Large media companies continue to flow into the online game space, particularly those targeting kids, and Time Warner's Cartoon Network is just the latest, following Disney's recent acquisition of Club Penguin and the establishment of other online worlds such as Nickelodeon's Nicktropolis.
We caught up with executive producer Chris Waldron at Comic-Con to discuss Cartoon Network Universe: FusionFall
, an intriguing Korean-developed action-multiplayer MMO featuring a multitude of Cartoon Network characters.
The game itself, which is being developed by Seoul, Korea-based Grigon Entertainment, is a blend of massively multiplayer online role playing games such as Phantasy Star Online
and a more conventional 3D platform game. During the interview, Waldron answered questions about the company's business model, its kid-friendly features, and what makes FusionFall
stand out from a sea of rapidly encroaching online games.
Has long has FusionFall been in development?
We started development early last year, I think in April of 2006. Before that I have been trying to get the project green-lit for about four years.
Why did it take so long for FusionFall to get green-lit?
We had a lot of business responsibilities to do. We work for Turner / Time Warner and itís a big company. We had to make sure the business model was right and to find a partner, honestly. We looked all over the world for the right partner and finally found Grigon Entertainment in Seoul, South Korea who is the perfect match for us.
Why did you eventually choose a Korean developer to work on FusionFall - perhaps an unconventional move in some ways?
We talked to a number of people here in the United States. But when we went over to Korea to look at what gaming was going on over there, we were blown away. By the number of games, the number of types of business models they had over there, the different styles they were doing. In the United States we tend to focus on just the fantasy genre, but Korea had a lot more going on.
When we were there, we met with a number of different companies. When we saw the style Grigon had, the animated style and the sense of humor. We talked with them for a while and found out we would make great partners.
Speaking of business models, Korea is one of the pioneers of alternative models for online games. Have you thought about using alternates to monthly subscriptions?
We've definitely thought about it, but we havenít made a decision finally about what the business model is going to look like. We need more a little more testing to figure out what people in the USA are comfortable with. We definitely like the idea of a cash-item model and our developers in Korea, they prefer the idea of a cash-item model.
The problem is that, since this is a game targeted to kids, it is a little risky to assume parents are going to be OK with it. You know, I have a kid. Iím not sure I want my kid to come up to me all the time saying, 'I want a little bit more money, a little bit more money, a little bit more money.' The subscription may be easier on the parent at the end of the day. Weíre still deciding that, figuring it out, doing research to determine what we want to do.
Regardless of which business model we choose, we have a competitive advantage in the United States over something like Maple Story
where the characters arenít as well known here. We are working with Cartoon Network characters that are pretty well liked by the kids. Plus, we have the power of the network and CartoonNetwork.com to drive people to the game.
At the end of the day, my hope is that when people try the game out, because there will be a free component to the game, they will be hooked.
Do you plan to do any on-air Cartoon Network promotions for the title?
In a certain way, yes. We've got to be careful. There are laws set around that so we donít use our characters to sell products. We need to be very conscientious about how weíre positioning this product as a pay-based product. But there will certainly be stunts, and there will be cross-promotion back and forth with the network.
How about parental controls for the game, since it's obviously kid-focused?
We've made FusionFall
as safe as we possibly could by adding a lot of features. A parent can administer their childís account, to make sure the parent has complete control over how much their kid can chat with other people, and monitor what their kid is doing.
We are going to announce later this year some really specific details about how we are going to keep the game safe. But the goal is that parents and kids can play together, or if the parent is not there they know their kid is safe in the game.
What the story hook for kids that allowed you to bring in all of the Cartoon Network characters into this world?
The first thing to note is this is the Cartoon Network Universe. So all of the Cartoon Network characters like Dexter, Ben 10, Fosterís Home for Imaginary Friends and the Powerpuff Girl - they are all in this one world. But it is a different world from what you would see on TV. In some cases the characters are a little bit older; it's set a little bit into the future.
The characters have been reinterpreted with a more anime style. This world is a very kid friendly world, but it is being invaded by the planet Fusion. That is a giant massive planet that is eating other planets and is coming after our planet. Of course, your job is to jump in the game, and partner with your friends and all the other players to save the world. That is basically the storyline - you are fending off a galactic threat.
We saw some Cartoon Network characters like Mojo Jojo and Mandark. But do you plan to bring back some more obscure characters like Sheep from Sheep in the Big City or the Time Squad?
If you keep going back to fusionfall.com
we will show you more and more characters as time goes on. I can't announce those specifically, but I will say we are going to reach pretty deep into the library to bring characters that make sense in the game and people like.
How is FusionFall different from other MMOs?
The thing that weíre excited about is we are taking the best [elements] of MMORPGs. The character development, the world exploration, the playing with other people, grouping up with other folks, creating guilds or clubs as we call them, the stuff that really makes it fun in the multiplayer world and combining that with what we like in console gaming.
We're also including platform action, solving these puzzles where you need to jump a lot, slide down slides, zip lines, those kinds of games. Weíre merging them together in a way Iíve never seen before. I think this may be a new kind of MMORPG. That is the basic gameplay. There is combat, collecting and there is also this platform gaming element.
But also, we are introducing our characters in an additional way into the game with the creation of the things called nanos. The nanos are super deformed, little versions of our characters that you collect and carry with you throughout the game. Each one gives you a different power. Your skill system is based on what nanos you have with you.
Think of it like Magic: the Gathering, Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh, where you can collect a lot of different characters, but when you go out in the world you have to choose which ones you want to take with you. If you want to take the ones to make you a healer, you can do that. If your buddy in the group wants to take the ones to be a tank he can do that. You can group up and play off each other like that.
Or if you donít want to play with anybody you just take the ones that make you a better solo-er. Or if you donít care about any of that, if you just like the Powerpuff Girls, take the Powerpuff Girls and call it a day.
How do you collect nanos?
The ďreal charactersĒ are in the game and you are going to get quests from them, go on missions with them. They are basically going to give you assignments. Throughout the course of the game, they will give you assignments that will allow you to unlock or collect one of these nanos. For example, if you want a Megas XLR nano you may need to do a mission for [Megas XLR character] Coop who can help you build a Megas nano.