WAR is almost upon us. This Thursday one of the most anticipated MMORPGs ever will be released - Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning. And to celebrate this momentous occasion we caught up with creative director Paul Barnett to get the low down on a game that developer Mythic hopes will prize players away from the behemoth that is World of Warcraft. Will the launch of the game go smoothly? Will there be a console version? Will it be better than WoW? Read on to find out...
VideoGamer.com: Your fans are loyal but also vociferous in their comments. How have you gone about tackling how vocal they really can be?
Paul Barnett: We've been in beta for a long long long time. We do targeted beta where we open up very particular parts of the game and get feedback from it. We get feedback from the forums and we also get feedback in the game. We also take a load of statistical data so we can tell the difference between anecdotal evidence and actual proof. People say things like 'we don't like the dungeon in chapter three'. Then you check and find out that actually it's always populated, there's always people in it, it's got a huge turnover. So we're able to counterbalance what they say with what we've actually proved.
What we then do is we're brave enough and smart enough to go 'players really don't like that, we should change that'. So we've been changing the whole thing, and tweaking and testing and cutting and ditching things throughout the entirety of the beta to try and make it better or worse. We try and put all the information on the Herald. We try and put really cool patch notes in that explain what we're doing. We try to do interviews like this. Examples of new stuff that we've been doing is we've improved our AI pathing. When we improved it we totally broke it so it was crap. And then it was up in beta, quite rightly people said 'what's wrong with the AI pathing? It's gone crap'. So we quite rightly fixed it again. We went 'oh sorry about that'. We changed the way RvR rewards were put into the game because people were saying they didn't like them and as soon as we changed it everyone said 'oh no bring the old one back'. We try to moderate everything with fairness and fun factor.
VideoGamer.com: What's the most important lesson you've learnt from the beta testing of the game?
PB: Tell people what you're doing. Tell them often. Admit when you've done stuff that's stupid. If you're going to allow people to talk to you then prove that you're listening and give them feedback. That's the lesson with the community. With the actual game, keep soft launching the game so you can bang out all the crazy bugs.
VideoGamer.com: European players have experienced some difficulties regarding getting into the open beta...
PB: Very generous of you to use the word difficulties.
VideoGamer.com: And there are some concerns that there may be similar difficulties when the game officially launches this Thursday. Is there anything you can say to reassure fans that everything will work?
PB: Are you talking about things like the signing up validation issues?
PB: That was one of those things where you go 'it's definitely going to work, everything on paper says it's going to work, oh my God it's melted!'. It's better that it happened in the sign up beta period than it happened live. What it did do was make a lot of humble pie, and a lot of knuckles got wrapped and a lot of people were told to make sure it never ever happens again. So thank the lords, the Lords of Chaos, that it didn't happen on live live, it only happened on pretend live. Everyone's working really hard, and if it happens again we're going to feed people to sharks. Probably German sharks because they would be very efficient. We're very unhappy that it was bumpy. We're happy that we've punished people and tried really hard to do it better.
VideoGamer.com: With Age of Conan there was somewhat of a miracle patch when the game was finally released. Is that something that Warhammer Online needs?
PB: The nature of these games is they're always getting tweaked and changed and altered and mixed around with. There will almost definitely be a patch on launch day. It's not like a normal game. In a normal game you go gold and then you go bye game, bye players, we'll never see you again. What happens with our game is you have to go gold because you've got to make a product but actually you never stop working on the game. There won't be a miracle patch because the game is actually all right. What there will be is tons and tons of the usual free content, update stuff and there will be one on launch day I have no doubt.
VideoGamer.com: We've seen the first reviews filtering through online. I've seen an 8/10. Are you pleased with that?
PB: No. You can't review a game before it's out, giving it 8/10 is peculiar. I would prefer people to do a preview, out of the box, buy the game, we think it's this, and then do a review later on where they go 'if you're expecting to pay money for this for the rest of your life we rate it as blah blah'. You've got to have a launch which has got to go well. You've got that huge spike where you get too many users in the areas and it doesn't really feel very good. You get server queues, it doesn't matter who you are. And the proof of the pudding of a long term subscription is whether or not they kept their promises. Is there enough of the game built? Are they doing updates? Do they actually give a damn? Do they actually hang together properly? These are the things that really matter if you're going to take up these hobbies. So I'd prefer the reviews to wait a little bit. That's where I am on that one.
VideoGamer.com: From our point of view reviewing MMOs is problematic because the interest is during launch week, but it's hard to judge it before the players have bedded in. Can you understand these difficulties?
PB: Oh absolutely. I've got a ton of sympathy - your readers are expecting information, they're expecting it early, you're a point of reference, you're a part of their moral code of conduct, you're an influence into their purchase habits, there's a lot of trust and faith gone into you and a lot of people don't want to wait, they want it here, now, what you think. I think it's really really difficult. I think if you judge our game as a launch game then I would say certain things are true. One, it's very stable for a launched MMO. Two, we have a track record in our beta of doing a lot of updates, a lot of improvement. Three, we've got a good track record of listening to people and applying fun factor changes rather than bizarre designer changes. Four, if you already play these games and it feels comfortable, there's a lot of user friendly stuff that you expect from other games, like that Woah game I keep hearing about. Five, if you're already a Woah player then I would say our game at launch versus their game at launch, we're a better game at launch than they were. Our game at launch compared to their game now? Well, it's a little unfair. We've got a little more running to do, but we have brought lots of cool innovation.
So the sort of stuff I would expect reviews to pump out would be stuff like 'if you're a WoW player why would you change? There's no item damage, because that's dull. There's no running back from graveyards, because that's dull. Your inventory bags get bigger as you fill it so you don't have to go buy one from some pretend plastic famous person. That's quite cool. Our PvP is actually very jolly. You can customise our interface. You don't want a map up there then move it or delete it. We've got mods obviously'. Stuff like that. I think that's basically all you could really review right now. Oh and public quests because they're new and cool.