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Hak Kyu Kim may not be the most familiar name to Western audiences, but he created one of the most popular Asian MMOs in the early days of the Western online market: Ragnarok Online, which became one of the most pre-eminent online titles both in his native South Korea, in Japan, and elsewhere in Asia - even spawning an anime series and an upcoming Nintendo DS spinoff. Now he's launched his new MMO, Sword of the New World (called Granado Espada elsewhere in the world), with his new company IMC Games.
Gamasutra spoke with Kim at a press event for Sword of the New World, and discussed the roots of the game and its unique visual style, the difficulty of balancing massively multiplayer online games, the success of Ragnarok Online, and politics in MMOs.
When and why did you quit Gravity?
Hak Kyu Kim: I left Gravity in 2002 for personal reasons.
I won’t pry then. How do you think Ragnarok managed to build such a big community in the U.S. before the MMO genre was really popular?
HK: I believe the success was based on timing and graphic style. When the game was launched, the market didn’t have much competition; this was especially true with respect to Anime inspired MMOs.
So for Sword of the New World, how did you come up with such a distinctive style? It seems very different from any of your titles before?
HK: I personally really like Europe. And when I first visited London for the ECTS conference, I was deeply impressed by all the beautiful architecture and the environment and I thought to myself, “I want to bring that to life on the screen.” That’s how everything started for this game. And another thought that I had was this: “I want to own that city.”
And now you do! Are you concerned at all about the MMO market in the US since it’s hugely dominated and it still is not as big as Asia?
HK: I don’t see this as a negative thing. I actually think of it as an opportunity for many of us. Yes, these big titles have contributed to expanding the MMO market, but now there is a greater demand for a variety of games.
How are you marketing your game? Are you planning to go after an existing MMO market or create your own?
HK: The MMO market consists of various types of games, and each type contributes to expanding the overall MMO marketplace. SNW has unique offerings that will set us apart from other games, and by doing well within the category that we create we hope to contribute to further expanding the MMO market.
And how does it distinguish itself from other games?
HK: One key feature that distinguishes this game from all other MMOs is its MCC (Multi Character Control) system. MCC allows players to maximize their party play experience by controlling up to three characters at once. So not only are you able to party play with others, and thus with many more characters, but you can also do it alone.
Another key aspect of this game is its dynamic and fast paced battle system that makes our game more enjoyable for our players. Internally, we call this the “HKPS - High Kill Per Second” feature. We focused heavily on making HKPS unique for this game.
How important do you find story in MMOs? How is your story differentiated?
HK: The story background on SNW is definitely different from other games. While it’s still based on fantasy, rather than involving the typical elves and dwarves in our game, we were inspired by real societies and adventures that could have existed back in the 17th Century when the new world was first discovered.