The dev team shares the exciting challenges in bringing the first cross-platform VR MMO.
The wait is finally over, and we welcome you all to join us on an action-filled adventure in the expansive and beautifully stylized fantasy open world of Zenith: The Last City, the first full-scale MMO for VR, launching on January 27 for PlayStation VR.
Combat – Designing a visceral combat system
All of the classes in Zenith can be played as the roles of DPS, tank, and support. However, we still wanted them to have unique play styles that leverage the extra physicality that VR affords. This was especially important since, unlike traditional MMOs, we also have more intelligent AI for players to contend with that can actively dodge or block attacks.
For our two launch classes, we chose Blade Master, a dual sword-wielding warrior designed for visceral close-quarters gameplay, and a mid-ranged magic-wielding Essence Mage that can cast spells and channel bolts of energy through their launchers.
Combat for Blade Master is primarily focused on physically swinging swords to attack with powerful strikes and performing combos of swings to trigger abilities. Getting into a rhythm, carefully timing attacks, parries, and dashing to dodge will be vital to mastering this class.
Essence Mage combat is range-focused, with players having a variety of spells at their disposal ranging from hand-thrown fireballs to AoE spells initiated through simple hand gestures. To complement casting, Essence Mages are also equipped with a pair of essence channeling projectile launchers and a teleport ability to help them maintain safe positioning.
Traversal – Movement reimagined
Zenith has always been intended to be an open-world that’s a step beyond anything currently available in VR, so one of our earliest goals was to create a custom suite of traversal mechanics to bring that lofty dream to life.
Players can climb almost any surface in Zenith, allowing levels of freedom not usually seen in classic MMOs. From climbing small trees to pick fruit to scaling a mountain just to take in the view it’s truly up to you, and to aid your safe descent; we’ve created an incredibly immersive gliding mechanic.
Simply take to the air by stretching out your arms and walking or jumping from an elevated position, and control your flight with a gentle tilt of your wrists.
Combined with our motion-based swimming, these mechanics helped us provide a deep layer of immersion freedom.
Crafting – Cooking delicious dishes in VR
As with our approach to combat and traversal, we wanted to provide a tactile VR-centric experience for our first life skill and we found cooking was the perfect fit, providing the fun mini-game-styled physical interactions we were looking for, and a new skill tree and recipes for players to unlock.
Each recipe requires its own set of cooking steps and physical prep, ranging from simmering ingredients to just the right temperature, chopping up veggies or flipping patties to keep them from burning, and while the cooking itself is fun, the dishes produced also provide a variety of benefits in the form of timed buffs like faster healing and increased stamina. So, keeping well fed when adventuring can be an essential element of success.
Content – Two designers, one massive world
Filling a game with content can be challenging at the best of times, but these challenges only increase with a small team and a game as expansive as an MMO like Zenith.
To ensure our tiny team of just two designers could implement the content needed for an engaging game world and ensure consistency throughout, we needed to work smart by leveraging a multilayered approach.
We started by defining the core content features that we wanted to include, such as mobs, quests, public events, and collectibles, and determined which features could also be used as repeatable content, then prioritized features based on how critical we considered them to be to the overall gameplay experience.
With these defined, we then implement features one by one across all of the zones, often starting at either end of the world and meeting in the middle to increase efficiency. By working in this way, we could quickly add broad passes of content, test each new feature as we layered them in, and ensured that we had a viable playable game throughout development.
Post-launch – Exciting plans for the future
It’s important to state that the launch of Zenith is just the beginning; we have lots of exciting new additions and updates planned that we’ll be rolling out over the coming weeks, months, and even years. We also pride ourselves on our community engagement and will be continuing to make quality-of-life improvements and refinements based on our players’ feedback.