Q&A: Horizons: Empires of Istaria prepares for launch

Artifact president David Bowman and producer Steve Snow discuss the soon-to-be-launched online role-playing game.

Horizons: Empires of Istaria will be a fantasy-themed online role-playing game that lets players play as humans, elves, and actual dragons to battle back a tide of undead invaders while building communities around player-created housing and crafted items. The game will launch next Tuesday, December 9, in North America and in the European countries of Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Spain, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Austria, Portugal, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Norway, Slovenia, Hungary, Poland, Malta, Iceland, Andorra, Monaco, San Marino, Vatican city, Liechtenstein, Jersey and the United Kingdom. The game will also eventually launch in the Asian countries of China, South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan. Publisher Atari will apparently offer "transatlantic" accounts for the game to allow European and US players to create characters on either European or US servers. The developer has also released its ninth and final exclusive trailer to GameSpot.

As developer Artifact Entertainment gears up for launch, creative director David Bowman and producer Steve Snow discuss the final stages of the game's development, as well as the early stages of launch.

GameSpot: Now that Horizons is getting ready to launch, what would you say has been the most challenging thing about developing it?

David Bowman: Massively multiplayer game development is inherently complex and the scale is so much larger than traditional game development that it is a challenge just to keep the team coordinated, Combine this with developing brand-new core technologies to support the ability to change the world while live and [this task] reaches a new level of difficulty.

Steve Snow: Without question, the idea of Horizons itself. There were so many people that said Horizons in general might never [even launch], even I had my doubts a few times. The fact that that we are launching is a statement to many people in the industry and outside of it.

GS: And what part of the game and its development would you say you're most proud of?

DB: Horizons is a fun game to play, and it has been designed and created to be extended and supported for years. The pace at which the world will change as a result will surprise many players and other developers.

SS: The trade skill system. Shawn Carnes accomplished something within Horizons that few products will reach. For crying out loud, we even made working on dynamic resource nodes fun.

GS: What can new players expect to be doing on launch day? And as a follow-up, we know that Horizons has intriguing features like constructing player houses, exhaustible resource patches, and even unlockable races, but how soon will players be able to start exploring these and other features?

DB: I expect that after character creation where they choose from nine different races, many will spend the time learning about the many options available for character development. Unlike many RPGs, you shape your character in Horizons by playing the game, not the interface. They will explore the different schools and discover the quests that allow them to change their character's statistics and skills so that no two characters will be the same.

Player-owned property and construction, player-influenced redistribution of resources and the freeing of at least one subjugated race are all available today in the game. From the moment you start playing, you can begin shaping of Istaria's future.

SS: I imagine they will be spending time getting into Horizons and figuring out what they want to do. As far as what's available, it's just in-game limitations that prevent the users from getting at anything. For instance, plots of land for housing construction cost a lot of coin and you'll have to hoof it out to the far reaches of Aradoth to get to some of really precious resources.

GS: What has the team done to prepare for launch day to make sure that Horizons debuts in as stable and problem-free a state as possible?

DB: We've done many stress tests throughout the beta to allow us to optimize our systems for high levels of player load. Our website allows players to see the current load on all worlds. We created a queuing system that allows players to know where they are in the queue (which we anticipate will occur for launch and first weekend) for entry into the world. We have hardware and bandwidth standing by to allow us to quickly respond to high demand. I'm certain that there will be some unforeseen issues, since there usually are, but we've gone through all of the scenarios from previous launches and feel we are as ready as can be possible for the load.

SS: Testing, testing, and more testing. We have been trying to break our own systems since January now. We are not dumb enough to think we broke and fixed everything, but we have gotten enough of the issues out of the way that our customer support team can help out future consumers with any issues that may come up.

GS: And now that the game is mostly complete and set for launch, how is Horizons going to stand out from other online RPGs, both in the short term and the long term? What will set it apart?

DB: The beauty of the world, the dynamic nature of all of the content, the player's ability to change the world, extensibility of all systems, the free added experiences that will occur on a frequent basis where players drive the story, the diversity of races, the flexibility of schools, the high-quality customer service, and the commitment of Artifact Entertainment to aggressively grow and support Horizons.

SS: For the short term, there isn't a product in this space that allows a player to do everything that Horizons does. For the long term, we are going to be expanding and growing Horizons so that users always have something new to look forward to.

GS: Finally, is there anything else you'd like to add about Horizons?

DB: Horizons is a very fun game to play today and will surprise you regularly as the living world of Istaria grows. If players cooperate and grow a society that can withstand the Withered Aegis' forces, then Istaria will be a relatively peaceful land with the war mostly on the frontier, but if they don't form a society, then war and danger will come to their homes.

SS: Give it a shot, you just might like it.

GS: Thanks to both of you.

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