Interview with Justin Walsh – Starmourn’s Producer
Today we’ve got an interview with Achaea’s Producer – Justin Walsh. Enjoy!
Q. Tell us a little about yourself. How long have you been with Iron Realms, what have you done with the company, and what’d you do before that?
A. I’ve been a member of the Iron Realms staff since 2008, transitioning from a volunteer admin position I started in 2005. Before transitioning to work full time for Iron Realms, I worked in the IT sector of the educational industry. In my time here, I’ve done everything from driving roleplay as a player-facing god, through to designing and programming up new game systems, all the way up to Lead Producer for Achaea.
Outside of the games, I also work more broadly for Iron Realms as its Chief Technical Officer, helping advance the technical elements of the company, everything from server reliability to overseeing development of our Nexus client and other technologies.
Q. Was it intimidating being the producer on an entirely new game vs. Achaea, which had been around for a long time before your tenure as producer?
A. It definitely has intimidating factors! With an established game, you have years of history to build on – from established storylines, all the way through to knowing how the players chose to interact with the various game elements influencing the design of both roleplay and system changes. With a new game, you’re starting from scratch. While this clean-slate is liberating in its freedom, does raise some questions in the back of your mind as to whether it will translate to the entirely new player-base when the game opens.
Q. Can you describe a bit what your job as producer is? What are your overarching responsibilities?
A. A game producer is a very broad umbrella of responsibility, especially in a small studio like Iron Realms, where we don’t have massive teams to share the load. The core of the role is to do everything in our power to ensure that the game is a success — See, broad! So, this ranges in everything from designing, implementing, improving game systems and happenings to keep players engaged with the game, through to recruiting, mentoring. and ensuring the success of team members, all the way through all elements of customer service, and outreach to try and bring in new players!
Q. What’re you working on currently? Any details possible?
A. Right at this very moment, I’m working on elements of the shipboard PVE options. We’re testing and tweaking the AI surrounding spawned NPC ships, which has involved a huge amount of both carnage wrought upon my poor ship, and to the countless enemy space pirate vessels that have met their demise at the hands of my canons and missiles!
Q. Other than the sci-fi theme, how do you think Starmourn is differentiated from the other IRE MUDs?
A. Starting from a relatively clean slate with Starmourn has allowed us to work on some of the pipedreams and “wouldn’t it be nice if we could…” bucket list items that would be a nightmare to try and retrofit into an established game. One example that is exciting is blurring the lines between players and NPCs in terms of interaction and combat – there’s very little in the way of “this ability only works to/against players” or “this interaction only works against NPCs”, which is a refreshing change.
This clean slate approach has allowed us to integrate ships and space into the core of the game, rather than feeling like a minigame or an addon. You might be on a quest planet-side, and the next step of the quest might have you running back to your ship to go and hunt down some scumbag pirate that just escaped in his own vessel, to get a code to use when hacking an access terminal to unlock a door and rescue hostages on the other side.
Q. How do you think of roleplay vs. mechanics when developing new system? Is one more important than the other?
A. I think it varies from system to system, and how the players will interact and be influenced by it.
Something along the lines of a class/profession, that has a very large impact on the roleplay of the players, we generally start with a thematic design, rooted heavily in the roleplay sphere, and then move on to the mechanical components to fit inside the roleplay theme.
On the other hand, something like asteroid mining, it is a mechanical system first, and then we try to incorporate as many roleplay elements into those mechanics to add as much depth and lore there inside the constraints of the mechanics.
Q. If you had to pick one part of Starmourn you’re most excited about, what would it be?
A. Picking one is a tough one, I’ve covered a few of the ones I’m really excited about in the last few questions, but one element I’m really looking forward to players being able to enjoy is the overall story arc that takes place over your character’s progression through the game. Everything is tied together, from the storyline of the new player introduction all the way through to the maximum level. Every few levels, you’ll take another step on this journey. Don’t worry though, your story is far from over even when you complete the arc. As they say, when one book closes, another one opens!
Q. Which player race is your favorite?
A. I’ve been smitten by the Elgan race since I saw the first concept art for them, so much attitude in such a little package! A close second is the Krona, which are one of the more different races that step outside of the typical humanoid boundaries – I can’t wait to see what happens to them once the players start digging into their lore and expanding it with their roleplay.
Q. How is Starmourn going to make money? With credits like other Iron Realms games? If so, what kinds of things will you be able to buy at launch?
A. We will have credits, like the rest of the Iron Realms games, which will be used to either turn into lessons, or purchase artefacts. For launch, we’ll generally be focussing on offering artefacts that are more general use and utility, vs anything that impacts combat in a meaningful way.
We are implementing a few new skills and systems that don’t rely on lessons too, which will be fun, allowing you to progress and advance entirely through in-game actions!
Q. The Nabia race (NPCs) is mentioned a few times as being serious drug dealers. Will there be actual drugs in the game? If so, will they have effects, or just be cosmetic?
A. The drug element is definitely present in the game, many of your interactions with NPCs will touch on their feelings towards the subject. As for how players take or make drugs, no, they won’t be purely cosmetic – but that’s something for another time.
Q. How is player-killing going to be handled? Can people just kill anyone they want whenever they want? How do you stop bullying and outright abuse of people if so?
A. Balancing player-killing is definitely a major element in the design of the game, and there’s just so many different playstyles that we try to cover. We’ll likely launch with a basic set of “RP PVP” guidelines, so that actions have consequences, but it’s not a free-for-all gankfest. Call someone a dirty kithlicker while cruising through Feral Space? Yeah, you’re probably going to get shot at, but if you’re just walking around browsing the shops on the W’hoorn homeworld of Benu Wen, and haven’t done anything to tick someone off, you’ll should be pretty safe.
In the event that things go too far, we will have some recourse there, and the admin team will step in for people going out of their way to grief other players unnecessarily.
Q. When will Starmourn be out, damn it? We need to know!
A. Getting closer every day! We’re getting close to a stage now that all the mechanical systems are in place and working, but we’ve still got a lot of creation work to get things fleshed out! As I type this, our awesome building team just finished polishing and playtesting all the racial homeworlds, and each one of those is between 150 and 300 rooms! I can’t wait for opening day so you can see all the hard work.
Q. Is it true that you’ve done the Kessel Run in 10 parsecs?
A. 9 parsecs!
Our apologies! 9 parsecs. Thanks for participating, Justin!
Woohoo! Go Justin!
Doing the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs is impossible. There isn’t a ship capable of traveling that far in hyperspace without shaking itself apart.