Firefly Studios is known for their Stronghold series of games which made the announcement of their new game Metamorph: Dungeon Creatures a bit of a surprise. Metamorph is a "tactical dungeon crawler" which is a huge change-up from the castle building/destroying action of the Stronghold series.
With this question (and several others) in mind we reached out to Firefly to get the scoop on the game and thankfully we were able to get answers from Nick Tannahill, the Marketing Manager at Firefly Studios.
Getting the obvious question out of the way first, why are you trying a new game/genre instead of another Stronghold game?
Collectively we’ve always wanted to try our hand at the dungeon crawler genre, ever since publisher funding disappeared for our RPG Dungeon Hero a decade ago. Another entry in the Stronghold series is of course on its way, but we were excited about the concept for MetaMorph and wanted to play the game ourselves! So we decided Early Access would be ideal to test the waters and break into a new genre with the help of our community.
How has the Stronghold fanbase reacted to Firefly going in a different direction?
Firefly has been here before! When we released Stronghold Kingdoms that game was completely new to our fan base. For starters it was an MMO, so we were talking about thousands of hours of gameplay and a much slower pace, more grand strategy than RTS. It was also our first free-to-play game, which can be controversial when dealing with a series that people hold dear. Still we managed to find a few thousand people who were excited by the idea of a Stronghold MMO and they helped us develop a game that would go on to be played by millions!
So now the same thing that happened initially for Kingdoms is starting to happen with MetaMorph. We figured out who is interested in the game from our core fan base and have a few thousand wishlists from people following the game in Early Access. Like with Kingdoms we’re hoping to build up from what is in some ways still a beta and find a second set of fans for the game.
Where did the idea for MetaMorph come from? How long has the idea for the game been percolating at the studio?
MetaMorph came from our desire to make a thinking man’s dungeon crawler. We wanted to play a game that rewards planning and strategic decision making as much as your ability to time attacks and dodge. You still do these things in MetaMorph, but having the most effective loadout for a dungeon and morphing at the right times is far more effective. Gauntlet is an obvious inspiration but we wanted to reimagine that style of play in a single player experience, one that gives you all the characters and abilities at once.
You could track the inception of MetaMorph all the way back to Dungeon Hero. The idea with that game was to create a living, breathing dungeon filled with its own inhabitants going about their daily lives. Obviously MetaMorph is an arcade hack and slash affair instead of a sprawling RPG, but there’s still some of that DNA in there and it’s an area we’d like to build on. In 2016 dungeon crawling had been on our minds for 10 years and we were between Stronghold projects, so it was the perfect time.
What is a “Tactical Dungeon Crawler” and how does it differ from a standard dungeon crawler like the Diablo series?
In Diablo while you prepare for encounters by grinding for loot and level ups, you are never really forced to think about what to take into each dungeon beyond equipping your best gear. We love Diablo and it’s still played in the office, but with MetaMorph each dungeon offers a particular set of challenges for which there are effective loadouts and loadouts that will get you killed!
Levels dominated by a particular elemental type, set of traps or boss encounter are naturally easier using a team that can effectively counter these. You can customise the loadout of each hero and, once we add extra heroes, select the most effective team of three to overcome those obstacles. Similarly you can challenge yourself by picking an ineffective team or even running the whole dungeon without morphing!
Why did you decide to go with Early Access?
The action genre is completely new to us, so we thought why not use the community that has been informing our design for 15 years? By going Early Access we’re able to work with these fans directly during development, but also with completely new gamers looking for a cool Early Access game. After years of Stronghold Kingdoms development the team is quite used to the idea of service-based games. We update Kingdoms monthly if not weekly, so the prospect of frequent Early Access updates isn’t particularly scary or new to us.
The EA price is $10 USD- why did you decide to go with such a low price? Do you expect to raise the price one the game exits EA?
MetaMorph is only slightly under the average price for a game in Early Access, which is about $12. We did a bunch of research using our own data, experience, SteamSpy and talking with other independent developers. Eventually we came to the conclusion that $10 is the absolute minimum price for any Steam game, below which it is very hard to be profitable without viral success. There are also a number of reasons $10 made sense to us within the store itself, for user reviews and with other considerations in mind.
For starters $10 isn’t low enough to attract purchases from people who aren’t really interested in the concept. Arguably these are people who might review the game negatively based on this alone, whether you think that’s fair or not. That said the price point is still attractive enough to be an impulse purchase for those who are interested in the pitch of ‘Gauntlet meets Altered Beast’. At this level we can also appear in the “Under $10” section of the Steam home page, assuming the great Steam algorithm deems us worthy!
Like most developers we do expect to raise to price after leaving Early Access, however $10 feels like the right price for the game in its current state and going by user reviews players seem to agree. As for what the price will change to that depends entirely on the amount of content we add between now and launch. It hasn’t been decided yet and won’t be until we feel the game is content complete.
Could you introduce us to the three different heroes and talk about which situation you would want to use each one in?
Our main character is The Rabbit, a dual-wielding lightning fast sword dancer and the only character in the game to lack an elemental type. She’s the one holding it all together, the base form from which all other morphs flow and core to your plan of attack. Her abilities are designed to give you mobility, which can be used to either dodge traps or get into close range before morphing to a higher damage character. As the fastest of the bunch with a wide attacking arc, the Rabbit is great at dealing with smaller groups of enemies without wasting too much mana in the process. She’s a solid choice for hit-and-run attacks, quick escapes or simply when entering new dungeons for the first time.
Next up we have the monstrous Ogre who is essentially your tank. He’s an ice elemental bruiser who can take a lot of hits and, provided you have the mana, clear out groups of enemies with powerful AOE attacks. You switch to the Ogre when you’re cornered or surrounded, mainly for his ability to clear out weaker mobs and push back stronger enemies. If there’s one hero in the game with the ability to crowd control it’s the Ogre as most of his special abilities are built around this function. The Ogre also works as an elemental counter to poison type foes and, if you find yourself setting off a poison trap, you can damage control by quickly switching to him.
When she appears the Nymph is a significant addition to the team as your sole ranged attacker and fire elemental. Something of a glass cannon, the Nymph needs room to manoeuvre and distance before she can start melting nearby threats. Find the space and you can exploit the Nymph’s high damage output and target individual enemies with the Fire Strike. Even her standard fireball attack packs a punch, particularly against ice elementals including one mini-boss coming in a future update. Generally speaking just watch out for tight spaces and always have an escape plan, as her low defence and mobility can and will result in a swift death!
How have the heroes evolved since inception?
Our characters have been through several different iterations since the initial concepts were drawn up in 2016. In cases such as the Rabbit and one upcoming character these were purely cosmetic changes, making the characters look and feel darker to fit the evolving tone of the game.
The Ogre was quite different, originally designed as a timid Hodor-style character with a huge boulder as his primary weapon. The idea was for him to be given mostly defensive powers and lots of health, so still a tank but a far less aggressive one than he is now. This rock was eventually incorporated into the Ogre’s character design in the form of a rock arm, after which he was given the ice element to counterbalance with the Nymph’s fire abilities. His static defensive Rock Form became the rolling version we see in the game today, which gives the character at least one option for getting out of a tight spot.
Looking back the same is true for our fire elemental. Originally named the Dryad, the main thing the Nymph has in common with her previous iteration is the fact that they’re both ranged characters. Equipped with a bow and various tree-related abilities, the Dryad wasn’t a million miles away from being one of Tolkien’s creations! The Nymph had her attacking power boosted and while she remained a spirit of nature this became tied to the fire element. The changing elemental types were brought in mainly to simplify the system so that each element was easy for the player to understand and for our artists to visualise. Some abilities were brought over and repurposed, for instance the Arrow Volley became her fireball Multishot. Others skills involved controlling the movement of enemies and new mechanics, however these would go on to be incorporated into other characters and abilities so nothing went to waste.
What kind of critters will people find in in the bowels of the dungeon? Do you have a favorite dungeon denizen?
One element we tried to bring over from Dungeon Hero was the idea that goblins aren’t actually all that bad! In MetaMorph goblins are recast as dungeon inhabitants captured by demonic forces that have invaded the dungeon. It’s one of our favourite ideas which we’ll hopefully be building on during Early Access.
On the monster side however I’d have to say it’s the bosses. We have multiple ‘Lords of Death’ planned for the game starting with the Butcher, who is the final boss in our current Early Access build. I love the idea that you can have something approaching Guillermo Del Toro levels of grotesque in your monster design and still make something that looks intimidating and cool on a t-shirt! He’s also great fun to play against and the highlight of our demo for those who’ve played MetaMorph at various shows. People tend to come out of the battle a little bit sweaty and sometimes physically shaking, which makes our designer very happy indeed.
We’ve seen Orge’s and Imps before but where did the idea for a warrior rabbit come from?
We wanted the first hero you gain control of to be agile and make the player feel like they always have options. Granted few warrior rabbits jump to mind in the world of videogames outside of Jazz Jackrabbit, Overgrowth and Armello, but we didn’t do it because it was a popular choice. It’s different from typical fantasy tropes and a nice thematic counter to the foul demons invading the dungeon. There’s also something very cool about the cuteness of a rabbit contrasting with plate armour and the fact that’s she’s dual-wielding two massive swords!
Do you have a rough idea of when you expect the game to exit EA?
We have an idea for how many elements, characters, levels and bosses we want in the game at launch, but how long these take to develop is to be seen. Once we’ve added the first series of updates, a new hero and boss we’ll have a clearer idea of how long the next set will likely take. There’s also the question of post-launch content which could happen if the community grows between now and launch. If we had to guess we’d say six months in Early Access, although we could easily spend nine months to a year developing the game before full launch.
Did we miss anything important that you want people to know about MetaMorph?
Check out our Early Access trailer on the Firefly Studios YouTube channel! If you like what you see you can wishlist the game on Steam and join development at any time. We’ll be bringing MetaMorph to a number of events in 2018 to get feedback and spread the word, so keep an eye on our website and social media to find out where you can meet us and play the game.
We would like to thank Nick Tannahill for taking the time to answer our questions.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Hi, my name is Charles Husemann and I've been gaming for longer than I care to admit. For me it's always been about competing and a burning off stress. It started off simply enough with Choplifter and Lode Runner on the Apple //e, then it was the curse of Tank and Yars Revenge on the 2600. The addiction subsided somewhat until I went to college where dramatic decreases in my GPA could be traced to the release of X:Com and Doom. I was a Microsoft Xbox MVP from 2009 to 2014. I currently own stock in Microsoft, AMD, and nVidia.