Republic: The Revolution was a pretty ambitious project. Elixir Studios, under the guidance of PC gaming leading light Demis Hassabis, set out to accurately model the political and ideological beliefs of a whole city - and then let you influence them.
Where do you go from there? Well, for Elixir and Cambridge-based Nicely Crafted Entertainment (NiCE), the answer is upwards.
Unveiled earlier this week, Republic Dawn: Chronicles of the Seven is so much more ambitious than Republic: The Revolution it seems unfair to label it a sequel.
Set in a distant galaxy well into the future, Republic Dawn will be a massively-multiplayer online experience where the actions of individuals and the groups they form will dictate how the gameworld develops. The ultimate goal is to build a republic, but everything from politics, war, economics and the personal struggles of hundreds of thousands of players will continuously get in the way.
It's a stunningly grand premise, so to help get our heads around it we hooked up with Jamie Barber, Lead Designer on the title from Nicely Crafted Entertainment, for an exclusive chat about Republic Dawn.
From piloting starships, to dictating the politics of a nation, to the possibility of next-gen console support, Republic Dawn: Chronicles of the Seven sounds bigger than we could have ever imagined.
Open your mind wide...
Republic Dawn sounds very different to the original Republic: The Revolution. What carries over from the original Republic title?
Jamie Barber: Republic The Revolution was all about the dark side of human nature, the want for control, power and glory. It gave us a world of unique depth and complexity that was really satisfying to play, both on a character and a strategic level.
Republic Dawn builds on this and further develops some of the mechanics found in Revolution. In Dawn the players are charged with the building of a republic. It is the aim of Dawn that the world we create will eventually be completely player owned and controlled at all levels. Whilst this is going on, a deep story will unfold moving the game forward. We find ourselves dealing with questions such as, "What if the players fail to push the Republic past "Event 12" and the Seven Republic becomes a conquered people?"
The full title of Republic Dawn refers to 'The Chronicles of the Seven'. Is this a reference to seven factions in the game? If so, how will these factions interact with each other?
Jamie Barber: The Seven Republic comprises of seven major factions that have come together to confront a devastating event in their people's recent history. This event, "The Trinity Event", shattered the peaceful society that existed prior to the event itself. Many years of anarchy ensued until the Seven Republic was formed to take the population forward and to confront their unknown nemesis as a cohesive whole.
Each member of the "Seven" has either survived or been built up from the ashes of the Trinity Event. They currently work together to form and push forward the new Republic. Each has a different political history, agenda and represents a different aspect of society. Each has representatives within the Senate of the Republic. It is envisaged that players will be able to take up positions on the Senate in the future.
What could you cite as influences for Republic Dawn?
Jamie Barber: Interdictor Pilot, Warhead, Elite, the X-Wing series, Millennium 2.2, Freelancer, Sim City, Republic: The Revolution, Time of Defiance, BattleStar Galactica (new series), Babylon 5, and Pilotwings on N64.
Will this be a perpetual world like Planetside where things change all the time, or will the world be played in limited sessions as per Time of Defiance?
Jamie Barber: Planetside rarely changes. However, the actions of the players and the territory that is being fought for does. We are in the process of creating a persistent, player directed universe whereby players can choose to be involved throughout the fabric of the game. Whether this puts them at the controls of an assault fighter under the command of a player officer or whether they choose to take control of a vast research corporation and exert political influence within the Seven Republic itself is entirely their choice.
Republic featured a very complex political model. Is this being used in Dawn? How?
Jamie Barber: Republic Dawn incorporates an extensive political model that influences the entire game structure; ultimately, the games infrastructure will be created, managed and directed by the players themselves. As a player's experience and influence increases during their career they can choose to either affiliate themselves with a specific organisation so that they can have their say or to actually play the role of a politician and represent other players within the hierarchy of the Seven Republic itself.
What do you think Dawn will bring to the genre, and how will it set a benchmark for future first-person MMOs?
Jamie Barber: To set the record straight, Dawn is "First Person" in that your character exists, can be clothed, trained and everything that you would expect from a traditional RPG but you will be able to travel around the Dawn universe in either the First or Third Person. Structures can be explored, battle cruisers can be manned and so on. Think of Luke and Han in the Millennium Falcon popping Tie Fighters, or Scotty in Engineering on the Enterprise, or Sheridan on the bridge of Babylon 5.
MMOs with a first-person viewpoint are relatively thin on the ground. Is it a genre you see expanding in the future?
Jamie Barber: Yes, without a doubt. The old adage of "when the hardware is capable enough" still stands and as more and more people move to broadband and have a base level of hardware then it would be fair to say we'll see huge ground battles taking place within a persistent universe in the near future. We're not far from Battlefield 1942 on an MMO scale and Planetside is almost there already, but the "Population Lock" can be frustrating.
Given the Republic tie-in, will Dawn's competitive elements be more cerebral than, say, Counter-Strike?
Jamie Barber: The intention is for players to be able to view the game world from the first person and interact with it in as many ways as possible. Players will be able to leave the stations and craft by operating EVA suits, Gunners will have to man their stations, politicians will have to address auditoriums of people...
What kind of weapons will we be looking at?
Jamie Barber: You can expect to see everything from EVA Suit mounted gauze cannons all the way up to orbital positions that can target and attack entire fleets of incoming fighters.
Other than fighting, in what other ways will players be able to communicate and interact?
Jamie Barber: It is planned to incorporate a complete communications network within the game. This will be integrated into the interface on various levels. Players can congregate in bars, casinos or just walk up to each other and have a conversation. On the other hand, each station/area within the game will have full bulletin board facilities and a system wide intranet will exist for long distance communications. Individual ships will have set transponders so that they can interact with those around them and entire squadrons will be able to talk amongst themselves without disturbing everybody else.
It will be the player's choice as to what level of interaction they have with the rest of the community - it's important for us to ensure that if a player wants a solo experience, with the window dressing being made up by other players, they can. The game supports both PVP and PVE extensively. Conversely, we'd like to see players banding together and forming the entire backbone of the title.
How many players are you aiming for at one time in the MMO environment?
Jamie Barber: Well for us that's a kind of a "how long is a piece of string" question. AliceServer, the technology developed at NiCE that will run Republic Dawn, is linearly scaleable. What this means is that its power is limited only by the hardware, and in a predictable way so that we can adapt and upgrade in a sensible fashion. We can get big numbers on one box, so we're looking at 10,000+ concurrent on a single box with only two CPUs. Armed with some 16 CPU boxes we're looking at unseen numbers of interactive connections on the same system. Of course, we're talking about players on one box here, not the total capacity of the game that is limited only by player demand.
What else can you share with us regarding the way the game plays?
Jamie Barber: It's hard to draw comparisons to existing game experiences but it's fair to say that we intend to offer as wide a variety of player experiences and interaction as possible. If you wish to gamble at a casino then you can, if you want to run a company providing a service that you have come up with then you can. If you want to fight - you can, if you want to look at the game as a simulation and cerebral challenge - you can.
How is the collaboration working between NiCE and Elixir? Who is in charge of what?
Jamie Barber: Currently we are working on our respective specialist areas during the prototyping phase with a long-term view of centralizing the full team at the point of publisher involvement. Both companies share the creative vision of the project.
What's your opinion on the virtual economies that are propping up in the likes of EQ and Ultima Online, and the process of gamers selling game content for real world cash as Blizzard recently banned in World of Warcraft?
Jamie Barber: I think everything has its place - it all depends on how the items concerned are generated. If players within the game are being thwarted in their experience of the title as an exploit situation exists or high-ranking players are preventing them from enjoying the experience then it should be nerfed. In contrast, if there are items or parts of the games infrastructure that cannot be accessed within the game unless paid for or organized externally to the game itself then that should be considered. We have devised various models whereby players can support themselves in game with real money. This was an intentional, creative decision and is not intended to ever provide any one player with an unfair advantage over another.
Is there any possibility of Republic Dawn becoming a next-gen console title?
Jamie Barber: The AliceServer technology itself is ready for next-gen platforms. The tech has been designed to communicate with any connectable device. It's a client-engineering task for us, so yes, this makes next-gen console versions viable.
Do you think the next-gen consoles will enable more people to get into MMOs?
Jamie Barber: We sincerely hope so - many, many players of all ages and ability enjoy interacting with other people within the gaming environment. Chatting with someone is one thing but a genuine sense of community can be gained by achieving things together and the inherent rewards are much greater.
Republic Dawn: Chronicles of the Seven is scheduled for release in 2007. We'll have more on this intriguing project very soon.