Children of Morta is a game that I quickly came to love, and I jumped at the opportunity to interview the developers. While our other Children of Morta interview focused on the art, this one instead focuses on gameplay, design, and story. Speaking over email, a team of five people from Dead Mage were kind enough to take time out of their day to respond.
Team Lead Amir Fassihi and Game Designers Javid Najibzadeh and Aryan Bina provided the majority of the answers, with 2D Artists and Animators Arvin Garousi and Soheil Zarghami contributing to the broader questions asked of the whole team.
Diablo with a Dash of RoguelikeWhile Dead Mage's past work has been in various genres, Children of Morta is the first action RPG for this indie studio. One of the first questions I had for this Children of Morta interview was this: What led to them making this decision?
"We have always been big fans of [action RPGs]," said Fassihi. "This does map well with the skills of our team. As an independent studio, we have explored quite a lot in order to find our unique position in game development.
"The previous games have been in different genres but many similarities can be found between them also," he continued. "We have been trying to transfer what we learn from a project to the next one as much as possible."
Citing Diablo and Titan Quest as inspirations, Children of Morta clearly does the genre proud. It also keeps things pretty fresh by blending in roguelite elements with a dash of randomization, much like their other noted inspirations The Binding of Isaac and Rogue Legacy (the latter of which is a particular favorite of mine).
Replay value was also a concern for Dead Mage, and that's one of the reasons why they ensured the levels would be procedurally generated. Najibzadeh told me that it was planned to be in the game right from the start.
The World of the BergsonsThe Bergson family are an interesting clan of fighters, seemingly set apart from the world. I was curious about a lot of things, starting with their family home. Were they on the edge of a town, or were they way out in the wilderness? According to Najibzadeh, they were a ways off from civilization, but not so far that they couldn't head into town if they wanted. That answered another one of my questions, too — when the Bergsons grow up, they're going to have a bit of a walk if they're looking for a date for the weekend.
"The family aspect of the game was important from day one," said Bina and Najibzadeh. "This is a game about a family, their emotions, their love and how they stand together and hack and slash their way to the top of Mount Morta."
That family dynamic was inspired in part by another famous family unit from video games. I had asked, perhaps, if the Belmonts (or even the Mario Bros.) served as inspiration for the Bergson clan. Their answer, instead, was The Last of Us.
"When the idea of a family emerged in the team, it just felt very natural and interesting," Fassihi said. "Different members of a family with different abilities blended the narrative aspect of the game with gameplay very well. Family members have a unique bond and this is where we get a lot of inspiration for the story of the game, this is a story about a family."
Six Different Ways To PlayKey to Children of Morta is the idea that there are six different ways to play — sort of. There are some caveats to the six different Bergsons. Firstly, each Bergson falls into one of three archetypes: heavy brawler, rogue-ish fighter, and ranged combatant. Secondly, you have to unlock the characters as you play through the game, ultimately not getting all six until you're a few hours in.
I asked the Dead Mage team about their favorite and least favorite characters to play. The five devs responded that they liked the rogue and ranged characters the most, while four of the five said that they disliked the heavier characters John and Joey. In fact, three of the developers singled out Joey as their least favorite character, a sentiment I certainly understand—while he does a lot of damage, he is also terribly slow and very unforgiving to play.
"Probably Joey and Mark [are the most challenging characters to play]," said Najibzadeh. "Maybe Mark because he has an [auto-target] feature and Joey since he is a strong but slow character."
The familial ties between the characters are an important part of Children of Morta, as noted by Najibzadeh and Bina.
"Unlike most other action RPG games where you play with one character only, here you need to play with all members," the pair stated. "By upgrading their house, they all have a chance to level up. We have a unique system called Family Traits. This way when a character upgrades a certain skill, other than improving the character itself, other members of the family will also benefit."
Closing Out the Children of Morta Interview — Doggos and Story EventsOne of the many side quests you'll encounter is a wolf cub defending its mortally wounded mother. Succeed in saving the adorable pupper and you'll take it home, only to find that it is gravely ill and in need of medicine. Further side quests allow you to nurse it back to full health and it then spends time hanging around the house with the rest of the family.
I had hoped that this adorable creature would help out in some way—perhaps like the pets in Torchlight? Unfortunately, Najibzadeh told me that that's all the wolf cub will be doing for now. There is some light at the end of the tunnel, though; the team at Dead Mage may find time to tinker with this as post-launch content.
These little side quests will sometimes just give you a bit of story, but they can also have an effect on the game. Aside from the notable example of training Lucy Bergson before she's available as a playable character, you can also rescue several merchants who will provide various services in your runs. Once rescued, these merchants will typically appear on one or two floors right before the stairs down to the next level, and they are often the most reliable way to ensure that you have a sensible build for the upcoming boss fight.
The overarching story, too, advances as you play, but it happens in an altogether different way.
"Some parts of the story have preconditions that need to be met," said Najibzadeh. "Other parts will proceed when the game time progresses."
Strictly speaking, the shrine under their home protects them from death in the dungeons, so "dying" on a run just means that you're stuck back at home to heal up a bit. It's nice to see that even a failed run can see the story moving forward, although some bits will still require you to work at overcoming a serious challenge.
I'd like to thank Amir Fassihi, Arvin Garousi, Soheil Zarghami, Javid Najibzadeh, and Aryan Bina for taking the time to participate in our Children of Morta interview. It's nice to get some insight into the design behind the game, and I'm keen to see what Dead Mage will come up with next.