Interviews// Zipper Interactive: Phil Knowles

Posted 22 Jan 2010 17:00 by
SPOnG: A lot of comparisons have been drawn between MAG and the MMORPG recently, which is probably sound given that MAG is essentially an MMOFPS. In your opinion, what kind of similarities and differences do you think the game shares with the MMORPG genre, in terms of development?

Phil Knowles: Well the main thing is that we definitely approached this as a shooter first. We just knew we wanted to bring those persistent elements into it and create a persistent battle. If you're sitting there as a low-rank soldier operative, we wanted to create the scenario that whatever little objective you're doing has a major impact in the grand scheme of things. Achieving objectives make a big difference in a battle, and then each battle makes a big difference in the overall Shadow War. We started with an initial shooter experience, and then just started layering persistent MMO characteristics on top of that.

SPOnG: What was the inspiration for the art direction you took with MAG? Did you approach it the same way as a SOCOM game, but on a bigger scale, or were there other influences involved?

Phil Knowles: We wanted to stick to a realistic style - pretty close to the present day, just a little bit in the near future. We like that look, we've done that a lot in the past, we're good at it. From there, we knew we were going to have three different PMCs (Private Military Corporation; the pre-determined factions in MAG) and give them their own personality.

As there's no single-player story, we had to rely on play style and character design to give them as much personality and appeal as possible to different gamer groups, so that each PMC would all have their fanbase. The other thing we did was stylise each faction's home turf, to really go with their style. You know you're playing on S.V.E.R's home turf for example, because of all the browns and the run-down buildings and things.

We wanted to give each faction a personality and 'story', without actually having a story mode to tell it. So action was the most important visual element we had, but we also explored different ways to present MAG ? how much do we want this group to be influenced by futuristic elements, and if we did that we'd need a kind of rag-tag group to balance the styles out... And of course we wanted to have a spec-ops style group to keep it old-school, so once we had those different approaches laid down, the art direction kinda spoke for itself.

SPOnG: Were there any particular groups or items that you couldn't fit in that might see the light of day in a service update or DLC pack over time?

Phil Knowles: Right now, we've just been focused on this release. We've pretty much got everything we tried to get in there ? there were some things we did that got cut out because they weren't helping the gameplay, for example. But generally, we've put so much depth into this release ? it's going to take a while for people to experience everything there is to see in MAG. We feel like we've got pretty much everything in here.

On top of that, we're planning all sorts of community support. We're constantly looking at the community and what's going on server-side and things like that, and we'll do some new things with the fanbase in the future. That's a big part of our strategy.

SPOnG: Do you think the advances in online play you've achieved in MAG could find their way in some form into future SOCOM games?

Phil Knowles: MAG was it's own deal, really. Once we decided we wanted to do a massive-scale shooter, MAG just came from that. We weren't trying to do SOCOM on a huge online scale, this just became its own IP and things just progressed along that line of thought. Now we're just waiting for that ship date to start and for everything to go live, then we'll start to think about what we'll do next.

At Zipper, we're very much a studio that's eager to take on a new challenge, and a massive online shooter was what it was for this game. We may push that even further in the future, either with MAG or in a different IP or we may go in a different direction. But it just depends on how the game does, how it's received and community responses. We try to listen to the community as much as we can, and we'll also look at trends and try and decide what to do next.

SPOnG: So you're quite eager to get into new IP at Zipper? I mean you guys have done SOCOM since 2002 and MAG's the first new IP since that time. You must be feeling pretty fresh about it.

Phil Knowles: Yeah, yeah (smiles). But it was a long project (laughs)!

SPOnG: Thank you very much for your time.

Phil Knowles: You're welcome!
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