Interview: Robert Basler, One Man MMO and The Imperial Realm: Miranda
Robert Basler has been making video games for years, both on his own accord and as the lead software engineer for the Wii and PSP online client development at EA Canada. Four years ago, he decided to make a small MMO. No less called The Imperial Realm: Miranda, a 3D massively multiplayer online real time strategy (MMORTS) game following in the steps of Command and Conquer. The game is placed in a gargantuan 300x300 KM game world, utilizing a single-shard design and encouraging all out warfare between friends and foes alike. The user has the ability to build a base, harvest resources, customize his or her forces with hundreds of upgrade components all in an immense fully 3D client. It is one of the most exciting projects on the horizon for 2014 as of yet. I spoke with him about his upcoming game, thoughts on the industry, and his life as a developer.
So, how did you get into game development the first place? I remember playing Medal of Honor: Heroes pretty fondly.
That game was so fun to work on. We built all-new server technology for that, and trying to get 16-player multiplayer to work over WiFi on PSP was really challenging. Most WiFi access points fall over if you try to get 16 people in one game. In the end, the game played really well. I was amazed at how much interest the multiplayer got. People really loved it. I've been making games since I was a kid. My brother-in-law introduced me to computers and programming at 13. Programming was sort of a must; there wasn't really any prepackaged software at the time. I made text adventure games, action games, even a Pac-Man clone with a truly evil AI. When I went to work, I got into another line so it wasn't until 2005 when I got back into making games at EA.
How did that segue into making RTS games? More specifically, an MMORTS?
I used to play a lot of LAN co-op Command & Conquer with my friends. We'd get together every week to play and there was a lot of laughs and yelling. Eventually, they got families and moved away and I missed the group play. Around that time, I got my first exposure to World of Warcraft, but nobody seemed to be making a really big RTS game. I started MMORTS.com to try to stay on top of the developments in the genre as I kept waiting for Westwood and later EA to make a C&C MMO, but they didn't do it.
Why pursue the dream as a single man project? MMOs, as you said, even when small are immense undertakings. Did you reject the idea of bringing others in from the onset or was that something that developed over time?
This isn't my first foray into being an entrepreneur. I've been running another software company for 24 years (it is mostly idle now.) That venture had partners and while they were great guys, and I wouldn't be where I am now without them, with this venture I wanted to try to do something on my own. It was never really intended to be just me forever. But so far, it has worked out that way. When the game launches, I've someone in mind to help me with the community and support. And I've had people help me in different ways as the game has been in development.The other part of the desire to do this project was to do a project that was really, really difficult.
What's your favorite part of the whole process? The programming? Designing? Music composition?
More than anything else, I like to make things so the programming is definitely my favourite part. After that, it is the sheer variety of things that I'm required to do. One day it's promotion, next day texturing models, next day design a collision system that can predict five seconds into the future for thousands of moving vehicles.
When you look at the industry as a whole from the perspective of a single developer, what do you see? Is the image that presents itself one that you're happy to be a part of?
I see diversity, and for the most part, I'm proud to be a part of this industry. I'm a small developer, but I've seen how big developers work from the inside. One thing you don't often hear about EA is about how many amazingly brilliant people work there. EA is perceived as a monolith, but it really isn't. I go to the monthly Full Indie meetups here in Vancouver and I see a lot of people actually building the things they imagine and that is really inspiring. There are also bad aspects to the industry, I just try not to be a part of that or try to make them better where I can.
What's your proudest moment to date with The Imperial Realm? The moment that really made you glad you decided to undertake this massive project.
It's kind of funny, but it's the day I added a banner ad for the game to MMORTS.com. I ran MMORTS.com for years, and then didn't really tell people too much about The Imperial Realm for even more years while I was developing it. So to put that image up there and invite people to come check out what I had been working on for so long was a pretty big deal for me. When I look at how many MMORTS games have failed in the past, that people have taken an interest in the game has really helped me be more optimistic about the future for my little project.
What has been your biggest challenge of working by yourself?
The working by myself part is easy. What really kills me is watching as I burn through my startup money. I originally planned for 1-2 years of development so to have it expand out to 4 and likely a bit more has been really difficult. I'm lucky that I have a supportive family who have given me both encouragement and graceful acceptance of fewer nights out and less exotic vacations.
Do you have a release date planned for TIR:M?
There is no official release date yet.
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