Blade & Soul, an MMORPG by NCsoft centered around oriental martial arts and sorcery, debuted to VR as an RTS board game in Oculus Community Game Day. Featuring fights on the battlefield that gives you the impression of Wizard’s Chess in Harry Potter, Blade & Soul Table Battle recreated its original PC MMORPG characters into SD figures that move within your own hands and jump into the battlefield according to your command. Although the game was at its early stage as also stated by the developers of NCsoft, BnS Table Arena already showed its potential as a casual VR game that allows you to not only fight against other players online but also to collect your favorite characters from BnS. We had a chance to talk with the developers from NCsoft and hear about how they came up with the idea to create a VR board game with its MMORPG, and also their ambition about how far they want to go in creating a broadly appealing and casual VR game.
How did you come up with the idea to recreate Blade & Soul into VR, and in a different genre?
We’ve been making some prototype games from the past in an effort to get a sense of what it’s like to make VR games. They were mostly centered around BnS, because that was our most solid IP with distinctive characters and solid storyline. We originally made a 3rd perspective action game with BnS IP, but realized that it had nausea issues. We decided to come up with an alternative to make our players less nauseated. That’s how we came up with the table battle.
We were already a little late in entering the mobile game market, especially in compare to other Korean game companies. We didn’t want to do the same in VR. We jumped into VR because we wanted to learn faster than others who might join later in the future. It will hopefully make our potential VR games gain more spotlight in the future. It is a great opportunity because we can grow together as the VR market itself grows in general. Many big companies are hopping on the train, and I think there’s a lot of potential to the industry. If VR becomes more accessible to the general public with cheaper and popular devices, that means we can approach a huge population of gamers through VR games. I think jumping into VR now is a good time to join among other pioneers of the business. We are taking multiple approaches and playing around with different ideas. Blade & Soul is more like an example among all the different games we have tried making so far.
This is your team’s first VR. What were the challenges in making the game?
There are generally nausea and tiredness issues in VR games. Our main focus was to make a VR game that the players can play comfortably for a longer period of time. Other types of VR games that involve a lot of physical action make the players get tired easily. We tried to maximize the immersiveness of VR while at the same time allowing the player to stand still, and that led in part to making animated characters in small-sized action figures. We wanted to satisfy people’s expectations in VR while making it accessible to a broader pool of players.
We also had to make numerous adjusts and tweaks to our user interface because there are not many examples when it comes to UI layout in VR. Making UI for VR platform is definitely different from making one for a PC or a console game. We tried to make it clean and neat while providing the necessary information, but not too much to kill the game’s field of depth.
What was your main focus in developing BnS Table Arena?
VR should give you a “world” where you can stand and interact, but we also had to deal with nausea issues at the same time so that our players could enjoy the game for longer period of time. That made us come up with a standstill point of view, and we decided to give it more of a strategical aspect. Speaking of strategy, we also want to promote a competitive environment and invite more players. However, there is no plan for such thing 2v2 multiplayers yet because the game becomes harder to balance. Balancing the game for 1v1 and 2v2 are significantly different, and the fact that there are not as many players in VR games also makes it hard to establish a massively multiplayer environment. Queueing time might also an issue if we were to, for example, wait for a 4v4 match to begin.
So far we have total 37 playable characters, and we want players to look at each other’s deck and learn from them as they play. That will hopefully add more strategical depth to the game. We want to refrain from having too many characters and making players confused which ones they should use and which they should not. Players can level up and customize their characters, and that is our main focus rather than having more playable characters.
What approaches did you take to make BnS’ oriental fantasy world more appealing to the West?
We didn’t want to make it too oriental. That’s why we recreated the characters in SD so that players in the west could be more familiar with the general concept. It’s like you’re collecting anime figures, and that’s the type of culture also popular in the western world. We wanted to deviate slightly from our original BnS that had a great amount of orientalism. We tried to make it familiar to players from different cultural backgrounds.
BnS is also known for its deep storyline. Will there be a story mode for this game?
It’s a battle game so we don’t have such plans yet, but we do want to put emphasis on the game’s story because that’s what helped BnS have unique and distinctive characters the fans can recognize right away. Each of them have unique style, and that also makes it easier for players to create decks. For example, if players see Pohwaran, they automatically expect her to fire away her minigun. This makes them understand that she is a marksman without even reading the character description in Table Arena. The same goes with Namsoyoo providing buffs to allies and Yuran assassinating the enemies with her dagger.
Is there any special reason why you used Unreal Engine for this game?
Unreal Engine is easier for us to play around with because we use it frequently. It is flexible and adaptable in different platforms, which allows better optimization. The greatest part is that Unreal Engine allows us to maintain the graphical quality while keeping the necessary 90fps in VR.
Would there be a possibility that BnS Table Arena might have its own competitive community, and maybe even make it further into having its own tournament?
eSports may be too early for us, but we really want to establish such competitive culture and promote it a lot in the future. We want to let players ponder through their decks frequently, share their thoughts, and evaluate the enemies’ decks after every game. It would be awesome.
When are you planning to release the game?
We honestly don’t know. We still have to go through many different tests and also gather feedbacks from a lot of players. There is also a massive amount of data that we should analyze, so we still need more time. It’s really hard for us to come up with a release date as of now. VR is popular in the West but we are based in Asia, and that’s also something we should consider when announcing the release date.