Wizard101 is a multiplayer, online adventure game designed to be safe and enjoyable for audiences of all ages. It draws you in with charming graphical elements, then hooks you with addictive gameplay. Borrowing from a wide range of sources, Wizard101 is the tale of a young wizard-you-found among the realms and brought to Wizard City for training.KingsIsle Entertainment is behind the title, which is a bright and colorful three-dimensional adventure game that is appropriate for young and old.Now let J. Todd Coleman, Director at KingsIsle Entertainment give us more details about Wizard101.
MMOsite: I am glad that we have this opportunity to do an interview with you. To start, can you make a brief introduction of yourself and your company KingsIsle Entertainment? And what led you to develop this "magic school" game?
Todd Coleman: KingsIsle is an interesting mix; we are an online entertainment company that was formed in 2005 by veterans from two different industries: enterprise software and online gaming industries. Wizard101 is our flagship project, which I run, and we have a second product still under wraps.
Wizard101 was the brainchild of me, Josef Hall (our Director of Technology) and James Nance (our Lead Designer). The original root of the idea was to create a fantasy world for kids, and from a game design standpoint, to blend the elements of a CCG with the concept of a virtual world. The magic school concept was just a good jump-off point for giving the world context: why are you here, and what are you trying to do?
MMOsite: Does the development team have any previous experience in MMO development? What major challenges did you encounter while developing Wizard101?
Todd Coleman: Actually, yes, we have team members from practically every successful virtual world studio...I counted once, and I think we have more than half a dozen shipped MMO titles under our collective belts. Of course, Josef, James and I were three of the key creative minds behind Shadowbane (talk about shifting gears!) so we certainly learned our lessons at the school of hard knocks.
Building a virtual world is incredibly challenging, because to really be engaging it has to work on so many different levels: the technology has to be solid, the art style has to be immersive, the characters have to be compelling, the advancement system and collection games have to be perfectly tuned and, on top of all of this, you have to have hundreds (or potentially thousands) of hours of content before you can launch. People often underestimate the effort to launch a virtual world, and they spend all of their time concentrating on the "big problems" - when it's actually the mountain of work, the endless stream of small tasks and decisions - that will overwhelm you.
MMOsite: How long have you been engaged in this project? Where does the development work currently stand? What types of gamers do you target?
Todd Coleman: Let's see... Josef and I started working on the design and the technology in late 2003, when our paths crossed with game industry vet David Nichols and a savvy tech entrepreneur named Elie Akilian. Everything just clicked... and KingsIsle has been developing Wizard101 under a complete cone of silence until this May. Now we're in beta. Very close to final game actually. We expect to launch this quarter.
We set out to make a high quality virtual world for the "tween" audience. Something that has more compelling content than games for the very young, but without the mature interaction of a lot of adult MMOs. What we've found through beta testing though is that in addition to kids and parents, a lot of more traditional gamers really enjoy playing Wizard101 because it's got strong gameplay mechanics that are new and different for an MMO.
MMOsite: In many eyes, Wizard101 is more or less related to "Harry Potter". What's your comment? Did the developers draw any inspiration from the novel or movie?
Todd Coleman: Well, it would be hard to make any game about being an apprentice wizard without that comparison, but thematically they are actually quite different. Wizard101 has a much more whimsical feeling, and from a game play standpoint we're actually a lot closer to Yu Gi Oh! or Pokemon. From a literary standpoint, I think the closest equivalents in the "Apprentice Wizards" sub-genre of fantasy would probably be Terry Pratchett's Rincewind series, or Robert Asprin's Myth Adventures Series. I grew up on Narnia, and my favorite writers are Tim Powers and Roger Zelazney, so I'm sure if you look hard enough you'll probably see elements of those novels, as well.
MMOsite: Can you share with our readers the backstory of Wizard101? Is there a main storyline to follow in the game?
Todd Coleman: Sure. The premise is that you are an apprentice Wizard enrolled in the Ravenwood School of Magic, which sits at the heart of Wizard City. The city is being threatened by forces of evil because a renegade member of the faculty has broken off and is sending all manner of nasty creatures to destroy the city.
As an aspiring young Wizard, you develop your repertoire of spells as you take on tasks at the behest of your Professors, and eventually you start traveling to other words as you track down the renegade Professor and attempt to thwart his evil plans.