Love is a MMOG that has piqued my curiosity ever since the first hints of its future existence began to trickle down the internet. Indie video games developed by one individual are uncommon enough on their own, but to accomplish the same thing with a MMOG as the ultimate goal was a story that many people dismissed as unlikely. Eskil Steenberg, the sole developer behind procedurally-generated Love, managed to do exactly that with a budget and time frame smaller than what takes teams of hundreds substantially more effort. While I am still meandering around the luscious and alien environment he has brought to life, preparing a more in-depth review of the title, Eskil graciously allowed me to give him a brief interview over email about the game he's created.
ctrlclick.com: Love breaks away from many common MMOGs by putting a huge emphasis on player cooperation and interaction. The internet isn't generally known for being a cooperative place. With Love, have you felt that the players took to your vision for cooperative settlements whole-heartedly, or have you had to push players into it?
Not really. I think that if you place people into any environment they will adapt to that environment. If you create an environment where going at it alone is pointless, people will cooperate.
In a related note, having followed the game's official/unofficial forums for some time, there was initially a lot of strife related to griefing, or players ignoring the game's mechanics in order to mess with one another. As the game has gone to launch has that still been an issue, or has it resolved itself?
There have been very few instances of griefing, but what has been a problem is that people by mistake have made things hard for other players. For instance, making a hole the other players fall into. Now I have made it harder to make such geometry so people don't do it by mistake; [the problem] has gone away even though it is still possible to make the kind of annoying geometry that people were complaining about.
Did you expect players to act that way when you envisioned Love, or was it something that surprised you? Similar interplayer conflicts are common in other games and initially Love really handed players everything they could want to do without any real restrictions. Did you anticipate some players would be antisocial with their new toys, or did you hope they'd get into the spirit of working with one another?
Players are behaving roughly as I predicted they would, I think the main difference has been how unwilling some people are to explore for themselves without having someone instructing them what to do.
The game really downplays the sense of an individual– players don't even get to choose the name of their character, having it randomly generated for them at login. What gave you the idea to do this and has it been something the players enjoyed or found frustrating?
I think it is clear that players have not proved they can handle naming their characters in a reasonable manner. Some people ask about it but most grow into their names right away– just like in life I guess. Seriously though, it is a very deliberate move to downplay the ego of the players. However, my next goal is to have the players up-play the ego of their fellow players.
You pulled together a full MMOG in a fraction of the time of large studios, with a fraction of the budget and work force. What would you say to another up and coming game designer who might be inspired by your work to try and pick up some C# manuals and build an online game of their own?
I wouldn't say fraction of the time, but yes it's been fairly small scale. First, I would say pick a proper language like C and then learn to program. Aiming for what I have done may not be the right thing, given that as far as I know I'm the only one who has done it. While I think many others could do it too, it's not a beginner project.
I believe that in order to design, you need to know the process of making games, and that means being a programmer. To be a programmer you need to love to program. Loving games comes a distant second. I would encourage anyone to start programming, just because it's so fun.
Now that the game is live, how long do you suspect it will be before Love is turning a profit and recovering its financial investment?
I try not to think about that. Seriously, so far I'm doing fine, but I'm not "rolling in the Benjamins". It's a long term project, so who knows about the future? I do think the development has been more than worth it disregarding money, since I've had a huge amount of fun and it has opened some amazing opportunities for me.
The visual aesthetic of Love is really unique, looking like a Monet painting. Early on the game didn't even include sound, leaving players with just the Impressionistic style to look at. The player and enemy AI models are also extremely interesting. What made you go with this artwork, and was the early decision to leave out sound a conscious one, or something you intended to implement later?
I would say it's a combination of making something that looks very cool, and making something with a very limited amount of time to spend on art assets. I am a graphics programmer so I spent a lot of time (and still do) trying to make the game look good, so it's been a lot of experimentation to arrive where I now am. Yes, obviously, [you] are inspired by things you see like concept artists and demo scenes, but in the end you create your own look that comes out of merging what you can do with the limitations you have. Today I have much better tools than I did when I started Love, so my next project will probably look very different.
In the short term what are the next steps you would like to take with Love? Any insight into your next plans for the game?
Right now I'm working on tuning the game and fixing bugs, but my major new push will be with the AI and character animations. I would like the player to be able to relate to AI characters better. I think that I have some fairly good ideas on how to make something very special. One step in that direction will be developing the character animation tools I just released a sneak peek of.
Finally, what is the biggest thing you've learned or been surprised by since bringing Love to launch?
I would say people's inability to believe there is no "god". In most games everything is "intelligently designed" just for them and has direct meaning to them. If something happens it's an intended act by the designers. But in my game, like in real life, things happen that have a cause that may not be related to [the players]. If you fall into a hole in a normal game and you can't get out, it's the designer's fault because that's how they made the game. In Love the hole could be created by another player or the impact of a weapon, or an intermediary stage of something being built by the AI. The world isn't broken, it's just alive. Many players get this and love the game for it, but many people are so schooled in a very static "ride" perception of what a game must be that they have a hard time adjusting.