Despite not having a playable demo, one of the most interesting games at PC Gamer Weekender was Seed. This simulation MMO aims to give players the tools to do, pretty much whatever they want. Utilising the power of SpatialOS, this game is far from its release, nonetheless, Klang Games have some ambitious goals that are definitely worth reading about.
I had the opportunity to chat with Mundi Vondi, the CEO and Co-Founder of Klang Games. Read on to find out exactly what Seed is, how Klang Games are planning to support a large number of players online and what kinds of interactions we can expect in the game.
Can I get you to introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your game, please?
I’m Mundi Vondi and I’m the CEO/Co-Founder of Klang Games.
What is Seed? I can see it and it looks cool, but like, what is it?
It’s an MMO. That’s a really weird area we are working on, a simulation-based MMO. Simulation games aren’t usually MMOs, there haven’t been any so far. Basically, each player controls like a family, they collaborate to build these communities. Each member of your family has an AI that tries to drive them towards their needs, for example: sleeping, eating, socializing, comfort and those sorts of things. It’s based on the Improbable backend, SpatialOS. That OS allows us to have it on the same planet. Until then you can use those characters to wage war, trade or go gather resources out in the wilderness and such.
Seed looks more like The Sims than an MMO. How many players will it be able to support?
We are still testing the scalability but we’ve been quite successful in running hundreds of characters in a very small area. In theory, we can take everyone into the same world because it’s basically a patchwork of servers, instead of your traditional single server, shared MMO, where everyone connects to the same server. These have a very obvious limit because a server can only handle so many players, but when you patch them together you can pretty much go as far as the cloud. In theory, we could have everyone on the same server, but we are yet to test that!
This seems like the next generation of games. Is that what you are going for?
Yeah. We started imagining this game probably ten years ago. That was when Oddur Magnússon, the co-founder was at CCP, and for us, the kind of the emergent MMO space is the future of games. We started thinking, what would be the truly ultimate form of that? There’s a number of issues with MMOs that keep popping up, the classic veteran versus newcomers, trying to build an online community where 90% players are offline most of the time where the server becomes a ghost town. These kinds of problems are somewhat how we started to look at how you make a full-on MMO, which is lively and fun at any given time of the day. We are reducing the logistical error of having to call up your friends and say “let’s play now”. Instead of doing that, we actually keep your characters simulated 24/7 in the game. There’s no way of pausing or quitting, the game is always running. You can jump in and adjust things because you want to optimize the life of your character by telling him to work more or less, or building a new room in your house so you can encumber more characters in your family. This means that when you come in, let’s say we are ten friends building a town together, they are all going to be there, whether or not they are actually sitting at the computer. We plan on doing a mobile app as well which allows you to chat to your friends on the go so even though they aren’t actually playing, you can still communicate with them through the game and warn them about someone attacking or stuff like that.
What kind of price point are you considering for Seed? Surely it cannot be free?
We are definitely trying to find ways to monetize Seed that won’t affect the economy, at least at the front end. What’s tricky is that we are running simulated characters 24/7 which means we have to somehow pay for it. Initially, we thought maybe we could charge per character, so you actually pay for a new character. That could be a bit brutal because they could get killed when you aren’t even there, but we are still trying to come up with ways to monetize softly in a way that doesn’t allow for the biggest wallet to ruin the fun for everyone else. Maybe there’s a way of community-driven monetization which kind of relies on somebody supporting the entire community, but yeah, it’s very early on when it comes to monetization!
How early on is “early on”? What kind of timeframe are we looking at for release here, like, 2020?
This looks really high-tech, the concept hasn’t been done before. Is it somewhat worrying to be the pioneer of that?
Not at all, man… *laughs* Yeah, of course. That’s why we give ourselves a lot of leverage when it comes the time it takes to develop this beast. We don’t think this is going to be an easy task, there’s going to be a lot of challenges ahead, but that’s in our nature. Like I said earlier, our two co-founders are from EVE Online which is a unique game as well.
What do you expect people to do in Seed? Do you expect people to foster communities or do you expect warfare all the time?
I’ve thought about that a lot. My theory is that players will start very brutally, it’ll be a slaughterhouse. They will try to conquer quickly and rapidly in the beginning. Out of that chaos, more sophistication will arrive. Someone will build a really sophisticated society which has better defenses, more people apart of it and starts to show everybody that’s actually how you really win. You then create kind of a utopian scenario where players actually don’t have to gnaw their nails 24/7 because the nature of the game is running all the time, but rather you can relax and come back to it knowing you are going to be safe. At that point, people should see those as guiding lights towards building more and more sophisticated societies, ultimately collaborating between those societies.
Seems like the biggest social experiment as opposed to a game… It seems mad!
We definitely hope to go very far in the scientific approach. That’s why we’ve been very fortunate to work with people like Lawrence Lessig who’s an amazing political scientist. He’s a Harvard Law Professor who was actually one of the presidential candidates for the US last election. Sadly he didn’t win of course… I was actually at a dinner with him and I was sitting, talking about this game that we were about to build and he started asking about how we would run the governments and I was like, “well, we will have chat…”. He became fascinated with the idea of, like, could this be a platform for testing out governmental structures because there isn’t really a place where you can do that in any stable form? It’s very hard to simulate the effects of governmental choices, it’s obviously very hard to see it in real life because it is actually real life. Hopefully, at some point, we are going to be able to test out all kinds of variations of governmental structures in the game which will maybe give us insights into what it’s like to government this way or that way in the real world.
The scope of this game is insane. At what point do you put a limit on it?
We look at the three core loops as the citizens, the business owners and the government. These are kind of like part of the same core loop in a pyramid. At the top, you have the 10% of the players who are in the government, you have then 30% of players who are business owners, then the 60% who are citizens. We will develop the game continuously, even after it launches. That’s a model we are very familiar with – like EVE is still in development even though it is more than fifteen years old. Our approach to this is to try to get those three core loops working at somewhat of a primitive state but really plant them down in a way that we can see them growing over the course of multiple years. Reaching the full scope is not going to be the day we launch the game, but years away.
Could this come to consoles?
Traditionally RTS-style games are difficult on a console. The console is pretty much the only platform we look at and think maybe we can do something? We’ll see in the future.
Is there anything else you might want to tell us about Seed that I haven’t asked about?
We are really using the technology to its fullest extent. It is really good at simulating large quantities of entities that can actually have a real ripple effect on one another. We can simulate millions of characters, and each one of them can bounce off of one another. We can’t do it now, but we will hopefully be able to do it at some point. Imagine a butterfly effect where one character is kind of at the brink of his mood, he’s growing frustrated. There’s a pothole in the road which just triggers him. The pothole is there because the government aren’t taking care of the infrastructure of the town. Now, this guy is angry because he steps in this pothole. He goes to work and he insults somebody at work. Now that character is also frustrated, so he starts drinking more than normal. He goes to the bar and is becoming an alcoholic. This is happening on a scale of every single entity bouncing. We approached it with this anger, trigger, moods, needs and stuff like that but the real true complexity will come from the emergence of these real behavior patterns which are way greater than what we can imagine. It will go much further than what we actually will even have ideas about. Both by simulating that kind of true emergence at the same time throwing thousands of players into it, we hope to do the most emergent game ever created with Seed.
It’s starting to sound like that!
We totally know how nuts we are, but that’s what makes us excited about coming to work every morning.
Is Seed actually… fun?
It’s funny you say that because it is a slow game. Normally simulation games have that fast forward button where you can spin over to the next day so that you can then deal with an immediate problem. You can’t fast forward in an MMO because then you would be fast forwarding for everyone else. We do think it’s going to be fun in a unique way. It’s not going to be drop in, shoot’em up kind of fun, it’s going to be that slow, progressing, sense of accomplishment. A lot of details, a lot of little stories that you are witnessing happen. You are going to be able to follow your character around as he goes about his day. It might not sound fun but it is already, even in these primitive days. We did a playtest last week and it was just the little details that started spawning. One of my characters – Zoey – we were building this town together and she went to Oddur’s house and was sleeping in his bed. I’m like, “what are you doing?” I was trying to send her back home! I ordered her to go back to my house and go to sleep there, and she was walking back and had this thought, “what is freedom?” and I’m like, “it’s not that!”. We’ve now thrown in a bunch of these random thoughts that they get, but just that simple scenario or that simple gesture over that thought created this whole elaborate story for me. I knew that it wasn’t actually true to the game, it was just simple things coming together like that but you are going to have so many hundreds or even thousands of alignments which should give you a very interesting experience.
I don’t even know where to begin…
We are often boggled by where Seed will go and what it will end up like. It’s a big question to us on what to focus on, how to arrange the features and what to develop next. We are always challenging ourselves in a way. We can’t focus in on the game being a single thing. One thing can’t outweigh the other so we kind of develop it in a really horizontal, layering somehow, improving the depth of the features across the entire scope instead of honing in on a single thing. That’s really when it comes together, when all these multiple systems start to work together. Every single one of the systems is easy to dive into and we could spend lots of time working on a small aspect of the entire concept. However, that’s not going to work because we have to build it up across the entire thing, that’s when all these systems start to work together. It is a bit like fumbling in the dark sometimes. We are like, what is the true value we will get out of this feature right here, right now? We are very lucky to have this grand vision. We actually attract good, talented people who want to see this game become a reality. Working with people that can understand and see the vision is going to help us get there.
Let’s say a community of farmers just wanted to make a tonne of food. Then you’ve got a community of trolls who want to kill everybody. Are you preventing people from purely destroying the work of others?
We do not want to prevent this. We might be wrong, and we might have to come up with mechanics to protect the farmers, but what we want to see is that those farmers must build sophisticated fences and communities that can defend them from the griefers. If we were to nerf the trolls, we would never see the same level of dedication and sophistication when it comes to building up those communities. That’s what I mentioned earlier, it’s going to be a bloody mess at first. Food is going to get eaten over dead bodies, but hopefully, that will teach them to come back and stand up for that and think “how can we do this now without failure”? Seed is not a game where you just jump around the globe and attack whomever you like. It’s a vast landscape so it takes you a long time to travel and traverse the landscape. This, we hope, is another layer of a buffer which can inform you there is somebody approaching and give you a headstart. You will have to think about whether you should run away with your food because you know the trolls are all in that forest over there, or should you stand up and fight them with your pitchforks?
I can imagine even just one troll in a community will take all this food when no one is online.
I think it’s also so fascinating to think about the problems internally in the community. There might be one guy in your utopian community who, in the night, goes around and breaks into somebody’s house and steals or murders somebody. For me, that’s another challenge to add that layer of sophistication to the community. Say, within communities there is no combat then players wouldn’t have to come up with ways of defending themselves against that. Maybe they could have guards patrolling the community within its own walls, much like the police does in our community, and maybe the reason we are we aren’t so barbaric is because, in reality, we do come up with systems to defend ourselves against the ill-intended. We want to give players the tools to build those kinds of systems. If we nerf the bad, we also nerf the reason for good. It’s all about allowing for maximum brutality and evil because then we also give a reason for the answer to that. That should be a very interesting result!