By Guy D’Astolfo

The game already has 10,000 players worldwide.

Grab your Atom Smasher and get ready to duel.

EpicDuel, a video game developed by two local men, is aiming for world domination.

The massive multiplayer online role-playing game is the brainchild of Jonathan Duran and Bernard Schmalzried, two Youngstown State University graduates. It has been available for free since February and has already amassed 10,000 registered players.

Now, Duran and Schmalzried are taking the next leap. A Beta version of the game became available Saturday, with new weapons and characters and, for the first time, the chance to purchase elite weapons and game credits. A Beta version, Duran explained, is still a draft, but more polished and with fewer glitches. Both versions have a chat feature.

Duran, 24, is the CEO of Epic Inventions. The New Springfield native and Columbiana High School graduate created EpicDuel, with the help of chief creative officer Bernard Schmalzried, also 24. Schmalzried, a Vienna native, is a Warren JFK High grad.

In EpicDuel, gamers create characters and square off in head-to-head battle with other players. The game bears similarities to World of Warcraft, but its main attraction, according to Duran, is that it doesn’t require huge expenditures of time and players can quickly ascend in skill levels.

Think of it as World of Warcraft lite.

“It’s much simpler than World of Warcraft,” said Duran. “if you have 15 minutes between classes or on your lunch hour, you can get your fix, and maybe even rise a level. You can’t do that with Warcraft. It feeds into the ‘pick-up-and-go’ mind-set, and it is much easier to learn.”

EpicDuel is set in a post-Apocalyptic future, where high-tech weapons mix with the remnants of a destroyed world in a battle for survival. Players customize their own character and navigate to various cities, where they encounter and battle other players, taking turns unleashing their weapons. A leader board keeps track of the top players and their scores.

The current leader and undisputed champ is a Canadian who goes by Chaos1x. “He has won 5,003 battles and is victorious 82 percent of the time,” said Duran.

The new Beta version is still free, but it comes with the option to purchase upgrades with slightly better weapons and extra “credits,” which are the currency of the game. “Otherwise, you have to earn them,” said Duran.

The upgrades range from $21.95 to $29.95. EpicDuel is also introducing micro-transactions, in which players can make impulse buys of additional weapons or other items for about $6.

“The competitive nature of the game will feed into that,” said Schmalzried. “The incentive to purchase items to make your player better will be strong, because you are battling against real people.”

Another new feature in the Beta version is artificial intelligence. Players can battle characters, including the menacing, ax-wielding Marauder, who are part of the game and not controlled by other players.

Duran said it took him two years to create EpicDuel. Because he’s not an artist, he initially used geometric shapes as characters. When it came time to flesh it out with professional looking art and graphics, he had a firm idea of the look he wanted.

“I just said one day ‘I am going to find an artist,’ so I went over to Bliss Hall [YSU’s fine arts building] to look for one,” said Duran. “The first poster I saw [in an art display] was of a boogie-man monster crushing a teddy bear, and I thought ‘that’s the one.’ Then I looked at the artist and it was Bernie. It was amazing, because my friends had been telling me to look him up; his art is the coolest. So I sent him a Facebook message, introducing myself as the CEO, making it look real impressive. He thought I was a bigshot.”

Schmalzried admits Duran snowed him a little, but he joined the team anyway. “I could see the potential,” he said.

Duran and Schmalzried now share an apartment in Austintown, which also doubles as their corporate headquarters and development center.

Relying almost entirely on word-of-mouth and bloggers, EpicDuel has been seeing a monthly growth rate of 30 percent.

While Duran and Schmalzried are focused on the Beta launch, they have also given some thought to the future.

It growth continues at the current pace, they will have to expand. “We work 14-hour days, but there’s only so much we can do,” said Duran. Options would include either selling the game to a larger company, or hiring people and moving into new quarters, such as the Taft Technology Center business incubator in downtown Youngstown.

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