To say ArenaNet's Guild Wars has been successful might be considered an understatement. In a world where even a MMO without a monthly fee still has to compete against Blizzard Entertainment's World of WarCraft, NCSoft has collected quite a fanatic legion of fans with Guild Wars that continue to support its expansion, as well as the publisher's future endeavors. Dungeon Runners, due out at a as-of-yet-unannounced date, is one of those projects. Sporting a free game for all players and a cheap monthly fee for those who want even more, Stephen Nichols, producer and lead programmer, is quite excited about what Dungeon Runners has to offer. He took the time to share his enthusiasm with me and our readership so that we might learn more about the game.
Shack: What is the story line for Dungeon Runners?
Stephen Nichols: Dungeon Runners is free to download and free to play game about running dungeons! The story is pretty basic. You're new in town and you want to explore the dungeons to get loot. Sadly, there are monsters in the way that must die in order to get the loot. Poor, poor monsters. Beyond that, there are individual quest lines that develop their own "stories". Have you guessed yet that story is not a big part of Dungeon Runners?
Shack: What player classes are available?
Stephen Nichols: We currently have three "classes" to pick from. They are the old standards: Fighter, Mage and Ranger. The fighter is good with hand to hand combat and can take the most damage. The mage is best with spell casting and can take the least punishment. The ranger is great at ranged combat and is fairly average in other ways.
I say "classes" because there are no limitations in Dungeon Runners as to what skills you can use or what equipment you can wear. We will further remove these limitations in the near future as we implement our "classless" RPG system. This system will determine your character's strengths and weaknesses totally from what skills and items are equipped. In essence, you will be able to play multiple roles in the game with relative ease.
Shack: In what ways can my avatar be upgraded?
Stephen Nichols: You can upgrade your character in several ways. First off, you can gain levels to become more powerful. Second, you gather tons of loot... and I mean tons! You can't even imagine the amount of loot that you'll gather. It's crazy. Finally, you can spend your hard earned gold to buy cool skills to further enhance your character. And, remember, there are no limitations as to what you can use. Fighters can cast fire balls and mages can butcher monsters with tremendous two-handed swords. It's a blast!
Shack: Servers will no doubt come into play, since Dungeon Runners is an online game. Can players transfer characters from one server to the next? If so, is it free of charge?
Stephen Nichols: Each server in Dungeon Runners is called a World. Your character exists in a central database, which makes transferring between worlds unnecessary. That is, whatever world you choose, your character will be there waiting for you. It's really easy.
Shack: Is the entire game absolutely free?
Stephen Nichols: The core game is free. You can kill monsters, gain levels and grab as much loot as you can carry without ever paying a dime. However, there are some perks to being a member (which only costs $4.99 a month).
As a member, you have access to the in-game bank. This bank gives you a place to store all of the loot that you may want to save for later use. Members can also use special healing and mana potions. These members-only potions are more powerful than the free versions and can be put in stacks of five. The free potions cannot stack. This saves tons of inventory space to hold more loot! Finally, only members can access the best qualities of loot. Sure, free players can use some pretty decent stuff, but the members get the best of the best. Their loot looks better and has better stats. Indeed, if you like loot, be a member.
Beyond that, there are not many differences between guests and members. They can all go to the same areas and do the same things. We will continue to add more content and features for both guests and members.
Shack: Will the game environments be the same every time players traverse them?
Stephen Nichols: All dungeons in the game are instanced and randomly generated. Each time you enter a dungeon, the layout will be different. Special encounters, rooms, quest givers and shops may also appear. It really pays to run a dungeon multiple times so that you can see all of the good stuff in there.
Shack: What separates Dungeon Runners from the gaggle of other action RPGs and MMOs available, let alone the really popular ones such as Diablo and World of WarCraft?
Stephen Nichols: Dungeon Runners is an MMO Lite! Unlike most MMOs, Dungeon Runners is designed to support fast play sessions and instant action. You don't have to invest three hours in a single session to make good progress. What makes Dungeon Runners stand out against other dungeon crawling games is that it's a service, not a one-time purchase. As such, it is regularly updated with new content and features. You just can't find that with a box product like Titan Quest or Diablo. They may release an expansion, but rarely do you get great upgrades to the game multiple times in a year. Also, all NCsoft does is make online games, so our company knows how to put out top quality games, even games that are free like Dungeon Runners.
Also--it's FREE! What I love most about Dungeon Runners is that it's a seriously fun dungeon crawling game that doesn't take itself too seriously. We just want to provide a simple and fun game that you'll want to come back to again and again.
Shack: What sort of combat system does Dungeon Runners employ?
Stephen Nichols: Dungeon Runners' combat is fast paced and full of action! You will face hordes of monsters in a single encounter. The outcome of combat very much relies on your use of skills and the items you have equipped. This isn't your standard MMOG where you just select a target and watch your character swing away while you occasionally click a skill button. Indeed, you have to be fast with your fingers to stay alive.
Shack: What sort of benefits are players rewarded with for leveling up their characters?
Stephen Nichols: You gain levels in Dungeon Runners by whipping up on monsters! For each monster you dispatch, you gain some points. Get enough points and you gain a level. When you gain a level, you get a few attribute points to spend. Also, as you level up, you gain access to more powerful loot and skills... as well as more difficult areas.
Shack: Killing monsters is fun, but I hate my friends, and sometimes I just want to hit them in the face with an axe. Any plans to include PvP?
Stephen Nichols: Yes! PvP is coming. Our style of PvP will be centered on arena-style death matches as well as competitive mini-games. We will provide easy matching systems to allow PvP-oriented players to quickly get into the action. Special loot rewards, titles, skills and bragging rights will be won by those that excel at dispatching other players in the killing fields. Expect to see more information about this upcoming feature in the next three months.
Shack: How will death work in Dungeon Runners? Any penalties or that sort of thing?
Stephen Nichols: Here's what happens when you die in most of the world of Dungeon Runners. You go back to town at half health. You lose nothing but a little time. You can easily teleport to the level of the dungeon that you just died on. There are some dungeons that have a more severe death penalty. These "hard core" dungeons are designed for group play and will give your character resurrection sickness if you happen to perish within them. This sickness lasts for about three minutes and makes your character much less effective in combat.
Shack: How does group travel work?
Stephen Nichols: Did you know that you can instantly teleport to anyone in your group? Travel times are not something that we relish in Dungeon Runners. We believe that the game is far more fun when you're in the action... not running or flying to get to the action. Down with travel!
Shack: The concept of a free MMO, such as Guild Wars and, of course, Dungeon Runners, is very appealing to gamers who aren't looking to pay monthly fees, but I've often wondered what publishers and design teams think of the idea. How exactly do these sorts of games make money, other than (hopefully) droves of gamers heading to the nearest game store to pick it up?
Stephen Nichols: I love the idea of free downloadable MMOs. The main reason is that we can appeal to a wide range of players is because there's absolutely nothing to lose by downloading and trying our game. If you like it, pay; if not, don't. It's only $4.99 a month. Dungeon Runners makes money by being a great game that people want to pay for once they try it. That's the secret.
Shack: How about server maintenance, new content, that sort of thing? Dungeon Runners will of course require gamers to pay for some forms of content, but overall, where do you get the income to maintain the game?
Stephen Nichols: The income for maintaining Dungeon Runners comes solely from the subscription fees paid by the players. The development team for Dungeon Runners is small. As such, we don't cost a lot to keep around. We're also a very talented group. This allows us to make new content and systems fairly cheaply. As long as we keep the players happy enough to pay the $4.99/month then we'll be in business!
Shack: Thanks so much for your time! Anything else you'd like to tell us?
Stephen Nichols: All I can add is this--try Dungeon Runners! The game is currently by invitation only... So, find a friend that's already in the game and beg them for a referral. You won't be disappointed...