Anarchy Online Q&A

GameSpot talks with Funcom's Morten Byom about the just-launched massively multiplayer online role-playing game.

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GameSpot recently spoke with Funcom's Morten Byom about the online role-playing game Anarchy Online, which launched today. Byom works at Funcom's Oslo studio as a gameworld designer, a position that involves taking the initial world design from the designers and creating a more detailed playfield design. This includes selecting monsters, vegetation, weather, music, and several of the other elements that make up the gameworld. Once the playfield design is complete, the developers then build the world using a proprietary game editor called Tide, which was developed in-house at Funcom.

We spoke with Byom about several aspects of the game, including the initial inspiration for the game's environments, some of the challenges involved in the game's development, the connection between the game's story and its environment, and more.

GameSpot: We've seen from the beta that Anarchy Online will feature many colorful areas of different terrain types, like deserts, grasslands, cities, and more. Where did you find your inspiration for designing the game's different environments?

Morten Byom: If I am looking for ideas on how I am going to sculpt a new area, there is an endless amount of great sites on the Internet. I visit some of them frequently that feature pictures and imagery portraying locations and landscapes from both around the world and from fantasy/sci-fi worlds. Other media that have been a source of inspiration and given me many great ideas as to how to sculpt the game environment are all the books and movies that I have absorbed over the years. When I see a movie, I can freeze the image to really look at all the details in a scene, from the way a pillar is curved to the tapestries on the wall. I try to bring as much detail as I can back into the gameworld to make it as convincing as possible. I also get a lot of inspiration from the world around me. I can walk through a park in Oslo and see how the terrain and paths have been laid out and how the trees and bushes have been planted. And last but absolutely not least, I gain ideas from walking around in games and seeing how other gameworld designers have solved problems and obstacles. I can look at something and think, "Wow, that is really cool, I never thought about doing this or that!" and I can then bring that idea into something I am working on.

GS: We've also seen from the beta that Anarchy Online's huge areas can be traversed with little to no load time, even when many player characters are present in a single location. What were some of the challenges, technical or otherwise, that you faced while working on the game's environments?

MB: I think one of the biggest challenges we had is that there are going to be more players in our gameworld than in any other gameworld to date. We didn't have anywhere to look for ideas and possible pitfalls. We had to invent everything and try to foresee any problems that might occur when the game goes live. Where will players spend most of their time? What will the players most likely do? It was important for us to try to imagine how the players would travel through the playfields, where they would most likely be gathering, and where they would go hunting. We as gameworld designers have to try to give the players a reason to spread out across the world and not gather in one corner. We have tried to create as many interesting areas as possible for the player to explore within each playfield. It should be possible for a player to go anywhere in the world and still find something interesting to see and do.

GS: One of the most interesting things about Anarchy Online will be its story, which is scheduled to play out over four real-time years. How will Anarchy Online's environments reflect the game's story, and how will they change to accommodate changes in the game's storyline?

MB: The world of Anarchy Online is a dynamic world; things change all the time. As the story moves on and the conflict between Omni-Tek and the Clans escalates, there may be changes as to who is in charge of different areas. A player might actually come back to an Omni-Tek outpost in the borderland between Omni-Tek and Clan areas and find that it is now overrun by Clan and is no longer friendly toward him or her.

As the conflict between the two sides continues, the player vs. player areas might shift and move their boundaries according to the players' deeds and behavior. Monsters might disappear and be replaced by new ones in the world. Merchants could pack up and move to safer areas or a trading outpost might be established. Anything could happen as the world keeps turning and the storyline progresses.

There will be changes to the physical world based on the storyline that Anarchy Online follows and on the events that our event team is running, but these changes are things that are very much hush-hush, top secret, and can't tell. Players will just have to buy the game and join everyone else shaping the future--it is, after all, in their hands.

GS: Another interesting feature of the game is how much individuality and personality players can add to their characters by dressing them in different clothes and using different gestures. What sort of interesting features will help give Anarchy Online's environments this kind of personality?

MB: There are all kinds of different environments to be found on Rubi-Ka. Everything from the darkest swamps covered in dense fog, where mysterious creatures might lurk in the water, to barren deserts, where powerful sandstorms can arrive and engulf the player at any second or giant monsters might burst from the ground and attack him or her without warning. Traveling across the large world of Rubi-Ka, players will encounter large plains where the sun shines and the birds sing, and as their travels take them further, they can find themselves walking into a valley with dense forest and fog creeping closer as the night falls. In addition, Anarchy Online also has a sound system that can generate hours upon hours of music that fits the environment adding to the feel of the world.

In all these different combinations of landscape, vegetation, weather effects, and different types of music, the player will find a multitude of different monsters that inhabit the entire planet waiting for the players to interact with or fight them for prestige and wealth. Most of these monsters can wear items and weapons, just as players can, giving each and every one of them a unique look.

GS: Is there anything else you'd like to add about Anarchy Online?

MB: We have had a great time making this game, even if it has taken more time and effort than anyone imagined when we first started. Now that the game is about to launch, it is time for us to present it to you, and I hope you will enjoy the world we have created. I am looking forward to sharing the next four years adventuring with you all in an ever-evolving world. This is only the first step on a long passage through a great adventure.

GS: Thanks for your time, Morten.

Anarchy Online is now available in stores for an approximate retail price of $49.95. We will post a full review of the game soon, but until then, take a look at our extensive collection of screenshots, movies, and in-depth previews of the game.

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