Trade Wars: Dark Millennium Q&A

We talk with the designer of Realm Interactive's upcoming online real-time strategy game based on the classic Trade Wars BBS game.

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We talked with David Adams of Realm Interactive about the studio's upcoming online real-time strategy game, Trade Wars: Dark Millennium. Adams is the lead designer and programmer on the project, and he shared information about its history, how it will differ from the original Trade Wars BBS game and other real-time strategy games.

GameSpot: First, tell us a little about Realm Interactive and how the studio got started. Has the company developed any other games?

David Adams: The Realm founders were very excited about the concept of a massively multiplayer online game. A game where you can compete and socialize in a vast virtual world filled with thousands of people is very alluring. Being strategy gamers, we felt as though the strategy market wasn't being represented at the massively multiplayer scale. As a result, Realm Interactive was formed in July 2000, and we decided to build Trade Wars: Dark Millennium--a real-time strategy massively multiplayer online game.

Over the next few months, Realm raised capital, and it opened its office doors in November. Experience-wise, our team members have published cult-classic strategy games such as Crush! Deluxe, and we have a wealth of experience developing large-scale Internet business applications.

GS: Does Realm Interactive have any ties with Epic Interactive Strategy, the developers of the original Trade Wars game? What inspired you to begin development on a modern version of the game?

DA: We played Trade Wars back in the day over our 2400-baud modems (300-baud modems for the less fortunate) and loved the game. When we had the inspiration to make a massive online game, Trade Wars came to mind as the first online game we had ever played.

The first hurdle we had to cross was to get the rights to the name. That's when we contacted Epic Interactive Strategy and found them more than willing to negotiate.

GS: How many people are currently working on the game?

DA: The Dark Millennium team currently consists of 10 full-time employees and there are plans to expand throughout the course of the development cycle.

GS: How will Trade Wars: Dark Millennium tie in with the previous Trade Wars BBS game?

DA: There are a lot of differences between the game we are making and the original, and most of these are byproducts of converting the idea to the modern age. For instance, our game is real time, the original was turn-based. Our game is full 3D, the original was ASCII. These are some pretty big differences. What we tried to do is isolate the spirit of the original game--those aspects that appealed to us on a conceptual level--and incorporate as many of them as possible.

GS: How are you managing the real-time aspects of Dark Millennium with an online universe?

DA: Very carefully...Seriously, building a massive online real-time strategy game is no walk in the park. There are issues with persistency and being offline, and there are a myriad of other problems that crop up when you are trying to build an online empire. We have done our best to isolate and attack each problem individually, which we believe we have. Since we believe these solutions to be the key to our design, we don't wish to divulge these secrets just yet.

GS: Will Trade Wars Millennium restrict the player to a single ship, like the original game, or will the player be able to control multiple ships and units?

DA: Unlike the original, Dark Millennium will allow the player to control multiple units. The original Trade Wars allowed a player to control a single ship and a myriad of fighters using an abstract "press key to attack" combat model. Dark Millennium's combat is real-time tactical combat. Because the combat is more tactically oriented, the amount of units that a player can effectively control is much less than in a traditional RTS. Currently, the max number of units a player is allowed to control at one time is 20.

GS: Describe some of the main tasks for the player in the game. Will the balance of space trading, combat, and planet building be similar to that of the Trade Wars BBS game?

DA: The balance of these different activities will be shifted in Dark Millennium, with more emphasis on combat and empire building and less emphasis on those activities that are often redundant. One example is trade. In the original, trade was one of the primary sources of growth and expansion. However, trade wasn't very entertaining. Players wanted to trade so that they could do the things that were entertaining, such as building planets, corporations, and sector defenses. In fact, players eventually created helpers to automate the task of trading so they could concentrate on the fun stuff. As a result of this, trade in Dark Millennium will be highly automated.

In addition to combat and empire building, players will be concerned with customizing units, harvesting resources (some hostile--for example, harvesting creatures for resources), diplomacy, growing their heroes and avatar, and of course etching their names in the annals of history.

GS: Tell us a little about how the game universe is organized. Will it be divided into distinct sectors of space or zones, or will the player travel continuously across the map?

DA: The universe will be divided into sectors, similar to in the original Trade Wars, with jump gates connecting the different sectors together. In addition to this, there will be planets in the universe, and when players are in the orbital sector of a planet, they will be able to go to the surface of that planet. Because we have sectors that exist both in space and on land, there will be two different theaters of combat in the game, each with its own units. In space, the player will be in control of dreadnaughts, cruisers, fighters, and other ships, while on land, the player controls titans, tanks, hovercrafts, marines, and so on. There will be some crossover of units, meaning that the smallest units in space (such as fighters) will also be able to fight on land.

GS: You mentioned that the game is full 3D. Can you say a little about the perspective in the game? Will ship movement be constrained to a 2D plane?

DA: The perspective of our game is similar to that of Warcraft III or Battle Realms. It is a full 3D engine, presented at a three-quarter angle view. Combat will take place on a 2D plane in the sense that a player will only be concerned with one plane of movement. What I mean is that, while on land, units will be able to move to different elevations, and in space, units will automatically use vertical movement to avoid collision and simplify movement.

GS: Will the online universe be persistent?

DA: There are two forms of persistency--player persistency and universe persistency. We plan to have both. Players will have both an avatar and heroes, who will improve in power and skills as they gain experience (much like in a role-playing game). In addition to this, players will be building structures, buildings, and planets that will be persistent in the game universe.

GS: Will players need to be familiar with the previous Trade Wars game to enjoy Dark Millennium?

DA: Absolutely not. While we hope to invoke a sense of nostalgia for the people who are familiar with the original, our primary goal is to provide a fun massively multiplayer online game for the real-time strategy genre.

GS: How will Dark Millennium be different from other real-time space strategy games?

DA: There are a number of things that separate us from other space real-time strategy games. The first and foremost is the fact that our game is massively persistent. In addition to this, we will have two different theaters of combat (space and land), more tactically oriented combat, heroes and avatars (complete with experience and skills), and a myriad of other details that will separate us from our competition.

GS: Where is the game in the development process? What is the team working on right now?

DA: We are currently working on completing the real-time tactical combat engine, building new environments, and expanding units for the different races. Our plan is to go beta by this September. To catch a glimpse of our progress thus far, you can visit our Trade Wars booth at E3.

GS: What's the biggest challenge you see coming up in the development process?

DA: There are a million challenges in developing a game of this scope, and to be honest I have a hard time isolating any one as being the biggest.

GS: Will Realm Interactive self-publish the game, or are you looking for a publisher?

DA: Realm is actively meeting with top publishers as we speak.

GS: When will the game be complete? Do you plan to have an open beta test?

DA: Our current target date for completion is Q1 2002. The beta test will be toward the end of the summer and beginning of September. We currently plan to have a closed beta consisting of approximately 1,000 testers. GS: Thanks, David.

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