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Korean MMORPG Aion is set to launch in North America on September 22nd and in Europe on September 25th. Blend Games had a chance to badger the busy NCsoft development team with some questions about the game and here's what they had to say.
The fact that many MMORPG's require a monthly subscription and a heavy time investment can often make these players reluctant to try a new MMO. What do you think this game can offer players that their current MMORPG's can't?
Players definitely have choices when it comes to MMOs, or any game for that matter, so it was key for us that we offer game mechanics and experiences that they’re not necessarily going to find in any other game.
Some unique features are: tactical flight, which introduces three-dimensional combat and is going to change the way players and Legions think about combat strategies. We’ve combined PvP and PvE so players no longer have to commit to one or the other; PvPvE allows them to play both while also giving them the option to focus on one over the other. Extreme Customization, not only can players create a truly unique character look, but they can also customize the way they play the game with that character. An example of gameplay customization is the use of Stigma stones. By using different combinations of Stigma stones, players can enhance and change their character’s class so that the character is distinctive.
We also realize there are many different types of gamers; there are players who will invest 10-20 hours a week in AION and there are those who will only want to play 1-2 hours a week. PvPvE was designed specifically with both hardcore and casual gamers in mind. We wanted to make the PvP parts of the game more accessible and less intimidating to the casual gamer, while staying true to what veteran PvPers love the most. Hardcore players will love it for its unique challenges and casual gamers will find it accessible to participate on many different levels.
Along the same lines as the first question: how do you think Aion will expand the market? What about the game will appeal to gamers who have never tried an MMORPG before?
We had the opportunity to showcase Aion at GDC, E3, GamesCom, the San Diego Comic-Con and PAX this year. For each show we had large monitors that faced out towards aisles. I thought it was fascinating that every time a player was in the character customization system, the crowd in the aisle would stop dead in their tracks and just stare at the screen. Almost everyone wanted to try it out; it was really cool to see their reaction when they discovered how much control they have over how their characters looks, dresses and plays the game.
We also have an interactive tutorial system that gradually introduces the various game mechanics to the players. This will be extremely helpful to players who aren’t familiar with MMO UI or controls (more experienced MMO players can easily turn off the tutorial system).
Flying combat is a mechanic not often seen in games. How long has the idea of aerial combat been a part of your plans for Aion? Was it something you wanted to include in the game from the very beginning?
It was definitely one of the first design-seeds planted. Of course, the idea was daunting and our designers knew that if we were going to use flight as a strategic part of combat, we had to do it right. We were no longer thinking about combat in terms of what’s in front or behind you – we also had to start thinking about what could come from above and below. Everything had to take this into account: classes, spells, environments, etc.
We spent a tremendous amount of time spec-ing it out and researching the best engine to use.
It's mentioned that the game is running on modified CryEngine technology. It will, to our knowledge, be the first MMORPG to be powered by that particular engine. What made the team decide to use CryEngine for this kind of game?
The CryEngine had the stability and flexibility we were looking for; it does a fantastic job of expressing rich, vibrant colors, which was so important to us because we focused a ton of time and energy on art direction and the creation of the art in the game. Players will notice right away that textures in Aion have a lot of detail – the CryEngine allowed us a high visual quality at a low resource cost. Which is equally important to us, since there’s no point in having a beautiful game that 90% of our users computer’s can’t play.
Aion has been live in South Korea since November 2008. How has the game changed since then?
There have been three major updates since Aion launched in Korea, all of which have been implemented into our NA/EU launch version. These updates include new areas and instances, new character faces and options, increased PvPvE rewards and character repose bonuses to experience, western control schemes, new items, skill and tons of new quests.
There are many MMORPG's without monthly subscriptions that are supported by either advertising or optional payments for in-game items. It seems like a particularly popular business model in Korea. Were there ever discussions about taking such an approach with Aion? Why did you decide against it?
I don’t think it was really decided against; it was more that Aion was designed from the beginning to be a subscription-based game.
What are your plans regarding post-release content? Is there anything that didn't make the "final cut" for the retail version that we can expect soon after the game launches?
We look the time to include 3 major updates that have gone live in Korea so I believe we will have everything and more for our launch. We continue to expand Aion with more content both in and out of game. You will see a variety of web services which interact with the game and the community and we hope to continue to roll them out over the coming months.