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Interview: Heatwave Interactive On Resurrecting Gods & Heroes

Heatwave Interactive CEO Anthony Castoro spoke out on the development of PC MMO Gods & Heroes, noting that finishing what Perpetual Entertainment started was a bit like "archaeology."
After over six years in development, PC MMO Gods & Heroes: Rome Rising finally went live on June 22, and developer Heatwave Interactive says finishing Perpetual Entertainment's once-troubled project was very much like "archaeology." Perpetual announced Gods & Heroes back in 2005, but after suffering several delays, development on the game ground to a halt and the studio liquidated its assets in 2007, and closed in 2008. The Austin-based Heatwave Interactive picked up the project in 2010, along with the rights to the IP in order to finish and release the game. "We picked up the game when it came up for sale, because ultimately the price was right," explained Heatwave CEO Anthony Castoro in an interview with Gamasutra. "It was that, and a combination of us liking the idea and wanting to see it finished, and having the right prep." The executive reflected on the company's experience working with the tumultuous project, saying, "It was challenging, but it was pretty interesting. We liken it to archaeology -- we had to go in, look at things, and figure out how they worked, because there was no one there to tell you. But we did have access to some former [Perpetual] team members, and we utilized that." Castoro also shed some light on why the game never saw a proper release until now, pointing to technology limitations as the primary factor. "The biggest issue with the game was that it couldn't scale to massively multiplayer numbers, and I think that's the main reason why it never came out [at Perpetual]." Fixing the game's technical issues became a top priority for Heatwave, and the company worked to get these networking problems ironed out as soon as possible. "We quadrupled the game's capabilities within the first month we were working on it," Castoro said. "Now we have it near the current spec you'd expect from an MMO, with roughly 2,000 to 3,000 simultaneous players on every server." Even after solving the game's technology problems, however, "some people were advocating that we take all the art and make a new game, but that's not what this was about. It was about finishing something that someone had started," Castoro said. Castoro also pointed out that taking on an unfinished project actually helped the team manage scope and avoid feature creep, as much of the game's framework was already in place. "In many ways, the limitations of the previous design decisions and the technology made it so that we had to focus on what was there and make that work really well, as opposed to going off to explore a new thing that no one had ever done before," Castoro said. "I think it really benefited us; it's why we were able to get the game production ready in under a year." When updating and fixing the game, Heatwave tried to maintain a balance between Perpetual's original work and the team's own ideas. "Our philosophy with the game was to have one-third the same, one-third improved, and one-third new," Castoro said. While maintaining the basic framework of the game's world, art, and quests, Heatwave completely revamped the game's beginner content, and added a number of features, including some "that have become standard [in other MMOs] since the game began development," such as auction houses. Since the MMO had been in development for so long, Heatwave found that one of its biggest challenges was not getting the game out the door, but tempering expectations for the title compared to its contemporaries. "The game was an award-winning standout in E3 2006, and I think a lot of people have that memory of the game," said Castoro, "but six years later, even though we've done quite a bit to update the game, it's perhaps not as visually spectacular relative to all the other games out there, right?" While Gods & Heroes might not live up to the visual standards of other modern core MMOs, Castoro maintained that for launch, the game needed to remain a traditional, subscription based title, as adopting a free-to-play model would have been too arduous an undertaking. Currently, Gods & Heroes charges users a subscription of $10 per month. "In order to go with the free to play model, we would have had to re-engineer the game fairly significantly," said Castoro."Our needs and expectations for us to be successful at retail are not the same as those of Rift or World of Warcraft. It's a different situation." Given the ever-growing popularity of free-to-play MMOs, however, Castoro admits the game will almost certainly adopt the model down the road: "Free to play is definitely in the future for this game, but it will just be one way to play. To do free-to-play right, you have to make sure the game is designed to capitalize on that way of trying out the game."

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