Exclusive – Mark Jacobs Talks About His Legendary Career and Camelot Unchained

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Recently iGR has been deeply involved in Kickstarter and some of the amazing projects being crowd funded. City State Entertainment co-founder Mark Jacobs (co-founder Mythic Entertainment) is pulling closer to making his studios freshmen project come to fruition. When I say “freshmen” I mean the newly minted studios’ first project. Mark Jacobs and cohort Andrew Meggs (co-founder City State Entertainment) have been around the block a few times. Jacobs, in particular, is a 30 year veteran of the gaming industry. His efforts have made him one of the more accomplished figures in gaming. Both Jacobs and Meggs have the experience necessary to guide CSE to crafting a truly unique RvR MMORPG: Camelot Unchained (working title). Recently Mark was nice enough to clear some time in his busy schedule (of raising over $1,400,000 dollars) to have a chat with us.

Our interview begun with a couple questions for Mark himself. He has a wealth of knowledge and experience of the gaming industry. I just couldn’t help but pick his brain before talking about Camelot Unchained.

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1. You’ve been a staple in the games industry since the early 80’s. After a lifetime of accomplishments starting with A.U.S.I., then to Mythic, and now with City State Entertainment – What is it that keeps you inspired and excited moving forward in the games industry?

I just love making games, it’s as simple as that. It’s even better when I’m surrounded by a young and talented team again, and back as an independent game developer.

2. Your portfolio is insanely impressive (sorry if I’m stuttering). What’s the single most rewarding game you’ve ever developed?

Dark Age of Camelot, hands down. When we went into development of that game, every single publisher we spoke to rejected our pitch, concept, etc. Even when we went looking for distributors, every one of them, except for the fine folks at Vivendi Universal Games, also turned us down. Frankly, even players on the forums said we had no chance to succeed. How could a small company (13 at the start) with limited funding ($2.5M) compete with games from EA, Sony and Microsoft. Well, we did, and quite well.

Editors Note: Coincidentally the funding CSE is aiming to reach for Camelot Unchained ($2 million) is very near the budget that was needed to create Dark Age of Camelot.

Now, I know you don’t want to steal the thunder from the rest of the team, and I respect that fact. The rest of my questions will focus on the team at CSE and the Kickstarter-campaign for CU.

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3. The MMORPG genre entails an enormous amount of data collection, infrastructure, and insane amounts of character customization. What’s the biggest challenge in developing on such a massive scale?

Well, Andrew, Mike and I have done this all before over the course of many games and two MMORPGs, so this isn’t new to us. Our biggest challenge will involve staying focused on the core design, not going off on any “science fair” projects during development, and preventing feature creep.

4. When creating the RvR component of CU you chose to include three distinct factions. Specifically, what was the motivation behind having not two, but three warring factions? Does it introduce more dynamics like possible alliances between realms?

A long time ago, in an office far, far away the wonderful guys at Kesmai Corp., in this case, co-founder John Taylor, explained the reason why his company’s seminal game, Air Warrior, choose to have three countries instead of two. The reasons are as you mentioned, but also so that the third realm could play a spoiler or simply take advantage of the battle between the others and the resulting chaos. I never forgot what he said to me, and that’s why Dark Age of Camelot and Camelot Unchained used three realms, not two.

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5. Many MMO’s are moving away from the subscription model due to changes in the genre. What about CU will keep players coming back for more over an extended period of time.

Unlike theme-park games that require a massive amount of PvE (player versus environment) content at launch and then more and more to keep players happy, we can focus on the things that affect the RvR. This content doesn’t have the overhead, time and cost involved like creating PvE quests that players can run through in hours, let alone days. Thus, a small team can keep turning out new races, new classes and new challenges at a fraction of the cost of trying to create the same amount of PvE content.

6. One of the features we love about CU contends with traditional MMO and even RPG philosophy. The NPC’s won’t be dropping items upon death, instead there will be a true “crafter class” that will produce in game items like weapons, armor, etc. What lead the team to break away from convention in respect to the in game economy?

Well, I believe that if you want to have a truly player-driven economy, the players need to be and/or work with crafters to get items. Our crafters know that they won’t have to worry about loot drops, token drops or other things supplanting their gear as the best in the game. It’s interesting to note that when we first announced this class and concept for a player-driven economy, I got a lot of mail from people saying that we would never get enough crafters and this would fail. In the last two weeks, the argument has now shifted away from that to e-mails saying everyone will play a crafter and there won’t be enough RvR players. Priceless.

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5. In what ways will CU break the conventional “grind” many players experience with MMORPG’s? Besides the aforementioned player driven economy?

How? In almost every way imaginable. Leveling will be slower but more horizontally-based (more abilities, smaller difference between levels of skill) to take players’ minds off the “Only XXXX XP to go!” stuff that IMO, makes games feel more “grindy” even though the vast majority of MMORPGs have quicker leveling progression than ever. Players won’t be grinding for loot drops in some raid, but rather, fighting the enemy realms to protect their land, etc. Our crafters won’t be grinding either; they won’t be required to make 10,000 arrows to level up their skills. Building most items will take time and effort, but they will be rewarded for those efforts with unique items that will be sought by the RvR players as well as the realm. While the final details aren’t set yet, we expect that the crafting aspect of the game will be accomplished through the use of fun mini-games and some “helper” NPCs as well.

6. From your Kickstarter information we know CSE plans to create the MMO engine for CU in house. What aspects of Andrew’s work on Skyrim and other open worlds parlay into CU?

I think it is safe to say that Andrew’s skill and knowledge level as a programmer have increased with each stop in his career. He learned a lot while he was at Mythic, but he is also incredibly proud of his efforts at Bethesda, both what he learned from the programming team and from guys like Todd Howard, for whom he has a ton of respect both professionally and personally.


 


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We want to thank Mark for an amazing and truly insightful interview. It was an honor to visit his round table, and bend the knee. It’s always fantastic to tap into the wealth of knowledge a 30 year career provides. If you haven’t yet checked out City State Entertainment’s Kickstarter-campaign for Camelot Unchained, we implore you to do so. Camelot Unchained is a fitting title for the newly founded studios efforts. CSE aims to “unchain” the RvR MMORPG from the ties that bind it with fresh features, stunning art direction, and the talent to pull it off in spades. The studio has a little over a quarter of the way to go with six days remaining. Camelot Unchained is one of the highest grossing Kickstarter-campaigns on record, and it’s easy to see why.

Don’t forget to check out the rest of our Kickstarter Spotlight articles! We have a few other very interesting interviews with successful Kickstarter funded projects.


 

 

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Dylan Zellmer

Dylan splits time between games journalism, designing video games, and playing them. Outside of his deep involvement in the games industry, he enjoys It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Shameless, A Song of Ice and Fire, fitness, and family.
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  • Jextified

    Thanks for the interview!

    • It was my pleasure! Mark was extremely detailed, I just Q’d, he did the awesome A’s.

  • PeepRs

    I hope they make it. It’s getting close to zero hour with a ways to go. They need all the press they can get. Hopefully this interview makes the rounds. It sheds a lot of light for people that don’t know about Mark, Camelot Unchained, and DAoC.

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