Children of Morta preview: family matters

Role-playing games are party-focused a lot of the time – even in a roguelike (or roguelite, as we’re dealing with here), there’s often an emphasis on assembling a team, bringing together disparate personalities, and co-operating to achieve a common goal.

In Children of Morta’s case, your team’s already been decided thanks to the miracle of genetics. Taking control of a family of guardians known as the Bergsons, players are tasked with furthering this less-than-nuclear family’s role as protectors of the lands of Mount Morta.

There’s far more to Children of Morta’s story than a family serving as fantastical security guards, however: a corruption is spreading and has taken over the family’s lands. As such, each of the six members has to head out there and fight back against the corruption – while balancing the emotional pillars of familial ties.

An uphill struggle against impossible odds, all while trying to keep dad happy? Why yes, this does sound exactly like Christmas dinner last year. Zing.

Developed by Dead Mage Inc, Children of Morta raised some £86k on Kickstarter an age ago (well, 2015) and is finally on the cusp of release. “The development process has had a lot of ups and downs and challenges,” explains team lead, Amir Fassihi.

“Obviously, it’s hard to keep focus over such a long time and be motivated and not to feel burnt out. On the other hand, first we got great positive feedback from Kickstarter backers, then another wave of positive support from gamers on shows like PAX West and East, then fantastically positive previews from media. That kept us going, as we knew we were doing it the right way.“

From the very beginning, Morta has been designed with mechanics at its core, but also with the story’s emotional aspect very much front and centre too.

“Our main challenge has been to create a believable family in a fantastical setting,” Fassihi says. “As the story unveils, you learn more and more about the family members, the relationships between them, and the bonds that keep them together. While fighting in the dungeons, you develop not only your chosen characters, but also skills for all of them.

The focus is more on the action side of things, but never forget you’ve got a story-led RPG here.

“Of course, game narrative events, animations, the game narrator, the music – all the details have been created to serve this purpose,” he continues. “Yet, I think most importantly, it’s the story and mechanics that allow you to feel like you’re playing a family. So the fantastic setting just helps it, as they’re fighting monsters to oppose the evil and that strengthens the bonds between the Bergsons.”

In terms of action, Children of Morta presents players with a series of procedurally generated dungeons to work their way through on their way battling to the top of a mountain. “One benefit of procedural levels,” Fassihi explains, “is that there will be variety every time for the gamer, and dungeon crawling will be always fresh.

“A challenge for creating procedural levels is maintaining the proper balance. With Children of Morta being a roguelite, we think once you go back to caverns or to the desert, you should be discovering new locations every time. As such, we just had to use procedural generation.”

It’s been four years since Kickstarter funded the game, and about a year longer since the very first ideas for Children of Morta were written down. Those first drafts nailed down the odd point, but as Fassihi says, “the real work started in 2015.”

The Bergsons: protectors of the lands and a family that actually gets on quite well.

Starting with a small group, Dead Mage has grown as the project has progressed, resulting in a team of four people on the technical team, three working on both design and programming, two focusing on design and narrative, four folks in the art wing, and another two handling sound design and music. A modest success on Kickstarter has led to a 15-person studio finishing off this ambitious game, with no small amount of help from publisher 11 Bit Studios’ QA team.

But special mention really does have to go to the animations, created in a glorious pixel art style. It’s not something we often recommend, but move your eyes away from this page just long enough to look up some of the GIFs and videos posted by the team. It’s worth it. Your eyes will thank you.

But do make sure to return here afterwards, of course. “Our artists have spent a lot of time animating the characters and environmental objects pixel by pixel,” Fassihi says. “It has been a big challenge.

“There’s been a few people working on the animations for a few years – among other tasks, of course – polishing them, improving them, changing them. Since it’s frame-by-frame work and there are many scenes in the game – not limited to the fight animations of just people but also of the numerous enemies of various shapes and forms – it’s been a monstrous task. The team has made fantastic work.”

Genre: Action-RPG
Format: PC / PS4 / Switch
Developer: Dead Mage Inc
Publisher: 11 Bit Studios
Release: Summer 2019

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