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Lords of the Realm: The Mad God's Makers

Interview: Realm of the Mad God

Recently, a videogame almost destroyed my life, my mind and the possibility of my ever sleeping again. That game was free browser MMO/roguelike/twin-stick shooter Realm of the Mad God, and despite it being a malevolent presence that should be really eradicated from all existence in order to protect the innocent, it's also fast on its way to being my favourite game of the year so far. (Yeah, I know it was released in 2010, but shut up you dreadful bore). Thus, it was only right that I tracked down its creators and demanded an explanation.

Here, Wild Shadow Studios' Rob Shillingsburg talks about breaking MMOs' rules, why they brought in microtransactions, how players have shaped the game - and his top four tips for surviving the Mad God's realm.

RPS: You have developed the most evil game ever created. Discuss.

I will take that as a compliment!

RPS: More seriously - do you know, as a developer, when you've got something so ferociously compulsive on your hands? Is that that something you can actually design, or is it a happy accident?

The goal wasn't "compulsion" so much as it was "innovative fun". Alex and I had been disappointed by the lack of imagination shown by MMOs; the slow linear evolution from text MUDs to EverQuest through WoW and all of its modern clones was really unsatisfying to us. It was clear to us that the huge budgets of mainstream MMOs had effectively prevented big innovations. We saw an opportunity to use a small team, 2D and Flash to shake things up by breaking as many MMO 'rules' as we could. The result is something with a lot of fresh gameplay, and I think that's a big part of Realm of the Mad God's appeal.

RPS: It's quite a player-shaped game in its way - the trains, the power-levelling, the slang, the loot-sharing and whatnot. How much does its current shape resemble what you intended for it?

Our player community has been extremely supportive. Right from the very start the players were making suggestions, reporting bugs, and (most importantly) letting us know whether they were having fun. They've built our wiki, helped us design monsters and at this point players are providing almost all of the new art that is going into the game. RotMG would not be nearly what it is today without our wonderful, patient, generous players.

All that said, in an overall sense the game has evolved more or less as we wanted it to. We designed the game with powerlevelling and trains in mind, in part because those things tend to be discouraged in mainstream MMOs. We developed an early vision for what a co-op action MMO browser game ought to look like, and for the most part, that's what we've built.

RPS: I am, apparently, rubbish at the game. Or, at least, I always die before I can achieve ultimate triumph. Help me! How do you play the game? What are your tactics - class, strategy, goals and whatnot?

We designed Realm of the Mad God to reward practice. Yes, you start out clueless, but we feel everyone can get good at it. In our opinion, this is an important component of the fun. Here are my tips:

1) Learn what your character can do. Every character has a main weapon and a special ability; learn the capabilities and limitations of them. Some characters are fast; others have a lot of armor and health; others have great range or firepower. Pick a character that you are comfortable with. Most importantly, learn how and when to run away or escape to the Nexus.

2) Learn the environment. Always be cautious when approaching a monster you've not encountered before. Learn their behaviors. Do they chase you? Do they stay at range? Do they run away while pelting you with fireballs? Do they clump up in groups or are they loners? How tough are they, and how much damage do their attacks do? How many is too many to fight?

3) Play with others. Playing in groups is one of the best ways to explore and learn while staying relatively safe. You'll get plenty of XP and even if you are not the first one to the loot bag there will be plenty of cast-off items for you to grab as other players upgrade their gear. Best of all you'll get a chance to run with a team and feel the rush of sticking it to Oryx in a big way. But watch out! It's still possible to die, even in a big group, and especially in the mountainous godlands at the center of the map. Know your limits, and be ready to bug out if you get into trouble.

4) Keep trying. The cycle of death and rebirth is a big part of the game; everyone experiences it. Take a break if you need one, but don't give up!

RPS: Let's talk microtransactions. There are people who will maintain that their mere presence basically makes you Rupert Murdoch - what's your reasoning for including them, what kind of stuff have you discovered in terms of balancing the game so it isn't too affected by them, and are they successfully paying for server and development costs and whatnot?

We included optional microtransactions because they seemed like the most convenient, customer-friendly way to pay for the game. Newbies can try the full game for free with no hassles; enthusiastic non-payers help enhance our community by playing as long as they want for free; while our biggest fans, those that passionately love the game, can spend as much as they want, helping us to grow the game over time. We are pleased with the results so far, and while we haven't yet recouped the costs of working on the game full-time for 20 months with no salary, the game is now on a solid financial footing.

We've been careful to keep payments completely optional, and players have responded positively. Our best sellers are convenience and vanity items, such as additional character slots, extra vault space, and clothing dyes.

RPS: What are your plans for extending and improving the game? Will it stay broadly as it is or will there be major changes?

We prefer not to preannounce features because our plans change frequently as we experiment and iterate. But we definitely plan to add more features and content to the game over time. One thing that's been missing from the game for a long time is a secure item trading interface. But I'm happy to report that, barring major bugs or acts of a Mad God, we hope to have that released in the very near future.

RPS: Have you got a sense of just who's playing? Is it a dedicated hardcore who know the game inside out, or attracting random types who just want a bit of fun?

We have all types of people playing, and we want to cater to all of them. One way we do this is by making the early game easy and the end game hard. We also try to make it painless to play with friends, but you can solo if that's what you want to do. We don't restrict where you can go in the world, so you can seek out a challenge that's appropriate for your skills.

RPS: Are you more comfortable describing the game as an RPG, an MMO, a twin-stick shooter or what?

RotMG is actually a lot of things. Yes, it's a twin-stick shooter, a role-playing game, and a massively multiplayer online game. But it's got elements of roguelikes, bullet hell, 80's arcade games, Diablo, Zelda and others all wrapped up in a massively cooperative package and made to be played in a browser for one minute at a time or all day long. Our intent was to make something brand new. Our hope is that everyone can find something they like in the game, and we don't really care what you call it.

RPS: What is Oryx so mad about, anyway?

He's not so much angry as insane -- a raving megalomaniac, a villain everyone can unite against.

RPS: Thanks for your time.

Realm of the Mad God is out now. You know who else is mad? You, if you click this link to it. Same goes for this experimental full-screen version.

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