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Interview with Darewise’s Benjamin Charbit on Project C, SpatialOS, and Developing a Platform Agnostic Game

May 16, 2019
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Earlier this week, Darewise has announced that you can sign up to play an early-access version of Project C, the brand new MMO game they're making with talents like Benjamin Charbit (who worked on Assassin's Creed at Ubisoft) and Viktor Antonov, the Art Director responsible for the unique art styles seen in games like Half-Life 2 and Dishonored. They're also using SpatialOS technology to power their simulations.

I spoke with Benjamin Charbit about Darewise's Project C last month in Dubrovnik, Croatia, during Reboot Develop Blue 2019, a game developer's conference which saw speakers and guests arriving from all over the world.

I sat down with Ben in between conferences, and his passion for the project was immediately clear. His vision goes beyond MMOs, beyond mobile gaming, and beyond gaming platforms themselves. He wants Project C to be the kind of game that you can play for a lifetime, as a companion of sorts to your personal reality. He told me about the plans he has for the in-game economy, how players can build their own quests, and much more. Read below for the full interview, and keep checking Wccftech for more talks with the most important and inspiring people in the games industry.

Let's talk about Project C. I understand you're self-publishing?

Benjamin Charbit: We're self-publishing again, we started as a publisher. Which was a very bad experience for us because publishing your own game, that you know a hundred percent, is one thing. But ar our heart we're game developers. So the reason we decided to self publish Project C, or at least for now, is that during this whole development stage we want to interact with the community. Actually, just in May, we haven't really announced it yet, but in May, we're going to start bringing a few people in, people will be able to sign up on the website, and they will be able to undergo a survey, and we'll select some of them to get access to, to a pre-pre-alpha version of the game, just at the beginning of May. For me, you know, I had this very, very strong obsession about making a game that people want to play, like, I have the feeling that I've spent the last 10 years in the industry working on something based on our experience, gut feelings, which is another way to put it, you know, and you end up with four or five years of development. And the game - nobody wants to play. And yeah, okay, it's a waste of money, but it's not about that, I don't really care about the money. I care about the game, there are only so many games you can make, in a lifetime. And so I don't want to waste four years, putting myself and the team in a tunnel, and hoping that it's gonna work out. Instead, I'd rather do this, you know, we're pushing something that is extremely, extremely focused for a game that is going to be extremely massive. And we talk with these people, we're like, 'Do you like it?' Yes? No? Okay, we're going to make it better. And just on that part, and once this part is better, we can start expanding the scope, and bringing more people that are more relevant to this kind of scope. You know, they would like that more. So our focus is basically going to be spending the next year just doing this.

For how long has Project C been in development now?

BC: We opened the studio in January 2018. So a little bit more than a year ago we started to get our hands dirty, and the Improbable technology, SpatialOS, so it took a few months for us to get ready on that front, integrate it to be able to use it, now to have much better integration. But back then it was a bit more raw. And we got to a point where we could start, which was basically the beginning of June. I remember, right at E3, the team started really working on the game. So it hasn't been that long. And it's a game that in the traditional development model would have taken four or five years to make.

How long do you think it will take to develop Project C? Do you want to finish it in two to three years?

BC: I never want to finish it. Darewise, today, is the developer of a single game. And I don't want to make another game. I want to make the game. And to me, the game doesn't mean the game that I want, that I like, I want to make the game that a generation is going to play. I have this very strong desire to create a generational thing. I want to feel the same kind of thrill that I used to feel back then when I played World of Warcraft where I felt that was beyond the game, you know, it was almost a lifestyle and a hobby. And that's exactly what we're trying to do. But, again, doing this, without the feedback of the people, who are going to use it, who are going to play it, I think that would be a big mistake.

What is unique about Project C, and what unique features does SpatialOS bring to the table?

BC: There are two unique aspects. They won't even be available in May, on purpose. The first one is the scale. It's one massive game world. Obviously, I'm not trying to bring 500 million people right now into game. It is about really focusing and getting the core loop correct. So the scale is going to be important, you know, the community is not split between servers. So in this world, where you can go from one place to another, I'm not necessarily meaning that it's like one single map for everyone. There can be different locations, but everybody can go there. It's not that you choose your own server, and then you get your stuck to being on that server. That's the first thing. The second point is the simulation. You asked me specifically what SpatialOS brings, and simulation is something that we could not do, because of the complexity was really challenging to operate before, to run it, you know, CPUs were limited. Now, we don't have that limitation anymore. So we can have much more complex ecosystems that are completely similar. But there is another point, which is that we're really doing a true open world experience. So traditionally (and as you know, I was a game director and on Assassin's Creed so I did my part on open worlds), an open world is always descending, you have one main core activity that everybody's doing. And then you have a few or a lot of what do we call exotic gameplay, side missions, that are distributed around the world. So you have a strong incentive to explore the world, and you get a reward. Project C is very different on that front. Because we are not making one core activity, we're making a lot of activities, it's really a game of freedom with a very wide range of activities that can really fit with a lot of different needs and emotions. If you like farming, or if you like combat, you can have activities that fit with what you're after. And all of these activities are connected with social mechanics. So if you like farming, what you're going to collect, as a farmer can be used by someone else who hates doing this, but might need that resource.

So you're making an in-game economy where people can pick and choose what they want to do?

BC: It's really about choosing who you want to be, and what part you want to play.

So you can choose professions in-game which have a tangible impact on the game economy?

BC: We will bring real money transactions into the game. It's going to be an economy about goods and services. It's a Resource Based Economy. So you're obviously going to handle that constant need of resources, you know, there's a major source of energy, this very strong power source is going to be required all the time. It's player-driven. And this is based on a contract system. So we have our contract system in the game, which is kind of a mission design system. And as a player, I can create a contract and say, go explore that part of the map and report to me what's over there. And if you are the Indiana Jones type, you know, you like to explore, then you're going to go there. We will have a system for you as an explorer to really match things on the map, tag things, you complete the contract, you get paid. You can get paid with a lot of different things, including real money. If you're an explorer yourself, you need a vehicle to get there. Well, you can talk to a guy who loves to do Mechanical Engineering in the game, and when I say that, again, we are always talking about the activities that have an objective, a challenge, and a reward. So it's not just a game system, you know, it's not like, three stone plus two wood equal AK47. Because that would be a system, but that doesn't make an activity, you don't really have gameplay associated around it. Now, to craft a vehicle, it's not like that, but you're really assembling pieces, and you can really outsmart the whole thing and become the best engineer. If you do that, then you might have a lot of people asking like, 'I want to buy a vehicle from you, I'm making a contract for you, which is I want a vehicle, these characteristics and if you deliver it, you get paid.' So just starting the loop near the whole economy, you know, it's a frontier experience in a beautiful world. But this is a new world for us. We're trying to settle a permanent civilization over there. So the economy is obviously going to be a major part of it.

Is this a PC exclusive?

BC: It's a completely device agnostic title. Right now we're running it on mobile using cloud gaming services, and from day one we've designed it with that in mind. I think the notion of platforms, this concept of platforms, is absolutely going to disappear. What will matter will be the experience. And so, to give you an illustration, every time we design something new, we always put it through a matrix that says 'okay, system, what can I do during a bathroom break? On my smartphone? What can I do when I'm in the taxi on my smartphone? What can I do when I have two hours at home? Sitting five hours in the afternoon or afternoon on my console?' It's a completely divisive message.

Okay, so even a platform like Google Stadia could run this?

BC: Yes. Google Stadia will obviously be an interesting prospect. But I want to make sure that you can play the game anytime you want. And one really important thing is that it's really designed so that you don't have to play for many hours, you don't have to play every day. This is a constraint that has always been a major issue for me because that was easy when I was a kid. But yeah, I have a daughter, I run a company, and still, I fucking love these games. What can I play today that is really high quality, with low entry barriers? I can play Fortnite, I can play Supercell games, and I love these games, but they're very much for competitive people. You know, there's always a victory. I love the open world experience, the escapism, the adventure, that's what I want to be able to play. But right now, I can't play any of these, I can't play Red Dead Redemption, I need to commit 50 hours to have a good experience. It's too limiting, it's too complicated. So instead, I want to give them this freedom to say 'Yeah, sometimes I will play on my smartphone, sometimes on my PC or on my console'.

I really like the idea of the contract system where players can make their own side quests. Has that been causing issues? I can imagine it's complicated to make a system where the players can set their own targets and goals.

BC: Well, it needs to function. So everything that can be trackable as an event in the game, can be used as a new contract. So I told you about the mapping thing. So obviously, if I don't have a system for you, as an explorer, to be able to tag stuff on your map, and to make sure that when you tag them, the server is confirming that, 'yeah, there is actually something and you're not just clicking somewhere randomly,' it won't work. Without this, we would not be able to have this contract functional. So it's not such a complicated thing. It's more of the work of UI stuff. And we have a fantastic UI lead now, I don't know if you played Detroit: Become Human, but if you enjoyed the UI, we have the artist on our team. It's gonna be amazing. So it's really more a UI thing, and then in terms of balancing, well we don't need to balance because it's being balanced by the players. It's like, how much is it worth to you to have someone going to this place that is really far away when you don't want to go there because it's going to take you too much time to get the resources. And again, me, I don't really have a money issue, I have a time issue. So I want to reward someone for doing it. And on my own, I'm going to be doing other stuff. So it's not just about making money, don't get me wrong, but it's about just finding the right structure, where players together can find a balance that works for them, without just going to the shop at Darewise and be like, 'Okay, well, I'm done so I'm going to buy stuff from Darewise.' Players can do that together. And it will be better.

Is there anything I should know about Project C or Darewise before I go?

BC: Today Darewise is a 30 people team. We're based in Paris. That, I guess, you know. Really, the important part is that whole philosophy of developing with players extremely early on, so people will be able to sign up. If they go to the Darewise website, we'll communicate to everyone as soon as we have the new website ready. And we will gently let people in the game, but if we don't let people it's because we think the game is not ready for them yet, if you're like a Warframe player, you're going to tell me that the combat sucks, and I know about it, so I don't want to get you frustrated. But once we get there with them, we're gonna reach out.

Thank you so much. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me today.

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