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Some Assembly Required: Revisiting Origins of Malu

MJ Guthrie

Many moons ago when the air just started to cool from summer's heat (aka, last September), Some Assembly Required had the opportunity to talk shop with a new outfit that is developing a promising new sandbox MMORPG, Origins of Malu. And you know me: Sandbox is the magic word! As skeptical as I knew I should be, I still came away from that interview with renewed hope that a game with some of the features for player-generated content could exist again.

Back then, Burning Dog Media made the bold statement that it would absolutely release its flagship game in 2012, with a target of early 2012 to boot. But as the first quarter of the year quickly drew to a close with scant information available, it became pretty clear the game is still a ways off. In the realm of games, no news is not necessarily good news... and we definitely hit a drought in news.

Now that drought has ended. In our second exclusive interview, we spoke with Michael Dunham, Producer, Jason Mitchell, Senior Developer, and Dave Cruikshank, Art Director, to learn what's been going on behind the scenes and get the scoop on more details about those very features that have sandbox lovers salivating.

Where, oh where has Burning Dog gone?
I closed my first interview with the statement that I would be keeping an eye on Origins of Malu. But until our quick meeting at GDC, it slipped off my radar a bit. I am pretty sure I didn't scare the developers away! I mean, it's not like I was stalking the game, watching from the window with my binoculars... right? So where did Burning Dog Media disappear to and what has it been doing all this time?

The short answer is that it changed platforms. Mid-development. Yah, ouch. But pain can be a good thing. While what the devs were originally building with was great, the developers made the difficult decision to switch in order to better meet their vision. In essence, that meant the team had to throw its nose to the grindstone to make up lost ground. And while the change set development back by a significant chunk (see lack of release early 2012), it will benefit the game -- and eager players -- in the long run.

Now all that work has paid off and the team is ready to start shelling out information. To start the (hopeful) deluge of news, we have some details about factions, housing, crafting, and the economy.

Picking sides
Previously, Origins of Malu was designed around three factions. Players could be safe within their own faction zone but risk participating in PvP when venturing into other lands. This, however, has changed. OMG NOOO! Wait, before you lament the loss of what sounded like a promising feature, listen to what is replacing it: Instead of three set factions established by the developers, the world will consist of factions created by the players.

Origins of malu artWhy such a major change? Because the developers wanted, as Mike stated, "organic dynamic growth for the actual factions." Think about it -- static does not equal sandbox. Forget being shoehorned into something the developers dictate; players can establish their own reasons for banding together, forge their own ideals, and build their own influence. And yes, they will be able to conquer each other, but more on that later.

Personally, the thought of losing that "safe zone" where you could avoid PvP was disappointing. I like a good fight as well as the next person, but some days, I really don't want to mess with it for whatever reason. Luckily, the change in the faction system only changed this feature rather than eradicated it. Although PvP will be open in faction areas, there will also be neutral areas owned by no factions. Neutral players can wander out in the wilds and be safe unless they initiate an attack on another and neutral factions can be developed for trade. Small PvE guilds can exist without PvP if they choose; they are neutral by default. This will prevent larger factions from steamrolling small groups and chasing them out of game. However, if a guild grows too much, it will have to make a choice.

Even with the change in factions, the previously mentioned bounty system will still have a place in game, and there is still a plan for the deserters.

Getting territorial
Along with the formation of factions will come territorial control. Gone is the predetermined map; now land control will be fluid and dynamic as well, following the course laid out by players. This system allows players to have much more of a vested interest in politics and community relationships. As Dave put it, it will enhance "political intrigue."

How do you create factions? Jason answered thus: Create a guild of guilds. First, a group builds a guild. Guilds will start with their own binding area where they can build their base of operations (just wait till you hear about the building!). The guild can progress and level, reaching the point that it can build alliances and establish rivalries. Eventually, multiple allied guilds can form the mega-guild/faction. The faction itself will also be able to progress and level. The lands of all included guilds becomes the faction's territory (hence the political map can change, making a safe territory one day a dangerous one the next!). The idea is to promote player-driven major conflicts and wars.

Why fight? There are myriad reasons, not the least of which being to take over an established town, strip resources, obtain a tactical advantage, and plunder crops (guilds will be able to generate resources by planting crops). If one faction gets too domineering? Well, hello rebel uprising! And if someone builds a really awesome guild hall, why not take just it for yourself? Thankfully, guilds of a certain level will be able to hire NPC guards and build turrets to protect their land.

Brick by brick
This next section could probably be an article or three on its own, but I will try to lay the foundation. Player housing will be permanent within the world, not instanced. Houses can go anywhere with few restrictions (to prevent blocking roads, etc.). Of course, as Dave pointed out, "If you are dumb enough to place it in an enemy faction, it's your own fault." Mike also assures us that "there definitely will be interior decorating."

Building in Origins of Malu will not be about plopping down prefab structures but about building from the ground up using different pieces and parts. This means that if three guilds want to build halls, they will all turn out different. And if someone wanted to build something resembling a clown shoe, well, she could. Why is another matter entirely...

Origins of Malu art
Crafting will be achieved through a constructor skill set, not a class. It has four subsets:
  • The configuration skill set focuses on the physical items themselves, such as how they look, how much they weigh, and their rotation and slope. The size, color, tint, and even material can be changed depending on skill level.
  • The sky builder skill set is about building temporary objects in the sky. These structures can be used to facilitate travel (like a bridge over gorge), provide tactical advantages (get into an enemy base), or even be booby traps.
  • The next skill set is material collection, affectionately called garbage-picking for now. Here, items are scavenged from ruins and such to be used as raw materials. One key skill here is that players will be able to aggressively strip materials from structures.
  • The final skill set is replication. This skill set allows players to take essences and build walls as well as make the occasional prefabricated item, turrets for protection, weapons, and even portable vendors.
It takes a village
One of the things I miss most in games is the interdependency of an actual community -- specifically, a vibrant economy fueled by trade. I may want to rule the world, but I will control by the purse-strings, not brute force! After talking with the development team, I am cautiously optimistic that Origins of Malu might provide a bit of that.

First off, since the game uses a skill-based system with caps instead of class-based system, everyone has the opportunity to craft, but no one person can be the master of everything. While anyone can craft, quality and abilities will be dictated by where skill points are placed. Crafters will not be able to become totally self-sufficient. With the caps, players will even find that at some point they will have to untrain skills in order to train others up. Personally, I like how this will help foster interdependence, a key component in community building and a player-driven economy.

Speaking of economy, I can report that there will be portable vendors that players use instead of universal auction houses for buying and selling goods! Mike emphasized that "We wanna promote trade... we want people to have to go out and know who sells what; people have to talk to each other." Another thing preventing players from being self-sufficient is the loot drop system. Mobs will drop random components, not gear. As Mike so eloquently puts it, "No swords from squirrels' butts!" Woo! It appears that in-game items will be crafted by players.

Origins of Malu art
Once again, the interview could have continued well into the night as I soaked up more information about this impending title. Alas, life beckoned and my quest for more more MORE details had to be curbed for the present. But do not despair! More juicy details and information will be coming out soon, though not soon enough. And lest you worry that what you have heard so far is just a pipe dream, take Mike's final statement to heart: "Our sandbox systems are working right now." If only we could get in and see for ourselves!

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!

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