|Interview with Vendetta Online's John Bergman|
December 3, 2004 | D.G. Chichester
A vast outer-space thrill-ride awaits players in Vendetta Online, the recently unleashed massively multiplayer game for Mac, Windows and Linux. Piloting their spacecraft across diverse solar systems under the control of competing factions, thousands of players can build their reputations and test their skills as merchants, military, outlaws and more.
The exciting action, economic struggle and political intrigue of this persistent world are the product of the creative forces of Guild Software, operating out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. IMG connected with John Bergman, Guild’s Managing Director, for insider details on the Vendetta experience.
IMG: Your back story is particularly large and involved. How do you anticipate such a rich tapestry of events coming across to players within the game universe?
Bergman: The broader plan is to use aspects of the missions, NPC interactions and an in-game news system to help propel the forward motion of the storyline, as well as involve the user in the universe history. The back story was initially created to give a context to our own internal development, everything from concept art to universe design, by attempting to ask "why" the universe was the way it was, what events and personalities had caused it to emerge in its "present-day" form.
For us, the challenge now is both in immersing the user in more tangible in-game forms of the universe history, as well as moving "history" forward as the universe evolves. This will be a permanent ongoing development process, but we're excited about what we'll be doing with our in-game communications mechanisms and standard gameplay, as well as more organized in-game events.
IMG: For a massively multiplayer game with character elements, it's unusual that player avatars in Vendetta are represented solely by their spacecraft. Does this in any way limit players making a "connection" with their roles or the game? What's the upside/downside of the player/avatar relationship in Vendetta versus the player/avatar relationship in a pervasive world game like Everquest or Second Life?
Bergman: A discernable human avatar, whether in the form of a configurable "player portrait" or a truly interactive display, definitely is a feature that helps people connect with their in-game characters. The lack of this in our game was a decision based strictly on the development time involved.
With such a small team and limited resources, we chose to focus our time on the mechanics of our core gameplay. The decision to cut the avatar system was one that we made with some misgivings, and is something we would like to add in a future patch (at least as some sort of portrait system).
IMG: It's a big universe out there. Describe the range of natural or unnatural phenomena (ion storms, wormholes, etc.) that players can expect to run into? What kind of effect might those encounters have on missions or gameplay?
Bergman: The "known" universe is formed of 30 different solar systems, each containing planets, asteroid belts, ice fields and other physical features surrounding a star system. Even the stars vary from sun-like bodies to red giants, binary systems, supergiants and more. Some of these systems, or parts of systems, are controlled by specific factions, others are unpopulated and sometimes dangerous. NPC (non-player character) military units, merchants and others fly to and fro between the systems, guarding the borders, trading items and the like.
A self-evolved group of rogue AI (artificial intelligence) mining bots, known as the Hive Queens, also infest certain parts of space, presenting a danger to all those who meddle in their territory. Wide varieties of different AI mining drones and other units can be found in the outlying territories, gathering resources and doing the bidding of their Queen. Mining users often tangle with these bots while in pursuit of lucrative mineral and ore deposits, which the Hive also values. There's a lot of universe out there, and we're adding to it on a regular basis (usually a patch every week). The constantly and visibly evolving nature of our game is one of the major factors that differentiates us from most of the MMO world.
IMG: You've mentioned games like Wing Commander as, if not inspiration, certainly forebears to Vendetta. Do you have to be a fan of space battle games to get into Vendetta? What's out there in your pervasive universe to appeal to the "average" gamer?
Bergman: I think anyone who is excited by the idea of exploring the unknown, in science fiction, or participating in a futuristic universe will find something in our game. Combat is not a requirement in our game, but it is relatively common. Our game is not "safe" in the manner of some others. The community and evolving nature of the game also appeal to a lot of people. Our "community" really includes both our users (a pretty nice bunch) and the developers. We stay involved on the messageboards, listening to user input and taking it into account as we create the weekly content patches.
IMG: From the back story, flight physics and gameplay descriptions, Vendetta seems grounded in a more "realistic" science fiction universe. Is this the case? If so, what are the advantages to developers and players in this kind of approach versus a more "science fantasy" environment? Or will there be "science fantasy" elements revealed as the galaxy gets explored?
Bergman: Yes, I suppose we are grounded in a relatively "realistic" view of the future in some ways. I believed that this was more compelling, from a storytelling perspective, and took that route with the hope of involving the players more deeply in the events of the galaxy. We do intend for a great deal more content to unfold, both in a story and gameplay context, as the game goes on.