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Shadow Arena Interview With Executive Producer Kwangsam Kim

Joseph Bradford Posted:
Interviews 0

MMORPG.com was approached to host the English translation of an interview conducted by German MMO site Mein MMO with Shadow Arena EP Kwangsam Kim. Here is the full interview translated for your reading pleasure. The interview touches on a few aspects we addressed in our impressions piece, most notably the price of the heroes at launch of Early Access, as well as some of the influences and design philosophies behind some of the characters playeres can take control of in the arena. 

Mein MMO: If you had to pick one feature: What makes Shadow Arena special and different from any other BR on the market?

Kwangsam Kim: It is the real time action combat that really sets it apart. Shadow Arena’s action and gameplay is very close to that of a fighting game with added MOBA-esque skills and all of these are set within a stunning 3D environment. Shadow Arena combines almost all the combat mechanics you see in PVP games like distance, timing, combo building, quick and precise aiming, as well as the need to make strategic predictions.

Which more features are planned for the time between now and the official release?

Since our first beta and now with the Early Access stage, the game has rapidly evolved and we will have many more features when we are ready for the official launch, but we want to use this Early Access stage to further polish the game and complete its features.

 We feel we are already updating the game at a rapid pace. Currently, we are focused on fixing bugs and improving the many in-game systems, and as we’re getting into the pace of doing these things, the speed at which we’ll be adding new features will also increase.

Shadow Arena released recently in Early Access. Do you have a rough window on when it’s going to be fully released? Will COVID-19 have an impact on the release date?

Once we are happy with the level of quality and the amount of content for Shadow Arena, we’ll be ready to launch. We can’t say that COVID-19 has not affected us at all, but we are working hard to prevent it from delaying our schedule.

 As a Battle Royale it’s in competition with huge games like Fortnite, Warzone and Apex Legends. At the same time, you’ve created a game that basically plays with MMO or MMORPG-Features. Do you think Shadow Arena will be successful due to a potentially MMORPG-based player base? Would you call it a "Battle Royale for RPG-Players”?

I think Shadow Arena is the ultimate PvP experience. It is based on RPG elements, mixed with the battle royale ruleset. Each hero is rooted in different genres of games. We cannot say that the game is a generic battle royale. It is a very distilled form of RPG mixed with many other elements. I feel that Shadow Arena is very much its own genre as nothing really compares to it.

 From where does your player base come from? Do you have more “classic” MMO players or do they come from Battle Royale games?

Shadow Arena players are coming from diverse genres. Many of them are MMO players but we can see players from MOBA, FPS, battle royale games and the fighting game genre. We did not deeply research where players come from but to my understanding from the gamers around me, no player base from a certain genre is the majority.

 Your take on BR with skills and classes reminds me a little bit of Realm Royale. Did you take inspiration from it? Where did the idea come from to do a mix like that in general?

We did not take any reference from other games when we developed it. The starting point of the development was a prototype that mixed RPG gameplay with session based PvP matches. We put this ‘internal experiment’ inside Black Desert  as a separate mode. Ultimately, we decided to separate the two. While we were doing that, we changed the direction of the game to what we envision now, the ultimate PvP experience that combines RPG elements within the Battle Royale ruleset.

 The game is on a roughly 50% review on Steam after its EA Start. Why do you think that is and how are you going to work on it to raise?

When looking at the comments, we see there were lag, hacking and balance issues. Also the price of the DLC was a factor. We unfortunately do not have a magic bullet that fixes all issues in one swoop, but we will use the Early Access period to fix everything as fast as we can. In the first couple of weeks we put a lot of effort in improving the response lag and minimise hacking and we are rebalancing our heroes twice a week. For the DLC and cosmetics we are considering pricing items cheaper or having them for free.

 What features do the players like the most?

It is the competitiveness between players who are on similar skill levels and the sense of victory when a match has been won. Once you have been able to win once, you’ll fall in love with this game.

 How do you include player feedback in development? Which things are especially important? How can players help developing the game?

We have so many different channels for feedback. Once we collect them, we prioritize them. We distribute the development resource based on this prioritized list. Currently we are fixing the things that affect the gaming experience most critically and we compile players’ opinions on what they think is inconvenient or uncomfortable, then assign priorities to them as well. And of course when there are frequent reports and feedback about something, we focus on that as well.

 So please give us your feedback; the more we get, the better it enables us to prioritise our work.

Right now, the balancing in Shadow Arena seems to be a concern to most of its fans and is broadly discussed in your discord. What’s your priority? How do you decide on which things need balancing? What are the difficulties regarding balancing?

The problem with balance feedback is that often player feedback contradicts each other. Players from different regions have different opinions on character balance, so here we also look at what our in-game data tells us. We look at statistics such as the actual time of a match, the average number of kills per hero and the average win ratio. It is this data that helps us to prioritise the direction of the balance update.

In-house testing and thinking about the game theoretically aren’t enough, so we look at player feedback every day and discuss it. So our solution is to have frequent updates, and even if the direction of an update is wrong, we can plan for the next patch by using the renewed player feedback and the aforementioned data points.

 We update twice a week, so we feel confident that we’ll fix the balance issue soon and we are not afraid to roll back our updates if they don’t work. This is technically our motto. And if I say on a Dev’s Note that we will look into an issue, we will thoroughly do this. We are not scared of critique and we take all (constructive) criticism and suggestions very seriously and will act accordingly.

 People especially criticized and claimed you’d balance based on Duos (Team) rather than Solos. Is that true? Is Teams the more important mode? Why or why not?

 I think that eventually Shadow Arena’s duo mode will be the most important for competitive esports, but solo is equally important and is probably the first mode players will try when playing the game. In other words, the game’s fundamentals are developed around these two pillars. Our priority now is balancing solo and once we are confident about the balance there, we will put our attention on duo mode.

 What’s your aim with the balance between the different heroes and see some tactics around counterplay? Or should they all have their certain place and specialization or should the all be equal in strength?

I prefer the specialization aspect. There are two ways in which you can find the right balance. The first is to make every hero equal, the second is to maximise their unique characteristics. In all honesty, I prefer the latter. This isn’t to say that they’re completely mutually exclusive, but I think it’s important that each hero should feel unique and have its own playstyle. We have specifically designed heroes for those players who like certain video game genres. For instance, we created Badal for fighting game fans and Orwen for players who like to play shooters.

Each hero has distinct strengths and weaknesses that can be exploited. Goyen for instance has a very powerful combo, but I don't really want to nerf him as he takes a lot of risk and is open to receiving massive damage. So if we feel Goyen is  too strong (unbalanced), instead of nerfing him, we make his weak points weaker. This will increase the level of risk a player needs to take and other players will learn about Goyen’s vulnerabilities.

 Another example is Badal, a character especially developed for fans of fighting games. His moveset is built around combos and also here we increased his vulnerabilities after data and player feedback told us he was too strong. But here we found it did not have any effect for the truly skilled players. Here we had to make the decision to nerf the class as we did not have any other possibility. But at the same time we gave him other abilities.

 What does the roadmap for the rest of 2020 and 2021 look like? Which things can we expect from Shadow Arena in the following year?

 The goal of 2020 is adding 10 more characters and to reach a total of 20 heroes. Also we want to add a new map and a new game mode that is not based around battle royale rules. We also want to include tournament rulesets and stabilize the basic game systems. For 2021 we will add new features and expansions at a more aggressive pace.

 What plans do you have for the long term, say, the next five years?

Honestly, it is very difficult to say as our planned direction is also based on player feedback. We have prepared a lot of things and have a basic direction we want to pursue, but continuous updates based on feedback of users can lead us to different places. If the game in the end is more fun in that initially unplanned direction, we will be happy to follow that route.

 Shadow Arena is free to play right and part of a popular genre. Yet, its take on the genre is entirely different. Can you give us 3 tips for players who just began and who want to win their first rounds?

 First, the basic attack can cancel an enemy’s combo. So you cannot just use any skill when you are close to the enemy because it will be nullified. So you have to think first what skill you are going to use when you are out of range. When you get closer you should try and see the timing of someone using a skill and try to cancel it with just using a basic attack.

Second, to get more items and skill points, you must get the attention from monsters first since it is way more effective when you slay the monsters in packs instead of killing them individually. RPG players will know what I mean.

Third, Shadow Arena is all about the connection of combos. Combos have crowd control effects like stun. While enemies cannot move or defend themselves, you can punch in another combo, so it is important to learn and experiment with these. The AI mode is perfect for this. Basic combos all start with kick (F).

And just to squeeze one more tip in: when you’re in danger, do not hesitate to use your blink or Dark Shift as this skill regenerates quite fast. It’s actually better to use these survival skills rather than using your initial Elixir of Swiftness

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Joseph Bradford

Joseph has been writing or podcasting about games in some form since about 2012. Having written for multiple major outlets such as IGN, Playboy, and more, Joseph started writing for MMORPG in 2015. When he's not writing or talking about games, you can typically find him hanging out with his 10-year old or playing Magic: The Gathering with his family. Also, don't get him started on why Balrogs *don't* have wings. You can find him on Twitter @LotrLore