Apr 15th, 2009 at 11:26 AM by Tamat We had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Carbine Studios Design Director, Tim Cain about his newest, unannounced project. Tim Cainhas had quite a career so far, from creating the award-winning Fallout to the FPS / RPG hybrid Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines. He's now working on an untitled MMO at Carbine Studios, to be published by NCsoft. We managed to corner him to see what information we could squeeze out about his latest game. ZAM: Hey Tim, thanks for joining us. We know you're extremely busy keeping your latest product secretive! Tim Cain: I am quite busy, Andrew, but when the explosive collars arrive next week, I should have more free time on my hands. ZAM: Up until joining Carbine Studios, you worked almost exclusively on single-player games. What sort of challenges have you encountered in designing your first MMO? Tim: The biggest challenge has probably been in keeping things balanced. In a single-player game, you just had to balance the player against the monsters. In an MMO, you are not only balancing one player against the monsters, but you also have to provide challenges for two or five or twenty-five players at once against a group of monsters. And you have to make sure that, at any given level every player class is balanced against every other player class. It's a lot of numbers, and we spend a lot of time in front of spreadsheets. ZAM: What lessons have you been able to bring with you from your experience with single-player games and what goals have you set for your current project? Tim: My single player games were all about telling a good story in a setting where the players could choose what kind of person they want to be: good, evil, indifferent, greedy, altruistic, etc. I think this philosophy can be extended to MMOs, and the goals for my new project can be summed up as "play how you want, when you want, and with whom you want". ZAM: Speaking of your previous games, in 2006 Interplay announced that they were planning a Fallout MMO. How do you feel about your new game potentially competing with an MMO version of one of your classic games? Tim: Well, I will admit that it feels odd that Fallout is being made into an MMO at all. The setting is supposed to be bleak and isolating. I am still trying to wrap my head around thousands of people running around the apocalyptic wastes shouting "LFG!!!" and fighting over rare spawns. But really, I'm kind of proud that Fallout has had such a long life. In this industry, most games are forgotten a couple years after they are released, so it's nice to be associated with an enduring IP. And I don't think our current game will compete with Fallout head-on. They are different settings entirely. ZAM: You've previously criticised the MMO genre for a lack of innovation. What sort of elements do you feel are becoming stale and how will your Carbine Studios' game differ from those currently on the market? Tim: There are a lot of areas that can be improved in our industry: better story-telling, more player choice and especially more non-combat activities. But please don't misunderstand me, though. I am not asking for developers to re-invent all of the features on MMOs, but I am saying that there is a lot of room for improvement. I'm not asking for a revolution, but some evolution would be nice. I think our game will stand out for its ability to adapt to a player's style. Do you enjoy combat? We will have lots of styles from solo to group to raid small-scale PvP to large-scale strategic PvP with game world consequences. Do you enjoy tradeskills? We will have fewer limitations and more variation than most other MMOs, and our crafting will result in items you really want to use, instead of stuff you just sell to vendors when you are done. Do you enjoy the more social aspects of online games? We'll make it easier to find guilds with people of similar interests and give you lots of reason to WANT to be in a guild besides NEEDING to join one just so you can go into instances. We plan to make it even easier to group and have added support for having more enjoyable group experiences. After all, one of those M's in MMO is for multiplayer. ZAM: Your games are known for having strong storylines, with the actions of the player having long-term consequences. Is this something that you're looking to achieve with this project and is it even something that's even possible in an MMO? Tim: Yes, I think a strong storyline in an MMO is not only possible, but I think it makes the game much more enjoyable. Knowing why you need to cut off the head of Dirk McSmuggler, especially if he has harassed you and your friends earlier in the game story, makes finally beating him much more fun than just having some random NPC ask you to do it. A true villain is someone that you build a relationship with over the course of the game, that you tangle with multiple times, and that you finally corner and defeat. That's so much more satisfying than killing a cardboard-cutout villain that is so prevalent today. ZAM: Still on the subject of story, some MMO gamers simply skip through story or quest text. How do you plan to combat this and engage the player in the overall storyline? Tim: I don't! If a player wants to skip story or quest text, let them! Similarly, if a player wants to skip PvP or trade skills or guild fights or raids, let them! People should do the activities that they find enjoyable, and if following a story plot is not something they want to do, they won't need to. Our game will be full of fun things to do. Storyline is simply one of those things. ZAM: We know that your current project is an original IP with fantasy elements. However, you've previously said that it's not entirely fantasy-based. What else can you tell us about the game's setting? Tim: Remember my game Arcanum? It postulated a world where magic and science were at odds with each other, and ultimately you had to decide to embrace one or the other, or to forever walk the fine line between. This game is entirely not like that game. ZAM: We've found a number of amusing photos of you on the internet. Will your sense of humour be reflected in the game, or is its theme more serious? Tim: My sense of humor can be found in this game. Nothing I make is ever 100% serious. Here I can be seen hard at work on a project. ZAM: Finally, is there anything else you can tell us about your current project? Tim: Here's a list of some of my favourite things: explosions, zombies, lasers, robots, ambient music, pets, giant monsters, dark humor and moral grey areas. All but one of these things is in my game. ZAM: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. We're very much looking forward to trying the game for ourselves. Tim: Thank you. I am very much enjoying making it!