The founder of Whitemoon game studio Krzysztof Danilewicz talked about their upcoming old-school, turn-based MMORPG Broken Ranks, discussed the engine-related hardships the team went through, and explained the business side of indiedev.
Hi. I'm Krzysztof Danilewicz, the founder of Whitemoon. I studied Computer Science at the Wrocław University of Technology. I started Whitemoon in 2005 just after finishing my studies, so I didn't have an opportunity to work on any other projects. I jumped straight into the deep end and started making the MMORPG Pride of Taern, my first bigger game.
The other two guys who have been working on the project from the start are Tomasz Lechowski and Gabriel Marczak. Tomasz is our art mastermind while Gabriel is the word guy. A programmer, an artist, and a writer are all that you need to start an MMORPG adventure. They were gamedev rookies just like me, making their first footsteps into the world of electronic entertainment.
After our initial success, the team has been growing steadily, with more artists, more programmers, and more writers. With time, it turned out that we also needed a project manager to tie it all together and let us better pursue our common goal – the release of Broken Ranks. Currently, we’re a team of 27 people. Some of us were recruited from among our Taern players.
Broken Ranks is the spiritual successor of our previous game – the Pride of Taern. Taern is a browser MMORPG that was launched in 2010 and became very successful in Poland. It had been in development for 5 years before the launch, mostly by 3 people. After the launch of Taern, we were focusing on expanding the world and gameplay mechanics for the next 5 years.
Then we realized that we got close to the maximum that we could achieve using our old engine (it was a pure Flash game). That’s when we decided that we had to up the technology to bring the game to the next level. So, in 2014, we started developing Broken Ranks. At first, all we wanted to do was to move all the content to a modern 3D engine. However, after about 2 years of development, we decided that the new engine was so good compared to the old one that we had to make everything from scratch. And, after almost 7 years of development, we’re here.
Gameplay and Core Mechanics
Apart from an engaging combat system, our next selling point is a complex storyline that builds up a vision of a cruel, realistic, harsh world shown from the perspective of the common folk. However, this grim world is not without a smidgeon of irony and humor.
We also have all of the standard MMORPG mechanics like boss raids, hunting champions, dynamic events, guild system (with castle building), PvP battles, and a little bit of crafting. As the game mechanics have been under constant development and testing for over 10 years now (in Taern), we’re sure there’ll be plenty for players to do.
I was always a big fan of turn-based games. I loved playing XCOM, HOM&M, Fallout 2, but the biggest inspiration for the combat system was a browser strategy game called Red Dragon. It was a game created for nerds. You were playing in 17 people teams trying to beat other teams in 1v1 battles. You had to outsmart your opponent with better strategy, management, and calculations. It was very complicated, very time-consuming but also super satisfying. So, for Taern, I created a combat system that had some similarities but was much easier and much faster. In Red Dragon, one turn was 24 hours. In Taern, it is 10 seconds. I created a PvP prototype and showed it to the team. We had the "just one more fight" syndrome, so the test was passed.
Back in 2005, a turn-based system was also a wise choice because of the performance if you wanted to have hundreds of people playing together on one server.
Worldbuilding in our game is the process of adding new elements to the world as the game expands. Since the game was initially created by a small team, we thought of a new idea and instantly implemented it. Currently, we have all that is necessary to create a true universe – its cosmogony, cosmology, ontological rules, and the history of some factions. Of course, worldbuilding is an ongoing process and there’s more ahead of us.
When we were choosing the game engine for Broken Ranks, Unity and Unreal weren't as big as they are now. At that time, we still wanted to make it possible to launch the game in a browser. That’s why we decided to go with the open-source engines Away3d + Starling (it is based on Adobe AIR). Those engines, unfortunately, didn't have many tools apart from graphic rendering and one of them (Away3d) was abandoned a few years ago by its creators. Because of this, we had to create most of the tools for our team ourselves. Our main tool is the MapEditor – a special version of the game client where you can edit the world on the fly.
We also had to create something similar to the Unreal Blueprints system so that the designers could implement new mechanics without the assistance of a programmer.
We also created tools for particles, animations, build automatizations, and many data browsers for models, particles, areas, fight backgrounds, etc.
We had a big problem with VFX because our engine had very basic tools for it. We created an initial version of most of the spells, but we weren't satisfied. We decided that we had to modify the engine to achieve better results. We bought the source code of the tool that we were using to create those effects (Sparticle). Then we contacted an experienced VFX artist/programmer who helped us modify the engine and the tools so that we could achieve better results. We had to implement a new shaders language (OGSL) into the engine because the one that was supported by default (AGAL) was a pain in the back and nobody knew how to use it. We also talked one of our most experienced 2D Graphic Artists into jumping into the VFX world to help make them better.
Business Side of Things
For a small, indie team, it is hard to promote the game in the mainstream games media. That is why we are trying to reach out to smaller streamers and more genre-focused media outlets as this type of undertaking has a bigger chance of success. We also hope that if the game has enough players outside Poland and becomes “a thing”, we will attract more attention from major websites. There are also many issues that we have to face as far as the promotion of the game is concerned. First of all, it’s the F2P model – most players are super careful when it comes to microtransactions, so we are constantly explaining how this will work in Broken Ranks. Second of all, we are going to release the game in a client-only model, so the game (at least at launch) will not be available on Steam/EGS/GoG. This is also something that makes players suspicious, but we are walking the path of other MMOs which also start as standalone titles.
We’re already making an appearance in the media worldwide and we attracted some attention and positive feedback from the players, so we’ve broken the ice. Now, our goal is to expand and attract more players to the game at launch.
We are using online events (like PAX Online) to get in touch with content creators and media and pitch the game. We worked with some streamers during the Closed Beta event and it was a blast to see how they play and react alongside their viewers. This is something we will do more in the future, closer to the launch. Besides that, we are using social media to advertise the game with paid ads, and our plan is to showcase the game as wide as possible to reach players around the world.