GDC08: Cartoon Network's FusionFall


We were invited to check out Cartoon Network's upcoming kid-focused MMO FusionFall, and while clearly still in development, it shows a lot of potential. Developed in part by Korea's Grigon Entertainment, makers of Seal Online, QRing, and Gambledon, this is a title with a great deal of pedigree under the hood. Among the notable names on this project are Sam Lewis, former systems and content designer for Star Wars Galaxies; Robert Knopf, recently of Ultima Online; and Richard Weil, the community relations manager for many MMOs, including City of Heroes/Villains, Lineage I and II, Tabula Rasa, and Auto Assault.

With so many experienced and creative people behind it, FusionFall definitely stands to make a splash in the 8 - 14 year old demographic that Cartoon Network is shooting for. This isn't to say they don't have a few challenges ahead of them, however. We'll explore this, and show you the trailer, after the break.

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First of all, as the trailer makes plain, there's something nasty coming to Earth, what one of the development team called a 'Galactus-like threat', which immediately endeared him to me. Note, however, that this isn't the Earth we currently inhabit, but a Cartoon Network-branded Earth, where the popular characters and shows of CN have been aged and updated -- sort of anime-ized, if you will -- to more closely hew to the overarching heroic storyline. Some of the more prominent characters include Max and Bloo, two of the Powerpuff Girls, Ben 10, and Dexter and Dee Dee, among others. As you visit the different zones playable, you'll come across the locations/headquarters of these characters, which should be fun for players and a great way for them to feel embedded in the story.

Ironically, what could be FF's greatest asset potentially stands to be its downfall as well. Is the built-in, cartoon-watching audience ready to see their favorite characters change so radically? Will they be frustrated by the inability to play as these characters? This hearkens back to the post on Marvel Universe Online recently written; will it be fun enough for kids to play alongside their heroes?

Back to the story: this world-eating living planet called Planet Fusion wants to consume CN Earth, but it needs to make the place more digestible to itself. To do this, it bombards the surface of the planet with a green, radioactive-looking goo that has the side effect of animating ordinary objects, turning them into malevolent monsters. These are the enemies you will have to defeat, each of which will help level your character and provide the currency used to buy upgrades to your weapons and clothing, which doubles as your armor.

The combat itself is solid -- there is a ranged attack and a melée attack, and it's a simple keypress to switch between the two. Where FF innovates, however, is in its use of a system they call Nanos. A Nano is a tiny, hovering figurine that you purchase from NPCs around the world. Each Nano is a superdeformed aspect of a CN character that floats over your shoulder and provides gameplay support. One Nano might enable you to jump much higher than normal, allowing access to previously unreachable areas, another Nano might provide a stronger melée attack. While you can buy any number of Nanos, you can only carry 3 at a time, and you can only enable 1 at a time. What's more, each Nano has a limited duration of usage before they must be put away to 'rest', so there is a slight strategic element to the combat that should enliven things beyond mere hack and slashery.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about FF is that it's a 3D platformer. They're not quite the first to offer that as gameplay -- Toontown Online features several games that offer 3D platforming elements -- but here it's not just a small part of the action, it's part and parcel of the experience. There are sections of the world only accessible through diligent platforming maneuvers, and it's here that CN runs the risk of losing a different portion of their built-in audience.

The character control system needs to be dead-on; 3D platforming is a tricksy beast, and many non-MMOs have botched the job. If the camera doesn't follow just right, or the mouse doesn't align well with the WASD keys, then what could have been engaging becomes mere drudgery at beast, and outright frustration at worst, leading to a loss of players. At the demo, the dev team took pains to emphasize that the control scheme was being updated and will eventually allow for mouse sensitivity customization. There are also plans to implement the ability to use a console controller, which would help immeasurably.

We weren't given the opportunity to check out the character creation or customization functions, but we'll keep ourselves open once they're made available. All in all, Cartoon Network has a fun title on their hands, as long as they're able to really cement the control scheme and hope that their demographic falls in love with the reinvention of their favorite characters. We look forward to receiving more information on FusionFall.
This article was originally published on Massively.