Mortal Online Interview
At the Games convention I had the opportunity to talk to Henrik Nystrom and Mats Persson from Starvault about Mortal Online, which is currently in development.
Mats Persson: I would agree that Mortal Online is very different from most MMOs. It is first person and it is a sandbox game -- as opposed to a theme park game -- where sandbox stands for much more freedom in the world. We have chosen to have a truly action based combat. It reminds somewhat of a first person shooter in a different setting, with a lower tempo.
Furthermore, we have no levels. It is entirely skill based - the skills that you train define your character, not the levels. We also don’t have any regular classes; you don’t choose to be a warrior, priest or mage. You choose the skills you want to have and then you train your skills by using them in the game. As we have removed levels entirely from the game you won’t meet other players that are at a higher level than you are. You have to watch them move and act to learn what they are good at and by looking at how they use their skills. The game is about the player’s personal skills and how they interact.
If you compare most MMO’s on the market with i.e. Counter Strike, then most people would say that counter strike is about your skills as a player, whereas in most MMO’s it is about what character you play, what skills and level you have.
MMOWatch: Why did you choose first person?
Mats Persson: Because of the immersion. We want the player to have the feeling he is actually taking part in the world, living in that world, watching the world from their perspective - to see what your character sees. That is very important to us.
MMOWatch: How do I find out about the skill level of another player?
Mats Persson: That is something that is done differently. First why would you want to know that? Are you going to kill him?
Mats Persson: Then you should sneak up on his back and take him by surprise. What I am trying to say is that we want to avoid people killing each other like that. You will never know what type of character the other person is - if he is playing a warrior or a mage - and that is what we wanted to create in the world. You are living in this world and if you want to attack someone you have to accept the consequences. Perhaps he is the greatest warrior in the world, but he is dressed as a beggar. You have to take that into account. There is a big risk you are taking by actually engaging in a PvP fight with other players.
MMOWatch: But it’s a full PvP game - the essence is that you fight other players, right?
Mats Persson: No, I would say that if you want to make a good PvP game you have to base the game on PvP mechanics. You can’t just make a PvE game and then throw in PvP on top of that and say that you both have a PvE and a PvP game. The PvP part will affect the PvE of the game, drastically changing the whole game.
If you design a game with PvP from the beginning and once you know that PvP works you can add PvE contents on top of that. So it is both a PvP and a PvE game. There is a lot of things to do in the game, basically the PvE is the whole world around you, all the encounters with monsters and a lot of interaction with players and there is where PvP comes in.
MMOWatch: In a new game with a new character, do I always spawn at the same place?
Mats Persson: You will probably be able to choose your starting location, based on the type of character and race you want to play. All players have the ability to start in the biggest city in the world; Timdrem, as all the different cultures and races have gathered in this city. But you could also choose to start way up in the mountains for example.
Mats Persson: It depends. We have something called safety zones in the game. The game is fully PvP in the essence that you can always attack whoever you want, but you have to take the consequences. 90% of the game are lawless zones, meaning that I could kill you and nothing would happen, but other people would see that you have killed me.
MMOWatch: What do you mean by “nothing would happen”?
Mats Persson: If you would run to me in the forest and you would fight me in that forest, nothing would happen as there are no guards there. But you will be flagged as a murderer for everyone to see. In the cities we have different law zones. If you attack me in the city, the guards will come up to you and see that you have committed a crime. Also if you kill me and run into the city after that. The guards will know that you killed as you are flagged.
MMOWatch: Am I flagged when someone else attacks me and I kill him?
Mats Persson: No you are not flagged. The one who strikes first is flagged when he wins. The one who is defending himself is not flagged when he kills the other one.
Mats Persson: Even then the first one that strikes will be flagged as a killer. There is the possibility that we will add a kind of dueling system, where both players have agreed to the duel, in which case the one who starts and wins is not flagged. You could also put some money on a fight then and make money that way.
MMOWatch: Do I lose the flag at any time in the game?
Mats Persson: You are flagged that you are a criminal for a couple of minutes. During that time you are free to be attacked by any other players. With each player you kill you will be flagged for a longer period of time, which serves as a warning system to you. If you however manage to kill several people you will eventually be permanently flagged as a killer.
MMOWatch: Do you have caps in the game?
Mats Persson: We have caps. Skills caps are really important. One of the important elements in the game is that we want the player to train your character skills from the start. At the beginning he won’t be able to do that much as he doesn’t have the skills, but at the same time we don’t want to end up with a game where you have so much more skills as you have played the game for so long that another player doesn’t stand a chance, so you will reach the cap pretty soon. I would say that you can start a character, play for one or two weeks and then you are maxed out - you have fully trained your character if you know what you are doing. But that is not the difficult part. The difficulty is in balancing your character. If you train only sword fighting and a few others and maxed out on those skill you will only have these skills and won’t have any of the other skills. You need to choose carefully what skills you want to train. It is up to you how you train your character.
Mats Persson: If you use your sword in combat, you will train the skill. There is a maximum number of points. Let’s choose a random number and say that there is a maximum of 600 skill points and that each skill can be trained up to a maximum of 100 points.
Suppose you start your sword fighting skill with some 50 skill points and when you start training sword fighting, you will train sword fighting up to a 100 skill points which is the maximum. Then you have used 100 of those 600 points. Then you train shield up to 60 and have a total of 160 points. You can keep on training skills like that until you reach the total of 600 points. Then no skills can be trained any further and you begin balancing your skills.
Suppose you want to train a spell casting skill now, but there are no skill points left anymore. You could then take skill points from one of the existing skills and invest those points into the new skill, by using that skill. This is done in the interface by selecting a minus button next to the skill you want to reduce, like sword fighting. In that case whenever you train the spell casting skill, skill points are moved from sword fighting to spell casting, making you better in spell casting and leaving the total amount of skill points at 600. Of course, this does result in you being less skilled in the skills you took the points from. It is also possible to lock skills, so you can no longer train those skills any further, allowing you to specifying which skills you want to train and which you don’t want to train. So you can always train and re-train your character, but there is always a maximum cap.
What is different apart from skills is that we also have a huge skill tree. Basic skills open up other skills at certain trained levels of that basic skill, and those can be trained with no limi. If you learn basic swordmanship, a new range of skills related to swordmanship opens and training those won’t take up skill points. However, if you reduce the skill points from your swordmanship you will lose these additional skills as well. If, for example, an extra skill becomes available when you trained basic swordmanship up to 80...it will be gone again when you drop below 80, when you decide to take skill points from swordmanship. You can retrain your swordmanship again resulting in the skill being available again.
MMOWatch: Are there races in the game? And can anyone from any race learn a skill?
Mats Persson: Yes, there are races in the game. We have the basic attributes:strength, intelligence, dexterity and stamina and those are based on which race you want to play. A half-orc will be a bit stronger than a human; the advantage is not that high, but if you like to fight a lot it will give you an advantage in the long run.
MMOWatch: The monsters in the game have skills as well?
Mats Persson: Yes, they have skills as well.
Mats Persson: It is kind of difficult to answer that one. We aim for a believable world...I wouldn’t say realistic because that would be boring. You won’t face a monster that is 10 cm tall and has 2000 hit points. That just won’t happen. If you walk outside the city walls, you might meet a big bear that might be much too difficult for you to handle alone. At the same time if you manage to get into that highly secure area like a tomb that is being guarded by ghosts. You can face lizards and frogs, because they live in that cage and you could kill those with one strike or two, perhaps. I would say that your encounters are based on reality.
MMOWatch: How playable is the game if I prefer to go it alone?
Mats Persson: It all depends on what you want to do. Let’s say you really like mining and want to become the world's best miner. You will have to explore the areas for the minerals to mine, but if you are standing at a gold vein and are hacking gold all day, take the gold and run back and forth to the city, you will get attacked. People will find you and take the gold from you. So you better get some protection from other players, if it is gold you want to mine. Or you should have very good hiding and sneaking skills and keep your eyes open for other players. You can have a lone wolf play style but it would be difficult.
MMOWatch: You have player guilds in the game?
Mats Persson: Yes - we don’t know if they will be named player guilds or player clans or whatever, but we have that. Player guilds can trade amongst each other or start a war on another guild.
Mats Persson: We have different type of mounts. In the movie there are two of them. One is the big bronto and the other is actually not a horse, but something called a bullhorse. It is much bigger than a horse; it’s a half-orc that is riding it. A half-orc is over 2 meters tall and it is too big for a normal horse, that’s why it is riding this much bigger bullhorse...so yes, we have different types of mounts and each has their own advantages and disadvantages.
MMOWatch: Are mounts only used to go from point A to point B?
Mats Persson: No, absolutely not. We have mounted combat that we regard very highly. It is very important to us to get the mounted combat to work properly. It should not be different actually from fighting on foot. You should be able to make moves you can on the ground. Of course, you can’t jump around on a mount, but you can swing your sword, carry a lance and use your skills. However, on a horse it is much more difficult to hit someone and you will be a more easy target for archers. One thing we talked about is about to go from 1st person to 3rd person on a mount, as it much more difficult to get 1st person to work properly on a mount, but that is not decided yet.
MMOWatch: Can I own a house?
Mats Persson: Yes, you can have your own house. We are experimenting very much on how we implement this, but you will be able to own a house. However, we have no details on that right now.
Mats Persson: Yes, I would say so, because we have this powerful swordsman skill that you can train and allows you to become pretty powerful in a fight rather quickly even when you don’t go online that much. If you compare it to a first person shooter, you can enter the shooter because you want to play it with your friends. You can do that in Mortal Online as well, because your character will be able to help, like he would be in a first person shooter. You can make a difference in the game. When you have trained your character you should be able to log in or out and enjoy yourself when playing with your friends.
MMOWatch: How is death handled?
Mats Persson: You can be fully looted if you die. The people that killed you can take your items. Your friends can take your items back for you or protect you from being looted. If you are attacked by a bear and die, your items will be on the ground. If someone would walk by and take your stuff, then he will become a criminal as he stole your items. If I kill you, I can take your stuff as I am already a criminal. If, however, you are a criminal and die, it is ok for others to loot you.
There are in the game no extremely valuable items such as epic swords that do a 1000 of damage - such a sword would nullify the need for player skills. The weapons and armor are balanced. You can choose a light armor as it makes you faster and choose a sword that does a lot of damage but it is much harder to wield and thus slow. It will be difficult to get good items in the game. If you, for example, would hunt a dragon and kill it in its cave the dragon won’t drop a sword as dragons don’t carry swords, nor does a bear or a frog. A dragon will have gold coins on him most likely. The only ones carrying swords are other players. So the player “drops” becomes very important and is one of the drivers of the economy in the game. So, it will hurt losing your items as it will take time to get new items.
MMOWatch: What happens next...I respawn?
Mats Persson: You will enter something called the etherworld. It is a parallel world to the one you are playing in. There, you will have to get to a temple and get an NPC or player healer to resurrect you, naked. You will have to go back to where you died and get your gear, if it is still there.
This might take long time or a short time...it all depends on where you are and if you were alone or not. If you are alone and traveling far away from a temple you are taking a great risk, as it is much more difficult to find your gear back compared to when you have your friends waiting and helping you to your gear. Also there are many dangers on the way to your gear, like monsters and other players that might kill you again.
Our thanks to Mats for answering or questions and we look forward to following the development.