It’s not every day that I actually get an answer, let alone a number, when I ask an MMORPG developer how many people showed up for a stress test. But that’s exactly what Mortal Online 2’s Henrik Nyström offered up in response to our candid interview with him this past week, and now it’s got a much bigger slice of my attention. The StarVault CEO spoke to us at length about the size of the game’s recent stress test, plans for the persistent release, the modern MMO market, and the lessons the team learned from Mortal Online 1. Heck, we even got a brief update on whatever happened to Mortal Royale! Read on for the entire conversation.
MassivelyOP: Can you discuss the current phase of the game – are you technically in a fully persistent early access, or do you consider it more like an alpha or beta? Are you planning more stress tests or gradual roll into permanent testing? And how long do you plan to stay in early access?
StarVault CEO Henrik Nyström: We are currently in an open limited stress test with 40k keys handed out + current beta players. This is an important milestone for us to make sure we get our servers ready for a persistent release. When stress test ends, we go back to closed beta, which allows us to focus on game play experience and polish the core systems such as character development, AI, and polishing the continent. We are also adding some important missing parts such as flagging system, mount system and a broker house system that lets players trade with effective tools online or offline. When this is done, we plan to go persistent, which will have a lot of new content that is already tested. Some endgame features will also be added shortly after persistent.
How many players did you see participating at peak during the stress test a few weeks ago? I know you had some technical difficulties with the login and queue system and overloads on the server; was the rush of players many more than you expected?
We got around 10k trying to log in at the same time, which we couldn’t handle at that time on one server setup; since then, we have extended the stress test to work on the bottlenecks in our server structure. Now we are planning to announce our events and end the stress test, which will give us final numbers on what our server setup can handle, which we need to use for release.
What was the most important thing the SV team learned from Mortal Online 1 that helped with building 2? I’m wondering here about the open PvP system especially, since not many studios get two cracks at this egg.
Where do I begin… we have learned so much throughout the last 15 years of developing Mortal Online, and it has given us such valuable lessons and experience. With proper experience and knowledge, we are now much better equipped for making a game like Mortal Online 2.
PvP specifically is a big feature in Mortal Online, and we had a hardcore audience in MO1 that loved that part of our game; however, new players in the modern day did not understand or get used to this system as it was heavily abused by mechanics that were part of our game and lack of support in making it better back then. Today we use the same core that many players like, but we refined the part that did not allow new players to understand to appreciate the combat.
It’s also easy to compare our combat with games like Mordhau, Age of Chivalry, and Mount and Blade because they used the same core mechanics as we did when we created our combat back in 2007. The big obvious difference is the network code. Those games often compared to ours are single and multiplayer games. Our game is a massive multiplayer online role playing game. This means we cant use the same network system as in those games. There come some obvious challenges with this; one main factor is latency. This means we have to build a system with latency in full focus to make sure the gaming experience gets as good as it can be. Hearing that our game is like those single/multiplayer games is an amazing achievement in itself, and we are very proud about that.
However, there are things we need to change to make this possible to work over one server worldwide and with latency and supporting thousands of players on the field in the same world and server. There is a system that accounts for latency and a system which synchronizes player attacks/movement to make sure you don’t get hit from 10m or you get the hit effect seconds after you see someone swing their blade. Things like this happened in the old game, which of course put off any new player trying it out. This has been fixed in MO2, and now we see floods of new players joining and loving it so far.
There is still plenty of room for improvement, but we have pushed what we can very far now. The next step would be to further tighten up gameplay and speed things up where possible when the internet technology gets better. We have high hopes for things like Starlink, which is a possible option we are interested in testing when it becomes available.
Is there anything the team really wishes it could do for MO2 but it just had to strike from the to-do list?
Well, there are a few things for sure that we want to do and have in the game but can’t right now for various reasons – one is time and limited resources. A few examples are falling trees when lumberjacking and similar features. It’s all doable, and we know how to, but the work to make these things happen competes with other higher-priority features.
However, there is not a single feature so far that we completely have to scrap because our in-house knowledge and experience is much higher. We rebuilt the core of our network solution to better handle our game’s feature in the future. It’s still not super straightforward to also implement things when using UE4 even though it’s a thousand times better than UE3. One quick example is build a dynamic large open world and supporting proper level streaming and different types of sea levels – simple things, you may think, but in our game, where it really gets pushed to its limit, the engine just doesn’t support it, and it requires us to rebuild parts of the UE4 engine to make it work. We had to do this a ton of times in UE3, but it took too much time, and it limited us severely. UE4 allows us much more, but we still have to rebuild parts every now and then when it’s not good enough for MO2.
So with that said, it sounds crazy perhaps, but facts are we haven’t been forced to fully scratch something from our to-do list, just pushing them in different orders depending on what resources we need to invest to make it happen.
What would you say are the biggest differences between Mortal Online 1 and 2 for players? What’s the first dramatic deviation that old school players will notice?
The biggest difference is the whole polished experience as soon as you enter the game. Another obvious thing is the graphics. The combat system is much more accurate, responsive, and fluid. The other big thing we never got to in MO1 that we started out with in MO2 is the clade gifts that tie the clades closer to the lore description and allow for more interesting character development and play styles.
Another big thing is we fully designed MO2 to support one character per account rather than multiple characters in MO1. We got a lot of feedback and monitored this experience in MO1 and found out people did not enjoy feeling forced to run multiple characters they did not care about just to equip their main characters. They did not spend much focus on their characters as they had many and could easily create new ones. In MO2 we wanted to improve this by making sure there is much more depth in one character, which allows you to invest more into your character and build a name for yourself in the world. This also promotes a better gaming experience as you would care more about your one important character that can do a lot more as well.
To make this possible we also had to rework the skill system, by dividing the skills into two main areas such as actions and professions. This means you now can become a full-fledged crafter and combatant on the same character. There is even more to explore with our new veteran system soon to be enabled.
Another big area we really want to push above normal standard in the MMO genre is our AI and PvE features. Already our AI at its core supports far more advanced behavior than in any other MMO game on the market today. During beta we will refine this and add more unique behaviors to be ready for persistent release. There are many other differences that simply improve the gaming experience that allows us to reach a much wider market, but it would take to long to go through them all here.
Back in 2018, you folks launched a battle royale called Mortal Royale; it’s still in early access to this day and doesn’t seem to have many players. Is it ever going to develop further, or should we consider it more of a stepping stone to MO2?
Mortal Royale was an experiment that allowed our PvP players to go straight to the action. Again, it suffered the same issues as our MO1 combat for any new player, so it still was only interesting for the hardcore PvPers we had in MO1.
In MO2 we have plans to support a lot of interesting PvP aspects of our game. One area is our arena we plan to open in Tindrem when it’s fully developed. So we see no main reason to have a standalone game at this point and think everything can work and fits in MO2 without ruining the living world and gaming experience.
Where does SV see MO2 fitting into the current MMO market – do you think you’re competing more with survival sandboxes or the hardcore classic revival MMOs or the slicker new PvP MMOs like Crowfall? Who’s your biggest competition, the game to beat in your mind?
It’s an interesting timing for MO2 to hit the market, and we think it’s the best possible timing ever. There is a huge demand for a true sandbox with games like Rust etc. seeing so much attention. It also looks like a lot of casual themepark MMO players are looking for something a bit more challenging and different as the current themepark genre is quite generic.
Very early on when MO1 hit the market, it was very hardcore, and there weren’t many other titles out there preparing people for a game like MO. However, today we see a lot of growing popular games in the survival genre, and those share quite a few core features with MO2. Seeing that full-loot games are much less taboo than they once were, players have already had an easier time understanding and adapting to MO2. There is simply a much larger audience interested in games like ours in today’s market. This tells us that the persistent will be huge, and we hope that there will be a good number of players supporting us and enjoying our game for many years to come. We are determined to follow our red line and deliver something truly unique in the sandbox MMORPG genre that you can’t find elsewhere. This is the same driving factor that pushed us to begin developing Mortal Online 15 years ago.