The minds behind an upcoming indie MMORPG talk us through the challenges and joys of the development process.
"Find your niche and stick to it" - Making an Indie MMO
As fans of MMO Games know, we love talking to the directors and lead developers of the major MMORPGs. You name a big budget AAA MMORPG from the last ten years, and it's a safe bet that we've spoken to the minds that have made it a reality. But so much of the wonder of the world of MMOs comes from smaller studios who can explore original concepts, unique ideas, and create distinct offerings. With that in mind, we sat down with Virtys' François Desrosiers, Game Director of soon-to-be released Mist Legacy to see what it's like trying to make a big splash as a small fish in a massively multiplayer pond.
Know your limitations and try to use them to create a unique style for your game.
Mist Legacy, currently in early access, is a strategic old-school fantasy RPG with turn-based party combat and a modern twist. Easy to play, hard to master, an innovative stat system underpins your entire approach to the open world. Developed by a team who've been fans of the genre since the very beginning, it's easy to see why they've been yearning for an age when the MMO was purer. But in an industry rife with monetisation and loot boxes, remaining pure in the modern world has its challenges.
What inspired you to create Mist Legacy and what were you doing beforehand?
The game is really a mix of many genres, ranging from old-time RPGs to recent MMOs with numerous elements borrowed from strategy and tactics games. We wanted to offer a relaxing way to play an MMO by developing a game that is easy to handle, while still offering a deep and complex ruleset and satisfying challenges.
As for what we were doing before Mist Legacy, more of the same actually. This is Virtys' second commercial game and even before that we were working hard on “private MMO servers” - designing games too complex for the experience of our team at that time.
I imagine it's all too easy to get caught in your own ambitions, we've seen a lot of projects fall foul of big ideas. Where did your love for MMOs and RPGs come from?
The core of the team is composed of long-time tabletop RPG players that started playing on computers in the 80s. As for MMOs, some of us started on text-based MUD and we were there when Ultima Online changed everything. We have followed the genre ever since. But yeah, we are kind of old school, sometimes too much for our own good.
We're all huge tabletop RPG fans here too, and those golden years of MMORPGs undeniably had magic. Are you optimistic about the future of MMOs as a genre?
Yes, and even more so in recent years. More and more smaller studios are trying to make their way in the MMO genres. This new blood brings new ideas and new concepts that will allow players to understand that there are many more ways to appreciate an MMO experience than what they have seen in the last twenty years.
We've written a lot about potential WoW-killers, perhaps it will just be death-by-a-thousand-ideas. Where does Mist Legacy fit into the genre?
The game offers a very complete experience without relying on player ability to control a game character, making it, in a way, closer to the tabletop genre than many other games. To give an example, many recent MMOs will need you to dodge boss attacks. It may be fun for many, but others will find that this kind of feature moves the game away from the RPG (where the character knows how to dodge) to an action game (where you know how to dodge). This is why our combat system is turn-based, a very rare choice for MMOs. But a choice that creates very interesting combat where strategy and planning come first.
The stat system is compelling and addictive, did you have a clear vision of it from the beginning?
We knew it would be a skill-based system, but the exact mathematics behind the system did evolve a lot during the game creation. Some ideas we had at the beginning were just too complex for the player to understand quick enough, so we had to simplify a lot. Even the best concept is bad if you can’t get your player to understand it.
Creating a whole MMORPG is no small undertaking, any tips for equally ambitious indie developers?
Find your own niche idea and stick to it. Know your limitations and try to use them to create a unique style for your game. And most importantly, don't think you have a game because you can move some animated avatars on a game server. We often see Kickstarter or Early Access games that are at this early stage and it feels like the developers think they have a game, they don’t. In MMOs everything is important, you don’t have a game until you have everything.
What do you think attracts players to indie MMOs?
It depends on the player type, but often the attraction comes from the uniqueness of the game concepts. For social gamers, it’s more the fact that indie MMOs tend to attract players with common interests so it creates a more friendly and helpful community. There is also the direct contact with the game developers that many appreciate, sometimes we feel like we're DM-ing a massive tabletop D&D game.
As indie developers, how do you compete with the big-budget AAA studios?
Honestly? We don’t. We do the best game we can with the resources we have. The trend that players have an “unbreakable bond” with their current “one-and-only” MMO is changing a bit. So, many players of AAA games will come to our game and play with us for a while. Also, many other players that never had any interest with what the AAA games offer will play our game because it’s different. At the end of the day, we all compete for visibility, it's true. But the key is to offer a good game.
What have been the most challenging aspects of the development process?
Monetization, we all wish it would be a simple thing, and many players think it is. But finding the right balance between what you need to survive and what you want to offer is hard. During our early access, we had to change it twice to get a good balance, and we will probably still need to adjust it again before the official release.
How about the most enjoyable?
Creating a fantasy world and designing the universal rules to give it life are always the fun, and easy, part of a game's creation. What is even more fun, but harder, is when you expose this world and rules to a bunch of new players and that they destroy them by playing in ways you never anticipated, making you rethink every part of your game. Listening to players, understanding the way they play and adapting the game for them generates the ultimate enjoyable feeling: when on release day everyone is happy with the new changes.
Mist Legacy is currently available on early access on Steam, more information can be found at MistLegacy.com. We aim to publish a preview soon to see how their nostalgic title is working out. Moving foward, do you want us to talk to more indie developers? What part of their careers interests you most? Let us know in the comments.