Nature cops who punch kraken: Catching up with Project Gorgon’s Eric Heimburg

    
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As many of you are well aware, we here at Massively OP are pretty fascinated with the work being done by MMO industry veterans Eric Heimburg and Sandra Powers on Project Gorgon. This indie PvE MMO is long on creativity, quirks, and exploration, and after a long period in (open, playable) alpha, it looks like the game might be rounding the bend to launch within the next year or so.

This week we sat down with Heimburg to get an overview of Project Gorgon’s progress, the current Indiegogo campaign, how players can become Nature Cops, a timeline of the next year of game development, Steam early access, and the unavoidable question of graphics.

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Massively OP: So let’s catch up on what’s going on with Project Gorgon. You’ve been patching pretty regularly this year that I’ve noticed. What major features and changes have you added lately?

Eric Heimburg: Very recently we’ve been revising combat, getting the game balance in a better place so that there’s a foundation to build more content on top of. I’m gearing up to start adding the next tiers of combat, from levels 60-80. So that’s the big push right now.

But this year has been a big one for the game! We’ve added new combat styles, new player trading tools, and less combat-centric (but still important) stuff like synchronized dancing. Another recent addition was the Druid events.

What are those?

When you become a Druid, you take a vow to protect nature. Druid events are times when Druids are called on to come and take care of a nasty situation. A bunch of Druids are called to tackle giant monsters, invasive species, evil necromancers, that sort of thing. We’re still working on getting the pacing and duration right in these sorts of events, but they act as a fun diversion that also makes the world feel more alive.

So it’s not just a class, it’s a way of life and a responsibility. That’s kind of neat.

Yeah, I like to describe it as a calling. It’s a little unusual because Druid is a combat skill too, but since it’s a free-form game where you can pick your skills any time, Druids don’t have to show up to Druid emergencies and actually use the Druid skill. Just as long as they show up, they can use whatever skills they like. Punch the krakens to death — as long as it gets done.

Are Druids ever called on to hug trees?

Heh, so far the most tree-hugger-y one is to clean a lake, but there’ll be more tree-hug-y types on occasion. I guess the feel I’m going for is “nature cop” — sometimes they’re called on to get a cat out of the tree, metaphorically, but usually it’s something pretty bad.

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There are two questions it seems that every fan of Project Gorgon seems to have, so apologies if you’ve heard these but we have to ask. First, when are we looking at Steam early access and a launch date?

Steam looks like it’ll happen in early February right now. We’re hoping to be out of beta and really launched by Christmas of 2017. That’s when the game should be polished enough and complete enough that I’m proud to call it a “real game,” and sell it as such. But it’s hard to define what “done” means in a game like this. What I’m really looking forward to there is finally being able to tell the game’s first big story arc. We’ll do that in free content updates every other month during the first year.

We’ll keep updating it and improving it for… well, as long as possible, hopefully years to come!

Awesome. Second, what the status on upgrading the graphics? Are you using any past or current fundraiser money for an artist?

Yeah, we’ve made some modest improvements this year, but not big changes yet. We have some of the original fundraised money allocated for improving character artwork and the mounts. The new fundraiser will help us get the environmental artwork improved. We have to work very cheap, which makes that process kind of slow. You know the saying, “fast, cheap, and good: pick two?” We end up dropping the “fast,” because we’re cheapskates! Basically it involves a lot of very careful choices about what gets farmed out and to whom. That will happen piecemeal over the next year.

How is the Indiegogo campaign going? Do you have anything planned for its final week?

Since the most die-hard fans already pledged in the Kickstarter, this is really an auxiliary campaign. It’s not making a ton of money, but really, every hundred bucks helps us contract out more artwork, so while it’s not a huge amount of money, we pride ourselves on making a little bit of money go a long way. We do have a small thing planned for the last week, but I don’t want to step on Ryan’s toes — he’s heading up the Indiegogo campaign — so let me dodge that one!

How many people are working on the game right now? Who is doing what?

We have three actual employees. I’m doing most of the engineering and design work. Sandra is doing QA work and has recently ramped up to doing content work. Ryan is heading up the Indiegogo campaign. We’re also working with a contract engineer to finish the rewrite of the game’s GUI, and a couple of contract artists are doing stuff for us at any given time.

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That sounds like a good amount for your budget and scope. I keep holding off on playing — as much as I want to — because I’ve been a little concerned about skill resets or partial wipes. When would you suggest that a player who wants a little more permanence in that regard start in on the game?

Well, we are actually about to add another layer to the newbie island experience in the next update. The newbie island experience is supposed to be freeform, but in the end there was only one real way off the newbie island. This update adds a separate way for players to discover. So personally, I would wait just a few days.

In terms of wiping, we won’t be wiping player skills, but we’ll wipe items and money. If you want to avoid ANY wipes at all, you’ll need to wait until after it launches. But if you can stomach some minor interruptions, any time is fine. When we have to do revisions of game systems, we try to be super generous to get alpha testers back on their feet quickly. For instance, in the next update we’ve made changes to loot for the Shield skill, which breaks some items. Players will be able to turn those broken items in and exchange them for five randomly-generated replacement items of the same rarity level. That can often be an upgrade rather than a nerf! So anyway, there will be minor upsets, but I don’t think we’ll have to do anything too heartbreaking.

I guess another answer to your question is to wait another month, because we’ll be finishing up this combat revamp, skill-by-skill, during December. After that we’ll be working on new content and don’t have any player-impacting changes planned for at least several months.

Yeah, that’s not too bad. How far out are playable Dwarves? I’m definitely looking forward to these!

Dwarves are a ways out, probably five or six months out, I’m sorry to say. I want each of the three “non-default” playable races to feel special and have special mechanics and content. We’re working on the Fairy playable race right now, creating their special content areas. Orcs will come after that, then Dwarves.

So why give Fairies knives as a core skill? Honestly, that makes them sound like muggers.

Heh! Well, they’ll have a few different newbie abilities available to them. Ice Magic is really their core skill, because in the game’s story, the Winter Queen has taken control of the fairy realm. So every Fairy will have some skill in Ice Magic, even if they’re not Winter Fae (which are mostly considered bad guys).

Since they’re smaller than humans, it seemed like a smaller weapon would fit them better. But the big synergy is that Ice Magic lets you create throwing knives out of ice. So fairies will have a basically unlimited amount of ammo for throwing at people.

Icicles to the FACE. That’s hardcore.

Yeah, they aren’t passive little butterfly people. More like… well, murderous little butterfly people.

They can also use Ice Magic directly in combat, of course, freezing people in place and such. In Gorgon, you pick two combat skills at once, so Ice Magic plus Knife is one option. Another is Ice Magic plus Mentalism, and a few others. Once Fairies are out of the newbie area, though, if they want to, they can always go and learn any combat skill.

What part of the game do you always wish new players would get to see or experience?

I think a lot of the game’s hidden depth is in the NPCs. As you do favors and give gifts to them, they open up and become (slightly) more interesting characters, as well as offering more services and features to the player.

That’s something that the game doesn’t telegraph TOO much because it’s an exploration game, and I want players to have the fun of figuring out how NPCs work. But it’s something that many newbies seem to kind of miss entirely, which makes the game seem vastly less interesting. So that’s something I want to work on teaching a little better during the newbie experience.

Thanks for sharing with us, Eric!