PAX West 2018 Interview: Bless Unleashed

While out at PAX West we had a chance to sit down with the fine folks from Bandai Namco and Round 8 Studio to talk about the recently announced Bless Unleashed, a new free-to-play MMO for the Xbox One that will release next year.

Bless Online, which was announced back in 2012, went through multiple iterations as it released to different territories. There have been discussions for some time behind the scenes, talking about the possibility of a console version and now, finally, Bless Unleashed has been announced. A re-imagining of the world of Bless Online, Bless Unleashed takes the tap-targeting system of the PC version and replaces it with a brand new, console friendly combo system. The teams are bringing in assets from Bless Online, a Unreal Engine 3 title, and importing them into the Unreal Engine 4 based Bless Unleashed, so because of that, they decided that it would make the most sense to call this a Bless game. The developers stressed to me that this isn’t merely some sort of a cheap port to make a quick buck- they’re over-hauling many systems, creating a new story, a new combo battle system, and making a game that will be fun for console players to jump into.

While Bless Unleashed doesn’t have a release date at the moment, beta signups have begun, which should give a fair indication of how far along the game currently is.

From a world and a lore point of view, where does it take place on the overall time line of Bless? Is Bless Unleashed a re-imagining of the world?

It’s interesting… the world itself, the continent, the living things that are there are very similar… but it’s like a parallel universe. There are a lot of things out there that are like “What if the Nazis won World War II” I think that’s kind of a good example. It’s the same continent, same kind of terrain. However the world view is changed. The gods that exist, the motivation and influence for the players to do things, the shape of the story is different. They don’t chronologically match anywhere.

Are there things with Bless Unleashed that you’re doing that you wanted to do with the original Bless but couldn’t because of technical limitations?

Before, in Bless Online we had a tap-targeting system because we didn’t have the ability to make smooth action oriented combat. But now we can create a true action MMORPG. When you see and play the combat, before we couldn’t make it to where you’re fighting and the action is nimble. You should be able to dodge the attack and roll around, and that wasn’t something we could do. Now we can.

The weather… the night and day system as well- in the past the details of how the time of day would change and how the world would change reflected that older engine. Bless Unleashed will have a full night and day cycle and the world will react differently. Even with Unreal Engine 4, it wasn’t up to the standard of our imagination so we added more into it so it feels more real.

Could you go into detail about what PvE and PvP will offer?

To make it an open world MMORPG, we unleashed, no pun intended (laughs), the named monsters that exist in parts of the world as surprising elements. For the field named monster battles, we want to make them more casual encounters. Without any cinematics or anything, players will see the monster while exploring and they’ll have to decide if they want to engage and fight. In my experience you have to queue up with people and look for different classes. But for field monster encounters, it could be a solo match, or multiple players jumping in at the same time.

We want to create a sense of gradually increasing intensity in boss encounters. So you can encounter the field bosses that will probably be easier than say a dungeon, where you’re specifically going into an instance, solving puzzles and facing a monster that meets the difficulty level of the dungeon. Once you defeat them, you’ll be able to fight harder monsters and so the difficulty will gradually increase..

For PvP, we have two categories. We have an open world PK system where you challenge someone, and they approve and then you can battle in the open world. The second is more of an arena based PvP. In the open world system, although you may not want to fight, there might be another player that does. If you want to attack someone, there would be situations where you, for example, want to attack others that run away and don’t want to fight… for that, you would get bad karma. Your status and reputation will change as you gather bad karma and it will change your status to an outlaw. In that sense, if you have that status, what you see around the world will change. You might have a harder time talking to NPCs,  you might be attacked by NPC guards in different cities based on your reputation and karma. If these people want to continue to fight, these kind of griefer characters, there will also be destinations for them to go without getting attacked by NPCs and there they may be able to get equipment, but they may have to pay more. The core philosophy is that you can attack and grief, but you’ll be responsible for the outcome.

For the battleground concept, it’s all the like minded PvPers in the area and they’ll be fighting like a sport for rewards. Those rewards will be better equipment and gear that you can use for PvE.

We talked about how you lower your karma… how would one increase their karma and reputation?

You can redeem yourself by giving away your stuff- donating items to an NPC. You can also take on quests to go through the path of penance. 

With dungeons, you mentioned named monsters, but you also mentioned puzzle solving. Could you go into more detail about that?

So to clarify, we’re not implementing gimmick systems that people have to solve like stepping on stones or something. We’re implementing bosses that have very unique characteristics and behavior patterns that will make players have to critically think to defeat them.

In that same vein, for the bosses in the dungeon, are you looking at the attack patterns being similar or more randomized?

They won’t be randomized, but each boss will have different characteristics that set them apart. We think how you have to fight them will be quite different. For example there are a set of monsters you need to fight. If you fight them together, they’ll heal and support each other. So you can find an item in the dungeon that will separate them so that the rest of the group can fight the other monsters. It’s not something that’s explained, you’ll have to figure it out.

In the demo, was the movement of the characters different? It felt like some classes were faster or slower than the others.

Class movement speed is the same, but with how it’s animated it feels like it’s different.

Have you considered any kind of target lock option for enemies to help keep them on the screen?

There are many systems that we’ve already developed, things that Bless Online already had. The targeting system for example, is already there. We haven’t implemented it here because we don’t think it’s ready. It needs to feel good and satisfying so we’re working on polishing that quite a bit. But yes, the function is there. If camera lock is possible, both in PvE and PvP settings, the ranged characters would have an advantage over the others, so there’s also a balance consideration there too.

With the ranger class, is there any benefit of targeting certain parts of the enemy?

Because it’s an MMORPG, at least from the design perspective, it would be challenging to make that work. If location specific damage was implemented, it would come down to who has the better advantage for that. There are so many kinds of monsters that will show up to fight so when we consider that, some monsters could have that location specific damage, but we won’t be able to implement it. It’s been a consideration point, but right now we don’t think we’ll be implementing something like that.

While I was playing there were some QTE actions for getting stunned. How many are there and do all of the boss characters have specific QTEs?

Yes, there are a variety of QTEs we’re implementing at strategic points- especially when monsters change the pattern of their attack. Sometimes QTE can be used to get the users ready for the monsters upcoming transition to increase the sense of thrill or fear. There will be more versions of it.

I know you haven’t mentioned any other platforms, but i was curious, if you get to that point where you have the game on multiple platforms, would you consider having cross-play?

We’re not considering it at the moment. 

Is there anything else that we haven’t covered that you’d like to add?

It’s not just a cliche or smoke and mirrors… the development team is very excited to be working on console. Console has never been big on Korea, it’s always been PC. If you’re a hardcore gamer, you’ll of course love games on console. When we developed Bless Unleashed, we wanted to make sure that it was something that players could accept. We’re redesigning the combat quite a bit. On the PC you have a large number of things you can do with different skills and sometimes it can be overwhelming. Console has to be simple, but it can’t be boring, so we’ve developed the combo system. We’ll have something called combo plates that will be distinctively different from each other. If you want different animations and effects, you’ll have to take the current combo plate out of your system and put in a new one, and then you’re character will perform differently. Those plates will have different levels, and you can invest more time into them to get stronger. That kind of thing was never conceived in the PC arena, but for console we’ve been working hard and refining it to implement it into the game. Console is a new area for us, it’s more evolved than before and because we like it, we wanted to develop the game for it. It’s not something to make a quick buck, the whole team is passionate for making a game on console.