PAX Prime 2012: Hands-on with Origins of Malu

Screenshot -- Origins of Malu
PAX Prime is gone and passed, but our coverage isn't done quite yet. As it happens, we've saved one of the best for last. Burning Dog Media's upcoming MMO, Origins of Malu, has been making a few waves in the sandbox-craving community. Boasting features such as brick-by-brick player-house construction and exploration-focused gameplay, Origins of Malu is a game that I've had my eye on for some time.

So of course I was rather excited to be able to go hands-on with the game at PAX, where Burning Dog had set up a small alpha-build PvP battleground in which players could battle head-to-head in a slightly twisted version of the traditional capture-the-flag gametype. Now, I don't know about y'all, but PvP isn't exactly on the top of my list of Origins of Malu features I'm looking forward to, but there were definitely some surprises to be had in the demo, plus I got to have a bit of a chat with Burning Dog's president of media, Michael Dunham. What did I think? Find out for yourself after the cut.

Dunham gave me the disclaimer that the game was in an alpha state and therefore was a bit rough around the edges. He was right. The controls were still very loose, physics were otherworldly, and the animations and environments were very barebones. Even at these early stages, though, the game's stylish art direction stood out, as did the unique playable characters. I played as a Jolah, which I couldn't quite describe to you, so here's a picture of one casting his totally awesome shield spell.

Screenshot -- Origins of Malu
The game itself was a short 8v8 PvP match, but it wasn't your ordinary game of capture the flag. Instead, it was capture the chochobi, described on the official site as "a chicken-like creature that is scared of everything." Essentially, this adorable (?) little guy would spawn in a random point near the center-line of the battlefield and then proceed to scamper all over the place, scared out of its wits by the battle raging on around him. Each team had to hunt the little blighter down and return it to base in order to score a point, and the first team to three points would claim victory.

Each character only had a small sample of skills in an effort to keep things simple for the players who were picked fresh from the show floor. My particular character had a few damage spells, a heal-over-time ability, and a channeled shield that I used more because it looked cool than because of any particular danger.

Easily the most interesting and exciting feature of the game's combat is spell collision detection. If someone fires a spell your way and you dive behind a wall at the last second, the spell will explode harmlessly against the barrier. As anyone who's ever been killed by a fireball soaring through a previously charming hillside can attest, this is a good thing. The game also includes active dodging for when you really need to get the hell out of Dodge. Again, the controls were a bit clunky, which made successfully avoiding anything quite a challenge, but the few times I was able to dodge Matrix-style behind cover were extremely satisfying.

The combat system itself, frankly, is too young for me to really judge the quality at this point. To avoid ragging on something that's still so early in development, let's say that there's definitely a lot of potential. The developers have stated multiple times that they plan to include 300-player battlegrounds in the game, and it's easy to imagine the way the action might play out on a larger scale. I can't deny the appeal. The Burning Dog team has a solid foundation, but there's still a long way to go before I pass judgment.

Dat shield!
Despite all the typical quirks that come with the alpha build of a game, I had a lot of fun throughout the course of the match (which my team won thanks to three captures by yours truly; please, hold your applause). I also had some time to talk with Dunham about the upcoming title to help shed some light on some of the bits I'm really looking forward to.

For instance, as everyone around here is painfully aware, I'm a die-hard proponent of giving players the ability to influence the world and the direction of the story. Dunham, understandably, didn't want to give too much away, but he did fill me on how players will craft their own stories in Origins of Malu. In addition to the usual achievements that players have come to expect, the game will feature a number of "hidden" achievements that, when accomplished, will set in motion a behind-the-scenes recording of what could end up being a series of epic events.

Here's an example: Imagine a single player fighting against a great number of assailants (presumably movie-villain henchmen) in a valiant stand against overwhelming odds. This accomplishment might then be commemorated on the spot by a plaque detailing the story, or more ambitiously, allowing players to view a recording of the events as they transpired. Through this, players will forge their own unique stories throughout the world, eventually becoming the game's heroes and legends for players yet to come.

Dunham also gave an interesting example on how players' actions may impact the way they play. Imagine coming across a frightened creature beset by predators. You, being the hero you are, fend them off to save the poor animal's life, after which it chitters appreciatively and scampers off into the wilds. Later on down the road, that critter may repay the kindness when you find yourself in need by helping to fight off some enemies attacking you. If you've truly gained its loyalty, it may even sacrifice itself for you if you find yourself in dire straits.

The interesting thing about this, though, is that none of these is a scripted or planned event. These things happen organically within the world, and if no one happens to stumble upon the critter to begin with, it'll meet its untimely demise and the world will be none the wiser. I'm not sure whether or not the game will go so far as to actually track the specific critter that a player saves (thereby ending the chain of events if the thing manages to get itself killed while the player's not around), but given the attention to detail apparent in the description I was given, I wouldn't be surprised if that were the case.

I won't say that I feel as if I have a good idea of how the game will play in its entirety because it wouldn't be fair to judge a sandbox world molded by the long-term actions of its players based on a 20-minute, 16-player PvP battleground. But we may not have to wait very long to hear more about this promising title because the devs promised me that a big information push would be coming soon. So keep your ear to the ground, as the saying goes, because if the folks at Burning Dog can match the quality of execution with the grandeur of their ideas, Origins of Malu may just be the virtual world many gamers have been waiting for.

Massively was on the ground in Seattle during the weekend of August 31st - September 2nd, bringing you all the best news from PAX Prime 2012. Whether you were dying to know more about WildStar, PlanetSide 2, RIFT: Storm Legion, or any MMO in between, you can bet we had it covered!

This article was originally published on Massively.