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The South Korean game industry is known for games like Dungeon and Fighter, Lineage, and Maple Story. What do all of these games have in common? They’re all online role-playing games.
Jin Sang Kim and Jungsoo Lee helped found Ocean Drive to do something different. Veterans of publishers such as Nexon, Kim (Ocean Drive’s creative director), Lee (its head of global operations), and their fellow developers wanted to make a role-playing game without the constraints of the online free-to-play model. They wanted to combine deep systems and tactical combat with an engaging, well-developed story, such a tale as you can’t convey in games like Lineage.
“From the service point of view, there were many instances with previous works, with previous products, before we designed core gameplay we had to think about how to monetize around a free-to-play model. That had an influence — that gave us a lot of difficult times for our teams in Korea who were trying to make more engaging and entertaining games. That’s what we felt. I’m not saying that’s always the case. But it’s definitely there. It has an impact, the microtransaction design affecting the game design,” said Lee, who used to work on MapleStory.
Enter Ocean Drive, their new studio. Last month, it launched a Kickstarter campaign for its first game, Lost Eidolons, reaching its goal today. This is a strategy RPG with an episodic structure. You build a roster of characters around Eden, a mercenary in the world of Artemesia. As you dig into the game, you learn about a world of greedy, grasping people and powers, of frayed relationships and noble houses, and of amazing abilities characters receive from the lost Eidolons.
The studio took to Kickstarter to help learn about working with a community interested in a strategy-RPG over online games. The exposure doesn’t hurt, either. But Kim and Lee expressed a genuine desire to learn how to make such a game with community input, and since it already made the goal, Ocean Drive will move onto stretch goals to expand Lost Eidolons‘ scope.
This projects intrigues me, because we don’t see a lot of RPG development out of South Korea that isn’t tied to big companies, mobile games, or online models.
I interviewed Lee and Kim over a video call near the end of April. This is an edited transcript of our call.
GamesBeat: Why are you turning to Kickstarter?
Jungsoo Lee: We’ve been getting a lot of questions regarding the Kickstarter. There are two main reasons why we decided to do that. One is, we do have our own philosophy of doing open development with the community. Because we’re a small indie developer, we have a really scarce presence in the global game community. We wanted to change that through the Kickstarter campaign, gathering those turn-based RPG players who are passionate enough to back our project and form a community with them. It’s about talking to them frequently, regularly, providing the progress of our development, getting feedback from them, to make sure we’re making a good RPG for the community. That’s one.
Two, related to the first reason, we wanted to create more awareness of the project itself.
GamesBeat: Is this Ocean Drive’s first game?
Lee: Yes, this is our very first project. We couldn’t do this kind of open development at our other studios, so that’s why we got together as a new startup, to do that open development. Most of us are from Nexon. I was the president of Nexon America two years ago, working on the publishing side. Jin Sang was at Nexon working on Legend of Cao Cao, the Romance of the Three Kingdoms game. He was the creative director there. We had a lot of limitations there as far as talking to the community and doing actual open development.
GamesBeat: What does the Lost Eidolon name mean?
Jin Sang Kim: In the world we’ve set up for Lost Eidolons, we have the high gods and the low. The high gods created creatures called Eidolons, and those Eidolons are the ones who created the creatures and nature of the world. These Eidolons are what built what the world is. The “lost” part is that these Eidolons got kind of cocky and greedy, or maybe they felt that they had superpowers. They became arrogant toward the high gods, so the high gods abandoned the Eidolons. Those Eidolons were “lost.” That’s where the game name comes from.
GamesBeat: Is it the player’s role to bring them back?
Kim: Those Eidolons have influence on people. The main character will be awakened to the superpowers that are given to the Eidolons. You get a kind of magical power. The story is — the character will find that power that was given to him.
GamesBeat: What is the world of Artemesia like?
Kim: In Artemesia, there were seven kingdoms founded by seven great houses. One house unified all of the other six. There was the first unified empire in Artemesia. But this empire became greedy and ruined by the Eidolons as well. His will to unify the continent of Artemesia was great, but after that unification, he was influenced by the Eidolons and became very — how should I call it? Greedy. He didn’t want anyone to rise against him, so he killed all his rivals. The other six houses were forgotten. They never came back from being destroyed by the emperor.
The main characters are part of those houses, fighting against the empire. But then the emperor disappeared. There are two other main characters that go against each other, who wanted to unify the continent again by force. The other one is thinking that he’s doing the same thing over again, what the emperor did, so he goes against the other main character. They’re fighting each other to unify the continent again. That’s the main story.
The nuts & bolts
GamesBeat: Is it a game where you’re building a party of characters?
Kim: It works in two ways. You’ll have 10 characters around the Eidolon. Those characters will be very close to him, brothers and friends. Then you’ll have another 10 or 20 other characters where, along the journey, you’ll find them and try to recruit them.
GamesBeat: It’s turn-based combat, and you place your units, right? What makes it tactical?
Kim: Right. Unlike some other turn-based games, we’re trying to make the players choose what they’re going to do during a battle. You have magic, but we limit the amount of magic you can use. In a previous game I developed, if you have a super-powerful magic ability, users tend to use that one magic only. I didn’t like that very much. I wanted to limit the number of times you could use magic in the battle. You have to choose what to do and when to use that kind of magic. … You also have to choose where to use your abilities.
If you want to use fire, you might use it on something like bushes, and that will have an effect. If you use fire magic on those bushes, they’ll burn, and you’ll deal additional damage. If you have a water-type enemy and you use lightning magic on it, that will cause additional damage as well. Maybe if you use ice magic, you’ll freeze a unit. There’s some strategy around the types of units you face. Fire, wind, ice, lightning, and darkness. When fire meets poison, there’s going to be an explosion, and there’s additional damage. When water meets lightning or ice, it’ll have different effects.
Working on a different model
GamesBeat: Most of the games we see from South Korea are online MMOs, while this is a traditional RPG. Why did you decide to go in that direction?
Kim: My previous game I developed was an online SRPG, a remake of an original packaged game from about 30 years ago. I enjoyed the experience, the development of making an SRPG, creating online features and interacting with the users, and I wanted to do that again. But I also wanted to create a complete story-based packaged game, not an online game, from the bottom up. The main core of an SRPG revolves around the story. The story needs to be complete, to deliver a whole experience to the player. That’s very important, and that was the main decision, that we should make a single packaged game.
Lee: From the service point of view, there were many instances with previous works, with previous products, that before we designed core gameplay, we had to think about how to monetize around a free-to-play model. That had an influence — that gave us a lot of difficult times for our teams in Korea who were trying to make more engaging and entertaining games. That’s what we felt. I’m not saying that’s always the case. But it’s definitely there. It has an impact, the microtransaction design affecting the game design. Unless you can be successful in the way of something like Fortnite, where it has such a massive user base where you don’t have to worry about that. You can just make vanity skins. If not, it’s sometimes very difficult.
The reason why we formed this new studio was basically — we hoped that we could be independent and focused on making story-driven, narrative-driven, fun single-player games first. Based on our experience building a great single-player experience, if a game does well, we’re thinking, maybe we could add a few more multiplayer or live content features for our paid game participants, our players, so they can continue playing the game while waiting for the DLC. But that’s one reason why we decided to do it this way.
GamesBeat: Is it daunting to go to a crowdfunding model when it’s something you haven’t done before?
Lee: No, we’re not afraid. We’re focused on the amount of features we can have versus the amount of money we can raise. We’re enjoying our Kickstarter, because we’re getting a lot of feedback, a lot of players coming to Discord and asking questions. It’s a new experience. We didn’t know exactly how Kickstarter works. We saw a lot of projects doing well there, but we didn’t know how they’d prepared for it. We had a pretty small following for the project before we started the Kickstarter. The first day numbers were in our expectation range, but initially, we were scared about what would happen if we didn’t get enough money. Now it’s turning out pretty well. We’re having a lot of — not fun, but we’re having a great time at looking who’s coming in, sending personal messages, and talking about the game.
GamesBeat: What game engine are you using?
Kim: We’re using Unity.
GamesBeat: It looks more high res than I thought it would, which isn’t what I had expected given the word “classic.” In this case, “classic” is more about gameplay than looks, then?
Kim: Yes, yes.
GamesBeat: What games are you looking at as the classic examples of SRPGs that you’re trying to capture?
Kim: There are two or three games. By classic SRPG, we were thinking of the Fire Emblem series, and Final Fantasy Tactics. And then the one I developed before, Legend of Cao Cao. That’s the classic SRPG, what we’re referencing.
Lee: One of the ideas we took when we were starting this project — the Fire Emblem series has great gameplay design and great visuals. I’m a huge fan of Fire Emblem as well. But one thing we were thinking, the whole company, there are a bunch of SRPG players who love the gameplay of Fire Emblem, but hope to see more of a Baldur’s Gate or Divinity type of story and visual design. One of the approaches we took when we first stepped into this genre was, why don’t we make a game for those types of players who want to see Fire Emblem or Final Fantasy Tactics gameplay with the lore, the world, the design, and the visuals of Baldur’s Gate or Divinity?
GamesBeat: Who are you working with on the Western side to develop the story?
Lee: The initial concept of the story came from our internal team. But because we’re not professional screenwriters — one thing we did in Korea was we picked a partner that does movie direction and screenwriting. The process for the general lore building and story building is our core team comes up with the concept and the story, for the entire game, and we have this outside consultant work with us to re-edit and rewrite the story from the beginning to the end. Then we’ve built a team in the States with professional writers and copy editors who love the lore, and we have them write — not rewrite, but they work on the story to make sure it fits with our general target audience in the Western gaming community. We have someone who’s worked as a professional writer for a while working internally, writing a codex. Inside the game we have this thing called the codex, which you can just read. The entire codex is about the background story of all the houses, different provinces, and so on. That codex is written in the States. We’ll translate that into Korean later.
GamesBeat: Will this game have you fighting just humans, or will it have monsters and the supernatural as well?
Kim: There will be some monsters. You’ll have monsters alongside humans, or there will just be monsters.
Lee: In the setting, the Eidolons each got buried in the ground by the high gods. Part of that energy has influenced the world. Some animals have become giant monsters, and they’ll come into the episodes.
GamesBeat: You’re targeting the fourth quarter of 2021 for release?
Kim: For early access on Steam, correct.
The Dark Powers fancy you
On Tuesday, Wizards of the Coast released the latest Dungeons & Dragons book: Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft. It’s a modern take on the Domains of Dread, updating some of the prison-realms of the Dark Lords, and creating others. It also has advice and rules for running horror games, creating new characters with a Ravenloftian bent, and new monsters. I’m especially fond of the changes to Lamordia, with a far better, more sinister agenda for its lord, Viktra (not Victor as in 2E) Mordenheim.
And I love the alternative, fancy cover for this book.
And I’m giving it away.
To earn a chance at winning this book, please retweet this story from the GamesBeat Twitter account with the text from the subhead above. I’m taking entries until noon Friday, Pacific time. Be sure you’re following either me or the GamesBeat Twitter so I can notify you if you win.
Where RPGs reign supreme
A few weeks back, GOG shared a bunch of sales and user-behavior numbers about its digital storefront. Intrigued, I asked if it could share any data about how well RPGs do on the platform.
It turns out GOG customers love their RPGs.
“RPG titles are [the] No.1 bestselling genre on GOG, with 36% share in 2020,” global communications manager Marcin Traczyk said over email. “Another related fact would be that 73% of our users are between 18-to-34 years old, and prefer mostly single-player, roleplaying, and story-driven games.”
I’ve always associated GOG with RPGs and strategy games since I first heard about it before its launch in 2008. Part of this is because its owner is CD Projekt Red, the company behind The Witcher series. But I would’ve thought its user base was older than this.
I guess that’s why we don’t call it “Good Old Games” anymore (even if I’m a Good Old Gamer).
The D20 Beat is GamesBeat managing editor Jason Wilson’s column on role-playing games. It usually runs every other week, but like wandering monsters, it can appear at any time. It covers video games, the digital components of traditional tabletop RPGs, and the rise of RPG streaming. Drop me a line if you have any RPG news, insights, or memories to share … or just want to roll a digital D20 with me.
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