Hellgate: London's been making big noises ever since it was announced at E3 2005. Gurgling and frothing, mostly. The combined effect of a developer formed by ex-Blizzard staff and a gorgeous cinematic trailer piqued many interests including ours.
It's progressed well too, moving from the realms of the unknown into a good-looking and impressive PC RPG - attracting EA to help co-publish the title alongside Namco. But Bill Roper and his Flagship Studios didn't want to stop there, and soon announced that Hellgate would feature an optional MMO multiplayer mode.
Inevitably this raised as many questions as it answered. For a start, what is it? RPG or MMORPG? How much will it cost? What's happening to the single-player game? It left us all a bit confused. Until now, that is. Because we've cornered Flagship CEO Bill Roper in an effort to iron it all out. And, much to our delight, he's done just that.
Eurogamer: You've mentioned before that Hellgate will offer a tiered multiplayer offering - either a limited version for free or the full-package for a price. Which pricing method have you decided on and how much will it cost?
Bill Roper: First off, it is really a misnomer to call the free version "limited", as it is the ability to play the entire game online in a secure environment for free! This is very much in line with what we did with Diablo II and is something that all of our fans wanted us to figure out how to make happen. We're excited to be able to bring gamers an amazing online experience which is included with their single player game.
For gamers that want more, we're committed to creating ongoing content and provide meaningful updates. This requires us to maintain not only a robust online environment, but also a full team of developers to both tune and tweak the game, but to create that new content.
Players that want to subscribe to the game can get this additional service and ongoing content for USD 9.95. We've only set the pricing in the U.S. as of now, but we're working with our publishing partners around the world to find an equally friendly price for access to the ongoing content.
Eurogamer: The enhanced multiplayer mode is being described in similar terms to an MMO. What elements will we see that are familiar to that genre, and how will they work in Hellgate?
Bill Roper: Hellgate: London is probably going to incite a massive debate as to whether it is "really" an MMO since it doesn't perfectly match what other MMORPGs do in terms of game play, content, and so on.
We'll have all of the community elements you would want from an online RPG, such as guilds, highly manageable friends lists, an auction house, advanced grouping options, and so on. As for game play, we're working on everything from raid content to PvP; from special group and guild events to real-world calendar timed events - on top of different game play modes.
The greatest advantage to being able to provide continual content is that we can interact directly with our players and work to enrich and enhance the game in ways that will be interesting and exciting to them. This back and forth with our players, and then putting those things into the game, is one of the things that make an MMO special.
Eurogamer: Do you think there's still value in the existing MMO model?
Bill Roper: Definitely, but there is also a real outcry for something new and different. With Hellgate, we're focused on creating a different style of MMORPG that has the great elements of various styles of games.
We're much more action-oriented and focused on getting players into the fun quickly. We use dynamically generated content and the power of randomisation to craft a game that is constantly new each time you play. Our goal is to take the best parts of classic MMOs and enhance them in new ways, ending up with something that is really unlike any experience players have seen before.
Eurogamer: Online games require a huge amount of time and money to create and maintain. Has creating this aspect of the game detracted from the single-player experience?
Bill Roper: Not at all. We have been able to use the single-player game as the foundation and springboard for the online experience. We know that a compelling single-player game is something that a great many gamers still want, so to be able to provide that and also create a compelling online game was our goal from day one.
Eurogamer: Will we be allowed to use our characters from the single-player campaign when we play online?
Bill Roper: Unfortunately we can't let players use their offline characters in our secured online environment because we can't know what players have done to those non-secured characters. Fun and security go hand in hand in our online plans, so ensuring that our online characters are "legit" is of high importance.
Eurogamer: Will we be able to play through the single-player campaign with a friend?
Bill Roper: You can play through the single-player storyline with your friends online for nothing more than the cost of buying the boxed game. This was essential to our plans and is something that we've gone to great lengths to ensure can happen.
Eurogamer: MMOs routinely feature patch updates that bring in new content, and expansion packs. How do you plan to support and keep Hellgate's online options fresh?
Bill Roper: We need to be able to make the same commitment to our game as our players have shown they do. This means we're in it for the long haul and will be making continuing improvements and changes to the game through not only patches and tweaks and fixes, but more importantly with substantial new content. This is why working on continuing content is so important to us.
Eurogamer: Have you considered other cities for future Hellgate expansions or games?
Bill Roper: We're very focused on completing the game and then on providing continued support and continuing content. That being said, we relish the idea of being able to potentially explore the mythology and heroes, history and mysteries of other cultures and places.
Eurogamer: Would Hellgate translate to console? Are there any plans to bring it to Xbox 360 or PS3?
Bill Roper: Flagship is a PC-focused development studio, so our chief concern is getting the game done for that platform.
Eurogamer: The game is due to be released in September. How near to completion is it? Are you going to hit your summer release target?
Bill Roper: We are working as hard as we can to get the game out to players this summer. We're excited at the progress and expect to go into closed alpha testing soon. As with any project of this size and complexity, it is impossible to tell now exactly when we'll be able to sort through all the vital bugs, nail down those last bits of balance, and release the game in the polished state we know that our fans expect.
We are on track to get the game done in our timeframe, but as we've all seen with the success of the games we previously worked on, releasing absolutely our best effort is the most important thing.
Head over to our Hellgate: London gamepage for the latest and exclusive screenshots.