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IMG Talks 2: Shadowbane, Ambrosia, Freeverse
July 23, 2002 | Andy Largent
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Shadowbane was the only Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) at the Macworld New York expo being shown. Appropriately, publisher UbiSoft was very excited about the title being a simultaneous Mac/PC release, and representatives were demonstrating its capabilities on two G4s throughout the expo.

For those unfamiliar with the game, Shadowbane will offer a fantasy setting for thousands of players to get online and play, work, and fight with eachother all at once. For a monthly fee, it will let players organize in guilds and create their own cities complete with shops, taxes, and armies to combat and even destroy other cities. The developers at Wolfpack Studios are die-hard Mac fans and plan to open the beta testing up to more users later this summer.

Read the interview below for the scoop on how the Mac version is doing so far.

IMG: What drove the creation of a Mac OS X version of Shadowbane?

UbiSoft: Robert Marsa, who is one of the co-founders of Wolfpack and CTO [Chief Technology Officer] wrote the engine, and he only works on the Mac. And our main programmer for Shadowbane works in Jaguar. Two of our guys wouldn't come on board with the project unless it was created dually for the Mac, and right now you can't separate the code.

IMG: Shadowbane recently received a major graphics overhaul, can you explain what has changed?

UbiSoft: We did new textures and improved the graphical engine. We had a graphical program which actually optimized some of the rendering, and we updated the system to pre-cache the textures much better.

We were focusing at first on stability, getting the base systems in. Now we're starting to work on the polish, and working to get some more eye candy. While this is not so crucial necessarily to the game design, the effects are really noticeable. We came from the "old school" where gameplay is much more important that graphics, and as long as it was fun, we really didn't care how well it looked. Now that's changing, as we've got a lot of new particle effects for spells. We've also improved things like our sky and sun.

IMG: Are you looking to push the limit of what today's new high-end 3D cards can do?

UbiSoft: I know the engine is really scalable, and we're trying to push higher-end graphics features, but it's just a matter of making sure we find all of our bugs first and then work on improving the graphics. We always run the risk of hurting those with lower-end machines. The harder we push the hardware, the less likely it will be that some Mac and PC people will get to play.

That said, the Arcane 3D engine [which powers Shadowbane] has a polygon-reduction technology, so when a lot of people get on the screen, the engine will automatically start reducing polygons. So more people will be able to be online at one time. But also you can customize that, along with other settings like shadows, colors, resolution, etc.

IMG: The User Interface (UI) seems improved too, has that been changed?

UbiSoft: Yes, the user interface is really cool because you will be able to skin your own. This one [currently on the screen] is called a minimal skin, which someone made at Wolfpack. So we'll have several skins coming out, and we'll also have a guide for you to create your own. Every key is also mappable, so you can map them as shortcuts to any function in the game.

IMG: What has the response been to Shadowbane at the show?

UbiSoft: A lot of our users are MMO [Massively Multiplayer Online] players, but they've gotten PCs to play MMO's. The look on their faces when they realize they will be able to play Shadowbane on their Macs is great. *laughs* It was supposed to be a 2D isometric game when it started back in 1998.

Some of the Mac users don't know anything about MMO's. What UbiSoft is starting to realize is that when you play an MMO for the first time, it's a very addicting experience. The first MMO is often the best for many people. A lot of Mac users are getting introduced to the MMO genre with Shadowbane, which means good things for UbiSoft as a whole.

For more of our Shadowbane interview, head to Page 2...



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