Taking on a dungeon crawler by your lonesome can be daunting. Will you take the nimble fighter and charge into the fodder, perhaps the hulking tank to stand against large foes, or maybe the marksmen to fight enemies from afar? What if you didn’t have to choose? This is the novel concept that FireFly Studios puts forth in their latest venture. Breaking away from the Stronghold series, the veteran strategy developer is getting ready to charge headlong into Early Access with its character shifting tactical dungeon crawler, MetaMorph.
To survive the denizens of the depths, you’re going to need skill, strength, and more than a little adaptability, but with three heroes under your control and the ability to switch freely between them, MetaMorph offers you more than a few tools to deal with any minion foolish enough to stand against you. In order to make sense of all this split-personality dungeon adventuring, GameWatcher reached out to FireFly to talk about the game. MetaMorph head designer and Firefly Founder, Simon Bradbury, and Marketing Manager, Nick Tannahill were kind enough to answer the call and speak to us about how these various character come into play, what threats await us in the game, and the careful planning going into MetaMorph’s upcoming Early Access run on Steam.
GameWatcher: FireFly is a crew known for various strategy in the past with the Stronghold and Space Colony series whereas MetaMorph is an interesting shift in genre as a dungeon crawler of sorts. What inspired the team to take on this new ground and how did the idea for MetaMorph come up?
Simon Bradbury: We’ve been known for strategy. We’ve been doing it forever, but we’ve always had a desire to do a dungeon game. We tried it once with Dungeon Hero and everything was going good there until the Credit Crunch in Britain hit us in 2009. Since then, we’ve kind of always had an itch to go back to that. We’re always going to be about strategy, but this was an opportunity and felt like a good time to do something in a dungeon crawler vein. We also wanted to make something a little lighter than our regular strategy games, which take a lot of people and effort to create. To that end, we set up FireFly Labs as a means for smaller teams to handle projects like this and move it out on a much shorter cycle than a game like Stronghold. As for the idea, I think we’ve always liked to handle things a little bit differently than the norm for a genre. One of the things we wanted to do with MetaMorph was create something that was very visceral, but strategic at the same time. So to make that happen, we decided that we needed to discard some of the conventions of dungeon-crawlers that came before. We started at asking what it would be like if you could swap character classes during combat. That spawned the idea of morphing into the classes and that direction lead us to consider creatures as options to vary things up even more. These decisions allowed us to pursue a dungeon crawler that’s a little more flexible and tactical than action.
GameWatcher: A large part of MetaMorph is dependent upon shifting between these heroes that can each do different things to excel in various situations. Right now the known heroes are the Rabbit, Ice Ogre, and Fire Nymph. What is the benefit of making use of all these heroes as opposed to favoring one?
Bradbury: There’s multiple angles to this one. You see the Rabbit is where you start. He’s fast, based around speed and jumping, and he’s got a pretty good medium damage output for taking out lots of small enemies, but he can be totally useless against big brutes. So if he goes up against a big guy, the rabbit can swing on them all he wants, but they’re the ones that are going to be doing the damage and he can get overwhelmed in this situation. Meanwhile, the Ice Ogre is a solid tank character. He’s good for defense and has powers based around that. He’s also good at controlling the flow of the battlefield, giving you more time to think, and duking it out one on one with the big boys. That said, he’s also slow and lumbering. In a room with traps or tons of enemies, the Ogre risks setting them off or getting mobbed. I would say that out of all of them, the Fire Nymph is the easiest to handle as our ranged transformation. She’s good at hitting enemies from afar or firing across pits or gaps. You can also use the Ogre to slow the field and then switch to her to kill everything in the space and time you’ve made for yourself. That said, she’s doesn’t have enough rapid firepower to keep everyone at bay all the time, so you won’t just be able to rely on her to mow enemies down if there’s too many of them. They’ve all got very unique playstyles and we wanted players to be incentivized to take advantage of these characters and swap regularly to fit the situation.
GameWatcher: Clearly there are plans to implement new heroes down the line. Can you share a little of what’s coming next for the roster of MetaMorph?
Bradbury: That’s going to be something of a constant discussion as we move into Early Access. At the moment, we wanted more than anything to offer a great and tight vertical slice sampling of what the game can do. I can’t pin down names or full concepts yet, but I can say that next on the board is probably going to be some kind of trap character. They’ll be less about combat damage and more about setting pitfalls for enemies on the battlefield to control and harm the advancing enemies. We’re considering a poison element for that particular character as well to make things interesting, though I certainly can’t say too much more beyond that at this time. It’s mostly an example of how we can open things up down the line. Our goal right now is to take what we’ve got and polish it fully. Then we’re going to start working with a number of ideas we’ve got to see what might do best in the game.
GameWatcher: There’s supposedly some pre-game loadout set-up that goes into prepping for a crawl in MetaMorph as well. What can we do and how does it affect our jump into a level?
Bradbury: The idea is that you’ll have a max of three characters that you can take into the dungeon. When we expand the roster, it will be important to consider who you take and what set-up they’ve got. If you bring the wrong loadout to a situation with particular enemies, it will make things quite a bit more challenging. We plan to eventually have around seven or eight characters to choose from and each character will initially have three powers, only two of which you can take into the dungeon. Down the line you’ll gain more powers and level up the ones you’ve got. Choosing the right power set for the upcoming challenge is really important to your survival. You might find that some powers work really well in some places while others are useless for that particular situation. We’re not really talking about hack n’ slash roguelike or role-playing game styles, but more of a strategic consideration. When you choose to transform characters, the game slows down and allows you to make tactical decisions with the powers you’ve brought with you. It allows you to strategize, consider your next few moves, and then put it all together in a hybrid of aggressive combat and strategy and when you get back to the loading screen, you’ll know better about what to bring to a given situation.
GameWatcher: Take me through a general crawl in MetaMorph. Are these dungeons like arenas or are there various rooms to explore like a maze? What are the enemies like?
Bradbury: They’re much more like arenas. Quite often it can be a single room, but the challenge will always vary. It could have generators or traps, or it could be several rooms connected. If there are any mazes, they will be mazes within a room. MetaMorph really isn’t an exploring game at all. It’s more about facing down whatever immediate challenge is in front of you with this swap-out system. One thing we put a lot of effort into was traps. Because the game is about characters and combat, we went out of our way to add lots of different types of traps to challenge the different characters in different ways. For instance, we have a letterbox slot in the wall that houses a huge sword that will shoot out and across, slicing everything in the path before it disappears into another slot. These traps can chain together to make an even more unique threat to the player. That said, players can also use the various traps to their advantage to deal with hordes of enemies. If you can guide them over particular traps, it can make for massively destructive moments that will just feel great.
GameWatcher: What about the enemies? What can we expect out of our adversaries in MetaMorph?
Bradbury: As for the enemies, we went for a different style of monster. We know the staples like spiders and skeletons and there is fodder of mobs to go through, but we wanted to have as much tactical consideration as possible in this area as well, so we went with new types of monsters that would challenge players thoughtfully as well. For instance, one of our staples in MetaMorph enemies is are Death Heads. You see, Death has invaded the dungeon. It was actually a rather nice place run by goblins, but then Death came in, captured the goblins, and took over. It’s your job to kick Death out. These Death Heads act sort of like guards. There’s normal ones and varieties of different elemental ones like fire and the sort. Essentially, these Death Heads will pose a unique problem. A Fire Death Head is deadly to the Ice Ogre, but he can smash Ice Death Heads to bits. Meanwhile, there are captains, healers, and other varieties of enemies that need a particular type of strategy. If you don’t kill captains, the rest of the fodder will be difficult to kill. All the way healers will sit in the back ranks away from you and take care of your enemies as your trying to kill them. These are just some of the examples you can come across as you continue into the deeper parts of the dungeon.
GameWatcher: Of course in a game like this, it’s all about the rewards to lend a hand to progression. We’ve talked briefly about abilities, but how exactly do our heroes upgrade over time? Is there loot to collect?
Bradbury: Yep. As you go through, you’ll gain gold from enemies. There are also chests along the line that offer upgrades for characters. You might find a chest that upgrades the Rabbit’s attack or hit points and meanwhile, other characters will be able to upgrade their strengths and weaknesses. The rabbit is neutral, but characters like the Ogre and Nymph can power up the strength of their element or lessen their weakness to their opposite alignment. Meanwhile, you can also find upgrades for the powers that level them up into better states. It makes for an interesting system that pushes replay and collection to make your characters stronger as you go.
GameWatcher: You mentioned that a major portion of this game is fighting off Death and trying to kick him out of this dungeon to save the goblins that live there. Does that mean there is an end game to MetaMorph or does it continue to go on as sort of an endless challenge?
Bradbury: There is an endgame, but I’m certainly not going to give it away. We have bosses based around the Deadly Sins that players come across and challenge along the way. In Early Access, players will meet The Butcher. He stands for Gluttony and he’s the first boss monster you’ll encounter. These bosses will pose heavy unique threats and some very well might appear in more than one battle. We wanted to have fun with these encounters and really set them apart from one another, so our plan was to give the bosses lots and lots of powers just like the heroes that they will gain more and more of as you get near their final lair. These will make for some great variety and choreographed experiences to make the player adapt, figure out, and overcome them. Players shouldn’t expect to go in and win it on the first try. We’re kind of known for doing difficult games and though MetaMorph won’t be ridiculously hard, we’re not afraid to let players die as they learn how a boss works and figure out how to defeat them.
GameWatcher: With the game coming to Early Access, you’ve now got a lot of eyes on the game in the Steam Community. How has interaction with the community been? Is there a lot of feedback going into the game?
Nick Tannahill: Despite the fact that we’re launching into Early Access later on this year, we’ve actually seen a lot of good feedback. People have been pretty positive. We were a little worried because obviously we’ve stuck to Stronghold and things like it for years. That said, we have some knowledge of a situation like this. With Stronghold: Kingdoms, it was a little different from what we usually do. We built it up form a core of maybe a few thousand in the FireFly community and now Kingdoms has hundreds of thousands of active players. We certainly hope we can accomplish something similar with MetaMorph, but the initial reaction feels similar to how Kingdoms started out. We’ve got a lot of people that like us as a studio, so we’re sort of catering to them with this new IP. We actually took the game to an event and got to see it in the hands of players for the first time. They seemed to enjoy it and seeing the players smiling was a pretty good feeling. We were a little terrified because we weren’t sure how people would react, but it was really cool to see people liking what they saw. We really hope to build on that feeling, expand this game like we did with Stronghold: Kingdoms and build our core community into a new huge thing for MetaMorph. We’ve also got a solid schedule of updates planned for the game once it finally hits Early Access so we can make sure people are continuing to get more out of it and know that we’re constantly working on it. Hopefully we’ll be able to serve the Early Access players the way they deserve to be served.
GameWatcher: This seems like the kind of game that allows for a lot of addition down the line. Are there distinct goals for MetaMorph in the Early Access process outside characters?
Bradbury: In Early Access, we’ve got a ton of ideas we’re going to do a mix of down the line. We’re going to test things out and see how players like it with constant updates every few weeks. There are plans for new characters, new powers, new enemies, new traps, and more. After that, since it’s a new IP and we’re not entirely sure what to expect, we’ve got a lot in our pool to work with once we figure out where to go. A lot, if not all of it will be free updates to keep players on board as we continue to support the game. Most of it is on paper, but we’re ready to try to build this into something fantastic and scratch that itch we had to break out of our normal style with MetaMorph.
GameWatcher: This game seems like it would lend itself well to some assistance for the particularly hard parts. What are the odds that we might see some level of co-op functionality in MetaMorph later on?
Bradbury: It’s not our focus right now, but we’ve got a lot of experience in multiplayer with Stronghold. I don’t think it would be particularly hard to do. Among all the updates that we have planned, there will probably be some pretty substantial gameplay updates as well. Co-op play isn’t something we can commit to just yet, but it’s not out of the question either.
GameWatcher: What about mod support? With the arrival on Early Access, do you have any plans to allow the community to bring their own creations to MetaMorph?
Bradbury: Interestingly, the way we build levels is through our own map editor. The game uses Unity, but we don’t use Unity to build the levels. We actually created a new editor in there for that cause. So in a way, it’s already set up to allow for user creations. It will depend upon some things whether or not we choose to pursue that, but if MetaMorph can become our next big thing, that would be a great way to continue to expand it and it’s practically already ready to go. Once we see where the game is headed, it will be something we can definitely consider quite easily.
MetaMorph isn’t your average dungeon-crawler or hack n’ slash. FireFly Studios is making a solid jump at the action format and bringing their strong pedigree of tactical gameplay knowledge in to make something truly unique to this genre. As the game approaches Early Access fairly soon, this is going to be an ever-expanding cornucopia of character swapping and enemy stomping that’s sure to excite when it’s finally in our hands.