Project Genom Offers MMO-Fans a Future of Freedom
The scope and ambition of Project Genom is impressive. What were your main goals at the beginning of development?
AS: Game development is a constant battle between dreams and reality. We started with the clear understanding that we would need to keep expectations in check, but an MMO with action gameplay and robots seemed like a fun yet challenging project to take on.
Our first tests were fun, but simple prototypes with just 20 people running around, shooting, and jumping off cliffs. A sci-fi setting was unanimously approved as it’s still relatively rare for the genre, despite the huge potential audience. From that initial concept, we increased the scale and began designing the core game mechanics of Project Genom in earnest.
Players’ expectations in MMOs are constantly evolving. How have some of these changes influenced the creation of Project Genom?
AS: Every project has the potential to bring new ideas to the industry that become incredibly popular and shouldn’t be ignored. So, we do keep an eye on gaming trends, especially in online gaming, but at the same time we do not cling to the ideas of others.
Of course, we are always happy to consider the ideas that our players contribute, and some have already been added to the game. Due to our never-ending desire to improve the project, including the implementation of players’ ideas, Project Genom has already evolved from its simplistic roots into a more complex MMO with a huge variety of gameplay features.
However, despite the urge to constantly improve and change various game features, there’s one extremely important point that we can pass along to younger teams; no matter what your aspirations and ideas are, sometimes it’s necessary to draw the line. Otherwise, the game’s development will continue forever.
Why did you choose to use a system of skill-trees for character progression versus more traditional classes?
AS: One of our key desires was to always give the player a true sense of choice, whether it’s through dialogue or character development. A class system is easier to use, but at the same time, it’s very restrictive. When you launch a game for the first time and you’re faced with ten different classes, you look at them, and think, “Wow, some of these look really interesting, but I have no idea how they actually work!”
So, you select the same, familiar class you’ve played in other games. We never liked this arrangement. How can you choose between two unknowns? That’s why we decided to give players the opportunity to develop their characters based on personal preferences and shape their experiences over time.
Can you give us a few examples of unique character builds players can create with this system?
AS: Generally, there are no limits. It all depends on your desire, time, and planning. The easiest way is to create a character in the traditional framework, such as a tank, DPS, or healer. But, you are free to combine all possible skills. There is nothing to stop a player, for example, from creating a character that uses a combat robot to deal enormous damage while effectively healing allies at the same time. Or, you can create a sniper with stealth and heavy armor skills, so you have better survivability even if you’ve been spotted.
Of course, it’s extremely difficult to create any sort of universal soldier, requiring a lot of effort and energy in order to acquire all the right skills, and even then there will be disadvantages and weaknesses to that character.
Are there options available to players who prefer a less combat-focused experience and how might those players fit into the overall world?
AS: We’ve always taken good care of the players who don’t want to kill everything that moves, though it’ll take some effort to keep progressing without combat. Project Genom will have complex crafting, resource, and market systems that will allow people to develop characters even without completing the quests. You won’t really know the world and you won’t feel the thrill of fighting in a combat robot, but you will be strong in other aspects.
Global events seem to play a major role in Project Genom. How do these work and how might they shape a player’s story?
AS: Global events will be added to the game as the project develops, and we expect them to be of great interest to everyone since they affect the well-being of active players, the main plot, and even the appearance of certain locations. Additionally, everyone will be able to participate in them from the very first hours.
One example centers around the seasonal migration of medusas, as tons of these small creatures set out in search of new homes. When you find one, you’ll be able to crush it mercilessly and receive a reward. Then again, the bigger a medusa nest grows, the greater the reward for destroying it, so you might even want to hide it from other players. At the same time, the nests attract some of the planet’s more unpleasant inhabitants, and once peaceful areas can become flooded with aggressive fauna.
Can you tell us about exploration in Project Genom and what sort of worlds players will be able to reach?
AS: Every player begins the main story on the surface of planet Avalon, where they begin developing their skills, plunge into a complex web of characters and events, and ultimately decide where their loyalties lie. Along the way, players will assemble their first spacecraft, allowing them to leave Avalon behind.
Eventually, we plan to create an extensive space environment with the potential for free exploration, base constructions and trade. Adventurous players will be able to uncover new resources and unique artifacts and encounter new enemies and other players in battle.
Players will be able to develop their ship’s crew and master pilot skills, as well as buy and upgrade ships to be able to reach new stellar systems as the main storyline continues. Each planet will be unique with its own characteristics and challenges, such as low temperatures that require something more substantial than common armor, or an atmosphere requiring a special, protective suit.
How big is the team working on Project Genom?
AS: We have ten teammates constantly working on the project, and a few more people that assist with the completion of one-time tasks. In addition, we have an exciting community of great people whose contributions to the project deserve recognition along with the developers.
Why did you choose to use Unreal Engine 4 when creating Project Genom?
AS: It truly untied our hands, finally allowing us to implement all of our ideas, all those feature that we wanted to create or were forced to cut in previous years of development. On top of that, Epic Games has a huge and responsive community with lots of available information and good support, not to mention the Blueprint visual scripting system, which saved us lots of time. And, of course, UE4 allowed us to push the graphics to the highest level we could.
Have there been any features of Unreal Engine 4 that you found to be especially useful or even surprising during development?
AS: Almost everything about the engine is surprising. It’s free to begin using, for one. Everything is well-documented and the asset store is great. One of the most amazing UE4 features is certainly Blueprint, allowing virtually anyone to create systems that would otherwise require years of low-level coding knowledge. It’s impressive. You wouldn’t want to go without a programmer when working on a large-scale project, but such tools are a salvation for small studios. The shader system allows anyone to perform miracles of visualization in real-time. And, among other things, constant updates are a joy for developers.
With so many different environments, character options, and gameplay features, what sort of challenges have you faced when managing the scope of development?
AS: When creating a MMO, balancing is obviously a major challenge. With such a large, open world and so many variables, it’s difficult to calculate all the possibilities for certain events. At the same time, balance is one of the most important components of an MMORPG, and a small team could easily spend all of its time playing and testing all these variables instead of moving forward with development. So, here we have another example of how our community has made this project possible, and we send a special “thank you” to everyone who has helped out by testing fixes and sending feedback.
Performance optimization is a crucial part that ends up being a double-edged sword. Despite the seemingly limitless possibilities of the engine, we have to constantly restrain ourselves in terms of beauty. There are so many times when we could implement a stunning shader, increase the polygon counts, or add an amazing particle effect, but we know that we shouldn’t. When you feel you owe your community the most visually impressive experience you can deliver, but you also want it to be as accessible as possible, it almost becomes a moral dilemma.
You recently launched via Steam Early Access. How has that experience helped to shape the direction of Project Genom?
AS: Time and finances are always the main enemies of any small studio. If you can’t hire the talent you need, you end up with a team of people all trying to fulfill multiple roles, resulting in either a drop in quality or a development cycle that stretches further than intended. Launching via Steam Early Access and having the early financial support from players allows us to complete the project as soon as possible without sacrificing quality.
Just as important, the project has been warmly received by audiences, which gives us hope that we’ve chosen the right direction. And, the fan interaction keeps us motivated as we rearrange priorities according to players’ opinions. If people want to have melee combat now, why shouldn’t we add it earlier than planned and save less important features for later?
That’s how we do.