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E3 2012: Origins of Malu brings player-created factions, housing, and exploration to the sandbox

Jef Reahard

It's hard to remain completely objective about Origins of Malu. The sci-fantasy title from Burning Dog Media is a project I've been watching personally for quite a while now, both because of its ambitious design goals and because of the sandbox affinity displayed by the dev team. At this week's E3, I finally got to put names with faces when I met with senior developer Jason Mitchell and programmer Chris Shaw.

The pair had plenty of interesting tidbits to share, and despite the fact that I haven't put my hands on an Origins build yet, it remains very near the top of my most-anticipated-MMOs list. Join me after the cut for some chit-chat about action combat, player-created factions, PvP (yes there are safe zones), and more.

Massively: So tell me about Origins of Malu. Are you guys looking at an alpha or beta soon, and how's it going?

Burning Dog: We're working our way through some alpha stuff right now. One of the things we wanted to tell you is that we're planning to start beta on September 30th. We've been working really hard on sandbox systems, world design, combat, etc.

You guys are an indie outfit with a very ambitious design document. Does this mean you're both working on everything, or is it broken into teams for combat, crafting, and what have you?

Some of both. We try to give everyone some experience with systems and design, but there is a lot of specialization as well.

One of the things I've been focusing on is the ability and combat systems. Our combat is going to be fairly skill-based and more tactical than a traditional MMO. We have a charge system for spells and abilities. In other MMOs, you press a key and there's probably a casting time; well, in our game, we have this charging mechanic that allows players to generate more powerful spells.

You can hit someone fast with a lighter attack, or you can hold it for a more powerful attack. Environment comes into play too. If you're in a wide-open space, you might have the luxury of charging up a bit more, but if you're in a forested area, your opponents end up taking cover behind trees or other obstacles.

You might have a spell charged up, but it has nowhere to go because the target broke line-of-sight. There's also active dodging; you can jump out of the way of melee attacks using stamina or power. You can't just spam it indiscriminately, but if you see someone charging up and you have no cover, you can definitely dodge out of the way if you time it right. So it's definitely more action-based combat than the norm, even though we're still using hot bars and whatnot.

What about player housing? Our sandbox fans are pretty keen to see what the Origins team is thinking here.

Well, in other games, you either place a pre-fab structure or get an instanced house. We're allowing players to build up their houses with different modules and materials. They'll place a foundation and then build pieces on top of it. You may make the resources or get them on the market, etc. You'll be able to resize the pieces if you've focused on certain crafting skills, and you can take a standard component and shrink it down, or make it larger -- it doesn't have to be the default.

Can you make your own floorplan?

It's not so much making your own floorplan as it is dragging and dropping things wherever you want, and then of course resizing. You can fine tune things, and there is a lot of placement detail, a lot of precision.

And that's all open-world?

Yes, that's not instanced. Other players will be able to happen across your house. And of course, we know that freedom may lead players to build something crazy. Who knows, right? If they really want to, the functionality is there.

Isn't there some law about how long it takes players to make certain reproductive organs if they're given the tools and the freedom?

[Laughs] Yeah, that we'll have to keep an eye on, and we have reporting systems. That won't be a problem.

Can you build all over the world? Are there no-build zones?

There are very limited no-build zones, primarily along main roads because we don't want people restricting access to content and things of that nature. But for the most part we're keeping it as open as possible.

Sounds like a ton of work.

We've put a lot of work into it, and we're really happy with the results at this point.

And you guys dropped the Hero Engine a while back?

Yes, we're using Big World now because as redundant as it sounds, it does allow us to make a bigger world. We get a lot more open space, which will help with the exploration elements. We want players to be able to go anywhere and find secrets, out-of-the-way places, points of interest, etc.

Is there an achievement system tied in with that?

We're not quite ready to talk about that just yet. But exploration is a huge deal for us; we have crafting skills that feed into it, like the sky-building stuff where you can build platforms and bridges and use them to get to places that would otherwise be inaccessible. It's a valuable party skill to have as well, so it's not just for crafting.

What about factions, how's that iteration going?

Really well! We've put a lot of work into that as well. Our old method was three factions with a fourth deserter faction. We decided to go in a different direction that's more conducive to the sandbox, though. Players can basically customize and even create their own factions. Guilds will form, and as they band together and cooperate, you can actually make your own faction for territory control. You'll have customizable guild halls like individual housing, guild, and faction recognition, and you'll see guild settlements that will draw boundaries for their particular faction.

This plays into factional warfare, which is the primary driving force behind PvP. And there will be safe zones; you don't have to PvP if you don't want to, but you do have to be mindful of your surroundings. You don't want to wander into enemy territory because that is basically free-for-all at that point.

And you're still doing the permadeath PvP duel system that we talked about in a previous interview?

Yes, it's a very interesting idea, and it's really going to be a big in-game event when it happens. It's a big deal when someone agrees to one of these duels because we have an arena, and there's a wait time before it actually starts so that players can come in and watch the fight.

Do you think people will just unequip their best stuff and duke it out naked, assuming that you can just make throw-away characters? Have you guys announced that yet? Will there be multiple toons per account?

We haven't announced that yet, but our feeling is that if you're really going to agree to a perma-death duel, you'll want to go all the way and bring your best stuff. The winner goes home and the loser, well he's dead.

Harsh, but a nifty option. I'll be interested to see how players respond to it.

There will be some more testing involved before it's finalized, but yeah. You'll want to go all out with your inventory and gear.

Speaking of that, can I ask about inventory and banking? Is there local banking, or can you put stuff in a vault on one side of the world and take it out on the other?

That's another thing we're not quite ready to talk about yet.

Fair enough. Thanks for meeting up with us, and we look forward to next time.

Thank you.

And the next time, as it turns out, will be at PAX Prime. Burning Dog is planning to have its first public demo for Origins of Malu in Seattle, so look for more interviews and impressions as we get closer to 2013.

Massively's on the ground in Los Angeles during the week of June 4-7, bringing you all the best news from E3 2012. We're covering everything from PlanetSide 2 and SWTOR and ArcheAge to RIFT's and LotRO's upcoming expansions, so stay tuned!

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