Exclusive – Nexeon Technologies Face of Mankind: Fall of the Dominion Q A
Face of Mankind is a Third Person Sandbox MMO that launched officially on August 31st 2006. It was the product of Duplex Systems under the watchful eye of Marko Dieckmann. However, in 2007 a malicious DDoS attack was levied against the Face of Mankind portal, and resulted in major damage to Face of Mankind’s financial venture. In 2008 it was announced that Face of Mankind would be developed in cooperation between Duplex and Nexeon Technologies, Nexeon provided the hosting service Face of Mankind utilized. The MMO re-launced in 2009 under the partnership. After it’s initial success the shooter MMO’s upkeep was transferred from Duplex Systems to Nexeon Technologies out of Houston, TX. Now with Dieckmann on board as creative director Nexeon is looking to bring the sandbox MMO up to speed with a new iteration called Fall of the Dominion, a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter was opened on May 7th. I jumped at the chance to question Marko and the team at Nexeon about it’s past experience with the IP and where the teams new vision will land Face of Mankind: Fall of the Dominion.
Q: What game first peaked your interest in the MMO genre?
Marko Dieckmann: It all began back in 2000 when I somehow had the urge to create something. As I’ve always been a gamer, one thing was clear; it should be about games. I loved the Wing Commander series (WC3 was just incredible), adventures like Monkey Island 1+2, Space Quest, Indiana Jones, and shooters, especially Doom. I have always been enjoying communities. In my early computer days it’s been text-based BBS systems such as the famous Voyager in Berlin. You logged into the system with a modem and used the chat room or shared files. For Doom 2 for example I organized a tournament in the community. We built a set of 3 special maps for that, each with unique music. I guess all that sparked the interest to forge communities, growing them and keeping them alive.
So the first thing I wanted to create was some sort of portal, where players could hang out, list the games they played and then play them together. That even grew to a thought of doing a 3D lobby where players meet and then they would leave through various gates to enter all sorts of games.
But then I thought why not create an online game myself. In early 2001 I’ve laid out the concepts for a game in which players could enjoy a great story, thousands of players, each with their distinctive role. You know, everything someone who thinks up their first game should not do. Too much of everything, impossible to realize. Later that year I witnessed the launch of Anarchy Online, which I was watching for a while. It was a really tough launch that they had, but nonetheless that was the final spark for me. I said to myself, “I want to do that. Yeah, I want to make an MMO.”
Christopher Allford: Interestingly enough, the first MMO that really stuck with me was Face of Mankind. It was about eight years ago, and I was fresh to online gaming in general. I came across the game in a search, and after spending a little time in it, I was instantly hooked on it. The kind of freedom that it allowed was something I had never seen in an MMO before, and haven’t seen since.
Q: Back in 2001 you founded Duplex Systems and began creating Face of Mankind. The MMO market and technology itself was quite different in those days. Did slower internet speeds and less powerful servers make it more difficult to create an MMO in those days?
Marko Dieckmann: It was quite different indeed. The market was filled with excitement. These games were new and something real special. Today new MMOs come out regularly, built after the same schematic trying to gain the highest profits. Social games go even further, these games are created from psychological and mathematical point of view. Users are analyzed in ways they couldn’t imagine. A game where you constantly click to farm stuff on the screen makes millions because it specifically satisfies certain desires of the players. But I’m beginning to leave the track here.
Less powerful servers were definitely an issue. I remember someone mentioning that 300 connections would be the hard cap of a game server and thought, well that’s not much. Slower internet speeds of course forced you to optimize your packets to the extreme, every bit counts. While that is always a reasonable thing to do, it’s not necessary so much today. But the biggest challenge was working under different operating systems. Working on Windows provided more comfort, but at that time this OS was in no way capable of running a good game server, they were all Linux based. So that was very time consuming. Nowadays that’s much easier. The newest Windows Server OSes are much better and a true alternative.
Q: Face of Mankind was your initial project with Duplex Systems. It required approximately five years of development time to complete. How close did you come to your initial concept? (Creators are seldom completely satisfied with their end result)
Marko Dieckmann: That is true for me as well. I was never fully satisfied with the end result. Actually there is no such thing as an “end result”. The game always changes and becomes a bit better with each iteration. I have to admit that we also grew as developers along the way. At first the concept was rather a vision and became much clearer further in development. You have to make all these experiences to learn. We learned a lot about player freedom on this journey. What I always wanted more is the integration of an actual on-going storyline. But at some point I had to admit that this was too ambitious for a team of our size (we were 1, sometimes 2 programmers, 1 composer, a changing number of level designers (avg 8) and volunteers for community work). At that time nobody earned anything, we lived from our own savings. That alone was very tough. So creating a deep and immersive story just was out of our possibilities. The solution was to give almost everything into the hands of our players, giving them the option to shape the game and create the stories for the 8 factions.
Q: When co-founding Infernum Studios GmbH to create Project Theralon, what was it like working with Crytek’s CryEngine 3? How does a tool like CryEngine 3 impact development?
Marko Dieckmann: That was a very interesting experience. After 10 years of working on Face of Mankind I was burned out. The same thing happened to Chris Roberts, which is why he took a long break. The industry is just very demanding.
So I decided to hand active development on FoM over to Nexeon, who were already hosting the servers, manage the billing and the community. And I co-founded Infernum Studios with the former management of Frogster Online Gaming. The goal was to create a prototype for a new MMORPG based on an IP that we built in-house.
Working with CryEngine 3 is not necessarily easier than with “smaller” engines. It’s a high caliber engine and a beast of its own. You can create breathtaking visuals, but it also comes with quite a few traps and complex processes, that you have to master to become efficient with it, particularly challenging with small teams. In the end we managed to create a great looking prototype, but the project couldn’t take off for many reasons, that I’m not allowed to talk about. That’s one thing, that in the end pulled me back to Face of Mankind. I think transparency is the key to a good relationship between developers and their community.
Q: Nexeon Technologies was founded in 2009 and soon after took over the development and operation of Face of Mankind in 2011. How long did it take for the phone to ring after Nexeon took over Face of Mankind?
Charles Wood: We actually received several calls and emails within the first hour of the announcement, from players who were excited to see development move forward for the game. We had been players of Face of Mankind for quite a long time, gaining plenty of experience working with Marko during the two years leading up to our inheritance of the game’s development. Although we had a lot of positive feedback, there were also a lot of critics in the community who didn’t like the idea of us developing the game, but after a few patches, we had gotten an idea of what we wanted to do with the game with the backing of the majority of the game’s fans. After two more years of learning through experiences, we decided on the milestone that you see in our Kickstarter now, working together, hand-in-hand, with the original creator of the game, combining our collective knowledge and experience to create the true sandbox concept you see us pushing for today. It has been a lot of work getting to this point, but we feel with the right support, we can make Face of Mankind into the immersive, player-driven game we all want it to be.
Q: Just how much has the team learned from the Face of Mankind community over the past ten years? How will their feedback help to shape Fall of the Dominion?
Christopher Allford: I will be the first to admit that the community in a game like is the most important aspect. Their input over the last decade has been invaluable, shaping the game and our understanding of how sandboxes work. It hasn’t always been easy though, that’s for sure. Dealing with a community as passionate as us has been a roller coaster, full of friendships, ideas, and plenty of chances to learn from our mistakes. At the same time though, it’s very important that we as developers are also able to express ourselves and our ideas for the game.
Sometimes this means making hard decisions that the community may not necessarily agree with, but we have never done so without good reason. Moving forward into this milestone, community outreach and involvement has been one of our top priorities. Realizing the importance of honesty and openness, we aim to keep our users more connected to the design of the game. If we make a decision that they may not agree with, we would like to make sure they understand why, and equally, give them opportunities to suggest mechanics and features to better the game.
Q: Face of Mankind: Fall of Dominion promises real weight to the decisions players make. Besides full loot drops, what kind of ramifications fall upon a player when they die? Is there permadeath in Face of Mankind?
Christopher Allford: Historically, Face of Mankind has always included permadeath. What we have come to discover though, is that in our case, it has always been something of a hinderance. New players and those seeking to change their identities have only ever been the ones to permadie, which actually works against what we aim to do in Fall of the Dominion. Your most important asset in the game is your reputation. This will decide what players think of you and how they will interact with you.
If you are known as a nightmarish ganker who plays the game purely to terrorize others, many players will do their best to avoid you, or kill you the moment they catch sight of you. It is in here that the deepest of consequences lie in Face of Mankind: Fall of the Dominion. You cannot escape what you do to other players, and they are free to interact with you in any way they see fit.
Q: One of the new additions in the Fall of Dominion update will be two separate prison colonies. Does the development team expect players to create their own hierarchy from within the prison colonies? Will players have to essentially start over like a real ex-con upon release?
Christopher Allford: Originally the ability to arrest had a profound impact on the game, given to the faction which defined the laws of society and enforced them. Their ability allowed them to take players out of the game for a period of time equal to their crimes, creating an organization directly antagonistic to everything else in the game. In our experience, this doesn’t work out too well because it’s hard to mechanically define what is and isn’t a crime, in a game so driven by player freedom. For this reason we opted to make a few changes to the way prison works in the milestone.
Rather than mechanically defining who is and isn’t a criminal, we wanted to give players the ability to do so through the bounty system. Bounties allow players to place a target on each other’s heads. Once a bounty is placed, other players may kill them to collect the bounty, or a faction that owns a prison territory may arrest them, sending them to jail and collecting additional funds. As an actual consequence with this, the amount of money in the bounty will also deduct a portion of the target’s funds.
When a player is arrested, all of their items are confiscated and stored. They are given methods to escape and be broken out, but if they do their items will not be returned. We feel this, along with the lost money from the bounty, are adequate penalties to getting arrested.
Q: How large of a factor do you anticipate piracy being in Face of Mankind: Fall of Dominion? Will the risk of piracy be worth the gain of crafting minerals?
Christopher Allford: Piracy is one of the most interesting elements of the new crafting system in my opinion. The risk to piracy is mostly one of potential death, and gaining the reputation of someone that goes around killing harmless miners and stealing their goods. It will be common for users to mine in groups, making it less likely that they will be lonely and bored. We feel this will be beneficial to the game, and add to the minor complexities of crafting in the game. As for the worth, that’s really up to the individual, and whether they get caught or not
Q: Will the game universe be large enough for players to set out in the early stages and “stake a claim” of their own without other players being aware?
Christopher Allford: This answer to this question actually depends upon whether or not we can reach our $250,000 stretch goal. I’ll answer about what will happen as planned right now, and Marko will tell you what will happen if we reach that magical number!
There are a number of worlds, but due to the overall size of the game universe, it isn’t really possible for anyone to go unnoticed if they start laying claim to territories. That isn’t to say there isn’t a lot of territory, we have plans for many different capturable services around the worlds. Their value will depend entirely upon their location in the Vortex Network, and so bigger factions will care less about smaller territories, giving the newer factions an area all their own to fight over.
Marko Dieckmann: Our ultimate goal is to recreate the game world with a new engine. We have already released a video of our technology prototype. We want to create large open spaces, where players have enough room to claim their territory. Then it would indeed be possible to settle down without other players taking notice immediately. But the world will not be so huge, that it takes ages to travel. If it is too huge, the world will just become empty and lifeless, which is not what we want. We aim to find the right compromise of a large world filled with many players.
Q: The player progression outlined on your KS page once again reinforces a players freedom to adapt their character to players specific style. One of the forms of progression mentioned is through “actual experiences.” Can you elaborate on this detail?
Christopher Allford: As we’ve mentioned before, one of the strongest beliefs for us is that the players should be at the heart of everything in the game. You as a character in our world are merely an extension of your real-life persona, with everything you do reflecting through your character. The social skills you have in real life will translate to the game, just as your hand-eye coordination and leadership abilities. Playing Face of Mankind: Fall of the Dominion will reward you as an individual, playing off some of your real life talents and enhancing them, much in the same way it will reward you as a character. We feel that ultimately this will create the most immersive game possible, and keep players interested for years to come.
Q: How difficult is it to compensate and keep gameplay fair when players with differing connection speeds are locked in large scale third person shooter combat?
Marko Dieckmann: That’s the biggest challenge in a shooter MMO. You can only compensate that much. It will never be completely balance if the latency difference is too big (500+ ms). We have implemented a few methods of compensation to make it rather balanced for latencies up to 300 ms. One such method is putting the game’s simulation time on all of the clients a bit into the past, so that players around you appear moving smoothly. Players with 100ms should not have much advantage over those with 300ms. Latency varies of course and the fact that our game has twitch based combat action requires a larger update rate. So you can only compensate that much, not everything can be totally smooth at all times.
However, in the process of developing a total of 3 different MMO server architectures now, I am confident to further improve this. I’d like to implement a new idea that further reduces the bandwidth of the game.
Q: It’s mentioned many times that the team at Nexeon consists of gamers, what kind of path would you choose with the new additions Face of Mankind will bring to the original formula? Bounty hunter? Mercenary? Crime Lord?
Christopher Allford: Player roles in the original Face of Mankind were entirely dependent upon the faction you were in and the style that you chose to play with. This was severely limiting, in that you had to follow the rules of your faction, and the number of game mechanics that supported other roles were insignificant. In Fall of the Dominion, users will be free to form their own factions, and are now being supported by a number of interesting game mechanics. These will allow players to do and be any number of things. We are adding support for everything from a straight laced detective searching for stolen goods, to a drug dealing kingpin, ruling a criminal underground from his throne at the edge of the galaxy. Ideally we would like anything to be possible.
Marko Dieckmann: The long-term goal is provide even more tools to the players to express themselves in our sandbox. There must be a large number of options available to organize politics, even more territory types that players can control. Also included in this goal is the option to build, especially once the game world is larger and more open. Players should be able to build their own bases and stations and decorate their apartments. There are tons of options to explore, new ideas never stop coming.
Now, if your wondering where the “What happened with Face of Mankind Rebirth” questions are, I took this interview as an opportunity to talk with Marko and Nexeon rather than opening old wounds. Face of Mankind has a chance for a powerful update if Fall of the Dominion’s crowdfunding efforts are successful. The team is re-energized and thinking of ways to deliver a great experience to their players. Marko is coming back to Face of Mankind with a fresh set of eyes. Nexeon has shown their hand, and they’ve gone all in with Fall of the Dominion. For more information on Nexeon’s campaign, visit their Kickstarter page.
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