World of Tanks

October 1, 2007
Earth Eternal Interview with Matt Mihaly
 

By: Michael Dougherty

Earth Eternal is a browser/client based MMORPG in development by Iron Realms. It takes place on a fictional earth where humans are extinct and animals rule the world.

Michael: Thank you for taking time out of your day to answer a few questions. Firstly, let’s get a little background information on you. What is your name and position within the Earth Eternal team?

Matt: I’m Matt Mihaly, CEO and Creative Director of Iron Realms. I wanted to refer to myself as God-King, but someone else in the company – Ben Stirling - called it first. I was disappointed. I thought about God-Emperor just to show up Ben but I don’t want to be haunted by the ghost of Frank Herbert. You understand. Freaking lawyers.

Michael: Excellent, on to the game itself. Could you give us an overview of the game world as well as a brief overview of the storyline you are developing.

Matt: The game world is a very loosely-inspired version of Earth. We take cues from all sorts of mythologies and stories (Norse, Chinese, Greek, Roman, Celtic, Chinese, Indian, American Indian, Nubian, Egyptian, etc) and weave them together into a story that combines traditional mythologies with high-fantasy.

Michael:
So, let me get this straight. Animals rule the world. Humans are extinct, but the animals (characters) have human characteristics?

Matt: Humans are indeed extinct, having wiped themselves out at the end of the Age of Man. We haven’t published the history for the Age of Man yet, but the next chapter dives into it.

Players play Beasts, who are one of many races that are sort of the equivalent, en masse, of mankind. When we launch, a player will choose from 16 races of Beast to play, including Lisian (lizard-person), Bandicoon (raccoon-person), Atavian (falcon-person), and Tusken (boar-person)

Michael: Any concern that this concept will only appeal to a niche audience or possibly even run the risk of criticism in regards to the animal models and inappropriate content?.

Matt: Is there a risk that we’ll appeal to a niche audience? Of course. But Iron Realms currently runs text MUDs. Clearly, we are not afraid of appealing to a niche audience. ;)

I’m being a little disingenuous, of course. Earth Eternal is aimed at a much broader audience than our MUDs are.

In terms of the risk of criticism in regardes to the animal models, I’m going to guess you’re referring to the furry issue. For readers who might not be aware, furries are people who have a particular affinity for anthropomorphic (animals walking upright like people, more or less) characters.

Here’s the thing: Most people browsing around have never heard of furries. The recent Entourage episode aside, it’s just not in the mass consciousness. To most people, including to all of our team, anthropomorphic animals just means Disney or Warner Brothers.

There’s an assumption among some hardcore MMORPG fans that enjoying animal characters is an indication that you’re sexually interested in them, which I find to be ridiculous. I like Bugs Bunny. I like Puss in Boots. I like Taurens in WoW. I don’t see anything wrong with that I guess.

Michael: What is your target audience for Earth Eternal?

Matt: Anyone from a 13 year old who wants a relatively immersive experience but can’t afford the $50+$15/month that WoW costs, to the family that wants to play together but finds the current free offerings either too extreme (Guildwars) or are put off by the less-than-pretty environment of something like Runescape, to college kids looking for a great PvP environment.

We are, however, explicitly not targeting the “traditional” boxed-game MMO audience. If you’ve played UO, and Everquest, and Planetside, and Eve, and WoW, and Lord of the Rings Online, then you’re probably not our target audience. Too hardcore for Earth Eternal (and probably not hardcore enough for our MUDs).

Michael: Since the company’s inception in 1996 Iron Realms has been known for its development of text based MUDs. What factors prompted your company to develop a graphic MMORPG? Do you still have plans to develop text based MUDs or do you feel these are a thing of the past?

Matt: We’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to move into graphical MMORPGs for awhile now. We actually made an aborted attempt at it a few years ago but we were aiming at a traditional AAA model. We failed to raise the initial 10 million we needed to get started….for which I am now profoundly grateful. World of Warcraft would have crushed us. The time felt right to try again, and we had no desire to go the boxed-game, AAA model again. When you look at the most popular online game experiences these days, only one (WoW, of course) comes from that model.
 
As for text MUDs, we definitely do not feel they are a thing of the past. We’ve had 10 years of consecutive growth from them. We’ve got a new one (Midkemia Online, based on the Magician books by fantasy author Raymond E. Feist) that’s been in development for awhile now, and that’s probably not the last text MUD we’ll do.

Michael: In the past many companies have taken criticism for offering a free to play / pay for virtual items business model. What is your reaction to these critics and do you have any plans to offer gamers other options for obtaining these items?

Matt: We pioneered that business model 10 years and I dare say that we have some of the most fanatically loyal customers in online games which says to me that we’re doing something right. Some people don’t like PvP. Some people don’t like subscriptions. Some people don’t like the fantasy genre. Such is life. Anyone who doesn’t like the fantasy genre isn’t going to like EE, just as anyone who objects to this business model is probably not going to play EE. Variations on this model are becoming so standard though that I don’t see it as an issue.

I should point out though that there is a bit of a misconception in your question. Although many games have implemented a similar model to what we did, most of them haven’t taken the next logical step which is to create a legal in-game currency exchange. This allows players to trade credits (purchased with real money generally) for gold (gotten by playing the game), and thus it allows someone who never pays us a dollar to obtain credits and buy anything with them that someone who does spend real money can buy. In other words, everything is still obtainable without spending real money, if you are willing and able to put in the time to acquire enough gold to sell on the currency exchange for credits.

Michael: Will players be able to customize their characters when created? What level of customization do you have planned and will these customizations have an impact on the future power of the character or only be visual changes to make the character unique looking?

Matt: Yes they will. Aside from the 16 races you’ll be able to choose from a few body types, different faces, and then extensive customization of the colors for your character. Each race has a number of different areas that can be recolored on it ranging from basic fur/feathers/skin color all the way down to eye color. Typically there are 8-13 different areas that can be re-colored on a character. These are likely all visual-only changes but we’re considering making body type (hulking, slender, etc) have a minor effect on your character’s stats. We’ll have to play with that during alpha and see how it works.

There’s a lot of customization potential beyond just your character’s skin/fur/feathers though. Just as you can dye those, you can do the same with your armor. So, an individual piece of armor that you get might look one way to start but quite different after you’ve taken it to a dye shop and had it redyed. Typically, a single piece of armor (helm, pauldron, chest, etc) has 3-4 regions on it that can be individually recolored.

Even beyond that, you can attach weapons and items like earrings to yourself, creating an even more custom look. So, you might decide you want to run around with a dagger in each hand, a scimitar on each hip, a great sword, a bow, and an axe attached to your back, and a hoop in your left ear (if you’re a race that has ears). You can recolor your weapons like you can with armor, so you’re able to really define how you’d like your character to look.



Michael: Could you give us a little information about the combat system? Are the developers of Earth Eternal planning anything different or “innovative”?

Matt: The combat system is probably fundamentally familiar to anyone who has played any of the DIKU-derived MMOs (Everquest, WoW, etc), but with a major twist: You can multi-class. Frankly, it makes me a little nervous because multi-classing is a major balance challenge, but it’s just too neat not to include.

Multi-classing in EE doesn’t mean, however, that anyone can do anything equally well at any time. You’ll start off with a single class, and after you’ve progressed far enough in that class you’ll be able to add a second class. Learning abilities in that second class will be more difficult, however, and you will be inherently slightly better at a couple core primary class abilities than you are in the secondary class. After you’ve gotten far enough in the second class, you can even gain a third, though never a fourth.

We think this is going to make for a very different-feeling combat experience at the upper end than what most players are used to.

Michael: As I understand it you will be offering users the choice of up to 16 different races (4 classes) to choose from. This gives gamers a great selection to choose from; what race/class combination are you personally looking forward to playing?

Matt: So far I’ve got a couple characters I’ve been playing with. One is a Feline colored largely black, wearing midnight-blue armor. He’s a mage-warrior combo. The other is an Anura (frog-person) Druid. Someone on our team recently created a Lisian (lizard-person) Sneak (rogue/thief class) that looks really sweet though. He’s got this deathly pale skin color going on with almost colorless eyes and grey and red armor. He’s loaded down with daggers and looks like quite the assassin.

Michael: What type of skill system have you chosen to use in Earth Eternal? Are you planning on doing anything out of the ordinary when it comes to character advancement; something to set Earth Eternal apart from other games in its genre?

Matt: The skill system is ultimately driven by leveling up, but the major difference in Earth Eternal is that there is no hard level cap. In theory, you can max out three classes. In practice, the number of people who do that is not likely to be huge.

Michael: In games such as World of Warcraft; Armor, Weapons, and other equipment play a big role in the success of your character. Will Earth Eternal follow the same model or will you put more emphasis on the skills of the character as well as the person controlling it?

Matt: Armor and weapons play a role in Earth Eternal but not as big of a role as in something like WoW. The reason is mainly pragmatic: We can’t afford to develop the same massive range of armor and weapons that WoW has.

Michael: What activities will players have the option of doing in the game world? Will there be quests, PvP, crafting, dungeons, as well as other things to keep the player from getting bored?

Matt: There will be quests, PvP, and dungeons at release. We’re not sure we can manage to pull off crafting for release, however. We’re on a pretty tight budget that we’re already stretching quite far.

Michael: In regards to PvP. Could you give us some information on what kind of PvP system you plan on implementing, anything to look forward to in this area?

Matt: The PvP system isn’t finalized enough for me to talk about yet unfortunately. Our original design was something that would probably work well in our text MUDs but was too complicated for EE, so we had to scrap it. All I can say is that there will the opportunity for PvP in defined areas and for consensual world PvP.

Michael:
What will be the system requirements? Will this be yet another game that users have to upgrade their PC to play or do you expect most mid-level hardware today to be sufficient?

Matt: We aim to keep the system requirements pretty low but I can’t be specific yet. Today’s mid-level hardware will have absolutely no problem running EE though and we’re hoping that’s the case for today’s relatively low-level hardware too.

Michael: Is there anything in closing you would like to tell our readers about the game, the designers, or the company in general?

Matt:
I just want to mention that though I may be the public face of the company and game, there are other people involved who work their butts off. The guys who are finger-to-keyboard don’t get enough recognition, so I just want to thank Chris Kohnert, Martin Best, and Ben Stirling in that regard.

The Beasts Await!

We appreciate you taking the time to answer some of our questions. Anyone interested in tracking the release date of Earth Eternal and/or beta testing can surf on over to http://www.eartheternal.com/  and sign up for their newsletter. Keep an eye out here at MPOGD for a preview of this game once it becomes available to us.

 
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