A lot of attention has been paid to Massively Multiplayer Online Community Games (MMOCGs) in the last few years. Developers are constantly trying to come out with something new and innovative, something that their contemporary hasn't thought of yet. The guys over at PersistentWorldZ are onto something with Z-Opolis. We had a chance to sit down with Kevin Hannah and talk about just that.
the Junkyard: Please introduce yourself to the community.
Kevin Hannah: I'm Kevin Hannah, Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer, here at PersistentWorldZ in sunny Irvine, California. Although I'm better known here, and on our website, as "Z-Man"!
tJY: How long have you been working with PersistentWorldZ?
Kevin: Along with my co-founder and partner in crime, John Faltys, we've been building PersistentWorldZ since December of 2001.
tJY: We've noticed that Z-Opolis looks to have a cartoon-ish feel to it - why did you decide on that approach as opposed to the more traditional realism?
Kevin: We wanted a game that was colorful, vibrant, and fun. One that our target audience of tweens, teens and young adults, especially girls, would feel they could "escape" to... hence a stylized, or as you put it "cartoon-ish" game world rather than a realistic one. Something similar to one of my favorite movies as a kid - H.R. Puff 'n Stuff (but I guess this really dates me!), where the main character ends up in a fantastic world... completely free of blood and gore! Check out http://www.bigjohnspropstudio.homestead.com/hrpufnstuf.html and http://www.primenet.com/~srgalhad/krofft.htm for a ride down memory lane.
tJY: Will there be any sort of add-ons planned for later in Z-Opolis's lifetime?
Kevin: We want to make Z-Opolis the "in" virtual world for people to visit, play and socialize in, and a key element will obviously be maximizing community interaction. To this end Z-Opolis will be an ever-expanding single-shard game world, so that every player has the opportunity (if not the desire) to meet EVERY other player. Consequently, we will be making continual, frequent, map area additions to ensure an expansive world.
Also, in the short-term, we plan to add more clothes and items, as well as expanding clubs, and giving players more flexibility when creating there own rooms.
tJY: Most games are noted for stepping outside reality to provide entertainment. What do you feel will draw players to the concept of Z-Opolis, which strives to mimic real-life, not expand upon it? Why would players rather play the game than DO it?
Kevin: Z-Opolis provides the ability for players to live out a virtual life on their terms, in a way that is fun, and without the constraints they would be under in the real world. Not too many kids have jobs catching Mephitz, or can get married. But for us it's all about socializing. You could say that Z-Opolis blends all the elements to make it the "ultimate chatroom". It's a game that in itself is entertaining, but you could draw the analogy of being inside a gigantic 3D virtual chat-room. It's just more interesting hanging out there than in a traditional chat-room. I have my own developing virtual avatar. I can play on my own or with others. I can have my private room to meet and talk with friends. I can form or join a club with people of similar interests. I can make or join mini-chat rooms that only exist while we're chatting. I can chat on themed message boards from in-game and from the Web. I can explore dynamic themed Web-content with others. I can share my own content with others. I can shop for virtual stuff and real stuff. All in a safe place where the real-life barriers to meeting and interacting with others are gone.
tJY: How many players will be allowed to join a single server at one time?
Kevin: The distributed server technology we employ allows a single-shard game world to scale to support 100,000's of concurrent users, so every player on Z-Opolis, will be in the same game world. Later plans include allowing other game worlds, potentially developed by someone other than us, e.g. "CookOpolis" dedicated to all things culinary, to link to Z-Opolis and allow players to move between them. Who knows how big a virtual universe it will ultimately be!
tJY: Do you think that the game will be able to compete (in terms of sales, popularity, longevity, or general "impact") with such heavy-hitting, "big-name" games as EverQuest, Ultima Online, or Baldur's Gate?
Kevin: By offering a kid-friendly, non-violent, easy-to-play, game that exploits Web technology for additional community, content and commerce (i.e. what we term a Massively Multiplayer Online Community Game - MMOCG), we are making Z-Opolis appealing to a different audience than play EverQuest, etc. Specifically younger (or young at heart) casual and occasional gamers. This is not to say we don't expect some of the traditional MMORPG players to also play - it is different after all.
This means we are not competing head-to-head, for the most part, with Sony, etc.! A daunting task that I think will result in the demise of the majority of the other (at least 60) MMORPG games currently trying to get traction in the U.S. market.
tJY: Since the gameplay won't be focused on leveling, what would be the major ingredient that would "addict" players to Z-Opolis?
Kevin: Z-Opolis's main addiction will be the interaction between players. What's more interesting than other people!
tJY: What kind of audience are you targeting for Z-Opolis?
Kevin: As I mentioned we are looking to tweens, teens and young adults who are more web-savvy rather than core gamers. People want to play online games with others... people want to play online games by themselves... people want to be challenged... people want to socialize and chat online with lots of other people... people want to project their own unique virtual persona... people want to feel that they are part of a community... people want to experience Web content... people want to shop online... and Z-Opolis brings this all together for the first time.
We are also planning a Spanish language version to appeal to the U.S. Hispanic population, as well as allowing us to then take Z-Opolis to Latin America.
tJY: What kind of rig are we looking at to play Z-Opolis comfortably?
Kevin: John's daughter plays using a Celeron 300Mhz with 64MB of memory over a 56K modem perfectly OK. As we wanted Z-Opolis to be accessible to non-core gamers throughout The Americas we made sure the level of client was minimal - we don't even need a 3D accelerator card.
tJY: One of the more interesting points on Z-Opolis is that people can play not only on their PC on the internet, but also on 'mobile devices'. Can you explain how exactly this is going to work?
Kevin: We expose game functionality to the Internet so that players don't need to have the game client running to participate in Z-Opolis. Although players will be able to interact with their pet, check their items, do laundry, etc. from any Web-capable PC or cell phone, the main focus will be on extending community interaction. Players will be able to use the message boards, player-to-player messaging, etc. from wherever they are.
tJY: Finally, when can we expect to see a demo of some nature out? What are your launch plans?
Kevin: As the core game on which Z-Opolis is based has been tested for over 12 months outside the U.S. (including over 6 months of commercial service) our testing is focused on making sure the localization and Web-extensions hit the mark with our target audience. We start what we call "acceptance test" on August 1st when we open up Z-Opolis to selected test groups. Starting July 23rd we will be taking applications through z-opolis.com to fill a limited number of open slots for testers. Commercial launch is then targeted for late September, 2002.
And there you have it folks, the low down on Z-Opolis, a promising MMOCG due out late September 2002.