Zack Johnson Interview

InterviewKoL

For the uninitiated, Kingdom of Loathing is an in-browser text based RPG (some would say THE text based browser RPG) that utilises a mixture of intelligent and methodical systems layered with satirical comedy to create a blend unlike anything else on the internet. If that weren’t enough of a draw, the game offers a multiplayer experience in a richly designed world. It’s creator, Zack Johnson sits down with us at My Boxed Universe to answer a few questions regarding this unique role playing experience in his own words.

MBU
Thanks for taking the time out of your otherwise busy schedule to answer these questions for us today Zack. I’m sure that anyone with even a passing knowledge of RPGs or internet gaming has already heard of Kingdom of Loathing, but could you summarise the experience in a sentence or two?

ZACK
It’s a funny browser-based MMORPG that’s currently in its 13th year of active development. In it, you beat up goblins and hippies in order to collect meat.

MBU
What attracted you to the concept of a primarily text-driven multiplayer game world? Were you a fan of classic text based adventures (such as the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Zork) or did pen and paper RPGs get their hooks into you at an early stage?

ZACK
While all of those things were certainly influential, KoL is more of a descendent of early BBS door games like Legend of the Red Dragon and Barren Realms Elite. I liked the idea of a lightweight role-playing game that you could only play a little bit at a time.

MBU
Your credited as the games creator along with writer Josh Nite, is there anybody else that you felt had a big impact on the games creation?

ZACK
The rest of the staff, certainly. There are a bunch of us!

MBU
Creating KoL must have been quite the experience. Are there any stories about its development that you can share? We’re all adults here so don’t worry about trying to keep to a PG rating!

ZACK
A KoL player once took us on a day-long tour of Belgian breweries. That was pretty cool. By going to various KoL meetups, we’ve been able to travel around the world meeting all the coolest nerds. The overall effect is pretty indescribable.

KoL may look simple but it offers a massive range of features and locations to explore.

KoL may look simple but it offers a massive range of features and locations to explore.

MBU
Roughly how long was the development cycle on KoL?

ZACK
I initially released it to the public after working on it for about a week, but we’ve continued to develop content for it the entire time it has existed, so it’s thousands of times as big as that initial release now. I guess the short answer is that KoL’s development cycle is “indefinite.”

MBU
Kingdom of Loathing has a unique sense of humour in all areas of its design, from the world to the illustrations used and text provided. Was that always the plan or did it come about organically as the game was developed?

ZACK
The game’s style was a result of my starting it by myself, I think. It needed art simple enough that I could draw it myself, a design simple enough that I could code it myself, and writing that I could comfortably do a lot of. I think if the tone had been more serious, I never would have stuck with it.

MBU
Have there been significant changes to the game since launch?

ZACK

Absolutely. It has grown constantly for 13 years, and is now a lumbering behemoth.

MBU

Hindsight is a powerful thing, if you could go back and change any one thing what would it be?

ZACK

I think I’d be scared to change anything too dramatically. There are a lot of little mistakes we’ve made in the details of things, but overall, I think what we’re doing is working.

MBU
Has Kingdom of Loathing performed as you expected? It’s certainly got a strong and vocal fan following.

ZACK
I never expected it to make any money at all, much less support a full-time staff for over a decade. I am constantly surprised and grateful for how lucky I’ve been and how generous our fans have remained.

MBU
There are some great systems in place within KoL, I am especially fond of the pets (Familiars) that the players can recruit and train, especially the Mosquito, which steals enemy HP and gives it back to the player. They are all very different and unique. Do you have a favourite familiar or system that the game employs?

ZACK
My favorite familiar is probably the Rogue Program, who unlocks an arcade filled with little mini-games based on other video games we like.

MBU
Are there any big plans in the works that users of Kingdom of Loathing can look forward too?

ZACK
There’s nothing specific on the horizon, but we never stop working — check in in a few months and there’s sure to be a bunch more fun and funny stuff to play with.

MBU
You’ve since worked on a new game called Word Realms with a nifty concept. Care to give it a plug? I’ve played it and assure readers that it’s addictive.

ZACK
It’s pretty different than KoL (it actually has real artwork and animations and stuff.) It’s fun if
you like word games.

Word Realms retains a lot of the trademark humor  seen in KoL.

Word Realms retains a lot of the trademark humor seen in KoL.

MBU
Back to the Kingdom, you’ve got a slew of awesome and comical classes (I play as a Turtle Tamer by choice). Do you play any of them yourself in a Lord British manner or monitor the game from afar? Do you have a favourite?

ZACK
I usually only “play” in order to test stuff, but I tend to be a Seal Clubber when I do.

MBU
What tempted you into creating an MMO game rather than crafting a single player experience (although the game does cater brilliantly to players who want to explore and play alone)?

ZACK
I wanted to create an experience like the ones I had with old BBS games — a small amount of interaction with other players just makes a game feel more alive to me. If I find an item that I can’t use but that the game will allow me to give to another player who CAN use it, it just makes everything seem more valuable and real.

MBU

Can you elaborate on your background for us? What brought you to the point where creating KoL was possible?

ZACK
I worked a series of boring IT jobs. While goofing off instead of working, I learned enough about databases to be able to build the kind of web app that allowed me to make the kind of game I wanted to make.

MBU
Do you have any words of advice for new players?

ZACK
Don’t get too hung up trying to accomplish a bunch of stuff right off the bat — just poke around and see what happens.

Satire of famous IPs or popular culture elements are easy to spot.

Satire of famous IPs or popular culture elements are easy to spot.

MBU
How about advice for those hoping to make their own Indie games in the future?

ZACK
Try not to be too insecure or self-conscious. Work hard and show the stuff you make to lots of people.

MBU
Thanks for your time today Zack. For anybody who is interested in creating a character and getting involved in the game you can create a FREE account and be playing within minutes at the games homepage we strongly recommend that you check it out. Word Realms, also mentioned in this interview, is also played online.

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