Interview: Pearl Abyss on Shadow Arena’s Black Desert origins, esports, audience, and more

[AL:SA]Along with battle royale fans and Black Desert players, we’ve been keeping an eye on Pearl Abyss’ Shadow Arena, the one-time battle royale mode in Black Desert that was plucked away and spun out into its very own standalone game. Ahead of last week’s closed beta announcement, we had a chance to pepper Shadow Arena Executive Producer Kwangsam Kim with questions about the game – you’ll remember his name as he was at one point the Lead Producer on Black Desert itself. He’s told us all about the game’s planned audience, what BDO players can expect, and even the studio’s plans for esports. Enjoy!

MassivelyOP: Who would you say is the audience for this particular title – are you figuring it will be primarily Black Desert fans eager to get back into Shadow Arena, or battle royale fans who maybe aren’t even familiar with the MMORPG?

Executive Producer Kwangsam Kim: Because it is based on the world of Black Desert, it can also appeal to its fans. The legendary characters of Black Desert will also appear in Shadow Arena as well. However, Shadow Arena is a stand-alone game with completely different gameplay. We like to describe the genre as an “all-in-one” PvP game, which means it can appeal to fans of MOBAs, battle royales, and fighting games.

What the biggest thing that’s different in the new game that former players will want to know about (other than the fact that it’s not attached to BDO anymore)?

Players will see a big difference in the fundamentals of the game, such as controls, skill systems, and basic rules of attack and defense.

Every hero has four basic attacks and one unique skill. Although the number of skills is fewer than Black Desert, players can see and feel the unique characteristics of each hero. In Shadow Arena, the characters and their commands are all designed for PvP, where as in Black Desert, an MMO, they are more diversified. When a player is attacked, most of their skills and actions are interrupted, so players must be quick, evasive, and able to adapt. In that sense, Shadow Arena is more like a one-on-one fighting game than an RPG.

Black Desert fans will be surprised by the differences. However, it can be a whole new experience if you see this as a stand-alone game.

In the original reveal trailer, it looks as if combatants aren’t just battling each other; it looks as if they’re battling a giant boss. Can you explain how this PvE content factors into the title?

Strategy through PvE farming is a key feature that differentiates this game from other PvP-focused titles.

The basic gameplay includes defeating monsters on the field and getting stronger through gear, items, skill points, and buffs. Farming gives players an advantage over their opponents in battle.

The giant bosses that appear on the map are much more powerful than ordinary monsters. The best gear and buffs will be rewarded when you defeat these specific monsters.

We have various kinds of monsters on the field, and it’s one of the elements that makes the game really unique and fun to play.

Can you explain how the skill system will work – is it something MMO players are going to be familiar with? Do skills persist from game to game?

The skill system is similar to a MOBA – heroes have a certain number of skills, and players can use them with hotkeys. Skill points used for leveling up skills, and the cool time for skill use in the game as well. Of course, leveling skills up do not carry over to subsequent matches.

Are you still focused on prefab characters, or will you be making use of the awesome BDO character creator at any point? How many characters will you launch with?

Shadow Arena focuses on the concept of “heroes” as opposed to “classes.” We do not have a customization system but we do have skins for each hero. Nine heroes will be available in the beta test, and we will add one more hero for the game’s launch. More characters will be added after the game’s launch.

The other graphics look almost identical to BDO’s; what else was ported over?

The name and background story for each hero comes from the Black Desert series. Black Desert players will be able to spot some interesting Easter eggs in Shadow Arena. Shadow Arena is based on the same engine as Black Desert, so the technical features and battle mode are very similar.

Pearl Abyss’ Kwangsam Kim
Exploiting was a major problem in the original version of Shadow Arena, to the point that the devs pointed to it as one of the key reasons for plucking it out of the MMO. How has the team shored up the new game’s security in the interim? Or have you found that most of the cheating was because of the mode’s impact on BDO itself, so the incentive to exploit to the same degree has now been stripped away?

Exploiting was a problem in the original version, and addressing it was one of the reasons why we decided to make Shadow Arena a standalone game.

However, the main reason is that we also faced limitations in making a full-fledged PvP game within the system of Black Desert. For example, if we changed Shadow Arena’s battle system, such as the calculations for attack and defense, it affected Black Desert as well.

Based on these factors, we thought that it would be better to make a new, basic structure for a standalone game. We could add features to Shadow Arena without any limitations, including features to help prevent exploitation. By creating Shadow Arena, it has also helped us improve Black Desert. We fixed a “transparency bug” in Black Desert, which many players had thought was a hack issue, with the feedback we received while developing Shadow Arena.

We understand that the key battle royale component – the ever-shrinking ring of doom – is particularly fast in Shadow Arena. That can be a good thing since it keeps matches short, but it also gives players less time to hunker down and plan strategy. Are you still working on the perfect balance?

Using the feedback from beta tests in Korea and Russia, we have already changed and improved the mechanics and will continue to improve the game through future updates. As you may already know, Pearl Abyss is all about providing constant and diligent updates. We experiment and improve relentlessly, and you can see this reflected in the game.

What kind of business model will the game run with here in the west? Will BDO players receive copies of the title gratis?

Shadow Arena will be free-to-play, similar to other popular MOBA or battle royale games. Of course, we are also considering battle pass.

I know you’re planning a console launch later in 2020 – does that include the Switch? What about next-gen consoles?

We do not have anything to announce regarding next-gen consoles at this time.

Finally, how is Pearl Abyss planning to foster and support the esports community that springs up around SA?

We see a lot of potential in esports for Shadow Arena. We are already in the development of competitive features. However, the game should prove itself to the fans first, and fans should think Shadow Arena is a game worth playing with passion. This is the first step in becoming a successful competitive title.

Fans of Shadow Arena will be a solid base for an esports community. An esports community without support from its fans is just a promotional event, so we want to start by building a fanbase of passionate players, and getting them involved. We will listen to the fans and continue to provide updates to the game, while also holding events that fans can attend.

The beta test is the debut of Shadow Arena to Western audiences. Please take part in the beta test and give us your feedback, we are looking forward to hearing what players think!

Thanks very much to Pearl Abyss’ Kwangsam Kim for speaking to us! If you’re eager to try out the game before the launch, you can grab a free closed beta key for the beta event kicking off February 27th.

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