After years of drip-feeding information about its multiple in-progress MMOs, online-focused studio Trion Worlds has exclusively briefed Gamasutra on its plans going forward.
Today, it's unveiled the massively multiplayer strategy game End of Nations, renamed its previously-announced Heroes of Telara to Rift: Planes of Telara, and provided initial details on its collaboration with the Syfy television network.
The company plans to ship Rift and End of Nations next year, while its still-untitled Syfy MMO has a release date to be determined.
End of Nations
End of Nations, which Trion considers to be "the world’s first premium massively multiplayer real-time strategy game," was initially conceived by Trion and is being developed by Petroglyph, the Las Vegas-based strategy-oriented dev house founded by former employees of Westwood (Command & Conquer series).
"We needed an external partner," Trion development SVP Nick Beliaeff told Gamasutra. "It couldn't be another startup [like Trion], beacuse in an industry ruled by Murphy, that's just asking for pain. Petroglyph was a perfect partner: they owned their technology, had shipped titles on that technology, sold a few million units of RTS, and are absolutely passionate about creating an MMORTS." That deal came together about two years ago, and Petroglph has been working on the game since.
The game is set in the mid-21st century, and pits two player-controlled factions against a global superpower.
"Imagine if all the economic difficulties just get worse and worse, and the global infrastructure begins to collapse," explained Beliaeff. "This [superpower] is a combination of the United Nations and the military-industrial complex. They have superweapons they've created over time, and they have the chance to deploy them under the guise of restoring order to the world."
Players can battle against one another in faction versus faction battles, as well as cooperate to take down the larger "Order of Nations" faction. Unlike most massively multiplayer games, all of these battles take the form of real-time strategy conflicts.
"A lot of people have tried MMORTS, and none have succeeded," Beliaeff said. "One of the things we learned is that you have to make a game that appeals to the core RTS player."
For that reason, End of Nations is aimed at existing RTS aficionados. "We're not looking to convert World of Warcraft players," Beliaeff stressed.
Thus, the game still allows players to jump right into matchmade or custom RTS battles. But when they want to participate in the larger conflict of the world, they can enter the "war room," which includes a global map, missions, leaderboards, social interfaces, and more ("The idea was, 'What would CNN look like 40 years from now?'").
And the large-scale online infrastructure Trion and Petroglyph have developed for the game means End of Nations can, according to Beliaeff, support battles of sizes ranging from one-on-one to 50 players on a map measuring 20 square miles.
"We've asked people what they think about RTS, and there's a general feeling that games like Company of Heroes is different than Command & Conquer, which is different than StarCraft, but there hasn't been the next big step forward," Beliaeff said. "Well, we've got the scale and scope; we've got the persistence; we've got the 'massive.'"
Rift: Planes of Telara
In addition to publicly revealing the name of its MMORTS, Trion has renamed its more traditional fantasy MMO Heroes of Telara to Rift: Planes of Telara.
The basis of the game's setting is that the world of Telara is situated on a "nexus of planes," where players can summon and enter interdimensional rifts to participate in a wide variety of shared quests. Thanks to Trion's proprietary network technology, the company claims these rifts can be dynamically opened practically anywhere in the game world, although the content within them is discretely crafted.
Beliaeff says the name change came after Trion identified that rift mechanic as one of the game's most important elements, deciding to put it as front and center as possible.
"We've learned in the past year to really narrow down what makes the game special," he told Gamasutra. "We figured out one of the best ways to leverage our technological advantage happened to tie in with the mythology of the rifts. When we had people play the game, we talked about the different features they gravitated towards, and players told us rifts were the coolest part."
"With our core architecture, our servers are not bound to geography," Beliaeff explained. "Once our assets are on a player's machine, we can place them anywhere in the game. It's not that in the zone, there are these three specific [types of] monsters; for us, data is data and we can place it wherever we want."
Because of that ability for the designers to switch the content of areas on the fly, "there's really that sense of exploration and adventure," Beliaeff said. "It's not, 'Hey I've mapped out this zone and I know exactly what monsters are here.' With the rifts, it's 'What's here today? What's here tomorrow?'"
Trion says it plans to move into closed alpha testing for Rift "in the very near future."
The Syfy MMO
Trion still isn't talking much about its MMO collaboration with Syfy, which was first mentioned back in 2008, when Syfy was still known as The Sci-Fi Channel.
But Beliaeff did tell Gamasutra about the project's origins and its intended scope, which will merge the events of a Syfy-produced television series with player achievements in the game itself.
"The Sci-Fi Channel has always had a big passion for games, and has such a synergy with their audience that they wanted to get there in a really meaningful way," Beliaeff said. "We wanted to take it beyond the traditional licensee/licensor relationship. We live in a connected world. We can really do something nobody has done before."
Beliaeff wasn't willing to discuss mechanics in detail, but he called the game "more of an MMO action game" than an MMORPG, and said it is set on Earth, between 50 and 100 years in the future.
For example, he described, "if the show mentions there's a plague in Africa, in the game we can do a deep dive to Africa, where the plague is ravaging everything and there's a whole quest line for your guild to go through. Then, the name of the first guild to cure the plague gets actual airtime."
As Beliaeff observed, "The show is on for its episode arc; the game is on every minute of every day."