Running through the streets of a post-apocalyptic London, Bill Roper's character is surrounded by innumerable demons with dripping red fangs accompanied by shambling corpses. Drawing lines through them with his glowing sword, Roper cuts a path to the center and prepares a spell. In Dynasty Warriors fashion, he lets loose an awesome attack sending an energy wave in all directions with a slam of his fist, wasting the horde and sending bodies flying. All that is left standing is his knightly warrior, surrounded by a mangled pile of the dead and the loot they dropped. With a keystroke, he draws all of the loot in, but there is one foe left to contend with. Flapping casually, a huge spiked dragon watches the knight and begins spitting fire, setting the corpses ablaze. The heavily armored warrior dodges. When neither sword nor sorcery will do, Roper relies on his trusty machine gun to bring foes down. A stream of bullets and a rain of blood fill the air as the creature falls with an earthshaking thud and a high pitched scream.
Watching Roper play, with his goatee, a Hellgate: London t-shirt, and a serious gaming face on, you'd think he was just another gamer enjoying his favorite MMO. But this is the DigitalLife expo in New York's Jacob Javits center, where the creators and average gamers come face-to-face. Bill Roper is actually co-founder and CEO of Flagship Studios, a company made of former executives and developers from Blizzard North who created the Diablo franchise. Roper's earliest work dates back to 1994 on the PC title Warcraft: Orcs and Humans, where he served as a producer and voice actor. Now, Flagship's first title will be in direct competition with Blizzard for the online PC gaming market with Hellgate: London. At Flagship Studio's booth, Roper gave a personal demonstration of the upcoming game and explained how he intends to show the world there is more to online gaming than World of Warcraft.
"This game is both single player and MMO," explains Roper, "so you can play offline and experience an entire storyline. Then you can have a complete MMO experience with client servers, continuous content and everything else you can expect from an MMO."
The most noticeable difference between most MMOs and Hellgate is how much player controlled action takes place. Characters level up, equipment and skills affect abilities, but every step, slash and jump is completely controlled by the player. Another thing players will notice is how many enemies can be encountered at once. Every room was filled with dozens of monsters attacking from all sides, yet battle isn't overly complicated. Roper's character attacked dodged and switched weapons with the speed of a FPS. "We like action RPGs," says Roper, "we like making you incredibly heroic and making you fight tons and tons of guys."
One hurtle faced by every MMO is repetition, which eventually leads to loss of subscribers. Hellgate: London tries to extend its longevity by following the Diablo 2 model. Each instanced dungeon is completely randomized, from the layout to the monsters you will fight. Even the environment can be randomized from a river bed to a sewer. Certain quests are random too. Roper explained one quest where you meet a circle of Kabalas (spellcasters) who are looking to summon a demon in order to kill it. However, they first need you to find a summoning scroll and then help in the extermination. "That doesn't happen every time," Roper explains, "you might have gone through this type of location 50 times, and now, all of a sudden you're like, ‘Whoa, what's this?' That's the driving force of the game, that you're always exploring, but you'll never see everything."
If one factor can make or break any MMO, it's the pricing. Roper makes it clear that Hellgate: London will involve a fee. Though how they charge players, be it a subscription fee or if they will charge for content and mission packs, is still up in the air. "We want to work closer with our publishers and charge what's best for the different regions of the markets of the world and determine what's best for where they are," says Roper.
No release date is scheduled yet for Hellgate: London, but closed beta tests will begin near the end of the year. For more information about the game, or how to join the beta, check http://www.hellgatelondon.com/.