RPGs in 2021 and past: The Nexon take

by akoloy


The taste and mechanics of role-playing video games are everywhere in the business nowadays. The approach you construct expertise, statistics, gear, and even worlds borrow from the concepts we first noticed in tabletop warfare video games, Strat-O-Matic Baseball, and Dungeons & Dragons.

But I do know the place RPGs have been. I’m extra eager about the place they’re going.

So I’m going to spend the remainder of 2021 speaking to individuals who make RPGs of each style. Of course, we’ll discuss in regards to the video games they’re engaged on, and we are going to by way of the lens of what the business is like now and the place they see issues getting in 2022 and past.

I’m beginning first with Dennis Bernardo of Nexon. He’s a producer engaged on a couple of video games, corresponding to Darkness Rises and Konosuba: Fantastic Days. These are each RPGs — Darkness Rises focuses on motion (a cell Diablo-like), whereas Konsuba is a cell IP sport of a Japanese anime.

Both symbolize in style kinds of RPG on cell, an area wherein free-to-play, microtransactions, and gacha mechanics reign and might affect design at a sport’s most granular ranges. Yet builders like Bernardo additionally need to push what they love about RPGs — story, constructing characters, and twiddling with gear loadouts.

This is an edited transcription of our interview.

GamesBeat: What are the RPGs that you just’re engaged on proper now?

Dennis Bernardo: Two of the video games I work on, Darkness Rises and Konosuba, are each RPGs, however they’re each completely different in type. Darkness Rises is an action-RPG with actual time fight. The artwork type is historically a little bit bit extra gothic, a bit darker, kind of like World of Warcraft or Diablo. Konosuba is predicated on an anime IP developed in Japan. The type is extra turn-based, a Japanese RPG.

GamesBeat: And these are each on cell?

Bernardo: Correct, they’re each cell video games. I’ve been at Nexon for about six years now. Previously, I labored within the PC division on Maple Story, which is one in all our hottest MMORPGs.

GamesBeat: Darkness Rises is an inside IP, and Konosuba is an IP sport. Those two markets are very completely different. What’s it like dealing with two completely different video games like that?

Bernardo: It’s positively one thing we’ve to juggle. A number of what we do at Nexon America particularly, loads of what my function is, is overseeing how we join with North American gamers, European gamers, gamers in Australia and New Zealand, everywhere in the world outdoors of Asia. We discuss to them and see what they’re responding to, what they like in different video games which might be in style in these areas. It’s a balancing act. It’s very completely different relying on the IP and the sport.

For instance, with Darkness Rises, it has loads of similarities with Western-developed IPs like I discussed earlier than, within the artwork type and the gameplay. It’s extra motion oriented. We must take that under consideration once we plan our gross sales, plan our occasions, plan the collaborations we need to do with different IP to see if it suits with these folks. Konosuba goes to be launched this 12 months, so we’re nonetheless doing loads of analysis on that, however as you talked about, it’s primarily based on an present IP, and so we attempt to take a look at that viewers. What did they reply to for that property? What do they like about these characters and this world? That’s what we need to convey out within the gross sales, occasions, all of the advertising and planning that we do for the sport.

Above: The Assassin does what it does greatest — slay within the swamp. (OK, it slays nicely in different places, too.)

Image Credit: Nexon

GamesBeat: What is an action-RPG in 2021? How is it completely different from what we perhaps take into consideration in video games from 5 years in the past, like Dungeon Runners or one thing like that?

Bernardo: I really feel like there’s quite a bit — the time period RPG is kind of nebulous. There’s loads of completely different video games that fall into the class, loads of completely different parts. But a number of the issues we’re making an attempt to deal with with these two particular video games are constructing immersive worlds, constructing worlds that folks need to be in, character progress, and participant alternative. For instance, for Darkness Rises, it’s actual time fight, and so we attempt to be sure that the fight feels impactful. The participant looks like they’re these warriors defeating monsters. That’s how we attempt to immerse folks into the world. For that sport particularly, too, deep customization. There are tons of various selections within the weapons which you can equip, costumes you’ll be able to placed on, and simply the look of your character, completely different facial options, hair colours, all these issues we attempt to instill and add to the sport. For an action-RPG, it looks like we’re making an attempt to deal with the second, as a result of it’s actual time fight. We’re making an attempt to ensure folks really feel just like the fight and immersion is visceral.

GamesBeat: You discuss alternative. For this sport particularly, the alternatives are about what your character seems like, how your character fights, and never as a lot in regards to the story.

Bernardo: Story selections, there’s not an excessive amount of in the way in which of various paths you’ll be able to go down, however there are completely different characters you’ll be able to select which have their very own storylines throughout the sport. There’s completely different content material you’ll be able to interact with. Tons of PvP content material and PvE content material. Aside from the story mode, there are completely different aspect modes telling their very own completely different tales. There’s loads of alternative within the number of actions that you are able to do within the sport.

GamesBeat: Over the previous 5 years, how a lot has visible customization change into vital to action-RPGs on cell?

Bernardo: It’s change into more and more vital, and I feel that’s because of the improve in expertise. Every 12 months brings higher telephones and different cell units. 2020 and 2021 had been no completely different. You’re beginning to see these characters in excessive constancy, and that’s thrilling from an RPG standpoint, as a result of we’re in a position to present extra element and provides the participant extra alternative within the completely different eye colours they’ll have, completely different sneakers they’ll put on. All these various things, you couldn’t see that earlier than in older video games. It wasn’t technically attainable. It’s thrilling for us to have the ability to improve that and current completely different visible selections.

GamesBeat: Is that visible alternative a gameplay component, or is it additionally a monetization component?

Bernardo:  For Darkness Rises, for instance, we’ve costumes and armor and weapons, loads of this stuff with completely different stats. You can earn loads of them by way of simply taking part in the sport. Some of them we promote within the in-game store. There are a number of avenues to accumulate completely different gadgets. For one thing like Konosuba, we’ve costumes and characters primarily based on what you see within the anime, what you see within the motion pictures, what you see within the gentle novels. We have these characters in several costumes which you can purchase as nicely, both by way of gameplay or by way of the in-game outlets.

GamesBeat: How have monetization approaches modified over the previous couple of years and heading into the 2020s?

Bernardo: With monetization, we attempt to increase the gameplay, somewhat than make the gamers really feel prefer it’s mandatory. A number of the monetization we’re doing, even for cell video games, is beauty. It’s that participant alternative in the way you need your characters to look. It’s a way of delight for gamers, to have the ability to customise the way in which their characters look, present them off in sport within the lobbies and aggressive or cooperative modes we’ve within the sport. We’re making an attempt to make use of that and what the gamers need out of the customization to reinforce the gameplay by way of our monetization.

GamesBeat: Do you see that augmentation as a development that’s persevering with? Or with adjustments like IDFA coming to Apple, do you see free-to-play video games taking a look at extra issues like season passes and different choices you purchase in chunks as a part of their monetization?

Bernardo: We’re taking a look at loads of completely different fashions on the market so far as monetization. We don’t have a selected overarching plan that we need to apply to completely different video games. It relies on the sport. For instance, with Kart Rider Rush Plus, we do have a season cross. We have that battle cross system that’s changing into more and more in style, and we’ve seen success with that sort of monetization system. But we even have extra conventional monetization methods within the sport, buying issues outright. It relies on the sport. It relies on the way it suits into the general design and the world of the sport. I can’t say for certain what route and what traits we’re going to be going for in our future video games. We’re evaluating that on a game-by-game foundation.

GamesBeat: Has there been any curiosity in bringing video games like these to PC, going cross-platform?

Bernardo: I don’t suppose we’ve plans for that on the time. We’re specializing in the cell side for now. I can’t converse too deeply into the cross platform technique as a result of I don’t work on these different video games, however when you take a look at one thing like Maple Story, we introduced that from the PC to cell, they usually have some interactions. One of the newest issues a few of my colleagues on my group labored on was V4, which we launched on each PC and cell concurrently. Players can work together with one another on no matter platform they select. That’s one thing we’re eager about, and we’ve experimented with it, so it’s not new to Nexon.

GamesBeat: As a designer working at an organization that’s multiplatform, do you see cloud gaming as one thing that may make future titles — one thing the place you don’t limit it to cell, however simply do it on each platform.

Bernardo:  Again, I’m not a technical professional or a design professional, so it’s powerful for me to talk with authority about how the development will go. But personally I’m enthusiastic about cloud gaming. As you mentioned, it affords these alternatives to be platform agnostic. I’ve tried a number of the providers on the market myself. One factor that a few of our territories could have to atone for is simply that latency concern and the bandwidth concern. I don’t know if we’re fairly there but. But once more, I can’t converse to something Nexon-related on that.

GamesBeat:  Let’s discuss mechanics for a second. The one factor that would occur to any motion RPG, be it Diablo or an unbiased sport, is that it will get repetitive and boring. What ways do you suppose Nexon and different designers are going to take a look at to make these video games extra replayable sooner or later?

Bernardo: That’s one thing we’ve all the time considered with all of our video games, even on PC. Because all of our video games are reside service video games — Maple Story has been round for greater than 15 years now — we’ve tried to take heed to gamers to see what they’re asking for, whether or not it’s high quality of life enhancements, new content material, new bosses, new cosmetics. What do they need? And once more, it differs primarily based on the sport and the participant base that’s enthusiastic about that sport. For Kart Rider Rush Plus, our replace technique is including new karts, new tracks. These are the core focuses for making an attempt to proceed that lifetime of the sport. For Darkness Rises, we add new characters, new weapons, higher armor for gamers to realize, and extra bosses. Again, it relies on the sport, however basically, extra content material, extra issues for gamers to do, extra issues for gamers to have interaction with, and have interaction with the issues that they already love to do within the sport.

Above: Face-off!

Image Credit: Nexon

GamesBeat: As a designer, are there motion RPG mechanics you suppose have to go by the wayside whilst you discover new issues to do?

Bernardo:  One factor we attempt to do in all of our video games, action-RPGs particularly, is attempt to improve that new consumer expertise and make it much less obtuse. That’s one factor I do as a producer. I take a look at all of the alternative ways gamers are participating with the sport and in search of these ache factors, seeing the place they drop out, and making an attempt to alleviate that. A number of our focus when taking a look at analytics is that first new participant expertise, ensuring gamers perceive all of the methods. I’m undecided that there’s anyone system that’s antiquated or must fall by the wayside, however I feel the methods we train the participant the sport must be up to date primarily based on new applied sciences we’ve, switching from PC to cell. There are completely different consideration spans amongst gamers, completely different tolerances for the quantity of data they’ll retain. We have to determine how one can instill that into the participant and seize them from the get-go.

GamesBeat: After so a few years of constructing action-RPGs, how do you make loot one thing that’s nonetheless thrilling to a participant? Especially somebody who’s been taking part in since way back to perhaps the primary Diablo.

Bernardo: Again, that is extra of a designer factor. I haven’t considered it an excessive amount of. But with any sport, any RPG, there’s all the time going to be loot. There’s all the time going to be, like I discussed, methods to enhance your character, improve your character, develop your character. Inevitably that all the time boils all the way down to loot, stat factors, these sorts of issues. My private opinion, it’s extra about ensuring all of this stuff really feel significant while you get them. Trying to respect the participant’s time. That’s what we attempt to do in all of our video games, making certain that any new content material we launch, any new characteristic we add, any new factor that we would like the participant to work for and towards, we need to be sure that the gamers really feel an accomplishment after they get it. Whether it’s a loot drop, whether or not it’s the following stage, going from stage one to stage two, all these various things must instill in that participant a way that, I’m rising with this character. It’s enjoyable for me, no matter it’s that I’m doing.

GamesBeat: There are two paths for action-RPGs. There’s one the place you stage up and get to new powers, and one other the place your talents are tied to weapons and kit. Do you have got a desire between these two?

Bernardo: I play loads of completely different MMORPGs. One instance I actually like that I’ve performed quite a bit is Final Fantasy XIV. I like the way in which the category system in that sport is predicated on the weapon that you just’re holding. That dictates the talents you have got, what you are able to do. For me personally, that’s one thing I get pleasure from. Seeing how completely different weapons and play kinds range with the completely different expertise you get from these.

GamesBeat: Looking forward to the following decade, how do you suppose action-RPGs on cell are going to evolve?

Bernardo: The simple reply right here could be, with the brand new expertise, you’re going to see greater worlds. More characters. More immersive environments. There have all the time been cell MMOs which have been in style within the east, in Asian territories, however which have by no means actually damaged out right here within the west. We’re simply beginning to see that, even throughout the final two years. There have been a few of these breakout hits lately. We’re going to see extra of that. We’re making an attempt to instill loads of that in our present video games, like Darkness Rises, but additionally this 12 months’s releases like Konosuba. We’re making an attempt to convey that viewers that loves Japanese RPGs, that loves anime, and will have skilled that type in different media and different platforms — we’re making an attempt to convey that to cell. We’re enthusiastic about Konosuba as a result of I feel it’s a superb alternative for that, simply by way of the character of this IP. It’s a bit extra approachable, extra accessible. That’s one thing we’re wanting ahead to this 12 months.

GamesBeat: It’s humorous that you just see it as extra approachable, as a result of I’ve all the time felt that IP video games generally aren’t when you don’t know the IP. How do you get individuals who could not know that IP eager about that sport?

Bernardo: It goes again to what I used to be saying earlier than about figuring what it’s that folks like about that IP. What drew them to it? And then exposing that to a wider viewers. Anime, manga, all these Japanese media and popular culture have a distinct segment viewers for the time being, however there’s all kinds of various kinds of this media, various kinds of anime. Trying to convey Konosuba particularly to the cell market, there’s a complete pool of cell avid gamers, RPG avid gamers, that don’t find out about that IP. They could discover a number of the identical widespread issues about it interesting. For instance, Konosuba is a comedy IP. We’re making an attempt to instill that humor into all the pieces we do — advertising, PR, neighborhood. It’s about exposing a bigger viewers to what attracts folks to the IP. I’m a kind of gentle anime fan. I dabble right here and there. But I’ve by no means seen one thing like Konosuba that’s so in contact with itself and its viewers.

By that I imply, it makes loads of — it parodies loads of widespread anime tropes, widespread tropes in regards to the style it’s in. It’s an isekai collection, about an individual in the true world being transported to a fantasy world. That’s what occurs within the story, nevertheless it places a novel spin on it. What drew me to the IP and the anime, even earlier than I began engaged on the sport, the interplay between the characters feels very very like a sitcom. You need to get to know these characters. You need to see the interactions between them. It’s not a lot about loopy motion or the loopy world round them. It’s about these characters, a really character-focused IP. That’s what I feel could also be interesting to lots of people on the market who haven’t heard of it.

GamesBeat: Is it honest to say that it’s a lighter take than one thing like Sword Art Online?

Bernardo: Absolutely.

GamesBeat: Sword Art has one thing like 5 or 6 years of excellent video video games behind it, video games that basically do really feel just like the present. The present’s premise of being in a online game world helps with that. How do you seize a lighter tone in a cell RPG?

Bernardo: What we’re making an attempt to do with Konosuba is introduce the characters and the world to the participant in attention-grabbing methods. We have actually lovely 2D illustrations that appear like the anime. We have lovely cutscenes that appear like the anime. But the dialogue between the characters feels very very like the IP. As gamers play the sport and undergo missions, whilst they’re scrolling by way of the menus and issues like that, there are little touches right here and there, sound results, UI design. All of those have a character that reveals the lighter nature of the anime and the IP basically. That’s how we’re making an attempt to ensure we’re staying devoted to Konosuba, with all the pieces within the sport. Again, the UI, the sounds, the music, the dialogue, all that stuff. It even performs out, once more, in our advertising, PR, and neighborhood.

GamesBeat: One factor I’m inquisitive about in the case of making an IP sport — you play one thing just like the Shin Megami Tensei collection and its cell sport. It’s Shin Megami Tensei, however as you play it, it doesn’t actually really feel just like the franchise in some methods. It looks like one other sort of gacha sport. But you discuss issues like being attentive to the UI, the sound design, cues like that, is one thing builders are going to wish to deal with extra going ahead in the case of IP RPGs? Just making each interplay really feel like a part of the IP?

Bernardo: Absolutely. I’ve labored on loads of IP video games in my profession. One of the widespread issues that I feel gamers reply to is when the creators of the sport, the folks publishing it, the builders — when it looks like they perceive that IP, after they’re followers of the IP basically. That’s one motive I used to be excited to work on Konosuba. I felt that from the second I performed the sport. I felt that from going by way of the missions and seeing all of the characters, the love and care they put into the paintings and the storylines. This sport has all of the characters from the anime, or many of the characters from the anime, however we even have fully new characters created particularly for the sport.

Even in these characters, we’ve to scrutinize them closely. Does it really feel like this suits on the planet? I feel our builders have executed a superb job with the way in which these characters work together with characters folks would possibly know from the opposite media. It feels very pure. That’s one of many key issues we attempt to do with our IP video games, and even collaborations we do. For instance, with Darkness Rises we had a collaboration with one other IP lately. We did focus quite a bit on understanding that different sport, understanding that different IP, and seeing how it might naturally match into our sport. It’s positively vital.

GamesBeat: Looking towards the following decade of RPG improvement on cell, what’s it which you can’t do proper now that you just’re hoping both expertise or methods or the market will change and mean you can do?

Bernardo:  We haven’t had an actual breakout MMORPG on cell right here within the west. That’s one thing I’m wanting ahead to, with our titles we simply launched in addition to upcoming titles we could launch sooner or later. Building these interactive worlds, interacting with tons of gamers in actual time, is one thing that could be very thrilling, and one thing we might do sooner or later. We simply haven’t had the chance and the expertise but to actually capitalize on that. Bringing the true MMO expertise to cell is one thing we need to do.

GamesBeat: Asking this of Dennis the participant, not Dennis the producer, what RPGs are you into proper now?

Bernardo: I simply completed Cyberpunk. That was a really prolonged, very enjoyable sport. I liked it. I play loads of MMOs. I’ve been taking part in Final Fantasy. I’ve been taking part in Genshin Impact. On the console aspect, RPGs — like I mentioned earlier than, RPG is a nebulous time period proper now. There’s RPG parts in loads of video games. One of my favourite video games I’ve performed lately was Assassin’s Creed, and that has loads of RPG parts in it, however you wouldn’t name it an RPG. It’s these sorts of video games I’m drawn to and like to play.

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