Interviewed by Matthew Patterson
Hello again! Could you re-introduce Ballerium to us please?
Ballerium is a massively multiplayer strategy game. To put it simple, think of one of the popular RTS games you know, check out how many players are online at a given moment, and imagine being able to play with and against them all on a single world map, over days and months, holding on to the assets you've won on your previous sessions.
There are, of course, many other differences between Ballerium and the standard RTS games out there, such as the market system and the army-building experience, which are never-seen-before systems that make sure the game is balanced and your army is NEVER nerfed, but on that - later.
What changes have been made since our last interview?
We greatly improved the graphic user interface, as well as the graphic engine. We remodeled many of the races to improve them according to feedback we received. Some serious bugs concerning the response time have been fixed. The market system is being improved. Sanctuaries have been added to allow players to escape when offline (rather than rely upon the AI), some skills have been added, and an automatic skill-cost system been designed to prevent unnecessary future nerfing. There's still a lot to add, but basically the game looks better and better with each month that passes.
What is the best new feature to be implemented recently?
It's really hard to tell. You see, the game is not just a set of features, every item has an effect and connection to other items in the game. I favor the auto-balancing skill system, but it's still not fully implemented, since some portions of it have not been fully tested yet. In essence, every transaction that is made in the world of Ballerium helps to balance the system, and so if everybody wants to learn a mighty ability, then it will become less and less attainable, which means that the world is balanced without harming the player's experience.
When does the Beta test begin?
We've just announced Beta phase zero to start on April 7th. As far as the traditional definition of Beta - it might not be a real beta and that's also why we decided to name it Beta 0, but from many aspects it is, since most of the game mechanics are already there, and outside testers will be allowed to test the game. This Beta phase should include a few short rounds between which the server is going to be reset very often. Once we finish collecting the data we are looking for, we will move on to the next beta phase, which will probably take place during E3, at May.
The game looks nice - are the minimun specs you stated in our original interview still applicable?
Well, there has been a slight shift up in the minimum specs. But that's not the final word on the topic since we're scheduling the optimizations to be among the last things to be completed. Currently the game runs on my old P-600Mhz machine equipped with a Geforce2MX, but runs better on a faster sub-1Ghz machine with a newer Geforce4mx video card.
What RTS games would you say were 'mixed' into ballerium?
That's a tough one. Any example provided here may give you the wrong idea. Ballerium was inspired by many (more than 5...) games, and still has a lot to offer which is all new. Perhaps we liked the thrill and suspense of one game, the nice interface solution of another, or the tactical challenge posed by yet another - all of these elements were meaningful. Games like Blizzard's warcraft3/starcraft, Westwood's RedAlert series or Firaxis' Civilization, and even older games - all contributed to our experience as gamers, which reflected upon the decisions we've made as designers. On the other hand, I must say that there was very little we could actually learn from other MMPOG games, simply because most of them are just RPG games, excluding, perhaps Shattered Galaxy, which also isn't a strategy game in the same sense that Ballerium is.
You say that the player limit is infinite...With a great number of players, how will this affect the modem users in the gaming community?
Our "OPIUM" technology is responsible for the players' not noting the difference between a standard 56k modems and cable/ADSL modems, for example. Once the communication bandwidth was defined to the programmers to be standard dialup modems, much of the work we've invested was to support users with standard modems.
What types of units are available within the beta test?
Our first assumption is that technology issues have the potential to be more hazardous than content issues. Our second assumption is that once the technology is there, and given that we're using an auto-balancing mechanism, then adding content once the core is stable should be a relatively easy thing to do.
Both assumptions are backed-up by our experience in developing this game. Therefore, in the early Beta stages we allow only the basic seven races, and some trade and air units. Once the system proves to be stable, we'll add more. Although it might turn the beta into a something of a monotonous game, it is essential to work this way to save development time.
One thing you should remember, though, is that each of the basic seven races will be allowed to learn, upon accumulating experience, any combination of the basic skills we've already implemented (more to come in future versions). This means that although we're allowing a very small number of units at this stage, variation can be achieved even now.
Can you give us a projected released date for the finished game?
If you promise not to take this word as an official promise, then October 2003 seems like a good guess based on the current status and the amazing development pace.
Anything to add?
Sure, I'm certain that many are not aware that Ballerium is still open for beta-testers to enroll. We've just put a new website on the air, and we're taking new beta applications towards phases 3 and on (which should actually be a more entertaining experience than testing the game at the first stages). If you're interested, just hop in to www.Ballerium.com and register. For those of you who're interested, the game's community is just starting to shape, and this is the time to start alliances and form friendships.
Thank you for your continued interest in Ballerium, and hope to see you onboard!
Eyal / Majorem