Durango – Interview with Nexon studio on sandbox survival game

Durango was first announced by Nexon in 2014, and was one of the stars at last month’s G-Star convention. Developed by What! Studio, a new team under the mighty Nexon, Durango caught the attention of the South Korean gamers with its uncommon theme and gameplay features. With Nexon aiming to launch Durango worldwide next year, MMO Culture spoke to What! Studio to find out more.


Q: Hi there! Please introduce yourselves to our readers.

A: Hi, I’m Eunseok Yi, Head of What! Studio, and Project Director for Durango. Before Durango, I lead the Vindictus team until 2010 when the game was first launched.

Q: How did the concept behind Durango come about? What inspired the development of the game?

A: Assuming the days of a quest-based or theme park type of MMORPG had already passed, we tried to bring innovation to the genre by making a new type of MMORPG that hadn’t previously existed.

The background and setting of Durango makes the game even more unique – Modern people are warped to the world of dinosaurs, unlike in common fantasy world in MMORPG’s. We had many sources that inspired us, yet the most memorable one was a novel named ‘The Clan of the Cave Bear’ written in a prehistoric Cro-Magnon girl’s point of view.

Q: What genre of game does Durango belong to? A sandbox mobile game?

A: Durango is a completely new type of mobile game, we call it as a ‘Pioneering Open World MMORPG’. Players can join with other MMO players to work their way out in a sandbox type of open world.

Durango screenshot 1

Q: Is there a meaning behind the title, Durango?

A: Durango is a name of the land on which players get to settle in. It is also a name of the city in Mexico and US in real life. It is said that the word “Durango” originated from the Basque word “Urango” meaning “water town”.

Q: I understand developer What! Studio, a team under Nexon, is not only developing Durango, but actually the team behind Vindictus (Mabinogi Heroes). How is work divided between the members?

A: It is true that most of the key members of What! Studio (including the director of the studio) are the devs who created Vindictus, but Vindictus and What! Studio are completely separate studios now. What! Studio is a brand new studio withiin Nexon, dedicated to project Durango.

Q: Please describe to us what happened to players at the beginning of Durango.

A: Players begin the game inside a train, which eventually warps to the world of Durango by an unknown accident. They begin initially learning the game mechanics while getting a glimpse of how people have been warped into the land. Once users complete their mission to build a raft, they can choose either to play with their friends or with other players who took the same raft with the player.

Durango screenshot 2

Q: Why dinosaurs?

A: Swords and magic have just became way too common now. We wanted to find an innovative concept for this game – and in searching we found dinosaurs. Dinosaurs could appeal to a broader audience and it also could be very effective in expressing the primitive vitality of the wild and dangerous land.

Q: Players in Durango will have to gather resources to build equipment. How many of such equipment are there in the game now? And what are some of the more interesting ones?

A: There isn’t a limit to the maximum number of craft-able equipment in the game. Also, individual pieces of equipment can lead to diverse sets of resources and uses according to player choices. For example, you can either create an axe with a metal blade, a wooden stick and rope; or with an animal bone, a sharp stone blade with metal pipe and duct tape. We are trying to build up a flexible crafting system through which the uses can have diverse features according to the resources players have used.

Q: What about food recipes? How many are there for players to discover?

A: Food can have diverse uses just like crafting. They vary according to the ingredients you use – With the ‘Deep-frying’ recipe, for example, you can cook a ‘Crispy & spicy fried Brachio shoulder fillet’ or a ‘Sweet & soggy gigantic fern fritter’.

Q: When do players meet each other and start building fortresses? Is there limited land, or can players build anywhere?

A: Users can freely build up their houses anywhere once they’ve learned certain basic skills that are needed. You can also set your house as private property in order to protect your assets.

Durango screenshot 3

Q: Gathering, hunting, building, crafting, cooking, fishing. What other game features or activities am I missing? How about PVP?

A: Exploring would be one of the biggest pillars in the game. You can also choose to cultivate all the empty lands to get stable sources for living. We’re continuously brainstorming on what we can do in the game – for example, you can also play musical instruments with your friends nearby. It is entirely up to each player’s choice whether to join or confront the other players. PvP would be a clan war through which players can loot other clan’s resources after winning the battle. You don’t need to take part in the battle if you don’t want to.

Q: Is there a level system in Durango? What other game elements are different from traditional RPG games?

A: We do have level and skill systems in Durango. However, it requires player to be more “pioneering,” which is different from existing RPGs. Players do not get pushed by NPCs, which used to be more like quest vending machines, and they make progress and growth through activities such as cultivating empty land and building a village from scratch. It also differentiates from the general mobile RPG games in that it has the real-time and synchronized MMO online field.

Q: Are maps in Durango instanced-based or really a big open world where players will see each other?

A: Durango has a real-time synchronized play system in a seamless open world. Players can check each other in real time within the game. Durango consists of various islands, where players can explore and move together. There is also a large continent, as large as Azeroth in WoW, but it wouldn’t be the main ground of the game otherwise it would be too hardcore in terms of play for the mobile.

We expect it to be a bit more casual through the archipelagos, which are less than one mile in diameter. Those islands are generated and disappear automatically so it would make an infinite and unique variation of islands like in Minecraft.

Durango screenshot 4

Q: Is there such a thing as “end game content” for Durango?

A: The end game content of Durango would be ‘State building’ and ‘Landed property’. The state is more like a loose coalition of tribes, which can assign rights and obligations to the people. It is also not mandatory, so if you are an anarchist or prefer single play, you may enjoy the game on your own as the archipelagos are not physically connected in the game. We also expect various types of cooperation and conflicts over Landed property where players can attain useful resources.

Q: I am very curious, what will be sold in the cash item shop. Any clues?

A: We are still under discussion for details about the business model of the game. But we are considering many different aspects and possible effects so that it would eventually enhance player’s convenience as well as provide some fun elements.

Q: Durango sounds like a really different game we mostly get to play on our smartphones these days. What was the most challenging aspect in developing the game?

A: There were lots of game design innovations which haven’t been tried on mobile gaming. We tried to evaluate again on what we have been taking for granted in online MMORPG, and used them for setting a completely new game system – this was the most challenging part we faced – and, by doing so, we’re able pioneer a new game genre. Since we didn’t have any preceding model to use as a reference, we had to go through tons of prototypes in the development process. The technical parts were also a huge challenge, since we wanted to let lots of players enjoy the open MMO world in real time.

Q: Is there a launch schedule currently? Will Durango be launched simultaneously worldwide?

A: We are focusing on the Limited Beta test in Korea ,which starts on Dec. 9. We hope to update you with more details on the global roll out schedule soon. We’re preparing a global version for players from all over the world to enjoy the game together. Needless to say, we are putting our best efforts forward, especially on language and system localization, in order to make this new type of MMORPG mobile game flawless to global players.

Q: Finally, please leave some words to our readers.

A: We see lots of copycats in the mobile gaming market these days. Unlike those games, we hope to build a unique game that can be serviced for more than 10 years, a game where players can take pride in playing it. We’ve mentioned the game’s genre as a ‘pioneering MMORPG’ with the hope of our team becoming true pioneers as developers, but we also aspire for the players to become true pioneers instead of followers. We are looking forward to meeting the players from all over the world when we begin our global service.