Utopia Temple
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Hello Mehul, it is an honor for me to interview you today.
No problem I'm glad to do it. These types of interviews allow us to get a ton of information out to our users in an organized, easy way.

How are you, how do you feel these days?
Not bad, but busy. We're trying to grow Swirve.com in all sorts of directions, and it's been (obviously) fairly difficult. We're starting to catch up on a variety of projects we've been working on (such as the RoadTrip 2000 site), and hopefully we'll be better organized in the future.

Mehul Patel -- This is quite an unusual name. What is its origin, and what is its meaning, if any?
The name is originally Indian. Patel is actually a very common Indian name, although Mehul isn't as far as I know. If there's any meaning behind it, I don't know of it!

What is your age?

It is known that you used to play Utopia. Do you still play?
I play off and on. Generally, I'll play at the beginning of an age to find bugs and deal with technical issues. I tend to lose interest after a certain point, simply because I don't attack anyone I'm not sure how fair it would be. After a couple of weeks, I tend to either get deleted due to inactivity, destroyed, or I delete myself. Unfortunately, I don't really have the time to get into it anymore.

Are you happy with the kingdoms you've played in, and the way people play today?
Yes and no. Each age, I'll start in a new kingdom so it does vary a bit. I do get tired of some of the immaturity, and I think the game would be much more enjoyable if all the players respected each other. However, I think the game does allow users to create their own playstyle just because I prefer one way doesn't mean everyone does, and the game has room for all types of players and kingdoms.

Do you cheat or abuse your power as the creator of the game to give yourself advantages over other players sometimes?
It's tempting, but no. Ultimately, I don't think the game is or can be mostly about winning. The biggest reason to play the game for me is the interaction and cheating doesn't really do anything to improve that.

How well then do you manage in your own game?
Not great. I've never spent much time in the game, and I generally avoided attacking, unless attacked first. My job in creating the game is very different from playing it my goal is to create a balanced game where there are many ways to win, and no "perfect strategy". If I succeed in that, then writing the game doesn't really have that many benefits.

Swirve Related
How many people are on your staff? What is their job exactly?
We have a total of 3, myself included. I do mostly design / development and business issues. We have one Business Development person to help grow the site, and we have one entertainment specialist, who has a variety of duties from movie reviews to looking for Earth & Utopia cheaters.

Are you content with Utopia being a free game, maintained by advertising?
Absolutely. We're not interested in charging for the game because it makes no sense. The goal of the game is social more than anything else, and that requires a large number of players. Charging may (or may not) be more profitable, but it really does not improve the quality of the gaming environment.

What part of Swirve's income does Utopia generate? Has it changed over the rounds?
It changes as we grow in different areas, but in general, we try not to discuss financial issues.

Utopia History
How did Utopia start? What was it influenced by?
Utopia was designed because I wanted to create a new game from scratch. When we developed Earth: 2025, we didn't really have the knowledge or player-base to create the type of game originally designed. We used what we learned from Earth, as well as experience designing games previously, to create Utopia.

How long did it take you to write the code for the first functional version?
The original game took about 6 weeks from design to get online for public testing. It took several more weeks of testing and redesign to get the game to a functional game.

How much has Utopia grown from age to age?
During the first several ages, Utopia grew substantially. More recently, we've developed a stable and slowly growing userbase. Currently, our server capacity issues limits our growth, so I'm not really sure what our "potential" size is.

Did it meet your expectations?
Absolutely. We weren't really sure what kind of interest this type of real-time social game would attract. However, from the start, we've had a great response and a wonderful time growing the game and site.

Can you tell us the most significant events you recall in each round until today?
Not really. Each round there are different issues to tackle as we try to balance the needs of all of our players. Some involve cheating, others involve improving the quality of gameplay; yet others simply deal with the server capacity constraints. Each age brings something new and different.

Users Support
How often do you read the Utopian forums?
It generally depends. Around the start and end of Utopia ages, we read quite a bit. Othertimes, we read sparsely as we're not going to make substantial changes in the middle of a round. Much of it depends on the time period and what's going on. In August and September, we were launching a few new sites, contests, and sports games, so time was more limited. Later this year, the opposite should be true as we settle down.

You said before that you sometimes post anonymously in your forums, when you want to express an opinion without the "authority" of Swirve. Do you still do that?
Yes, definitely. Each time we post, many people analyze every little detail of the post the wording, etc. It's often much easier to spark a discussion by doing it anonymously.

How often do you read your email?
All the time.

Do you take emails from your moderators more seriously than from regular players?
When dealing with message board issues, yes. They help make the message boards work where others can't. However, in terms of gameplay, we look at players' needs as a whole, and our goals for the game. We don't really use email for game design as much as the forums.

Why does it take longer to fix some bugs, while others are being fixed almost immediately?
Mostly it depends on the immediate need to fix the bug, and the difficulty to find the bug. Depending on if we can duplicate it or not, sometimes it can be nearly impossible to find the source of certain minor bugs.

Will the server slowness always plague Utopia?
This age was worse than most, as one server was overloaded while the other was well undercapacity. We hope to improve this next round, but server slowness will be an issue for the foreseeable future. As we haven't peaked on the number of players, any increase in server strength will be followed by an increase in players until we reach an equilibrium between the server and player count.

Has anyone actually hacked into Utopia until today?
No. There was one security problem a while back which was corrected and dealt with. However, there has been no occurrence of users getting access to private information or account passwords.

Gameplay Related
What is your position on Alliances?
I'm not a fan of alliances created outside the scope of gameplay. Alliances between kingdoms within the game have a useful purpose and place. However, when players work together outside of the game as individuals rather than kingdoms, I think it hurts the game more than it helps. However, it would be almost impossible to simply ban alliances it would be unenforceable and a bad solution to the issue.

How do you intend to fight them then?
Rather than fighting alliances, we look for ways to make alliances less attractive. For example, by reducing the effectiveness of random attacks and making war declarations more important, alliances naturally become less effective. We're constantly looking for solutions of this type.

Where do you stand on reshuffling?
Reshuffles have their place in the game. However, we look at each Age individually when determining when to reshuffle. We haven't really had the need for a reshuffle recently, in our opinion. The main goal for shuffling is to give new players a chance to interact with long-time players and change up the dynamics of the game. However, with the last age's selective reshuffle, we were able to accomplish the same goal without reshuffling the players who prefer to avoid it.

What do you think of letting people choose their own kingdom ("legalize trading")?
I'm against it in Utopia. There are other games that allow it. Utopia's focus is on meeting new people and having to deal with people that don't necessarily agree with you or your ideas that's part of the social aspect. Allowing people to skip that stage gives an advantage to those with friends while making diplomacy and the ability to deal with people much less important. That's not the direction we're trying to take Utopia.

It is currently a fact that it is harder for small provinces to grow than large ones. Are you satisfied with this?
Yes and no. There has to be a balance. Good players should be larger they earned it. However, as good players, they should have to deal with more challenges. The best players will survive and end up the largest. Small players shouldn't have a direct advantage over large players, but there should be opportunities to move up and grow. We do not want to encourage a feeder's mentality where big players simply feed on small players who feed on even smaller provinces.

In your opinion, is there anything to do against the constantly rising DPA?
We can change game dynamics to make attacking both a necessity and have direct benefits. However, ultimately, it's up to the players to take risks and make the tough decisions. We believe that taking risks and sometimes losing is much more enjoyable than playing it safe, but that's up to each individual player.

You probably know that most of the communication between players in the game takes place through ICQ and other external messengers. Do you have any plans on implementing an internal "live" way to communicate?
We've considered a couple of possibilities, but there's nothing definite in place yet.

Do you have any plans to improve the current interface of the game?
We're always looking for new ways to improve gameplay and the interface. However, we're not actively looking for ways to change the interface right now. We do consider suggestions and make minor changes each round, but it has proven both functional, easy to use, and relatively fast.

Do you have any plans to rewrite the guide?
The guide does need to be rewritten, but at this point, it's still not high on our priority list. Unfortunately, we always seem to have many other things that need to be done that get priority.

What are you doing to prevent cheating? What will cause you to get deleted?
We can't really go into the methods we use to combat cheating, because that would only help cheaters get around them. However, we do use a mix of human and automated methods to find and remove cheaters. We rely heavily on users reporting cheaters to catch many of them.

Will multiple family members playing on the same computer get deleted?
As long as nobody cheats or provides fake information, players will generally be fine. Unfortunately, if one or more cheats, all the players are liable to get deleted. Many users play from public machines or with their family with no problems.

How do you explain the high number of innocent players getting deleted while the hardcode cheaters stay?
I don't think this is the case. You would be surprised how many people claim their innocence when they've clearly broken the rules. We get emails all the time asking "Why did my 4 accounts get deleted? I didn't do anything wrong!". People just simply don't read the rules many times. Every account we delete has a very good and pretty clear-cut reason behind it.

On the other hand, we don't by any means catch every cheater. I'm not sure why some people find the need to cheat at a game that's not about winning and offers no rewards for it. However, some always will and we'll deal with it as best we can.

Are you considering any changes to make it less beneficial to cheat, such as random kingdom locations, kingdoms blanketing, or limit the number of kingdoms a province can look at per day?
It depends on the solution. Certain solutions, such as random kingdom numbers, may help fight cheating, but take away much of the game's enjoyment in other ways. We're not going to destroy the game in order to stop cheaters.

How do you feel about feeding? Do you consider it cheating?
I don't consider it cheating, but I also don't think it's a good way to play. We'll be making changes to make feeding a less effective strategy.

Specifications and Technical
Are you a math expert? How do you come up with all your formulas?
I think I'm well-versed in math, but the formulas really aren't that complicated. The main thing to ensure is that extremes aren't allowed. Outside of that, most of the formula design just involves tweaking until the formulas work properly with the game.

Is there still a base amount of land assumed for thievery operations?

What is it?
We assume a minimum of about 500 acres when determining success rates with thievery operations. This helps prevent any type of suicide thieves from being successful.

Is there still an on-island landgrab bonus?
No there just didn't seem to be a benefit to it. Those kinds of things are always stated in the Guide.

What was the reason for taking boats off the game? Are you satisfied with the result?
The function of boats was exactly the opposite of the direction we were trying to take the game. Boats simply added a size limit to attacking. We're trying to encourage large players to attack other large players, and that was simply impossible with boats being sunk. The result was that large players had no choice but to attack smaller opponents, and that's exactly what we don't want.

Nevertheless, do you have plans on bringing them back?
Boats are gone, and will remain that way for now. They may very well be brought back in the future, but their function would be totally different.

What is your opinion on Utilization, which was implemented this round?
I think it's great. In previous rounds, there was little to no benefit to having a large populace (except for tax revenues). People would turn 80% of their province into soldiers, and there was no significant drawback to that. With the Utilization system, it adds a bit of realism and gives players who create a sensible economy an advantage as well. Now, building a large military has a tradeoff having fewer productive buildings (if players choose to build many homes) or have your buildings be less productive. Utilization combined with Employment and Taxes gives Utopia a realistic and functional economic structure that was lacking in previous rounds.

Many people complain about captured buildings being added to the capturer's acres before the land actually comes in, since it shows when the province has attacked. Is it going to be changed in the future?
This is a quirk of the programming. To keep things simple, we mix in buildings being built and buildings being captured, and that confuses the situation. We may look to make changes in this in the next round.

It seems like from round to round the races diversity diminishes, especially this round, where the elites strength were changed. Are we heading to a point in the game where all the races will be identical, just with different names?
The race diversities were diminishing up until last round. This round, the bonuses are larger than ever and actually make sense with the races involved. That was a core change this time, as we felt the races were getting off-track. The elites were simplified because they were too much an overriding factor. People were picking races primarily based on the elite unit, which meant the effect of the other bonuses was that much less. By bringing the elites closer together, all of the other bonuses can be much wider and more interesting. Instead of selecting a race because they have a great defensive unit, people can choose the race because they actually like the other bonuses and style of play.

It also seems that the rules become more restricted and protective each round. Why is that?
Again, this was the case up until this round. As we get more balance into the game, we're looking to eliminate rules and artificial restrictions where possible. This past round, we opened up the game quite a bit, reducing and removing building bonus limits and other limits throughout the game. Unfortunately, there's still a need for features such as diminishing returns and such, primarily because cheaters and/or unethical players make them necessary.

This round it was almost impossible to actually kill a province.
This round, there were two ways to kill a province: Take all their land, or kill all their people. However, the definition of people this round included military rather than just the peasants. This change was made for common sense reasons. If a province was to lose all of its peasants, it could re-settle some of its military to do the daily functions to keep the land running.

Will you add more ways to do it in the future, and if so, what will they be?
We are planning some changes in this area, but we're still working on what they will be.

Do you plan on implementing any major changes to the Utopian world? What about new races, more military units, terrain types, etc..?
This round, we have no plans for that. The last age was a major change in the game with the redesign of the races and the addition of Utilization. This round, we want to tweak these areas and get things running more smoothly before making additional major changes.

Have you ever considered adding random events to the game, which will affect kingdoms or even entire islands?
Not really, as of yet. So far, we've been trying to build a functional, stable world where the players determine what happens. We may at some point add some changes to generate some chaos, but that's not in our plans right now.

What is the point of "You have been logged in for several hours..."?
Many users will not logout when using a public machine. We don't want another player to be able to hit "BACK" and get into the game later that day and mess with the province. We got complaints all the time about accounts being "hacked" and such due to player mistakes, so we now automatically log players out after a couple of hours to help solve that loophole.

Are you happy with the server segmentation?
Not at all. The servers are not at the level we would like them to be, but the reality is that there's not much to be done to speed them up, and buying new ones is not really viable right now. Unfortunately, the only solution to that was to break up the games until we can find a way to handle more players at once.

Will the servers ever unite?
I hope so, but there need to be some backend improvements first. In our experience, having two or three computers writing to a single database has some quirky troubles that could cause problems for us as the game is currently written. We would need to make a variety of changes before trying to bring the servers back together.

Related Sites and Products
Utopia gave rise to many Utopia-like games, with some minor or major modifications, however none of them is as popular as the mother game, Utopia. How do you explain that?
Utopia and Earth are both popular because they brought something unique to internet gaming. Earth was the first large-scale game, and Utopia incorporated the ideas of teamwork and real-time gaming. Most of the clones don't bring anything truly unique or creative to the table without that, I don't think people are going to have a good reason to switch games.

You said once you would like to add a page for people to advertise their Utopia related sites and pages, do you still feel that way?
Yes and no. Ideally, I think it would be a great service. However, I don't feel comfortable promoting particular sites, when we don't know their authors personally. With Earth: 2025, we've had problems with the reliability and credibility of some of the related sites, so we've avoided including that here. This is an issue that we haven't made any firm decision on.

How do you feel about Utopia related tools, such as formatters, analyzers and calculators?
I have no problem with any of that, as long as the tools don't access the servers. Unfortunately, due to the possible of viruses and such, we can't and won't support any of these types of utilities.

How well are you familiar with these tools? Do you use them yourself?
No I don't really keep track of any of the utilities. I don't use them, so I've never looked at them.

The Future
Where do you see Utopia going in the future?
I'm not really sure. I'm not sure where the internet will be 12 or 18 months from now, so it's difficult to say. We tend to grow and change with the times rather than plan long-term changes, so I can't really give any predictions.

Will you ever abandon Utopia?
At some point, definitely. No game has a limitless lifespan, and at some point Utopia will end or be given to someone else to run. However, we have no plans of that sort right now, so it could be next year or ten years down the road.

Do you have any plans on creating more games, in addition to Utopia and Earth?
I would love to start from scratch again and create something new. Right now, though, time constrains me to working on all of the features we already have at Swirve.com. As we grow in the future, I'm hoping to get the opportunity to experiment again.

Now give me a little exclusive, what will be next round's name? :-)
Unfortunately, I don't know yet. We try to make all the changes and then get a feel for what direction the game will go before naming the round.

Mehul Patel, creator of Utopia, thank you very much for taking the time to answer all my questions. I'm sure I talk for all of us by saying we greatly appreciate it. Good luck with the next round!

- Brother Green (08-Oct-2000)

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