MMO fans will have noticed the teases put out by Gamigo about a mysterious new game announcement, and now we can confirm that it is indeed Fractured Online, as some clever folks had surmised.
For those unfamiliar with the indie MMO scene, Fractured Online is an isometric sandbox game developed by Milan-based studio Dynamight. The base funding came through a Kickstarter campaign that successfully concluded on July 25th, 2018 with €111K in pledges.
Gamigo will become the publisher of Fractured, allowing the Italian developer to double its team size and release the game's beta (and subsequent 1.0 launch) much faster than it could otherwise have. We recently had the opportunity to talk about the deal and all things Fractured Online with Dynamight CEO and co-founder Jacopo Gallelli.
I know Fractured Online has been in Alpha testing for quite some time. Can you discuss how this phase has progressed over the years?
We let people play for 2-3-4 weeks (the testing phases became longer as time went by), and then we would shut down the servers and develop for a couple of months, maybe three months even. And then start the new testing phase. In each new Alpha version, we would have, of course, more features. Usually, we focused on one feature at a time. At first, it was adding the proper full-size world. Then there was getting in the progression system, the Knowledge system, which is one of the unique things of Fractured, and so on. This is how we've been developing until we can get to the beta, of course. There's already probably hundreds of hours of content in Fractured right now. Over the last year, we focused a lot on adding content more than features, since feature-wise, the game already has a lot. At this point, we're pretty close to beta. We've also grown a lot as a team, particularly since the partnership with Gamigo. We used to be seven people, but we'll expand the team to 15 soon. That's still pretty small for an MMORPG, and we're still in the indie sphere. But you know, 15 makes a big difference compared to seven.
The news of the day is the deal with Gamigo. Looking at their parent company, in their investor report, they've said that this is the largest licensing deal they've done so far. Can you talk about the deal's specifics a bit, or is it off-limits?
I guess that's kind of off-limits. I can say that it's a deal that includes support for development. It includes important expenditures in the marketing and promotion of the game. And, it's a long term deal. We now have long term perspectives in the development of Fractured Online. We have specific milestones in the development from here on to the full release, but we also have big plans after the full release. The great thing about this deal is that there is a lot of commitment from both sides to a long term future for Fractured Online.
Whenever an indie game, especially a crowdfunded one, gets a publisher, some of the users in the community are bound to get angry or at least surprised. They'd be like, 'Why did you do this? You already had the funding from Kickstarter'. Can you explain why you chose to do it this way instead of going with the self-publishing route for Fractured Online?
Yeah, absolutely. When we started developing Fractured Online, the possibility of having a publisher was never out of the picture. Those of our players who have been following the game closely know that we've always been looking for a publisher, many times over the years. They always knew we were looking for it; without a publisher, we just don't have the resources to promote the game properly. Also, we've been struggling in the last year in terms of community management. Imagine a seven people team doing effective marketing campaigns and maintaining constant communication with the community. It's very, very hard to pull off, and it's all time that you have to take away from development.
Particularly in the last year, we realized how much we were struggling in this regard. We were always confined to having a reach that was a lot smaller than what we thought Fractured Online could get because we just didn't have the resources to give the game the exposure it needed. This is the main reason why we found the publisher. Then, of course, funding is a very welcome addition. I mean, the team was self-sufficient. The revenues that we got from Kickstarter only cover a small portion of the game's development, which didn't allow us to grow past seven team members. That, of course, had an impact on the speed at which we could implement new features and add content to Fractured Online. Of course, we could have said, 'Okay, we're delaying the development of the game, instead of staying in beta for one year, then we're going to stay in beta for three years, and we're going to complete the game with the seven people team'.
If we had gone that route, the interest in Fractured Online would have declined over time, obviously, because nobody likes a game that stays in development for ten years (unless it's Star Citizen, then maybe they like it). But otherwise, for us, probably not, right? We wouldn't have been able to retain our community if we had stayed in development for so long. So we needed more funding to expand the team right now, to get to the point where we could get out in beta a few months and get to full release within one or two years from now. Now we can do it.
Does this deal change the business model for Fractured? Or is it still the same you had in mind?
The business model is still the same. It's buy to play, so you pay a single fee, and then you have permanent access to the game service with your account. Then there is a VIP subscription and store for cosmetics. This is exactly what we declare on our Kickstarter campaign, and what has always been public in our FAQ, and so on. So this is the business model buy to play plus VIP plus a store.
The store will have microtransactions, I'm guessing. Is it going to be cosmetic only, convenience stuff, or a bit of both?
We haven't defined exactly the store's contents and the content on the VIP subscription. But the idea is that the store should be mostly if not entirely focused on cosmetics, and the convenience would be within the VIP subscription. But it's always convenience, right? It's not outright selling power. Of course, we personally dislike pay to win games as gamers ourselves. But also, we have a community that is strongly against pay to win, so that's definitely not a route we are ever going to take.
Are you going to go through Steam Early Access with Fractured, or is it just going to be a full release whenever it's done?
It should be a full release, although this is something that may change. Right now, the plan is to go straight into full release without Steam Early Access. The game will still be available for purchase from our website with Gamigo accounts, and you'll get to play it 24/ during the beta. It just won't be on Steam yet.
Will there be a character wipe after the beta and before launch?
Okay, that's something to keep in mind. Let's move on to discuss Fractured itself. The game is clearly inspired by Ultima Online. Is it a clear goal for you to recapture that long-lost sandbox MMORPG feeling?
You mentioned Ultima Online. That's the game that marked or ruined, depending on how you want to see that, my teenage years. The same goes for the other two founders of Dynamight. As founders of the company, this is our thing, our passion, isometric in particular, literally because of Ultima Online. Then, of course, we tried to play all the sandbox MMO the market had to offer. We've been playing Legends of Aria, we've been playing Albion Online, whatever was a sandbox MMO, we've been there. At some point, we realized that there were still some things that, from our perspective, didn't really work in sandbox MMORPGs. We devised some solutions to these problems and we decided to create a game that has a specific uniqueness within the sandbox MMO market. We didn't want to make a copy of Ultima Online or Albion Online or whatever is or was successful as a sandbox. We wanted to make our own thing. And we did, the design of Fractured Online hasn't really changed much since our very first announcement in 2017, and nobody's trying to do something similar. In that regard, we are pretty solid. If you want to really compare it to Ultima Online, Fractured Online is a lot more modern. I mean, you can feel the age of Ultima Online in the control scheme and in many other little things throughout the game, in terms of controls, user interface, you know, ease of access.
Fractured Online as a game is pretty intuitive and built with a modern design philosophy. That being said, it's isometric, it's really sandbox. It's a game where all items are crafted by players, where housing is in the open world, where there are player cities, where there's a huge social aspect to the game. You can be part of different types of communities within the game because there are guilds, but there are also cities, and they are not necessarily the same thing. There's the feeling that you're part of a community and a world that changes, with a strong political and economic side to it, like a genuine virtual society. You can only find that in a sandbox MMORPG and it's definitely a feeling that we set out to capture.
One thing that's often misunderstood about sandbox MMO games is that most people just think about full loot PvP, but PvE is also important in these games. Do you agree? What kind of PvE content will be available in Fractured Online?
PvE is central in Fractured, so I wouldn't call it a PvP game. Darkfall Online is mostly a PvP game, Mortal Online is pretty close to that, but Fractured is both a PvP and PvE game. We have one planet where you only have consensual PvP, so you can experience the entire progression of your character set from zero to 100 on that planet without engaging in PvP. Of course, there are some things that you will be missing where you have to engage in PvP. But ultimately, you can really go from zero to 100 without the fear of being killed while you're doing PvE. In terms of what content we have, there are different layers of PvE. First, random monsters in the world, as you would expect from any game, then world events that are spawned randomly within the worlds where you have a group of monsters guarding a chest or an NPC that you have to escort from one place to the other or a treasure that you have to take in a specific location and then you have to go to another event as part of a chain of events. We have this kind of content, which is still for small groups, even single players.
Then there is more structured content for groups, like creatures called Legends which are basically world bosses. You have to collect items from other creatures that live in the region where this monster spawns so you can spawn the creature and fight it to obtain, say, high level rewards for the end game progression of your character. Then we have open world dungeons; we call them points of interest, but they are in fact open world dungeons. These are vast areas of the world that are handmade, not procedurally generated like the rest of the maps. Here you have a high concentration of a specific kind of creature and with one or more minor bosses and a major boss. This is our equivalent of dungeons, open world dungeons. We don't have instanced dungeons or raids or battlegrounds, though.
With regards to PvP, is there going to be any sort of insurance system for the gear so that you may prevent the loss of certain items when defeated by another player?
We are still discussing what ruleset to implement for the beta launch. By the full release, Fractured is meant to have three planets. As I said earlier, in one of these, there is no PvP but consensual PvP, and when you get knocked out, you don't die immediately. You can stand up again, so you don't lose your items anyway. Then there is the demon world where it's open PvP, full loot, extremely hardcore, which is meant for a large group of players or guilds. You can still play solo, but it's going to be Hell in a scenario like that because it's for that type of audience. Then there's one more planet, the human world, which is in between. We've been trying different setups for this world during the various testing phases to make it possible to kill other players, but minimizing griefing and making it a rare occurrence.
We struggled a bit in the previous testing phases with the rules. There's been one where the criminal system was too lax, and there was a lot of player killing. We're still trying to find the right balance for that world, to make it as welcoming as possible for just the average player who is open to the possibility of finding PvP but shouldn't be bothered by big alliances set out to kill everyone all the time. The exact ruleset of the human world is still a bit of a work in progress.
Did you consider a system where you hire actual players as mercenaries to help you or even just a bounty hunter system where you can choose to track down player killers?
Fractured Online already has both. There is a bounty hunting system. Players who own cities can research jails in the tech tree and then build one. Once that's done, everybody with positive karma can sign up as a bounty hunter at the jail. When you find that evil player, you can kill it or send it to jail instead of just killing it. A player sent to jail loses all its items as normal and respawns in the jail as a criminal. The jail time depends on how low your karma is. The greater the jail time, the more expensive it is to get out of jail early if you want to pay the fine. If you pay to get out early from jail, which you can do immediately by paying in-game currency, part of this money is burned, but the rest is split between the bounty hunter and the treasury of the city that houses the jail.
A mercenary system doesn't exist formally, as there's no mercenary boards or a specific mercenary guild, but what you can do when you have a city siege or a city raid where one player city attacks another city, and then there's a battle for the city where players have to deal with walls and catapults and so on. Everybody can sign up on both sides if approved by the organizers. You can have a guild specializing in helping cities defend themselves or helping guilds who want to conquer other cities. So effectively, you can play as a mercenary guild within the context of city sieges.
Fractured is one of the few games that have chosen to implement SpatialOS. How is Improbable's technology helping you in the development?
We've been very lucky with SpatialOS. We started using it when it was in alpha, and we were already prototyping with it in 2017. It's what makes a big open world with many players possible, because not only like we have, we can have a high amount of players next to each other within the same map, we can have very, very large maps. For example, currently, we have one continent which is about 50-60 square kilometres. So it's huge, and you can literally walk from one side to the other without loading screens. I think it takes five hours on foot to walk all around the continent. This is made possible by the SpatialOS backend, which has a swarm of servers, different processes that control various portions of the world with seamless transitions from one to the other.
In a way, to simplify it, I could be on one server, you could be on a different server, and yet we are like 10 meters away from each other, but that's where the transition happens. And we can shoot arrows at each other as if we were on the same server, but we are actually on two different servers. This type of technology that stitches together multiple processes to control the same map has allowed us to have these big open worlds instead of splitting the world into one square kilometres regions, like Albion Online does, for instance. SpatialOS is a cornerstone of Fractured. It's not something that we could change anytime and I don't think there's a competitor of SpatialOS right now on the market that allows you to do this.
Is it a goal of yours to have a single shard server like Eve Online, for example, where all of the players are on the same server?
There would be a latency issue for that in Fractured Online because we have action combat. All the abilities, all the attacks are directional. Almost everything is a skill shot, we don't have tab targeting, we don't have projectiles that automatically follow the target. Given this kind of action combat, it feels better playing within your own region. The goal now is to have one shard for each region (North America, Europe, etc.). But this will also depend on the size of the community. Since the world has no instances, there's a limit by design to how many players can comfortably be within the same map. If the map is 50 square kilometers and you have 2000 people connected, it's fine. If you have 5000 people connected, technically, maybe it's possible, but it feels very crowded. You would have to compete with other people for monsters, for instance, for the cities and so on. If the community grows to a sizable amount, as it should, we may have to start new shards, multiple shards within each region.
Can you talk a bit about the Knowledge system?
It's our character progression system with both horizontal and vertical elements. It has neither skills like Ultima Online nor levels like World of Warcraft.
There's this book-like UI where you gather your knowledge of the world - creatures, resources. Each time you kill a creature, for example, you gain some knowledge of said creature. Every time you progress in the creature's knowledge, you get knowledge points. You can spend those to unlock abilities. Let's say you gathered knowledge from a bear, which has two abilities, a bleed and a swipe. You can acquire the former when you've completed 30% of the bear's knowledge bar and the latter when you've reached 70%. This is meant to incentivize exploration, as there's not much point in staying in the same areas for a long time. Fractured Online is a game where you move throughout the world and travel a lot.
You can also spend Knowledge points in a more classic talent tree. Lastly, even if you may eventually learn every ability available in Fractured Online, you cannot use them all at the same time. Not only is there a hotbar with eight active abilities, but there's also a limit to how many abilities you can memorize, based on your memory (one of your character's statistics). You can create multiple presets, rest in front of a fire, and then decide when you want to use another preset depending on the situation. This allows you to switch from role to role, from tank to DPS or even healer. Every time you rest, you can change.
In the end, the Knowledge system was designed this way to allow players to quickly get to a point where they can be effective in combat, PvP included. Once you unlock a dozen abilities appropriate to your character's attributes, while you may be missing in variety, you can be effective and easily participate in PvP.
How does PvP work in terms of conquest rules?
PvP sieges work pretty similar to how they worked in Shadowbane. There are two types of sieges: conquests and raids. In a raid, if the attackers win, they get a certain amount of resources from the treasury of the losing city. In a conquest, you actually conquer the city. You need to have enough citizens to claim it, there are some additional specifics to meet, but that's the gist.
When you declare a siege, there's a two-day preparation time. The defenders will have set a siege time window beforehand. During the preparation phase, the attackers will build catapults (which can be researched in the city's siege workshops) and bring them to the field outside the city. Without breaking the walls, if there are walls around the city, you've already lost. Of course, the siege engines will be targeted by the defenders.
The whole siege event lasts one hour. Within that time, the attackers need to break the walls and capture the control point, which is basically the city's town hall.
Can a city be fortified?
Right now there are just two types of walls that can be researched, wooden walls and stone walls. The latter are much more resistant, of course, but they're also only available for high level cities and they are time consuming to build. We don't have any defensive siege machines for now, partly because Fractured Online is isometric and it wouldn't be easy to implement something like a ballista.
Ultima Online had fun Game Master events run by actual people. Do you have plans for any of that?
Yes, absolutely. It probably won't be coming with the beta launch, but most likely at a later development phase.
Do you already have an idea of the kind of post-launch content that will come to Fractured Online?
Part of that is the content that you can already see in our Kickstarter campaign stretch goals, like animal taming, fishing, religions. We're also not entirely sure that we're going to launch with all three races. Post-launch, we're already planning more continents for each of these planets. This also means new creatures, new abilities, new points of interest, world bosses, and so on.
I'd say we already have a pipeline of content and features that we can add for the first two years after release.
In the aforementioned investor report, I noticed that the deal actually includes both PC and console licensing. Is that something that you are considering for the future of the game?
For now, this is not in the picture. So, for now, we are developing only for PC. But, later on, it's a possibility, albeit not one that we have seriously discussed yet.
For PC, at least, are you considering adding controller support at some point?
Not yet, because the game really follows a classic action RPG control scheme where using the mouse is really, really important, right? The movement system with pathfinding and everything is very much mouse-centric, so right now we don't have it. It's one of those things where if there is really a huge demand, we would consider it, even though it would require serious design work on the interface and user experience to be implemented. So it's not something that it's easy to implement in a game like Fractured Online, but it's one of those never say never things.
Will there be an Open Beta for Fractured Online?
We've already done open weekends. We don't have a plan to host an Open Beta for like two months, but we do have plans to do more open weekends.
Thank you for your time.