If you take a look at the top 10 games on Facebook, one thing is certain. The types of games that lead the pack in social gaming are not necessarily designed for "gamers" -- people so devoted to this form of entertainment that they're willing to slap down hundreds of dollars for a supped-up PC or console designed specifically to play video games. Talk to avid Halo player or a World of Warcraft master about FarmVille, and you're likely to get the hand (as in, talk to the hand). Playdom, the company responsible for City of Wonder and Wild Ones, wants to change that with Deep Realms, a new 'accessible' role-player for Facebook that is a -- in creator Raph Koster's words -- a "game for gamers." The game begins with custom creating an avatar (male or female), choosing a character class and then setting off on an epic journey that starts on a farm and ends, well, you'll have to play it to find out.
Instead of a traditional video game, where you roam freely, exploration will be dictated by a series of tiles, and each tile your character travels to will require energy. Once the energy is used up, you can wait until it regenerates or you can spend real-life cash to buy an energy refill.
Along the journey, your character will find loot, and run into randomly generated enemies and traps. As your hero progresses, s/he will level up which will unlock more skills, new missions and so forth. The game will also have a store, which you will be able to use your virtual coins to buy weapons and other power ups. Gifting will also be part of the game, and people will be able to send gifts that depend on their class.
What I like about Deep Realms is that -- while it seems very casual on its surface -- it still has traditional role-playing game elements designed to deliver a deeper game experience. Skill trees, for instance, are introduced in the game after level 5, allowing you to strategically map out your hero's abilities. There will be collection and crafting system, where you collect items to make, say, potions or other special items. You can organize raids with friends to take on powerful bosses (see the mummy in the pic below) and the game include a Player vs. Player (PvP) mode that will let you test your hero's skills and duel against other players. Koster, who also is Playdom's creative design VP, says they've also considered adding guilds for the game at some point in the future.
If you're not already attune to the language of role-playing games, the list of features above may sound strange (and overwhelming), but Koster assures me that the game will ease players into these advanced maneuvers. He also says Deep Realms will be accessible for people who (like me) don't want to arrange real-time meet-ups with friends to beat a boss or otherwise progress in the game.
Look for the first few chapters of Deep Realms on Facebook near the end of March and followed by regular updates that will include additional chapters and side missions. Then we can judge how well this game maintains the precarious balance between being 'casual' enough for the Facebook gaming set, while deep enough for role-playing game aficionados.