Stargate Worlds Q&A - First Look Behind the Stargate
Cheyenne Mountain's Rod Nakamoto gives us some of the first glimpses at this upcoming MMORPG based on the popular Stargate franchise.
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There are few science-fiction properties as successful as Stargate, which has spawned a movie along with two television series and even an animated series. Last year, Arizona-based developer Cheyenne Mountain announced that it was working on a massively multiplayer online role-playing game based on MGM's hit property. However, given that the game was early in development, Cheyenne Mountain didn't release many details. Cheyenne and MGM Interactive are now taking off the wraps on their project, and we've got the latest screens, a look at the exclusive trailer, and an interview with Rod Nakamoto, studio head of Cheyenne Mountain.
GameSpot: Stargate Worlds was announced in early 2006, and we got a quick update at GDC last year, but we haven't heard anything of it since. So, first question: Where's the game currently at in development? We understand it's been in full production for quite some time now.
Rod Nakamoto: We entered full production early this year. In that time, we've done all of the behind-the-scenes work that makes building a game of this size possible, and built out playable versions of about five worlds. The business decisions that we made early on--licensing the BigWorld back end and Unreal Engine 3--are really starting to pay dividends for us. By using proven technology, we were able to jump straight into the meat of game design rather than spend all of our time on engine building and server development.
We're getting close to the point where we have a slice of an actual, fun game, and I think that's the real key to our effort here. We started building the fun into Stargate Worlds on day one.
GS: Give us an update on how the game will play out. What sorts of characters and character classes will you be able to play? Will you only be able to play as members of the Stargate team, or can you play as members of other factions? How have things changed, if at all, from the original vision?
RN: Our vision of Stargate Worlds is simple. We want the players to be the stars of their own show. This means we can't keep retelling the story of SG-1. We're going to let players choose from seven archetypes--Jaffa, Goa'uld, Asgard, and human soldier, scientist, archeologist, and commando--when they create a character. Players will be able to specialize their characters using a skill tree, allowing them to further refine their role.
There will be two factions in the game at launch. One side will feature the Asgard, Free Jaffa, and humans; the other side has the Goa'uld, Loyal Jaffa, and humans. This matches up very well with our original vision, which was to bring the Stargate universe to life in a way that just can't be done with the budgets and locations of a television series.
GS: We understand that exploration will play a key role in the game. Will this mainly be done on foot? Will there be any vehicle or starship travel, or vehicular combat?
RN: At launch, Stargate Worlds will focus on the original Stargate experience. It's not a game of vehicle combat, and there won't be player-controlled starships. Players will be able to use starships for transport, but the primary method for getting around the galaxy is the Stargate.
Instant action is right on the other side of every Stargate. Travel is a challenge in MMOs, but the Stargate is the perfect tool for getting characters immediately into hot spots.
GS: We learned at GDC that the game will be set during seasons three, four, five, six, seven, and eight of the TV show's run. Why the latter years and not the early ones, and what kind of story possibilities emerge due to this decision?
RN: The most important thing to remember about the timeline is that we're not retelling the story of Stargate SG-1. Our story will be happening roughly concurrently with the events you saw during those seasons, like the Replicator War, the Apophis War, the Tok'ra war with the Goa'uld, and the Jaffa Civil War. These events form a dramatic backdrop for our story to play out against.
GS: We understand that the game was intended to draw upon content from both Stargate SG-1 and Atlantis. Will it draw upon both series evenly, or will it favor one universe or time frame over another?
RN: The action in Stargate Worlds at launch takes place in our galaxy, so you can say that it draws more from SG-1 than Atlantis, although you can see from some of our screenshots that an Atlantis-like city is one of the sites characters will visit.
Atlantis is a good candidate for our first expansion pack, and we're looking at a variety of options.
GS: We understand that the developers have had access to much of the Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis television productions. Are you recreating the sets in large detail? How many of the cast members will reprise their roles?
RN: MGM have been great partners for us, and they've given us a great deal of access to their assets and resources. The sets are an important part of the Stargate setting, and we're trying to re-create the points of interest, like the gate room, as accurately as we can, with allowances for gameplay.
We're currently in talks with cast members for voice-over work and we want to get as many as we can to take part.
GS: Tell us about your plans for beta testing.
RN: We will run a pretty standard beta program probably beginning in the spring of 2008. I expect the closed beta will be a small program limited mostly to experienced testers who can break whatever we throw at them. Once things get stable, we'll put a few more people in and try again. That's a process we'll repeat over the course of the closed beta until we're satisfied. We'll shut the closed beta down and take the time to finish the necessary fixes before we throw open the doors for open beta. Our open beta testing will be significantly larger as we look at issues with server loads.
One thing we're doing is interacting with our community to develop some tools for bug reporting that will make our lives and theirs easier.
GS: Can you give us an approximate idea for when the game is planned to launch? How will updates be handled after launch?
RN: We're expecting to launch in the fall of 2008. As you know, launch dates in this industry are a moving target, but that's our best guess right now. We're committed to releasing a polished, fun game, and it looks like late 2008 is when we will hit that goal.
When it comes to postlaunch updates, we've got ambitious plans. I think the best metaphor for our plans is the television-series model. Stargate SG-1 lasted 10 seasons. Each season is a self-contained story arc with new content added on an episodic basis. Over the course of a season, the characters encounter new worlds, technologies, and cultures that fit into the overall story. Those encounters form the basis of our regular updates. Once the season is over and many of its stories have been wrapped up, it's time to take the series to the next level with the debut of the next season. That's the model for our expansion packs.
To be clear, we believe that most other industry "expansion packs" include updates that gamers should be getting for paying their $15-a-month subscription fees. To back that up, we plan on giving gamers significant game updates for free on a regular basis, beginning shortly after launch.
GS: Finally, is there anything that you'd like to add about Stargate Worlds?
RN: There are a few things we're really proud of already, especially our combat system. We're taking MMORPG combat in an evolutionary direction, meaning that the RPG aspects are all here, but there are significant enhancements to the system that make it work with the tactical modern combat and science-fiction weapons that are so integral to the Stargate IP.
The enemy artificial intelligence we're developing is proving to be really smart, and that's going to be an exciting challenge for gamers. We're also implementing a cover system that is far beyond anything that's been seen in this genre. But we're not just focusing on combat. Our storytelling and noncombat advancement systems will open up Stargate Worlds to gamers and nongamers who would never otherwise give a second thought to an MMORPG.
Things are moving very quickly in development, and we've got a lot more to share in the coming months.
GS: Thank you.