Some Assembly Required: Diving into details of Origins of Malu with an exclusive interview

Some Assembly Required header image
"This will be the world's best game ever ever ever!" -Michael Dunham. You tell 'em!

Honestly, we have heard it before: MMORPG feature lists that promise what our sandbox-loving hearts desire. Try as we might, we cannot escape those sneaky tendrils of hope that find the chinks in our +10 jaded armor of cynicism as we read about the return of a true virtual where actions have consequences, personal choices dictate gameplay, and individuality is a matter of principle.

Sadly, time and time again those hopes are dashed by titles that either cannot deliver on their promises or never even survive until launch. The same is true for the developers at Burning Dog Media; they too have ridden the roller coaster of sandbox dreams and harbored in their hearts a vision of their ultimate game if only they had the wherewithal to produce it. The difference between them and us is... they do!

Welcome to issue #6 of Some Assembly Required -- an exclusive interview with Michael Dunham and Dave Cruikshank -- Lead Developer and Art Director of Burning Dog Media, respectively -- who are in the midst of developing the new sci-fi/fantasy MMORPG Origins of Malu. Originally called just Origins (the change was to help avoid confusion with other projects that were cropping up with similar titles), this game previously teased sandbox aficionados with a glimpse at some hope-stirring features. Today, we have the privilege of expounding on "coming soon" and revealing more features that not only are planned but are for the most part implemented.

So why should we check out Origins of Malu? And what tantalizing tidbits of sandboxy goodness can we expect? Grab onto that hope and dive past the cut -- if you dare -- to see what Michael and Dave have to share.%Gallery-134056%
Origins of Malu art
As one who clings to that hope that someday there will be another well-made sandbox, I was excited to speak with Michael and Dave about Origins of Malu even while toting my little shield of skepticism. As the interview continued, I laid the shield at my feet and let myself be drawn into rooting for the game. Why? The quick answer is the passion that these guys have for their game. It isn't just some sterile business decision; it's what they really want to play.

Where other companies jump on the crank-out-formulaic-carbon-copies-of-some-past-success-to-generate-fast-revenue bandwagon, these folks are doing it for the art of it and plan to stick to their guns. They realize they can't please everyone, and they don't try to. As Dave put it, "As much as we want to make the game everything, we can't because that just waters it down." Preach on brothah!

Do it right the first time
"It is not the sandbox genre that failed, it's the way the industry has implemented it." -Michael Dunham

While many of us have griped about the state of games (seemingly in vain), these folks decided to put their money where their mouths are. As Michael stated, "We were with all those trolls bitching about all that was wrong with [the game], then decided... why not stop bitching and do something about it?" Dave pointed out that, like the rest of of sandbox lovers, "We have been burnt three or four times before ourselves."

Origins of Malu artSo we know that these guys are gamers (Dave admits that he played way too many video games, in his parents' opinion); what other qualifications do they have for producing an MMORPG? Michael's background is in software development, from small mods to much larger corporate projects, while Dave brings to the table experience in many types of artistic media, including drawing, painting, and sculpting. Add to this a (self-described) fanatically dedicated group of talented people and an atmosphere where the whole team contributes ideas and you have the recipe for a group that won't sell out just for a quick buck.

Unlike those who employ the "crank 'em out" methodology, Michael and Dave impressed me with their philosophy of doing it right the first time. As Michael put it, "Our goal is to be a respected studio; we have one chance to build that rep." How are they following that philosophy? For starters, they aren't releasing information on all the features that are "planned" and instead are waiting until said features are a reality, not just a pipe-dream. Michael admitted, "If we wanted to do something crappy, we would have shared more right off the bat." Dave reiterated how important it is to build up a solid reputation and revealed that they have had opportunities to get funding but wanted to keep the integrity of what they wanted to build.

What is their ultimate goal? "To create a game with soul."

A game with soul ~ Michael Dunham
So what is Origins of Malu aiming for? Overall, as Michael put it, the studio wants a game where players have feelings and emotions for the world, something "that's personal, that means something to [the player]. We want to tell a really great story and let the user develop with it." They want players to really be invested in the world, not just absently grinding through it.

Since the game is so far shrouded in a fair bit of mystery, I tried to weasel some picture of what features they might like to emulate by getting an idea of which types of games influenced each of the top dogs of Burning Dog. Michael gave a shout out to Asheron's Call 2, World of Warcraft (for putting the whole package together), Ragnarok, Star Wars Galaxies, and Minecraft (for the methodology behind what they were trying to do). Dave admitted he "went through the phase where [he] was an RPG junkie on the PlayStation" and cited the influence of old Final Fantasy games and the Elder Scrolls series. Ultima Online and Asheron's Call also influenced him greatly.

OK, so maybe this was said a bit tongue-in-cheek when I pressed them about the game, but who am I to put a damper on enthusiasm? Why curb excitement for sandbox features? So exactly what features have these two -- well, at least Michael -- so chatty? I peppered Dave and Michael with questions about housing, customization, FFA PvP, the economy, crafting, skill caps and more. While I couldn't wrangle details for everything out of them (after all, a 10-hour interview might have been too much for anyone and I need a reason to talk with them again, right?), here is what they offered:


First and foremost (this is me after all), there is housing. Note: Not "will" be, but is. Booyah! The "system is prototyped and working right now." There are two types of housing that will be available to place in the seamless world; players can plop down a prefabricated structure or build it brick by brick. Did I mention seamless, open world?

Factions (and PvP)

This game is going to have three distinct factions, each tied to its specific race's lands, and then also a meta faction -- the deserters (who chose not to be a part of any other faction). If players remain within their own faction's lands, they will be safe from any PvP. Whether your playstyle is "carebear" all the time or you just want to take a break and chill, this option removes you from any threat of PvP. Deserters, however, will be permanently flagged to everyone -- even other deserters.

However, if a player of one faction ventures into the lands of another faction, s/he will be flagged for PvP while the natives won't be. Also, if you choose to take action against a flagged player in your own lands (remember, such players can't touch you first), you will become flagged as well and vulnerable to attack. Basically, if you choose to attack, you have to face the consequences. In a nutshell, players will only engage in PvP by their own choice; PvP will not be thrust upon anyone.

Players will be able to switch factions, but they will have to work for it and it will be limited to a degree. In between factions, a player will automatically be a deserter.

Origins of Malu art

Oh yes, you read that right. But before the griefers salivate and pass out from fits of maniacal laughter and the rest of us start gnashing our teeth or hyperventilating, let me qualify that statement: Origins of Malu is allowing the system of permadeath, but only in two controlled instances that the player knowingly chooses to participate in.

The first condition under which permadeath is possible is in specifically designated zones. Two of these zones will be present in game, and players will be warned before they enter. If a player chooses to enter this area and dies, that character will be dead forever; there will be no way to get this character back. Why enter these zones? Because in essence, where there is high risk, there is high reward. Think of it as high-stakes gambling. While not all players will find this a playstyle they want, I know there are some out there who won't be able to resist the ultimate test of their skill. And the goodies!

The second condition is a unique option: an ultimate duel system. If you really hate someone and want to call him out, you can throw down the gauntlet and duel to the permadeath. As so much is on the line, the game makes sure a player knows what is being wagered with prompts, and then the duelists have to travel to a special area. If two powerful people duel, a server-wide announcement is made and others can come spectate. The risk? Your life. The reward? The winner keeps all the spoils of the loser, loot and goods. Whoa!

Origins of Malu artBounties

Another feature that was revealed was a bounty system. There will be ways in game for people to place bounties on the heads of others as well as conditions (such as backing out of a duel) that will automatically place a bounty on a player's head. Deserters, who are expected to have a rougher time at life, will be the only ones who can collect bounties.

Economy and crafting

Sadly, I wasn't able to finagle many details out of the pair on these matters, but they did give me a general feel when pressed about these important areas: "The players will drive the economy," Michael assured us. He continued, "We want an organic economy. We have a couple of systems in mind." The idea is to focus on trade. They are leaning away from a universal auction house system; Dave emphasized that they want trade to be a dynamic system. He stated, "The whole auction house thing is simple and straightforward, but it kills the community. It's disconnected. You want people to be interacting with each other." There will be trade communities established and set NPCs that will help meet base level needs.

As for crafting, Michael wanted to clarify the idea of crafting spells: Not only will players be able to use crafting to alter the particle effects of the spell, but they will also be able to alter the spell itself. For instance, a DoT can be modified into upfront damage, or percentages of damage can be tinkered with (say 75% upfront and 25% over time).

Housing will also be a part of the crafting system as will planting, growing, and harvesting resources. Dyes for customization can be produced as well as weapons.

Origins of Malu art

Again, this was an area that I was not able to get too many details on other than the assurance that there will be a lot of customization options for characters, gear, and such. There will be vanity factors (with Dave expressing a definite preference for funny hats!) and sub-slots for fun things, like a head hanging from your belt. As Dave said, the goal is "to recognize someone when he walks up just because of how he looks." Michael emphasized, "We don't want to see clones everywhere."


The game's AI was obviously a topic of interest for the devs. There will be different levels of AI in the game. The basic premise for Origins of Malu is that the AI should be fun. Michael stated, "We want to make it fun, not hard just for the sake of hard." He explained that they want to make it seem like a living, breathing world. He gave the example of a mob that when startled runs off but looks back to see if it's being followed. If it isn't, then it stops. He also expounded on the stalking mob, explaining that in a situation where you perhaps did not kill a mob or it had friends nearby, the mob will track you until you are vulnerable and then strike. If you are lucky, someone else might just find and kill it first!

Scripted boss fights will also be a thing of the past. Some creatures will have the ability to evaluate and learn; the more they are killed, the more they learn not to die that way. In other words, just because you beat it one way one time doesn't mean that strategy will work again. Fights will remain dynamic and resist becoming stale.

One fact that I especially liked is that there will not be any level zones. Mobs of all levels of difficulty will be mixed together everywhere. Also, easter eggs will be hidden throughout the game. I gotta find them all!

More to come
So when can we expect the game? This is a direct quote from the Lead Developer himself: "A 100% concrete statement is we will release in 2012 as indie. We are targeting early 2012." Obviously, there will be more to the game than is highlighted here, so look for more screenshots and reveals in the coming weeks!

I don't know about you, but my hopes are definitely up there a bit. Good luck guys. I'll be keeping my eye on this game!

Every two weeks, Jef Reahard and MJ Guthrie take a break from their themepark day jobs to delve into the world of player-generated content. Comments, suggestions, and coverage ideas are welcome, and Some Assembly Required is always looking for players who'd like to show off their MMO creativity. Contact us!
This article was originally published on Massively.