Dark Souls Publisher Creates an RTS/MOBA Hybrid in Supernova

Supernova blends RTS elements with MOBA gameplay, but we talk with the developer about whether that's enough to stand out in a crowded market.

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Publisher Bandai Namco has a name in the multiplayer community with games like SoulCalibur and Tekken, but compared to its rivals, the company hasn't had an enduring title in the continuously growing esports arena. Instead of giving up, though, it's trying a different tack: building a new MOBA.

Developed by Hungarian-based Pr1mal Game Studio, Supernova is a free-to-play sci-fi MOBA that incorporates real-time strategy elements. The game has been in development for about three years, but in a market that already feels crowded with League of Legends and Dota 2, why would a developer want to make another MOBA?

Speaking with developer's studio director, Zoltan Zsuffa, he said, "Basically, Supernova is different in many ways. It has the fundamental MOBA gameplay terms like heroes and lanes and things like that. But we didn't start Supernova as a game that's meant to be different in the MOBA space. We've seen many developers out there that take the fundamentals of the MOBA game and what they do is try to tweak things just for the sake of changing things just because they see that there's a crowded market."

Interestingly, Zsuffa doesn't shy away from calling the game a MOBA. "We wanted to make sure that, for players who have experience in MOBA games, they can easily grasp the whole atmosphere and all the gaming mechanics right away. I think other games and other developers make these kind of changes, like calling it something completely different because they want to segment their game as something that's partially for another gameplay audience. With Heroes of the Storm, for example, Blizzard created something that is meant more for a casual audience. They simplified it a lot from the traditional MOBA elements. But we really want to have all of the depth you find in other MOBA games."

Concept art from Supernova

As a side note, Zsuffa mentions that Supernova wasn't a MOBA from the start. "Supernova was originally a more traditional real-time strategy game three years ago. After six months of production, we had a prototype version of the game, but we realized that it was going to be too complex for today's players. So we started to simplify things here and there, and even though the original idea was to have an RTS with MOBA elements, through a natural evolution of the gameplay and experience, it started to have something that turned around and became a MOBA game with RTS elements instead.

"That eventually became intentional, since we wanted to make sure that people who either are MOBA gamers or who know from friends about MOBA games, these people will find the gameplay mechanics, the army mechanics, and the sci-fi environment as something different from the crowd of MOBA games out there."

"We want to make sure we're not going to have pay-to-win at all."

At first glance, Supernova definitely seems geared more towards someone very experienced with the genre, but Zsuffa clarified that even though hardcore gamers are a major focus for the studio, "Currently the game has a lot of depth and complexity, but there are a lot of features that make it simpler for players to just jump in and start playing. For example, if you're a new player, you won't really need to bother with your armies. There's an automatic army composition feature. And there are other features that make it completely or partially automated like the distribution of the building points for commanders.

"But we still have tasks in front of us regarding the user interface in terms of customization and simplification. A new player who starts to play the game, what they'll see is that even though the army composition is automated, you still have the user interface for the whole army. This is something on our roadmap to get rid of, to hide those complexities from players that don't want to touch those sorts of things."

The biggest hurdle for any free-to-play game is how it handles monetization, both to make sure the developer can stay in business and that the players stay happy. However, in Supernova, you can buy more than cosmetic items with real-life money. Getting ahead of the inevitable criticisms, Zsuffa said, "We want to make sure we're not going to have pay-to-win at all. We are going to have microtransactions; players can earn in-game points for playing the game, and they can also purchase real-world currency. But game items can all be bought with in-game currency, so you don't have to spend a single dollar if you don't want to.

"The only exception is cosmetic items, like new skins for the commander or news skins for the army. We may also have other features down the road like new user interfaces skins, like if you have an army with a camouflage skin that you bought, then maybe you can also have a camouflage setting for the whole UI. Everything else will be purchasable with in-game currency earned by playing game sessions. And we're going to have a lot of those customization items, so you can customize your armies, customize your commanders. And you can buy additional units for your armies as well, and customize their different gameplay abilities."

But is Pr1mal concerned about balance when some players essentially have a fast track to some abilities if they're willing to pay for them? "You can play for the entire lifecycle of the game without spending a single dollar. If you're playing the game, you should be able to earn enough in-game currency to buy whatever you want, except cosmetic items. You can buy boosters, new heroes, or new armies and other items with real-world money more quickly, but that doesn't mean you'll have any kind of advantage. It just means that if you're a more experienced player anyway and you have less time, you can speed things up. But it doesn't mean that if you don't pay you'll have any kind of grind at all."

If you want to try the game yourself, a public alpha for Supernova is going live today and you can sign up for it on the game's official website. And let us know what you think about Bandai Namco's entry in the MOBA genre in the comments below.

Justin Haywald on Google+

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