El Somni Quas developers issue a design manifesto


We introduced El Somni Quas to you last week — it’s an old school sandbox created by an indie team in the Czech Republic. But that team is keenly aware of some of the genre’s stereotypes and assumptions about indie projects and Ultima Online-inspired sandboxes in particular. Jiří Wallenfels, producer of the ESQ project, sent Massively Overpowered a copy of its planned manifesto to try to explain just what it is ESQ is all about and why this indie crew thinks it can pull off what so many others have not. We reproduce it today with Wallenfels’ permission.

A lot of people ask us, what revolutionary or new features do we bring? In general when coming up with a product you have two options that work: Either bring some revolutionary new idea and do your best or take existing ideas and implement them better than those before you. To give some examples, Minecraft is truly revolutionary and successful. On the other hand iPhone also caused somewhat of a revolution, but it is not revolutionary idea. Apple simply took already existing ideas (some older than a decade) and did perfect composition, far better than any other before. Apple has been doing this for over two decades and it still works.

We have seen plenty of innovative gaming ideas in our genre, and it is almost always a fail because these innovations are brought only to showcase the innovation and are ignoring basic gaming principles. The trend is to give everything to players as fast as possible without any obstacles; the trend is to dazzle and impress. This causes a big fluctuation of players as a consequence of short game play time. Players flock to new ideas, as they are dished out generously and rewards are quickly available and are ever so shiny. These games are then invariably abandoned with the same haste, to the despair and surprise of creators. How is it possible, then, that old and significantly more hardcore and less dazzling games are still running for years and years with very loyal communities? These projects should long be dead according to the current paradigm of gaming. Nowadays innovative creations are usually running successfully for few short months and then they are forgotten with the playerbase collapsing rapidly. Let’s simplify a little bit and sum it like this: If you can max your character in 2 weeks, you become bored with the game. The bigger the challenge, the bigger the satisfaction when you finally manage to achieve it. And this is the driver for real players, driver that lasts.

We do believe that good gaming concept will never become obsolete, so we have chosen to take principles we liked from games we enjoy and make a composition that fills demand currently present in the niche MMO market. Why invent a squared wheel to bring some new concept if there is such an obvious gap? There is no fantasy sandbox + FFA + loot + PKs MMO (that we like so much) immune to simplifying trends. We know that no commercial company will or even can ever do such a game because community that would welcome it is relatively minor and it would never ever repay the incredible amount of money necessary to commercially produce such game. But in our team we are able to do such game with far lower budget. It of course places some limitations on us, but nothing with impact on gameplay, and that is what is going on.

Now you ask what makes us think that we can indeed produce such game? Well, we do have one big advantage. Since 2002 we are have running a FFA Ultima Online shard. It is using Ultima Online principles (sandbox, FFA, loot, PKs), but it has a completely custom exp/level/class/race system with hundreds of spells, abilities, PvP rewards, multiple players ritual spells, complex magic item systems, and so on. We have the system, the ruleset, and an economy model that has been improved, tuned, fine-tuned, and honed for over 13 years of its existence. And we know it works; it has kept its faithful players for years and years. In essence, our goal is to transfer this system to modern 3-D environment and add some improvements and tuning because of that switch to 3-D (most significant would be “no tabulator” combat), but we really don’t have to tune exp gain, drop from monsters, PvP rewards/system rules, craft system difficulty, overall gaming risk/reward ratio, etc., because this is already done and proven by 13 years and cca 30,000 players who played on our server during those years.

From the project management point of view, we have an absolutely clear scope, and we know precisely what we want to do. Everybody who was leading development of similar gaming projects knows that a huge amount of time is spent by discussion on how this and that will actually work, what will fighters do, how much experience will you gain, and so on, and after that it takes still takes years to tune these numbers to not have critical issues in game balance and game economy. We don’t have to do this; it’s done and tested. We only need to tune in the changes caused by switch to 3-D. Also, we have the core team who built one online game already and was able to sustain it for those long years.

We are not resurrecting the old game as many of you thought; rather, we are resurrecting the old school principles (sandbox, FFA, loot, PKs, death exp loss, non-linear dungeons, overall gaming challenge) but in custom and up-to-date system.

We also know very well that such gaming style is not for everybody, so we will not try to attract mainstream players. We want to attract players who like games with challenge and adrenaline where your gaming skill really counts, not just the level of your character and time you spent grinding mindlessly.

[Source: ESQ dev missive]
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