In 2006, Howard Marks re-launched the Acclaim brand of gaming under a new vision. Instead of diving straight back into the console race, the company has taken a look across the ocean to a rising gaming market that is oft forgotten about in U.S. gaming – Korea.
Since getting back into the game, the Web site already plays host to a full publicly-released version of the title B.O.T.S. Following up on the arena-based mech brawler, Acclaim’s games increased exponentially with three more titles – 9Dragons, 2Moons and DANCE! Online. Through advertising and purchasable in-game content, Acclaim’s released and open beta games are free to download and play.
At helm of two of those online games is longtime developer veteran David Perry. Directing 2Moons and DANCE! Online, Perry recently entered a closed beta testing period with both of the titles.
Recently, Perry was kind enough to briefly chat about both titles and what it has been like working with Acclaim in collaboration with studios in Korea.
Aaron Auzins: Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions, Mr. Perry. For those who aren’t familiar with you (shame on them), could you please introduce yourself and briefly describe your new role with Acclaim?
David Perry: I’m one of the old guys in the biz – 20+ years making games and still having fun. My bigger hits back in the U.K. [Perry was born in Ireland] were Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles (they thought Ninja was too aggressive for kids), The Terminator, Supremacy (Overlord in the U.S.), Smash TV and Paperboy II [he was involved in converting those arcade titles to console format]. In the U.S., Disney’s Aladdin (Genesis), Global Gladiators, Earthworm Jim, Cool Spot, etc.
My team’s (Shiny Entertainment) first 3-D game was MDK and first multiplayer game was Sacrifice. The last games my team made on console were the Matrix games timed with the release of the movies.
Aaron: How exactly did you end up directing online titles for Acclaim?
David: I decided to take a break and to try to help Atari find a buyer for Shiny (as they wanted to sell their internal studios). Atari held on to Shiny for eight months. During that time, I met my old friend Howard Marks and he got me interested in checking out the booming Korean games market. Being one that loves learning about the business, I jumped on a plane without hesitation.
By the time I came home, I had agreed to help bring a hit Korean game called Dekaron to the U.S. We had a writer from Hollywood re-write the story, and the game is already in closed beta testing, now called 2Moons. This I love – instead of waiting two or three years for a game, this will be out in less than one year!
Aaron: I grew up playing a number of titles you worked on and both 2Moons and DANCE! Online seem to be quite different than what you have worked on in the past. What was it like taking the director’s seat for these MMO games?
David: I’ve shipped so many games I needed something fresh to get me challenged again. Directing foreign teams is a great example. Don’t believe for a second that it’s easy.
On that note, there are two levels of directing. Level 1: Doing some design work on something that exists, then helping it see the light of day here in the U.S. Level 2: Designing something from scratch, producing it and directing its launch here in the U.S. We have more games coming, so now I’m designing and directing multiple projects from scratch too – a quite amazing workload.
So now I’m growing a fantastic new team to help me pull all this stuff off. I’m also keeping my promise and hiring from our community whenever possible, so my team is not a bunch of people that check out at 5:30 p.m., these are people that are up until 6 a.m., always delivering the best quality work they can create. The passion is infectious.
I average 2-3 a.m. every night; last night was 6:30 a.m. for me too. Remember I’m getting old, so this is definitely fun if it keeps me up every night. And no, there’s no “quality of life” issue like EA had. If people work long hours, they get paid for it, problem solved.
I’ve also been recruiting from colleges. I have a team of interns from USC working with me too. They’ve been simply incredible and will be first in line for new positions I need to hire for. I also have some interesting hires, like Rusel DeMaria is my assistant director. He’s a writer that’s played just about every MMO out there, and has written a ton of strategy guides over the years, so he knows these games inside out.
With so much fresh blood in the teams, I can promise that the games we make will have some really cool new ideas in them. We are all about taking risks and luckily funding is not an issue.
Aaron: Both 2Moons and DANCE! Online are domesticated adaptations of current Korean MMO games. What was it like to not just translate these titles but also adapt them for western audiences?
David: Both titles have great designers working on them, so it’s been a good partnership learning about their markets. The Dance! team is especially flexible (thanks to Helen, the director in China – ex Ubisoft). They’ve made changes we’ve requested to their game in China, but adding ideas too, meaning they over-deliver what we ask. So trust me, this game is going to be fantastic.
The other thing is that they are relentless on enhancing. We get a new version (with a ton of new features) every three months. How many U.S. teams can you count that keep that rate up? They are two builds ahead of us right now. So I’m really excited for the U.S. gamers to see where this is all going.
Aaron: Since the games are originally Korean, what has it been like working with a foreign team (we earlier reported Sunghun Baek of GameHi was picked to assist in the 2Moons project) in order to bring a game like 2Moons over to us?
David: The best thing is that they are accessible. I can get on a plane (just got back) and sit with them anytime I like. We recently did a survey from the closed beta test. They were really impressed by our U.S. closed beta testers as they found some exploits that no Korean gamer ever found. So the U.S. testers are even helping the Korean version!
The thing to understand is that when these games are hits, they are released around the world, however, it’s exceptional for them to do the amount of work they are doing specifically for us. I also expect after the game is live, they will get more and more interested in the U.S. audience when they see the size of it. We had 100,000 people sign up just for closed beta testing (with no marketing).
Aaron: Looking specifically at the title 2Moons, it’s been made very obvious the game is for a mature audience, which differs from the original Korean Dekaron release. Did a more mature theme allow you more freedom to stray away from the typical cliché fantasy RPG? Also, how does the maturity affect your massively scripted storyline?
David: I was clear from the start that the game would be mature. Interestingly, the survey we just did said that the writing is too edgy! Not kidding … Too much swearing! So (as we promised we would listen to our gamers) we are already editing some of the profanity, etc.
So can you get too edgy? Yes, I guess you can.
Aaron: The game is touted as having more of an arcade combat feel as opposed to a mere point and click type of affair. What kind of different mechanics are available to the players with this schematic that wouldn’t be possible in other MMORPG games?
David: Yes, this is why I chose it. I liked the arcade look, with big numbers flying off monsters as you hack into them, blood flying everywhere. As we continue to make changes, we want to make the game easier and easier to get started into. We will also add more features at the higher levels for guilds, etc., so that anyone can enjoy the game.
Aaron: What kind of customization options are players going to have when they initially create a character? Furthermore, once they are into the game, how will a character develop through experience?
David: Korean games use character growth and their item stores to customize your character. You can play for free, but if you want to customize heavily (outside of the normal growth of skills/weapons/armor), then you can buy items.
None of the items affect the balance, but they do help you stand out from the crowd. We’re using that model too, so you can expect to see people wearing giant devil wings and things like that in the next major build. People will look very different and they are also free to trade items or to set up their own store during game play.
Aaron: 2Moons will be free to play, as are all the games on acclaim.com. To supplement the game, an interesting take on advertising will be seen in the game. Players actually have the option to turn off ads at the cost of losing benefits. Can you explain the system in more detail and how will the site-wide Acclaim Coins be worked into the game?
David: The idea with all Acclaim games is to make them free. If the game is not for you, then just uninstall, you paid nothing. If you never want to pay, and never want to buy items in the game, that’s ok too!
But at some point, you’re using up bandwidth, so to cover that cost, we sprinkle in some adverts. I proposed a test for 2Moons (with a twist) to turn the adverts off if the gamer wants to, and if they turn them on the gamer gets an experience rate boost. Some people think I’m crazy, but I think it will cover the bandwidth costs and let people play for free as long as they like. It’s certainly the friendliest version of in-game advertising I’ve ever heard of, so I think gamers will support me here?
Aaron: Being that the game is an MMO title, plenty of updates are possible for the game. Are there plans to expand the in-game quests, add new areas, etc.?
David: There are endless feature additions. We seem to get a new mode in every build, new locations, new items, etc. There are also lots of competitions coming for items that you can’t buy, you can only win. So expect plenty of excitement from the fans of this game when they see how seriously it’s being supported after launch. They will start to really experience the game in open beta, then at launch onwards, they will see mode after mode getting turned on.
Aaron: Moving on to DANCE! Online. Much like myself, it seems you are a self-confessed lover of music and dancing games. What does Dance! Online bring to the table that sets itself apart from other games in the genre and what is your take on the people that simply label the game as a clone?
David: Nobody has experienced Dance! yet. All they have seen is a closed beta version with (almost) everything turned off. It was simply a test and we did a survey. I really defy anyone to say it’s a clone when they play the release build, when they see what’s really in this game. I can’t wait!
Trust me, I wouldn’t get involved if the game was just a boring clone. Actually we made history already as it’s the first dance mat MMO game ever launched in the U.S. We’re also getting a lot of girls turning up and that’s cool as the game has quite [an] advanced dating systems (including marriage and divorce). Again, all this is turned off right now.
Aaron: Through the game’s official forums, the company is working on feedback from players to gain input on what types of music should be implemented into the title. What has the licensing and music-seeking work involved in a rhythm title been like for you so far?
David: We are going to announce a music licensing deal that’s never been done before for games. Nothing about what we are doing for the Acclaim games should be brushed off lightly.
We are as serious as a heart attack when it comes to the games we are lining up. We gave a small taste when you play closed beta, you will see Madonna for example … That’s just a taste of the level of licensing we are going for. Also notice, unlike just about every other music game, it’s the original song, not a re-record.
Aaron: The concept of experience points in music games hasn’t really been implemented too many times but DANCE! Online tracks a number of stats as the player competes and plays the in-game songs. Since, obviously you can’t raise character stats or learn new spells and such (unless you have something interesting planned we don’t know about), what are the benefits of players leveling up?
David: We have competitions and group dancing, they require you to level up – not turned on yet either.
Aaron: There seems to also be a number of social options involved in DANCE! Online such as forming couples and teams. Is this the main drive behind the game – to become involved with other players through the game play?
David: Yes, this is very important. You meet a girl, you dance, you chat, you like her, she likes you, you hang out, you become a couple, you dance in competitions as a couple, you get married, etc. It’s very, very social. Girls are key to its success.
Aaron: As the game progresses, what types of features will be added later on? I’m sure more music tracks will make their way into the game but can we expect any other updates? Is there a set schedule on which songs will be added to the game?
David: We just added a ShowTime Dance mode that combines skill, risk and strategy … They just launched it in China and the players doubled. So this is coming soon for us here (It will be in for our release version). There will also be lots more music at release and more will keep getting added even after it’s live.
Aaron: Both games are currently in closed beta testing phases. So far, what has the feedback been like for the games and how has the testing helped out with the games?
David: The feedback has been way better than expected. I kind of feel bad giving out such a disabled version, but these were new servers, new GMs, new mods, new relationships, etc. So we need to take it one step at a time. Open beta is next, so now the curve starts.
Aaron: When can we expect the official releases of 2Moons and DANCE! Online? Are you currently working on any other titles for Acclaim?
David: Both will release within three months. That would be my guess based on the builds I’m personally playing offline.
Aaron: Thanks again for taking the time out of your schedule to answer our questions. I wish you the best of luck with your future releases.
David: Keep an eye on the games, come and play (it’s free!) and keep an eye on Acclaim’s new announcements. We will announce a killer new game idea before the Game Developers Conference. I bet we get a lot of sign-ups for that puppy.