NetEase has recently revealed its own open-world RPG titled "Project Mugen," At first sight, it would look like one of the many popular free-to-play games coming out of China like Genshin Impact, Honkai: Star Rail, or Tower of Fantasy, but there might be more to it than meets the eye.
To learn more about this game, TechRaptor talked with lead producer Ash Qi at Tokyo Game Show, as we tried to find out what players can expect from the new game, starting from the meaning of its cryptic title.
Qi explained that the title "Project Mugen" represents the expectations the developers themselves have from the game. The meaning of "Mugen" (which means "infinite") reflects the scope of the cities in constant expansion and the limitless possibilities when playing and exploring.
I asked Qi what he feels could make Project Mugen stand out in a market that is becoming fairly crowded, and he mentioned that the foundation for creating this kind of game is the IP, including the story and characters, which have to be attractive enough to draw the attention of passionate fans.
Project Mugen is an urban open-world game, and while there have been other developers who have created similar games before, Qi argues that his game is completely different. It offers a lot of freedom in engaging in battle, daily life, and traversals. For all of these elements, players have a variety of options to choose from.
The game will also portray cities based on its own worldview and actual real-world locations at the same time. They can feel both familiar and unfamiliar since they're based upon real cities, but they involve supernatural elements as well. According to Qi, this is an unprecedented experience in this market.
Interestingly, when asked about the business model that will be used to fund the game, Qi answered that the developers are still focusing on creating the game itself, including the storyline and gameplay. The business model is not a priority at the moment.
In the future, the developers are going to come up with the most suitable business model based on the situation of the market and the game itself, but the most important thing is providing the best experience for the players, and making sure that they feel that playing is worthwhile and rewarding.
Pressed further on the question, Qi confirmed that the business model has not been decided yet, adding that in China, business models are not set in stone and developers are continuously seeking the best options. He believes that if the quality of the game itself isn't good enough, the business model is meaningless, so the game itself is the most important thing.
This made me wonder about the stage of development the game is in, but Qi explained that the fact that the business model has not been finalized is not a good indication of whether the game is in an early or advanced phase of its creation.
If the game is good and attracts many players around the world, then the developers can figure out the best business model. They don't need to follow a predetermined pattern and they're keeping their options flexible.
That being said, the game is not in an early phase of development. Yet, since the team wants to create many different types of experiences for the players to enjoy, they still have a lot of work to do. On top of that, they're developing Project Mugen for multiple platforms, so it'll take quite a while before the game releases.
Project Mugen has been inspired by many things. The city showcased in the first trailer is a miniature combining a few Eastern Asian cities and their culture, and the developers are currently designing more cities. As mentioned above, each is inspired by real cities in the world, and the intention is to showcase their culture as well.
On top of that, the world of the game is inspired by many comics, animation, and even movies. For instance, Qi brought up Men in Black in which human beings coexist with aliens. In the same way, in Project Mugen, humanity coexists with supernatural elements.
The team is also aiming to provide players with freedom and an outlet for their stress, which is similar to the feeling of a game they played when they were young. Combat has been inspired by some of Jackie Chan's movies as players can also use everyday objects as weapons.
Project Mugen will be an ongoing game, and the developers will continue to update it during its lifetime, including the map, which will get new areas and new cities. Cities will be connected with each other and each will include enough elements for gamers to explore and enjoy regardless of their size.
Interestingly, the game is an open world and players will be able to travel from city to city without loading screens or selecting the destination on a map. Project Mugen will have its own way of traveling, albeit Qi was not ready to share what it will be.
While PC, PlayStation, and mobile have been mentioned as platforms for now, the plan is for Project Mugen to be a fully multiplatform game, so Qi mentioned that perhaps more platforms come in the future. I asked explicitly about Xbox as an example, and Qi said it's a possibility, but he didn't make any promises.
Characters are very important for games like Project Mugen, and Qi mentioned that since he's a gamer himself, he tries to channel his own feelings for a character in their design. Since the cast carries the feelings and emotions of the developers, they can spark emotions in the players as well.
For instance, while players may not have specific knowledge of a character's job, they can still connect with their feelings and emotions as human beings.
On top of that, the team doesn't just consider whether a character is attractive, but also their features and personality. For instance, Taffy is a company worker, but she's very lazy and would rather not have to go to work at all. Yet, when it's really important, she is able to focus.
She also rides a motorbike and she can move very fast. Her nature as a lazy worker and her speed combine to make her an interesting character. She's also a troublemaker, which adds to her charm.
Speaking of the player's own character, they have their own storyline and will be able to wear different costumes, although the customization options won't be as deep as you may expect from an MMORPG. The hero will meet the other characters in the cast, and they will act as their companions.
In terms of storytelling, there is a main storyline in which the hero plays the role of an investigator searching for the truth about the world and their identity. There are also many side-missions to enjoy and plenty of environmental storytelling.
Qi explained that Project Mugen's story is basically like a network that is both very wide and deep. As they play the game and explore the world, players may discover that not everything they see is actually as it seems.
If you'd like to read more about NetEase's projects, you can also enjoy our interview about Rusty Rabbit, written by the author of Fate/Zero, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, and Psycho-Pass. It's part of the publisher's strong push into console gaming, which led to hiring many famous developers and launching several studios.