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E3 2011: Lucent Heart's charming social experimentation


Recently, we took a look at Lucent Heart and found a game that was interesting but slightly confusing. Sure, the game offered some standard questing and interesting systems, but overall our experience barely scraped the surface. Described as a "social MMO," Lucent Heart features some very different systems that are normally only found in other community-heavy games like Nexon's Mabinogi. If someone plays it expecting only kill-10-rats-style gameplay, he will easily miss half of the appeal of the title.

At this year's E3, we sat down with Gamania, publisher and developer of Lucent Heart, to clear up the details behind some of these... different systems. The publisher has 1,500 employees world-wide and is headquartered in Taiwan, with branch offices in Hong Kong, China, and Korea. The Japanese U.S. office started in 2009 and previously published a game called Hero 108, which is currently on hold pending a revamp.

Click past the cut and see what we talked about!

One of the first things you notice when you play Lucent Heart is the community. It's very active. Gamania held a lot of player interviews and polls and found that players thought that the community was practically "troll free" and open to everyone. Whether this is the result of a game with so many social activities in the design or just sheer luck is hard to say. It's really about hitting the right demographic, according to the team. While the Anime fanbase is not as large in the U.S. as it is in Japan, popular Anime-inspired cartoons and movies are showing that there is a definite interest.

"This means that there will be a lot of growth in the U.S. verison of the game, relatively quickly, but it will be growth based on existing content."

In Japan, the game is around two years ahead in development, so U.S. players will get a lot of that content soon -- but condensed into a shorter time period. This means that there will be a lot of growth in the U.S. verison of the game, relatively quickly, but it will be growth based on existing content. The team will have to worry about localization, slight cultural differences, and some other issues, but overall a lot of the successful systems in Japan should be a good fit here, systems like the teased "My Home." When asked for details, the team wouldn't budge, but the existing U.S. community is already on the case, translating and discussing much of the Japanese content. One of the most exciting yet-to-come features is the dance system that allows players to coordinate their own custom dances to a song of their choice and then share that dance with other players, resulting in group choreographed dances. In Japan, the system is so popular that players create their own YouTube channels to post their dance moves.

When a lot of those popular systems from Japan make their way over here to the U.S., there will have to be tweaks. In one example, the relationship system in Japan did not feature the opportunity for same-sex couples. A simple poll conducted on the U.S. forum showed that U.S. players would want it, and so devs put it into the game. Besides some standard localization issues, they also had to adjust WASD movement against laggy response. According to our previous article and comments, not all U.S. players are OK with the Japanese version of the control scheme, but overall players during the different betas of Lucent Heart have had few issues with it. It seems to be a matter of getting used to it from the beginning; it's really just a style choice.

The most interesting topic had to be the social systems in play in-game. While we did not get our chance at wedded bliss last time we looked at Lucent Heart, many players have actually met in-game and even began real-life relationships. Some already had the real-life relationships and sealed the deal in-game.

Essentially, players can find Cupid in-game and request that a match be made by filling out a list of four criteria such as level range or activity choices. Cupid goes off to do his business, and if the player is lucky, a small heart will appear over the player's shoulder, indicating that some potential matches were made. The player then goes to Cupid to find out who it was, then it is up to the players to strike up a conversation and begin the journey to true love (or sour divide). The new couple can even take a compatibility test with questions like "On a first date, whom do you think should pay?" Matched answers count toward compatibility.

It's all led to some interesting social behaviors. Some players are upset when Cupid does not come back with the ultimate match, so they try again. This means that some players rethink their romantic standards or the criteria they gave Cupid in the first place. Perhaps that level 40 should consider hanging out with a level 1 character? Is it possible that Lucent Heart's sneaky-yet-adorable social manipulation could lead to a playerbase that is more socially diverse, willing to give others a chance, and romantically adventurous?

Well, that might be taking it a bit far.

"Maybe they will form as good of a couple in-game as they have in real life, even earning unique couples-only emotes like kissing, hugging, and even "tenting." (Don't ask.)"

If players want to just jump past the matching -- for example, real-life couples -- they can buy a Cupid's Key from the cash-shop to skip the Cupid tests. Of course, they could always try the tests to see just how compatible they are. Maybe they will form as good a couple in-game as they have in real life, even earning unique couples-only emotes like kissing, hugging and even "tenting." (Don't ask.) In Japan, a lot of the male players have learned that there are even combat benefits to maintaining a relationship. The couple can host a flower that grows over time, and they can exchange the petals for different in-game items. The nectar from the flower can be used to make combat-buffing potions. Even spending time with your loved one in a party results in double experience.

While many of these social systems might sound a little odd to many U.S. players, the success of such systems overseas shows that, with a little tongue-in-cheek humor, they can really work and be very popular.

The game features a lot of other non-typical systems to keep players entertained. The Knowledge Master, for example, allows players to compete in a bar-room trivia contest, with the top five players gaining a large amount of experience. Since the trivia contests are hosted and announced three times daily, players could literally level from trivia, without ever killing a mob. The team comes up with the questions and the answers have to come quickly, so just Googling an answer during the test would be a challenge in itself.

We'd like to thank the Gamania team for sitting down with us (literally -- we sat on the floor near the parking garage, the only spot at E3 that is quiet enough to do an interview) and clearing up some questions about the systems we hadn't experienced yet. With any luck, the U.S. open beta, slated for June 21st, will show that America is ready for virtual match-making alongside stellar combat.

Massively's on the ground in Los Angeles during the week of June 6-9, bringing you all the best news from E3 2011. Whether you're dying to know more about Star Wars: The Old Republic, RIFT, or any MMO in between, you can bet we'll have it covered!

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