Examining the current library of games available on PSVR, something becomes quickly apparent to observant gamers. Among the endless wave of shooters, haunted house simulators, and character-based platformers, a gaping hole exists. No one has yet attempted to release an MMORPG on PlayStation VR.
Maybe it’s the intimidation factor; MMOs are notoriously expensive and time-consuming to develop. Perhaps it’s simply the financial uncertainty – several free-to-play strategy and action titles have already folded due to a lack of support from the community. An MMORPG might be a risky proposition. Whatever the reason, no company – big or small – has taken on this daunting challenge. Until now, that is.
Interview With Team 21 Studio – Developers Of PSVR MMORPG Ilysia
Team 21 Takes On The Impossible
Team 21 Studio, a tiny development company owned and operated by the Fogle brothers (Xander and Arthur, assisted with 3D modeling and animation by brother Geoffrey), are attempting to do the impossible. They are developing Ilysia, a fully featured, cross-platform MMORPG. And – supported by a deeply involved and enthusiastic community – it seems like they just may pull it off.
With the three brothers working in tandem from locations all around the United States (along with composer and sound designer Justin Zorbas), Team 21 have been plugging away on the development of Ilysia since 2016. Nearing the finish line, they are finally comfortable pulling back the curtain and sharing details about their creation.
Building The World Of Ilysia
“The world is currently about 12K squared,” says lead developer Xander Fogle, “and it’s going to get bigger over time. This is just the beginning area. It’s an MMO, so we’re obviously planning for expansions, and to continue the storyline. But I think for the start, it’ll be plenty. I’ve been across it many times, and as I was looking at scale, I was looking at “What can I get lost in?”. That’s what I was aiming for. It feels like this would be a perfectly big enough scale for all of the different environments that we’re going to have.”
Considering the scale of Ilysia, Arthur Fogle adds, “One of our goals is that not all of [the world of Ilysia] is used for the story. We wanted as natural a world as possible. So, we made it huge. There are stories in it, little side quests, little points of interest.
“There are also parts of it that are forest, that you’ll be able to hunt in, that you’ll be able to explore. It’s going to feel very lived-in, very much like the world right now does. You know, you go out into nature, and you can tell that none of this was made for you – it’s just there. That’s how we want this world.”
Indeed, the layout of the world – combined with a lot of hidden secrets – is how Team 21 hopes to spark a lot of the social interaction that makes MMORPGs come alive.
“We want this place where you as one player – you’re out hunting, you’re out doing something on your own and all of a sudden you come across this cave,” Arthur explains. “You start going in, its filled with enemies and you can’t get in there by yourself. So, your first thought is, ‘I’m going to go to a Tavern. I’ll see if there’s anybody there that wants to help me explore.’ And that’s how you meet up with people.
“If you don’t already have friends, it’s how hope we get you to go and say, ‘Hey, do you want to come with me and help defeat all this, because I’m not strong enough yet.’ And then that’s someone you’ve met. It’s our way of trying to help make guilds and teams and stuff without forcing it on people.”
Xander clarifies that playing solo is perfectly viable in Ilysia. “You should be able to play solo pretty successfully. I don’t like the idea of forcing people to party up. Something I like about the games I’ve played in the past is the ability to party up when I need to, for dungeons, raids, live events, stuff like that, but not to have to be stuck in a party.”
Ilysia’s Combat – A Work In Progress
Combat seems to be less set in stone than the world design. As with most VR developers, Team 21 Studio are testing a variety of combat options to find what works best for the various controller and system set-ups they must accommodate.
Xander explains, “It’s going to be very physics based. I really like the way that Rec Room handles their combat. I know that it’s not very diverse, but it basically has the beginnings of what could be. It really does feel like you’re hitting stuff and it takes damage.
“There are some things that I like about the Skyrim VR experience, but not everything. I don’t like ‘wiggle’ mechanics. But we’re testing different ideas. Right now, we have two different styles of magic. Currently, we’re going with more of a Skyrim-esque magic system.
“But we also have in the works more of a gesture-based motion casting system. My problem with those is consistency. Will it consistently work, and is it realistic in a PVP situation? That’s the real test for whether combat is good or bad. You can fight a world boss with a janky combat system and that’s fine, but one-on-one is different. If magic is getting bogged down, or your spells aren’t firing off, that’s going to be an issue.”
Combining that combat system with player movement in an open world also presents a unique set of challenges.
Ilysia’s Movement System Will Allow Player Choice
“3D Rudder has reached out to us, and that’s official now,” Xander says. “We are going to be implementing 3D Rudder controls. We’re also implementing PlayStation Move Controller motion controls, and movement options for joysticks. What we’re really aiming for is full motion, but there is going to be an option to teleport.
“PVP is a big concern for us. Teleporting is pretty hacky when it comes to any game. If you play any multi-player game that combines teleporting and full movement, you can see pretty quickly how easy it is to break the game. Because of that, we’re probably going to keep it so that if players are using teleport, they will be in a separate teleport-only PVP server. Full motion players would have their own servers.
“For a time, I was considering having teleport and full motion players on completely different servers [all the time], but that would segment the player base and nobody wants that. I also considered not having teleport in the game at all, but that would be excluding a lot of people.”
When in doubt, the team ultimately leans on the extensive community that has organically gathered around Team 21 Studio, cheering them on and offering ideas.
“A lot of what we do is go to our Discord server,” Arthur explains. “We have groups in there for Quest, PC VR and PSVR. So, we just ask them ‘What kind of movement do you guys want?’ And for PSVR we hear teleport – a lot. So, if teleporting is best for PSVR, we have to figure it out – some kind of work around for that so it makes sense. Maybe you can’t teleport as fast. Because for whatever reason, Sony didn’t put a joystick on their controller.
“We have a lot of PSVR people who say ‘Hey, give us a crossbow in Ilysia, support that.’ And they would have joystick movement with a crossbow. That’s cool, but what happens when you want to be a magic user, or you want to climb something? It’s going to require a lot more testing.”
Ilysia’s Gameplay Trailer Is On The Way
The brothers are hoping that a lot of these questions will be answered by their upcoming gameplay trailer, which they are hard at work on. Thus far, their trailers have shown off the world of Ilysia, but not much else. While the art style of Ilysia has garnered a lot of support (they settled on a WoW-like hand-painted style when they realized that creating more realistic graphics would limit the scale of their world), players are now looking for more information.
“We’re working on the gameplay trailer now,” Arthur says. “We want to be able to show bodies moving around. Hopefully they don’t look too goofy because full-body IK can look weird sometimes. We’re trying to aim for the best, but at the same time, [Ilysia] is still in alpha. If it looks a little janky, that’s fine. As long as it shows people the progress we have been making.
“Reddit has been adamant. ‘Hey, this is cool, but you guys aren’t showing us anything. We need to see proof, other than screenshots and videos of landscapes.’
“And I get it. I’m a gamer too. I don’t want to just see landscape stuff. I want to know more about the game.”
In that light, Team 21 shared some of the features that are being considered for the game. Hunting, farming, mining, crafting and fishing are all mentioned as eventual additions. But don’t expect all of those features immediately, Arthur warns. The team is small, and “we’re careful about what is going into the game. We’re not going to add anything to the game that is going to be horribly received. We definitely want a good experience for everyone. We want to be able to log in on a Friday night and play with everybody for a handful of hours.”
Indeed, this desire to actually play the game with friends and fans seems to be one of the driving forces behind Team 21. Their excitement for the project is infectious.
“Especially on our Discord, we’re just always like, ‘We can’t wait to be in here with you guys’. People are like, ‘Oh, I can’t wait for this game to come out’. We’re like, ‘Dude, same.’ We cannot wait to be playing this game,” Arthur says.
But Team 21 is not rushing to reach an arbitrary release date. They would much rather get the game right than rush it out the door.
“We’ve had people ask, ‘Are you guys dead set on Spring 2020?’ And we’ve gotten to the point where we’re like ‘Well, we don’t really care anymore’. If we miss it by a few months because we’re not where we want to be, we’d rather bring out a product that we’re happy with.’ That’s not to say that people won’t already be alpha testing and beta testing, it just means that if we’re not comfortable launching that month, we’ll push it off to the next month or the next month after.”
“We’d rather be open and honest. That’s how we’ve been with our Discord server. We don’t hide anything because we don’t want any sort of speculation.”
Team 21 Builds A Supportive And Enthusiastic Community
It is clear that Team 21 relies on the community on their Discord server for more than just support. The community is actively involved in the development of the game – and it is growing every day. Our Discord server is awesome,” Arthur says.
“And many of them are kids. The oldest admin is 21, the others are 15 and 17. Good God, they have just been amazing. As soon as something needs to be fixed, they’re on it. People come in and talk about how healthy the community is, how people help each other and talk to each other. It’s very cool.
“I want to stress how awesome the entire community is, especially our mods. We started the Discord in October, and every day we’ve had five or six people join. It’s just steady now, and it’s cool, but it’s also terrifying. Xander and I joke, ‘This is awesome. How are we doing to screw this up?’”
Team 21 – Building PSVR’s First MMORPG Through Perseverance and Positivity
Luckily, they have a lot of experience. The Fogle brothers have been making games together since childhood. They have released several mobile games, and a few early VR titles on Steam. They credit their father for sparking their interest in coding and 3D modeling.
“We started in 1997,” Arthur says. “We were in First Robot – a big robotics league that’s all over the country in high schools and middle schools. Our dad put us on the spirit team, which meant you didn’t build a robot, but you had to do all the stuff that cheered everybody up. [From there], we got into computer graphics and 3-D modeling.
“Dad had a cracked version of 3D Studio Max 98, and we learned how to 3D model on that. And ever since then, we’ve always been modeling stuff. We boys tried to make it a thing. We tried doing little short films and stuff. I was interested in coding first and then Xander started getting interested as well.”
It is clear in talking to the Fogles that their father was a major influence on them. When he passed away in 2018, they very nearly abandoned their efforts. The sudden formation of their devoted community, and the enthusiasm of committed gaming fans eventually got them pushing forward again.
“There was a point, especially after dad passed away last year, we hit the point where we didn’t really want it,” say Arthur Fogle. “We were basically done. And then some people heard about it and they started talking to us about it. Okay, cool.
“I just randomly posted on Reddit and everybody was loving it, and then we started the group chat. I don’t know. It makes me feel amazing. It feels amazing.”
Ilysia is currently under development for PSVR, Oculus Quest, and PC VR systems. An ongoing Patreon for Team 21 Studio and Ilysia can be found here.