Star Vault's CEO provides an in depth lens into MOIIs ambitious philosophy
Too Hardcore? Think again – Our Interview with Mortal Online 2’s Henrik Nystrom
Mortal Online 2 is the intentionally challenging successor to 2010’s hardcore medieval-fantasy MMORPG, Mortal Online. Our Head of Content Alex Sinclair Lack sat down with developer Star Vault’s CEO Henrik Nystrom to ask the questions you’ve been dying to hear answers to. If you’re yet to read them, try starting out our other recent MO2 articles including our Mortal Online 2 Beta Review and Beginner’s Guide.
We had an early vision to make insane AI for Mortal Online and made a prototype where a troll picks up a player and throws him around.
Star Vault have always done things differently, and our Mortal Online 2 interview highlights the ambitious philosophy that attempts to set the PvP focused title apart from the usual MMORPG fare.
As well as the original Mortal Online, which other games past, present, and future have inspired your vision for Mortal Online 2? Outward? Pantheon? Dark Souls, perhaps?
The heaviest inspiration for Mortal Online was the first client-based MMORPG I played, which was Ultima Online back in the beta days circa 1996. I have played pretty much every single MMO since then and there are a few ones that stuck in my mind that I really enjoyed. Star Wars Galaxies was another excellent MMORPG I played since launch, I also played a lot of EVE Online on-and-off over the years. I’ve also played Planetside, Anarchy Online and Dark Age of Camelot quite a bit which were also enjoyable.
But without a doubt the three MMOs I enjoyed the most and have drawn considerable inspirations from are UO, SWG and EVE. Coming from those games, you’ll recognise quite a bit in Mortal Online 2.
Which of the improvements, both already implemented and in-development, to the original Mortal Online are you most proud of?
The core of the network is a huge improvement, this is what makes the game feel much more polished and stable. The visuals are, of course, a huge step up as well which helps to portray a believable and immersive world – a much more highly detailed world with several biomes which we couldn’t deliver in the old game. Another important part that we’ve rebuilt in much more depth is the character system which has players concentrate on one character per account rather than multiple.
Reputation is important and what you do in the world matters. You can now learn skills in two separate skill trees, actions and professions. We have also finally implemented the Clade Gift Tree, which allows every clade to further develop their character for their personal style while tying into the game’s lore. We made all races viable play choices and fixed some of the core issues from the old game that put only a few available races in certain areas. Now we can see all clades being used in various builds which is exciting to see.
We’ve also made a huge improvement in our combat system with a specific ping normalization system and prediction that nullifies the latency difference between 0-250ms. This synchronises every attack and position for all players to ensure combat is much more accurate and enjoyable. We have worked on making the combat much more fluid as well.
The work being put into Mortal Online 2 is undeniable. How many of the ongoing improvements were original envisaged for the original title?
We are simply delivering what we always envisioned but couldn’t implement in the old game. Now, we finally can due to the experience we’ve gained over the years, a better engine, and a network solution rebuilt specifically for our game. Two other main areas we really focus hard on now that were severely lacking in the old game are the AI/PvE and new player experience. This helps us bring in more new players and makes sure there is always something exciting to do in the game; it’s not just all about PvP – there is so much more.
There are so many improvements from minor to major done for MO2 that I could go on the whole day but I think I have covered the most important ones.
Talking of new player experience, can a hardcore MMORPG ever be too hardcore?
Yes, look at Mortal Online 1. I believe we will find a very good middle-ground of an exciting challenge for new and old players that still gives a meaningful gaming experience with many options and a much more user-friendly in-game feedback system.
Mortal Online 2 makes no apologies for being a hardcore game, and we love that about it. That said, we fear there is a risk of making the target audience too niche. How do you intend to balance the hardcore appeal with a high-enough player count to make the world feel alive?
Very good question and I think its an important question to cover for all players.
MO1 was indeed extremely hardcore in every possible way. People hated or loved it, but it was also hardcore in many bad ways that simply pushed players away. Over the years, we have gone through all the data and learnt a ton. We strongly believe there is plenty of room for bringing a successful true sandbox MMORPG to the world, especially if these sensitive mechanics are balanced and tweaked. There is a large audience for it and there is also a new growing audience coming from games with similar mechanics.
We were surprised how many new players who never tried MO1 but tried MO2 in our stress-test managed to somehow get past the first big obstacles and get into the depth of the game and really start to enjoy it. This wasn’t the main goal of this test, but to stress-test our server setup and not really focus on gaming experience and indeed new player experience. But this showed us a huge difference: that players have played games today that have prepared them much better for many of the MO2 mechanics.
With that said, we are now getting close to delivering those systems that are meant to help new players get into our game. We are also building the in-game feedback to be more logical and easily understandable where it’s not meant to be a mystical secret or riddle to solve. With an improved AI and better security that players can rely on in terms of how AI behaves we can also secure locations and cities which are intended to be secure.
And you’re significantly expanding PvE gameplay too?
Absolutely. We have also increased the world size to make sure there is room for both PvP interested players and non-PvP interested players; there’s content that gives PvP players an incentive to go there and non-PvPers may have the options to participate or simply move away from those areas. We are focusing heavily on adding new excitement for the PvE genre types that may be interesting for all player types ensuring there is always something to discover and encounter.
We had an early vision to make insane AI for Mortal Online and made a prototype where a troll picks up a player and throws him around. That was way before its time, but today we can proudly present that troll in our game, and its an awesome experience to encounter in an MMORPG. This is just the beginning of our special encounters, MO2 is not about being a deathmatch PvP arena world where people kill on sight to steal their items. It’s to live in a believable world similar to ours in many ways and to focus on those areas that interest you the most; there are tons of features coming in and many more to come over the years for all types of players.
We designed the one-character system to promote a meaningful gaming experience where you need to think twice before you may ruin your reputation or shut doors closed in certain areas in the game should players break the law by killing someone innocent or stealing their items. Now this doesn’t mean you can’t PvP and fight if that’s what you are most interested in, we promote player trading, and conflicts and socializing in many different forms.
Even in Haven, the tutorial area of the game, there is very little handholding and a steep learning curve. Mortal Online 2 is still very much in its beta stage and we know that you plan to add some more help. Still, a lot of busy players without the time to figure everything out are going to want a lot more help. Are you going to give it to them?
Indeed. Like I mentioned, it’s important to us that our game needs to give new players a proper chance to get to know what MO2 has to offer. It may have more than first meets the eye and for new players that have no clue, they may find their new MMORPG home for many, many years to come.
Sieging in other MMORPGs is both popular and problematic. How do you intend to improve on the offering of similar games?
Building cities and sieging was indeed a big challenge for us in MO1 as well. Again, I think we gathered truly invaluable data from our years running that game. We saw what players enjoyed but also what didn’t work. We are rebuilding the parts that we weren’t happy with which simply didn’t work well enough or that pushed players away. We are taking our time to make this right and keep it clean and easy to use but with a lot of depth and options for the players.
We have solid plans now for how we want the siege mechanics to work. We just started to share some of the information regarding this and the responses so far have been awesome. It’s a long topic on its own and we haven’t figured out all details yet since its not just “one system and its done”, it ties to a lot of functions in MO2. We will cover this in more detail soon. We are just finishing our basic housing system that is a big improvement from MO1 as well.
On the topic of housing, in June 2020, when asked about player-asset destruction (player-made homes, etc.) you said it was really important to work out a way to find balance with the time taken to build something and destroy it. Have there been any updates to your strategy concerning this and offline raiding?
Very important question for all our players indeed. If its too easy or rewarding to blow someone’s house up, there will be no houses or player cities left, and that may also push players away. This is not where we want the focus of wars and destruction to be. We want to promote player-driven content – building their own houses and cities and designing them for their citizens. This still doesn’t come without risk; there are no magical barriers that protect you from a siege or other damage. But destroying a house or city will be no simple or cheap task, so you better want to commit for a very good reason if this is what you want to do.
Its not a Rust session where you run in bash a few bases, leave, and repeat. This is a persistent world, so it’s vital we balance this part as well to fit with a persistent on-going progression. Again reputation and what you do in the world and where you may claim your lands may pull attention from various players, but again we think that for someone to jump someone’s house there should most likely be a very strong reason why they have invested in sieging it. We try to promote wars and meaningful conflicts for those that are interested in doing so in new ways as well, to promote that away from those who don’t wish to participate. Just make sure you don’t happen to openly supply one of the sides with equipment in various forms as that is the sort of scenario that could draw you into conflict.
A deep combat system, a multi-layered and complex crafting and building system, a beautiful game world, over 600 skills…You don’t make life easy for yourselves, do you? Star Vault is not a huge developer, how do you manage?
We took on one of the most challenging projects in the world to start out with, while being a new team lacking in experience. We learnt the hard way and have not had a single day off since we started the MO1 development. This has been a big dream and passion for me personally and many in our team. There is a big difference, today we learnt all those steps and learnt from mistakes, and we gained knowledge and experience over the years. We have finally got the core in place, and we are ready to now deliver the dream Mortal Online 2 game we always wanted to.
Back then, we could have written a long “if we only fixed this and that…” list ending up with 100 lines of critical issues at the core, “…we would be fine.” What’s very exciting for me and the team is that list of 100 lines of critical core issues, broken mechanics, and non-functional systems is not present in MO2 in our current build. That’s a huge difference in terms of us being effective and being able to focus on our game features and polish currently. We did so much out of nothing and with nothing, really, compared to most other MMO developers in the world. We had to learn and adapt to how we can build and progress without that giant behind us. Always working uphill in a pure struggle has not been an easy and simple path, but today I think we can say it has been worth it finally after 15 years of hard work to be where we are today. We really hope we will be able to continue to grow our community and that MMO-interested players will give MO2 a try and see what we have to offer. Because its truly something unique compared to most other MMORPGs on today’s market.
Don’t think it’s too hardcore for you, you’ll be put off trying it. A lot has changed since the old days and our new systems will help new players get into the game. We want to show players that a challenging MMO with unique features can be a very refreshing and exciting gaming experience.