Producer Yong-Hyun Park is as experienced as they come when it comes to MMOs on PC. After years working on Lineage II and TERA, the veteran developer is hard at work (with his team at NAT Games) on his first mobile game—a fantasy action role-player called Heroes of Incredible Tales. The recently-launched ARPG already boasts more than 5 million downloads and features both co-op and PvP online play, an extensive single-player campaign, and various other single-player modes like Horde and Daily Dungeon Challenge.
ARPGs are already a “thing” in Korea, and Park's hoping Western audiences take to it just as readily. To that end, he and his team have created a combat system that employs a skill tree that allows for combat style customization and a combat system that has players mastering combos, aerials, throws, counters, dodges and ultimates. Hoping for insight into NAT Games' free-to-play phenom, we picked Producer Park's brain and found out some interesting things.
MMORPG: What from your MMO experience, came in handy when making HIT?
YP: MMO's have always had a long development period. As a game producer, I gained three important experiences. First, since I created many Blockbuster MMORPGs, I was familiar with the organization and operation of a large-scale development team. Over the last few years, the size of mobile game development has grown rapidly. In the middle of this, you have new developers who have never had the experience of running large development teams which end up costing a lot due to trial and error.
Second, I knew how to successfully produce prototypes. It's commonplace to have developers go into the mass production stage without properly prototyping. They falter and end up creating another prototype. It's a path that leads to destruction. Last of all, in the mid-to-late development stage, we try not to deviate too much from our original development goals without being impacted by trends.
MMORPG: What convinced you that now was the time to make a mobile ARPG?
YP: There were two conditions that led to making this happen. First, we needed the vision to be able to develop a mobile platform game that capitalized on the advantages of having a large scale team. Second, we recognized it would be difficult to continue to endure PC MMORPG development due to its massive scale. There was one thing that I also discovered.
Generally speaking, mobile devices have a chronic battery problem. When high quality 3D mobile games first began to emerge, I watched closely at how people were playing the games. I thought people were more likely to give up on the games due to the drain on the battery. However, I came to realize that people would just plug in their phone charger to continue to play. In the same way, laptop users are always plugged in when they need to. I did not realize in advance that smartphone users would also use their phone chargers in order to play games.
MMORPG: Aside from language, are there other ways you alter gameplay when designing for a Western audience? In other words, do you find Western audiences have different expectations than Asian ones?
YP: Learning from our experiences from our Asian service, we made an effort to improve the game play balance. For this reason, things can proceed more smoothly. Before we launch globally, we conduct Focus Group Tests in America, Germany, France and gather a variety of feedback.
While the genre of mobile ARPG is well known in Asia, I feel that this genre is relatively new to users in the western countries. That’s why we often receive feedback on simple UI and Item Upgrade systems.
MMORPG: Can you discuss what makes HIT's skill system so compelling?
YP: HIT utilizes a unique combo and rock-paper-scissors relationship system. It contains a lot of depth where you can continue to progress in PvP without getting bored.
MMORPG: Since combat is in real time, how did you approach the game's touch screen control system?
YP: This part is not vastly unique. In fact, Korea is an outlet for many mobile ARPG games. Since many users enjoy this genre, there is a standard control system. If we were to talk further about control systems, we are studying the possibility of alternative control systems using one hand instead of two hands.
MMORPG: What kinds of premium items will players be able to buy? Will they be able to “pay to win?”
YP: There are premium items like Gems and Gold; and Weapons and Armors that you can obtain from the gachas. It is true that if you make purchases, the game will become a bit easier to play. Just as with many other Free to Play games, HIT also tries to save time as the main objective.
MMORPG: What kinds of PvE content does the game offer? Is it solo-player-friendly?
YP: The default player adventure area takes up the largest amount of playing time in Single Player mode. It's enjoyable even if you're playing solo. There is also other secondary content such as the Tower of Trials and the Sanctuary that gives you unique rewards. Also, we are preparing the "Abyss of Chaos" mode which is very popular amongst the veteran players. This is a mode in which the characters can continue their progress operating in a tag-team format.
MMORPG: There are four classes to choose from right now. Are there plans to add more at a later time?
YP: A fifth character, Lena, was recently added to the system in Korea. It's a colorful character that utilizes the bow as its main weapon. However, in the Global Version, we will try to add the character at the appropriate time based on the progression of the players. If you provide too many characters at the beginning, it may become an excessive burden.
MMORPG: Traditional MMOs seem to be on the decline. Do you think mobile RPGs are the next step in MMO evolution?
YP: In terms of platform, it seems to be clear. Users are more attached to their smartphones than PCs. However, it's clear that users have longer contact with computers. I expect these trends to continue.
On the other hand, I think it is still possible to produce a successful PC MMORPG. Since PC MMORPG is a mature market, a more tailored development plan will be necessary. It is now difficult to repeat the experience and success of the old days when the market was growing quickly.
MMORPG: What was your biggest challenge in shifting from large-scale MMO development for PC to smaller scale RPG development for phone or tablets? And what do you think is the secret to success?
YP: The biggest challenges involved the development schedule, live services and update schedule. Mobile development goes through the cycles overwhelmingly faster than PC. For PC it took a year to make a good prototype, but for mobile you had to complete it within a month. Since everything was this way, we had to change our development process accordingly. Since we were accustomed to our previous ways, our team experienced a fair amount of growing pains.
Although there are many producers who switched to mobile after making PC games, I think there are very few who successfully converted over. PC and Mobile are quite different. Only those who truly commit to the change can succeed.
HIT looks good and promises some pretty amazing RPG play for a mobile game, and at "free," the price is certainly right. If you're interested in seeing what all the full at G-Star was about, you can download Heroes of Incredible Tales.