Bless Unleashed Interview with Jeomsul Park - Lead Designerby Adam Dileva
Editor's Note: These questions were submitted before the Stress Test was announced and much more information was released.
(XBA): First off, thank you for taking the time to do this interview, as we know you’re deep into development for the launch. Having played the beta, I was instantly hooked, as we’ve been clamoring for a new console based MMO for quite some time. For those that haven’t heard of it, why not give the elevator pitch for Bless Unleashed and why they really should play it when it releases.
(Bless): Hello! I’m glad to be able to speak to the audience at XboxAddict. Bless Unleashed is a beautiful open world MMORPG, built on Unreal Engine 4 where you and friends can explore and fight against giant bosses that threaten the world. If any of those things sound appealing to you, I’d say give Bless Unleashed a try.
(XBA): If you had to pick one specific aspect or mechanic, what separates Bless Unleashed from other MMO’s?
(Bless): If I had to choose one, I’d say that Bless Unleashed stands out by being a console MMO that was developed specifically for console players. Bless Unleashed was developed for console from the very beginning, unlike most MMOs that start out on the PC platform. From controls to UI, our team has designed the game to focus on meeting the console gamer’s expectations. We’re hoping that console players will find our game easy to pick up and enjoy.
(XBA): Being built for Xbox One, was this decision made in the very beginning stages or one that transitioned later during development?
(Bless): We always knew that we were developing a game for console. I personally really wanted our game to be on the powerful Xbox One X, and we are launching our game on the XBOX One console. I’m very glad to be doing so.
(XBA): Are there going to be any Xbox One X enhancements? Some games allow for a Performance or Resolution mode if using an X, is this planned for Bless Unleashed for us that will be playing on an X?
(Bless): As of now, there aren’t any enhancement modes like that for Bless Unleashed. We found that it was more important for all players with Xbox Ones to run the game smoothly without any technical limitations. That is our major priority, but further enhancements for higher-end consoles is certainly a discussion for the future.
(XBA): How is development going so far overall? The beta was very impressive and I had little to no issues (bug wise). Was creating a console MMO a unique challenge, trying to fit everything onto a controller?
(Bless): As you said, traditional MMOs have tons of different skills and items to use. Trying to implement this into a console game was very challenging . While being a console game, we still wanted our game to have classic MMO elements. We chose to use different control combinations to trigger different actions. It’s not the simplest control scheme to learn, but I believe it was a necessary choice for us to make. Some other differences and changes for a MMO on console: our game has implemented a combo-based combat system, QTE sequences, and special skill sets called “Blessings” for our game to maintain the structure of an MMO but play like a console platform game. There were a lot of trial and error during the development stage, but I’m happy with the end result.
(XBA): Have you run into any unforeseen challenges aside from balancing and content creation?
(Bless): We ran into challenges as we designed our five classes to be able to hold their ground in any given situation and not be stuck in a particular role. It was a challenge balancing all the classes to have unique abilities but keep them similar to one another in terms of health, damage and utility. Sometimes that meant Mages and Priests taking aggro from monsters and Crusaders granting party members utility buffs. We designed the game to be more focused on skill and control, and reward players that truly understand their characters and enemies.
(XBA): Regarding the beta, how’d it perform to your expectations and what was the biggest surprise you found from all the data afterwards?
(Bless): First, I’d like to thank all the players that participated in our beta. It really meant a lot to us. The biggest surprise we found was that players took much longer to progress through the game than we originally expected. We looked into the data and found that players were simply hanging out and talking to each other and enjoying the open world. This was a reminder for me to really pay attention and continue to polish the little details of the game as well.
(XBA): What are some of the biggest changes from beta you’ve actually adjusted, or changed completely, due to player feedback?
(Bless): There were a lot of changes made due to player feedback. We’ve had 4 CBTs and 2 OBTs and received tons of feedback from players. With their feedback, we’ve made changes to combat tempo, skills, content order & balance and much more. There was a lot of great insight from hardcore players on little things that we overlooked. We are continually reading player feedback from Reddit and other SNS channels. I’d like to say thank you to each individual player that has put in the time to send us their honest thoughts on our game.
(XBA): Being that Bless Unleashed is going to be free-to-play (f2p), how will the monetization work without being labelled as pay-to-win (p2w)? Will players hit a brick wall at some point that will require them to open their wallet, like in most other f2p MMO’s?
(Bless): We’re trying our best to monetize the game in a way so that players don’t feel that it is pay-to-win. It is a very fine balance to create enticing items that don’t disturb the core game design, and we also want to be sensitive to the monetization expectations of different players. We’re making absolutely sure that everyone can enjoy the game without having to pay a single cent on the game. We’re putting a lot of effort into making cosmetic items, I hope our players will find them appealing.
(XBA): Being that Bless Unleashed is going to be free to play, are you able to elaborate a little more on the Bless Pass? Will this be like a Battle Pass that is a monthly cost? Will it work like other games where you’ll obtain extra bonuses for completing objectives? What’s the main reason a player will WANT to sink some money into Bless Unleashed?
(Bless): As a free-to-play game we’re carefully treading the line on how and what we sell but the Enhanced Bless Pass is one of our favorite items. Backing up a little, the Bless Pass will be free for ALL players and will give rewards based on completing weekly missions. However, if you want to essentially double your rewards and pick up an exclusive costume, mount, and emote you’ll want to enhance your Bless Pass for a small fee. The best part though is let’s say you enhance your Bless Pass down the road after completing a bunch of missions -- you’ll retroactively get all previous rewards from the enhanced path too!
(XBA): With the beta, I was skipping most of the story simply due to the limited time we had and I wanted to save it for the full launch. How do you make people care about quests, story and narrative in an MMO where many simply want to adventure, loot and gain experience as quick as possible?
(Bless): We’re trying to divide the main story arc of our game into a lot of small episode quests so that, even if players are just rushing for adventure, loot and XP, they can experience the story without having to stop and focus on reading text. We’re trying to make the story-telling aspect of the game feel natural and not feel like meaningless chores. Our hope is that as players complete quests and progress through the game, the puzzle pieces of the game’s story will align and feel satisfying as a result.
(XBA): How challenging has it been to balance the five classes? How did you manage to make the Priest, for example, be able to hold their own when soloing compared to the more DPS centric classes? Any major tweaks you’ve had to make since the beta to better balance the classes?
(Bless): We try to take in as much external and internal feedback as possible when it comes to balancing classes. The end goal for us is to have the five classes each have their own unique points but still having equal “power levels.” As our game is an action MMO, we needed classes like Priest, which in other MMOs would just be healers, to be able to dish out similar damage as other classes in certain situations. Each class brings to their party their unique utility skills and if played correctly can maximize their damage output. The Mage class was designed to have more movement utility skills than other classes so that it wouldn’t feel like playing just a ranged class but a class that can also get in and out of close ranged combat. The quest to balance out and designing our classes is far from over. We plan to have more options for player progression through our game and to further differentiate classes so that each class feels even more unique.
(XBA): Regarding combat, it seemed to ‘flow’ really nicely. Instead of having 30+ different abilities on a bar, it was refreshing to have the combo system with abilities currently usable to appear on screen. What was the main decision behind making a combo combat system like this instead of your traditional bars filled with dozens of abilities? Did Bless Unleashed being on console play a factor in that from the beginning?
(Bless): There were a lot of trial and error before we finally landed on the combat system that we have for our game now. We had to think of clever ideas to put all the controls for an MMORPG into the Xbox controller. We had to limit the number of skills and consumable items available to a character at one time for all the controls to fit into the controller. Ultimately, we utilized the bumpers on the controller to trigger skill abilities, made UI “belts” that rotate using the D-pad for consumable items and the QTE combo combat system. We have tried to fit as many input options as possible into the controller without sacrificing gameplay.
(XBA): Blessings is a really unique way to slowly introduce new abilities and styles of gameplay. Could you quickly explain how it works and are you happy with the result?
(Bless): Learning various skills/abilities and using them is a big part of any MMORPG. But there are clear limitations on how many skills that can fit into a console controller. There is an option of having input combinations trigger skill abilities but we thought that having to maneuver input combinations would harm the feel of combat. That’s why we came up with Blessings. There are multiple Blessings in Bless Unleashed and each of them contain different sets of skill abilities. Players are able to choose which Blessing they want to equip and use for different scenarios. Each Blessing also has unique passive skills when fully upgraded, and once these passive skills are unlocked, that passive buff remains active even when not equipped. Playersare incentivized to look for as many Blessings as possible and fully upgrade them.
(XBA): Health not regenerating naturally was a system that I certainly didn’t expect, and actually a reason I chose to play Priest for my main class. How come this design decision was made and what’s the reasoning behind it?
(Bless): This has to do with our fundamental game design. We wanted our game to be an action MMORPG where players would have to learn their enemies and mindfully attack them rather than spamming buttons. We want to reward players for learning enemy attack patterns and skillfully dodging while they engage in combat. Health is a form of reward that we think skillful players deserve. In Bless Unleashed, being damaged is a real punishment. Players that are damaged will need to resort to going to a nearby Soul Pyre where they can slowly restore their health or use potions that cost time and money to buy/craft. We think by creating this kind of environment, players will be forced to be more aware of their surroundings and be more mindful about not being hit by enemies.
(XBA): I’m one of those MMO players that always strive for endgame gear. I love my top-end gear and raid as much as possible to attain this gear. Will there be one ‘best’ set of gear, or will players want to have multiple sets for different situations? Will the best gear come from the hardest encounters, or will crafters have a way to match said gear to be relevant?
(Bless): Endgame gear needs to exist in a MMORPG. In our game, endgame gear can be acquired through looting and crafting. We did not want just a single ‘best’ gear for all characters to strive for. So we have special stats that buff Blessing skills on gear to make choosing endgame gear a unique experience for each character. It is our goal for players to be extremely fulfilled when they finally acquire gear that have special stats that compliment each other.
(XBA): Field Monsters are an interesting addition to break up the simplicity of following quest chains from one point to another. Are you happy with the balance of content and rewards for these battles and what is your main goal when creating these encounters?
(Bless): As I’m sure many of you can relate, hunting down huge boss monsters in an open field with a bunch of other players has always been my fantasy. I’m really proud of how our field bosses work in our game. There’s no need to party up, just gather around and help hunt down huge boss monsters and earn loot. The field boss encounters also highlight another core gameplay element of our game which is resurrecting other characters. During our open beta, a lot of players were resurrecting downed characters and really cooperating as a team with total strangers. I was extremely pleased to see this. I think that meeting and cooperating with others is a crucial fun factor in an MMORPG.
(XBA): Regarding group content, is there a need the holy trinity (tank, healer and dps), or will virtually any combination of players be able to do all of the content?
(Bless): In Bless Unleashed, we do not force players to have certain class combinations to enjoy the game. Of course, there will be times where some class combinations are advantageous in some dungeons but there are no “must have” classes that players will have to have in order to play. We’re trying our best to avoid having players unable to enjoy playing our game because they cannot find an adequate “healer” or “tank” class.
(XBA): How will you encourage people to group up and play together that aren’t already friends? There’s an XP bonus for grouping and fighting alongside one another, but are there any other incentives to play with other people?
(Bless): We’ve deliberately designed our game so that players will naturally meet strangers and have to interact with them. The inclusion of Soul Pyres and Field Bosses are made so that players can meet others just by progressing through the game. We want to give players the feeling that there are always others out there that can aid them in their journey. Hunting down boss monsters with others is a much better experience than hunting it down alone, even without special perks. We also have Guilds, Unions, and of course, Friends systems to help manage buddies that you meet along your journey in Lumios.
(XBA): How do you solve the issue of high level players helping their low levels friends catch up that maybe just started the game? Will the low level player still get XP and loot if they are grouped as the high level player slays everything in one hit?
(Bless): We do not have plans to completely prevent high levels from slightly helping their low level friends grow. However I can’t say that it is very effective because it is reduced depending on the monster and each party member’s level difference, and each monster’s level is scaled to match each player’s level.
(XBA): I was glad to see the death penalty wasn’t terribly harsh and that there were no corpse runs. Was this a conscious decision to keep players constantly ‘playing’ without becoming frustrated without too much downtime? When death penalty occurs, what will be the ways players can recover the quickest?
(Bless): After experiencing death it is already a penalty to resurrect at the Soul Pyre and then recover HP. So we don’t impose any penalties harsher than that. Part of gameplay is to avoid dying, therefore there should be some kind of penalty for dying. On the other hand, it is not good if players end up avoiding adventuring because the penalty was too harsh. In particular, I think that penalties upon death such as needing to use currency due to lost armor durability or eventually not being able to use the equipment embraces danger and reduces the will for a player to take on challenges.
(XBA): I’m the type of player that strives to reach end-game, as I want to experience the hardest content with a bunch of like minded friends. Arenas was a fun challenge for two players, and dungeons for five. How many dungeons can we expect at launch and which one do you suspect players will have the most challenge with to conquer initially?
(Bless): I can say that we will initially have six 5-player dungeons, two elite 5-player dungeons, and 8 Lairs. The most challenging dungeon for players at launch will be Lower Rutus. This dungeon includes a critical boss named ”Manastone Roisa”. There’s also the boss that players meet at the final stage of the story that is full of power and very difficult. I really look forward to the players encountering the content that our blood-thirsty developers have put their all into making (haha). And for your reference, if the field named elites are included, there are also around 10 different additional bosses located in the field.
(XBA): While I’m generally not a crafter in MMO’s, I did dabble in it in the beta to try it out and was pretty pleased with being able to upgrade and create new gear for myself. How do you encourage players like me to spend time, effort and money to start crafting rather than keeping my materials and hoarding my currency and simply purchasing gear from other crafters?
(Bless): Players who like to craft may craft, and those who don’t like to craft can either purchase items from crafters or go on adventures to obtain dropped items. I think that an MMO is a world where there are many people who can either work together or compete against each other. However, we have prepared the most powerful crafting item in order to provide motivation for completing crafting by players who enjoy crafting. There are also countless recipes so players can proceed as they please.
(XBA): Unions were recently announced on one of the latest blog posts, where you’ll get to choose from essentially a PvE, PvP or Crafting alliance of sorts. Are you forced to choose one at some point? Will there be rankings within the unions that offer more or better bonuses?
(Bless): Unions are large powerful groups that make up the Bless Unleashed world. Players who have joined a group may borrow the strengths used by their Union during gameplay. Unions have their own propensities just like the players, and offer benefits in areas such as PvP, PvE, and crafting/enhancement. Players do not have to join a Union if they don’t like any of them as it is not mandatory. However, there are many attractive elements if one joins and attains a high Union level., I think that it is much more beneficial to play with a Union. Of course, it doesn’t end just by joining a Union once. Players may consider leaving and joining another Union after experiencing the first.
(XBA): While I’m not a big PvP fan, I know many are. How will PvP work in the shared world outside of dedicated battlegrounds? How do you stop people from griefing players like myself that have no interest in PvP at all and would rather avoid it altogether?
(Bless): I think that open world PvP is one of the main content in Bless Unleashed, and that is because this is one of the core factors that allow a MMO world to feel more lively. However, I think that players who do not want to participate in open world PvP may feel annoyed by players who want to do open world PvP. That is why we will provide benefits to honorable players who prevent this notorious act. Players may stray from manners to participate in PvP, and players who catch these PvP participants may receive prestige. We have also expanded the safe zones that one can use to escape from the dangers of PvP, and players who are still in the growth stages can play safely in regions that are away from the danger.
(XBA): In the beta there seemed to be instancing/channels. While I was able to invite a friend to a group, it took a lot of trial and error to figure out how to actually meet up in the same instance. Will this be improved for launch with players being asked to automatically join the instance/channel that their group is currently in?
(Bless): We tried to resolve this issue by implementing a feature where players can move channels when needed by themselves. We have no plans to develop a function that combines channels after determining the connection between multiple players. However, we have rules for increasing channels, and have implemented a function that fluidly combines channels based on player capacity to reduce the possibility of confusion.
(XBA): GM events are always fun surprises whenever you encounter one in an MMO. Are these planned for the launch at all? What can players expect from these special events?
(Bless): We will be providing a variety of events including GM events, and we are preparing content that is more exciting than what was in open beta. For example, events may involve eliminating invading monsters, or may be related to summoning monsters such as treasure goblins, and dungeon time limits. Players can enjoy alongside the GMs and earn rewards. Bless Unleashed’s current GM team is one of the most passionate in the world, so the development team is doing the best we can to support them with a thankful heart.
(XBA): What about seasonal events? In other games, the big holidays like Easter, Valentines, Halloween and Christmas always have special events where main towns and hubs are usually decorated accordingly. Will this be the case with Bless Unleashed as well with special quests and rewards?
(Bless): There is a seasonal event that has been already created, the Halloween event. Specters and shadowspawn who were unable to go to heaven and refused entry to hell due to the deeds committed during their lifetime have been made to wander forever wearing pumpkin heads with charcoal inside. These pumpkin head monsters can be found everywhere across the world. Special Halloween Missions will be available along with the appearance of the pumpkin heads, and users may earn special mounts, costumes and even Blessings. There are also plans to develop other seasonal events in addition to the Halloween one. I’m looking forward to enjoying each season with our players.
(XBA): Regarding future content, how far is your roadmap planned ahead and what information can you give us on what to expect in the future post launch for the bigger updates? Are more classes planned on being released in the future as well?
(Bless): As mentioned before, we don’t think of our launch as complete. We are preparing to add more that shows off the personality and individuality of each class in a future update. Dungeons we’ll be creating new dungeons with a critical eye, and bosses that will affect the overall world are also being planned. Players can also expect new content coming for Unions, Guilds, and even Crafting. I can’t say exactly when each of these will be released, but we have a lot planned and look forward to delivering more content to the players.
(XBA): How you going to keep up with what the community thinks, wants, implementing any changes and communicating that to all players? Where and how is the best way to interact with the developers for those that want to have their opinions heard for the good of the game?
(Bless): We have channels to communicate closely with players, and are monitoring their feedback. However the most important thing is that we are objective, and not biased when looking at opinions about the game.
(XBA): You know we had to ask… Any chance we can get a release date, or when to expect an announcement?
(Bless): You may already know this now, but Bless Unleashed launches on March 12, 2020! Please look forward to it.
(XBA): Thanks so much for taking the time to answer our questions. We are absolutely excited for the Bless Unleashed launch and hope that others go check it out as well!
(Bless): Thank you. I invite you all to join us in the upcoming world of Bless Unleashed and I hope that we’ll be able to enjoy the various content and updates together. May all the adventurers be blessed.