Mortal Online 2: Q&A with StarVault’s CEO Henrik Nyström

StarVault are hoping to refine and build on its predecessor’s legacy. StarVault’s CEO Henrik Nyström answered some of our questions about Mortal Online 2.

Mortal Online 2 by Swedish indie developer StarVault is hitting Steam this fall. The sequel to hardcore MMO fan favourite Mortal Online, StarVault are hoping to refine and build on its predecessor’s legacy in the MMORPG genre, namely, their skill based PvP system that balances the gameplay outcome of players being able to attack each other at any time with making sure that new players have a fair shot at winning fights. Other than that, the game has a complex character creation system, crafting, more than 600 skills, and a large sandbox world, to name just a few features.

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StarVault’s CEO Henrik Nyström answered some of our questions about Mortal Online 2:

Interviewer: I would like to first say thank you for joining myself and the community for this interview. You’ve been amazing at communicating with everyone, joining into various streams,and answering questions. I am sure I will probably ask many things you’ve already answered, but hopefully, the viewers can get a bit more clarity from our session.

Henrik Nyström: Thank you for your questions, and sorry for the slight delay in getting back to you on this. Sadly, I caught the Covid infection and had to take a short break to handle that. Now, I’m finally back and healthy again.

I: There seems to be some confusion among the playerbase about persistence and release, so just to clarify and clear things up, once we’re in Early Access release (or soft launch), there will be no more wipes, is that correct?

Henrik: Correct, there will be no more wipes after the EA/persistent release.

I: For sandbox MMORPG vets like us, starting in MO2 isn’t too difficult, but for those new to the genre, it can be very daunting that there isn’t a quest chain to start. The New Player Experience is a very crucial time to hook players. Will Haven (the tutorial island of MO2) and the NPE be updated for the soft release of the game?

Henrik: We gathered a ton of valuable data and feedback from new players during the stress test and have pinpointed the spots where many new players lack information or get stuck, starting with combat, for instance. Character creation can also be tricky to get right since it takes time to remould some of the stats like age and height. We want to add pre-sets as options for new players, and we are working on improving Haven even further to make sure nobody needs to tell you how to properly fight those walkers, for instance.

I: Some cities in the closed beta are lacking core amenities, such as crushers or grinders. I have heard that we will get portable versions of those. Can we expect those for EA so the cities see life?

Henrik: We have been expanding this field further based on feedback, so you can expect to see a few more machines added to certain locations and cities to make sure they are all balanced and useful. Later on, we plan to reintroduce portable machines as well.

I: In the current version of the game, players render their name/equipment/animations at about 10 feet away. This ruins immersion and has major combat balance issues. Can we expect to see the animation/character render distance increased?

Henrik: Yes, that is a part of our network update and optimization. We plan to adjust these numbers on different things, for example, gear. It is also a part of our optimization to handle tons of players on the screen without killing performance.

I: We all know MO2 is a Hardcore Sandbox MMORPG, but the game needs to attract all types of players to succeed, as I am sure you know. Will there be a tavern-like place where people can relax and socialize to get a break from the harshness of the world?

Henrik: For sure, there is a lot of focus on PvP and death matches, but MO2 is so much more than only PvP. We are focusing on and investing a lot of development in RP and PvE this time around. We are adding more things to taverns to let players engage and socialize with each other. We are looking at securing some of these locations with proper protection and rules so players can relax and enjoy table games and socialize. We are also adding a unique new RP system that lets players engage with each other with different quick actions we haven’t seen in other MMOs before. We will announce our new improved AI special mob behaviour during a closed beta that will let us do ground-breaking PvE in a MMORPG.

Mortal Online 2

I: As you know, I am very excited about housing and territory control, and one of the main reasons is that it is a huge gold sink for the game and the economy. Other than housing, the auction system, and limited books, what gold sinks can we expect the game to have for people so they would want to keep farming?

Henrik: Building houses and cities is indeed a long-term money sink system in our game. There will be few limitations on how to expand and decorate your house, even more so in upcoming housing asset pack patches. More city building functions will be added over time as well.

There will also be rare things and collectables in the world. Some of these, for example, are rare loot to trade and discover that allows grand masters to craft unique and rare visual armours and weapons. These won’t be op gear but rarer visual gear for players to discover, trade, and use.

We love the mysterious part of MO that we got a lot of good feedback on over the years. So you can expect us to slip in a few short lines in upcoming patches that don’t really reveal more than that there is something new added or a new system added. Like we did with Alchemy that players just scratched the surface of over the years.

I: Back to my favourite topic, housing. I myself want to build a city that people can visit, raid, and host events at. Will the game give players the option of free place housing to make their place in the world, or will it be more restrictive?

Henrik: Players will be able to place a house wherever they want, within very few limitations such as too close to an NPC city or unique location that needs to be free for gameplay reasons. Other than that, you will be able to find your own favourite spot in the world to start constructing your houses and villages how you see fit. Having a proper architect planner could be useful if you plan to build something large and effective. Just placing your own personal house will be less effort as long as you have the proper deed and resources for it.

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I: We have an issue right now in the game where to control an area, you must ress camp a priest. In UO, there were wandering healers around, so people had options for their revive location. Is this something you are considering, or are you happy with priest camping?

Henrik: So, this will change quite a bit when we hit persistent. There will always be outlaw and law priests in the world, but somewhat limited by balancing purpose. Players will be able to learn a magic school called Spiritism. This school is important because it is what allows players to resurrect other players.

I: The performance for large scale PvP during the stress test was very impressive! How many people do you hope to achieve in a solid performance large scale fight?

Henrik: We have gone pretty far in terms of what we can handle during large-scale battles, as you witnessed yourself throughout the stress test period. Since then, we have further updated parts that allow even greater battles.

With that said, we have a few more areas that allow us to further improve character costs. The end game for us is that we have another system we plan to implement on our character system that will pretty much remove the cost limit we do have. Sounds crazy and ground-breaking indeed, but it does look very promising so far.

It will take more time until we add the last system as it’s not critical at this point, though. As you saw, we handle a few hundred already without major struggle on the clients which is very impressive in such a game. I’m totally confident we will be on top in this field.

I: You have been adamant in using your own proprietary Anti-Cheat. However, so far during the Beta, I have personally seen multiple hackers not be detected and go unpunished until a GM follows them around. What is the reasoning for going with your own Anti-Cheat instead of something like the Easy-Anti-Cheat?

Henrik: Indeed, cheating is something we take extremely seriously, and we didn’t expect players to go at it and ruin their future chance to play before we even go live. Which, of course, forced us to prioritize this field sooner than planned. Since the stress test, we have deployed and expanded on our anti-cheat system that has caught several hundred players.

There’s also been a few cases with bugs that really look like a cheat, which makes it difficult for our GMs to act on plain sight without confirming. That has taken a lot of time from us devs. A perfect example, I’m sure you have seen it, when someone gets put into mercy mode but can’t die. This was, in fact, a rare bug that left players pretty much invulnerable to damage. Sebastian found it and managed to reproduce it and have a fix for it in the next patch.

Of course, it looked like an obvious cheat, and players reported it to us and we fully understand the frustration that there was no instant ban. The reason in this case, as in a few other cases, was the bug or that we needed more time to investigate, confirm, fix, and possibly ban and add that to our anti-cheat system.

With that said, it’s been very valuable to start to cover this in great depth from the stress test, and we are fine-tuning our own system further in almost every patch. As you know, we had some false bans as well when implementing new parts of our system, which was, of course, something we had to solve. After this, we also started a conversation with Epic games to see what we can further do to secure our game for release. We reached an agreement and have now implemented their anti-cheat system in our game as well, which we are deploying next. So, we are actually expanding our anti-cheat with 2 layers: both in-house and with Epic games to make sure our game is played the right way on the same terms.

Mortal Online 2

I: I personally think for MO2 to succeed, it will need a very robust PvE system as that will drive the PvP. Do you think that with EA, the game will have enough PvE to make the world worth exploring?

Henrik: 100% correct. MO1 had a huge weakness which was the lack of proper AI and PvE. This time, we are focusing a ton on this field as we know it is required for a wider audience to have something exciting to hunt and discover at all times. We also need it to rely on proper balance in terms of PvP and PvE.

As I mentioned, we are having a team focusing on AI alone to make sure it’s up to a quality standard, but even further, we are offering a unique PvE experience never seen in any MMORPG before. We hope to be able to showcase this in the end of the closed beta. This will for sure excite players in all categories no matter if you are into PvP or PvE. This is a particularly important feature for us to get right this time around.

I: Many of us are excited about new magic systems coming to MO2. We know Necromancy was voted as one of the main schools to be added. Will people need to spec heavily to become a Necromancer, or will it be more common?

Henrik: There will be around 13 magic schools in total, and we are interested in letting players vote on which school comes first as long as it’s not one of our mysterious rare schools. Necromancy is indeed a popular school, and it is not meant to be exceedingly rare. We do need Spiritism as our second school due to the resurrect function and to get further reagents for magic. The third looks to be Necromancy as it seems to be the most voted school so far. Each school is unique and different compared to each other. All of them require at least a new primary and new reagents to be learnt and used. Necromancy also relies on an improved AI as it uses pets as an optional asset.

I: Right now, in MO 2 nakeds are extremely strong and easy to grief with. This is harsher against new players who don’t know how to deal with it. My personal idea is that once you leave Haven you should not have any newbified weapons. What are your thoughts on the idea and naked griefing in general?

Henrik: A blessed starting weapon is indeed tricky as it’s both good and bad for the game. We are also looking deeply into player griefing as we want to heavily limit it in MO2. We are looking at a new system that penalises player griefing to make it difficult; you may be punished for griefing others within the game.

We believe in a natural balance and systems in the game, but we do want to make sure players don’t just grief for the sake of griefing. Our game is meant to cater to many different play styles such as PvPers, PvErs, RPers, Crafters, and explorers, not just one as the dominant focus. Being a murderer or being murdered is all part of the game, but so is exploring, RPing and trading with players.

There is a reason why we have one character per account with more investment into your character that makes you think twice before committing a crime or ruining your reputation and closing the doors of the game world. During a free stress test, with everything boosted skill gain-wise, players take the opportunity to play a bit silly, and along with that, comes more griefing. Especially when we lack content to make people busy doing interesting things rather than grief each other. So, as you can see, we believe things will change when we go persistent, when the game costs to play, and you invest in one character. It’s an important part, and we make sure we follow this throughout the process of our development and reading the players experience and feedback.

I: We’re all very excited for EA, but it does seem like a lot of stats are imbalanced, as well as some skill scaling. Will the stat scaling, for example, Dex/Int, be changed for EA?

Henrik: Int scaling has been changed in the latest patch, dex is being refined a bit as well.

I: Many people are extremely interested in the taming system. Upon EA, will tamers have a plethora of options of beasts to tame at their disposal, and if so, do you have any examples?

Henrik: We are working a ton on animals, monsters, and beasts as it’s a big part missing in the huge world. This will be exciting for both adventures, who hunt these creatures for their various resources, and tamers. We have just finished some of our really cool creatures such as cougars, white bears, Minotaurs, Spider Queens, Risar Leaders, Trolls, and Direwolves. We are working to finalize our really cool Terror Birds, Campadons, and many other creatures.

Most of the animals can be tamed, trained, and bred. A few monster types can be dominated, which is similar to taming, but you take magical control over their mind. An example is to dominate a minotaur. Then, there will be rare creatures as well, which we don’t mention; they are there in the world for you to discover. A bit later, we will introduce some of our rare special mob encounters that have a greater impact in the game, and players are in control over its fate and outcome.

I: Regarding MO1, you guys have spoken about learning from past mistakes. What are the main things you as a studio are going to try to do differently this time?

Henrik: Over 15 years of experience of making MO1, we have, of course, learnt a lot. While we worked on that game (and throughout the release, we continued to work on it), we gained invaluable experience and data from over 500k players. We make sure to use these insights when building MO2.

There are so many valuable things that are day and night for the game. We are sure they will help to improve the game for the masses this time. We have not only learnt how to build a better game technically, but we also discovered how game functions, balance, and player experience work in our game. Simply not making the same mistakes tech-wise is something that is different for MO2.

I think the game will speak for itself, and already in the stress test, we saw an overwhelmingly positive flow of new players with amazing feedback. Something we did not expect to get that early on. This is also why we take the opportunity to further refine the game and not rush to EA/persistent release.

Mortal Online 2

I: The current reputation/criminal system leaves a lot to be desired, but you have mentioned it is not finalized. How do you see the bounty hunter system adding to it, and can you give some examples?

Henrik: The latest patch did have some important changes to prevent player griefing and to make the flagging system clearer. For instance, you now see a criminal status on a player. More refined rules prevent players from attacking different flagging statuses and abusing the system – so players could not even defend themselves. We want to minimize fighting in lawful cities to make them as safe as possible and follow logic; for example, guards are there to keep citizens safe and stay out of trouble/fighting.

The bounty system ties to murderers. In short, this is a system where a player can pay a bounty guard for a service. This gives the players limited information of possibly wanted players. With this bounty right, the player can engage in combat at any time anywhere, including cities, as they are working for the bounty guards. Guards won’t prevent this as they have proof of your right to claim the wanted player’s head. Standings is something you gain or lose by working for a nation, which will give you access to the city, and with higher standing, you get certain perks and access. Going negative results in being banned from the city. We are still working on the bounty system and refining the nation standing rules to make sure they are in proper balance.

I: In the test, we currently see Gaul Kor being camped for its unique Blast Furnace and unique end game materials. Is this a final implementation so that people ally to control the best resource, or will there be other spots in the world to attain some of these materials? Perhaps in the middle of the map to draw people into each other instead of being really out of the way?

Henrik: There will be a few more machines and resources placed in the world, but GK is meant to be a hot spot for their specific resource node and machines as well. It is under high conflict both in terms of player action but also possible AI as it is close to the Herabalter border, which is the home of the Risars. This means that when Herabalter is released, GK will be more centralized in the world. We are making sure things have their proper place in the future, and we plan to expand the world along with a growing population.

I: While the stress test was a huge success for its purpose, many players are missing a lot of Quality-of-Life changes. Examples being mount bags, bags for bank space, better taming AI, etc. Will these get some love prior to EA?

Henrik: For sure, there is a lot of good feedback from players, but we also knew we would be lacking a lot of content as the main focus was the server structure for a short stress test. With the huge demand on the stress test, we found weaknesses in our server system that we needed to sort out for persistent, and we had to expand the stress test to make the best out of it. As you surely noticed, our latest patches included horse bags and a lot of QoL functions, and more of them will come in our upcoming patches.

I: While I personally enjoy a simplistic and functional UI, some are looking for a bit more polish towards the UI. Is the current version going to be updated going forward?

Henrik: We are refining parts of our UI, and we also gather feedback on it where it makes sense for us to polish or improve on it. We aim to have a very clean and minimal UI on our screen to maximize gaming experience and immersion, but since it’s also a complex MMORPG, we need to make sure there are proper tools and UI to play it in a good way.

I: Obviously when we talk about MO2, we talk about a game that will be developed over many years, but a lot of the community are worried that if we release too quickly, EA could be a double-edged sword. What do you personally feel is mandatory prior to the game releasing for EA?

Henrik: We have pushed the persistent release a bit further to make sure we are in a proper place to hit EA. Yes, the game will keep getting frequent updates and content every second week, or that’s the plan, so you can expect to see a similar progression in EA.

The big step, of course, is that we have enough of all core content, and the whole Myrland is fully done with tons of content to explore and keep people engaged by interesting AI and (possibly) claimable lands to construct homes or cities. There are a ton of features to come, and MO2 will keep growing and be exciting as it expands. We will focus hard on continuing down this path and giving everyone free content both ingame asset-wise but also feature-wise.

We listen to the community on what areas/features players want to see sooner rather than later as we have no shortage of features. Many of them are designed, and we simply need to pick them in the right order. We believe that players’ input will help us here. MO2 will also leave EA which is another big push for the game when we have even more content that is heavily based on player feedback throughout the EA timeline.

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The release date of Mortal Online 2 EA is October 26th.

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