Xbox Live policy slows 360 KUFII release

Developer blows open MMO sequel.

MMO Kingdom Under Fire II works on Xbox 360 but still won't be released until - at the earliest - Christmas 2011, Eurogamer can reveal.

Why? The same reason Champions Online struggled on console: the closed Xbox Live platform.

"Our initial plan was we wanted to develop the console version first - the Xbox 360 version," KUFII game director Sang Youn-Lee told us. "We actually have completed the system, but because of the policy, we felt that if we kept developing [it] the PC version would have come out too late."

However, co-developer Blueside CEO Sejung Kim offered reassurance: "We have developed the Kingdom Under Fire series on Xbox 360 and we have a fanbase there. It's very difficult not to develop a version of KUFII on Xbox 360. That's why Microsoft wants to have Kingdom Under Fire II.

"The problem is very strict [policy], and it's not easy to change it.

"That's why we are still discussing our billing policy," she added, "and we're asking for some changes from Microsoft."

Kim's comments echo what former Champions Online producer Craig Zinkievich told Eurogamer last October, that "the business part of bringing MMOs to consoles has been really sticky". Cryptic finally gave up on its working console version of Champions Online in March this year.

The problem isn't isolated; even Square Enix - the only company to bring an MMO successfully to Xbox 360 in Final Fantasy XI - has hit a Microsoft policy roadbloack with Final Fantasy XIV Online. It's "because 360 has its own policy with Xbox Live that is different from [the] internet", producer Hiromichi Tanaka said.

Kim told us the KUFII engine was finished and we could see a demo of the Xbox 360 version running "next spring" if we could get ourselves out to Korea. "Although we haven't set a publishing model for Xbox 360 yet we have already developed Xbox 360 basic, so development has already been started and it will be finished as of next year."

Not to be confused with Man on Fire.

In Korea the PC version will launch before the console game, but in Europe they're likely to appear together. Mind you, a publisher hasn't come forward for either territory yet. "We are discussing some publishers today and maybe at the end of this year the publishers will be set - for European territories, too," Sejung Kim said.

When Kingdom Under Fire II does eventually launch, Korea will play first. There's also a closed beta planned for Korea this winter, and an open beta to follow in summer 2011.

Once promised for the end of 2009, Kingdom Under Fire II - co-developed by studios Blueside and Phantagram - represents Blueside's most expensive project to date. Apparently the budget is over $20 million "already".

In Kingdom Under Fire II you begin as a mercenary hero that, through battles, gains power and takes on troops of his or her own. Who you can recruit depends on the fantasy class of your hero. There will be four classes at Asian launch and six available by the time the game appears in Europe.

You'll be able to power-up and equip both yourself and your troops, earning items and loot on the battlefield for future skirmishes. Any units killed will be resurrected at the end of a battle. "It would be too stressful for players if they're dying after one battle," Sang Youn-Lee reasoned, with the caveat that toops' levels will decrease as punishment.

There will be an initial level cap of 50, although there are plans to raise that through add-ons. With levels come more troops and more strategical options, plus titles such as General - if you get that far.

Youn-Lee outlined the two paths you can take: "The first one is you can level up and expand your troops, and then when you have enough you can form a guild and as the guild gets bigger you can form a nation, and ultimately you can become king of the continent.

"But if you don't want that, without guild or nation, you can fight as a mercenary and be an infamous warrior - a leader of infantry."

Kingdom Under Fire II is an MMO. You cannot play offline. But there will be "lots" of solo missions based around character's stories that you "have" to play alone.

And when you do need to team up there will be "two big ways" to interact with friends, Sang Youn-Lee explained. "The first is roaming around in a town or wilderness and you can interact with other players or chat with them or form a community and trade items.

"On the other hand, you can interact with other players through battles such as co-op PVP or PVE. There are other modes as well."

Sounds a lot like a persistent multiplayer version of KOEI's Bladestorm: The Hundred Years' War - and that's no coincidence. "One of our members visited KOEI and they told us they make lots of references to Kingdom Under Fire: Crusader when they made Bladestorm," Sejung Kim revealed. "You know, Kingdom Under Fire Crusader came much earlier than Bladestorm.

"But actually, ha ha, we are going to copy KOEI games because they make the Dynasty Warriors series. But as you know, Kingdom Under Fire has more RTS elements than Dynasty Warriors and that makes it quite different. And even though Kingdom Under Fire II has more action elements and is more simplified than Kingdom Under Fire: Crusaders, it still has many RTS elements."

Kingdom Under Fire II also has pretty graphics and ladies with bouncing boobs who wear little more than metal bikinis.

"We just want to satisfy the fans and make the hero look good," said Youn-Lee when challenged about his scantily clad women. "As long as it looks good we're happy with that.

"Although they're wearing metal bikinis they're actually sorceresses, so magic can cover them up and protect them," he quickly added. "There will be additional female characters that haven't been revealed yet and they're warriors and they'll be full armoured and they're not just going to be in bikinis."

Not to be confused with Reign of Fire, either.

Kingdom Under Fire stretches much further back than the 5/10 Circle of Doom RPG spin-off from 2008. Youn-Lee wasn't actually a part of that project, but gave credit to the team for trying a different genre - even if he was "disappointed" with the "very low" overall quality.

The Kingdom Under Fire series began in 2000 as "a kind of Korean version of StarCraft", Youn-Lee recalled. Eurogamer scored the original 6/10. Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders crashed onto Xbox in 2004 and marked a dramatic graphical overhaul for the series. Eurogamer didn't review it, but we did heap an 8/10 on prequel Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes, which came out in 2005. After that, Youn-Lee departed to make Ninety-Nine Nights - one of the first games on Xbox 360. And what a challenge that turned out to be.

"Ninety-Nine Nights was actually very tough for me to develop because the game first came out in Japan in March 2006 - but I actually received a development kit from Microsoft in September 2005," Youn-Lee revealed. "I didn't have much time to develop.

"In terms of hardware and what it can do - I am very impressed with it and think Xbox 360, graphically, is better than PS3."

And what about PS3? Why isn't Sony's console, with a typically more open online service, being considered for Kingdom Under Fire II? Youn-Lee and Sejung Kim wouldn't say, but an extra console version would go some way to explaining the elongated development.

Can Kingdom Under Fire II succeed where up until now no company except Square Enix with Final Fantasy XI has managed: to release and sustain an MMO on console?

"When this game comes out it will be a big sensation in the gaming industry and I hope there will be a lot of players," Youn-Lee declared.

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