Mark Jacobs gives us all the details on his upcoming MMORPG: Camelot Unchained

I had the pleasure of speaking with Mark Jacobs this past week about his upcoming project which was just officially announced today.  Mark is diving once again into the realm (pun intended) of MMORPGs — more specifically, three faction RvR — with Camelot Unchainedâ„¢!

The setting for Camelot Unchainedâ„¢ is once again the medieval Camelot setting focusing on what Mark calls a “re-imagining of the lore” like they did with Dark Age of Camelot, where the world of legends has come to life and needs to be rebuilt by the players.    The three factions are Arthurian (Camelot), Viking, and Tuatha (based on the old legends/stories about folks like Lugh, Nuadha, etc.).    Here’s the kicker: Camelot Unchainedâ„¢ is entirely focused on RvR with very little to no PvE.  All progression comes from RvR.

I wanted to dig deep to really get at the heart of what Mark is trying to do with Camelot Unchainedâ„¢.  I told him on the phone that my post isn’t going to outline features or repeat the same info everyone else has — I want the raw emotion, the purpose and the thought process he’s going through as he prepares to embark on what is shaping up to be a massive undertaking.  Our conversation was one of the best I’ve ever had with a developer.

camelot unchainedTo better understand just how dedicated Mark is to the idea of making a PvP game, I asked him about whether or not he thinks he might scare some people off by creating a game entirely about smashing skulls, taking territory, and playing against other people.  Mark was extremely candid (as usual) and said that he is well aware that PvP scares some people, but he’s not making a game for them.  He knows this game won’t be for everyone, and he’s not shooting for numbers. He’s not looking to launch a game to contend with WoW, or even to be the next big thing.  He has humble aspirations, and tells me if they achieved niche status then he considers that a huge success. “Numbers don’t matter. I know we’re not going to appeal to everyone, and I don’t care.”

Mark told me his team’s design philosophy is, “What is going to make the most fun RvR game?”  He’s making a game for the people who love RvR, who love PvP, and who want a game dedicated to providing that experience, and that experience alone.   In fact, he quoted what will be a slogan during development:

“RvR isn’t the end-game — It’s the only game.” – Mark Jacobs

To accomplish this goal, Mark is abandoning the idea of a mass-market vehicle.  “We’re bringing back arrows.”  He said that with such conviction that I wasn’t sure whether or not it was a fact or a metaphor.  Turns out, it’s both.   In addition to actually having ammunition, Mark’s goal for Camelot Unchainedâ„¢ is to bring thinking back into the mix.  He wants you to value every arrow in your quiver, think before you cast a spell, and decide if going in to your death is worth it.

Mark said they’re going to get away from the soccer match between six-year-olds; in other words there will be meaning to your actions and you won’t be keep swapping and instantly getting back into the fight to contend meaningless, frivolous objectives.  He put extreme emphasis on making people play the game, not the system, and once again emphasized it should take intelligence to play.

The game will be class based and have some form of alternative leveling system.  Mark clarified that personally, he likes skill-based systems, but over the years he has learned that RvR players (he specified RvR, and said they are different from ‘PvP’ players) like classes, and they like filling a role.  “We’re putting the ‘R’ back in Roleplaying,” he said.  Going along with roles, crafting will play a central role in Camelot Unchainedâ„¢.  All gear comes from crafters.  Players can dedicate their entire play-time to crafting to the point of opening shops to sell their wares.  Yep, there will be open-world housing.

Camelot Unchained MMORPG

Alright, that’s the gist of the information Mark gave me that he’s allowed me to share.  I know that was a lot to take in (going through sensory overload myself), but I hope you read through it all because I want to hear what you think.  Personally, I think it’s bold; but that’s Mark Jacobs.  More than anything else, I love his approach to making the game niche and I have nothing but respect for -any- developer who realizes you don’t need WoW’s numbers (or gameplay) to be a success.

Knowing who you are, who you want to be, and how to get there are three things very few developers ever understand.  After talking with Mark for a few hours, I think City State Entertainment has those down; whether or not they get there we’ll have to see.  I’m rooting for them, and I encourage anyone else with respect or excitement for what they’re undertaking to do the same.  Look for their Kickstarter coming in March.

  • In regards to:

    He knows this game won’t be for everyone, and he’s not shooting for numbers. He’s not looking to launch a game to contend with WoW, or even to be the next big thing. He has humble aspirations, and tells me if they achieved niche status then he considers that a huge success. “Numbers don’t matter. I know we’re not going to appeal to everyone, and I don’t care.”

    – – – – –

    Was just talking to a gamedev today about this very thing. One of the things I miss about UO and EQ is the community. While I’m sure part of it was just due to tech limits and another part was who played MMOs at the time, I’ve found it hard to find a good server community (not to be confused with a guild and/or your circle of friends) in MMOs these days. On Rallos Zek, you knew who Blood Coven was or the Elven Guard. In UO (on Pacific) everyone knew who KGB, The Mafia, Nightmare Clan, PoA, etc were. You may not have known the individuals but you knew the affiliations and that is what a lot of the community stories were crafted around.

    Today, there are just so many people on a single server that it is hard to make those attachments. Add to it the fact that actions don’t appear to have the same consequences they use to… there is hardly a reason to remember them.

    Anyways, long post made short – glad to hear this and will definitely be keeping Camelot Unchained (funny acronym… CU) on upcoming games to watch (and will probably be backing them when the KS starts).

    Good interview, btw.

  • I been preaching about someone making game like that for a long time, so when it hits kickstarter I am in. It is refreshing someone not promising EVERYTHING for EVERYONE and targeting niche, only sane way to develop a product on a sane budget

  • @Sean: Thanks Sean. Just to add on to what you said, during my conversation with Mark the topic of community came up. I get the impression that it’s important to him, and he recognizes there’s something important about getting players working together for realm pride to exist. From what he’s told me about their plans (which I won’t share yet), there’s a great deal of gameplay to build community.

    @Thelf: I’ll be backing this as well. Camelot Unchained will be the first time I back something on Kickstarter. 🙂

  • Verrrrrry interesting. Housing’n’shops in RvR? That is bound to pull in some of the weirder MMO gamers in (which is a good thing). I’m really looking forward to hearing about how MJ envisages longer-term in-game life for the player base.

  • I will back this as well (my first kick starter) – the fact you mention you can craft and only craft sold me. Sure I like to smash skulls, but the mmo scene really becomes bland when all you can do is smash skulls, let people do things other then fight!!

    I am rooting for this game as well!

  • I hope he meant all of that. I hope he doesn’t have to spend a bunch of development money on lawyers to protect him from Mythic lawsuits. I’ll be following it, I’ll play it, I’ll hold out hope it’s what I’m looking for but I’m not going to go crazy over DAoC 2 until I see actually gameplay and can see what kind of design decisions he’s making. Ask him what the death penalty is, ask him if healers will be able to do damage, ask him if hard interupts will be there, is there fast travel, stealth, group speed? I’m really tired of trailers and interviews that tell me nothing. As an aside did you mention you don’t like PvP anymore?

  • @ILkRehp: I think a lot of your questions will be answered in the coming weeks as Mark writes development blogs and publishes his thoughts. I’ll pass your questions along to him next time we talk. Maybe he’ll even respond here!

  • @Blargh: He told me it would be some form of subscription model. He said that F2P isn’t a business model that matches this kind of game. He’s expecting to be niche, and it’s better to have 30,000 subscribers than having 5% of those spend money in a cash shop. I definitely got the feeling that he’s planning to add cosmetic house items, and other things like Blizzard does in their microtransaction store.

  • I think aiming for a niche title is the right way to go, but saying “Numbers don’t matter” is a little extreme. They absolutely do matter in a PvP game, especially a 3 faction one. The only gameplay is based around having other people there. Hopefully the game achieves the critical mass it needs in order to sustain itself.

  • I only hope that Mark can sort his engine and middle-ware out asap. Hopefully the company doesn’t lapse into the same pitfalls that ultimately ended Pitch Black. Prime was a technical disaster thanks to the use of HERO as their platform.

  • @Fidjit: Context is king, and you have to keep the whole statement together. He’s saying they aren’t making the game to achieve massive numbers. They aren’t making a game to compete on mass market appeal. The number of players won’t matter as much as making their game the best it can be for their target demographic.

    Even though your statement is using numbers in a different context, I agree that you need a healthy number of players. A good enough game targeting this market should be capable of retaining enough players. It’s up to Mark and his team to make the game good enough.

    @Darkstryke: I asked Mark that exact question. They don’t have that info to share yet, but he doesn’t want cash tied up in leasing tech, and doesn’t want to lose a lot of their hard work to royalties — especially since they’re going to be on the relatively smaller side.

  • This will be my 1st Kickstarter as well. Jacobs knows RvR and there’s no game I miss more than W:AoR. If EA hadn’t canned him that game would still be playable today…the choices that game has made since his departure just boggle the mind.

    I really appreciate how he’s reaching out to the community in a positive way to generate interest in this project. Looks like it’s not just the game that’s old school but the marketing as well.

  • Great interview. So is any of this running or is this just on paper? I’m assuming since KickStarter is mentioned it’s still all on paper…so ~2-3+ years away?

    I’m with iLkRehp on this. I personally didn’t even watch the entire trailer. If I can’t try it, I’m not getting excited about it. Sounds horrible I know, but just being honest.

  • It sounds like what a lot of people have been asking for, both generally and specifically.

    Specifically, there’s clearly a demographic that thinks DAOC had something they valued and haven’t been able to get elsewhere. Ex-DAOCers pop up all over the place, looking for what they once had and wondering why no-one’s giving it to them. Let’s hope they’re happy when they get what they wished for.

    Generally, many commentators have been saying the future for MMOs is niche. Bespoke games made for tightly-defined audiences. Mark Jacobs appears to share the sentiment.

    I played DAOC from launch but my memories of it aren’t particularly fond. I probably won’t play it, but I hope it gets made, does well and satisfies it’s intended audience. I am, however, very excited to see it as the harbinger of a wave of well-targeted, high-quality, small-scale niche MMOs. This particular one might not appeal to me but another one very likely will.

  • Sorry Jim, but WAR was another technical disaster that pretty much wiped out all the good will that Mythic had accrued over the years. Any development studio that has to make up something as absurd as “mythic seconds” to justify a glaring problem with the game systems design has passed the best before date. Granted he was largely marginalized with EA pulling the strings, but the man’s name was still on the stamp so to speak.

    I’m not blindly loyal to Mark as he’s had some less then stellar things happen in his career, but I’ll sit on the ‘cautiously optimistic’ fence to see where this goes. The last thing I got hyped for went down in flames as I noted above.

    I wonder if we’ll see a return of Mrs. Weathers (Thomas), this sub-genre seems to pull her in eventually.

  • One inherent issue with MMOs (as opposed to dungeon instance crawlers with lobbies*) is that there has to be a critical mass of bodies present for it to feel, for a lack of better word, “alive”. This probably applies to an RvR MMO more so than a PvE one. The need for a population directly opposes “small scale, niche”.

    Is there a safe patch in the middle to satisfy both requirements? I don’t know.

    * ftr, I would classify WoW and DDO as a “dungeon instance crawler with a lobby”

  • This thread is updating faster then I can read heh.

    @Thelg: It’s hard to say as I haven’t been ‘in the know’ for that area of the industry since the late stages of EQ/Early WoW. Given the comments by Keen it doesn’t sound like they’re going to go with an established vendor in the traditional sense as licensing fees can be pretty steep, but the alternative can be just as sky-high resource wise to do it yourself. The big unknown in all of this is approximate concurrent player numbers as a supported goal, which is dictated by game mechanics design. The choices out there are going to be much more limited if they’re shooting for a goal of 1000 people fighting at once compared to something slimmed down.

    Ultimately that’s a hard question to answer, and I’ll be the first to say I don’t have an answer. WWMJD, is ultimately the only thing that matters.

  • While it sounds like a great game that I’d want to try, I’m a little leery about a subscription. If it is $5 a month, I can afford that … especially if he plans to make up for it with microtransactions. If he’s planning a $10 a month subscription, then perhaps he’ll offer a lifetime payment in lieu of the subscription itself? If it’s more than $10, then I’ll have to pass.

    While this game actually sounds like it might be a perfect fit for me, I still have a tight budget to take care of, and also there is too much competition now to justify a high subscription fee (regardless of how perfect of a game this might be for me).

  • @Darkstryke it is a hard thing, I am a software dev myself and even imagining the server infrastructure, tooling etc that goes into an mmo server makes me sweat. Then consider recruiting developers, getting a good or great web developer is hard, this is orders of magnitude worse.

    I wonder what state of the art direction is right now Erlang with database being mnesia instead of a normal RDBMS or something totally different. About a year ago I had to work with Erlang and stumbled on to this not an mmo but still a really interesting read

  • As a former DAOC player who really only cares about RvR/PvP in MMO’s, and who generally despises all forms of PvE…. I’m in love with the concept for his new game. My wallet will be open when they launch their kickstarter.

  • How do you prevent young children from gathering around the ball in soccer (football everywhere else in the world)? You force them to play a position. The same would apply to a field of battle. You have to play your position. Anything that prevents the zerg will be awesome.

  • What’s up with all the “TM” symbols after the words “Camelot Unchained TM”? I’m assuming Mark asked you to put those in, since you don’t put the trademark symbol in front of various other trademarked game titles you write about. Is he really trying to emphasize the point that he thinks he can trademark that title, as if his desire makes it legally accurate?

    I get that King Arthur’s Camelot is old enough not to be copyrightable. Even so, when you start talking about terms like “RVR” that have never been used by any studio other than Mythic and he starts repeating how he’s the guy behind DAOC (even though this is true) and is now making a new 3 way RVR game set in Camelot, it sure feels to me that he’s looking to benefit financially by association a registered trademark that I assume is still owned by Mythic.

    You can’t copyright a concept for a game, which is why Cryptic was free to go ahead and make Champions and have it play similarly to COH – but they had to call it something different. Trademarks exist to prevent people from creating confusion that their product of unknown quality is endorsed by an existing product of known quality. I’m no friend to intellectual property lawyers in general or EA in particular, but I’d be inclined to side with EA if this went to court. Or is being the underdog and getting sued by EA part of his plan to drum up publicity?

  • Super interview. I look forward to a real RvRvR game again. DAoC did it right that is for sure. I certainly will be backing this. The only other game I backed was FTL and it turned out great so maybe I can go 2 for 2 in my backing. lol. I love the quote: “RvR isn’t the end-game — It’s the only game.” – Mark Jacobs

  • @Green Armadillo: First, it is a working title. Even if EA could make a case that there is trademark infringement, since this is a working title, it won’t be that difficult to change the title to escape the trademark infringement allegation.

    Also, let’s say that EA has the trademark “Dark Age of Camelot,” would “Camelot Unchained” be necessarily similar enough to cause a likelihood of confusion? The only term that is common here is “Camelot.” Does the fact that Mythic owns a trademark for “Dark Age of Camelot” mean that no other developer may ever make another game about the world of Camelot and have the word “Camelot” in the title? Would it be a problem if we had “Dark Age of Asia” and “Asia Unchained?” One could consider that “Dark Age of Camelot” is fairly descriptive as it is a game about Camelot. Mythic didn’t dream up the term “Camelot.” Being that descriptive means that it gets less trademark protection anyway.

    Names like “Dark Times of Camelot” or “New Age of Camelot” may be more problematic but “Camelot Unchained” may be just fine. If two brands choose fairly descriptive names and the only commonality is the very thing they are describing, then the names may not be that similar.

    If you look at the balancing factors a court would use to determine trademark infringement, EA may be able to make a case that there is infringement (depending on what other evidence they have. eg. actual consumer confusion etc.). On the other hand, CSE also has some solid arguments why there wouldn’t be. Taking this together with the first point, that this is a working title, and DAOC is a dying brand, it may not be that big of a problem.

    One thing that goes against CSE may be the intent of CSE – courts will consider if it is the intent to take advantage of the good name of “Dark Age of Camelot.” In most situations, there may be little evidence of that but in this case, considering Mark is the one who built Mythic and that trademark, I could see how someone would make the connection that CSE is intentionally riding the DAOC co-tails (figuring they deserve it since they helped create it).

  • @Argorius: As you say, it comes down to balancing factors. The title alone coming from a completely unrelated studio would not be a problem because that could imply anything. The more you bring in to emphasize how similar the products are – again, has any other studio ever used the term “realm versus realm”? – the closer you get to problem territory. In today’s world of reboots, a direct sequel to DAOC would not necessarily be called Slightly Darker Era of Camelot – in fact, “Unchained” is precisely the type of title I’d expect from a PVP-only re-imagining of the game.

    I can’t tell you where precisely the legal line is drawn. What I can say is that when I personally read the article title on Massively, I was puzzled beyond belief because my immediate reaction was that the only way this title could possibly fly would be if Jacobs and company had suddenly returned to the EA-Mythic fold and gotten their corporate blessing. Whether my personal confusion as a reasonably well informed consumer who has been blogging about MMO’s for over five years now meets the legal threshold is a question for the actual lawyers to fight out.

  • You can call me what you wish (I’d probably go with realist) but I see no reason to get ancy about this until there is some actual basis behind it other than “I am going to do this…”

    With that said, the premise is sound. All of the people in this thread worrying about whether a game will fail because it “doesn’t care about numbers” are silly. You don’t need millions of people to be a success. 60,000 concurrent users is massive. Half of that as subscribers would make a wonderful game.

    Everyone seems to forget that servers only hold around 2000 people on the top end these days (and in the time of DAoC). You can have plenty of RvR action off of that.

    Catering to the masses is a horrible business model in almost everything. MMOs aren’t any different. You want to make a product that certain people need for a certain reason, and develop your brand in that niche. It’s about time someone on the development end of online gaming realized that again.

    Here’s to seeing if the dream becomes a reality.

  • I frequently frame analogies into a relationship context, and to that end I used to have a gf who liked to end arguments by shouting “I’m sorry, OK!” I would always follow up with the question “For what?” to which she would generally say “For anything and everything”.

    The point being that one cannot change problems until they first recognize and take responsibility for them. From my selfish gamer’s perspective everyone who proposes a new MMO title bears the sins of those who went before them.

    When I look at GW2 on paper it still sounds like a RvR enthuisist’s dream, and yet for me it boiled down to hours on end of people shouting in TS “Everyone to the Bay!”

    My questions would focus less on the cool things that he wishes to showcase in his game as opposed to have him identify what he believes were the factors for the failings of the previous iterations of the RvR MMO field, and then specifically address what he plans to do to circumvent those pitfalls.

    I would definitely avoid the Chris Farley version of the RvR interview, “You remember, uh, DAoC? Yeah that was awesome.” Ask the hard questions! 😉

  • @Green Armadillo: You mentioned “I can’t tell you where precisely the legal line is drawn.” Most people can’t (I am an IP Attorney and it usually isn’t conclusive if it is reasonably close) – it is a back and forth of arguments and in the end there may be a jury or judge deciding the case that could decide whatever they want for whatever reason.

  • I saw that he originally preferred open skills rather than classes. He apparently dropped the idea thinking that most people who enjoy PvP prefer filling rolls. I have to say, that I believe GW2 has trained me to actually prefer skills over classes and to work together having different skills sets, rather than specific roles to fill.

  • Kinda funny to see how much fuss can a single announcement make,each forum i read has at least 5 threads about it.

    But i have to admit this guy said some stuff i really like:
    -RvR sub based game
    -niche game with the realistic amount of subs

    Guess well just have to wait and see =)

  • When he says no PvE are we looking at something like planet side 2? or does he mean that PvE like old DAOC is made to support the RvR?

    • When I talked to him he said it was almost no PvE at all. He mentioned there might be special events, and some people may get to do certain special PvE encounters, but not for any sort of character progression, leveling, or gear. I’d say, based on what I got out of our conversation, that it is closer to PS2’s type of “no PvE”.

      If I were to venture a guess, I’d guess that the only PvE will be in the form of those realm leaders like we saw in the video. That is a complete guess, though.

  • Nice interview and great to see news like that here, however total lack of interest. I’m way past getting excited about plans and ideas. Sounds more like midevil CoD but we shall see. Fair PvP is hard to pull off and a rarity with melee and casters but until the beta is done no telling what the final will look like. Ill follow on KS though and possibly contribute as I’m pledged to 7 others so what is 1 more as I enjoy helping good ideas come thru with a final product

  • To be honest i would like some sort of PvE like DAOC. On the other hand it would be cool to collects the hides of other realms to make leather armor.

  • Shut up and take my money already! /opens wallet. But seriously, Mark is right, they very well would have a niche for their game. As of this moment… there are NO good PvP MMO’s that capture the magic once found in DAOC’s RvR. If he can capture that, put it in a bottle and create a meaningful PvP Experience that goes well beyond that of today’s battlegrounds, we might have something. GW2 does a pretty decent job of providing an arcade like RvR experience with their WvWvW system, but it gets boring and pointless fast. I will certainly keep my eyes open on this one and pray for the best. Bah, wish I could work there, you need passionate people that love this kinda genre pushing ideas and brainstorming, etc…

  • Well, this sounds great from that interview that Thelg posted:

    However, what we are shooting for is a nice, tight niche audience that is here not to play the “next big thing” and then move on but rather who want to spend time in a world where their choices matter, their actions are important and that realm and server pride mean something.

    I loved DAoC and have been very happy with the two Kickstarters I have funded in the past (Order of the Stick and Wasteland 2), so that’s some money out of my pocket already…

  • Since everything is pretty much speculation at this point, I’ll make my own speculations based upon what I’m hearing.

    RVR with hardcore crafting immediately made me think of territorial control for resources. This is something I’ve wanted to see for a long time in a fantasy game. So if there is a rich mineral deposit in one area, it can be a worthy prize for any faction to control, as it may allow for the crafting of better quality armour and weapons, depending upon the quality of the ore.

    PVE elements, while not quest-based, still seem like a useful contribution. Plant and animal resources are one such aspect for harvesting and crafting. And as obstacles or barriers to conquest is another. For example, there could be a viable path to get troops to a more strategic location for combat but it means going through a dangerous monster infested area to do so.

    And on that point, for the love of the gods, make travel times and distances mean something. His mention of playing Air Warrior in the MMORPG interview reminded me of my days playing Warbirds which had some of the best combat and team play for its time. Just getting your plane to the target site in one piece was an accomplishment. Be cool if he could inject that feeling into the game as well. Instant transport or instant healing removes a lot of the value and appreciation of things in PVP.

    The only areas that concerns me the most are class progression and capture requirements.

    In terms of progression, yes I hate the grind but it’s more about the social barriers it can create between friends. Ideally I’d like to see a combat system where anyone, no matter how new to the game, can feel like they can contribute alongside their more veteran friends, even if only a little. Yes, progression should offer some power benefits but it should focus more on providing more options (i.e. gear + combat method = your preferred play style).

    In terms of capture requirements, Warhammer’s keep capturing was horrid at launch creating a single choke point path. A system that requires multiple objectives and multiple methods would be a nice change, thus allowing battles to be spread out over multiple areas but all affecting a single target. Unlike sci-fi games, there is no energy or power stations (unless of a magical nature), so not 100% how this could be done. Historical methods were either siege warfare or the cutting off of resources. With the addition of magic though, it could offer more options for offense and defense.

  • “However, I may also put in some features that some people might not consider fun (like true day/night cycle, slower and different leveling systems, extremely limited fast travel, no PvE leveling/gear grind) because I believe that will make this a better game for our niche.”

    Didn’t see that quote on their product site when I posted my last comment. This is definitely nice to hear.

  • On trademarks: Mythic actually owns (according to a recent search of mine, anyway) the trademark on ‘Realm versus Realm’. They picked it up to stop Fury from advertising that it had RvR combat.

    It will be interesting to see if EA enforces that particular bit of IP protection.

  • I predict another big failure for this one.
    No PVE? A lot of micromanagement?
    Another niche game.

  • I am confident that the concepts for this new game are well thought out through trial and error. DAoC was not the first RvR for Mark Jacobs, there were others that had all the right ingredients. I can not wait to see how this turns out. I have a very “cat that ate the canary” grin.