So I got to sit down in a Skype call with Dave Lindsay, the “head boss man” for Mechanist Games to talk about their new steampunk, browser-based MMORPG called City of Steam that is coming out soon. This game looks interesting so I got to sit down with Dave for an interview over the game.
What is the story behind “City of Steam” and what do we plan to see when we start of?
Dave: One of the things we talked about a lot, especially myself and the other quest writer, Ian, there are only two of us right now. One of the things we talked about quite a lot was that MMOs and storylines are so poorly put together these days and so we wanted to create something that was believable with a progression of story and so that’s why we spent a lot of time redoing the quest system and we are still adding, updating and modifying right now. City of Steam is about one city because the amount of detail is enough that you won’t ever have nothing to do. It’s a big city. It’s a fallen city so it has a lot of history and has layers of history and each layer is an extra level of depth in the storyline. The character that you play largely determines the story that you begin with so there will be a certain amount of racial and class based quests especially in the beginning of the game. Your character is coming to the City of Steam which is actually one of the larger satellite areas of a metropolis called Nexus. We wanted to do the whole city, naturally, but there was so much to see in the metropolis that we are going to detail one area really well first. Let’s say for example that you are going to play as an Orc, when you start off, this Orc will be in the train station ready to go to the city-state of Nexus and you will be asked questions by customs about where you came from, why you are going to the city and those questions will affect the introduction of your story. At the end of your introductory quest, you will be in the city with your own house or accommodation and your character will be part of the city and living there being a part of the events that will unfold.
I did see parts of the city in screenshots and videos but what I am curious about is what kind of combat system would we see in City of Steam?
Dave: We are now in our third iteration of the combat system and we are actually doing a fourth. We are changing it but only a small amount from what it is now. It is definitely an ARPG now and it started off turn-based but we couldn’t make that work in a fun way. Maybe a more experienced team of designers could’ve made a turn-based system that was really fun and cool. We tried a lot of different things and in the end, we made it more action. We have a top-down camera that you can turn around and move around with the character. Your character will also have a list of abilities that you can use and a lot of area effect spells that you can throw at monsters running at you. You could compare it to Titan Quest or Diablo but I do have to say that it is probably more strategic because of the kinds of areas and abilities you can use are more precise. Some abilities will have friendly fire so you don’t want to throw them at your friends. You should select abilities that would pick off individual enemies in the face of combat with single enemies.
Are there any kinds of weapons that are exclusive to one race or will it be more universal?
Dave: We want to keep all weapons sort of universal and the main technical reason for that is that we want to share the same animations because everyone has to download them so if we made specific weapons for races, which we did consider before, that means that one race would have to download something but no one else would be able to use it so it would be a little bit of a waste and make everyone’s game a little bit slower to load. We considered it but we decided, “No” because if you download them then everyone should be able to use them.
Are the quests mixed between instances found in a traditional MMO with some city quests or is it one or
Dave: In your account, you will have a certain amount of characters depending on the size of your house because all of your characters go into your house. So if you have three characters and you complete them in a different way, those quests will be instanced for the specific character and the character’s history will have the ending for those specific quests. We also have the other kind of event where we say, “This shopkeeper is closing down. If everyone goes and buys stuff from him then he won’t close up shop. “ That is more of a community event where, by the end of it, there was some kind of condition that could go one way or another. Maybe a bridge gets burned down, maybe a shop closes or we open a new part of the city. Those kinds of events are in there. Another kind of quest is called an “epic” and in the epics, a new chapter of the quests are released probably biweekly or weekly and they’re continuing. If you complete it in a certain way, the next week you might have a next chapter to follow through depending on what you did last week. We won’t make them go on forever and you can turn back time if you want to start over on them but epics are a more continuing, permanent thing rather than your daily or weekly quests.
I saw the theme for the game was heavy in steampunk. Would it be as friendly to those who are not as into the subgenre as others?
Dave: We definitely think that the style of the game is something that game developers really like but it’s something that not a lot of other people like. You also have to think, “I don’t know how many time I can go to the elven forest and see the traditional, medieval castle.” A lot of players we talk to say that they are tired of the traditional fantasy setting and so we are just providing something different and alternative. Although it is a different style and others may not like it, you don’t want to play the same style over and over again. Ours is definitely different and we will see how it works.
What would we expect to see in City of Steam involving crafting?
Dave: In a steampunk world, a lot of things are mass produced but modified and not crafted from scratch. Right now we are leaving a space for a crafting system inside of the player’s house but we won’t be going big into the resources and materials for crafting because it is really hard to balance and we don’t actually have enough people to do that. Also right now, weapons and armor can be socketed. We are very liberal with it. Every socket does something small but there are a lot of sockets for adding new stuff to modify your weapons and armor with. Each one isn’t a massive bonus. Each one is another step towards a better weapon in the end. Actually crafting a weapon with its own model or name is something we thought we would just leave for later. We also thought about crafting clothes and lots of stuff, even furniture for the player’s house but definitely won’t be in the first version of the game.
Going away from City of Steam for a moment, tell me a bit about Mechanist Games.
Dave: We started City of Steam with three people and we were a small company called J.W. which is the Chinese pronunciation for the term, “Multiple Dimensions.” That company was founded in 2009 but we actually started a little bit before that because it took a while for us to do legal stuff. Mechanist Games was just founded this year. We put up some videos about City of Steam and a gaming enthusiast, a very nice guy, had some money to invest. He just found us on the net and said, “These people look really cool.” He’s the kind of guy who is really into serious games. He looked around China and there was a lot of social games and free-to-play, casual MMOs and that wasn’t really his thing. He thought that this game we had looked really good and was a serious work of fiction so he decided to invest in us and we made Mechanist Games.
How many people are currently in your team now?
Dave: The core team for City of Steam is still five and we have about fifteen to twenty game developers all together. We want to start on a second game soon but there are some crucial positions that have not been filled yet. A lot of our team is in training and City of Steam’s resources are mostly done so we are waiting on a few people to start another game.
Now to finish off with a hardware question for City of Steam, what kind of system requirements are you aiming for inside of City of Steam?
Dave: Right now we have a variety of machines in our office. Some of them are older. Some are newer. We are providing a list of selectable options that you can have the computer automatically detect the best frame rate area for you and reduce quality or you could select it by yourself. We think that there are definitely enough options there to work on an iPad, a Mac or a PC and you can tweak your settings. If you don’t have any on board graphical support, like motherboards made before 2003, then it’s probably not possible but most motherboards and CPUs after that time have graphical support. The only limitation, though, for those with gaming rigs is that we won’t have high resolution textures because otherwise the download would be too big.