Developer: Zombie Ferret Games
Release Date: Six months from yesterday
I was just logging off for the night when I received a message inviting me to come out to the headquarters of Zombie Ferret Games to interview the lead developer of Mistgate. I was a little anxious accepting the invitation, partly because I am a relatively new journalist but also because I had never heard of Zombie Ferret Games or Mistgate. I hesitantly accepted and the next day I made the trek from Maryland to Pennsylvania. I glanced at the MapQuest directions for the fifth time as I sat in the driveway of the residential home they had led me to wondering if I had made a mistake. I was just getting out of the car when the garage door opened and a disheveled-looking man in his mid-forties scurried out to greet me. He introduced himself as Dan and ushered me into his house for my first look at Mistgate.
Arep: Thanks for inviting me up here. I don’t think I’ve ever heard much of Zombie Ferret Games, can you tell me a little bit about it?
Dan: I started Zombie Ferret games under a different name after playing Ultima Online in 1997 for a few months. I knew I could come up with and program a better game than Origin had so I set to work on it. I felt the developers of that game, and the developers of most of the MMORPG games that followed, really didn’t give a lot of thought to what the players would like and how their game worlds should work and I wanted to fix that problem. I changed the name of my company to Zombie Ferret Games after getting some ferrets as pets. I liked zombie movies and thought a ferret would make a funny zombie.
Arep: I notice you have actual ferrets running around…
Dan: [laughs] This is Pixel! [holds up ferret] He’s not really a zombie, though.
Arep: [Uncomfortable silence] So, Mistgate is your first game? Can you tell us about it?
Dan: You know how when you play any of the current MMORPGs you get that feeling that there’s just something missing? Well, Mistgate is the game that players have been wishing for since the first MMORPG was ever released. It will have something for everyone. No play style will be ignored and we’ve designed the game so that every play style is viable. If you want to be a businessman and never lift a finger in combat, you can. If you want to do nothing BUT combat, you can. The game world is going to be so expansive that you’ll always have someplace new to go and something new to do even after months or years of playing. It’s going to be an entirely new level of MMORPG and once players try it out, I wouldn’t be surprised if all the other half-hearted MMORPGs out there die out pretty quickly.
Arep: How long has Mistgate been in development?
Dan: From conception to now… about 5 years, but that includes the early conceptual development where we were just starting to form ideas about how a truly top-notch MMORPG would operate… how to fix weaknesses of existing games and how to avoid potential pitfalls caused by poor design decisions made by other companies.
Arep: [I glanced around the cluttered basement seeing only a single desk] How many people are on the development team?
Dan: Right now, we have enough for our current task list, but we’ll be looking for more graphic designers and 3D artists in the near future.
Dan: Our “Conceptual Development Team” (the CDT) consisted of 4 people with extensive experience. After the initial conceptualization was completed, their skillsets weren’t as critical to the project, so I let them go so we would have more room to get different skillsets and dynamics on board.
Arep: Er, are you the only person developing the game?
Dan: Well… that’s been said before, but it’s really been developed by a lot of creative, talented minds who have put a lot of effort into coming up with great ideas for its groundbreaking features.
Arep: Can we see some of these features in action?
Dan: Well… we’re keeping things under pretty tight wraps at the moment until our graphic designers and 3D artists have more finalized content available so that we can show a fair amount of eye candy for those players who rely on that.
Arep: Okay…well, speaking of eye-candy, does that mean you will be using DX10? Will Mistgate be another Vista-only title?
Dan: We’ll be using a number of technologies in order to maximize our player base and get the best ROI we can. In order to do that, we’ll be supporting DX9, DX10, and OpenGL so that even those with lower-end machines can still participate in our world.
Arep: More and more MMOs are making their way over to consoles. Will we see Mistgate on any of the next-gen platforms?
Dan: You know, “next-gen” is a term that I find distasteful. It implies that all games created before “next-gen” are inferior and not worthy of attention by game companies or, and this is where things really get down to brass tacks, gamers. Anyone who’s played Civilization knows that games don’t have to be ported to a thousand different platforms in order to be relevant… or enjoyable… so I really don’t think that it’s fair to judge a game, even an online game, against standards that really don’t make any sense in our current situation.
Arep: [I decide not to mention Civilization Revolution] Back to Mistgate’s features, will it be PvE or PvP focused, or a mixture of both?
Dan: It will be a mixture of both and both elements will be very important and prominent parts of the gameplay. We’ve come up with some extremely innovative features that will make players want to engage in both aspects. For example, players will receive damage and accuracy bonuses if they attack another player who is in a fight with an NPC and at less than 50% health. The main PvE element will be a race of very powerful creatures in a parallel dimension, so that should add some excitement into the mix.
Arep: What about end-game content?
Dan: [Chuckles] We’re really not focusing much on that at the moment. That’s more of a post-launch concern. The world of Mistgate is going to be vibrant and beautiful. The quests will be interesting and the story compelling. It will be months, if not longer, before any of our players will be looking for any kind of end-game activities.
Arep: Ok, I just need to ask…I was reading through the development document you sent me and it said something about the inclusion of children in the game. I’m not sure that I understood what you wrote. Could you explain it to me?
Dan: Children usually are usually easy prey for the cross-dimensional race, and they get turned into slaves and warriors for the aliens because they can survive in the human world, so players will often have to kill these kidnapped children in order to survive. We’re planning on hiring some child actors to do the voice overs for the war crys and death screams of the NPC child characters. In fact, we’re considering having one of the raids take place in s nursery complex where infants are housed and the object is to cut off their supply of future reinforcements.
Arep: Well, that’s just horrible.
Dan: Most games gloss over the whole concept of children, leaving it up to the player to come up with a reason the entire world is populated by adults. We’ve found a way to bring them in the game without breaking immersion. Besides, we are shooting for a Mature rating.
Arep: Yes, I saw that but it also seems contrary to some of the other features you had listed. For example “Players can earn adorable non-combat pets that will do tricks for the owner” and “The character database will be open so that character stats and information can be published to social networking sites like MySpace.” How will you keep minors out of the game?
Dan: That’s what the Mature rating on the box is for, isn’t it? I don’t really see the problem. Besides, kids usually don’t have the money to buy their own games, so they’ll need their parents’ permission to get it.
Arep: Can you talk to us a little about your beta test plans?
Dan: Well, we’re not quite ready for that, yet. However, I can tell you a little about what we’re planning. First, we’re going to collect some basic information from each applicant. The usual stuff like gaming history, testing experience, annual income, and computer specs.
Arep: Annual income?
Dan: Then, once we’ve reviewed the applications we’ll start releasing keys for the closed beta to folks through our affiliate, FreeGameDownloadz.com. They’ll, of course, need to have accounts in good standing in order to qualify.
Arep: It’s not really free though, is it?
Dan: Well, there’s a small surcharge…and a monthly fee.
Arep: I see…
Dan: Then, for the general closed beta we’ll be doing much the same but this time going through our partner site, GameStorageZone.biz. Obviously, only current paid subscribers will receive keys.
Dan: We’ll pretty much follow the same pattern for the remaining beta cycles.
Arep: How many cycles are we talking about here?
Dan: Our philosophy is that our game is going to be constantly growing and evolving organically. In that respect Mistgate will always be in beta. However, we’ve recently been approached by a major publisher and with their support [Dan makes the universal sign for cha-CHING!] we will be launching in about six months.
Arep: Six months?!? Let me get this straight…you are the only developer, you don’t have anything playable and, quite frankly, this screenshot you sent me looks like it was drawn with Microsoft Paint…yet your publisher is expecting you to launch in six months?
Dan: Well, we consider most of those post-launch issues. We will be adding many exciting features in the first days and weeks after launch.
Arep: Right…well, I think that’s all I have. Thank you for your time.
Obviously what you just read wasn’t a real interview with a real game company, though Mistgate was an actual game concept being developed by my co-author, PingTheVile. (No baby-hunting was planned for the actual Mistgate) However, most of the issues parodied above have been encountered in one form or another. MMOs launch with many promised features missing or scheduled for huge future post-launch patches. There is an increasing trend to make beta clients available exclusively on for-pay download services. Some developers seem woefully out of touch when it comes to what they think their customers want and how fast they are going to hit the level cap. Looming behind all of it like a grim specter is the publishing company who sets a launch date for the game without talking to a single developer.
Expect more from your games. When you’re accepted to that next beta don’t see it as a free trial, find a bug or two. If the game is launching tomorrow and you still haven’t seen half the bullet points on the feature list in-game, don’t sign up for that pre-order….even if it means missing out on that special exclusive war-kitten mount. But hey, it’s your $60 + $15/month.