While offline games flounder somewhat in the peaks and troughs of dying genres, accusations of unoriginality and cookie-cutter design, the online world is rapidly becoming the arena in which developers seek to push the envelope that bit more rigorously. Brad McQuaid did it back in 1999 when he co-created the Western world's most notorious MMORPG EverQuest - and now he's seeking to do the same two gaming generations later with Vanguard.
Although the game is some way off completion, we were lucky enough to get a sneak preview into just what kind of diabolical scheme Sigil has up its sleeve for finding new ways to suck the time from our fragile lives.
"We've spent the first part of the development cycle putting together the elements of a first-generation MMORPG," explains Vanguard's art director Keith Parkinson. "This means all the features that are associated with those types of games, like different combat classes, trading etc. We did all this in quite a short space of time so that we could dedicate the rest of our cycle to the things that hadn't been done before and all the features that will be required in a third-generation title."
What's already there in the game looks visually spectacular even at this early stage. Towns and cities encompass a whole range of fantasy settings - from white-stoned, sublimely Tolkienesque villages that have been all built to scale, to Arthurian castles and closely built medieval towns that ooze grimy life.
Kevin explains that this mishmash of typical fantasy backdrops is a deliberate move to ease players into the game: "We've tried to keep the style towards what people might expect, but also tried to give it just that little bit more... It's important that players feel comfortable with the world but at the same time, that they are shown something exciting."
Much of Vanguard is still under wraps although the developer has started revealing some of the back story on its website. With a strong commitment to community, player grouping and giving the gamer the experience they've always wanted, it's clear that the next phase of Vanguard's development cycle is set to be a very exciting one. With such a development pedigree behind it, not to mention Microsoft's backing, anything and everything is possible.