A Society of Ideal Individual Rights: First Earth Interview

Conducted By Adam Ames

From the Lonestar State of Texas comes First Earth dev, Adam, to speak about his online civilization building simulator.  You will read about the origins of First Earth, the successes and failures of indie development, thoughts on the PC gaming industry and much more.  Here is a preview:

 In its current form, how close is First Earth to your initial vision?

It’s not complete, but it matches my vision to the degree that it’s finished. When I look at the imported world, the flora, and the controls, I’m seeing my vision in reality. When I see the server handling events and zoning, it matches my hopes for it.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of First Earth.

First Earth is my personal dream game project. I’ve been working on it alone for two years. I’m Adam, 28, a career game developer, living in Austin, Texas.

How did you get started in developing PC games?

When I was a kid, games like Oregon Trail and Ultima Online inspired me. Eventually I made it to college and studied CompSci with a gamedev focus. My first job out of college was porting cell phone games in Irvine, CA, followed by a job making educational web games in Los Angeles. I’ve always sought to develop PC games specifically because it’s the best platform for innovation.

Where did the idea for First Earth come from?

It’s inspired by the Ultima Online of 1999, before Trammel (an appropriate name). UO was an ambitious success, with an innovative player-run world. At that time in MMO history, we gamers expected next-gen MMOs to go even further. I think everyone who played UO spent some time thinking about what the next-gen UO would look like. We were let down by the proceeding round of MMOs like the lost UO2, AO, and WWIIOL. Anyway, I was heavily influenced by observing that Great MMO Depression, thinking about what a next-gen MMO should be.

The second major inspiration for First Earth comes from Atlas Shrugged, a famous and controversial novel by Ayn Rand that led to her development of the philosophy of Objectivism. The novel and the philosophy describe a society where the mind is free from coercive force, a society of ideal individual rights. That has never exited before, and I want First Earth to give us the experience of living in it.

First Earth is not trying to replicate Ultima Online or Atlas Shrugged; it’s combining my own ideas with the best ideas of those works to make something new.

What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing First Earth?

I’ve succeeded at never compromising my vision of the game, despite having no funding and struggling with hard programming problems. From that I’ve learned that working hard makes hard things work.

I’ve failed to meet my own deadlines, but I haven’t learned anything useful from that…just that it’s hard to make objective time estimates about my own work.  Fundraising is a skill I don’t have, and I’ve failed First Earth in that respect. I hope that my design and development skills make up for it.

Some devs admitted their games were too hard upon release because they became experts as they developed the game.  Talk about setting the difficulty levels for First Earth and if you faced a similar challenge.

I’m grateful to the testers who will provide an objective view of the difficulty of gameplay. Because First Earth is a player-world game, there’s not really a difficulty level setting, but certainly some parts of the game will take real skill. It’s my intent to provide different types of gameplay, some of which will be extremely difficult, such as wilderness survival, and some of which will be easy, such as some forms of crafting.

Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring First Earth would run on the various PC system configurations?

First Earth uses Unity3D on the client side. Unity comes with support for Windows and OSX, and it seems to work well on both. Some players have asked about Linux support, and it turns out that Unity runs under WINE. There have been a few bugs on the Linux/WINE builds, which I will try to fix.

I’m using a custom socket server and client that streams the world over port 11228, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised that firewalls have not been any problem for testers.  The game runs fast on some systems, and slow on others. I think the best I can do with that is to optimize things, and provide players with more quality options.

Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for First Earth.

First Earth’s current art is generic because I can’t do art myself. I’ll hire a modeler and animator when there’s money. I’ve tried to choose art that looks good and represents a realistic world.

The setting of First Earth is a primitive version of our real Earth; all of the world’s data is based on real Earth data, such as satellite terrain elevation data, foliage data, biome data, and so on.

I hope to find a composer to create some music. Since players can own property in First Earth, I might enable a player to choose what music plays on his properties, from a selection of music that fits the theme of the game.

Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?

Lack of credibility. Everyone is an “indie game developer” lately – though few are dedicated to it as a career. It’s like being a writer. Nobody can take you seriously until you’ve produced something.

How did you go about funding First Earth and did you receive financial or emotional support from friends and family?

I’ve funded it by doing web development consulting on the side, and I’ve received tremendous financial and emotional support from my friends and family, particularly my close family. I wouldn’t be this far along without their help.

Do you have an idea of how much to charge for First Earth?

Most MMOs charge $10-$15 per month. I originally planned to make it $15, but recently decided that $10 was both affordable for me and fair. UO charged $9.99, which would be fun to copy for the nostalgia, but I don’t like tricky *99 prices. I won’t charge anything for the initial purchase because the value is all in the monthly service.

Will there be a trial/demo for First Earth near or at launch?

Probably, though this is tricky for an online game world. Demo players can’t be allowed into the actual game world or griefers will use demo accounts to cause havoc. But if you don’t show demo players the actual game world, you aren’t showing them the meat of the game. It’s a problem.

How important is it to get instant feedback about First Earth from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?

I find their opinions, their bug testing, and their moral support very helpful.

How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review First Earth professionally?

As much as their review deserves; I’d be very happy to have a professional review my game.

How do you feel about the various indie bundle promotions and the “Pay What You Want” pricing methodology? Would you be interested in contributing to a project like that in the future?

Personally, as a gamer and not a developer, these are a turn-off for me. I like to find a good game and buy it, simple. I don’t have anything against these kinds of projects, but I don’t seek to participate in them.

As a developer, I want First Earth to remain independent so that I have complete control of its creative direction, and so that its players know their characters and world don’t rely on any 3rd party that could potentially ruin it.

What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?

I think they are struggling to do the best they can with it. It’s a hard problem without a good solution right now. Some are using DRM, and others are trying new revenue models. Neither solution is great. I’m lucky that subscription-based games don’t need to worry about it.

As a gamer, I avoid games with DRM. I love simple purchases like Minecraft or Magicka.

How do you feel about individuals posting videos of First Earth?

Ecstatic that someone enjoys doing that!

How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?

As a gamer, while I see its legitimate uses, it always seems to be used as a money grab by non-innovative games, so I avoid it like the plague.

As the developer of a player-world game designed around having a realistic economy, I know it would harm my game. I’ll never sell anything that would interfere with the game’s economy, and that includes expansions, decorations, special privileges, or names. Anything like that would warp the world’s world, creating negative economic or social effects.

While First Earth is an MMO, how do you feel about the online modding community in general and specifically if mods were created for First Earth?

In the context of First Earth, modding would include things like map hacks, model changes, etc. I wouldn’t mind it as long as it’s not harming other players’ experience or undermining the game’s design. In the latter case, there’s only so much the developer can do. I’d design around it if necessary, but generally I wouldn’t worry about it.

What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?

Make sure that what you’re doing is worthwhile to you, because it’s going to take a lot of work. -End

We would like to thank Adam for providing thoughtful and detailed answers.  You can check out the progress of First Earth on their official site.

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