Project Entropia Q&A

We speak with MindArk's Patric Sundstrom to find out more about the company's upcoming massively multiplayer RPG.

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Though there are already a number of massively multiplayer role-playing games available, it seems as though developers are engaged in a race to see which company can produce the best and most unique massively multiplayer experience. MindArk hopes that its massively multiplayer RPG, Project Entropia, stands out from the upcoming wave of games in the genre because of its unique features such as the ability to purchase items or additional Project Entropia money with your credit card. Moreover, MindArk wants to implement a unique insurance system that lets you take out insurance on each of your items, thus decreasing the possibility of losing them after your character's death. The Project Entropia gameworld will be massive with plans to support 1 million players on a single server along with landmasses that are nearly 350 square miles each. We had a chance to speak with Patric Sundstrom, marketing manager for Project Entropia, to discuss these aspects and others such as the story, character creation, and interaction as well as how characters will be able to affect the environments around them.

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GameSpot: What is the historical setting for Project Entropia?

Patric Sundstrom: Project Entropia is set in an era of human interplanetary travel and conquest. It takes place on the far-away planet of Calypso, a rather unique world that is very similar to planet Earth. Calypso was discovered by an aged unmanned probe, which was launched from Earth at the early era of space travel during the human colonization of the solar system. This probe left behind robots that prepared the world for human colonization. When the first human settlers arrived at the new world onboard a giant colonization vessel, it didn't take long before their new paradise was torn apart by a sudden unexplained conflict with the robots. These robots nearly wiped out the whole human population on Calypso before new settlers came to Calypso with reinforcements, just in time to save the few surviving colonies. The conflict escalated into a war that raged until all renegade robots were finally destroyed.

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It was a time of great loss but also hope for a new and better future as the colonies were rebuilt with corporate aid. The settlers had just constructed their new cities when the ancient probe that discovered Calypso mysteriously returned only to be destroyed by space battleships guarding the colony, deeming it hostile. After this event, new enemy robots suddenly began to resurface on the planet again. This time the enemy came from a distant robotic mining colony in another star system, originating from the same ancient probe that left its robots on Calypso. Still, no one really knows why the robots keep attacking the humans on Calypso or why the ancient probe returned, and although legends provide some clues, these mysteries are still waiting to become unraveled.

Isolated by space and politics outside the rim of known space, the settlers on Calypso are left to deal with the situation on their own, but they are not alone or without hope. Embraced by powerful financial interests from several large space corporations, the settlers receive all the aid they need to live their lives very freely. While some settlers choose to defend their freedom against the robots, it allows other settlers to preserve and enjoy it. Despite the hostile activities, the major colonies remain as protected islands of tranquility and continue to prosper. The cities are overflowing with merchandise as well as visitors who are drawn to the legendary planet for various reasons. [Some are] attracted by trade, recreation, or the growing population but also by the wild and untamed nature, the possibility to build a home, or to fight in the ongoing conflict.

GS: The online gaming scene is an extremely competitive one. With big names like EverQuest, Ultima Online, and Asheron's Call already having a strong foothold and with games like Shadowbane, Camelot, and Anarchy Online on the way, how does Project Entropia plan to set itself apart and compete?

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PS: There are several reasons why Project Entropia will distinguish itself from those games available today as well as those under development.

To start with, it will be completely free, both to acquire and to play.

We believe the fact that it is set in a futuristic environment as opposed to a fantasy setting will attract a lot of people. It has also afforded us the chance to work more freely, not feeling forced to use magic and slaughter "orcs" as well as other traditional fantasy elements.

We have also built an economic system into the game, allowing players the possibility to make money in the game.

We don't see Project Entropia as just a product to be manufactured, released on CD so we can move onto the next one. MindArk's goal is to continue developing PE for many years to come. This means the game itself will be under constant development, in cooperation with its users.

The freedom finally to be able to live your own free life in a virtual world where nothing is missing. OK, we won't be able to build in everything that exists in the real world from the start, but we can make sure that new things are added to the game during the coming years.

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GS: Describe the activities in the average day of a Project Entropia gamer

PS: As a player, your character will wake up in his or her own apartment when you log on. If you've got nothing planned, you can use your character to log onto the home computer terminal to look at local news or find tips on things to do. If you have your day planned ahead of you, it would be a good idea to check into your storage and pick out any items you that you want to have available in your personal inventory. You might like to change your clothes before you go out as well. If you lack in-game money, you can open your own vault, step in, and log on to connect with your real-world bank and transfer some real currency that will be exchanged into in-game money.

When you feel ready to leave, you step into the televator in your apartment and are teleported to the entrance hall in the living complex where you live, then it's out into the city. Here you can meet up with friends or make new ones in various social establishments like cafés, bars, restaurants, and nightclubs. If you need to buy any new equipment for your character, there will be various institutions you [can] visit, such as shops where you can purchase weapons, armor, tools, or clothes. The MindForce shop is also a good place to visit if you want to purchase new aspects or upgrade your MindForce implant. If the game merchandise isn't enough, you will be able to visit stores and log on to stations that can offer you real-world merchandise. Another important institution in the game is the Mind Expansion Center, which functions as a hi-tech library where players can learn new skills and upgrade their knowledge of current skills to obtain new levels of experience.

If you just crave for some action but don't want to leave the safety of the city, you can go and fight in the Arena. You [can] also try to find your way down into the old and dangerous underground sewage systems. If you want real adventure you can step into a teleporter and chose a destination outside the city. Here you can explore the different wild environments where you can encounter various native animals, do battle against invading robots, and fight or trade with mutants. You can also search for land to claim, to build a home of your own, and maybe [to] lay the very foundation for a whole new community.

Designed adventures will also be available in the game in the form of various quests with different levels of difficulty, puzzles, and danger--be they official, secret, or active quests that might be directly linked to future events in the gameworld.

GS: Project Entropia will be free, but your credit card will be charged for purchasing items in game. How does this work exactly?

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PS: It is completely correct that Project Entropia will be free to acquire and to use. It is also correct that you will be able to use your credit card to buy different items in the game, but it is not a must to be able to continue further into the game. We don't plan to force people to release their credit card number or any other particulars. If you do, however, want to use your credit card to exchange for some PED (Project Entropia dollars), you'll have to go to one of the banks that will be in the game. There you will be able to connect with a secure terminal. After that, it works just like buying something with a credit card on the Net, the difference being that you are doing it from inside the actual game.

There will probably, however, be a lot of players who don't have a credit card that would like to be able to buy PED, and for these players there will be other alternatives. It should be pointed out that you will be able to play the game without spending any money in it, by taking the hard road of a lot of time and work. Theoretically you should be able to play the game and begin earning money inside the game without investing anything. Then at the player's discretion, those earned PED can be exchanged for real money. This will happen in the exact same way as you pay except oppositely.

GS: Will the amount spent buying items roughly equal what other games charge their players monthly? Don't you think gamers will be nervous having their credit card accessed so many times for fear that they might get overcharged from a bug or something?

PS: It will be up to each individual player to decide how much he or she wants to spend in Project Entropia. Stratics.com has an ongoing survey about how much players are prepared to spend in the game, and so far about 39 percent are not prepared to spend anything at all, circa 34 percent plan to spend five to 10 dollars, while the rest could imagine spending more. Mindful that it is real money being handled in the game and that objects in the game will have real value, it is of paramount importance that nothing goes wrong or that a player's account is debited or credited falsely. With this in mind, we are working very hard to achieve the same security or better than that used by banks today.

GS: How will PE handle player-vs.-player combat? The two sides of the issue almost want nothing to do with the other, thinking that if a game is designed for player vs. player, for example, it will ruin the game for those who don't like player vs. player and vice versa.

PS: There will be the possibility for PVP in the game. Often when there is a lot of PVP action around, it's because they are trying to get at your possessions or just because they're having fun killing other players.

Here we have built a system we believe will satisfy most, even if you enjoy PVP or you would prefer to avoid it. It will consist partly of safe zones where it won't be allowed. Cities are examples of safe zones; these will, however, contain arenas where people can combat each other in front of an audience, if you wish.

The other part of this [is] made up of an insurance system. In general terms, it works for the player by allowing him or her to acquire insurance, either for certain items or even a policy that covers everything. More or less how it works in the real world. With this system, if you should be killed by another player, you won't lose your possessions, nor will any loot be taken from your body. As well as this, the player that killed you will lose his own insurance for a specific amount of hours leaving him open to being plundered during these hours.

This makes it less attractive for someone to go out killing other players when the risk of losing your own possessions exists. On top of this, we are working to achieve the best balance of play so as to satisfy as many players as well. This will be thoroughly tested during the coming beta tests.

GS: Players often get bored from fighting monsters over and over. What sort of noncombative activities will there be in PE?

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PS: This is something I can really agree with. Sure it's fun for a while, kill a load of monsters and get a really good character, but then you start to get a bit bored, and when this is all that happens, you quit playing because it's not developing anymore.

This is an area where we are investing a lot of [time] so as to satisfy players for years to come. What we have besides monster hunts is a fully functioning community that allows players to do more or less everything that they can in the real world, with consideration to what is technically possible via computers. You will be able to take part in creating organizations, building business concerns, as well as the construction of your own house and even the cities. The idea is that Project Entropia will be a world under continual development with new things being added, partly from our side but also from the interaction of the players themselves. These developments can be social as well as geographic.

GS: How will the death system work? Players hate losing all their hard work, but death has to mean something.

PS: Death will be part of the game, but you will always be able to be revived. This can occur either through another kind player who uses his MindForce to reawaken you to life or by getting to a hospital where you can be reinstated as a player. It can take some time for you to take yourself to a hospital if you are dead, so please try to stay alive.

If you are covered by insurance at this point, you won't lose the possessions you had. Certain items will never be lost, such as your personal terminal where your economic account is held.

GS: Player housing is an extremely popular thing to have in an online RPG. Will Project Entropia have this? If so, what kinds of houses will there be, and what can you do inside them?

PS: Yes, the possibility will exist to have your own house. To begin with, however, every player will have their own little apartment where they begin the game. This apartment will have restricted space and uses. Later, if you should want to, you can claim a piece of land that is free where you can place a house that you bought. With regard to different types of houses, there will be everything from small cottages to enormous skyscrapers to choose from. Of course all this depends on how much you are prepared to invest in your house.

If you decide to buy a house, you will then be able to shape it within certain limits, such as the interior and such. It can even happen that a society could choose to buy a house and live there together. We don't plan to regulate how many houses you are allowed to own, as we think this will attract people who will sustain themselves by buying and selling houses or perhaps rent as an attractive area.

GS: Other online RPGs force players to group in order to continue advancing in the game, especially at higher levels. How will PE handle this?

PS: What you can't forget is that every player is an individual and works in different ways, choosing how they want to live. In the real world, there are those who like unions and those who prefer to take care of themselves. Project Entropia will work in the same way. It will not be necessary to be in a group in order to be on par with others who are in a group, it will all depend more on how you handle your character, how you choose to develop it during the game, and how you want to live your life on Calypso.

GS: What will PE do to encourage role-playing? Often gamers would like to role-play in games like these, but they are so busy leveling up.

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PS: It's true, and personally I think it's a little sad, with this blind scurry to be grand master and have the highest level. What we are trying to create in Project Entropia is a virtual world with the same functions that we have in the real world, a world where you as a player can choose how you live your life and on which level. Most other games have set a limit for how much you can learn to become best; it may consist of a ceiling on skills or just a restriction on which level you can attain.

We won't be using a level system, rather a skill system. This system will not have a maximum ceiling, this means practically that you could be online as long as you like just training [for] the one skill and still not have learned everything about that skill. It will become more and more difficult to increase your skills the higher up they go. With the focus removed from this skill maximizing, you'll be able to concentrate on your character and its development, becoming someone you'd really be in the real world. It's just your own dreams and fantasy that set the limits for how your character will develop, and who you will become.

GS: We have not seen vehicles in an online RPG. PE plans to have them, though, tell us more.

PS: It's correct that we plan to use different types of vehicles in PE. There is, however, an uncertainty as to how fast we can implement this. The goal is that there will be vehicles that players can use when we release PE.

The different vehicles planned include aircraft, ground vehicles, and even vehicles for traveling at sea. Different types will include vehicles made for combat and others solely for transport.

There are even plans to have vehicles that can be used by several players at the same time. These present serious technical problems, with the biggest problem being the answer time against the game servers we have. If two players have different answer times, it would mean they would move differently in the vehicle, which would then either have to wait for the slower player or some other solution. This should be seen as a feature we plan to introduce in the future.

More information about vehicles will be released on our Web site in the future.

GS: How much of a role will players play in shaping or influencing the world and its plot?

PS: To be able to build a game of the size we are talking about now, and by that we mean 1 million players online simultaneously, is a colossal amount of work, even just the creation of such a large land area so people don't have to be walking all over each other the whole time. At this very moment we are building this world, which to begin with will consist of three different continents. Each continent will be 900 square kilometers or 348 square miles of landmass in a scale of 1 to 1.

As well as that which will exist from the start, players will be able themselves to create new land, which will be available for all. As a player, you will be able to buy a platform, which will be available in different sizes, and place it somewhere at sea. By the same token, another player can also buy a platform and lay it beside yours. Should enough players decide to do this together, they will have created their own little continent, and by this fashion new areas can be created.

On these platforms can later be built houses, or [they can] even just [be] kept as meeting places for friends. It will be up to the players to decide what they want to do with the platforms. In this way, Project Entropia will be a world under constant development, a world that will just grow and grow--a place where the players will decide Calypso's future.

GS: How many players will the gameworld support and will there be multiple shards or worlds?

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PS: Our goal is to have 1 million players online at the same time and inside the same world. We want to create a game where we don't have any shares, meaning we have everybody on the same server. Now it doesn't mean one server, [we plan to have] huge server parks that will be placed out around the world that are then connected to each other via specially dedicated Internet connections. In this way, we can manage that number of players as well as minimize the lag between players and servers. If this should prove inadequate, we'll just have to increase the server capacities so as to handle even more players.

GS: Tell us a bit about character creation. How much detail will we be able to define our avatars with?

PS: This is an area we have spent a lot of time with. When you start the game, you will only be able to choose one race--that being human. You can choose whether to be a man or a woman.

So far that's pretty normal, but from here is where we take our departure from what is available in other MMORPGs, at least not all of them. You will be able to define your body and appearance through more than 30 different variables. Everything from the size of your nose, how your eyes look and are placed, your height, weight, your hair, shoulder width, etc. This appearance will be not just what you see at this point, but what players in the game will see as your character. With this system in practice it's possible that no two players will be alike and that you will be able to recognize other players by their appearance. From here all players will begin at the same level. You won't be able to choose a particular pattern from the start; rather you will form your character during the game.

GS: Some gamers feel the graphics are not up to par with the competition out there. How do you feel the game stacks up to the competition in that regard?

PS: I understand those that think the graphics shown so far from PE aren't in the same class as other upcoming games, but it should be known that the screen shots that we have presented are from our pre-alpha tests. They were brought out last year so that people could begin to get an idea about the game. Now we have come closer to the first external beta tests, and the quality of the screen shots is considerably better. I don't have any worries at all now that our graphics will be in the same class, if not better, than those of other developing games. Instead of building our own 3D motor we have decided to lease NetImerse 3D from Numerical Design Ltd. Right now we are waiting for version four, which will allow us to take the fore in what can be done with an MMORPG today.

During the coming months we will be connecting more and more functions that are available in the 3D motor, and these will be presented through the screen shots we release.

GS: You've recently put your beta application online. When do you expect testing to begin, and how many players do you plan to accept?

PS: Our goal is to begin the first beta tests with external testers sometime around late April or May the moment we are correlating all the code and servers. I can't say at the moment how many testers we plan to have, but this will be presented just before we begin shipping out beta one.

GS: Thanks Patric.

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