Outspark is the Western leader in publishing premium micro-trans MMOs. Based in San Francisco the company has published numerous successful MMOs such as Fiesta and Secrets of the Solstice and is currently introducing Divine Souls and Fists of Fu.
Recently I had the chance to speak with Outspark CEO & Founder Susan Choe and their VP of Marketing Aaron Burcell about Divine Souls. We also touched on their other games Fists of Fu and Fiesta.
Divine Souls is a new free-to-play Action-Fighting MMORPG from Outspark with unique character classes imposing weapons and non-stop action. To transform into a Divine Soul an enlightened one players must master an impressive array of combos skills and weapons in battle.
Players can partner up with friends to take on Cursed Souls in a massive multiplayer adventure or take on enemies in high-octane Player vs. Player (PvP) combat. Protect the Divine Matter or fight to control it. Be Powerful. Be Vengeful. Be Divine.
The background story for Divine Souls starts with the Zeplar Engine and the discovery of the Divine Matter that made it possible. Aaron Burcell describes it as
?A classic theme of technology gone awry. A mad doctor who introduces technology that allows people to transform into divine souls. That was the goal that was the effort and it goes horribly wrong. There?s a good vs. Evil struggle that?s at the core of the challenges and so you have your classic hero type; your brawler your mage your slasher and they go to town. They work together. You can go on individual quests. There?s some awesome PVP where you have 8 on 8 action both in a fire-lit dungeon environment sort of arena ?like or you can do it in a couple of the other instances.
The big thing here is that it?s online free to play console quality remarkably fast paced and awesome aerial combos that are easy. Its got the micro-transaction and pvp element too. Its very easy to forget that you’re playing F2p on a PC. I think that?s largely in part to people playing with gamepads and psp’s. We?re building in support for nVidia 3d graphics. In future versions you’re going to be able to wear your glasses and play in 3D.?
Divine Souls has three major character classes. They are the Fighter Slasher and the Mage. Fighters are grapplers that like to fight up close and personal. Slashers are extremely agile and quick on their feet. Most monsters never get the chance to face a Mage in singular combat. Mages are experts at weakening opponents before the fighting even starts.
Aaron added to this by saying
?When you look at a Brawler his aerial combos are different and really easy to pick up. When you look at a mage she can right now in this instance cast spells from her hand she can throw necrotic spells. She can freeze people. That weapon that she carries is as interesting as any weapon that I?ve seen in the last 3 years on any game. It has the ability to itself cast spells to hammer people knock them down and execute them via those staff moves. At the same time it converts into a hand-cannon so it really improves her range and attack.
That kind of stuff is where we spent a lot of time in this class of game. Those kinds of things are really important in terms of creating and distinguishing experience. You can pick up any flavor of game for the console and have your standard class characters; you know your brawler mage slasher and just go to town killing people for as long as you want. What makes it fun and interesting is putting together combos and using weaponry and your skills. That makes it interesting and creates you know that learning rewards system people actually get out of games.?
The best part of Divine Souls is its gameplay. I asked Aaron about the games unique makeup. The game itself is part steampunk part brawler and part co-op and even part traditional MMORPG. He offered this
?I think when you look at this game and you play it for the first 15 mins you get a feel for maybe Dynasty Warriors and a lot of games; like that little flavor of almost a bit of Tekken in there and certainly in pvp mode.
You can definitely see there is a rich legacy of games that sort of touch this class but aren?t f2p mmo’s – they are more traditional console games. That really comes through in various points of the game. The characters definitely represent basically a large body of previous work. Divine souls is a homage to a class of games that really have perfected; even though they are not updating and people are moving away from the consoles what works in terms of creating a sticky experience for play.
We definitely want to recognize those other games because our partners certainly are influenced in them. To a large degree this is the same talent that did SUN. This group of developers has done massively popular hit games all over Asia. I think when you look at it it?s a beautiful game and it really acknowledges a rich legacy of games in this class.
It?s exciting because as I?ve heard more than a few players tell us “Wow. Free play has really grown up” and in a lot of respects this game really represents the natural process of free to play. The target audience for this is not kids. Its not the 13-16 yr old kids who we do love who do love our portfolio of games. This is a different type of customer. This is really the console player who loves this game. Our early previews we did in silent beta CB1 we met with a lot of PC game writers and we really shocked them. They literally were like “Yeah okay this is free to play I understand.” I think this game is potentially with another class of games like Vindictus really the first viable persuasive effort in bringing f2p in to meet a console players expectations in what a game is capable of delivering.?
What can you expect when you start the game? Well as soon as the game begins players will have a chance to try out the combat system by attacking a group of portly goblins. Attacks are performed by hitting the mouse buttons and certain keyboard keys. Players pan the camera simply by moving the mouse which gives the game a live-action feel often lacking in MMORPGs.
Players won?t simply be trading blows in Divine Souls. Each attack must be aimed and enemy strikes can be dodged. The developers may have gone a little overboard on the hit radius of player attacks. Hitting multiple opponents with a single attack looks cool but being able to knock down everything in front and to the sides of the character with a single attack reduces the game?s difficulty considerably. The crazy Area of Effect (AoE) attacks definitely add to the ?arcade? feel however. Even low level bosses require some strategy and more evolved tactics and team work are required in the later stages. Fortunately it doesn?t take long to clear a dungeon.
PVE and PVP are well balanced in the game when I asked Aaron about the pve and pvp he replied
?I think they are both equal. When we’ve done our beta tests somewhere around day 2 people started to discover PvP and it takes off. In recent surveys everyone loves them equally. This game tests incredibly high. Not quite as high as Fists of Foo but Fists of Foo is a sleeper. Divine Souls tests very high. There?s no sort of preference. The players who play PVE migrant to PVP very quickly and they bounce back. They don?t get stuck and drop off which you can sometimes see in gameplay. We don?t have that problem. I think that?s a credit to the game designers and our team here who works to executive produce the game.?
Stages themselves are broken down into a series of rooms connected by portals; players must defeat all enemies in a room before moving on to the next. Loot mechanics are designed to keep the action rolling players simply hit ?R? near gold or item drops to automatically pick them up.
Divine Souls makes heavy use of instancing. Cities camps and other locals that stock quest NPCs and merchants make up the persistent world where players meet and greet. Portals are scattered across these locations that open up regional maps and allow players to enter the dungeons or stages in that area. There are dozens of stages available but players will find themselves repeating them many times.
Quests help speed up the grind and offer a sense of progression but the best way to stomach the repetition is to find other players to group with. The level requirement for each stage is displayed on the map but each stage comes in three difficulty modes. Players must clear a dungeon on easy to unlock medium and clear it again to unlock hard mode.
The persistent city plus instanced game world model was first championed by Guild Wars but stage based MMORPGs like Lunia and Divine Souls have done a great job adopting it for their own purposes.
Since this game had also been previously released in the eastern market I asked Aaron about any changes they may have made to better suit a western market. He answered
?I think the things that we do very well in executive producing games for western markets are making sure that people get to the points of satisfaction in that game and progress at a pace that is appropriate for western players. When you see the games and you see the mechanics there?s a lot about flanking and speed and easy on the combos you understand the adjustments that we have played on the game. If we had just brought the Korean version into the US people would say it?s a grinder. We do a lot of those refinements but at the same time some of the things that we do we focus on with our partners. This is more of a generalization but certainly true with Divine Souls. It?s creating distinguishing elements of the game that people grow attached to.
In the western market weaponry is one of those key instances. So when you look at weapons in Slashers you see some really inspired ideas in terms of the whip sword. I know a few games that have done that. The whip sword is really interesting in this instance – the way it whips what its range is the way you can lock on and hook a player and flip them around much like you’d have with a whip. Those things are interesting; those are fun and memorable.?
Divine Souls is a fast paced action MMORPG that has great visuals and genuinely fun gameplay. Repeating instances can get frustrating but Divine Souls makes it easy to switch between PvE and PvP to keeps things exciting. The game is pick-up and play friendly but the combo system requires dedication to master.
The game takes the MMO genre to new heights with high quality 3D graphics fluid gameplay and an extensive list of combo attacks that players must pull off manually. Gamers looking for a MMORPG with a more involved combat system should look no further than Divine Souls.
Fists of Fu
Next Aaron and I spoke about Fists of Fu. Fists of Fu is one of Outspark?s new free-to-play hilarious side-scrolling Arcade-Action MMORPG featuring a beat-em-up multiplayer storyline anime style graphics that mixes a fantasy themed persistent world with instanced dungeon stages and an immersive 3D environment.
Aaron described Fists of Fu as
?Fists of Foo is a sleeper. It is a lot of fun. I don?t know if you’re into side scroller; little big world or Maplestory or any of those games. A lot of people tend to dismiss them because they look like childs play. But the shocking thing that we’re seeing is that this game really resonates with the 30+ crowd because it?s reminiscent of some of the early console games that people played. Plus it’s got that nice 3D engine and the pivots and the twists of different camera angles which are fun. A lot of people tend to dismiss that game because of its Anime look and because Foo is so childlike in its initial presence and it certainly is a character driven game but Foo is a lot of fun. People love playing this game.?
Fists of Fu has 3 starting character classes: Magician Archer and Fighter classes. And the Fists of Fu gameplay is remarkably similar to other action games like Dragonica Online. In this game players don?t simply employ ?point and click? game style but requires players to actively use their controls in order for them to interact in the game which includes movement attacking and using skills.
Players can battle against enemies in Fists of Fu through instanced dungeons located outside of town. Unlike other games Fists of Fu?s has only instance dungeons outside of Towns. There are no enemies to kill outside of these dungeons so in a way the game is similar to Lunia.
In Fists of Fu instanced dungeons can be complete in three difficulty settings: Beginner Expert and Hardcore. As the difficulty of the dungeon increases so is the rewards players will yield in completing the dungeons. In order for the player to complete a dungeon players will need to defeat the boss in the Final Room. Each dungeon has its own unique boss which adds some depth and difficulty to the game.
Players can chose to venture alone or party up with other players when taking up these instanced dungeons. The game features a convenient system that enables players ease in finding party members that are working on the same dungeons.
Fists of Fu unfortunately is very linear. Players need to complete the first dungeons in order to progress to the next ones. In some instances players have to repeat a dungeon level numerous of times in order to unlock the next dungeon level.
Aside from level grinding and instanced dungeon questing players can also craft upgrade and enchant their items at the blacksmith. Players can also sell their items to other players by setting-up a personal shop in the game?s Plaza.
Fists of Fu also offers a compelling PvP system that is worth checking out. Fists of Fu currently have three PvP game modes that can support up to 8 players in each game: Team Competition Team Death Match and Survival.
Players can enter the lobby-based PvP area after reaching a character Level 3. In Fists of Fu unlike other games players can begin enter PvP area right away whether the player?s character is Level 5 or Level 50. The game has a unique system of automatically equalizing characters so that players will have largely same stats. Despite this higher level characters will still have the advantage since it will have an access to a large queue of skills it has already unlocked that lower level characters haven?t. Players are rewarded with PK Points for performing well in matches which can be exchange for Rank badges as well as other items in the PvP item store.
Despite being linear and unable to offer something new to the MMORPG genre Fists of Fu is still a fun action packed MMORPG game worth to be played. You can also expect exciting things in the future for Fists of Fu as Aaron explains
?We’re going to look and see what people like doing and start introducing things that support what people like to do. Basically when you ship a game you have an idea; a basic strategy of what people and going to want to do in the game and you start to introduce things to foster usage. F2p is all about people playing. It?s about engagement marketing. So we will certainly initially play to that. I think it?s a game of chores. The audience size grows and then what you see are opportunities to introduce things like Soulja-Boy dance moves. We have a very good relationship; I?m sure you’ve seen a lot of our efforts that come out of the virtual goods relationship.?
Even though Fiesta in one of Outspark?s oldest games it is one of the most successful MMORPGs and also still has exciting things to come. Fiesta features a dynamic fighting scenario that includes PvP Battlefield Instance Dungeons and Kingdom Quests.
Fiesta has a rich and long background story which you can read on their website. To summarize it; Fiesta is a fight between good and evil. A new power has risen in the north and the battle between Angels and Demons escalate. It is up to the players to fight for whoever they want to side on. Are their hearts pure enough to follow the path of Light? Or are they destined to fall into the clutches of darkness? It is up to the players to decide. Fiesta offers the players 4 different classes each with unique play styles.
One of the features that made Fiesta different from other MMORPG is the Kingdom Quest. Kingdom Quests are unique group battles in Fiesta and let as many as 15 players work together to battle tough monsters and earn experience. Plenty of challenging adventures and treasure waits in a Kingdom Quest and they are a great way to help player?s character make friends and level up.
One of the best things about Fiesta is their touches of mainstream Pop Culture. In the past they have added updates that included the Soulja Boy Dance that all characters could emote and even Tila Tequila fashions.
I asked Aaron if this trend of mixing fantasy and modern pop culture would continue and he replied
?We’re working on potentially introducing more of that stuff even into Fiesta this fall and bringing back some new dance moves. The GM is literally sitting outside of this office giving me the stink eye for telling you this. We’re going to have a lot of fun with Fiesta.
The 3rd anniversary of Fiesta is really something that everyone is excited about. Not many games make it 3 years and to be making it 3 years and have the game as popular as it’s ever been even more-so is really interesting. We’re doing all of the things we need to do in terms of prioritization.
Making sure that we fix the things that people think are not right about the game like balancing the archers. But when you look at the game we know historically what has worked from an events standpoint from an introducing mainstream culture artifacts standpoint; we’re going to be doing more of that. We’re going to do more of that this fall.
You can start to see it now and I think if you pay attention to the community posts we’re even talking about which dance moves we’re going to introduce and when the next dance party is going to be. As you know being a player Halloween is always a big event for us and that?s I think right around the time we’re going to celebrate our 3rd anniversary.
We’ve worked hard to make the game a priority with the developer. Fiesta is a game that is massive worldwide… It is a game that certainly occupies a lot of our time and energy in terms of creating a quality experience in terms of being responsible to customers and generating a content roadmap that expands on the existing aspects that customers like. I hear the community on the events and I hear the community on the dance moves and the little things we can do on the interaction layer.
We learned a lot coming out of spring with the success of World Cup. I saw just an avalanche of UDC numbers of national jerseys that were donned during the month of June that was awesome to see. The game has an ability to reflect what is going on in terms of current events and because it is social.?
Despite some criticism on the unbalanced nature of character classes and the game heavily dependent on real cash for the game to progress smoothly Fiesta is still a great and fun game to play.
With so many games under their belt and so much planned for the future. I asked Aaron to tell me how Outspark really makes its games about the social aspects of gaming and their future plans and he replied
?Its real time communications it’s people building and extending relationships that they’ve had inside the game. If you look at the staggering number of marriages we’ve had inside of Fiesta; it’s fascinating to us. How the relationships build up how they grow what that means and the true value of community and social in our respects it?s different. It?s different that anything you see in what?s known as S&S games.
People initially come for the game – the attraction of the game but they stay for the community and we know that. These games are nothing without their audience and we’re fully aware of that. When you look at Fiesta it is not modern or up-to-date in any respect but the community is so rich and vibrant and reflects so much of the current pop culture stuff like the World Cup Halloween introducing new dance moves – maybe we’ll introduce Thriller dance moves.(By the way I think this is a big hint for Fiesta players!) When you look at what that game does and what people do in it – I don’t want to say it’s best in class but it’s an amazing community and we love them.?