Earlier this week I sat down for a play test of Naraka: Bladepoint with 24 Entertainment’s Marketing Manager, Raylan Kwan. He allowed me to pick his brain a bit as we enjoyed a couple rounds of the melee-focused Chinese battle royale. We laughed, we cried, we murdered a good number of players (and a few bots) to take the win both times. While we fought our way towards victory, Raylan answered my questions about the future of Naraka: Bladepoint.
In conjunction with the Reddit AMA at 7pm PST today (which you can check out during or after via the subreddit link here), I’m sharing with you that full interview, mostly. For the sake of brevity I omitted non-interview related dialogue from our play test. There were plenty of call-outs, concerns over whether our teammate was AFK or not and what have you, but I highly doubt any of you want to read that. If you’d rather skip the interview and read what I thought of the final beta you can read my impressions article here.
Now, without further ado, here is our Naraka: Bladepoint play test interview with 24 Entertainment’s Raylan Kwan: a lovely gentleman, and a beast with the katana.
Naraka: Bladepoint Final Beta Developer Interview
Brandon Adams: Alrighty, let’s get started. Hopefully my higher ping won’t be an issue. I’m out of the country for a bit, and I’m not that close to any of your servers. On that note: players have noticed that the ping advertised in the server select doesn’t match the ping they see in game. Is this a bug, or are the servers under that much strain?
Raylan Kwan; Marketing Manager 24 Entertainment: That’s a bug. I’ll have to check with the dev team to see if the latest patch fixed it. It should be resolved by launch. We should be fine though, your ping doesn’t look that bad.
Brandon: We’ll see. So, what’s your favorite weapon? I want to make sure I ping the loot you’re looking for.
Raylan: My favorites have to be the greatsword and katana. How about you?
Brandon: I’m usually a long sword guy, but I’ve been enjoying the spear. It’s a bit overpowered right now!
Raylan: (Laughs) Yeah, the team hasn’t really been sleeping. They’ve been busy balancing all the weapons, and addressing all the bugs. There’s an exploit with the spear the team hopes to fix by the end of the test.
Brandon: How high on the priority list have the performance issues been? The community has been quite vocal about the regression in performance between the last [April] test and this one.
Raylan: It’s been the team’s top priority. We made a lot of changes to the graphics since the last test, so they believe it’s a driver-level issue with Nvidia GPUs. They are working with Nvidia on a fix. Identifying and fixing bugs is one of our largest goals. But, yes, if we can’t fix performance during the beta we will address it by launch.
(24 Entertainment did push a patch during the last, extra day of the test that largely solved the stuttering problems, but it did little to improve framerate from what I observed).
Identifying and fixing bugs is one of our largest goals.
Brandon: Speaking of community feedback, opinions on the grappling hook’s auto-aim have been mixed. Where does 24 Entertainment stand on it currently?
Raylan: We wanted to tune it to be beginner friendly. We understand some players will say, “it’s too easy!” But, we wanted a player playing the game for the first time to master the basics of the grappling hook quickly, otherwise they’d spend more time trying to figure it out than having fun.
As you continue to play and get better you’ll begin to realize the grappling hook is used for more than just aiming at your enemy. As players get better they’ll start to use the grappling hook less on other players and more to quickly reposition. There’s more nuance to the grappling hook, but we wanted it to be easy to pick-up and understand for newer players.
For example, if you have Matori [one of the six playable heroes] on your team you can use her invisibility to disable the auto-aim from enemy grappling hooks. There’s even a Souljade [lootable passives] that will grant temporary invisibility after a dodge. While invisible you can’t be grappled, really highlighting the importance of other elements [in Naraka: Bladepoint].
Brandon: Sounds like hero choice and counter-play are intimately tied together. How often do you plan to add new heroes to Naraka?
Raylan: We plan to add heroes every season. Yoto Hime is the hero we plan to add for launch, and we are already working on other heroes. We will be providing new heroes and content very often.
Apart from new heroes, we will add new weapons – like the spear and chainsaw – and other weapons we are currently working on. We’ll also add new modes and new maps in the coming months [after launch].
Brandon: Just to pivot a bit: players have noticed bots while playing, and not everyone has taken kindly to their inclusion. When can players expect bots to disappear from their matches?
Raylan: So the bots are only there for new players. They’re like the grappling hook [auto-aim]. We have this melee combat, parkour movement, looting, Souljades: there’s a lot to take in during your first few matches in Naraka. We don’t want new players to suffer against experienced players as they’re trying to learn the basics. It’s also important to note bots will never fill in as teammates – they will only ever be opponents.
We decided to add bots into low rank matches to help onboard and ease new players into the game. As they climb up in rank they’ll see fewer bots, until eventually they’ll play entirely against other players. Players are seeing more during the beta since not every region is full, so we’ve had to fill lobbies with bots to minimize how often newer players are matched against experienced players.
We noticed this in the first beta: our newer players were getting smashed by more experienced players and were bouncing off the game. They’d die really quickly in every match then leave, meaning there were never enough new players to fill a lobby. It created a vicious cycle, so we implemented bots to give them time to learn how to play Naraka and acclimate before getting owned.
Brandon: Is there an explicit point when players stop seeing bots?
Raylan: It depends on a few things, like performance and your overall rank. Most players should only see them for the first two or three matches. We know more experienced players don’t like how easy bot matches are, but they should only see bots for a few games. They should climb the ranks fairly quickly. The bot issue should also disappear around launch when we have enough new players to play with each other.
The bots are only there for new players
Brandon: How are player numbers in the various regions right now [in the final beta]? Naraka: Bladepoint has exceeded 180-thousand concurrent players according to SteamDB. That’s quite the accomplishment!
Raylan: The numbers in North America and China are doing very well. We just happen to already have a fully English version, which is why North America is currently our second-best region. We believe the other regions will improve once we finish the localization for each. Other markets like Europe and Latin America still have great potential. We’re still finishing the localization for many other languages, such as Spanish and Portuguese, and should have them done by launch.
Actually, we had most of them [the localizations] nearly ready for this beta, but we decided to play it safe and delay them until the official launch date. By that time we should have Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Turkish, and most of the other major languages.
Brandon: To circle back to weapons: I’ve noticed there are more ranged weapons than melee currently. Do you see a lot of people using ranged over melee, or has the balance been evenly split?
Raylan: We see most players rocking either two melee weapons or one melee and one ranged. We haven’t really seen many people with two ranged. A lot of that has to do with how quickly players can close the gap with the grappling hook, so we see most players using ranged to initiate a fight before swapping to melee. If someone grapples to you and you don’t have a melee weapon you tend to get fucked.
Also, two of our seven ranged weapons can only be grabbed from the rare “air drop” vendor, so players really only have access to five across the map. Once we add the chainsaw that’ll bring the number of melee weapons up to the same number of readily available ranged weapons.
Fun fact: when we sat down with some of our top players we learned most rocked double melee, and they turned the [melee] auto-aim we have off. They can pull off some pretty sick moves, like start a charged attack to bait out your counter, only to change the direction of that charged attack to catch you after the parry animation ends. They’ve also pulled cool moves like grappling to an enemy while using a musket, then shooting them in the head as they zipped toward them. So, there’s a lot of uses for all of our weapons.
Brandon: I’d hate to be on the other end of that grapple. The team at 24 Entertainment appears to have taken inspiration from games like Devil May Cry, and the various titles from PlatinumGames. What drove the team to make a melee-focused battle royale?
Raylan: We’ve definitely been influenced by games like Devil May Cry and those by PlatinumGames, and even games like Sekiro. The team loves those games, and we’re very inspired by them. We wanted to make a game that could stand up alongside them.
Actually, some background story: the Lead Producer of Naraka: Bladepoint was the producer for a popular action game franchise in China that’s still going strong after almost 20 years: Meteor Butterfly Sword. You can find some videos of it from 2005 and 2006, when it was the most popular action game in China.
Every computer in every net café had it installed. If you watch those videos you’ll see Naraka inherits a lot from those early [Meteor Butterfly Sword] games. That’s why Naraka has been doing so well in the Chinese market. [The fans] recognize the Meteor Butterfly Sword elements in Naraka: Bladepoint.
Brandon: There’s been a very heated discussion about the business model for Naraka: Bladepoint. You’re launching as a $20 product in a genre that is dominated by free-to-play giants. What drove the choice to go buy-to-play?
Raylan: We know there’s been a lot of talk about our business model for Naraka: Bladepoint, and why we’re not going free-to-play. When you look at all the major free-to-play battle royales on the market – Call of Duty [Warzone], Fortnite, Apex Legends – and even games that weren’t as successful, like Hyperscape, they were all developed by and backed by very famous and very big publishers.
They can afford their titles losing some money. 24 Entertainment is a relatively small studio. If we cannot cover all the development costs of Naraka it’ll likely be the last game we make. We want to be rather conservative with this business-model decision. We want to make sure the studio can survive.
We did a lot of research when deciding on the price for Naraka: Bladepoint. $20 is kinda cheap in the U.S. We also understand players asked for Naraka to be free-to-play because it’s become more common nowadays, and you can play many premium titles for free. But, we have to prioritize our survival as a studio. We believe we’ve found a solid middle-ground and the quality exceeds the price.
We want to be rather conservative with this business-model decision.
Brandon: Naraka does have micro-transactions, such as a premium currency (Gold), and a battle pass. What’s 24 Entertainment’s philosophy there?
Raylan: Our number-one goal is to avoid pay-to-win. Everything you can buy is cosmetic, and everything can be earned by playing the game. We still haven’t nailed down how new heroes can be earned in-game [whether with the in-game currency or through a different method]. We definitely do not want to offer any pay-to-win elements in-game.
We also wanted to respect our players’ time and money. Players can buy the exact cosmetic they want with both the in-game currency, and real money currency. The battle passes will only have cosmetics. There will be free cosmetics tied to weekly objectives. Players can get what they want in a variety of ways.
That’s why we made our heroes as customizable as they are. We really want players to unchain their imaginations and make their favorite heroes their own.
Brandon: I’ve certainly seen how crazy the character editor can get. I’ve seen some . . . creative heroes.
Raylan: Oh yeah? Do you have any favorites?
Brandon: There have been a lot of Shreks.
Raylan: (Laughs) Yes, a lot of Shreks. We’ve also seen a lot of Thanos, Hulk, and Gamora. We really wanted to offer that level of choice and customization to our fans. We want Naraka to be as special to them as it is to us.
Brandon: Yeah, it’s pretty clear the team at 24 Entertainment have poured their hearts into Naraka: Bladepoint. From the art, the gameplay, to all the systems in-game, it doesn’t feel like you’re just trying to jump on the battle royale train. Do you have any parting comments before we wrap up this play test and Q&A?
Raylan: I hope players really enjoy their time with the finished game. Launch is just the start: we plan to support the game with more maps, modes, and content. But, first we have to make sure Naraka: Bladepoint is ready for launch. The team is working very hard to fix the performance issues and the server problems. I don’t foresee those being issues at launch; I’m pretty confident about that.
Brandon: Well, I wish you and the team the best of luck. Thanks for taking the time to play a few rounds with me, and for answering my questions.
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