Deadbreed: the MOBA fuelled by pen-and-paper RPGs and a midlife crisis

By Matt Martin, Monday, 20 January 2014 12:57 GMT

Can any new MOBA stand out in a genre dominated by League of Legends? Stefan Ljungqvist and his team think horror-themed battler Deadbreed has a fighting chance.

“You look yourself in the mirror and ask what you want to do with your life. If a game takes three or more years to make, how many games do you have left before its time to throw in the towel?”

Stefan Ljungqvist and his team are having a bit of a midlife crisis. But this isn’t about buying motorbikes and getting fresh tattoos. This is a midlife crisis that will hopefully result in a fresh take on a MOBA, one that blends fast action and horror with some of the most desirable aspects of a role-playing game.

Deadbreed, from the studio of the same name, is a new spin on the genre, offering tactical three versus three matches but with added character customisation to its heroes, in what Ljungquist calls “a game changer”.

“We wanted to make a MOBA that appealed to the older gamer – a dark and creepy-themed customisation dream,” he told VG247. “This game will appeal to gamers that want to have greater influence on how their character looks but more importantly plays.”

“This was also an opportunity to add some RPG elements to the mix, providing the player with a touch of mystery and exploration in regards to the map design, but maybe more importantly a more player-centric approach to character progression and a greater possibility to adapt and remodel your favorite hero as you process through the game and encounter more challenging opponents.”

“The hero customization factor will be a major strategic and tactical game play element as you’ll figure out what equipment and play styles work best for each of your heroes,” he added. “Should you play him/her as a melee warrior, ranged archer or perhaps a wizard, or are you skillful enough to adapt your hero build during the matches to counter what the enemy team is building?”

Taking customisation to its natural conclusion, Ljungqvist also suggests there may be the possibility of building characters from scratch in the future, “for players that want precise control of their character’s basic stats, abilities and look.”

Another addition to Deadbreed is the introduction of Sentinels, bosses which teams choose to encounter before the game begins and will have a longer-term effect on their heroes should they defeat them.

“An epic end boss fight beats hacking away at stone any day so we’ve developed the concept of Sentinels – massive guardians that your team chooses before the match and if you win – your standing with that particular Sentinel will improve in the metagame, providing bonuses for the next game resulting in a harder end challenge to overcome in order for your enemies to win,” detailed Ljungqvist.

“However should you lose the next game for the same Sentinel, your standing is back to normal again. There is a high level gameplay concept here that we will detail further later – your heroes standing with the Sentinels and their interrelation will have meaning over time.”

In the customisation options it’s clear to see Ljungqvist background in miniature and pen-and-paper roleplaying games, but he also worked on Avalanche Studios’ manic sandbox series Just Cause, so he has good grounding in quality, attention to detail and serving a persistent online audience. He’s backed by a team with similar experience and they all share the same mindset.

“Working on big budget titles with a major publishing partner is exciting, but there’s a difference in the amount of opinions involved and how decisions are made in regards to how the game plays, looks and feels,” he said.

“With a smaller, independent team you are able to make faster decisions and iterate quickly without going through too much bureaucracy impacting the project, as all people making decisions are directly involved in the development of the game. This can also be an advantage for the vocal gamer, as early feedback from the community can impact on the direction we take the game, something that is currently happening with Deadbreed on Steam.”

The Deadbreed team walked away from triple-a development looking for an alternative to the years-long slog of blockbuster game creation, according to Ljungqvist. “I guess for some of us, it’s also part of a midlife crisis – you look yourself in the mirror and ask what you want to do with your life. If a game takes three or more years to make, how many games do you have left before its time to throw in the towel? Change is good and for some of us it was time for a change – time to find a new challenge in life.”

“We all shared the vision of working in a smaller autonomous team, with shorter development cycles and a focuses on making the best game we possibly can. For me personally, I also wanted to get back into a more hands-on role for a change, where I could create, not only lead or direct. And with my background as a pen-and-paper RPG and tabletop miniatures games designer, I really wanted to make a game that focus on well-designed characters and their progression.”

Deadbreed is a forthcoming MOBA in a rapidly growing genre. It’s no longer a market that’s just about League of Legends, there’s competition from Defense of the Ancients 2 and Heroes of Newerth, but also new titles including Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm, the DC Comics spin-off Infinite Crisis, Dawngate from Electronic Arts and whatever the secret MOBA project at Ubisoft may turn out to be. And that’s just in the PC space.

“Our intention isn’t to compete with great and immensely popular games like League of Legends or DOTA2,” offered Ljungqvist. “We can only do our best to make a familiar, yet different player experience and then time and gamers will tell if we will succeed or not. We think there is room for a darker, MOBA-type of game with customisation and hope other gamers agree.

“MOBA has become a genre, and as with first-person shooters, MMOs or other popular genres, there will be a flux in the types of games coming. Some of them will definitely be clones of existing games, but I hope most will try to innovative parts of the experience. Bringing a new angle or feature, or way for the gamer to have a meaningful and fun time playing the game. There will always be room for those games in my opinion. Maybe, they can’t all be blockbusters, but hopefully they can find an audience large enough to sustain further development of the game,” he added.

It’s too early to call Deadbreed’s chances in a genre that may reach saturation point in the next 12 to 24 months, but the team already has the support of the local development community. Avalanche Studios started promoting the game before the Deadbreed team themselves and it’s the kind of game DICE’s general manager Karl Troedsson is happy to share via Twitter. When your peers are helping to support a game in such early stages it’s an encouraging show of faith in the talent behind it.

Deadbreed will be released sometime in 2014. The game is on Steam Greenlight.

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