Mortal Online 2 Q&A – Still Hardcore, But Much More Accessible, Beautiful and Large
The MMORPG genre isn't quite as prominent as it once was in World of Warcraft's heyday, having been replaced as the most trending genre by the likes of MOBA, survival, and most recently Battle Royale.
It is telling in this regard that the latest triple-A MMORPGs released before Amazon's New World (now due on August 25th after a delay) were Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn and Elder Scrolls Online, two heavyweights installments based on some of the most popular RPG franchises, both launched several years ago.
Of course, there have been plenty of online games packed with RPG elements, but none that openly carried the MMORPG tag and came with a triple-A budget. It's been mostly indie projects ever since, often funded via Kickstarter; some of the most known examples include Camelot Unchained, Crowfall and Ashes of Creation, all of which are still far from any 1.0 release.
There's another indie MMORPG which is now undergoing Closed Alpha testing before its debut on Steam and it's called Mortal Online 2. Unlike the aforementioned titles, it wasn't crowdfunded on Kickstarter; it is instead a sequel to the ambitious Mortal Online project, launched in 2010 by a small Swedish team known as Star Vault.
Mortal Online was conceived from the beginning as a hardcore fantasy MMORPG, featuring skill-based progression, directional first-person combat in the vein of something like Chivalry: Medieval Warfare, mostly unrestricted PvP with ability to loot the corpses of defeated enemy players, and a single-shard sandbox world that relied a lot more on player-driven activities rather than scripted content, hearkening back to the glorious MMORPG days of Ultima Online. However, it was also Star Vault's first game and it showed through a severe lack of polish, balancing issues and other problems.
With Mortal Online 2, the developers are seeking to build upon their own experience with the predecessor, the feedback of their niche but tight community, and the increased possibilities enabled by Unreal Engine 4 compared to the Unreal Engine 3 that they used for the first iteration. With Mortal Online 2 planning to launch relatively soon on early access, we recently talked with Star Vault CEO and Founder Henrik to hear the studio's plans to realize their original vision with this sequel.
What would you say were your main learnings from Mortal Online? With the benefit of hindsight, is there anything in particular you regret doing?
There are so many areas that were trial and error in MO that have given us valuable experience and knowledge over the 15 years from the old game that we will utilize for Mortal Online 2. Everything from starting experience to feedback and user interface to complex systems that need to indicate proper feedback and information for new players to work well. A proper balance in hardcore features and how to implement them so they are working well for a wider audience. How to implement features and running an MMO that is live is also vital in this project.
How is Unreal Engine 4 helping you craft a more polished game with this sequel?
UE4 is a huge improvement from the old engine, we were limited in so many ways with the old tech. Now we can focus more on how we want to deliver our gaming features and visual levels instead of battle with functions and rebuild systems to allow for our game features. Most areas have greatly improved thanks to the new engine and we can produce game content and features much faster.
Did you look into using a distributed cloud simulation software like SpatialOS? If not, did you find some other way to improve the world's AI for Mortal Online 2?
We have always had an eye out for network solutions since we started the first Mortal Online 15 years ago. However, there has never been a good match for the game we are making. This forced us to build our own network solution that has taken most of our development effort. We are very happy to be in a very good position to take the step into UE4 now with our heavily refined network solution that will have a big impact on network and performance experience in Mortal Online 2. We have already started the first important alpha tests with great results and feedback. There will be a lot more improvement over the coming months and you can experience the progress in the alpha we are currently running. We have created a one-world solution for our game that is heavily optimized to offer the gaming features we are creating in Mortal Online, there is no other software available that can handle this currently hence we continue to invest heavily in our own network solution for Mortal Online 2.
How many developers do you have working on this project?
We are around 30 people involved working full time on Mortal Online 2. We can also lift over a lot of our gaming code to MO2 which saves months of work. However we still need to rebuild quite a few core functions that take time still, but we are properly equipped this time for a much better release of MO2.
You've said you want a much bigger audience compared to the first Mortal Online, but the game will have a steep barrier to entry between the purchase and the subscription. Why didn't you consider a buy-to-play model, perhaps with a cosmetics store, as many others are doing?
Our game is heavily focusing on full gaming experience, this gives little room for cosmetics and microtransactions as our gaming features build on being able to create things with proper knowledge, resources, and skills. A game in this genre needs to be carefully planned to work with both the gaming experience and business model. We believe after 15 years we found the best way to offer MO2 with a perfect balance in this field.
What are you planning to do in order to make Mortal Online 2's gameplay more accessible to new players?
We learnt a ton from MO1 during the years of developing that game and getting new players on a daily basis. We have gone through a lot of data and feedback to see how we can change this important field for MO2. There is a big difference in being a hardcore game gameplay wise or how information is presented. We know we need to improve the first hours any new player experiences in the game as this is vital to get them on track for them to understand there is a lot of depth in this game and there is player content for many years since it's heavily player-driven. Another important area was the lack of proper PvE. This is one of the core pillars in MO next to player interaction which means we need a very solid AI to handle our gaming NPCs, pets, mobs, etc.
We have a completely new way of handling this and it will be properly tested in our Alpha in the coming months, before we go with the persistent live server. Every area is much more polished, we will not rush out areas halfway done but we will take our time if needed before they go live in the game. This means MO2 will be forever in development with new content and features over many years. We strongly believe we are properly prepared for taking on a more casual audience of new MO players. This doesn't mean we will dumb down systems and make it easy to master. There will always be a challenge and deep systems to master in MO2, it's part of the core.
Aren't you worried that allowing Mortal Online players to transfer wealth to this sequel will be detrimental to the interest of potential newcomers?
We take this point very seriously and won't give any leads in wealth to any player when MO2 goes live. It should always be fair game for everyone, where of course there will be a natural edge for anyone with knowledge from the old game since knowledge is power in MO2 as well as it was in the old game. Why we have mentioned this point is because we always had a key rule, to never change or steal hard work from players invested in MO. So we got an idea of how we can recalculate some of the wealth from the old game and convert it into something new in the new game that won't really play an impact when the game release but could be interesting down the road. Since we want to be sure we can cover this properly we will confirm the details regarding this when it's done.
I've read that PvE is more of a focus this time around. Are you going to have more involved dungeons and bosses, etc.? What about 'dynamic events' where NPCs attack cities, for example?
Yes, PvE is being rebuilt from the core to better support our vision of dynamic mobs encounters and one of a kind bosses with specific heroic behavior utilizing UE4 a lot more to give us a solid base in the AI. Since PvE is so important this is one of the important core features we need to get on par with our other features that work great. This will be tested during our later alpha phases to be sure we are ready for persistent release.
PvP is obviously still a central part of the game. Did you come up with some system to discourage meaningless ganking in Mortal Online 2? Are there 'low-security' and 'high-security' areas in the game?
Yes, we are fully rewriting our flagging systems and rules of how to become a murderer or criminal with consequences. We haven't revealed all details regarding this yet, I'm covering some of what we aim for in our updated FAQ on the Mortal Online 2 website. But yes it's another important part we need to heavily improve from the old game that showed us the cons in our current system.
How is territorial warfare changing in this sequel? What are you doing to prevent things like 'offline raiding' and improving sieges as a whole?
Rules regarding sieging in territory control is always a challenge, it affects so many players and it can have a devastating impact on groups of players invested in this field. Again we learnt a ton from the old game over the years and could clearly see what didn't work and what worked well. We will make sure we use this information to rebuild our TC system. We have not yet revealed the details on the rules but covered the big picture of what we aim for in this field on our website. We never really liked artificial time windows to agree on a siege that some games use, at the same time we understand some of the frustration when different time zones do "offline raiding" to others. Even today we are struggling with the details of these rules as most players are as split as we are and we try to find a proper solution that fits our game and our gaming features. We are following discussions and debates regarding this in our community to see what our community thinks could work as well. We have some good ideas and will present more details soon.
How much bigger is Myrland going to be in Mortal Online 2? How long would it take to cross over it?
The new Myrland is about 6 times larger than the old Myrland, I'm not exactly sure how long time it takes to travel from one side to the other currently as the terrain does prevent someone from walking a straight path and mounts do boost travel speed quite a bit. But Myrland is indeed large and it was always meant to be large so the game world feels real and that thousands of players can live in these lands and transportation is part of one of the core features in the game, location, transportation resources. After Myrland there are 4 planned continents with their own unique look and feel, representing the races of Nave. We also plan to add ships that will give huge water areas as gameplay as well both above and under. Underground is also something that will grow a lot in MO2 compared to MO1.
When do you expect to be able to add new continents (e.g., one per year) to Mortal Online 2?
As soon as Myrland is done the world builders continue on the next continent, we are not sure which continent we should add next and we would be happy to see what the community votes for as they will all be in over time we just aren't sure of the order yet. There are some really cool unique continents to come that have been a dream of ours to implement years ago but we never reached that step. We also plan to have a lot more players than the old game which means since we only run one world for all players we absolutely must have more land space so players have proper performance when they play.
You've hinted that some of the features available in the first game might not be there at day one for this sequel. Can you reveal which ones and when do you plan to reintroduce them?
Yes, since Mortal Online 2 is an ever-ongoing project with tons of features and content we can't really call the game finished and release it. We aim to get the core close to perfect before we enter the persistent state which is our initial release when players can buy the game and start playing it and everything saves. There were many stressed out features in MO1 which had several issues or didn't turn out that well, this is why we are taking our time this time to make them right and implement them when they are ready. For instance, we will not implement several mounts or magic schools, as we want to change the AI and we want to do some changes to some of the schools. We won't have ships at persistent release either since it's quite complex and again we want to make it right before its ready to be released. But we are following player feedback on what they want in sooner than later here as well, so if we notice that players want X before Y, we could change our internal schedule to make this happen.
Can you discuss how magic is changing in Mortal Online 2?
The first "common" school Ecumenical school will remain very close to as it was in the old game, it's designed to work like that, then each school will work differently. Some are aim based which means if you miss it goes straight past you, if someone runs into that projectile it gives a result. Ecumenical is not working like this, it will follow the old rules. We have planned 13 magic schools and we are again happy to hear players' opinions on which school should go before the others as we will implement one at a time.
Given that Mortal Online 2 will have only one server, how do you plan to optimize for latency between North America and Europe for instance?
We have invested an enormous amount of time into improving our network code for MO2. There were many flaws in the old network code in which we have improved to MO2. We can already see a huge difference in the movement system for instance in our current alpha. It's very solid and stable compared to MO1. The combat has been rebuilt to be much more precise and stable and its also in a very good state currently on alpha and we got some amazing feedback so far. As late as of yesterday we found another way to greatly improve the worst-case scenario in MO, 50vs300+ latency players situations in fights where usually the player with worst latency get an edge in fights due to latency issues that punish the low latency player instead of the high latency player, which of course should be more the opposite if someone has a bad connection or gets a spike.
Players could also abuse some of this in the old game, and we believe we have a solid solution to handle this much better. We are deploying this system soon on alpha and will closely follow the results there. We are extremely happy and proud to be able to accomplish this which is one of the hardest things to do in this kind of game. We are eager to hear the feedback when we deploy these improvements in alpha in the upcoming weeks.
What kind of battles can we expect in this sequel, in terms of feasible player count while maintaining decent performance?
A lot more than in the previous game for sure. We have optimized in all fields, from network to client frame rate, and we are positive that everyone will notice a big improvement in all these fields. We are going through these steps in the alpha and we still have quite a lot to deliver before we are finished, however. We did invest a lot of resources to make sure we can handle hundreds of players in a battle in MO1 and manage to deliver decent fps while in such scale. Network wise we managed to push this pretty far, but there were some limitations that we didn't have time to solve at that time, those things are now changed for MO2 and we can expect a much improved experience in Mortal Online 2 battlefields.
Since the combat system is entirely action based, did you give any thought to adding controller support? Likewise, given Unreal Engine 4's rather easy porting features, any chance we might see Mortal Online 2 on next-gen consoles?
We designed the entire game and combat to be best experienced with keyboard and mouse, but yes there is good support for porting things using UE4, which means if people would like to see controller support this would not be impossible. However, there are so many more commands you can utilize on the keyboard which also may be needed depending on playstyle. I think this is why we haven't really got the request from players to support controllers. With UE4s latest support we do support next-gen consoles, but again MO is designed to be run and played on a PC, so there would be many challenges to cover on a console.
What do you think of cloud streaming platforms such as Google Stadia? Is there any chance Mortal Online 2 could be ported to that platform?
Stadia is still in an early phase but have made some decent results so far in that tech, so we will follow this and see if it would be possible to play using their services over time. But at this point, it would be PC exclusive.
Are you planning to use cutting edge features like raytracing, NVIDIA's DLSS 2.0, DirectX 12 Ultimate's Variable Rate Shading, Mesh Shading, Sampler Feedback for Mortal Online 2?
Yes, we are looking to partner with NVIDIA again, there are some technologies we are interested in using such as DLSS 2.0, raytracing, etc. That MO2 could benefit from depending on what hardware is being used.
You've released a VR game, Kitten'd, and originally hinted at VR compatibility for Mortal Online 2. Is that still happening at some point?
With UE4 we can offer VR support much more easily in MO2 than we could in UE3, so yes we plan to enable this feature somewhere down the road.
Will there be a Mortal Royale 2 version based on Mortal Online 2 at some point, or are you leaving that Battle Royale experiment behind?
We will see when we are going persistent, we believe strongly that Mortal Online 2 will be a great success this time around compared to the previous game and we will be very busy in continuing to deliver content for Mortal Online 2, and we could also see that in fact, we could offer arena/royale functions in Mortal Online 2. That means we may not have to have an external build next to it. It is however too early to know what we will do at that time.
Thank you for your time.
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