Berk's Grapevine

School of Dragons producer interview

Two weeks ago, you asked questions to the producers of the online HTTYD game, School of Dragons, about the gameplay and their experiences with it, and here are their answers! Check out the complete interview with them under the break! Huge thanks to everyone at Jumpstart who made this possible!

1. Learning about and bonding with your dragon seems to be an important part of School of Dragons. What made you decide to focus on this part of the game?

J.P. (Dragons Mobile Producer) – When the first movie ends you see a dramatic change take place in Berk- Dragons and Vikings are living together! We felt like that was the best place to start our story. Who doesn’t want to raise and train their own dragon? We wanted players to experience that bond with the dragon of their choice and learn how to raise and care for their dragon while interacting with the characters of HTTYD. 
D.J. (Dragons Producer) - We believe that the real heart of HTTYD’s story is the relationship between Toothless and Hiccup. After our first meetings with the creative group at DreamWorks Animation, we agreed that allowing players to experience that same relationship should be our top goal. We spent a lot of time defining what being a dragon trainer in School of Dragons (SoD), meant. What sets the HTTYD world apart from other dragon tales (forgive the pun) is a strong, personal bond between a dragon and its trainer, so we felt it was important to make the development of that relationship our game’s foundation. 

2. What was it like to design sounds for this game? Did you use music from the movie or compose brand new music? How did you create the sound effects for the dragons?

D.J. (Dragons Producer) – We work very closely with DreamWorks Animation and were given anything we asked for. We have musical scores from the film, sounds for dragons, and a variety of music for different scenarios. We also have our internal sound engineer who absolutely loves the franchise and has spent many sleepless nights finding just the right sound for a particular moment. 

3. Developing for mobile and desktop at the same time can be hard. What parts of the gameplay did you change to work better on mobile devices? 

J.P. (Dragons Mobile Producer) - We chose to develop SoD on both platforms at the same time because we felt it would allow us to design a better game for the players. We went into every meeting (design, art, and programming) looking at the game from both sides. By flying your dragon around, we are able to take advantage of the mobile device’s accelerometer, which allows you to steer by tilting your device up or down and side to side. We were also able to use the mobile touch controls to allow you to look around (moving two fingers on the screen) or zoom in and out (pinch in or pinch out) on the screen. As we add features to the game, we will continue to look at new ways to bring mobile-specific controls to them. 

4. How does membership work? What are the benefits of becoming a member and will people still be able to play the game if they are not one? 

D.J. (Dragons Producer) – People will absolutely be able to play the game if they aren’t a member. We believe that everyone should have the chance to play and enjoy our games. There are perks to being a member, such as extra gems, discounts in the store, exclusive in-game areas, etc.  Every month a member will be given an allowance of gems, which they can use for special items and to access time-saving features throughout the game. As we continue to build on the initial launch of SoD, there will be more and more benefits (both member and non-member) that will be added.  
J.P. (Dragons Mobile Producer) - Member benefits include a monthly gem allowance, free member profile slot which allows you to have more than one avatar, discounts on items in the stores, special members-only items in the store, along with earlier access into games. It is like VIP treatment! Players that don’t become a member will still be able to play and have a lot of fun!

5. We were all curious when we saw Heather on the character roster, along with Phlegma and Spitelout.  Do these characters serve important roles in the game, and are you thinking of adding more minor characters or new dragons in the future?  

B.Y. (Narrative Designer) - All of us on the design team are huge fans of the How to Train Your Dragon franchise, and we are taking great pains to stay true to its vision. We want to use as many dragons and minor characters that we can, while maintaining continuity through the other facets of HTTYD. We are also working hard to present these minor characters in a manner that rings true. 
We worked closely with DWA to find teachers for the School of Dragons. Heather, Phlegma, and Spitelout were among the finalists for those roles, and appeared as a sneak peek within our Game Guide. In the end, we have decided to introduce brand new characters for those roles, and plan to save Heather, Spitelout, and Phlegma for later uses. We plan on putting these new characters on the Game Guide, but we want to give you guys a sneak peek. 
Heyral the Wise is our Headmaster. As an old veteran of countless battles, Heyral is the perfect leader of the School of Dragons. 
Katrin the Curious is our Alchemist. She’s the hip, young teacher. Her enthusiasm and excitement are infectious. 
And finally, Flora May is our Botanist. She is a warm, motherly figure who wants to protect and nurture her students.

6. How big is the virtual world? Will there be different servers to choose from so the world doesn't get too crowded? 

J.P. (Dragons Mobile Producer) - We do our worlds slightly different than you are thinking. Unlike other online MMO’s, SoD will not require a player to select a server as each instance of the game is operated as a world of its own. Players can still invite and joining their friends in the instance of the game either, playing in without having to deal with multiple servers. We do not have players choose what server they want to play on. Instead, each world has different MMO rooms. This way you can always find your friends when they are online, you don’t have to make sure you chose the correct one. 
D.J. (Dragons Producer) – We balanced our worlds to be big enough to enjoy flying, yet small enough to not overload older machines. For scale, our worlds are all roughly the size of Berk, and mostly have an ‘island’ aspect to them. Lots of room to explore, and of course fly around on your dragon. 

7. What is the process behind creating the character models and locations? How long did it take you to build a playable game?

R.B. (Dragons Lead Artist) - The Art team at JumpStart has been working closely with DreamWorks Animation to make School of Dragons a faithful recreation of the characters and locations seen in the HTTYD movie and TV show. The Artists have taken the same character models used in the movie and TV show and converted them into lower polygon models that can be used in the School of Dragons game. Many of the props and locations have been converted using the same method, so players can visit Berk and other locations from the How to Train Your Dragon world. However, there are many locations and adventures that are new and ready to be explored when School Of Dragons opens. 
D.J. (Dragons Producer) - We had a lot of help from DWA when it came to locations, models, and characters. We had beautiful concepts of dragons, Berk, etc., and we used bits and pieces of all of these to create a world that fits into the HTYYD universe. Another feature we were very conscious of was making our worlds fit into our scientific theme as well. Each area of the game will have multiple geographic locations which we can use to educate as well. We currently have beaches, hot springs, waterfalls, oceans, inactive volcanoes… you name it! 
It took us a good 8 months from the start until now, and this is only the beginning. Our philosophy is get the game to the players as soon as possible, and let them tell us what they want more (or less) of. Buckle yourselves in, we are going to be expanding, creating, and building out this world right along with the new movie and TV shows.

8. What parts of the game are you tweaking in the beta? How many people who signed up will be able to get in? 

J.P. (Dragons Mobile Producer) - We are playing with a lot of difficulties on mechanics, quest flow, payouts with XP and gold, along with the user experience. We had over 10,000 people sign up for the beta and the numbers for people getting in are not final but some people have already gotten in. 
D.J. (Dragons Producer) - Everything! We are getting the game in front of a lot of different people to see what is working and what isn’t. We want to make sure it makes a good first impression and continue to up the quality from there. We are filtering through people randomly to let them in, we want the game to be in the best state we can make it.

9. What are your favorite and least favorite parts of the game? Is there anything you wish could have made it to the final version of the game but didn't? 

J.P. (Dragons Mobile Producer) - My favorite part of the game is when I get to fly my dragon. Flying around the MMO worlds is a blast, not to mention some of the other games in the world we have. The great thing about working on a MMO is there is no final version. There are a lot of great ideas and plans that we have for the game going forward. Being an online world, we have the ability to update as we go with new modifications and features. We are constantly taking in feedback from our users and applying that to our updates. We are always looking to better the user experience, as the users are who we are building this game for.   
D.J. (Dragons Producer) - Great question! Is it too easy to just say “the dragons”? In all seriousness, and at the risk of sounding cheesy, I love the entire game. I find myself losing track of time while flying my Gronckle around the world, before being snapped back to reality and getting back to work. I love that we have been able to incorporate science into this amazing universe in a non-obtrusive way. We are teaching science through dragons—how cool is that? I get to have my dragon blow stuff up in the name of science? Yes, please! My least favorite part of the game would be what is not in yet. We have big, epic ideas in the pipeline that are going to be making their way into the game for years to come. What we release with on day one is only the tip of the iceberg and we are leaving it up to the fans to define where we ultimately go.

10. It's strange to see dragon training and science in the same game. How does School of Dragons combine the two and let players experience the scientific method through the world of HTTYD?

J.P. (Dragons Mobile Producer) – This was an easier decision than one would think. After some of our team members came back from a meeting with members from the Dragons team up at DreamWorks Animation studio, they were talking about how the HTTYD world is based off reality and everything is real. The only differences are the dragons. Then you have Hiccup, Viking inventor extraordinaire! It really seemed like a perfect match for us. 
D.J. (Dragons Producer) – It actually fits really well, once we made the connection. Our entire world is surrounded by the scientific method. For example, on your way to school you reach a fork in the road, at which point you need to decide whether to take path A or path B. You make a hypothesis that path A will be faster, and you get to school 15 minutes late, thus proving that your hypothesis was incorrect. This problem solving skill is all around us! It turns out that dragons are a great way to teach science; after all, they combine many characteristics of a variety of animals (flying, swimming, burrowing, etc.), plus they breathe fire, which comes in handy with experiments. Players will accept quests to solve problems for the Viking teachers, or even characters from the television show. Within these problems players can walk through the scientific method to work towards a solution, and their dragon is with them every step of the way.


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