Ten Questions With… Dan Stakins (Epic Dragon)
Creating a MMORPG that is playable on just about any device with a browser and an internet connection is quite a time consuming task, especially by a team of only two people! However, Dan from Epic Dragon graciously took some time to answer our questions about the MMORPG in question, FlameFrost.
Can you give our readers a quick introduction of yourself and the studio?
Of course! My name is Dan, my friends usually associate me with programming, RPGs and Dungeons & Dragons. I am a huge fan of the table-top D&D and conducted countless campaigns as a Dungeon Master for the last 12 years.
As you may have guessed, my professional background also originates in the gaming industry, and MMORPGs are something I’ve worked on most of my life.
Epic Dragon is my attempt to escape the corporate side of this industry and establish a studio that is run by gamers, who actually focus on what all players like and want (such as games with no advertising and no “pay-to-win” content).
It’s now officially two years old, as well as Flamefrost, the insane MMORPG that very few believed is possible. 🙂
Right now Epic Dragon consists of two members: me and our artist Konstantin.
What made you decide to take on such an ambitious project?
First of all, it is somewhat of a personal challenge for me, as I grew tired of the stereotype that “you need an army of developers to make any MMO”.
Having lead large teams of developers in my career, I know very well that quantity of people doesn’t necessarily mean speed or quality (sometimes it just results in a lot of time-consuming bureaucracy!).
What is it that will set FlameFrost apart from traditional free-to-play MMORPG titles?
In terms of the “free-to-play” part, I’ve mentioned that it may be one of a few games that doesn’t shove some sort of a “VIP-only feature” popup in your face every two minutes, and that doesn’t make you feel left out if you’re a non-paying member. All content is available equally to everyone.
As for the “MMORPG” part, we’ve really tried to make Flamefrost different from anything you’ve played so far:
You already know about the dice-roll-based levelup system that relieves you from the predictable high-level grind.
We’ve also introduced NPCs that generate random quests “on the fly” every several hours, so Flamefrost will literally never run out of quests to complete (each of which can be shared with your friends at any time to be completed as a group).
Even our turn-based combat system is quite unique:
The D&D-style “three action rule” applies to every player within the “30 second window”, but that 30 second window is shared: all players on one side have to finish their turn within the same 30 seconds. After that, the enemy side (regardless of the number of players) has 30 seconds to complete their actions.
And all actions made are asynchronous, there is no strict sequence of turns between players, as it works with “initiative” in D&D.
To illustrate what I mean, imagine this: a Vindicator spends his move action to advance towards a Demon protected by flame shield. Knowing that this shield deals fire damage to any melee attacker, a friendly Theurge blesses the Vindicator with a protection spell, after which the Vindicator proceeds with his melee attack, ignoring the Demon’s shield damage due to the Theurge’s blessing.
As you can see, success in our turn-based combats is not based just on your equipment and levels, but also on a good strategy and the ability to communicate efficiently with your team.
There’s a lot more, but I’m afraid I have to leave some surprises for the launch. 🙂
What has been the biggest challenge while creating the game?
The game’s graphics engine is by far one of the most complicated pieces of software I’ve ever worked on.
The fact that Flamefrost runs in any browser without 3rd party plug-ins means that it doesn’t use your graphics card to render 3D models in real time.
All heavy processing is done by our servers and the processed result is streamed into your browser in the form of plain animated images (or “sprites”), which allows the game to appear in the same quality on any device even with the weakest of graphics cards.
What are your favorite features in the game?
I love our joinable factions and things they can do:
In many games to travel around the world quickly players unlock certain waypoints, wayshrines or portals, allowing to fast travel between those.
In Flamefrost, each player who’s in a faction has the ability to build their own “Waypoints” (we call them “Faction Shrines”) in any place he or she desires, one per region.
In non-safe PvP areas, enemy factions have the ability to attempt and demolish your shrines, which takes some time and triggers an alarm for you and your friends, inviting everyone to teleport to the shrine and protect it in Player vs. Player battle.
All players can see shrines only of the same level as theirs, so it is always going to be a fair battle between characters of similar powers.
As you may have suspected, Faction with the most and the oldest shrines in the region is considered dominant (gaining miscellaneous benefits from that status), and Faction with the most regions controls the world.
That is what we call “the Great Faction War”, results of which will be seen on a special section of the Flamefrost website, displaying the current separation of power between factions and its members’ ranks.
We imagine that it’s going to be a 24/7 struggle, full of exciting combats and other events.
How will you be handling the free-to-play model for the game?
We understand that many people nowadays are not playing often enough to establish “serious financial commitments” (i.e. subscriptions) and we don’t want their precious time to be spent closing the ads and being annoyed at paid features they didn’t expect to have to purchase.
That is why Flamefrost is going to be based on small optional transactions that are either things helping save time (e.g. instant health restoration outside of combat, in case you’ve run out of potions or spells, and don’t want to wait for health to regenerate) or something that may be helpful in other aspects, but that doesn’t affect other people (e.g. ability to create more characters on your account than the default maximum number of 5).
We hope our players will find this system to be fair and non-intrusive, but convenient enough to use and help us maintain the game and its hardware.
Can you tell us a bit more about the item and crafting features in the game?
At the moment it’s pretty straightforward: there are places you can go to cut wood (using your Woodworking skill), mine ore, collect gems, herbs etc.
Afterwards items like that are exchanged in a quest-like manner at local workshops for something more useful.
Traditionally, every action you make is associated with a particular skill, which determines success chance and things you can obtain.
However, as there is no global experience bar and your levelup chance depends on the total level of skills, all crafting skills that you raise will affect your chance to gain character levels, so players can advance throughout the game even if they don’t actively participate in PvE/PvP combats and have “Level 1” in all weapon skills.
We plan to enhance this system by introducing a “custom recipe system”, which will link every crafting component to a specific quality or action (such as “fire”, “damage”, “shield”, “summon” etc.), allowing to create items with customized effects yourself using such building blocks.
So you could have a “shield summoning fire demons upon damage” or something like that (obviously, we’ll have to tweak that a bit for the PvP balance). 🙂
This idea was designed for a non-combat oriented class “Crafter”, which is among our stretch goals on Kickstarter, but that is one of a few things that hasn’t been done yet and is planned for the next Flamefrost expansion, if the stretch goal isn’t achieved.
What are the future plans for Epic Dragon/FlameFrost?
After Flamefrost is launched, we are going to focus on writing an extended non-linear version of its storyline with all the dialogues, which is also among the stretch goals right now as we haven’t had a chance to complete all the available endings and work through every choice in dialogues (non-linear stuff is very time-consuming! Especially if your characters have the ability to swear at questgivers, turn them down or betray them…).
We also want our characters to have voices, but all of us pretty much suck at voice acting, so we will need to find someone else to help us out.
Apart from that, more content, more 3D items, more graphics!
We do have a few other crazy ideas about new games that everyone’s talking about, but no other company managed to deliver so far.
We have concepts related to the Sci-Fi genre, client-based MMORPGs with planetary terraforming, insane combat physics and lots of other things you wouldn’t believe if I told you.
Then again, we still have 140,000 square miles of 3D landscapes created for Flamefrost, so there is a chance we will make a 1st/3rd person view version in a downloadable client sometime in the future.
But of course, we won’t start working on any of that until the browser-based Flamefrost looks perfect and our team grows in numbers a bit.
What is the most unusual thing on your desk right now?
I have a queen of evil dragons here, Tiamat, guarding a secret key.
Telling others what the key is for unleashes the wrath of the evil goddess, so I really can’t say.
But hey! Konstantin works with his cat on his desk, so it’s not the only interesting thing around!
Anything else you would like to add?
I would like to thank you and the audience for making it through the entire interview (they have read all of it if they reached this point!), and I really appreciate your support and interest in Flamefrost!
We would love to see all of you in the game after it launches.
But that will happen a lot sooner if our Kickstarter campaign is successful, so please spread the word!