Master Of The Galaxy: Stardock's Brad Wardell
November 15, 2006 Page 3 of 5
GS: You know, speaking of MMOs earlier, didn't you just shut down an older game of yours along those lines?
BW: Stellar Frontier. Yeah, that's right. We had that up and running for ten years. It got to the point where, and all these MMOs hit this point, they have a problem with hackers, cheaters and that kind of thing. Eventually, I feel that it's always a losing race in the long run. As long as the game is selling enough, you can justify putting resources into thwarting the latest griefer who has figured out a way to packet sniff something that makes him invincible. Eventually, though, x number of years later, the sales aren't enough to justify that kind of thing. We stopped selling the game a long time ago, and we just kept it going. Finally, there were just too many people who had cracked the system. I couldn't imagine having our developers dig into that ancient server code. It was written with OS2 in mind, to give you an idea of how old it was.
GS: That's old.
BW: Alright, do you remember named pipes? That's old. I shouldn't say that, because someone's going to say something about networking code. Anyway, yeah, we had to shut that down.
GS: What are you guys doing for your new MMO? Can you say anything about that?
BW: Well, Stellar Frontiers was written in the mid nineties, back in the age of kumbahyah. This was before Ultima Online. You remember that?
GS: Oh yeah, I played it a lot.
BW: Alright, I'm mining and I'm going to go out. This is before we knew how horrible people can be to each other online. We had some inkling, but not people that can dedicate serious time to making people miserable. Now we know better. Now we program these games so that the desktop is basically a terminal. It hosts all the art content, but everything that matters is done server side. That's what we have to do.
GS: Yeah, but then you run into problems like EverQuest did with people running Linux boxes for packet sniffing to show where all the items were in a zone. Where there's a will there's a way.
BW: I think it's a matter of encryption. I don't think EverQuest was encrypting their packets.
GS: I can't remember, but you're probably right about that.
BW: With EverQuest, they weren't in the age of kumbahyah. Did you see that World of Warcraft episode of South Park?
GS: Yeah, it was pretty great.
BW: It was before the development community understood that there were people out there who wanted to do nothing but grief. That episode hit close to home. You play much World of Wacraft?
GS: Oh yeah, I've been playing since Beta 3. I'm doing some work with the Burning Crusade now.
BS: Were you using Ventrillo?
GS: Sure, we've used it a good bit.
BW: That episode hit really close to home. "What's the DPS of that sword? Nice...."
GS: The episode was pretty perfect. I love the fact that Blizzard worked with them on that. World of Warcraft has had such a huge impact.
BW: The only request that I've ever put in is that level sixty guys should be able to create quests. When I hit level forty, there weren't anything that wasn't elite. There are people like me who like killing ten skeletons. Those quests dry up like we're above them. I'm not above that. You need five thigh bones? I'm your man, I'm happy to help out.
GS: You're happy to help out. With that in mind, what are you guys planning for your MMO?
BW: With Society, the site is societygame.com, right now is we're building up the infrastructure for it. It's on development hiatus. I shouldn't say that, because the back end is in full development mode still. As we saw how popular Galactic Civilizations became, we realized just how much server infrastructure we were going to need in terms of account handling and that sort of thing. We were very naive. Our non-game side does really well, so we figured we'd buy a hundred really powerful servers and throw them up and we'd be fine. No, there's a lot of load-balancing that has to be done. I have some friends at Blizzard that were giving me tips on some of this stuff. So, I came to realize that we were being naive, so we're moving forward on that.
In terms of the game itself, the idea is that it's a real time strategy game that makes you the monarch of your civilization. Instead of having levels, there's an endless technology tree where the equivalent of level sixty in World of Warcraft, that would be the top of the technology tree. You, the player, have a royal family that helps run your civilization and you can marry them off to other players. Each player is running their own society.
Most of the time you'll spend building up your cities. In a way, you can imagine the game being The Sims meets Total Annihilation. You spend a lot of time building things up, but to also expand your region, you have to build up armies and send out expeditionary forces to conquer other realms in order to get more resources.
GS: It has a way to fight other players?
BW: Exactly. Where a lot of our time went into the game design is you don't want someone to wake up in the morning and find their kingdom has been wiped out by some catasser who has spent the night wiping everyone out. What we came up with is that players can designate some of their regions to be unattackable, and those regions stay unattackable for x number of days. They'll become more vulnerable the longer you're gone. So if you're gone for three months then you could possibly come back to only having your capitol left. Generally speaking, you can be gone a few days and you'll probably be fine.
GS: When are you guys planning on having that done?
BW: We're hoping to be out in beta within the next year and a half or so. The engine part isn't so bad, it's just the back end. If we can control the number of players and see just how bad it's going to be…I mean, you remember all the problems that World of Warcraft was when it shipped. They were in beta for over a year. They still had these problems that I can't even imagine. In our case, we plan for Society to be free in its basic incarnation. So people can just get on, download the client and start playing. We could have a large user base really quick.
GS: So the base client is going to be free. Are you going to charge for extra turns or something like that?
BW: The income comes from a couple of different areas. One is from the queues. You know, like those download services. What does Blizzard call their servers? Realms, that's it. We call them worlds. So, you want to play right now, but our worlds can only handle so many players. If you're free, you may have to wait in line if it's a really busy world, but if you pay, you go to the front.
GS: Like FilePlanet?
BW: Precisely. There will also be servers for people who pay, because we expect there will be more griefing on the free servers. The people who pay will also have access to the single player game. This is one of those things that will be different about this game is that since it's a real time strategy game, you can play off line and only the paid version would have that.
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