You don’t have to be a massive MMO studio to have a big showing at PAX West – Intrepid Studios proved that. The indie studio developing Ashes of Creation had a large booth with a giant TV broadcasting videos, hands-on demos for players to see what the game is about, a merchandise counter (which appeared to be doing good business), plenty of devs on hand to answer questions, and a full panel to discuss the game’s progress and plans to a large audience. And Founder and Creative Director Steven Sharif was on hand the whole time to talk about his game with everyone who came by. As he told me, “That’s our job here today, to expose more people to [AoC’s] potential.” He wants players to know that it isn’t about promises without delivery
Between a demo and a couple of interviews, I had the opportunity to chat with Sharif about the game a few different times. We talked about classes, crowdfunding, and character customization. I also got to team up with a group and run through a short PvE adventure narrated by a dev, testing out skills and exploring a few features. Then I delved into a PvP match. And yes, we also discussed the red hat controversy.
Let’s go ahead and get this discussion out of the way right up front. The infamous red cap with the slogan “Make MMOs Great Again” definitely caused a stir, especially on Twitter. I can completely understand the concern of using such a polarizing statement to represent a game. Is it a show of support, or is it humor, or is it something else? In light of how problematic some can find the slogan, I asked Sharif to explain the reasoning behind the use of it. Arguing that memes are a pretty popular part of internet culture, he explained it was meant as a wearable meme.
“As a matter of satire,” he said, “we’re taking a divisive element in our culture and we’re using it for a genre that promotes community building.” Indeed, Sharif emphasized that it’s about bringing people together. “You need to understand the context: It’s intended to be satire; it’s intended to be a meme. And here at a gaming convention, memes are going to abound.”
How has the reception been at the convention? Sharif noted that he’s seen many double takes, but most folks have laughed once they saw the actual message on the hat. Will it work, though? Repurposing a particularly provocative slogan or a symbol seems risky. Time will tell how it ultimately affects Ashes of Creation.
The three Cs
I mentioned that we talked about classes, crowdfunding, and character customization. On classes, Sharif expressed that the super generic names on the base classes is on purpose. In fact, those aren’t really the classes of the game; those generic names are on the archetypes, and combining them can make 64 different classes. It is the combining of two archetypes that will make the player’s class. One archetype will be primary and the other secondary. The archetypes are so generic so the skills involved area easily identifiable. Speaking of skills, the fact that each class has a special skill that helps with the environment (the cleric can dissipate a poison cloud, my mage dispelled an illusion hiding a hidden pathway, etc.) is really neat. I can’t wait to see how that affects gameplay.
I’d also asked Sharif about the second crowdfunding initiative on the site: How successful was it? he explained that this was not meant to be a big push of crowdfunding, which is why it wasn’t really pushed or advertised. All it was was a way for those who had no means to participate in the actual Kickstarter. Sharif explained that there was a block of players from overseas who wanted to help but could not because of the payment restrictions on the Kickstarter platform. This, then, was just a way for those folks to be able to back the game as well. No, it didn’t reach the levels of Kickstarter, but it was never meant to.
Relating that some folks have been complaining about the character models, I asked Sharif if any work was still slated for them. He emphasized that what folks saw on the videos and at the demo was “a super first pass.”
“We haven’t even compiled our shaders yet, for skin, for clothes, for materials,” he told me. “[The demo] was more about getting a general idea about the environment, of the skills and how they work, and just letting people see the progress we are making. As we move forward, I have some extremely talented artists, super talented artists, and the time that we’re going to spend on that character creation suite and the character models themselves is going to be very extensive.” He then revealed that one of his goals is to release the character suite early so that players have the chance to play around with it and then save their characters that they may want to use to upload upon launch. This will help me immensely!
I’ll admit that didn’t find anything particularly remarkable about the PvP combat when I played a match. But in all fairness, this was only a tiny taste, and this particular setting isn’t necessarily anything that will be kept in game; it was constructed specifically for PAX.
The PvP was a small arena where we played 4v4; there were objectives to get as well as opponents to hit. Our team ended up winning not because we earning more kills but because our ranger was running around swiping all the objectives while the other team focused on killing us.
In discussing the PvP with devs, it was noted that the team was looking into making arenas where players could engage in 3v3, 5v5, and 7v7 matches. This is only a possibility now, though, not a promise. I’ll reserve any judgement on the fun factor of PvP until I can play a more finalized version – and play more than one match.