City of Steam Interview

December 12, 2012

city of steam logo

City of Steam is a brand new browser based MMORPG that's entering closed beta late this week. Its combination of being browser based and high quality graphics make it an enticing title, and we're excited that WhatMMORPG got to take a sneak peek at it. City of Steam is based in an industrial fantasy world (making this game very appealing to steam punk lovers) and is based on a series of books. With so many interesting facets to the game, it should appeal to a large variety of gamers. We at WhatMMORPG got the chance to chat with Gabriel Laforge from the game's developer, Mechanist.

What influenced the design of City of Steam's gameplay and characters?
David Lindsay, our own Lead Designer, really. City of Steam is based off of his series of roleplaying books (called "The New Epoch"), and having him at the head of the project ensures we follow his original lore (or as closely as we can, considering the different medium). His books have this rich background of an industrial age fantasy world (think steampunk), and many of the characters that came from old roleplaying sessions from back then have found themselves as NPCs in-game. There is a lot of ourselves in this project.

What kind of gamer does your game appeal most to?
We're going for a blend; there is plenty of content and customization for hardcore gamers to play with, and high-level content on the way for future game versions. Levels and quests are more condensed, so casual players with a few minutes to spare can still accomplish something without having to invest incredible amounts of time. A bit of something for everyone, without making it exclusive to one gamer type.

Why did you decide on a steampunk setting?
It was a decision to go with the New Epoch lore more than simply steampunk. It's really our own original setting, and we're proud to bring something fresh and new to the table.

You say your game is free to play and not pay to win, could you explain how you will keep the game from becoming pay to win?
For one thing, nothing that adds any stats or bonuses in the Electrum shop (Electrum is the real-money currency) is exclusive to it. There are other ways to get those items, either via drops, completing quests, working your way towards them from Challenge Dungeons. What we sell from microtransactions will be for convenience and aesthetics only. Several of us developers at Mechanist used to work for other game companies that followed a pay-to-win model, and we knew we could be more progressive and better than that, and still make it work. So here we are!

When do you expect the game to release?
That's still something we can't truly foresee until we've gone through more phases of testing. We are currently in Closed Beta, and are aiming for Open Beta in early 2013, but beyond that, time will tell.

What is the "end game" content going to be like?
Company (guild) raids, high-level PvP arenas, high-level areas and dungeons; all you'd expect from a AAA title, and maybe a few surprises of our own.

What role does grouping play in City of Steam?
Grouping is extremely useful in completing Challenge Dungeons, since those are timed, and covering more ground is very helpful. As for roles, you can build traditional tank/support/dps roles with certain ability trees, but classes can also be customized more to one's liking without being restricted to a role. For instance, the Channeler, who has Healing as a possible ability tree, could completely skip it and go for a more buffing/AoE type.

What support will you provide for guilds?
Companies (guilds) are currently still only in their basic form, but as we move out of Closed Beta we'll be fleshing them out more as we move towards Open Beta. We're planning to have Company questlines to follow, goals to complete, Company wars, all that good stuff.

city of steam screenshot

I know you pride yourself on being fan focused, what are some elements of the game that are proof of that?
Much of the polish to the game comes directly from fan feedback. For instance, our fans are the reason we have keyboard controls (it used to be a mouse-only game, now it has both), the upcoming option to re-map keybindings, even the reason we're putting more airship-related content (skydocks and sky levels). More flexible camera controls, a more intuitive interface, better feeling combat, all can be attributed to our community.

What challenges have you had in making a browser game that felt more like a client based game?
The greatest challenge has actually been in marketing it. People hear "browser game" and think of either casual flash games, or social games on Facebook. We've found that showing that we have a good game first, then hitting them with the "browser" thing as a punchline at the end is much more effective. "Oh, this game looks kind of cool....wait, it's in a BROWSER?" instead of "Browser game? M'eh *clicks close tab*"

Do you feel like you are competing more against browser or client based MMORPGs?
It's a hard one to determine. Certainly, we have a game beyond the quality of most browser games out there right now, so browser gamers are in for a treat. We also have the content, graphics and depth of a standard MMO, plus easy access and negligible downloads, so client gamers can easily check it out to see if they don't mind the different platform (psst, hit that Fullscreen button and you won't even notice it's in a browser).

Crafting seems to be encompassed by upgrades, blue augmentations, and mods. Is there an element of creating equipment from scratch too? Is there a gathering system? Is it more centered around upgrading as you go using drops from adventuring as it seems?
Focus is more on the upgrading and modding aspects. You could technically fully upgrade your starting equipment and still stand your own in combat. For creating from scratch though, we have something a little different. We have collections, which once they are fully put together, grants a reward, often a rare/unique item. Hunting for those collectibles is worthwhile for some awesome stuff.

I took fire as my focus on my Arcanist. At some point do I unlock ice and lightning?
Yes, all classes start with a choice of 1 ability tree. They can unlock a second ability tree at level 10; however, once a second one is chosen, it permanently locks the 3rd tree. This helps characters be more diversified.

The skill system is reminiscent of Diablo 2 in that you use skill points on new skills as well as upgrading current skills. It's a fun system for customizing but tends to create "feature of the month" builds. How will you be addressing these potential balance issues?
Indeed; these are exactly the kind of balance issues we are currently testing for in Closed Beta. With more testing and extra feedback from our community, we can hopefully end up with something more balanced out and fair.

What's intended to be the primary method of leveling your character?
This is speaking further down the line (as Closed Beta is still being fleshed out), but quests and challenges should be the general way to progress. Grinding is an option of course, but won't necessarily be forced upon players who find the repetitiveness of it tedious.

Is there much importance on creating a virtual economy? Will there be auction houses or some method of buying/selling materials and equipment? Will there be bind on equip/pickup equipment?
Very much so; a stable economy plays into the overall balance of the game, especially where PvP/Companies (guilds) are concerned. We have marketplaces for players to sell items at a chosen price, and are currently working on a proper drop rate for currency (Shillings). We do not have bind on equipment; if there comes a time where such a feature seems necessary, we may consider it, but as of yet, it hasn't been discussed in any serious detail.

Many thanks to Gabriel at Mechanist for sitting down and answering our questions about their upcoming release, City of Steam. They've really done their research to help make it a balanced, free, fun to play MMO that isn't focused on grinding, as well as bringing a much needed strong presence of steampunk to the MMORPG world. We're excited to see what the closed beta brings very soon!