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A Preview of Nexon's Mabinogi from GDC '08

Updated Wed, Dec 16, 2009 by Cody Bye

by Cody "Micajah" Bye, Managing Editor

Over the last few years, the massively multiplayer gaming market in North America has seen a slowly increasing number of entries from developers with games that were intrinsically created to support the free to play business model. Carted to North America and Europe by businessmen looking to cash in on a virgin marketplace, these games are nabbed at a fairly cheap price from overseas developers looking to extend the money-making lifespan of an older product. In the past, the imported games were dumped onto a website where unsuspecting gamers would download the product to find an unlocalized, roughly translated, mess of a title.

Nexon hopes to bridge the gap between MapleStory and WoW with Mabinogi.

However the imported gaming market has seen a recent turn towards a focus on polish, localization, and translation, an effort spearheaded by the bevy of developers from a not-so-little company called Nexon. For those of you that may not be entirely familiar with the studio and their origins, you may know Nexon as the fortunate crew that pushed MapleStory into the monolithic success that it has become. Few free to play games are as popular - or as well known - as the fish-slapping, snail-on-nipples 2D MMOG, and while the Ten Ton Hammer staff was attending the Game Developers Conference we got an intensive look at the next product coming to the Nexon stable of games.

As we entered Nexon's suite in the garishly furnished and decorated Hotel Triton, we were greeted by a colorful poster of a strikingly cute animated character leaning on the wall beside the demonstration computers. The girl - who is the main character (aside from the player character) in the game - is named Nao, and Mabinogi is the title of Nexon's next entry into the massively multiplayer gaming realm.

As the demonstration began, we were introduced to the three men from Nexon America who would be leading us through our guided tour of Mabinogi: John H. Chi (Preisdent and CEO), Min Kim (Director of Game Operations), and Joseph Wreggelsworth (Customer Relations Manager). With Joseph behind the wheel of the Mabinogi character, we watched as fairly cute landscape appeared before our eyes and cell-shaded characters bounced, hopped, and fought around the character. At first glance, the game appeared to be a title strictly oriented towards the younger child gamers.

According to our guides, however, Mabinogi is aiming for a crowd of gamers that range from the early tweens to the much older crowd, with their average demographic falling somewhere between 16 or 17 years of age."With MapleStory's age group, you look at the game and it's very innocuous; it feels like a kid's game," Chi said. "And to be honest, the demographic in Korea is totally kids. But in North America it's not. The demographic skews quite old and we expect a similar sort of response from Mabinogi."

Even with that statement laid out before the Ten Ton Hammer team, we were still slightly skeptical about Mabonigi and where the sights of the game were really aimed. "Honestly, as far as playing style is concerned," Chi continued, "Mabinogi is definitely aimed at the core MMOG demographic. The game is a bridge between the gap of World of Warcraft and MapleStory. This is a game for players that are looking for an intricate and deep experience but don't want to pay that $14.99 a month for WoW."

Players can actually choose the age of their character at the beginning of the game.

Yet for many gamers, the idea of an "intricate and deep experience" from an imported, free to play game is something of an oddity, However, even from the small fraction of Mabinogi that the Ten Ton Hammer crew saw, we were pleasantly surprised by the many options available to players. For example, one of the most interesting features we saw was the "Age Progression" mechanic that is a part of Mabinogi. Rather than forcing players to constantly play these immortal, never-changing characters, the original developers behind Mabinogi allowed players to create characters that were as young as 10 and as old as 25. Once those characters are created, every week will age that character one year. This not only changes your appearance but it also changes certain skill progressions and other aspects of the gameplay. Not to fear - your characters won't die of old age. Gamers will be able to "reincarnate" their character - keeping their advancement progress - but making it possible for players to change the age of their character.

Another fantastic feature that we say was the "Keyword Questing" idea that Joseph Wreggelsworth explained to us very early in the demonstration. According to Joseph, players will gradually earn keywords as they talk with NPCs in the world of Mabinogi. Once these keywords are received, players can pull up a journal and ask other NPCs questions using these particular keywords. "It's like another mini-game inside the bigger game," Wreggelsworth stated. "It really opens up another huge portion of the game." Using these keywords players can actually go back to old NPCs that they talked to very early in their character's career and discover new quests and avenues of exploration for their characters to embark upon.

To get a better overall picture of the game, Min Kim explained that Mabinogi will have many of the features that standard MMOGs have practiced at one point or another: skill based progression, an intricate combat system, instanced dungeons, various non-combat professions, and more. However, Mabinogi will be very different - and very innovative - in other aspects of their gameplay.

Concerning the "grind" label that's plastered on many imported MMORPGs, Wreggelsworth assured the Ten Ton Hammer staff that Mabinogi isn't really about the actual level/skill advancement. "It's really more about getting everything in the game," Wreggelsworth said. "Really, your levels don't necessarily matter." At this point a member of the Ten Ton Hammer staff mentioned that it's more about "getting them all", meaning it's much more about attaining everything in the game rather than simply trying to push your character to the skill cap.

One particular instance of an often talked about but rarely implemented idea is the concept of armor or weapons that advance with your character. "Nearly everything in the game has some form of progression," Wreggelsworth mentioned. "The longer you wear your armor - the better you get with that particular armor. Almost everything in the game can 'level up.'"

Perhaps the best example of interesting game ideas being integrated into a standard MMOG world is the idea of sacrificing an item to create a particular instanced dungeon for you to explore. According to Chi and Wreggelsworth, players that wish to may create a particular instance by destroying an item on a particular altar in the game. Once the item's been destroyed, the player (and his group) will be teleported to a singular instanced dungeon crafted around that particular item. The rarer the item sacrificed, the more intense the dungeon crawl. "If you sacrifice rare items, you need to be really prepared," Wreggelsworth stated. "I once dropped a rare high level sword on the altar and get destroyed when I went into the dungeon."

Almost everything in the game can be leveled up, including armor and weapons.

On a side note, the weight of a player's character, rather than being something selected at character creation, is gained through an actual mechanic in the game. Being that I once lived as a 100 lb. eight-year-old child, I will strive to make the fattest young character in Mabinogi ever. If you're interested in being a part of my experiment, send me an email.

Truly, nothing at GDC 2008 has surprised me as thoroughly as what I saw from Nexon's Mabinogi. From their intricate questing system to their age progression ideas, Mabinogi looks to be a game that's complex enough for an adult gamer yet appealing to even the youngest MMORPG players. Over the next few months we'll continue to watch Mabinogi very closely to see just how the latest project from Nexon turns out in the North American marketplace.

Are you interested in what you've heard about Mabinogi? Would you ever play an in-depth game with a "childish" look? Let us know on the forums!


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