Epic Frontiers is the new MMO currently in development by DigitalFlux Entertainment. It is filled with many classic MMO elements as well as offering a couple new features. I had the chance to ask the project lead of Epic Frontiers, Ted Southard, about these new features and much more in the following interview.
Michael: Thank you for taking time out of your day to answer a few questions. First, let’s get a little background information about you. What is your name and position at DigitalFlux Entertainment?
Ted: My name is Ted Southard, and I’m the President at DigitalFlux Entertainment, as well as project lead for Epic Frontiers.
Michael: In regards to the game itself. Could you give us an overview of the game world as well as a brief overview of the storyline?
Ted: Sure. Epic Frontiers takes place in a Nebula which contains a number of systems. The game will “begin” on the planet of Chi’Hamak, which contains a number of factions competing over various parcels of land. As with most things throughout the nebula, things had ground to something of a stalemate.
However, in recent times- approximately 20 years ago, in the gameworld- an interstellar pandemic swept through all of the known systems and ravaged every culture and faction it encountered. Curiously, many children were left unaffected, and were gathered into orphanages and raised by their respective governments in isolated conditions while society collapsed and reorganized itself.
At the point where the game takes off, you play one of this new generation of orphans who are being set loose on the world to make your way. And as you can imagine, the pandemic has upset the interstellar status quo quite a bit, offering plenty of opportunities for intrigue and action.
Michael: What is your target audience for Epic Frontiers?
Ted: Our target audience are those players aged from 18 and up who are looking for a deeper MMO gameplay experience. We’re aiming for those looking to focus more on the gameworld and less on grinding and XP, which is why our game does not contain extremely limiting factors such as classes or levels.
The Interview, Part 2
Michael: In the past many companies have taken criticism for offering a free to play / pay for virtual items business model. What is your reaction to these critics and should you offer in-game items for real cash do you have any plans to offer gamers other options for obtaining these items?
Ted: We will be offering a virtual item business model, and we believe that it offers players a more flexible payment structure than a subscription model. Furthermore, the game is being designed from the ground-up with this in mind, and so we believe that this will result in a better integration than, say, games that have implemented virtual item sales as an after-thought.
Michael: If a player chooses to take advantage of the free-to-play business model for Epic Frontiers, however, is not comfortable with spending real-life cash in-game will they still be able to advance at a similar rate as the players who opt to spend real-life cash?
Ted: Yes. There will be premium-content areas and limited edition items, or items that have larger capacities (healthkits). These things will not prevent non-paying players from advancing at the same rate.
Michael: Are players able to customize their characters when created? What level of customization do they have and will these customizations have an impact on the future power of the character or only be visual changes to make the character unique looking?
Ted: Customization at the beginning of the game will be cosmetic, though there will be an opportunity to change some core attributes to give advantage to one attribute over another (more strength, agility, etc). However, should you find create a very strong character, but find yourself playing as a more agile type of character, your attributes will reflect that naturally as you play. So, you might make the mistake of putting all your additional points into strength at the start, but that does not mean that that character can only ever be a big brute- you can change your character by using the skills you want that character to be good at.
Michael: Could you give us a little information about the combat system? Are we looking at a mostly automated combat system or does a player have complete control over his/her character?
Ted: We’ve got an action system where you can “queue” up actions and create macros for combos. Right now, there is no automated combat on the side of the player, as the AI level for NPCs will be more along the lines of an FPS than an MMO. We’re looking at how creatures and NPCs behave and crafting combat that reflects that. A good example would be mountain cats, which in real-life stalk their prey for long periods and launch ambush attacks designed to pin their targets to the ground where they can be mauled. Combat will be more interesting in Epic Frontiers.
The Interview, Part 3
Michael: As I understand it you have done away with player death in Epic Frontiers. What have you replaced this system with and how do you think this new system improves the game as a whole?
Ted: Well, players get incapacitated and left for dead, which more accurately describes what happens to a player in MMOs when they run out into the wild and get “killed” five times, but keep coming back. In Epic Frontiers, you get left for dead and wake up at an aid station. As a mechanic, it’s the exact same as any MMO out there, except we explain it in a way that we feel is more natural.
Michael: What type of skill system have you chosen to use in Epic Frontiers? Are players able to earn additional skills through adventuring or are there set levels where characters obtain skills?
Ted: The limiting variable here is time. If you want to run out and learn a hundred skills, then by all means do so. But skills only advance when used successfully, so mastering all of those skills can take you a very long time. Additionally, some teachers may want you to have a certain proficiency in a skill before teaching you another. But learning skills is a very freeform process where you can customize your character by learning the skills you need to in order to become the kind of character you want to be.
Ted: There are quests, PvP, crafting, “dungeons”, and events, yes. Additionally, there is the ability to interact with NPCs through conversation, and to find out more information about the world in that way, as well as an Achievement system for players to go accomplish goals in a fun way. Achievements will be based on crafting, combat, PvP, event-based, or even exploration and discovering things in the world, so there is something for everyone.
The Interview, Part 4
Michael: Improvisation & Co-Op Gameplay are two of the more unique functions planned for Epic Frontiers. Can you give us a brief overview of what each of these means and how you think they will impact the overall gameplay?
Ted: Well, improvising tools and weapons was something we thought of as a way to inject some extra fun into the system, as well as giving players a leg up in certain situations. In pushing gameplay situations forward, we realize that players won’t have every single tool available to them. Giving them the ability to improvise means that even though they’re presented with a challenge that they don’t have the exact tool for, it can still be overcome if they remain mentally flexible. It’s not a complex system- every item has up to five actions associated with it, including its primary action, and with that, you can use a knife as a screwdriver to craft something on the spot, or a screwdriver to stab something if need be. And that simplicity can provide players with a very fun experience- giving them the chance to “MacGuyver” themselves out of a situation.
The co-op mechanics we’re developing are also pretty simple. Players can use “skill linking” to accomplish tasks that may be beyond their current skill level. Say you’re working on a car engine and you’re not that good at it. You can call a friend over and put your heads together to solve the problem, and that’s the basis for this. It has its limits, of course, to prevent power-leveling of skills, but it can come in quite handy with things like crafting, magic, and some social and even occasional combat skills.
One of the goals for MMOs is for players to be able to play together. With these features, we want to bring the players closer so that they can truly play as a group and help each other.
Michael: What are the system requirements? Is this yet another game that users have to upgrade their PC to play or will most mid-level hardware run the game sufficiently?
Ted: We don’t have final specs, but mid-level hardware should be sufficient to run the game. We can all agree that eye-candy is nice, and we are aiming for what we feel will be a nice art style, but we’re not planning to lean on shaders or high-polygon counts to lure players in as much as a fun style with great gameplay.
Michael: Is there anything in closing you would like to tell our readers about the game, the developers, or DigitalFlux Entertainment?
Ted: I think the thing for gamers to look forward to in Epic Frontiers is a game that will continually strive to provide as free and fun an experience as possible. We’re departing from the norm in order to find better ways for you and your friends to enjoy yourselves. No fancy slogans or buzzwords- just good, old-fashioned fun…
Ted, I appreciate you taking the time to answer some of our questions. The game looks like it has the potential to be a success! It’s a very interesting concept and I look forward to visiting Chi’Hamak in the near future. Anyone interested in tracking the progress of Epic Frontiers can surf on over to the Official Epic Frontiers Website to show your support.