Last October saw the American launch of Dark Age Of Camelot, the latest chart-topping addition to the massively multiplayer role-playing genre. But although the game is based on European mythology, three months later we are still waiting for it to go live on this side of the pond. We spoke to Dark Age's developers Mythic and French online gaming company GOA, who have been entrusted with running the European servers, to find out what we can look forward to when the game finally comes out of beta in the land that inspired it.
I Bid You Welcome To Camelot
Dark Age Of Camelot got off to a storming start in America, selling 100,000 copies in its first couple of weeks on sale and another 100,000 since then, already putting it firmly in third place behind veterans Ultima Online and Everquest. "We knew we had a great game on our hands, but we were surprised by the huge initial sales of the game", Mythic president Marc Jacobs admitted. "We're not sure, of course, exactly what attracts people to Camelot, but it is the next logical step in MMORP evolution - it has three games in one (with the different Realms), it has a sensible PvP dynamic, a great questing system, and wonderful graphics." Despite this rapid influx of new players, Camelot had one of the smoothest launches of any massively multiplayer role-playing game to date, a far cry from the chaotic arrival of Anarchy Online and World War II Online just a few months earlier. It's a lesson other companies would do well to learn from. "We planned from the beginning to have a smooth launch and achieved it by having as much bandwidth on hand as possible; have a stable, well tested server architecture, and lots of beta testing. With WorldCom (UUNET) we have a partner who gives us outstanding internet service - we're right on their internet backbone, which gives us the ability to quickly change our internet settings as required. Also, we hired personnel from other online game companies who have direct experience with the network issues that crop up when a game of this magnitude launches. And most importantly, we've used our server architecture for many other online games over the years, which ensured that it was stable and almost bug free."
Some Day All This Will Be Yours
Which is all well and good, but the real question is when will Camelot be arriving in Europe? Well, since late November the game's European servers have been undergoing beta testing, with all three worlds now packed solid most evenings. The company responsible is France's GOA. "During the last two years we've been actively discussing with developers around the world, seeking the best upcoming titles", GOA's head of online content and licensing Mickael Ivorra explained. "Dark Age of Camelot stood out from other MMORPGs on many aspects : really polished and addictive gameplay, familiar mythological settings and a solid architecture. As players, what we look for is a game which keeps surprising you, which has great community features (allowing you to evolve both your character and your social position) and which allows for different types of gameplay (for example, playing as a craftsman, adventuring knight or merchant)." "When we saw the very first screenshots, we thought DAOC would be another Everquest clone. However, after playing it, it became clear very quickly that Mythic was doing a game with passion, removing annoying features of previous games and adding their own ideas. What we love in DAOC is the Player versus Player settings, which really adds to the flavour of the game and gives it, in our opinion, a strategic, large-scale aspect never seen so far." For their part, Mythic insist that "we've always felt that it was important to have local language and cultural support of the game as well as management of game play within the same time zone". In the end they inked the deal with GOA because they "demonstrated the commitment to support of the game that we have shown our players in the US".
Get On With It!
Since inking the deal, GOA have been hard at work getting everything ready for the game's arrival in Europe. "The delay between the US launch and the local release is simply due to the time it takes to put in place the hardware and software architecture, and to localize such a huge game (several hundred thousand words) in French and German. MMORPGs are not simple to do!" Ironically, having waited months for Camelot to be released over here, Europe looks set to get a much better deal than Mythic's native America. Which makes a refreshing change. "The CD will cost €34.90 and one free month will be offered out of the box", Mickael told us, adding that "the subscription fee will also be a bit lower than for US games : one month for €10, three months for €27 and six months for €50". This makes it around a third cheaper than subscribing to the US servers. The bad news is that if you have already imported an American copy of the game, you're going to have to start again from scratch when the European servers launch if you want to take advantage of this deal. "You cannot play on the European servers and transfer existing characters to them if you buy the US version of the game because these are two completely separate server sets. The European version of the game itself is strictly identical to the US version though : all patches will be the same, only the language and game events will differ. The basic game architecture will not be altered in any way."
What Is Your Quest?
And European gamers may well end up getting a better service for their lower monthly subscription fee. Apparently GOA "want an increased 'roleplay' and 'events' flavour, and we will actively develop stories, with several GameMasters per server". But what does this mean in practice? "There will be very different types of events, from some regular quests to more complicated stories with different endings", Mickael explained, adding that some of these events will be fully scripted while others will be run in real-time by human GameMasters. This means that "all servers will have a different story. However, there's going to be cross-stories happening on all the worlds. All of them will rely heavily on the background, based on the known mythology of that period." "Don't expect to see linear and easy to resolve events. There won't be 'go there and give that item' quests. In fact, for each event there will be different ways to solve the 'problem', and you can even fail to solve it entirely", Mickael promised. Obviously this all means that different servers may develop in different ways, and your actions will actually have an impact on the world in which you play. "We can't modify the landscape, for instance, but an event can have consequences, and in fact most will." All of which sounds like a welcome step forward for a stagnant genre, and it's nice to see Europe getting a solid home-grown service for a change. Of course, the real test will be how this system works once the game launches. So far the only in-game event I've witnessed on the beta servers involved a horde of (relatively) powerful monsters over-running my starting town a few hours after I created a new character, and it was all rather bewildering. Hopefully once more sophisticated events get underway with a definite storyline behind them things should get more interesting though.
If GOA are to be believed, Camelot has a long and bright future ahead of it, despite the flood of new games on the horizon. "There are a lot of games coming out in the next two years, and the competition is probably going to benefit the players as everyone's going to try to be the best", Mickael told us. "One great thing about DAOC is that the whole development team is staying on board and new features are added all the time. If you add to this the events, DAOC should have an extremely long lifespan."