While at the GenCon game fair we ran into Brian Green of NearDeath Studios, the guys behind Meridian59: Resurrection, the venerable MMO game which made it’s return to the gaming community. While in town to hang out with Fans, some who travelled from the state we can’t spell, Mississippi, Brian had time to chat with Tiffany on the changes going into game with the new graphics overhaul.
Have more of the original community come back from the far flung reaches of other games? Is the growth about what you expected at this point in M59’s revival?
Oh, certainly. We’ve tried to get the word out that the game is back, but we regularly have people tell us that the just found out about the game and that they are eager to come back. Even though Meridian 59 didn’t draw multiple hundreds of thousands of subscriptions, players remember Meridian 59 fondly and are eager to return to the game they truly love.
The growth is about what we expected. We’d always like to have more players, but isn’t that always the case? We’ve worked hard to get the word out that the game is back and actually being improved by people that love the game as much as they do. We’re also eager to show people that a classic game like Meridian 59 can have nice graphics and exceptional gameplay. We expect to see even more people join the game with the upcoming launch of the new client.
Two guys in a basement originally developed M59, how many team members now comprise the staff at NDS?
Those two brothers, Andrew and Chris Kirmse, expanded into a team of many people as the game was developed. Many people contributed to the launch of Meridian 59. Many of these people went on to influential positions with other online games.
Of course, these days we can get by with a smaller team. Currently there are four members of NDS working full time on Meridian 59: myself, Rob “Q” Ellis II who takes care of business issues as well as art and level layout concerns, Chris Ellis who assists with Customer Service, and Mike Emmons who works as with Customer Service, QA, and coding. We also have Jon Leonard, a good friend of mine, working with us part-time on programming projects as is MisterY, another another good friend that’s doing the bulk of the coding on the new rendering engine. We also have a few people providing contract services for art, marketing, etc. Finally, we have a great friend that hosts our services, Zach Matthai at ICU Services (http://www.icuservices.com/). We’ve also had a great number of people lend us a hand as we’ve worked to get the game going.
With a vibrant community of roleplayers, and a strong pvp bent, M59 is definitely catering to the needs of a small niche market. Has this hurt the game?
Not really; I think the game’s focus has allowed us to offer a better game. We’ve chosen to focus on giving a group of players what they really want. There’s a great demand out there for a great community and balanced PvP. I think the game has benefited from offering a more focused experience to people that enjoy it. The alternative is to water down the game and the gameplay to the point that no one is happy. We’ve seen this watering down of the game many times from recent games that have launched expecting to draw hundreds of thousands of players to the game. It creates a game that people just don’t care about.
The biggest thing holding the game back is marketing, I think. People just don’t understand the game, and they have incorrect assumptions based on their experience with other games. When you mention PvP, they always think of the horribly unbalanced PvP in other games where your level and equipment can make you untouchable to other players. In Meridian 59, a well-played character can defeat a character with twice as many spells and skills. Your ability to play the character and your use of the appropriate spells and skills make much more difference than the “level” you’ve reached or the equipment you’ve collected. People forget how much fun a game can really be if you don’t rely on levels and other restrictions like that. People that honestly give the game a chance and play through the first month almost always stick with the game for a long time.
With such a tight knit community, with almost everyone knowing each individual in the community, has this helped cut down on griefing, which is often a large problem in other pvp centric games and servers?
For the most part, yes. The community tends to be very supportive and inclusive of new people in general. Have we discovered the magic formula so that people are never assholes? Unfortunately, no. There’s always going to be people that are rude, mean, or just not very nice to be around. Of course, once you get used to the game you can put the smack-talking jerks in their place.
However, we’ve taken steps to prevent the worst examples of griefing. Even though there is open PvP, a character is punished for killing innocents (i.e., characters that have never killed another innocent) with a murderer status. Murderers tend to be shunned by other players, and murderers take twice the penalty upon death. Many people fear murderer status, so they do not kill innocents casually. An alert player will know to avoid murderers by their red names. This means that PvP isn’t just a gank-fest by people you don’t recognize.
Plus, the game world allows for retribution. The game world isn’t vast and empty, so a murderer can’t just run off to another part of the world and never been seen again. Other players will often hunt down PKers and deliver retribution on them. Even those without an aggressive streak will often help murdered players recover from their losses.
In addition, we have rules against harassment which we enforce. We have a customer service representative on the servers most hours of the day to investigate complaints. People that habitually harass others are dealt with apporpriately. We also provide an “ignore” function as a defense against griefers. Not everyone is linking arms and singing campfire songs, but the smacktards often get what’s coming to them.
Have you gotten the opportunity yet to release M59 in any other country other than Germany and the US? If not, which countries are you interested in releasing to?
Not quite yet. We’ve gotten some interest from companies in other contries, particularly in Asian countries. After the launch of the new client, we are going to look for new partners more actively. If someone is interested in running Meridian 59 in other countries, they can feel free to contact us (in English, please!) at email@example.com.
Our German partner has been doing an excellent job at running the German langauge version of the game. MDO Games often holds get-togethers for the German fans of Meridian 59, and I’ve been fortunate enough to attend them for the previous two years. We’re very lucky to have such able partners in Germany.
We wouldn’t mind opening shards in as many places as we can. The game is top-notch, and the new graphical engine makes the game look really good. We’re sure that there’s people out there that would appreciate the quality that Meridian 59 offers.
At one time, players used to gamble and place wagers on fights. Does such player interactions still form the backbone of M59’s economy?
I wouldn’t say “backbone”, but it’s still alive today. Players are able to fight in the Arena without penalty, and you can often find people placing wagers on fights during tournaments. There’s also a guild hall, the Bookmaker’s Hall, which has dice. People have come up with very inventive games to play during “open houses” of the guild hall.
The primary economic activity in Meridian 59 is collecting spell reagents from monsters. Some reagents can be bought from NPC vendors, but some are very expensive. Other simply cannot be purchased from the NPC vendors, and therefore must be harvested from monsters. Players will often gather great numbers of reagents and sell them. One player on server 102 even runs auctions on a website he maintains! Because of our carefully controlled economy design, money has worth; we’ve worked to eliminate dupe bugs and the economy is balanced so that you do not see much inflation in the game currency. In all, the player economy is alive and well in Meridian 59.
[Next On Part Three: On Player Versus Player Combat!]