With a nostalgic and fond nod at L. Frank Baum's iconic novels, Oz: Broken Kingdom is a fully-featured mobile RPG that is surprisingly robust with in depth game play, fantastic and interesting character and party development. We spoke with O:BK's developers Nick Bakalos and Isaac Calon to learn more about the game and its background.
MMORPG: Where did the idea of and RPG in combination with the Oz setting come from?
Nick Bakalos & Isaac Calon: The Baum books, especially the first 4 entries in the Oz series, touch on so many ideas/themes that excite us - we realized we wanted to spend more time in that world and create our own unique spin on it. As for why an RPG - the world and fiction just led us there naturally - heroes, magic, compelling enemies, a rich world to explore, etc. In our view, it was a perfect fit.
MMORPG: How does Oz fit in with the novels and the beloved 1939 movie and the earlier novels? Please give a thumbnail lore overview of the game.
NB & IC: L. Frank Baum created an incredibly whimsical world and broad mythology with the novels that was just aching to be mined in more depth. The classic film touched on a few of these themes - the innocence of youth, illusions of power, and the 'real magic within us all' - but the books went even further and were our sole source of inspiration for Broken Kingdom.
Baum was considered by many to be a feminist pioneer, with many of the Oz stories critiquing patriarchal structures. There were also hints at friction between social classes, the potential for great power to corrupt those with good intentions, and the dangers of too much power (ie: magic) in the hands of too few. He also had a great love for animals and nature, and expressed a keen belief in all living things having 'consciousness' of some kind.
These are all things being discussed in modern society. They're current and they're relevant. Therefore, we tried to imagine what it would be like to bring a modern heroine — a young girl from our conflict-riddled world, very unlike Dorothy from the books and film — into Oz today. What would that be like for her? How would Oz have evolved since Dorothy first arrived (considering humans age much more slowly there)? And how would legendary characters like the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion behave in a world where their wishes were granted? Where their intelligence, empathy, and courage had evolved to epic levels.
MMORPG: Tell us about party members the player runs into? Who are they and what do they bring to the table in battle?
NB & IC: To create our heroes we drew inspiration from Baum’s original books. In our Oz, years have passed since Dorothy’s original visit to the Emerald City, and in the interim these main characters have changed. We’ve re-imagined them as defenders of their realm.
The Scarecrow, once brainless, is now a master spellcaster and a deep thinker. Scarecrow incinerates, freezes, and electrocutes his foes with boundless elemental powers. The Tin man is the team's hearty tank, shrugging off enemy attacks and reciprocating with massive axe swings that destroy one foe after another. The once-cowardly-but-now-courageous Lion is a savage but noble barbarian who cows his enemies with his roar before tearing them to shreds with his powerful claws.
Many stories in Oz center around an “Otherworlder” that is brought to the realm by some natural disaster, and we have maintained that tradition with our main character, Ophelia Shen. Brought to Oz in a powerful storm, Ophelia is a versatile and savvy knife-fighter who discovers that she has a mysterious wellspring of power within her. This power protects and strengthens, transforming her into a magical force of nature.
MMORPG: What RPG elements are included in Oz?
NB & IC: Oz plays much like your traditional turn-based RPG, but we’ve updated those tried-and-true tropes with today’s mobile-market sensibilities. It should feel familiar, but fresh.
Players command a team of heroes, each with a unique play style, Ability set, and statistics working behind the scenes. Each character has statistics-driven strengths and weaknesses. There’s a soft affinity (Paper-Scissors-Rock) system at play, but since we wanted player skill to be as important as the decisions they make before combat, this system provides a small advantage, but nothing more. Tin Man deals bonus damage to Ophelia, for example, but this hardly guarantees a Tin Man victory when they meet in the Emerald Arena.
Other traditional RPG elements include character customization through their Ability loadouts and the Diablo-like gem system. We also committed to a strong narrative filled with interesting and complex characters — story buffs have a lot to enjoy here. While the plot starts simply and is unfolded in a linear fashion, it’s far from the straight-forward children’s books of Baum’s original novels. And of course, no RPG would be complete without exploration, boss battles, and quests.
MMORPG: How do characters progress, both the main player character and the party members?
NB & IC: Party members progress in numerous ways, but primarily by upgrading their Abilities. As you play you collect Ability cards and Essence. With enough cards and Essence you can upgrade an Ability, boosting its power and netting the player XP. Enough XP levels up all of the player’s heroes, which increases stats, unlocks better gems, and increases the max level that your Abilities can be upgraded to.
The Gem Crafting system offers a lot of power, but also allows players to explore different builds and playstyles. For example, if you want to make your Tin Man the ultimate tank, you can equip him with Rubies, which increase a hero's Health. Alternatively, if you want to make him deal more damage, you can equip him with Sapphires, which increase Strength.
Finally, for big power boosts and dramatic visual upgrades, there’s the Evolution system. To evolve, the player needs to be a certain level and collect a list of magical pearls that are specific to each hero. The new EVOs look awesome.
MMORPG: Why turn-based?
NB & IC: We tried several systems for this — ATB and random-turn generation and all the variations we could think of — but ultimately we decided on turn-based because it allowed for more strategic planning and was more user-friendly. This lined up much better with our goals we had of serving a broad market than a twitchier combat would have.
MMORPG: What are the multiplayer aspects in Oz: Broken Kingdom?
NB & IC: We launched with two main multiplayer features that are core to our game: The Emerald Arena and Guilds.
Players can enter the Emerald Arena and compete for glory against other players in real-time, synchronous combat. Each player has a time limit to perform their actions, and they can use an emote system to roughly communicate in combat. We have leaderboards that rank players, and we’ve just started Arena Season 2, with big rewards for the top players.
Guilds bring players together, and allow them to chat and send gifts to one another. Guilds also rank on the Emerald Arena leaderboards, which is an effective way to see which Guild has the best players in the game.
MMORPG: How closely do the developers work with the community?
NB & IC: A game like Oz, with evolving PvE and PvP modes, needs constant attention through live ops to keep things fresh and balanced, so outside of the usual community efforts — monitoring our reviews and forums, and engaging players directly in chat — our wonderful Publisher, Nexon, reaches out to players who have concerns we can help address. We have other plans that we can’t say too much about, but in short, we know from experience that some of the best testing, bug-finding, and ideas come from the community, so we’ll be keeping a close watch and engaging personally whenever we can.
MMORPG: What are the plans for the future in terms of new features and story?
NB & IC: We have plenty of new features in the works, not least of which is a new playable character! Like all our heroes, this character has a unique play-style and mechanics, and he should shake things up in the Arena while offering even more variety to our players. We’re also working on a new event that will provide players with deeper PvE challenges and some of the most sought-after rewards in the game.
Finally, we are adding in more chapters for the campaign, which will unravel more of the story and provide more single-player challenges/quests to complete, more Abilities to be earned, more enemies, more companions, more gems, more of everything.
MMORPG: Please add anything else for our readers.
NB & IC: Just a few tips for our players!
If you’re having trouble with a battle, try a new character or loadout! Some challenges are better suited to certain characters, and playing them all will not only help you face them in the Arena, but also will complete more Daily quests.
Visit the Emerald City regularly to collect on those quests, fight in the Arena, and upgrade Abilities and Companions. This will ensure a steady supply of Essence and XP, which means more power and Energy.