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Watching Nations Fall

By Stu Horvath for Digital Innovation Gazette

The MMORPG is a classic PC game genre, one with a long and nuanced history. The biggest and arguably greatest of them is World of Warcraft, an RPG born from real-time strategy beginnings.

In Trion’s forthcoming MMO, End of Nations, the goal is to get back to those roots and create the very first massively multiplayer online RTS game. It’s an ambitious goal, one backed up with some incredibly detailed visuals and a powerhouse engine.

DIG had the opportunity to talk to End of Nations’ executive producer David Luehmann about the game’s development and his hopes for the future.

DIG: What is End of Nations?

David Luehmann: In a nutshell, End of Nations is a massive online, persistent, real-time strategy game. The game is set in a near future in which society as we know it has continued on the downward spiral until ultimately it fails and billions of lives are lost in the chaos that follows the collapse.

DIG: So how is the gameplay for an MMORTS going to work?

D.L.: Internally, we actually think of it as an RTSMMO. Our canon is that it’s a great RTS that utilizes MMO features in a manner that improves upon the core RTS gameplay.

So in most ways it will be familiar to RTS players. There are two playable factions that have different units and abilities. The user interface will also be quickly recognizable and familiar to RTS players. The gameplay is best described as more tactical in focus, and there will still be resources that need to be managed, but players won’t have to optimize around build-order queues.

However, unlike traditional RTS games, everything is online, always online and persistent. For example, much like MMOs, there really isn’t a simple single-player campaign. There is a campaign mode, but it is very PVE/co-op focused and players will be bound to see other users as they play through the campaigns.

We also utilize other beneficial design constructs from MMOs, like the concept of leveling. So as users go through missions, they will earn persistent resources that can be used to unlock technology trees, new unit types, and new abilities -- and customize their units uniquely for each faction -- which in turn can then be used in both campaign and massive PVP battles.

DIG: What are some of the challenges you have faced in developing a massively multiplayer real-time strategy game?

D.L.: At a high level, the challenges fit into two categories: gameplay and technology. From a gameplay perspective, we need to focus on large-scale, moment-to-moment gameplay and avoid big build-order-based gameplay, as that won’t be fun for 50-plus players online together. We also want to be cautious of not turning it into an RPG with full loot dropping and character paper-dolls. Again, it’s an RTS game and we don’t want to muddy that focus.

For the technology side, the challenges really revolve around the core network architecture common in RTS games, typically peer-to-peer based. In a peer-based system, you are playing on a local game that is networked to other peers who are all doing the same thing, and the world state is shared amongst all players.

End of Nations is a pure client-server-based technology. You aren’t playing the game on your home computer, you are playing the game on a server in a data center, and your computer is just the client that is interfaced into the server. Another way of saying this is that your computer is a window through which you are seeing the game. This type of architecture is common for MMO games, as it allows for much larger numbers of users and helps with a bunch of anti-cheat challenges as well.

DIG: What are some of the key features we can expect to see in the game?

D.L.: There are three big feature buckets:

1. Scale, large scale co-op and competitive battles like you have never seen in an RTS game before, with lots of ways to team up with friends.

2. Persistence. Everything you do counts, but in the campaign mode and in the larger meta-game battles for territory. There will be thousands of players fighting for control of the world, and if you are part of big assault or are keeping the base safe -- what you do will matter.

3. Customization. This is both aesthetically and gameplay changing. What choices you make in building out your army, equipping it and upgrading units and abilities will be a big part of the strategy found in this game.

DIG: How are you balancing the MMO aspects with the RTS aspects?

D.L.: We address balancing through a couple of methods. The first is via a smart matchmaking/rewards system that takes rank, skill, clan, group and other player preferences into account in the big competitive battles. The second is really about embracing the differences between newer and more veteran players and employing design concepts in which there is a symbiotic relationship between new players and veterans.

DIG: How do you see the world and mechanics developing past launch?

D.L.: That’s very difficult to predict. First we’ll listen to our customers. We think of this as a service and, if there are particular features or needs that our customers have, we’ll want to address those.

Beyond that, we’ll certainly introduce new units, mods, areas, missions and new stories. Getting wilder, we could potentially release new factions -- or even wilder still, persistent player bases and the like.

DIG: End of Nations packs some serious visual firepower. What technology did you use to develop it?

D.L.: Everything you see is born from propriety tech created by our development partner Petroglyph or by our platform team here at Trion.

DIG: Has it been difficult to scale End of Nations? Are there any specific things you have done or used to ensure the game will run on legacy machines?

D.L.: Yes and yes! It has been difficult and there are many things we’ve done to keep the barrier to entry as low as possible. Technically we have a really solid rendering engine that can scale the complexity of all the visuals down to different levels of detail appropriate for older machines, and we’ve made design and platform decisions that will offload many of the logic needs to server. In this model the clients don’t need the entire world state in memory and/or have to calculate all the math, which really lowers the overhead on CPU and RAM.

DIG: When all is said and done, what is the one core thing you hope to accomplish with End of Nations
There’s a bunch of little goals all tied into this, but at the core I want to see us deliver a game that finds fans who think it simply kicks ass!

Copyright (c) 2011 Studio One Networks. All rights reserved.


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