungeons, resources, and points of interest. People will need to converge, but also to spread out depending on what they're doing.
It's going to be easy to go off the grid in Darkfall. Solo players or small groups can easily find a location with little traffic to live in.
- What design philosphy have used when designing the world as a whole? With such a large area to explore, fight, and live in, what have you done to ensure the world does not appear to be empty?
Same answer as in #6
- What tools have you created for your game to bring people together? Guild systems, LFG systems, and communication channels?
There are a lot of communication systems in place. We have in-game message boards, clan boards, party chat and clan chat. Darkfall is a competitive game, communication is paramount, from players coordinating to the heavy recruiting by the clans so we've done everything we could to facilitate communication.
The clan management tools are extensive and have also received a lot of praise by our beta testers.
- What systems are in place to facilitate the economy? Auction house, trade centers, etc?
The nature of the game puts items in high demand. Full loot, PvP, and battles, make it necessary for players and clans to have a steady supply of items, money, weapons, ingredients, mounts, ships, warhulks, food, potions, armor etc.
Vendors buy and sell. Crafting drives the economy with a constant circulation of resources and finished goods. Secure trading systems are in place. Players can advertise through in-game trade boards.
We will monitor the economy very closely throughout the lifecycle of the game since it's very important that it's balanced.
- Will players be able to steal mounts, boats and other "property"?
Of course you can. If a mount is left unattended for whatever reason, or you kill its owner you can take it and ride off with it. You can also take over boats, cannons, warhulks, etc.
Through full looting you can take everything off your defeated opponent. Nothing is safe except your starting items and the contents of you bank.
- How well does the game adapt to solo/casual players?
It adapts very well. Solo players need to find out what works best for them and their playstyle. There will be many players choosing solo gameplay, therefore we've designed for it. It's not easy, but the character will be very viable. You will have to coexist or will be pitted against other solo players. You could band together in temporary arrangements while still maintaining your independence. Solo players can be associated with clans so they can also experience clan structure and activities and they won't miss out on a large part of Darkfall.
- Can you elaborate on how the "skill based system" works?
I wrote a feature about the skill system a while back, I'd like to refer to this again in answering this question:
As a skill-based game, Darkfall stands apart from most MMOs that use a class / level system. In this article we talk about why we didn't take the beaten path, and a little bit about how the skill system in Darkfall works.
As players, we enjoyed playing skill-based games like Ultima Online and The Elder Scrolls series, and we couldn't help feeling restricted by class / level-based ones. When faced with the decision of allowing players the freedom to take the skills they want and need as their character grows and the game evolves - or not - it was a no-brainer.
In Darkfall, players can
develop the exact characters that they want to play, without the limitations a
class-based system imposes on creation and advancement. During character
creation in Darkfall, you start out with a set of basic starting skills in
addition to some special race-specific skills - like Anger for example, which
is an orkish skill. You get a pool of points to allocate. This process as well
as selecting starting skills is pretty straightforward.
You can't make a mistake in Darkfall's character creation or development that will gimp your character. If you don't like the combination of skills you've chosen, you can pick and train new ones. You never have to re-roll a character; you just adapt your existing one to fit your needs and adapt to the evolution of the game over time. In class systems, your original and often uninformed decisions could haunt your character forever. Furthermore, you're often penalized by updates and other events beyond your control.
In Darkfall, you have
the freedom and the pleasure of developing your character exactly the way you
want. Ultima Online had about a hundred skills and spells. Darkfall has at
least 10 times that, and there will be more added throughout the life cycle of
the game with every update. The number of skills in Darkfall ensures that each
character will be truly unique.
You train the skills that interest you by using them. We think that this is a lot more fun, challenging, diverse and relevant to the players' wants and needs than having to level-grind the old fashioned way. You'll have fun with your new character in Darkfall from day one, without having to suffer through endless repetition for months before you're able to start enjoying yourself. You also don't have the huge imbalances of power between characters of slightly different levels, seen in class- / level-based games. Even starting out, your Darkfall character is very viable.
Skills in Darkfall are a
lot more than just numbers. Many are features in themselves. For example,
climbing, riding and sailing are skills, but they're also associated with major
features in the game. Darkfall's skills are associated with the many things
that you can DO in Darkfall that are parts of the gameplay and the game
mechanics. Skills are also associated with attributes like strength,
constitution and intelligence, and they affect each other.
You pick up the more common skills at NPC trainers. Skill progression occurs through use of any particular skill or series of skills, and ranges from 1 to 100. In common activities like swimming, progress is faster than in the more complex skills to train such as 'mana efficiency'. In-game messages will inform you when you've advanced. Spells progress the same way as skills, through use, so taking the Tornado spell as an example, the more you use, it the more powerful a tornado you'll be able to unleash on your enemies.
Skill decay will set in
at a slow rate for unused skills at an expert level. There are also skill trees
that open up new skill categories that lead to further specialization.
Darkfall's skill system is all about player freedom, endless customization, adaptation and control. It adds great depth to the player characters, and to the process of developing them. Darkfall players will enjoy their unique characters, and will always be able to get the best out of them throughout the life cycle of the game.
- Does Darkfall have "buff" spells?
Buffs have always annoyed us as players. Buffs tend to be very time consuming, repetitive, restrictive, and pointless because they negate themselves, they can make characters virtually unkillable, they're sources of constant visual and verbal spam, and distractions to say the least. In games with a lot of buffs, you spend an awful lot of time preparing to play. We prefer that you can just log in and start playing instead.
Darkfall has few buffs and they're mostly tactical and situational. They don't last very long and most are buff other spells. This way they become part of the action and not part of the preparations.
In Darkfall "my buffs went out" definitely won't be an excuse.
- Will Prestige classes (or at least some of them) be hidden around the world and/or unlocked by quests, or will they be relatively easy to find/join? Will they have minimum skill requirements to become initiated (i.e. a minimum stealth skill before you can become an Assassin)?
We've already announced that Prestige classes won't be in during the launch. We may introduce them later. Prestige classes are contradictory to the skill system, we feel that their introduction isn't consistent with the overall design. Their introduction wouldn't add significantly to the gameplay at this time.
- Are there hidden skills that you can find/train that you won't see on every other player? Skills with trainers in difficult to reach places or unlocked by difficult or unlikely quests/actions?
This is one of these things we'd like the players to discover on their own.
- Does Darkfall offer mounts in addition to the racial mounts? Possibly rare, expensive, or quested mounts?
This is another question we'd like to go unanswered for the players to discover on their own.
- How customizable will ships be?
We have a large number of ships and boats of all sizes and shapes ranging from rafts to massive 50 cannon warships.
- How long will it take to make a ship considering time to gather materials and craft it?
Depending on the size and type of the ship, the availability of resources, and the team working on it, it could take several days to weeks. There are just too many variables to consider for an accurate answer to this question.
- You have announced that Darkfall will be launching January 22nd in the European market. Will North American players be able to purchase and download the game as well?
Yes North American players will be able to purchase and download the game and play on the European server. We've had people playing the game from the West Coast, Western Canada, and for that matter Japan, Korea and Australia without problems.
- What are your plans for North American servers?
They're right after the European servers, but not soon enough for a lot of players to wait. We don't have a solid date to announce on a N. American server and that's why we're allowing N. American players the option to play on the European server. Ideally we would have loved to be able to launch world-wide but we just don't have the resources to do it right.