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Maladius: First Look

An Interview With the Developer of a New ARPG

Written by Ray D. on October 19th, 2018.

Maladius is an ARPG currently being developed by Michael Chapman, or @maladiusdev on Twitter, that features an interesting mix of vector-based magic, element mixing, and a faction system that aims to shape players’ game experience. It is still in early development, but shows a lot of promise. It caught my attention via some very impressive gameplay videos, such that I felt the need to reach out and learn more about the project.

I was lucky enough to have a Q&A of sorts with Michael and pick his brain about some of the finer aspects of the game. Here are some of the exciting things we had a chance to discuss about Maladius.

Is is just you making this game?

Yep! Originally I wanted to use it as a way to get better at C++ and then swap my day job to work on a distributed file system called Ceph, but that ended up not happening.

Maladius?

Maladius is the name of the game. I have the domain, but the twitter handle was taken so I figured I could either do maladiusgame or maladiusdev. I liked the latter because it seemed slightly more personal and it’s a one-man project.

Did you make the VFX yourself?

Yes and no. I don’t generally make things from scratch if I can avoid it, because the process for that is longer and my skills aren’t really there – I’m a programmer not an artist. That said, I’ve spent the last few years gradually getting better at making what I need when I can’t find something that fits and also deconstructing things from the free Unreal 4 samples and from the asset store. So for example, the lightning cloud effect is three smoke sprites blended together that I bought in an explosions pack, and then the little lightning arcs are taken from the free Paragon hero Gadget’s ultimate.

Can you tell me a little more about Maladius?

To explain the game world I should probably start with the genesis of the game. The basic inspiration was a very long time ago I played a game called Hinterland. It’s a very mechanically simple ARPG where you not only fight things but also build up a little town in the corner of the map, and sometimes have to go back to defend it. I liked the way the progress in game was split between upgrading the town to get better access to crafted items and followers, and traditional character XP/loot progress from adventuring.

Meanwhile, one of my favorite types of game is turn-based strategy with a tactical combat focus, most notably Heroes of Might and Magic 3 and the Age of Wonders series. What I decided I wanted to do was take the gist of those games, make them slow real time instead of turn-based, and replace the tactical combat with dungeon runs in an ARPG. It’s important to note that these games lack the depth of something like [Civilization] – the town upgrades are generally pretty simple and the games are much more focused on combat than management simulation (e.g. things like diplomacy are generally piecemeal).

Who is your character, and what is his/her role in the game world? Does the character have a name? Where is the game set in?

So what I’m hoping to make is a game where the character is one person in a world that’s a loosely simulated real time version of a game of HoMM3. Instead of owning castles/cities yourself, as long as you have a positive relation with a faction you can build a guild hall inside an AI faction’s city where you can put shrines that give you buffs while out in the world, teleporters to other guild halls you own, crafting anvils, etc. The player goes out into the world and captures locations for themselves which will give them a constant, slow income of a particular type along with all the loot they can find, then goes back to the guild hall to build new stuff, then goes out to capture more points, etc. One thing I haven’t exactly sorted out is how the world will end, but I think the answer is going to be to make a bunch of different storylines/quests that result in the world ending for one reason or another and pick one at random. Once that event/story/quest completes, a new world is generated and the player restarts, losing their guild progress but keeping their character progress and equipped items.

This is a very, very old video showing the overland stuff, I haven’t prettied it up yet:

Describe the gameplay a little more for me.

The ARPG mechanics are a bit different from the usual – I drew a lot of inspiration from the element systems in Divinity: Original Sin and to a lesser extent Magicka, and more recently the combat style in Wizard of Legend pushed me to make the game a lot faster than it was before. I only have a single class at the moment which is magic based, but there are some more coming for melee and minion based play. The main mechanic I’m experimenting with is vector abilities, where you click and drag to specify the direction of an ability.

This allows for some really cool stuff like this:

The first ability is simply a left click to place a wall perpendicular to the player – classic DII style. The second is a click and drag, which will dash to the clicked location and then knockback in the direction of the drag.

The six slots on the left and right allow any ability in any slot, dragging will switch from one column to the other, and by holding down the click before release the strength of the ability is increased and higher slots can be used. Some abilities aren’t very good in some slots, but I think that’s okay. Because I have WASD movement I can have a different magic type for each mouse button, so the idea is the player can mix and match whatever they want. At the moment it’s fire and lightning but I’ve got some cold and poison stuff planned.

What has been your favorite and least favorite parts to create so far?

The most fun is definitely the VFX, I’ve really enjoyed learning it from first watching the classic ‘VFX of Diablo‘ talk and then spending a weekend trying to recreate some of it.

On the dev side, how long have you been working on the game?

I’ve been working on the game for a long time prototyping different input mechanics before finally making what I described in the last para, maybe 3-4 years including some discarded prototypes. The first one was on iPad and you flicked the abilities at enemies. It was cool but it was super laggy.

Do you have a time frame for when you’d like to see it finished?

I’m hoping to have something releasable around the end of next year, but I think I’ve been saying that for a year at least!

So, is this single-player only, or do you have multiplayer plans?

I was originally making it single-player only, and everything was a ton simpler. I’d probably already be done [to be honest]. While working on it I realized that I don’t play single-player ARPGs myself, so I probably shouldn’t be making one. There’s something about dungeon crawling with friends that makes it so much more enjoyable.

Around 18 months ago I started looking at a thing called the GameplayAbilities module in Unreal Engine, which is completely undocumented but is used to do multiplayer gameplay mechanics in both Paragon and Fortnite. There’s a tiny community of masochists who are just working off the source to figure out how it works, and we’ve managed to get a wiki together that shows how to get it working. The result today is that I ported everything over to that, and now basically all the mechanics work in multiplayer fine, but every time I add something new instead of taking a couple of hours it takes more like a couple of days since I have to test a lot more and there’s always edge cases, and I’m a little bit restricted by how that module works in some really specific cases.

PvP works, but I’m not planning on having it as a main mode out of the gate because I don’t want to go down what I would call “The balancing rabbit hole” – it would chew up all my time and I don’t think that’s a good idea before the PvE content is fleshed out.

When you talk about players doing dungeon raids and trying to gain faction reputation, what is the motivation? Is there a Big Bad Evil Guy that the player is trying to defeat?

There isn’t really a player goal at the moment other than to take all the resources, but the plan is to have hostile factions on the map that the player needs to take out, similar to a turn-based strategy game. Each faction will have its own heroes running around on the map being annoying. I’d like to add procedural global quest stuff at some point, but that’s a longer term goal. There are a couple of games that have attacked that problem on a fundamental level (Dwarf Fortress and Cubeworld) and both devs said it took them about a year. I’m not sure I can do it any faster so I’ll leave that for now.

Do you have lore built up or planned?

The lore is in a similar place – I want it to be procedural but I won’t have time to tackle that for the first release.

Are you planning on extending the vector abilities to the melee and minion classes?

For the melee and minion classes I have some pretty crazy stuff planned. They won’t play anything like the magic classes, but they will use variations on clicking and dragging. I haven’t even prototyped them yet so it’s probably a bit early to describe them in detail – I might have to change things if it turns out not to be fun. The way I’m doing the classes is they’re tied to the equipped weapon, and there’s one slot for each hand. That’s why the magic system has LMB to do the left hand spells and RMB to do the right hand spells – it means as long as I make sure the one handed/shield classes only require one mouse button I can have the ability to put a sword in one hand and a magic glove/source in the other hand for multiclassing. I also have a plan for 2H weapons, and the minion class will also be a 2H because I need both buttons. At launch I’ll probably just have the magic classes and one-handed swords or something. See how I go I guess.

What is loot like? Is it going to be a lootfest like Diablo II, or do you have something else in mind for it?

The loot situation is interesting and not final, I’ll try to explain my thinking so far. The main consideration is that because you have this persistent world kind of thing with the factions and resources and player structures and whatnot, the player progress is much more fractured than in a normal game of Diablo. In a game of DII, there’s basically loot progress and player XP. When you join someone else’s game, you bring all of that with you, and there’s not really any consideration given to making sure the relative player strengths are the same.

I’m looking at ways to try to alleviate that issue in Maladius by being a little careful about what bonuses go on loot, what you can get by EG. building player structures, and what you get by earning XP. When two people play together, the player faction structure bonuses will be shared between them, but they’ll each have their own XP and loot. So I’m looking at making a system where players can build shrines that give faction-wide base bonuses, while loot grants percentage bonuses and modifies ability behavior, and XP grants ability access. This means that if a high level player joins a low level world, they’ll have a % advantage over the low level player that I can control with the affix ranges on items, and they’ll have access to more abilities, but they won’t be able to just slaughter everything in the level without thinking. Maybe an enemy that takes 5 hits takes only 3, because they have 200% bonus damage or something, but because the base value is taken from the faction buildings they’re doubling a low number.

A Preview of the Main Menu in its Current Form

I was thinking for a long time I was going to do breakable weapons, where you could make more copies of weapons using the resources you capture in the world combined with crafting buildings for the player faction. That would mean joining another player’s world would let you use your weapons from another world for a limited period, but not for too long. I decided that would probably promote people doing stupid stuff like quitting and rejoining all the time, and it wouldn’t be very fun.

So I think the answer is that it will have some of the loot aspects from Diablo II, but with focus also on building structures. I plan on making all the items deconstructable and with a ‘wagon’ you take with you when travelling, so after doing a dungeon run you go back to your faction and melt down the majority of stuff into base materials you can then use to build structures or craft fancy things. I guess that aspect is somewhat similar to DIII or ESO or something.

When you say faction-wide, do you mean for all players loyal to that faction? And is that in a persistent game world sense, or local to all players connected?

Yes, for all players loyal to that faction. There isn’t one single persistent world; it’s more like each time someone starts a game, a new ‘world’ gets created, so it only affects the players that are connected to that world. So if I start a new game, that makes a world. If you start a new game, that makes a world. You can join mine, which will pause your world, and you can join my faction in my world. For the moment I’m just going to have one player faction to keep things simple, but I’d like to allow players to have rival factions in the future. That would also mean figuring out PvP, though. Messy, but probably worth it in the long run if I manage to convince people to play this thing.

With the wagon mechanic, do you then plan on incentivizing players to pick up each and every item they come across, or will there still be a lot left behind?

The idea is that everything gets auto-picked up as soon as the player leaves the room, added to the wagon, and will get automatically deconstructed unless the player removes it from the wagon before the end of the mission. So if you see something nice drop you can equip it or add to wagon and mark to not be destroyed, but otherwise you don’t need to micromanage inventory. I hate inventory Tetris.

How do you think that will affect loot density and rarity in the game?

As far as loot density and rarity, I don’t really want the player stopping constantly to look at things. The primary rewards will come at the conclusion of each dungeon or at the end of side arcs within them, and the player should be able to mostly ignore the rest of the crap that drops. Since all of the items can be deconstructed, they can also be crafted back at the player base by building the right structures (and maybe recruiting people, I’m not sure if I want to do NPC recruitment yet). I want the player to be able to make choices between keeping loot and melting down otherwise good loot into nice component pieces that can then be used to build powerful structures. An example of this might be allowing the player to build a teleporter for the world map that allows them to travel between friendly locations instantly, but having that share key components with the player items and buff structures. I think this opens up some interesting choices particularly in group play.

Conclusion

My time talking about Maladius with /u/maladiusdev was exciting and entertaining. While still in an early form, Maladius is looking to be an exciting title with interesting mechanics. ARPG fans will likely want to keep an eye on this one. You can follow Maladius on Twitter @maladiusdev, and also keep an eye out on the indiegaming subreddit, and of course, keep an eye out here on Launch Party Gaming for any news and updates on all things indie.

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About The Author

Hey guys, Ray here. I'm a lifelong gamer with a love for all things dev. I'm an Indie freak and a wannabe dev myself. I try to look at all new games with a sense of wonder and admiration. Every game is somebody's pride and joy, and my hope is to help them share it with the world.

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