Taking us to a new MMO world

It’s a considerable task, turning the popular Stargate SG-1 TV series into an MMO. Currently, the developer plans to put the game into public hands at the end of the year – we caught up with studio head Dan Elggren to find out more…

Tell us what Stargate Worlds is all about?

Dan Elggren: Stargate Worlds is a science fiction massively multiplayer online role-playing game based on the longest-running science fiction series in U.S. television history, Stargate SG-1. It’s the only game where Scientists, Archeologists and grey aliens can team up with soldiers, commandos and warriors to save the galaxy.

Stargate Worlds will be a story-driven MMORPG that features modern tactical combat, science fiction weapons and innovative non-combat gameplay through integrated mini-games.

If you’re not familiar with Stargate, the concept of the series is fairly simple. Stargates built by an ancient, highly advanced civilization allow near instantaneous travel from planet to planet across the galaxy.

The U.S. military operates Stargate Command from a secret base inside Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. Stargate teams, like SG-1, travel through the gate to explore other planets and find human and alien civilizations. They also reignite a war with an alien enemy, the Goa’uld, and their warrior servants, the Jaffa.

When you sat down to sketch out the original concept for the game, what were your high level goals and would you say you’ve achieved – or are achieving – what you set out to do?

Elggren: Our high-level goal was to create an authentic Stargate experience that could please the hardcore fans of the series and broaden the audience to people who have never even heard of the series. In fact, a key part of our mission was to expand the Stargate fanbase and increase the overall profile of the franchise.

Are we achieving those goals? We are well on our way to crafting the Stargate experience we want gamers to be a part of. Our creative team, led by Creative Director Chris Klug works extensively with Brad Wright and Robert Cooper, the show creators, to ensure that the story we are writing fits seamlessly into the Stargate canon.

The MMO space has become highly competitive. Is having a major, established license such as Stargate the only real way now to succeed in this genre in your opinion?

Elggren: I don’t believe that a license is necessary to succeed. As a developer, it does jumpstart the community aspect of your game because the dedicated fans of the license are likely to be your biggest advocates.

We have benefited from a strong, vocal community that started forming early in 2006. Unfortunately, a license also comes with the stigma of rushed and poorly executed games based on blockbusters and children’s movies.

The key to success is simple: build good, fun games that people want to play. We know what the key is. Now it’s all about execution.

Exactly how traditional is Stargate Worlds? By that I mean does it have a feature set similar to the World of Warcrafts out there, or are you attempting something new?

Elggren: We are traditional in the sense that an experienced player of MMOs will be able to sit down and immediately understand what’s going on.

World of Warcraft is a great game, but we don’t see them as “competition,” per se, anymore than the Big Mac sees the Quarter Pounder as competition. Sometimes you’re in the mood for a good sword fight, sometimes you would rather shoot up aliens with a P90!

How would you say you are pushing the MMO envelope with the game?

Elggren: I think what gamers will appreciate the most is our advanced AI. In most games, once you see how an enemy reacts once, you know how they will react every time.

In Stargate Worlds, when you enter a room filled with enemy Jaffa, you will get a different reaction each time based on where you enter the room, how the cover is set up, are they outnumbered and what kind of enemy they are facing.

So, even though we are using the traditional MMO combat interface with hotkeys and tabbed targeting, combat is a new experience that will require tactical use of cover, suppressing fire and manoeuvre for victory. In other words, characters better fight smart, because their enemies will.

You must have a huge amount of source material at your disposal. What particular elements of the Stargate universe have you tapped into?

Elggren: Stargate SG-1 ran for ten seasons, a total of 213 episodes. We identified a few of the things that define Stargate, such as the modern combat, the technology/arms race and the humour, and we really focused on capturing those aspects in our game.

Of those three aspects, humour is probably the most difficult thing to capture in a videogame, but we’ve got scientists with guns, supermodels with god complexes – the Goa’uld – and archaeologists saving the galaxy. What’s not funny about that?

What can we expect in terms of content on launch?

Elggren: In terms of characters, players will be able to choose from seven archetypes. Humans on the light side have four archetypes to choose from, Scientist, Archeologist, Soldier and Commando. Also on the light side are the Jaffa warriors and the Asgard, technologically advanced grey aliens that are allies with the humans in their fight against the Goa’uld.

The dark side mirrors the light side with the four human archetypes and the Jaffa. Instead of the Asgard, the dark side has the Goa’uld, megalomaniacal parasites that take a human host and use scavenged technology to dominate less advanced races.

We’ll have dozens of zones to visit at launch of various sizes, but we also have a very aggressive live team plan that will add content on a regular basis.

How does character development operate in Stargate Worlds?

Elggren: Stargate Worlds will use a level system to mark player progression. As characters advance, they will be able to choose skills from a pool. During the skill selection process, they will have to decide if they want to specialize in one skill tree or be a more versatile character by taking skills from a variety of skill trees.

There are obviously pros and cons to both approaches that players will have to balance to seek the right option for their play style.

We have abandoned the old tank/healer/nuker paradigm in favour of a more balanced approach to gameplay, so players who opt for versatility shouldn’t be punished for not taking the absolute min/max path for character development.

We’ve read that combat in the game won’t be ‘twitch shooter’ but more traditional MMO, but you’ve also spoken of a tactical side to the combat. Could you elaborate on that?

Elggren: The important thing for us is to feel like the combat you see on the show. When the bullets and lasers start flying, you really don’t want to be out in the open. The first action most characters will want to take when entering a firefight, even if they are facing off against much lower-level opposition, is to grab some cover.

Battles won’t be won on the basis of who has more hit points. Bullets don’t really care how many hit points you have. A well planned ambush in Stargate Worlds will allow low-level characters to take down more experienced foes.

We will do these things in an MMORPG-style combat system that is easy to pick up, but difficult to master.

What payment model are you opting for, monthly subscriptions or free-to-play with micro-transactions?

Elggren: I would say that currently we are leaning toward the traditional monthly subscription model. We are taking a close look at other options, however, and we’ll do what we believe works best to support gamers and out ongoing activities.

These games live or die by post-release support. How are you planning to update Stargate Worlds with new content after launch?

Elggren: I mentioned this briefly earlier, but we will be very aggressive with our post-launch support. I think many companies have come to take subscription fees for granted, doing the minimum patches and bug fixes that they can get away with and not providing good content for the money. Our plan is to give regular content updates.

One of the great things about the Stargate system is that we can drop a world in at any point in the character progression at any time. We aren’t restricted by a “world” map that can’t be changed.

If we have new content for level 5-10 Asgard, we can pop it in six weeks post launch. This aids our replayability for alts immensely since two identical characters can have very dissimilar play experiences while advancing through the same story.

Finally, when are you expecting to release the game and prior to this launch a beta/open beta?

Elggren: Currently, we are aiming at a fourth quarter 2008 release. We’re looking at closed and open betas in the summer and the fall, respectively.