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October 6, 2011
Patrick Streppel Discusses The Upcoming Otherland

By Jason Van Horn

I love being surprised when it comes to games that seemingly appear out of nowhere, though they've probably been in development for some time. Otherland is one such game, which I remember hearing about a while back because of its ties to a series of books, which has suddenly thrust itself back into the spotlight after the reveal of a recent announcement trailer. Curious to learn more about the project, I sat down with Patrick Streppel - Co-CEO of gamigo AG - to learn more about this intriguing upcoming title.

Otherland is based on a series of books done by Tad Williams. For those who might not know what the books are about, can you give a little overview about them? Was Tad Williams involved any when it came to the creation of the game or did he hand it over much like an author does when a film adaptation is in the works?

Otherland is a successful series of sci-fi novels - a four part trilogy - which take place in the near future and center around an online world that humanity has created. Within the books themselves, Otherland is a virtual reality which worlds that range from the truly medieval to the truly futuristic and fantastical are brought to life. There is so much detail to the series that itd be unfit to go into all of it here, but lets just say that much of the nuance, intrigue and major scenery of the series will be well represented in the game. Tad has been very involved in the project from the beginning and provided lots of input to the development team on top of the source material. He is truly passionate about his vision being turned into a game.

Now that we know what the books are about, what can you tell us about Otherland the game and the story involved in it? For fans of the books, where along the timeline would the game fall? Is it a prequel, runs in conjunction, an epilogue, or does it kind of exist outside of the established mythology?

Since a game progresses in a different way than a novel, it was decided early on that it would be best to set the story of Otherland after the fourth book. Those who read it know that Otherland changed dramatically and now it will be up to the players to get it fully back online. Over the lifecycle of the MMO, an endless amount of worlds will be rebuilt and repopulated, but of course the Grail brotherhood has a say in that as well...

How much of the game would you say is taken from the books? For example, will fans be running across characters, worlds, or events that happen in the books?

As the game is essentially a sequel, it does not cover the actual story of the books; however most of the places will be familiar to readers and some of the more familiar faces of the series will make appearances.

While a lot of people were surprised to see the trailer when it popped up, the game has been in the works since at least 2008 by what I could find. What types of changes has the game gone through since then to now, or has it been more about just finalizing and completing the game and that's been the reason for the game's development time?

When developer RealU set out on this journey, it was clear from the beginning that it would take many years and millions of Euros to complete. Otherland is truly one of the biggest Free2Play-MMOGs ever developed - it even surpasses many so-called AAA subscription MMOGs out there. While the game has seen changes here and there - for example the original idea was not to feature traditional classes which we now have - the original vision is very much the same and it has just taken a bit longer than expected to create this huge, highly detailed world and polish the gameplay.

The game is being classified as an MMORPG, but with the trailer that was recently revealed there didn't appear to be many of the usual mechanics on display that one would expect from a game in the genre, as it almost seemed Second Life-ish or like a gorgeous glorified chat room; there seemed as if there was more focus on the social aspects and things like minigames rather than a narrative and quest like system. What's there that we didn't see in the trailer that says, "This is why we're an MMORPG"? Will players be able to expect things like quests, rewards, etc.?

While Otherland has many innovative features and twists to the traditional MMORPG-gameplay, it very much is a role playing GAME and by no means a social space similar to Second Life. We were a bit surprised by that reaction because our aim with the first trailer was not so much to introduce the gameplay, but to introduce the unique scenario and stylish Unreal 3-powered graphics of Otherland as well as some innovations like the eDNA-system. Hanging out at bars and playing minigames is a cool addition, but at its core, players will find a solid MMORPG complete with interesting quests, XP-based character development, party and guild formation, individualized skills, upgradable or crafted items and most importantly, fun and engaging combat. We already talked about some innovations like the eDNA system and MyLand, but once we debut gameplay scenes, players will see why the action-based combat system is yet another step ahead of traditional MMOGs.

How is character creation being handled? In some scenes characters look like half-done polygons, but in others they look like fully fleshed out people. We then also see scenes where a character goes from one to the other by seemingly killing someone. Do players have a traditional avatar that they'll create and if so in what ways can the player make them unique? If the game uses a different system, can you share some insight into these various forms and shifting mechanics?

Players have their own avatar like in any MMORPG, but the nature of Otherlands setting - being in a virtual world - gives players much more freedom to customize their appearance. In fact, players start out as a so-called Simuloid which can grow and evolve according to the players wishes. What you saw in the trailer was an example of the eDNA-system, which allows players to farm appearances and abilities from enemies, but we will reveal more about that feature later on. For now lets just say that Otherland will have some of the most detailed and most customizable characters in the MMO-space.

There are currently two worlds being shown, which is where I assume things like questing will take place: Eight Squared and Mars. What can you tell us about these two worlds in regards to things like the style of each, things you'll be doing, how much content is in each world, how large are they, etc.?

Otherland will have numerous worlds and so far we've revealed three. Eight Squared is a medieval warzone in which two armies fight for control. Even though some areas have idyllic towns or lush forests, the atmosphere is tense and the quests focus on the war which serves a deeper purpose in the overall game story. The Gray Brotherhood is farming souls here for the repopulation of other worlds.
Mars is more of a classic sci-fi world and acts as a trading area. Despite the huge tower in the middle, players can purchase rare goods on the black market or take an airship out to the desert where true exploration kicks off.

Last but not least, there is Lambda Mall which players will use as the main social hub. It includes numerous minigames, such as airplane shooting, quest givers and shops that sell equipment, items or portal addresses to lead to new and unexplored areas of Otherland. However, beyond the Neon lights, Lambda has dark secrets as well and players visiting the hacker zone might find themselves in trouble quickly...

We will show more from each world and reveal more details later on.

Given the nature of the game's setting, it pretty much seems like you can create almost any world you want and have it fit naturally into the mythology of the game's world. We know there are already new worlds being developed. Is there anything you can share about these worlds in development? What's the process and what deciding factors go into bringing a world from conception to life?

You are right. The Otherland books gave numerous ideas for new worlds and I can reveal that work on two more is already underway. What exactly they are will be unveiled later, but readers of the novels should be excited. Over time, Otherland will offer the highest variety of any MMOG out there.

What can you tell us about the game's combat systems? How does the "non-targeting system" work and why do you think this style works best for Otherland rather than the hotkey, click tab to fight and dial-in ability system of a lot of other MMORPGs?

RealU, the developer in Singapore, is comprised of some of the best western console developers from the States, Australia, Europe and Asia. The vision from the beginning was to create a game that is deep as an MMORPG, but at the same time easily accessible and as fast paced as an XBOX or Playstation game. We believe we have managed that goal. The combat feels visceral and deep, yet easy to pick up without being tedious or tiresome. Players swing the sword and really hit everything in range or aim with weapons at their opponent.

How will players level and grow throughout the course of the game? Will there be things like stat increases? What about being able to learn new abilities? If there are going to be things like abilities, could you give any examples?

We are not ready to reveal too many details yet, but character development will be based on experience points and skills - or at least our version of it...

In terms of that chat room feel I mentioned, it seems Lambda Mall is kind of the epicenter for this more casual experience. What are some of the various features scattered about Lambda Mall and an idea as to some of the activities you'll be able to partake in too?

We will reveal more about Lambda Mall later, but lets just say that the bars of Lambda have much more to offer than just a casual experience. The minigames are by no means casual but rather something competitors would release as stand alone games. The lower Lambda Mall also has all the quests and combat to get players engaged.

Can you shed some light on the MyLand system? It seems like a housing system of sorts, but on a much grander scale. We know eDNA is an important element when it comes to creating your world. How is eDNA handled in relation to MyLand and what all can you do with it? Also, how large are we looking at when it comes to your own personal MyLand? Will anyone be able to travel there or is it restricted to just you, friends, people you invite, etc.?

Your MyLand is really your own virtual space - or map in more of a game sense. You can choose from various themes, but you need time and resources to expand your MyLand. Upon each expansion you can explore more of it, revealing hidden things that can be good or bad alike. Imagine finding that unique weapon to help you on Mars or a deadly shader that chases you to the death, in which case your friends must come in to help you. That answers the second part of your question: not everyone can visit your MyLand, but only those who have the portal address. Then again, there are hackers out there...

There are already a lot of MMORPGs on the market and there are big games and franchises still to come. What does Otherland bring to the table that these other games don't and why do you foresee it being something that gamers will want to experience and play?

First of all, Otherland has a truly unique setting with several virtual worlds to play in. This is not your typical fantasy-style game and by no means a grinder. The book offers us so many ways to tell an interesting story and surprise gamers by scenarios they have not yet experienced in online games. Secondly, the team set out to introduce many gameplay innovations to the genre, among them the combat system, MyLand and the eDNA concept.

We think players will be excited when they see that every NPC or enemy in the game is composed of a unique eDNA that can be harvested. Its abilities applied can be to their own character or even more importantly, copied for their own MyLand. While some games offer a housing system, we think that MyLand really takes this a step further. It is a collection of virtual spaces customized and populated by players. They will be able to explore their own virtual world, find unique items or huge threats there and defend it against other players in PVP.

Before we leave, is there anything you'd like to talk about regarding the game that we didn't cover or perhaps some parting words to leave readers with about Otherland?

Otherland is our biggest game yet. It is truly a next-gen MMORPG made by a veteran team over the course of almost four years. Most importantly, weve gone to create something new, something more unique than anything caught in the flood of Free2Play games out there. The initial trailer showed only a small glimpse of that and we just ask players to stay with us until we can show more of this title. They surely will be surprised.


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