It's all about story: Massively interviews BLESS's Jacob Han

Upcoming Korean MMO BLESS has been creating quite a stir as of late, what with its gorgeous HD visuals and action-packed "in-game" trailers. But MMO fans, skeptical bunch that they are, have expressed concern over the game, likening it to other Korean games, graphically attractive yet overly grindy experiences. What's to say this isn't just more of the same?

This is exactly the question we posed to Jacob Han, lead producer at Neowiz Games. Han's studio collaborated with Epic Games Korea to build the Unreal 3-based title, and we figured he'd be the perfect person to help give us an idea of what makes this game different from the pack and why MMO fans should take note.

Hop on past the break and see what BLESS has in store.%Gallery-171358% Massively: Are there plans to bring BLESS to other parts of the world once it's launched in Korea? If so, will there be a separate western publisher? And will the game be imported as-is or will it be "westernized" in some way?

Jacob Han, Lead Producer: Succeeding in the West with BLESS is obviously going to be very important step for us to succeed overall. We are currently looking at all available options for publishing the game in the U.S., which also includes the possibility of a separate publisher if we feel that it will be a great partner. The game itself will have to be properly localized for Western audiences, of course, but the core game content will not fundamentally change.

BLESS Combat
Comparisons to other Korean imports like TERA and Aion are inevitable. How does BLESS stand out from other Korean titles that have made it across the pond?

We believe that BLESS will be fundamentally different from both TERA, Aion and any other MMORPG for that matter. TERA focused strongly on combat, and Aion focused on its aerial battles. We believe that BLESS will be remembered for two things: its story and its endgame content.

Combat is not what solely determines how fun an MMORPG can be. Without an engaging story or a believable backdrop, combat by itself is not going to be a game's savior. Our team understands that storytelling and creating a believable fantasy world is important but also that this has been a weakness for the majority of Korean MMO titles. We're trying to buck that trend. We do that by first creating a gorgeous, seamless, living and breathing fantasy world where every building, structure and location has its own history, background, and rich culture, all of which are intricately tied together and have meaning in the overall story. We also make sure that the players' choices matter and that what they choose will affect the world and the characters around them.

"We believe that BLESS will be remembered for two things: its story and its endgame content."

When players reach max level, there will be tons of fun activities to take part in, such as PvP, RvR, castle sieges, and epic raiding, much of which we cannot wait to tell you guys more about in the near future. But in addition to this, we wanted to go a step further to making endgame content truly fun and engaging. For example, after reaching max level, we have what we call Royal Quests, which raise your profile in the world. After you reach the highest level of knighthood, the guards around you will talk to you differently, and instead of running small errands around the city, you may be asked to visit an opposing faction to assassinate a high-ranking officer in a stealth mission, or help low-level players complete quests in order to go higher up the political chain. They're designed to create a virtuous cycle of community and a more personalized experience.

BLESS Desert
Korean MMOs have a reputation, fair or not, for being grind-fests. Should Western gamers expect a grind-heavy experience in BLESS?

Our development team is focused on completely immersing the players into the world of BLESS. We hope to achieve this by personalizing a player's story through the choices he/she makes and through engaging endgame content, which we'll explain more in detail in the near future.

We believe that character progression in existing Korean MMOs tends to be grindy because players are not emotionally involved in the storyline. We are striving to alleviate that grind by making the story, the world, and eventually the game more meaningful.

Jacob Han: So how do we try to make an MMO story more personal so that players don't feel as if they're just grinding away? One way is to make player choice matter. BLESS has two factions and 10 races, each with its own starting hometown and its own storyline. For example, members of one race may end up needing to kill their only true friend, a friend who helped them escape to safety. Another race may choose not to buy an expensive dress for an innocent girl who is dreaming of going to a fancy ball, thereby crushing her dreams and turning her into a dangerous outlaw whom you will then have to kill in a quest to protect the city.

In both cases, players will have to choose and ultimately experience the consequences of their decisions. Players who killed the innocent girl will see her tombstone in the city, while those who spared her life will not. This is one of the many ways that BLESS will feel more personal, more emotional, and more real, which should help alleviate the grindy aspect of the leveling process.

Does BLESS rely on the classic trinity (healer, tank, DPS) or are classes and combat more flexible? How do the game's eight classes fit into groups?

The basic structure is indeed the trinity, but classes will not be tied to specific roles within party play. The classes that we did not showcase in our game demo at G-Star 2012 have a more liberal style of combat.

Despite the retention of this familiar style of gameplay, BLESS has a wide portfolio of character classes (eight, to be exact). Depending on the situation, players will experience dynamic roles. Once we reveal more about our upcoming RvR features, we will be able to disclose these customization elements in greater detail. Additional customization will be attainable through the race that you choose to play as well as through the completion of royal quests.

What sort of character customization can we expect beyond the classes? Do characters have talent points, skill points, or another system for refining their skills?

We are unfortunately not quite ready to talk about combat, skills, and character customization in detail, but just as BLESS is pushing the boundaries of how realistic an MMORPG can look, we are also pushing the boundaries of how much players can customize their characters and how important their roles will be in battle.

BLESS Mounts
Please tell us more about the flying dragon mounts showcased in trailers. Will we be able to explore freely, or are they tethered to specific paths?

As your character progresses, you will encounter these dragon mounts, or Wyverns, in a very dramatic and very specific story-driven way. Once you reach a certain level, you will be able to freely control and explore the vast and beautiful world of BLESS on top of this epic mount. There will also be plenty of other mounts in the game, many of which we will reveal in the near future.

Will BLESS be launching as a subscription-based title, or do you have other plans for monetizing the game? Will that model differ based on the territory?

The simple answer is, yes, it will be different based on the territory it's in. We have not yet finalized the details of monetization for every region.

Thank you so much for your time!
This article was originally published on Massively.