Interview with Rich Weil, FusionFall

Massively-multiplayer online games (MMOGs) have been stellar at providing alternate worlds for an alternate "you" for more than a decade, and The Cartoon Network’s FusionFall is a game that works to fill this niche for younger players as well, with depth of gameplay, story galore (the entire Cartoon Network!) and fun to boot.

Due to launch in little less than a week, it is currently in free preview with all content available to the public. Community Director Richard Weil holstered his Bubble Gum Blaster to talk to Gamezebo about what the Cartoon Network is up against 10 years in the future.

Thank you for taking time during the last two weeks before launch. Things must be very hectic for you at the moment! How about we start by letting the Gamezebo readers know a bit about you and what you do at Cartoon Network?

Sure. I’m Rich Weil, and I’m the Community Director for Cartoon Network Universe: FusionFall, which is our upcoming Massive Multiplayer Online game for kids.

Aren’t Community Directors usually positions reserved for the big boxed games? What do you do as a Community Director and how will it benefit the players?

That’s a good point. Community personnel are typically a public point of contact between the players and the company. One of our jobs is to make sure that concerns by the players are heard by the development team. We also work to get new players into the game by publicizing it (like on our FusionFall Facebook and MySpace pages).

When the game goes into full launch on 1/14, we’ll have a set of forums that everyone can read and subscribers can post to. Community folks will be the primary communicators for Cartoon Network on there, too.

What exactly is FusionFall? What am I fighting and why?

The crisis in the Cartoon Network Universe that is the basis for the game is that the Earth is under attack by Planet Fusion, under the control of the insidious Lord Fuse. Planet Fusion wanders through the universe devouring planets, and Earth is the next target! To digest Earth, Planet Fusion drops Fusion Matter all over the place that takes on the corrupted shape of objects in the area and becomes the monsters the players must defeat in their missions. So, for example, you’ll see twisted versions of lawnmowers, vacuum cleaners, bumper cars, jack-o-lanterns and all kinds of things like that. The diversity of the monsters and their look is my favorite part of the game.

Ok, then that would be what the ads I’ve been seeing on the Cartoon Network are all about. They weren’t exactly clear to me about what the game is or what I’d be doing… or even who the game was intended for.

Oh, I disagree about the ads. I think they’re fantastic. And they do give an idea of what the game is about: saving the Cartoon Network Universe in cooperation with some of its iconic characters like Ben Tennyson and Dexter.

FusionFall is a MMO that combines typical elements from those kinds of games (like missions, loot and action) with collecting (Nanos) and platforming gameplay.

It’s fast-paced and intended for kids to be able to jump in for limited amounts of time, have fun, accomplish something and then be done for the session.

But the characters don’t look like Ben or Dexter!

In the Cartoon Network Universe, some of the characters are "aged up" a bit to bring them all into the same basic age-range of the target audience. That’s why Dexter looks a bit different. 🙂

Then the game specifically targets kids? Will adults enjoy it as well? (I’d love to play with my kids, for example.)

We had a large number of both kids and adults playing in our Closed Beta and sneak peek weekends. We were happily surprised by all the positive feedback we received from the adult players, as well as the kids. There’s no question that it’s targeted for kids. We are going to be a lot of kids’ first MMO, and we made design decisions based on that.

Would you mind elaborating on what some of those design decisions were?

Sure! For example, almost all the missions that you get in FusionFall can be completed pretty quickly. We know that kids have a limited amount of time to play, given school, family and other activities. Also, there is the "Rest System", which limits the rewards you get for completing missions after a set amount of time, so that marathon sessions of the game are not encouraged.

Is this a restriction on the length of time I can play, then?

People can play FusionFall as long as they want! But after a certain point, you will find that you get fewer and fewer rewards from missions, until you get none at all. Logging off for a while will re-set the clock, so to speak.

You mentioned Nanos previously. What exactly is a Nano?

Nanos are a big part of the game. They are stylized versions of Cartoon Network characters that you collect in the course of play. Each one gives your character different powers and abilities, and you can equip three at a time. In the game, you get them by defeating evil versions of the CN characters. For example, you’ll receive the mission to go defeat Fusion Samurai Jack; when you do, you get a Samurai Jack Nano.

Nanos are also tied to character level, so if you have 10 Nanos, you’re level 10.

We did this as an alternative to the typical "class system" of most MMO’s. With the Nano system, you can essentially change your character around anytime and have a range of abilities. You can be a tank, a damage-dealer, a healer or a combination of the above!

Ok, these don’t sound at all like ‘pets’ as are common in many games. Can you give me an example of a specific Nano and what it does? How would I use it to ‘alter’ my character?

The first Nano a player gets (in the tutorial) is Buttercup from the Powerpuff Girls. You can choose one of three powers to be active; an example of those is her stun power. When you have that Nano "up", you can use the stun power on monsters.

Speaking of Buttercup, can I be one of the Powerpuff girls if I’d like?

Cartoon Network characters like the Powerpuff Girls and the crew from Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends are in the game as mission-givers and as characters the player can battle alongside, but you can’t play as them specifically. Though in some cases there are special suits of gear in the game that can give you the look of some of them, like Eduardo!

How do we fight? I mean, as a player how can I help the Cartoon Network characters battle Fusion Matter and its creations?

There are all kinds of cool and fun types of gear in the game. You get gear as loot from defeated Fusion minions as well as from mission rewards. There are guns and swords (in the Cartoon Network style, such as a bubble gum bazooka and a giant turkey leg) and also clothing items that are for fun, like tentacles and wings. We wanted to give players opportunities to customize the look of their characters, and so put in lots of stuff to do that with.

I don’t think I’ve heard of many MMOs that contain platforming elements before. Can you elaborate on that a little?

We really wanted to make the game as three-dimensional as possible, as well as to include "actiony" elements that would appeal to kids. So we included jump pads that shoot your character high into the air, zip lines to ride down and even cannons you can fire yourself out of!

In addition, there are lot of what are called "Infected Zones" that are special areas where the Fusion infestation has even bent the laws of physics so you see all kinds of stuff floating around in them. Running missions or races in an Infected Zone will require you to do lots of jumping and planning, and adds the platforming elements to FusionFall.

Let’s get down to the important stuff. What are the system requirements?

We absolutely recognize that a lot of kids are gaming on "hand me down" pc’s. I know mine are! That being the case, we wanted to make sure that the game would run on those of machines, the ones that are several years old. As an aside, accessibility for kids was one of the main reasons we made it available as a browser-based game.

But, to answer the question, we haven’t pegged an exact set of system requirements, but we’re pretty comfortable in saying that it will run well on a 3-4 year old machine, in general. And it runs on Apple machines, too, which was another benefit of making it browser-based.

On to one of my pet-peeves. I love downloads but… Will it be available in a box as well if I’d like to give it as a gift?

FusionFall is indeed available in a box, coming to a store near you, soon. The box has the game intstaller, gametime and some special in-game and real swag for the player.

When does FusionFall launch and what will be the cost?

FusionFall is currently in Open Beta, so anyone can play now. We officially launch worldwide on January 14, 2009. Characters from the Open Beta will carry over into post-launch, though of course if you’re above level 4 you’d have to be a subscriber to play that character, since they’d be in the pay zone, rather than the free zone by that time!

Are there plans for regularly added content or expansions?

We are already planning content updates and expansions. The updates would be free to subscribers and we haven’t made plans about how to roll out the expansions, yet. But, we are committed to increasing the content in FusionFall as time goes by, adding new Cartoon Network characters, new missions and new areas.

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