Q. Do you remember your first moment getting emotionally connected to a sandbox MMORPG?
A. It was definitely Ultima Online and for an unusual reason.
I had played hundreds of games by that point in my life, and all of those games were highly scripted. Results were intentionally predictable so you could learn how to play them and get better at them.
Then I started playing UO. One day, early on, I was walking down a road and I came upon a log lying in my path. As I approached, the log said “Help! I’m a magical stick! Please throw me back into the forest!”.
“My first quest!” I thought to myself, and picked up the log to throw it into the forest. At that point, a player with invisibility revealed himself, laughing at me for being gullible and raced off down the road. His invisible character had been positioned in the world to make it look like the log had a chat bubble and it was all just a random joke.
I was hooked from that moment on. Player-generated content, even something so simple as that prank, was a new form of gaming to me and the possibilities seemed infinite. I never looked back…even after major MMOs chose to allow less and less of that sort of spontaneous content. The promise of what could be there fanned the flame of hope that kept me playing.
Q. What do you see as the advantages of a sandbox MMORPG over a theme park MMORPG?
A. Simply put, theme park MMOs can be beautiful, but they’re frozen in time and incredibly static. If you see an enemy camp somewhere, it will be there…forever. It doesn’t matter how much you beat them down, they’re going to keep showing up to get beat down again and your actions as a player cannot change that. “Change” only occurs in these worlds through expansion packs, and that’s not real change. It’s just added content that is also frozen in time and static.
On the other hand, a true sandbox MMO is constantly changing, and more importantly, it’s typically changing because of the actions of its players. Eliminate an enemy camp in a sandbox MMO? It’s gone! You made the area safer for all players. Congratulations! Divert a river into a nearby canyon? Everything that lived downstream from the original course becomes water-starved and either dies out or moves to a new location. Wreck an area during a combat where you used grenades? That area stays wrecked unless a player chooses to restore the damage. Everyone experiences the same world and all actions affect all other players. Sandbox MMOs are a new kind of gaming excitement where actions have consequences and change is real.
Q. What’s challenging about creating a sandbox MMORPG?
A. Designing worlds where the players have 100% control and can change their environments completely to suit their needs is a new mental space for most designers on the team, but the #1 challenge is providing the players a sense of place and drama while all that change is occurring around them, as well as creating mid-range and long-range goals that each of them wants to achieve and explore over many years of gaming.
Q. If you can tell us, what is something you personally hope to achieve in Playable Worlds’ first game?
A. I want the game to astonish people with how entertaining a malleable world can be when players control nearly every aspect of the game they call home.