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Upholding visual fidelity without sacrificing game design: The making of Oz: Broken Kingdom

Upholding visual fidelity without sacrificing game design: The making of Oz: Broken Kingdom

The eagle-eyed and elephant-memoried of readers may remember a small story back in April 2015 about South Korean F2P publisher NCSoft investing $5 million in a new Vancouver-based start-up This Game Studio.

Formed from ex-Kabam staff, This Game Studio didn't really turn up on anyone's radar again until its first game, Oz: Broken Kingdom, turned up on the centre stage of Apple's big iPhone 7 reveal event.

Not long after, it launched on iOS and Android, and impressed us so much that we named it our Game of the Week at the time.

To find out more about the game's development, we spoke to This Game Studio's co-founder and Head of Production, Scott Blackwood, and lead designer, Nick Bakalos, about how the game came to be, its Asian metagame influence and the challenges faced by the fledgling studio.

PocketGamer.biz: Where did the initial idea for Oz: Broken Kingdom come from?

This Game Studio: Frank L. Baum's books touch on so many ideas/themes/character archetypes that inspired us - we realized we wanted to spend more time in that world and create our own unique spin on it.

It was interesting to see how much we've seen Oz in almost all forms of media - yet it's surprisingly absent in the games space.

Creating your first title with a newly assembled team at a newly created studio is always going to be a challenge.

With so many beloved and iconic characters, along with a rich world and ethos to mine, it seemed a natural fit for what we were trying accomplish with our first title.

The game feels very Western in how it plays, but with an Asian-inspired metagame, complete with gacha mechanics. What was the influence behind this?

I would certainly agree that we were inspired by many of the proven free-to-play systems that have been successful in Asian markets for over a decade.

Under the hood, Broken Kingdom is very much battle card game inspired and utilises systems that tend to lend themselves well to mobile games.

In terms of the combat, we definitely wanted to take some risks and do things a little differently than what we were seeing in many of current games on the market. We wanted to keep the combat turn-based and avoid implementing twitch mechanics.

We did however intentionally deviate from the traditional 3v3 or 5v5 gameplay in order to achieve a higher level of visual fidelity for our worlds, special effects and characters.

How long did development take and how many people worked on the game?

We built our team and tech from the ground up and managed to release the game in just over a year, with a small team that was 28 people at its peak.

It was an aggressive schedule, especially since it was a new company and this was our first title, but the team is incredible and we were able to execute.

Did you use any notable technology in the game's development?

We invested a lot of our time early on building tools on top of the Unity game engine that makes it possible for us to create stunning visuals and cool in-game moments.

It's a great platform for everyone on the team to work in, whether you are an artist, designer or programmer – or a little bit of everything!

What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome during development?

The largest challenge we faced was upholding the visual fidelity of the game while not sacrificing anything from the design of the game.

No matter how well you think you know your game, the players will always find stuff you never thought of.

It was truly a balancing act of the art, design and technology that challenged us, but in the end we managed to create a game that we feel hit the mark in all these areas.

Beyond that, creating your first title with a newly assembled team at a newly created studio is always going to be a challenge.

The video game job market in Vancouver is fairly competitive, so I would say we got very fortunate being able to acquire such great talent in a very short amount of time.

At what stage in development did you feel you had a game that you were happy with?

The real game changer came when we implemented real-time PvP battles.

It's one thing to battle the AI in the campaign, but once you can get competitive and face real players, we knew there was something special there. We had everyone in the office playing and theory-crafting new builds for each hero.

It's a great feeling when you hear the team laughing, yelling and getting upset because they were one turn away from pulling off their big combo!

How did you approach soft launch, and what lessons did you learn from it?

We approached soft launch with the mindset that we would be rapidly iterating. The biggest lessons we learned were that players will always surprise you.

No matter how well you think you know your game, the players will always find stuff you never thought of. During our soft launch we constantly listened to player feedback and made several improvements to the game.

The amazing thing about working on a mobile title is the ability to react to quickly and make changes with minimal delay.

How happy are you with the game's launch so far?

We just recently kicked off discussions around our second title and are super excited about where it is going.

We are happy with the launch so far. It was an ambitious project that players seem to be enjoying.

For a brand new studio, we accomplished a good deal with our first launch - and we are very excited about the new playable heroes and features to come.

What can you tell us about future updates for Oz: Broken Kingdom?

We have plenty of new features in the works, the biggest of which is a new playable hero.

Like all our heroes, this character has a unique playstyle 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 mode 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.

Can you tell us anything about any upcoming projects you have in the works?

We just recently kicked off discussions around our second title and are super excited about where it is going.

More on that in the coming months!


Deputy Editor

Ric has written for PocketGamer.biz for as long as he can remember, and is now Deputy Editor. He likes trains.

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