Interview with J.C. Smith, Lead Programmer and Designer on The Repopulation
QUESTION: First of all, thank you for giving us the possibility to interview you about The Repopulation. Would you be so kind to introduce yourself to our readers?
Answer: My name is J.C. Smith and I am a lead programmer and designer on The Repopulation.
QUESTION: How would you describe The Repopulation to someone who has never heard of it before?
Answer: The Repopulation is a Science Fiction MMORPG. It is a sandbox which features open ended gameplay. It give players freedom to play the game in whatever way they enjoy. It doesn’t force players into predetermined paths. After completing the tutorial you’ll find yourself in a wide open and seamless world. Where you go next and what you do is entirely up to you. There is plenty of options to keep combat oriented players busy, but at the same time you are not forced into combat roles.
The game itself relies heavy on player created and generated content. This allows the world to change based on player interactions, and creates a more dynamic element than you traditionally see in MMOs.
QUESTION: The project is huge and sounds as it could make all the SWG orphans happy again. When did you start working on the game and which were your goals?
Answer: The game began full scale production at the tail end of 2010, which is really what we consider the start of the game. You can trace its roots back a couple of years before that though. Originally it began as a proof of concept for a generated mission system, and it slowly began to grow over time. There weren’t many options available to indie developers at that time though.
We were using an FPS engine because it was the best affordable option for indies, and our scope was much smaller than it is now. In the middle of 2010 Hero Engine, Big World and Unreal Engine all became available to indies and we decided to turn our tech and hobby based project into the game it became now.
QUESTION: What makes The Repopulation to stand out in its genre? Why should a player choose to play The Repopulation over any other sandbox MMORPG?
Answer: Short answer: Player created cities, heavily generated content, a world which can change based on player actions, mutating engagements (like public quests), a variety of non-combat options, a complex and rewarding crafting system, social oriented skills, sieges, and a unique three faction PvP system which allows the third faction to determine their own enemies and allies.
Repop is more of a social oriented games than most recent MMOs. Soloing is still an option, but we try to encourage grouping in a lot of ways. There really is no reason not to group, or at the very least to hunt with other players. Everyone gets their own personalized loot. There is no kill stealing as everyone gets their own separate skill up chances. Missions give bonus rewards when grouped which benefit the entire group. Engagements reward you with points based on whatever your group mates do, etc. There is also an auto-group option which is enabled by default, and automatically groups you together with other players nearby for those who would like to group but are shy or have a language barrier. Combat is set up so that even new players can contribute in some ways and the bonuses for having them in your group give you incentive to group with them. Bosses have generated special abilities to challenge groups or raids. There are social oriented skills including an entertainment system which rewards players to visiting social locations and watching other players perform, as well.
When SWG closed a couple years ago, we felt like it left a big hole in the MMO market. There are numerous other sandboxes out there but the majority of them are really aimed at a very hardcore PvP audience. Many members of our staff prefers that style of gameplay, but the majority of MMO players feel it’s a bit too hardcore for them. If you put those two types of players together the smaller hardcore audience generally runs off the larger more casual group. So we decided to split into two separate, and very different rule sets. The Hardcore rule set is aimed more at the early UO, Eve Online, or Darkfall audience. It’s similar to most of the sandbox games on the market today. The standard rule set is much more casual friendly though. The PvP on those servers takes place in some contested lands in the middle of the map, and is team based. If players prefer to avoid PvP completely that is an option. It’s set up very similar to Dark Age of Camelot in that respect.
QUESTION: We know that the game features 2 combat modes: RPG and action. What's the difference and how will they work?
Answer: Players can switch between action and RPG mode at any time, and they can do it at the touch of a key. RPG Mode is what you typically expect in an MMORPG. You have a target, abilities on a bar, and all the other standard MMO control mechanisms. Action Mode is geared at players who prefer a more action or shooter oriented style of gameplay. It controls like a shooter, you move your mouse to look around. For combat you just aim and shoot with the mouse buttons or whatever you map to it. The left mouse uses a normal ability where the right mouse performs a Momentum based ability. It automatically cycles between your abilities based on the abilities that you know and which are not on recharge timers.
Under the hood they work identical. The client translates your actions into RPG Mode calls, and the server doesn’t care which mode you’re in. So for example if you shoot someone in the head in action mode, it will check to see if you have any head shot abilities first. If you have one that is able to fire now, it will fire that. If not it looks for a normal body shot ability. It cycles them automatically based on strength, and the timers are set up so that they form cycles naturally.
QUESTION: Tell us something more about the sand in your box. How are we able to interact with the game world and shape our gameplay experience? How much freedom are you giving to the players?
Answer: Players can claim or rent land to build homes, and nations can create large cities. There’s a good variety of options here. Some management aspects to it, such as city happiness. There are defensive units to protect your city from attackers, because other nations can lay siege on your cities, as well. You’ll be able to set up shops, and cities will be able to contribute to some larger scale projects such as transit systems, subterranean levels, and gladiator arenas which can host player created tournaments.
The political system gives you a lot of flexibility, especially for Rogue Nations. You can select your status with all of the other nations in the world from a variety of levels ranging from at war to allied. Either side can lower your relationship, but it requires both sides to agree in order to raise it. The sieging system is a process that can take days and provides opportunities to negotiate and withdraw.
QUESTION: What about the character progression? Will there be classes, skills, levels... ?
Answer: There are no classes. There are roughly 75 skills which players begin the game with, all at the unskilled level. You can raise them in a number of ways, but the most common is simply through use. Other methods include reading books, exploring new areas, or using skill check options in missions.
As your skill increases you qualify for new abilities or recipes. It’s similar to each skill line being its own class, except you don’t have to pick any specific class. You will need to use training cards or manuals to learn the new recipes or abilities. Those are obtained through missions, engagements, or as mob loot. The type of mission you do for example, will determine the type of rewards. So completing medical missions gives mostly medical abilities and rewards. Doing assassination missions can get you some of the shadier abilities that aren’t available elsewhere.
There are also several hidden skills which you do not begin the game with. These are hard to achieve end-game goals, and we won’t reveal what they are so as not to ruin the surprise. They are aimed at high end players and won’t be easy to unlock.
QUESTION: How is the PvE part of the game going to be structured? Is it quest-chain based or is there something new?
Answer: It’s completely wide open after you complete the tutorial. You aren’t required to partake in anything, but the opportunities are there. I’ll give several examples for different player types.
For players who prefer to use quests to drive their gameplay, we feature a generated mission system which creates missions based on your skill sets. You can optionally set a filter to ensure you receive certain types of missions, but they have pre-requisites and you generally must start off with easier things and move up to more difficult missions as you gain the respect of NPCs. So if you want to be an assassin for example, you’d start off taking smuggling or shadier NPCs such as collecting money for shadier types. Once you gain their recognition if you have shown a tendency to try to steal from shops or NPCs they may start offering you burglary missions. If you are strong enough combat wise they may start giving you murder contracts. There are consequences to your actions though, you may find yourself exiled and reacted to negatively by NPCs. A player who walked a straight and narrow line would have very different opportunities. While someone who is completely crafting oriented would have crafted oriented missions as opposed to combat ones, etc.
These missions are template based so can be very complex, but the NPCs, situations, etc can be generated. The missions are mailed to you using an in-game email system and you have the opportunity to accept or deny the offer. This allows missions to be generated even when you are not near a town. It also means that you aren’t forced into a linear progression where you run out of missions and move to the next location. In fact, if you just wanted to hang out in the city and take menial tasks for years, you could. Wherever you go there will be opportunities to keep you busy though, and many of those are templates which are shared throughout the world but customized for the local denizens. So you can play wherever you wish basically, so long as you are able to handle the opportunities there.
For players who prefer public quests or Guild Wars 2 style events, they will enjoy the engagement system which is similar. One significant difference though is that many of our engagements are longer-term. For example, the trail between Plymouth City and the Hole on the Hill is the home to a local gang called the Numbskulls. They have a reasonable sized camp in the area, and in general just cause a bit of mischief and mayhem but don’t get too out of line. They harass some local businesses, writing graffiti, getting drunk and belligerent, and occasionally stealing. Most of them are intimidating but not aggressive, you can avoid fighting them. Some players will inevitably decide it’s good to pick on the Numbskulls though or to play a hero when they come through. They do after all have loot, and the local businessman may be grateful for your assistance and offer new opportunities for you and others. However, the Numbskulls won’t take kindly to that. If players are targeting them they will escalate their aggression. More camps will start sprouting up, they’ll get more aggressive and start ambushing along roads. They’ll also start raiding local businesses and go on a robbing spree. All of these things have spin off opportunities. If they rob a business then players may for a limited time get missions to recover the stolen goods (from boxes in their camps), or things of that nature. Many of these status changes though happen over hours or even days though which means that areas may have different opportunities based on when you visit them.
What if you have quests and public quests and would just like to kill? Go right ahead, you can progress in that way if that is your preference. If you prefer to only craft without running missions and only killing when you need to protect yourself, that is also an option. If your goal in life is to dance in a bar, then you’re likely to find an audience to increase your skills with in most towns. If you want to tame animals to use as mounts and then resell them to players, feel free.
QUESTION: And what about the PvP? Are there safe zones or is it an all out war? There is full loot?
Answer: It depends on the server your playing on. The normal rule set uses and active and reserve military system. Players begin in the reserve but can switch to between to active or back at anytime, but there is a delay for switching. If you stay in the reserve you cannot attack or be attacked unless you are in a contested territory. You have about 64 kilometers of space owned by your faction where nobody can touch you. This includes the full compliment of resource and mob tiers. If you never want to PvP you can just stay in the reserve and not venture out of that territory. In contested territory you can attack any player who is not part of your faction and is hostile.
The hardcore server is much more complex with the ability to kill any non-allied player from just about anyplace in the world. There are harsh penalties for committing crimes in high security areas though.
Under standard rules there is no looting of players other than generated loot which includes primarily bounty items that are not taken from the killed player. Hardcore servers allow you to loot your enemies.
QUESTION: We read that you could actually play the game without fighting, choosing paths such as crafting, trading and diplomacy. This is really interesting, can you tell us something more, especially about diplomacy?
Answer: We don’t tie combat and non-combat options together. Which means that you don’t need to partake in combat if you don’t want to. You may find yourself attacked by NPCs while out gathering resources of course, and that may cause you to either fight or flee, but progression in one skill line is completely independent of other lines. So an entertainer can simply entertain in rest areas to gain skill and progress. A crafter can simply craft, or harvest and sell their goods. Or they could run crafting or harvesting related missions or engagements which don’t involve combat. A thief can steal from shops or NPCs, though they may often find themselves in a fight if they get caught.
Diplomacy and Intimidation are both pretty interesting lines. In the beginning you’ll occasionally see them as options when doing missions. Our missions use a branching chat bubble dialog option with multiple choice. Some of those choices can perform skill checks which roll against a skill and alter the result based on success or failure. So if you see a (Diplomacy) or (Intimidation) option by a branch it’s going to roll against your skill. If you succeed you can cause the mission to branch into something new, often for the better, but failing can make things worse. It should be noted we can perform skill rolls against any skill in the game, but those are the most common two used.
Diplomacy also plays a large role though in our inquiry system, which is unique. You an inquire with most of the NPCs in the game. When you speak to them you can ask them questions. Most of those are driven by chat bubbles, but some allow you to [ENTER PROMPT] and type in a subject to ask them about. You first start by giving a topic, and those vary by the NPC. Some common options you might see when interacting are “Tell Me About…”, “Where Is…”, “Why…”, or “What’s happening in…”, but there are many other starter options. When you click the first bubble it then gives you a list of subjects that NPC knows about related to that topic. So “Tell me about…” might give you a list of local NPCs, shops or organizations to ask about. It often also gives an [ENTER PROMPT] for this question which allows you to ask about any NPC in the area to hear their opinions of that NPC. There are similar options for other things. For example the “What’s Happening In…” topic may allow you to ask about the local area or about far away locations the NPC knows about. They can tell you backstory or about recent events that have happened or are happening in that area. This is important because you can find out about what long-term engagements might be going on in a far away location without having to travel there first.
The amount of information you receive from inquiries is determined by your diplomacy skill. Early on you’ll have trouble getting much information from NPCs. Their personality and your diplomacy role factors in. The higher your diplomacy the more information you will get. You’ll also gain new knowledge bits through this process which allow you to ask questions that were unavailable before, and to gain missions that are only available through the inquiry system.
QUESTION: Will there be some kind of territory control? If yes, which are the benefits and how will the war and the territory control affect player created houses and cities?
Answer: Cities will provide players will a lot of options here. Not all cities are created equal. Some have more space to grow than others. Some are surrounded by natural barriers which will aid in defense, others will be desirable due to their proximity to hunting grounds or resources, and others due to their ability to create choke points. There is no ownership beyond the city walls themselves, but they can be used as staging points for everything else.
Cities will provide you with things like protection, rest areas, crafting stations, missions, or garages which are required to launch siege vehicles. We envision resources to be a heavy conflict point, so having a city near an area rich in resources is a big positive.
QUESTION: Would you describe The Repopulation more like a game for casual players or hardcore gamers?
Answer: I’m assuming this is referring to time commitment rather than the PvP aspect (which we covered earlier). The skills system is really designed to make it friendly to casuals, while providing hardcore players plenty of things to keep chasing for a very long time. The gap in power between an entry level player and a veteran is much smaller than in most titles. You’ll have better gear and more abilities, but the skills system is designed so that mastering many skills provides you with choice rather than power. That makes it ideal for casuals because they can simply focus on one or two lines which they want to master and so long as they stick within those lines they are just as competitive as a two year veteran who may have mastered 15 or more lines.
The veteran though would be able to play more roles of course. But combat roles for example are tied into your weapon of choice and there is a penalty any time you swap out equipment in combat. This prevents players from constantly swapping between multiple roles during combat but allows them to instantly swap out gear when not in combat. Similar mechanics exist for trade skills, with the mastery system. To create the highest quality results you need to have a high mastery level with a recipe. Casuals can focus on a small number of recipes and still produce the best results available from that specific recipe.
QUESTION: We know that the game is going to be f2p with a cash shop. What can we expect to find inside? Mainly cosmetic stuff or there will be items that give consistent advantages to the paying players?
Answer: Account perks, cosmetic items and convenience items primarily. We don’t feel that pay to win items are health for a game’s community. Those who can’t pay won’t play in that case, and we feel that free players are still valuable to the community. They can be friends, family members or guildies of paying customers and having them around keeps the other players happy. They help to fill in the world, and expose the game to other players who may become paying customers. Even if a player never pays a penny, they are still valuable so long as they play within the rules.
QUESTION: Any scheduled time windows for Beta and Release?
Answer: We have a time frame in our head but we don’t like giving dates as they are easy to miss. There are so many moving parts in an MMO that you can find one big problem which causes a setback and bottleneck on other things. But once you give dates players anticipate them and are disappointed when they aren’t met.
For now our focus is on Alpha 3 which begins in late next month. It’s going to see the number of testers skyrocket and our first chance to really stress test the servers and get some feedback from new faces. We don’t think this is going to be a particularly long phase before moving on to beta. But the length will depend largely on how smoothly testing goes. When we and the testers feel the major kinks are out we’ll move into beta testing. Most likely each phase will be a little shorter than the last. By the time we reach beta we’re mostly dealing with additional content, stress testing and bug fixes.
Our target release date is late this year, but we don’t have a publisher, so there’s really no reason for us to rush it out if we reach September/October and the game isn’t ready. We’ll really just need to examine where we are during each phase, collect feedback from our players, and use that to determine when it’s time to move on to the next stage. From Alpha to Beta 1, 2 and 3 and then heading into launch.
QUESTION: Thank you for all your answers. Would you like to add something?
Answer: For players who would like to know more about the game, you can find a slew of information and a testing signup form on our web site. Thanks for having me.