I recently posted some info on the guest lecture, that Aarhus-based game developer Runestone was to hold at Uni today. The venue went really well, although one of the guests had taken ill yesterday.
Lars Kroll, the main man, held a very inspiring talk on game design, game project management, engine programming - and not least their all-consuming project, Seed.
The lecture was very interesting and relevant, especially because Runestone themselves are not very big (8 full time employees) and as such are in the very process of starting up. This perspective on building an enterprise had me and many others captivated, since it's really becoming a strong focus in Denmark - or at least here at this part of Aarhus University. Kroll had a lot of tips and hints, and great examples to back them up. Even though he has not really been in the business all that long, he certainly spoke with conviction and the voice of a hardened professional.
I had some prejudgemental thoughts on their game, Seed, before I actually knew what it was all about. Tens or hundreds of MMOG's are being hastily built or have already failed, so the natural position towards such initiatives has to be skeptic, since the competition and financing environment is fierce, if not downright hostile.
With Seed, however, I really must say Runestone have a convincing case. Not as a mainstream game, quite the contrary. The game is entirely without combat and relies on an intricate story-system, which treats knowledge, in the form of semantic structures, as the loot of the game world. So, you're essentially faced with the task of "smartening up" your avatar through different tasks and storylines. And these semantic structures can be combined and exchanged with PCs and NPCs thus giving you access to more and more specialized knowledge. Knowledge is, in fact, the weaponry and armor - negotiation and narrative plots are the combat system. Also, they give way for democratic proceedings that elect officials to different offices, hereby providing control over certain ressources. I can only explain it so far - but I suggest people look more into this game, if not but to broaden their horisons of what games might contain.
This fairly innovative way of laying out a MMOG is probably also why Runestone has actually succeeded so far in securing assets and financing. Currently they have an innovation fund paying their bills - although, as Kroll said, they need further investments by March to continue development.
Their target group was a story unto itself, since they are aiming for "the experienced online roleplaying 29-year-old's girlfriend". Well, probably not as sharply defined as this, but he has a point about hitting niche targets. Just like the movie industry has become segmented along the way, this might secure a place for narrow game concepts such as Runestone's. By now, you're getting a more mature audience interested in games, anyway. Kroll offered a piece of statistic telling that each year the average gamer grows one year older. So at some point Counterstrike simply HAS to die - hopefully.
Please go and take a look at the game and company - and perhaps do them a favor by commenting on the game here. Refreshing, certainly.