At E3 this year, RPGamer had the chance to sit down with the fine people at Simutronic, who gave us an in-depth interview regarding its current project, an MMORPG entitled Hero's Journey. Simutronic was a big player in the early days of online gaming, dominating the MUD scene with its text-based adventure titles. It is thus no stranger to the monthly fee setup, and company executive Eric Slick indicated that this is one of the reasons why Simutronic was able to continue its existence with the advent of games like Ultima Online, which put a huge dent in the MUD market.
Now, Simutronic is back in business with a vengeance, and it's aiming to revolutionize the MMORPG genre in a big way. Simutronic wanted to wait until technology could support its vision of what a 3D game should be, and with the advent of the latest generation of graphics cards, the time has come for it to re-emerge. In the half-hour demo RPGamer was treated to, Mr. Slick showcased the title's in-depth character creation system, impressive graphical qualities, and innovative setup of the game's world. By far the most interesting feature of the game is its character creation. When starting up a character, gamers can choose from a seemingly endless array of variables, from hair color to racial features to head shape to eye color to height to weight to virtually any other characteristic that can be imagined. The result is that no two characters look exactly alike, and for those with a penchant for strangeness, Simutronic has thoughtfully included the option to add scars, deformities, and other physical oddities to characters.
We literally spent ten minutes watching Mr. Slick play around with this character creation system, and it was truly mesmerizing. It is difficult to imagine that another game contains this level of detail; even the clothing can be customized, and armor and weaponry are just as customizable as any other facet of a character. The game will also contain a wide variety of unique, custom items, which should ensure that every character is as individual as a character in an MMORPG has ever been.
Once the game began, a generic character was selected and we were taken right into one of the game worlds. This is another area where Hero's Journey hopes to break new ground; its GMs will have much greater powers than might conventionally be imagined. The game world RPGamer saw was by no means complete, because GMs were (and are) constantly working to bring new content online. GMs are responsible for creating areas in the game, and then moderating them, which promises to make Hero's Journey a continually changing play experience, assuming this malleability is carried over once the game goes live. GMs are also able to incorporate quests and other events in their realms, which should make for a diverse gameplay experience. At any rate, using this setup, Mr. Slick indicated that at the time of our interview, only one persistent world was currently in use, which was divided into realms. Still, it appeared that there was still a fair amount of work to be done, so this too could change.
The actual gameplay is also aiming to branch out from the MMORPG norm; while the standard click-and-wait battles of most MMORPGs seemed to be present, the system also uses mouse gestures to alter the effects of attacks and magic spells; particularly fun to watch was a fire wall spell, which depending upon the various mouse gestures employed to cast it created a single column of flame, a circle of flame, and then a lengthy wall spreading entirely across the screen. In party combat, players utilized various combo attacks, sometimes to devastating effect.
There will also be an emphasis on player interaction; Mr. Slick stated that Simutronic is aiming to "put the role-playing back into RPGs," and therefore, many in-game scenarios will have multiple outcomes dependent upon how a player chooses to go through a given encounter. For instance, in a mission we were shown where the goal was to protect a village from a neighbouring orc encampment that had sprung up, it was possible to defeat this threat through main force, by trickery, and even by destroying the bridge that enabled the orcs to menace the townspeople. This sort of interactivity should lend a fresh feel to Hero's Journey, once it is released.
Mr. Slick indicated that there were no plans to include a crafting system at this time into Hero's Journey. While he stated that various options were being explored to compensate for this absence, it does not seem to be necessary in view of the game's customization system, which may in the end function in much the same way as a conventional crafting setup.
At this time, there is no concrete timeframe for the game's release, although promotional materials indicate the current plan is for the second quarter of 2006; Mr. Slick promised, in any event, that a playable version would be present at next year's E3. He also indicated that there would be a monthly fee for the game, although what that fee will be is not yet decided. A former industry mainstay, Simutronic certainly has the experience to pull this project off; that said, it certainly will be a considerable task to re-establish itself as a leading name in the MMORPG forum. Nonetheless, what we saw of Hero's Journey was very impressive, and so hopefully Mr. Slick's optimism will end up being well-founded.