The browser-based steampunk MMO finishes its Alpha: and we check it out!
If traditional sci-fi and fantasy MMOs are getting stale for you, why not get out there and smell the steam? City of Steam (CoS) finished up this last Alpha test weekend on August 19th, and ZAM was along for the ride. Andrew Woodruff, the marketing manager of Mechanist Games, pulled 20 hour days during the weekend and still had time to show us around. He didn’t drift too far off topic, and his tour and our own playing gave us a chance to check out this surprisingly fleshed-out browser based MMO! Put on your goggles and get ready to dive into this steampunk adventure.
The World Machine. All of CoS takes place on the center plate, while 4 minor plates revolve outside
“Basically,” started Andrew, “the game is based around a city near the center of an entire world that is based on a series of playbooks.” The City of Steam itself is actually named Nexus, and is built upon (and from) the wreckage of an ancient vehicle called the Ark. The history overview on the site alone can take quite a while to read (though I personally found it interesting), but roughly: it’s a new age with several races gathering in Nexus to explore rumors of a secret power that has emerged from it. The world itself is different from many games, Andrew mentioned, saying, “In most games there’s a theme of nature versus machinery. Well, there is still that theme in CoS, but machinery was here first: creatures of flesh only showed up much later.” Instead of there being “gods” there is the Mechanism, which created the major and minor plates that make up the world of the game and keeps the world spinning like literal clockwork. If the concept of a clockwork world is difficult to picture, I highly recommend checking out the 3-D representation on the game site.
The game itself is designed to be easily accessible. “We want this game to be available to most players with a computer, so it has been designed as a browser-based game with very small (data-wise) separate areas. For example, the first few dungeons are only a single MB or two at the most. This allows for quick load times and almost no installation.” The game runs on the Unity Web Player, and FPS on older or slower machines can be improved by adjusting the graphics settings. Speaking from experience, there was a huge visual difference between the highest and lowest settings (especially with water reflection on or off), but even at the highest settings I never had lowered FPS. This might be an issue for players using older laptops however as they cannot add a better graphics card to improve performance. As Andrew candidly admitted, “We made and tested the game with desktops, not laptops.” As another boost for accessibility, the game will be free-to-play, with a microtransaction shop that will provide “ease of enjoyment” items, but not a competitive edge. Features such as improved bag space, quick travel, and reduced item level restrictions will be bought through the purchased Electrum currency, and the team is currently debating whether or not some Electrum might be earned in-game as well.
Character creation screen: lots of races, somewhat limited customization
The space considerations also extended to the character models. Currently, both weapons and armor can be modified, but the modifications only show up on the weapons (for example, adding a pommel to your spear with make the pommel appear the end of it). Andrew said that the reason for this was that six pieces of armor would require considerably more assets for loading than a single weapon, and quick load times and low lag amounts were the goal of Mechanist Games. For the same reason the team has not yet added in the dwarven races; their model size and shape would require more assets and more development time for the small team, and their priorities currently lie in getting the gameplay to the desired point.
The lack of dwarves does not detract from the diverse background for player characters, however. There are currently nine other playable races, each with its own unique racial stories and quest lines. Players can choose one of four classes: Arcanist (arcane weapons, similar to a mage from other games), Gunner (specializing in guns and summoning), Warder (solid melee and tank), and Channeler (a hymnist who buffs, heals and attacks), and each of these classes is further differentiated by the choice of one out of three discipline trees (for example, an Arcanist can specialize in fire, ice or lightning abilities). “Right now we do make players choose only one of the trees,” Andrew answered when I asked about disciplines, “Although at a higher level they can choose a second. This locks out the third tree permanently. We found that our players are actually fine with this style of play: we would have a lot of players discussing the benefits and weakness of, say, being a primarily offensive Channeler with Harmony and Radiance trees compared to a primarily supportive Channeler with Harmony and Healing trees.”
Example of the tutorial
New players begin the game traveling on a train toward Nexus as part of a tutorial, though each race will have a different reason, goal and companions (or family) on board. The tutorial introduces players to gameplay basics such as attacking, leveling, buying potions, completing quests and equipping items. The gameplay itself felt very much like Diablo or Torchlight to me, although the view can be rotated 360 degrees and zoomed in or out. Moving the view and mousing over different areas becomes much more important later on, when dungeons start to hold hidden walls and secret rooms that are easier to see from different angles. One of the most iconic features introduced early on is kicking crates and boxes to clear paths and reveal loot. Andrew mentioned that the design team went back and forth on whether boxes should be broken by weapon strikes as well, but in the end they decided to keep the kicking. Heck, they even created a video celebrating the joys of kicking things.