User generated content is a huge plus for me when looking at a game. Allowing the player to create their own worlds and change their game is something that developers should do more often. Because of respect for that design philosophy, I was interested in Island Forge when reading about it.
Island Forge is a game from the one man-development studio Potential Games. It is a retro-styled massively multiplayer role-playing game with an island editor. Each player can create an island with quests, monsters and NPCs. Other players can easily access it with their characters through the Island Browser as soon as finishing the tutorial.
After a long wait, I was finally able to have a conversation with the one-man-team behind the game, Nathan “Nyhl” Baughman, and here is what he had to say about himself and his game.
1. Firstly, introduce yourself to our readers.
Hello, I’m Nathan, sole developer of Island Forge. I’ve wanted to create an MMORPG since before RPGs were MMO. Playing early computer and console RPGs is a big reason I got into programming and then Computer Science. Early on, I had the opportunity to work for Turbine Games as a Server Team intern, prior to Asheron’s Call beta (some of my C++ code is probably still humming along in their server infrastructure). Since then I’ve been to grad school, then accepted a rather interesting employment opportunity as a software engineer. Eventually, I decided to make a bold move and form Potential Games LLC to pursue my dream of creating my own online game.
My professional interests include Java software, distributed protocols, cryptography, and (of course) games. After a long day of software development, I like to relax in the evenings with some hobby programming. I have an insatiable drive to tinker. Outside of digital pursuits, I’m a fan of strategy board games, such as Robo Rally, Settlers of Catan, and Dominion.
2. So how would you pitch Island Forge to someone you just met?
Island Forge is a player-created content MMORPG, with old-school appeal and brand-new features. Gameplay features classic RPG elements, but with a unique new game design, set in an entirely player-created world. Visit player-created islands and follow player-created stories. Go solo or form party expeditions to explore and fight creatures. Meet with others in town, craft items, and level up with a unique health-based experience system.
Create your own islands with stories for others to explore using the intuitive Island Builder. Place hundreds of terrain and scenery tiles, lay out your town, and create actors with interactive dialogue. When your island is ready, publish it to the world for everyone to explore!
3. At time of this writing, you are running a Kickstarter. What is the purpose of this Kickstarter, and how do you plan to achieve if it succeeds?
Island Forge is my life’s passion, which is why this Kickstarter project is so important to me. The primary focus of my Kickstarter project is to help establish the creative player community. The audience for Island Forge is out there, but I need help reaching them. I’ve learned to run everything lean and efficiently, to keep overhead low, and Island Forge can thrive even with a modest player base. An MMO is certainly more engaging when a lot of people are in the world, but without the massive marketing budget of a large publisher, it’s difficult to get noticed in the MMO scene. What’s more, it’s difficult to compete with large publishers who can offer free-to-play titles, so a focus of the stretch goals is to support more free-play options. Certainly I’d love to offer the game for free to everyone, but supporting a free MMO carries a lot of prohibitive costs, such as server hosting. With funding, I could offer free-play to attract and retain more players in order to bootstrap the community. The success of this Kickstarter campaign is crucial to establishing the player community, and ultimately the success of Island Forge. Beyond my modest base goal, I have also listed several exciting dream goals, which would allow me to take Island Forge to the next level of development, features, and design.
4. Having a player created world in MMO’s is pretty rare. Did any other games inspire the “forging” aspect of Island Forge?
I’ve always imagined a game in which players could publish their own content into a shared game world. Some titles have offered player-created content features, but they tend to be complicated “toolkits” – assuming end-users are also tech-savvy game developers. With Island Forge, I wanted to provide a very accessible, intuitive, built-in Island Builder to allow any player to publish content to an single existing world, where everyone else can immediately find and explore your creations. You don’t need to be a programmer, or even a hard-core gamer, to create your own content in Island Forge.
5. Overall the game feels completely retro. Are there any titles ‘Island Forge’ takes inspiration from most?
I love the new wave of retro gaming, and, although I chose not to go full-retro with Island Forge, I’m certainly inspired by classic computer and console role-playing games. I could list the lineage of games I’ve enjoyed, but for me it all comes down to the original NES Dragon Warrior. Even so, I want the Island Forge experience to be new and unique. The gameplay features classic RPG elements, but character development is very unique. Visually, I want to evoke that retro feel, but I avoided a traditional isometric landscape to make Island Forge stand out and look different from anything else. Visit the Atlas page to see some beautiful player-created islands. Unlike traditional RPGs, Island Forge doesn’t lead you around on a track; players tell their own tale (and there are already some really creative storylines). You’ll find some “official” back-story to the world of Island Forge, but most of it remains shrouded in mystery…
6. The Steam Greenlight program seems like it can help a lot of indie developers. Do you have any plans to take advantage of the system?
At this time, Island Forge is entirely self-published. Island Forge already handles its own self-patching, player-created content, user account management, data persistence, player community, as well as subscription/billing. While the Steam community would be a fine place to showcase the game, integration with Steam’s services would require a dedicated amount of development time, and Island Forge would have to conform to their constraints. Effectively, I’d then be adding the overhead of publishing and maintaining two editions of Island Forge. That said, Steam and other such services can be a good way to introduce games to a large (yet largely mainstream) audience.
As a Java developer, I have an eye toward Android devices (even though I don’t even have one yet). I’m also drawn to open technologies. The new Ouya gaming console sounds really interesting. Porting to other platforms is an enticing endeavor, but purely speculative at this point. I really need the player community to get behind Island Forge, then anything is possible.
7. As a one-man development studio, what sorts of problems have you run into?
Instead of facing ‘problems,’ I like to call them ‘challenges.’ Naturally a game of this sort (MMO, player-created content) requires more work than one person should reasonably take on. Large, overwhelming projects don’t intimidate me… but maybe they should.
I have a new respect for just how much time it takes to develop a whole, fully-playable, game. Even finishing a simple indie game is a commendable accomplishment. Please understand, I’m not patting myself on the back here! This is directed to all the indie devs out there, especially the hobby programmers, who put a lot of time, effort, and care into their craft.
I tend to be a perfectionist, and want to fully develop every idea I come up with, so it was a big step for me to decide exactly what features to include in Island Forge v1.0. I’m proud of everything I’ve accomplished so far, and I’m looking forward to future expansions. I have volumes of potential features tentatively designed, and community input is most welcome. The challenge here is to make hard decisions about what directions to pursue, and what has to be saved for later. Someday I may have a team, but at this point, many great ideas must wait so that I can build the community, no matter how eager I am to add new features.
8. And finally, what kind of player would you recommend Island Forge to?
Island Forge appeals to creative players who enjoy participating in an engaging community. Players who really get into Island Forge tend to be creative, self-directed, and have attention to detail. They like to build and create, design islands, tell stories, and explore each other’s creations. They also appreciate the new, unique game design (not just looking for yet another traditional hack-and-slash). Overall, Island Forge is all about player creativity and community participation.
Since the time of this interview, Nathan has submitted Island Forge to Steam Greenlight. You can also view the game’s Kickstarter here, or download Island Forge and play a 30 day free trial or subscribe at it’s website, here.