Free Realms: One Server for all Nations

During an interview with Free Realms Creative Director, Laralyn McWilliams we received information about the upcoming Free Realms international push.

Yesterday we had the opportunity to sit down with Free Realms Creative Director, Laralyn McWilliams at the San Diego Comic Con. During the interview we received information about new items coming to station cash, an explanation about the new Druid job that's coming to live servers and some world exclusive information about the upcoming Free Realms international push. "We're all languages, all servers, which I believe is a first for a massive multiplayer game like this. We're not going to segregate certain regions or languages into certain servers, so you really are going to be playing on a server with people from all over the world." McWilliams announced.

Let us know what you think in the comment section below and make sure to read the full interview after the jump.

ZAM: During the beta, there was mention of a family plan membership. Is there any time frame on this, or will any kind of program be rolled out eventually?

Laralyn McWilliams: That's something we're still interested in, but I don't have an exact time frame for it quite yet.

ZAM: Do you have any details, so far, as to how much it would cost?

Laralyn: Nope, not yet. But we're still very interested in doing it. We do have a lot of families playing Free Realms together, and we'd definitely like to support them some more.

ZAM: Free Realms was designed to be attractive to the younger generation of gamers. On the other hand, however, there are many adult gamers who have found Free Realms to be a fun alternative to World of Warcraft. Going forward, how do you plan to provide new content that's  attractive and exciting to both adolescent and adult players?

Laralyn: The great thing about Free Realms is that you don't have to do anything that doesn't interest you - you can focus on just the things that you like. So what that means for us as the development team is that we look at what people are playing in the game and we try to make more content that appeals to those sorts of people. Our upcoming jobs are a great example - we mentioned Druid at Fan Faire, and we talked about Soccer. There's another one coming that we haven't talked about that's based on a mini-game. It's a new 2D mini-game, but I can't say what it is yet. Just the fact that those are all coming within the next couple months kind of shows what we're doing. Soccer is a team based action game, so if you like Racing or Demolition Derby, you'll probably like that. Druid is going to be a combat job, so if you like combat, there's that for you. If you play the 2D mini-games, we have a new 2D mini-game coming that involves crafting, so that's good for players who like that. That's really what it's all about; keeping our game as diverse going forward as it was at launch.

ZAM: The Chapter One quest series has introduced the main storyline that motivates characters in Free Realms. Will this become one quest arch or will it branch out to include many?

Laralyn: Absolutely. You're going to see more story quests in the new area that we're working on, but also updating the story quests in existing areas. We have a long storyline planned out and you can actually see things that touch on that storyline in the Free Realms comic, which was just introduced here at Fan Faire. That's in stores, I believe, next week.

ZAM: Can you share with us any other services that will be available through the station cash store? For example, will players be able to buy additional player slots or anything like that?

We're looking at all kinds of options. Right now, Free Realms is a really interesting game because the fact that you can be any job means players aren't creating as many alts as you see in most MMOs - because you can do anything with one character in Free Realms. The only thing you can't do is be a different gender or be a different pixie versus human. If you become a member, you get three slots. We're looking into some other options as well. We're really interested in providing game services for players. With Free Realms, a lot of the traditional MMO services that you think about, like character slots or server transfers, just aren't an issue for Free Realms - you can play on any server at any time! Our efforts, right now, are focused on making new items and really fun toys and tricks that you can buy. More in-game focus.

ZAM: Do you have any details about any of the new items that will be coming to the Station store?

Laralyn: We have an upcoming update that I can't say too much about. We have an update coming up that will, if you think about the summer event we just had, it had fireworks and outfits and that kind of stuff. We have another one of those coming up based on our big milestone in August, which is going international and the launch of Soccer. There will be a party based around that. Those are the kind of things that we're looking at; the boombox is a great example - it's something you can buy in the store, pop down in the world, and it makes everyone dance. We're looking at more fun items like that.

Currently players can max level any job without relying on Station Cash purchases. Will this continue to be a game that's completely separate from Station Cash, or will there eventually be a point in time where players will need to rely on Station Cash?

Laralyn: We're looking at a lot of different options. Honestly, our free players are important to us, and they -are- buying things, so it's not clear that we need to get them to buy things that impact their progression through the game. We're also looking at a lot of different features that we give our members - we want to find a way for free players to get to those too. I think, with going forward, you're going to see that it's a mix. I think there will be a ton of free things to do; tons of free jobs to level up, places to go and games to play. We're looking at a mix of different choices for how to unlock things in the game, based on what players are doing now.

ZAM: With the upcoming Soccer job and the Soccer mini-game, all we've heard, so far, is that it will focus on group and group and/or guild oriented play. Will there be a solo version of that game?

Laralyn: Absolutely. One of the interesting things about making a multiplayer game is that a lot of the activities have progression associated with them - like racing, for example. In order to level up, you need to play against NPCs - so to level up as a racer, you're going to need to beat NPC racers when they challenge you. Because if you think about playing against other players, you and I could just go into a race together, and you could just throw the race to me over and over to level up, and then I could do the same for you.

We wanted to make sure that players are in an environment where they are playing and having fun. Soccer will be the same way. There will be AI that players can play against, and you'll level up by playing against them.

ZAM: When can we expect housing, and can you share any details as to how housing is going to work?

Laralyn: We don't have an exact date that we can talk about yet, it's still on target for this year and it's a really important feature to us. We haven't been talking a lot about it, but I think it will exceed people's expectations of MMO housing. We're looking a variety of features that will make it somewhere in between what you'd see in Everquest II and what you'd see in the Sims. So it's more flexible. I can't say too much about what we're doing, but I can say that we're very influenced. Not just by the great housing in Everquest and Vanguard, but also with games like Animal Crossing.

ZAM: Do you plan to add any features that will allow players to change their character appearance?

Laralyn: Yeah, absolutely, that's coming as well this year. I can't say the date, it's close-ish. You'll be able to use what we call "Style Card" to change your appearance. That means new hair styles, skin tones, eyes, eye color and hair colour. It will be really awesome.

ZAM: And it's safe to assume that those will be acquirable via station cash?

Laralyn: Most of the things, like including the race items for this race update, you can acquire different items in different ways. There will be some that will be dropped as quest rewards, there will be some as treasure tickets in treasure vaults, there will be some that you can buy with Station Cash, and there will be some that you can buy with coins. We're committed to providing that division of items in the game.

ZAM: When the future addition of the desert area was announced, it was also mentioned that the current level cap on jobs would be increased. What will the new level cap on jobs be?

Laralyn: We're looking at a couple different ways to do it. You can look at the level cap in two ways; one is "can I continue to be flexible with my character and make choices for my character and do things to make my character more powerful after level 20?" But you can also look at it as "can I get to level 21, 22 and 23." We're still investigating which one of those we're doing with the new area, trying to figure out which one is of the most benefit to players, based on what players are doing right now. You'll definitely be able to go beyond level 20 and unlock new abilities and spend stars, but I can't really say more yet as to how that's going to work. We're testing right now, so we're trying to see which one works best for the initial release. We'll know more soon.

ZAM: We still don't know much about Druids in Free Realms. What can you tell us about the upcoming job's unique characteristics that will set it apart from other combat classes?

Laralyn: We haven't talked much about Druids yet, you're right. The Druid has abilities that will allow it to feel unique in combat. I can't be too specific about what they are, but its traditional Druid strengths, when you think about what Druids can usually do. We're also looking at wrapping more than just combat into its progression. You'll be able to play another mini-game and level up as a Druid, along with combat. It will be a mixed mini-game job, and we're looking to do more of those in the future.

ZAM: If you're familiar with the Everquest and Everquest II Druid, you'll have an idea of what the character class is going to be like?

Laralyn: Yeah, I think they would. It's going to be a really fun job to play; it's going to be really interesting.

ZAM: There seems to be no more room for additional abilities with the level cap increases. Will players be able to continue increasing the powers of their existing abilities?

Laralyn: That's what we're looking at - that difference. There were actually a couple different features, for combat jobs specifically, that were pulled before launch, that we're looking at releasing now. We just didn't need them before launch; there was enough flexibility and enough to do and enough depth. It's basically a little different than abilities; in that it lets you really customize the strengths of your character, so we're looking at that. And then we're also figuring out what it really means to go beyond level 20 in Free Realms. There are a couple different ways you can look at it; it could be a 'new job' that's based an existing job that gives me whole new abilities that specialize me in that area. It's not really clear that Free Realms is the kind of job where you have to pick your load out, and that's what we're really trying to figure out. There's nothing that sucks more than having ten abilities to choose from and you can only take four out. "Oh oops, I didn't take fire and its all ice demons." That really sucks, right? So you might as well start again because you didn't pick the right one. Or maybe going into multiplayer, like the duels, and having some poor combination. Because Free Realms is intended to be casual and easy to play, we don't want to make it really easy for you to, essentially, hose yourself by making poor choices. That's what we're looking at as we test these different ways for you to advance beyond level 20. The great thing about this process is that we've come up with several different things that are really interesting, and we'll probably end up doing more than one of them, to give your characters more flexibility. It's just a matter of which one makes sense to do first.

Are you planning on doing any more events like the Seaside Summer Splash, or any other special events such as a Halloween and the Winter Holiday event?

Laralyn: Absolutely, Halloween's going to be huge for us. I can't say anything more about it yet, but we did think about changing all the costumes, all the jobs, and even our pets have costumes in Free Realms, so Halloween is a big deal for us. We do want to do holidays, we're planning those right now, including an events calendar. Where there isn't a holiday that fits... we'll just make one up, like the Summer Festival.

ZAM: Can we look forward to chat features, such as chat logs and the ability to change chat font size and colors?

Laralyn: We're actively working on our chat. Our first focus right now, because of international, is on improving quick chat, so that's what we're working on right now. We want you to have better quick chat conversations, as opposed to spewing out one comment at a time, which is what quick chat is right now. Our quick chat will be translated automatically, and we're going international, so what that means is that you will be playing on a server with people from all over the world, and then quick chat takes on a whole new meaning - you really need it in order to communicate with people who don't speak your language. So that's our focus right now, making improvements on that. Once we get that done, we'll continue to improve chat as well - we've added more functionality, more channels, that sort of stuff.

ZAM: That's really interesting that you're going to allow players from different countries, to play on one big server. So far, how does the quick chat translation really function?

We're all languages, all servers, which I believe is a first for a massive multiplayer game like this. We're not going to segregate certain regions or languages into certain servers, so you really are going to be playing on a server with people from all over the world. What we're doing right now is that we just translate all the phrases in our quick chats, and you see it in your native language. You will also be able to choose, in your chat, what language that you want to view. So if you happen to be bilingual or trilingual, you can choose to say "I want to see English, but I also want to see Spanish and French too, because I speak both of those." That's really important for Europe, where so many people speak more than one language. It's going to be really integrated, and we actually hope it will encourage kids to try out languages that they're learning. If you're studying French in school, go to the French server, turn on French in your chat and practice with them. It's really exciting.

ZAM: Moving on, Robgoblins are a big antagonist in Sacred Grove. Will there be any new troublemaker in the Sunstone Valley when it is opened, or will Robgoblins expand their mischief makings and abilities to the desert as well?

Well, Robgoblins are like cockroaches, right? They find a way to survive pretty much anywhere you put them. They also have kin - they have Goblin kin. So there are other kinds of Goblins out there. They'll definitely be around, but we're focusing on a whole bunch of new creatures in the new area. I think you'll find it really interesting, but we're making a lot of totally new creatures.

ZAM: Will the Chuggawuggs ever be permitted to serve, once again, as a guard to the Royal Family in the Shrouded Grove?

Laralyn: We'll have to wait and see. It depends on whose side you take. You have to pick a side. One of the things we talked about a couple years ago, in our first interviews about Free Realms, was our Good and Evil system, which is still coming. So at some point you will need to - not necessarily PICK a side - but work for one side or the other, and you need to make a choice, and that's a part of the whole story that will be unfolding over time.

ZAM: Well thank you so much for your time, we're really excited about this.

Thank you very much!

Andrew "Tamat" Beegle


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What a wonderful interview!
# Jul 25 2009 at 11:01 PM Rating: Good
33 posts
...and I am so happy to hear that Halloween will be another big thing on Free Realms, I was really hoping they would do something with that!
The Druid job definitely sounds like it will be very interesting, and I really hope they will expand on levels for characters; level 20 came so quick in all the jobs on my first I've been trying very, very hard to take it slower on my second character. Also if we are able to buy additional character slots I think that would be great for those of us who play a lot and need more than one character to focus on since we have nothing better to I know this game was aimed more at the casual players, but I know there are real gamers here too, so we could really use those additional slots, especially if more races are added to the character selection.
Sounds like lots of interesting things to come, I can't wait!
What a wonderful interview!
# Jul 25 2009 at 11:18 PM Rating: Excellent
1,577 posts
Halloween should indeed be an interesting time in Free Realms. Thanks for reading, I'm glad you enjoyed!
Fly High Daevas,
Tamat ~ Andrew Beegle
Community Manager
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