The massively multiplayer online (MMO) fantasy title is the first one for Austin, Texas-based ArtCraft Entertainment, an indie game studio created by veterans Todd Coleman and Gordon Walton. They’ve already spent a couple of years in development, and they hope to raise at least $800,000 to get Crowfall off the ground.
It’s almost easier to say which MMO games that Walton (Star Wars: The Old Republic, Star Wars Galaxies, and Ultima Online) and Coleman (Wizard 101 and Shadowbane) have not worked on than the ones they have. But they have never beaten the behemoth of massively multiplayer online games, World of Warcraft from Blizzard Entertainment, which has 11 million subscribers. So Coleman and Walton are returning to the market to restore some variety to the monoculture of WoW-like fantasy MMOs.
Walton told GamesBeat, “WoW became so dominant, they messed it up. Now every MMO that launches tries to be like WoW. We think there are other ideas out there that will work.”
Their idea is that the heroes are persistent and the world changes around them: or “eternal heroes, dying worlds.” The characters are persistent, and the campaign worlds are not.
“Our vision is like playing a season in a universe like Game of Thrones,” Coleman told GamesBeat.
Coleman and Walton said they want the game to be immersive and visceral, with beautiful landscapes, realistic but stylized art, and realistic physics.
“It’s a Viking-like idea,” Coleman said. “The great hero dies on the battlefield. One of the gods approaches and offers eternal life if the hero will fight on behalf of the god. The god sends the hero out to the dying worlds. You fight there and collect the souls of the dead and scavenge resources that you can bring back to the eternal world where you create your castle.”
The game focuses on political alliances (think Clash of Clans) and feudal contest, where you build up your own castle and destroy the castles of other players. There’s no story or narrative.
“We are not building linear story content at all,” Walton said.
ArtCraft has raised money, and it has been testing the game for a while. It already has more than 50,000 beta users. Those players are creating castles, and in doing so, they are creating content for other players.
Coleman and Walton got started a couple of years ago. They found a programmer who was able to license a nearly finished game engine to them so they didn’t have to reinvent the basic parameters of the game graphics and world. That allowed them to get going with a lean team. On the front end, they’ve been able to use a variety of Unity platform assets.
“In every other game I worked on, we had to build or rebuild an engine,” Walton said. “Now I buy what I need. Star Wars: The Old Republic had to get $50 million in servers. Now we can go to Amazon Web Services.”
At the beginning of each campaign is gameplay that resembles the first round of Civilization, where players are dropped into a harsh world surrounded by fog of war and filled with deadly monsters, haunted ruins, and the most dangerous predator of all, other players.
The world is made of Voxel Farm’s voxel-based graphics, with worlds that are procedurally generated (or created in an automated way). Each world lasts for a few months, and it is different every time. The rules can change from one campaign to the next. Players can mine for resources, dig tunnels, tear down walls, and build castles. The whole world is destructible.
With the Kickstarter funding, Coleman said the team will build the basic game and its campaign. Walton and Coleman have raised private money and put their own money into the game, too.
Alpha testing is expected to begin this year while the core game is expected to be available in the winter of 2016. Players will be able to buy the game permanently and get access to one character. But players can also purchase a monthly subscription to get access to more characters at once. That’s a hybrid monetization model that has been used by MMOs such as Eve Online. Players will be able to trade one-month subscriptions for goods and services in the game.
“This is either going to be great or one of the best train wrecks ever,” Walton said.