Massively Interview: Burning Dog on Origin of Malu's do-over

MJ Guthrie
M. Guthrie|11.30.14

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Massively Interview: Burning Dog on Origin of Malu's do-over
When last we heard of the the indie sandbox Origins of Malu, Burning Dog Media had gone back to the drawing board for a do-over. The studio switched game engines, effectively starting the development process over again (again). But despite what some fans may fear, that isn't nearly as bad as it sounds! In fact, it's rather good news because players will be getting a far better game, and they won't have to wait very long to get it.

I sat down with Producer Michael Dunham to talk about the changes and get a look at the progress the team has made.

"We have to reinvent ourselves."

So why change the game engine? After all, OOM has been down that road already once before. Dunham is very mindful of the fact that development has stretched on far longer than anticipated or wanted. Added to the delays inherent in engine changes, Dunham and his team also watched as other games started development that catered to many of the goals and sandbox features that Origins of Malu strove for. "We couldn't get done fast enough to be relevant," he said. Dunham explained,
"When we came back from our last failed Kickstarter, we came to a point where we were [asking ourselves], 'What are we going to do here?' It's gone on so long -- we're either going to drop it, or we're going to do something that's outstanding."
The answer was to do something outstanding. To avoid wasting another year of development and being disappointed in the outcome when compared to other titles, Dunham declared, "We have to reinvent ourselves." And so they did. Everything got an overhaul, from the game engine to the forums to the site. (Fans who want to know what the devs are doing and why can check out the site, which is currently designed specifically to share that information.)

A couple key factors led to the team's decision to switch engines. First, Dunham explained that when Big World was bought out by Wargaming, there just wasn't the communication or support for OOM's model. He expressed that it didn't feel right releasing the product at that point; not only was it not in the state the team wanted it to be, but there was no discernible future for changes. The Unreal engine, on the other hand, would allow the team to focus on the desired features.

The second factor relates to development speed. While the change certainly impacted the schedule by delaying it in the short run, it opened development up to be significantly faster overall. Basically, the team just redid in four to five months what took two years to do in the previous engine. Dunham noted that "one day of development in Unreal equals about 40 days in Big World." Not only is the actual development quicker, but new team members (and there has been a 70% turnover) can be brought up to speed on Unreal much faster than on Big World. Although it was pretty easy programming, Big World's coding design was extremely complex, "It was too much of a learning curve for most people to jump into," he explained. "It took three months -- minimum -- for a pro programmer to become solid on that engine."

As a bonus, the game is now being developed for PC/Mac/Linux as well as XBoxOne.

"It has to be breathtaking."

The switch allowed the team to kick the development schedule up a few notches and boost the quality as well. If you don't believe me, just check out the before and after screenshots below:

Dunham spoke excitedly about the visual changes to the game: "It's more beautiful in every sense, from the ground up -- particles environment, everything." With the new engine, Origins of Malu supports Direct X 11. He described how much more immersive the game will be, with little touches like leaves that react to the wind, declaring, "We're really pumped about it! [...] You can quote me on this: When we're done, we should have the best forest scene out there!"

"It can't just look amazing; it needs to play amazing."

While a beautiful setting is certainly awesome, Dunham emphasized that the game also has to play well. He described how combat is more fluid and noted that the combat system is basically ready to go. Experiencing for yourself is believing, however, and players will actually be able to get in and play much sooner than they might think, though not necessarily in the way they might think.

Dunham explained that Burning Dog is staging the release because it doesn't want fans to wait for years to get in to play. Splitting it up "gives a chance for [the] fans to get in -- they can play it, and [the studio] can get feed back on skills and all that other fun stuff."

This means that version one is not going to be an MMO. "Version one is a fully working prototype of our combat system and some of the world components," he stated. The first stage, which is early access, is going to be in an FPS mode with two battlegrounds. It will also have preset builds just for testing. One battleground will be a domination-style siege match on a large map. Here, players will get their first taste of the new destructability of the world. Is your enemy using a wall as a shield or hiding in a house? Break it down! And here's a very intriguing tidbit: Even armor can be fractured and fall off in OOM.

The second battleground is a return of the popular capture the chochobi game that debuted debuted at PAX Prime. In this version, however, the game takes a rugby slant as players can toss the chochobi around.

Players may find themselves in this first iteration of the game in mere weeks; stage one will roll out shortly after the game goes to Steam's Greenlight program in a couple weeks. Be prepared to see combat footage and more in the next two weeks, and keep an eye out for Massively's first impressions of this first build.

The more fully realized MMO version of Orgins of Malu will come in the next two phases. The second phase will introduce the persistent free-for-all world with character customization, skills, crafting, and dynamic spawns, just in a smaller, restricted centralized area. Then in phase three, the massive world map will open up, and player-built housing, player-managed factions, and skill-based crafting will be implemented. The game will be fully realized in phase four; this is where vehicles and combat vehicles will be introduced as well as a living environment (the self-growing forest prototype is already complete).

"Everything from before and a whole lot more."

While you might be tempted to cringe when you hear about a total remake of a game, this change to a different engine appears to be a beneficial move for Origins of Malu. Yes, development was set back a bit more, but it is speeding along now. Players look to be getting a higher-quality product, not to mention get it sooner than had the switch never happened. As Dunham emphasized, "We can develop a whole lot faster now." However, he also stated that one thing isn't changing at all: OOM will remain a stylized alien sandbox.

When readers want the scoop on a launch or a patch (or even a brewing fiasco), Massively goes right to the source to interview the developers themselves. Be they John Smedley or Chris Roberts or anyone in between, we ask the devs the hard questions. Of course, whether they tell us the truth or not is up to them!
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