Designing a Planet, Part 1 – Interview with Kim H.R. Welter

Magyar_Republic

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Kim H.R. Welter and I have had an ongoing dialogue about what goes into designing a planet such as Calypso for over a year now. Originally it started as an idea I had for redevelopment of my castle at Nymphtown, but it has expanded to include what goes into world design as a whole. Often our conversations are not focused on Entropia Universe, or even Planet Calypso, but stretch out to other popular MMORPGs, shooters, pen & paper RPGs, old style MUD’s, and more. Over this time I found out Kim is an avid gamer, who likes to use his increased exposure to other platforms as a way to generate possible ideas for Planet Calypso. This was an excellent find, and spurred an idea for the following discussion, which is the first part of a series where I reach out to planet development staff and discuss with them various topics within MMORPG development.

The idea is to chat with them about what they are doing, and what the philosophy is behind their various incentives. Lots of players want to know what is in store for Planet Calypso. Others want to know why projects take so long. And still more are concerned about staff being out of touch with the community, unaware of what the competition is doing, and a whole host of other concerns.

My hope is to help the community get to know the developers, and perhaps come to believe, as I have, that the Planet Calypso development team and the Entropia Universe team are interested in continuing to deliver a quality product, and capable of making the strides necessary to ensure Entropia Universe remains an entertaining platform for years to come.

All in all I have found Kim’s answers to be impressive and enlightening. I hope you enjoy them. You may even find a few things to look forward to!

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Part 1

[wrap=right]https://www.planetcalypsoforum.com/gallery/files/1/1/3/3/2/planet_calypso_6_1024-300x225.jpg[/wrap]What is your role in developing Planet Calypso?

My official title is “Senior Game Designer” and it involves planning, coordinating as well as producing content updates to Planet Calypso. I start a typical day by reading and replying to emails that have come in during the night. After that I usually spend the remaining time until lunch testing the day's build of Planet Calypso to make sure that the stuff done the previous day turned out OK. I have my lunch at 1pm after which I return to the office and have one or two meetings with the rest of the Calypso team. I spend the remaining day producing content, talking to players in-game and reading the forums until I head home.


How long have you been working in your current role? Can you tell us a little bit about any other related roles you may have filled?

I’ve been working in my current role since mid 2011. Before that I spent a year working as a game designer for the Entropia Platform where for example I worked on the new mentoring system and the merged mining system. I have also worked with software testing as well as technical support since I first started working for MindArk in 2006.


Before I talk a lot about specific areas, what are your overall goals with area redesign? Are you aiming for realism, variety of activity, or performance, for instance? Is the planet as a whole considered, with respective north and south poles, elevation, and resulting weather patterns at all, or is each area looked at independently? Do you take into account quest storyboarding and planet lore when designing an area? If yes, can you tell us a little bit about this? If no, is this something you would consider doing? Why, or why not?

We choose which area to re-design based on just how bad it is in terms of those criteria you mentioned as well as a few others such as playability. The objective of our design efforts will then be to build the area in such a way that these problems are fixed while still retaining as much of the previous area as possible so that it still feels familiar to the players. In terms of prioritizing the criteria it goes something like this: performance, playability, variety and then finally realism (nights on earth are usually pitch black, but who wants to shoot Atrox in the dark, right?).

When it comes to the visual style of a particular area, we take the whole planet into account and particularly the adjacent areas to make sure that it will fit in well. We do in fact do storyboards as well as extensive concept art before any actual production takes place. The process takes quite a long time and involves everything from drawing topographical maps to sketching plants. Planet lore is important to us and we use that as a basis for the concepts.


Is this something the entire Planet Calypso is going to go through, or do you have your eye on specific areas only?

It is my ambition to redesign every area that needs it but whether it actually gets done or not is a question of priorities. If we think that using our resources to build a completely new instance will give the players more fun than new looks for an old area then we’ll put our focus there instead.

[wrap=right]https://www.planetcalypsoforum.com/gallery/files/1/1/3/3/2/concept_assets_thule-300x104.jpg[/wrap]One of the greatest things about Planet Calypso is its vegetation. The plant models are plainly weird, and obviously otherworldly. This type of thing can contribute to the feeling of being on another planet, passively reminding players that they aren’t in Kansas anymore. Some players have expressed concern that these unique objects will gradually go away, being replaced by more ordinary models of trees and bushes. What do you think here? How does the strange flora fit in with your team’s vision of Calypso?

There is no cause for concern, we don’t plan to remove the unique vegetation from Calypso as we realise that it’s absolutely essential to keep that strange “sci-fi” feel intact. However I do think that there is room to mix elements that are similar to what you can find on Earth with the alien elements to create a good blend. Take Thule as an example: there you have trees that are very similar to pine trees but you also have two big moons in the sky and strange mushrooms and plants on the ground.


About a year ago you introduced the new islands to Calypso. Can you tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind these islands. I have always hoped they would be part of some larger story arc. Is it? Any teasers ?

We really wanted to connect Amethera and Eudoria to make the whole planet feel more cohesive and not split in two. This was my first project with Planet Calypso and I really didn’t think that Calypso needed any more cookie cutter hunting/mining grounds so I decided to take a new approach to designing areas and design it more like a small expansion package.

The first thing we settled on was the Hussk and the mechanics of that fight after which everything else fell into place as a large part of the quests on these two islands lead to the player being able to join in on that fight. We wanted to make sure that the Hussk was something really rare and took a worldwide effort to spawn which is why we added the other wave spawners whose bosses drop the blood samples. I am very fond of world events that players can run themselves rather than events run manually by us here and that philosophy is what was behind this method of spawning him.


[wrap=right]https://www.planetcalypsoforum.com/gallery/files/1/1/3/3/2/concept_layout_thule-300x232.jpg[/wrap]Did you have any role in designing the new Calypso Gateway? What was that role? What were your main objectives in designing this area? Are you satisfied with how Calypso Gateway has turned out? Looking back on it, is there anything you would do differently?

I was very much involved in this project from start to finish. In the pre-production phase I wrote the backstory and helped guide the concept artists towards the designs I wanted and later on I worked on a lot of the quests and creature spawns. We had three main objectives and they were as follows:

  • Increase the player retention rate which is the number of active accounts that leave the gateway divided by the number of new players that leave the start room.
We did this by designing the gateway in a traditional action adventure fashion with shooting action mixed with missions designed to pull the player forward. Our goal was that it should be fun even without the RCE aspect and I think we accomplished that, we didn’t want the player to have to spend money early on to get through the gateway.

  • Make the new players emotionally attached to their avatar earlier than before.
This was done by rewarding the player with more free equipment early on as well as by being fairly generous with the skill rewards from the missions.

  • Improve the playing skill of new players before they move on to Calypso.
We accomplished this by making the learning process more intuitive and story driven rather than focusing on simply teaching game mechanics. It’s more fun to learn by doing something interesting rather than studying some guide.

[wrap=left]https://www.planetcalypsoforum.com/gallery/files/1/1/3/3/2/concept_environment_pa-202x300.jpg[/wrap]There are two new areas around Port Atlantis: Camp Icarus and Camp Isis. Can you tell us a little bit about each of them, and what purpose they serve within the game? Are you satisfied with them in their current presentation? Why or why not?

They were both designed with the intent to catch the players leaving the gateway because we didn’t think it was very good to drop the new players straight into a huge city like Port Atlantis where even I have trouble navigating. Ultimately we decided on using Camp Icarus for this and then the area surrounding Fort Isis was turned into a simple hunting ground.
I am very pleased with how Camp Icarus and the area around it turned out and it seems to have been well received by both new and experienced players. I was especially happy to see that new and experienced players interact with each other at the new oil rig I placed there. It almost felt like the old rig all over again with people standing in line and ubers guarding them.


Over the last year we have been teased by some screenshots of what is rumored to be the Athene/Zephyrus area. Is this project still ongoing?

This project was cancelled back in March last year due to the fact that its appearance was deemed to be deviating too much from the design of the previous area. We still have all the assets made for this area though and may use it to improve some other place, stay tuned!

[wrap=right]https://www.planetcalypsoforum.com/gallery/files/1/1/3/3/2/concet_zephyr-300x204.jpg[/wrap]
Some caves were mentioned. Can you describe these a little bit? Are these short quests, like the Feffoid Cave, or are they areas we can explore? Are they seamlessly integrated, or will they require an activation toggle? Does this mean more underground instances may be forthcoming on Planet Calypso?

Since the area that would house these instances was cancelled, they were cancelled as well. Instead we chose to focus our efforts on another instance project that has been in the works for a long time and is now scheduled for release in May. I can’t tell you much about it without spoiling it but I will say that it will be a non-linear dungeon filled with many hidden things and interesting new mobs. It will also be a single massive instance that everyone will be able to enter together, pretty much like a regular area but with instance features.
 
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RickEngland

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Really nice interview Magyer thank you, and thank you Kim.

Just one observation; Kim said; "straight into a huge city like Port Atlantis where even I have trouble navigating". I understood SEE developed the new PA. Although impressive in some ways I know that a majority of the older community really loved PA and the old yellow walls. It was the center for trading too not twin. I really do miss that atmosphere at PA. It only seems like yesterday (almost 8 years), that I used to run out of PA, and try and hunt the exsuars. I often fly newbies to twin as they struggling to find a place to trade. so we really need to make PA the trading hub again, as that will help to retain new starters with their small stacks of oils for sale etc.

Please try and bring back the magic of PA

Rick
 

NevadaJake

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Thank you so much for posting this! A great read.
 

Few Scars

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I see a new spacecraft...what is it?
 

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I see a new spacecraft...what is it?

They know we noticed that teaser. We all noticed and went WOW!!!!!! under our breaths.... what are they doing now???

Not to mention the planet in the backgroud looks tons more impressive.

Looks like MA are really getting to grips with the software now.

Rick

Save up your pennies maybe new ships to buy.
 

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At last serious stuff, thanks!
 

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Thanks!

Rick, that's a good point. In my next batch of questions maybe I'll delve more into specific areas like that, and try to get some info for us on what might be in store for PA and other areas.
 

dr3w

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When I clicking on thumbnails, - I have no rights to view full size images!!!!1111

ACHIEVEMENT: First Whining In Thread.
 

Ludvig|MindArk

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I see a new spacecraft...what is it?

You mean this?

planet_calypso_6_1024-300x225.jpg




That is the War Titan that smashed into Hadesheim, afaik... Unless I am mistaken? :scratch2:
 

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I always love talking with Kim, from every chat I've had with him it seems he really knows what he's doing and has a passion for his job. I don't think people realise just how much effort goes into every detail of the game.
 

Sidney

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That is indeed the robot titan that brought the old planet as we knew it to a end.

But who knows we can buy such a titan in some time.
Though I hope not.

It would be cool though if a few titan ships would fly in space that can be attacked or who attack memberships and such in space.
 

Ludvig|MindArk

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It would be cool though if a few titan ships would fly in space that can be attacked or who attack memberships and such in space.

If so, I'd like to see it as a rare spawn requiring multiple ships to defeat :) could be cool


EDIT: In the storyline it did defeat a larger fleet of ships, after all
 

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I was really hoping this would be an interview with Kim that focused on the gamer behind the game. Questions like what was his favorite character of all the games he has played or how does he thinks the rpg elements of muds are manifested on Calypso.

Instead the interview, while good, is pretty much a boilerplate q+a with a game Dev.
 

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I was really hoping this would be an interview with Kim that focused on the gamer behind the game. Questions like what was his favorite character of all the games he has played or how does he thinks the rpg elements of muds are manifested on Calypso.

Instead the interview, while good, is pretty much a boilerplate q+a with a game Dev.

There are more questions which are coming up in another part of this interview. Kim was only able to get to the first few.

A general rule of thumb is to start broad, engage people by giving general topics everyone can relate to. Then dig deeper into the specifics, giving over time something special for everyone. At any rate, there are more to come. Since this was split, maybe it would be a good idea to send some intro questions for part 2 that focus a bit more on the person.

They may not be answered though. Swedes are notoriously quiet.
 

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Nice to see someone with passion for making sure it works well for the community. I look forward to reading more. Good job!
 

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Really like to read these intervews. i see good things coming for the game :)
 

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Nicely structured with the pics :)
 

Lee

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Great read, thanks so much Magyar and Kim. Look forward to more :)
 

Mikass

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Quite insightful interview into what's being done and what's to come.

Here are some questions I'd love to know the answer to:

Q: So far all the major annual sales have been Calypso sales but news of the last sale comes directly from MindArk. Does this mean the sale will done by MindArk this time around? Can you also share anything else on this topic?

...and maybe on a more personal note:

Q: Past few years have been quite eventful. There were few sweeping changes at the top(at both MA and FPC) in pretty short time frame amidst a battle for control between shareholders, one which, apparently, your father won in the end. Care to share with us what was the other competing vision the other party wanted to bring to the table? Are there any details you could share with us about what went on behind the scenes during this period?
 

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I'm sure that Kim will not be able to answer either of those questions, unfortunately. I'll put them to him, though, and see if there is some discussion we can have that might be able to be formulated into a question/answer to give some sort of reply here. Really though these deal more with Entropia Universe as a whole, and not Planet Calypso. So I feel a chance of getting an official sort of reply here is minimal, at best. I'll try, though.
 

chevrons

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The merged mining system was a disaster of implementation, and still has a design flaw when bombing more than one type. I haven't been able to bomb Ore and Enmatter together since the change.

And the Hussk, seen once, and not yet again. Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't it designed so that most of the loot, as expensive armour, went to just a couple of the several hundred who killed it?

Kim was promoted - ???
 
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Ludvig|MindArk

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Ah yes, the Hussk, seen once, and not yet again. So the new islands wave events lie largely unused.

The Hussk may not have been summoned for quite a while, but the 4 wave events are done quite often. I have been at 2 Sand Kings and 1-2 dozen Daikiba waves so far this year (the Goki wave boss has also HoFed at least 2-3 times).


And the merged mining system was a disaster of implementation, and still has a design flaw when bombing more than one type.

The mining system is a platform thing, and it hardly has anything to do with Kim or the Planet Calypso team. Any bugs in that are up to MA to fix.
 

chevrons

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The mining system is a platform thing, and it hardly has anything to do with Kim or the Planet Calypso team. Any bugs in that are up to MA to fix.

I am chiefly criticising the design, which as anyone who mines experienced, was evidently done initially by someone who had no idea how mining worked, and which took several redesigns and fixes to get even to its current state.

Kim takes credit for this system in his answers, yet at the time he replied to me that he didn't understand the mining system, and would discuss it with the person who (supposedly) did. He can't have it both ways.
 
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Commodore

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I loved the interview, good work Magyar_Republic.

I am chiefly criticising the design, which as anyone who mines experienced, was evidently done initially by someone who had no idea how mining worked, and which took several redesigns and fixes to get even to its current state.

Kim takes credit for this system in his answers, yet at the time he replied to me that he didn't understand the mining system, and would discuss it with the person who (supposedly) did. He can't have it both ways.

Evidently he can have it both ways. I don't mine, so I can't comment on how the design changes have effected the dynamics of the activity. What you're really saying is that you expect him to stand up and smear common dung on himself for what you perceive as his fault. Assuming it is single handedly his baby, who does this in politics or day to day life? He's here putting out a bit of good will, some advertising, and big up the staff, if I get some fuzzy fluffy along with my hard info I can take that. Unless you'd rather not hear anything at all?

I think the most spectacular admission is that they aren't a bunch of in-breads - that instead of waiting for millions of years for evolution, they actually look, listen and learn from other diverse games environments. I did kinda wonder if someone goes around hitting the staff with a bat if they mention another game, like say a certain forum :smash::censored::deal::bs:
 

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When I clicking on thumbnails, - I have no rights to view full size images!!!!1111

ACHIEVEMENT: First Whining In Thread.

Apologies, that's my fault. I've moved the full-size images to a different section in the Gallery now that everyone should be able to access.
 

Profit

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Seems like they spend a lot of time doing things that end up being scrapped, explains the incredibly long time it takes to get things done.
Also, his day seems pretty laid back for a senior designer - meetings, forums, talk to players, lunch, meetings, home-time. Goes some way to explain their large staff numbers and further explains the incredibly long development time for anything.
 

Commodore

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Seems like they spend a lot of time doing things that end up being scrapped, explains the incredibly long time it takes to get things done.
Also, his day seems pretty laid back for a senior designer - meetings, forums, talk to players, lunch, meetings, home-time. Goes some way to explain their large staff numbers and further explains the incredibly long development time for anything.

I'm not going to sit on this thread (promise :silly2:) but I did want to pick on this. I'm a software developer in a far more boring sector, generally fairly stable with respect to our small size. We do however change the focus and time frames quite often, and I guarantee you that it pisses off the team as much as it does you. The difference is, they appreciate it's because they're working not for themselves but the greater good of the project.

Secondly, what do you expect from a senior member of the team? The actual purpose of his job is to overview, it covers work that means he's in touch, but he's also in constant view of the big picture so the ship is steered instead of drifting. This is crucial to how any company works, anyone with management experience will tell you, you can't have everyone at the coal face of detail (ironically you tend to end up doing more and achieving less).

So do I want a creative lead who is involved, connected, clear minded and free to innovate? Hell Yeah!
 
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