Max Schaefer is the operations chief and co-founder of Flagship Studios. Flagship was created by Max, brother Erich, Bill Roper and David Brevik after they all left Blizzard North, where they had worked together on the two Diablo games. Its first game, the anticipated online action-RPG Hellgate: London, released last year to mixed reviews. Flagship is now working on Mythos, a colourful free-to-play MMO with very Diablo-style, fast-paced, top-down action, which we rather liked when we tried the beta.
Though nearing completion, Mythos has undergone some major changes in recent months, not least the re-engineering of its "Overworld" into a single online space shared by all players on a server, bringing it closer in design and feel to a traditional MMO than its action-RPG roots. We spoke with Schaefer about the reasons for the change, the prospects for the game, and what Flagship has learned from Hellgate's difficult birth.
Eurogamer: I keep hearing that Mythos started out as a network test for Hellgate: London, but it's odd that you'd hired Travis Baldree [creator of the similar Fate] to work on it, if it wasn't going to end up being something like this.
Max Schaefer: We actually did conceive the idea as purely a network test for Hellgate. When starting Hellgate we were starting from scratch - no tools, no graphics engine, no network technology, nothing. And we wanted something to do a dry run just to prove our technology and make sure that we'd ironed out as many of the kinks as we could. However, the status of Mythos being just a network test was relatively short, it was pretty early on in making it that we realised this really should be a game on its own.
Eurogamer: When did the decision to make it in the mould of Diablo and Fate come about?
Max Schaefer: That was right away. We decided that we wanted to go back a little to a gameplay style that we were very familiar with, so we could pretty quickly and easily generate a compelling experience for people to actually test this stuff, and in a way that was efficient to make. A lot of Mythos is about efficiency of production. Computer games, especially MMOs, cost so much to make and take so long, so anything that you can do to increase the efficiency of the process is just going to help you out. So since it was just going to be a test first, we thought we'd stay relatively simple, use a Diablo-style camera, relatively simple, cartoony graphics and concentrate on gameplay and features, more so than complex graphics and the latest technologies.
Eurogamer: Are there likely to be significant changes before it's released, something on the scale of the Overworld, or are you now sure this is fairly much like the shape of the game?
Max Schaefer: I think as far as things you can look at and can point at the Overworld is going to be about as significant a change as there is. However we do want to flesh out several areas that we feel the game is fairly thin with right now, particularly social features, guild support, group play and social things like that.
Eurogamer: Interesting you talk about the social aspect, as when I'm playing it I do get this sense that, though I'm aware of other players on the server, it does feel somewhat like a single-player game.
Max Schaefer: We kind of want to ride the fine line on this one. A lot of people prefer to play a game that's a social MMO but to play on their own, so what we want to do is have a reason to be social, a feeling that you're in a crowded world, but maintain the ability that if you just want to go out and do some quests on your own and not group up you certainly have that ability as well.