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INTERVIEW - Niel Wiser, President & Founder of UltraPrime Network
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posted by: GF! Back Catalogue 10/2004 => 1995
date posted: 12:00 AM Sun Jan 19th, 2003
last revision: 12:00 AM Sun Jan 19th, 2003

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Interview by Aaron Stanton

The Evolvers: A well selected name for what could constitute an entirely new perspective on massively multiplayer gaming. For years there have been videogames that have attempted to mimic the look and feel of Hollywood: vampire slayers, star trekkers, bounty hunters , slews of voice actors trying to mimic other people in the name of a good videogame. It's amazing how rarely they succeed. Similarly, there are times when storylines built with the controls of a console or played out on the screen of the PC are used to produce a feature film. Resident Evil. Final Fantasy.

The Evolvers (tentatively due for release in 2004), from UltraPrime Network, aims to leave all that behind, and boldly go , if you'll excuse the cliché , where no game has gone before. The Evolvers seeks to blend two medias into a single form--not just two separate entities with similar settings and characters, but a TV series and a massively multiplayer RPG that act together to help mold and shape both to a common goal. Imagine, as a player, helping to determine the outcome of The Next Generation's finale in 1994. Imagine helping decide if the Borg invasion of Federation space was successfully repelled. For the first time, UltraPrime hopes to offer gamers the opportunity to materially influence the outcome and plot of an ongoing TV series through a perpetually living online world. Neal Wiser, the president and founder of UltraPrime Network, was kind enough to sit down with us and answer a few questions about the project.

GamesFirst!: What a great concept. Knowing that the plans are still in the works, and constantly evolving, what style of game is Evolvers going to be? Is it FPS? Real time strategy?

Neal Wiser: The Evolvers is primarily going to be an RPG, although we're hoping to incorporate some FPS options into the mix. Whatever the final form is, we're just hoping that we can offer the most exciting, entertaining and compelling game possible. If it isn't fun, what's the point?

GF!: The Evolvers aims to utilize both the TV and the computer to more involve the players. Will the television show serve as simply a window into the Evolvers world, or will it also be used as part of the gameplay itself (such as calling players together for mass battles, or organizing various invasions)?

Neal Wiser: All of the above. While the game is the center of the whole franchise, the TV series is indeed a window into that universe, and we're going to make use of it. However, it's not just going to be used for battles. We've got other things in mind.

GF!: You have quite an impressive list of credentials associated with the project , from Farscape to Star Trek TNG. How much influence will the game designers have on the look and feel of the TV aspects of the series, and visa-versa? Basically, will the TV dictate how the game behaves, or the other way around?

Neal Wiser: We're actually going to have a joint design period which will focus on the franchise as a whole, not just the game or the TV series. This is not only going to save us money, which is a good thing, but help to ensure a unified experience across platforms. We're also going to have two writing staffs, one each for the game and the series, but they're going to work closely together to coordinate the stories between platforms. However, the writers will mostly focus on their areas of expertise because the required skill sets involved, although similar, are actually very different due to the differences in the mediums. In the end though, both platforms will influence the other.

GF!: If you were forced to choose, would you say that Evolvers is more of a TV show with an interactive gaming element, or a game with its own TV show? Is the game going to drive what happens in the TV series, or are events in the TV series going to be driving what the players find themselves doing in the game?

Neal Wiser: Actually, The Evolvers is a fully unified entertainment franchise. Although the game is the core of the franchise's universe, both the game and the TV series exist in their own right. So it's kind of the chicken or the egg scenario because they both will affect and drive the other. However, there will probably be things that players will understand better than the viewers because they're living the game and participating in creating the events, but the viewers won't get lost.

GF!: There is very little released information out there about the exact form the Evolvers TV series is going to take (it's a very competitive world). Can you give us any hints as to what to expect? Will we see fictional characters acting out the events that took place online? News broadcasts with sports-like commentary? Actual clips of game highlights?

Neal Wiser: A lot of that is a closely held secret. What I can say is that the TV show is going to look "normal", but what happens won't be.

GF!: Will people be able to play the game without watching the TV and have it still make sense to them? And vice-versa; will people be able to enjoy the TV series without actually playing the game? Or are they pretty co-dependent on one another?

Neal Wiser: Like I said earlier, the TV series is a window into the franchise's universe. As such it will often reflect what's happening in the game, but it's not mandatory to watch it in order to follow the game. Nor it is necessary to play the game to understand the show. However, there will be times when watching the show will help the players perform certain tasks in the game. Regardless of how you do it, both the game and the TV series exist in their own right.

GF!: Many massively multiplayer games focus on freedom, emphasizing the player's ability to behave however they like, and do as they will. Will Evolvers be similar in that regard, or will there be more structured goals that help make it easier to integrate into an interesting TV series? (ie. Giving the player the option to attack base A or base B, as opposed to the option of getting a job in the city making deerskin underpants or joining the military.)

Neal Wiser: Our job is to create an environment where the player can experience the franchise˜s universe in the manner of their choosing, so they will have considerable freedom to get involved as much or as little as they like. They will have the option of getting involved in missions and performing other tasks, but I'm not going to make that mandatory.

GF!: I appreciate your taking time to talk to us. The Evolvers is a very interesting project that we'll be watching for come its projected 2004 launch date. As a final question, is there anything you haven't had a chance to discuss that you want to brag about? To you, what's the coolest thing going on with the project as it stands now?

Neal Wiser: The coolest thing is how well both the setting and the story compliment each other and allows the game to work with the TV series. As I was developing the various elements of the franchise, everything just seemed to fit, and that was very exciting. After all the hard work, it's very rewarding to see how everything clicks.

The Evolvers is due for release in 2004, with the developer yet to be determined. For updates on the developer selection process, beta testing, and other news, be sure to the check out UltraPrime's web site at www.ultraprime.com, and of course, keep reading GamesFirst!.