Fractured Space: How Edge Case Games designed an accidental MOBA

Fractured Space is an odd beast, a MOBA where players control hulking space ships, with C-beams glittering in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate.

The team at Edge Case Games are clearly in love with the genre, forming out of the ashes of Born Ready Games’ Strike Suit Zero, when many of the staff members working on that game decided that instead of creating giant ships for the player to destroy, they wanted to hand players the keys and turn them loose.

That’s the superhero origin story of Edge Case Games, and we spoke to Jim Mummery, the studio’s chief creative officer, and the outfit’s community team, to get a real sense of what it’s like to be working on an emerging esport. Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll see several features centered on Edge Case Games and Fractured Space. We’ll link later pieces under this paragraph, as they’re posted online. 

Firstly, we talk origins, and making a Moba by accident.

“We always wanted to make a space game,” said Mummery, of working on Strike Suit Zero. “Nobody was making them at the time, and as we were making the game, Elite appeared, Star Citizen appears and, really, all this stuff started appearing, so we felt at that point we were hitting something, we weren’t the only ones that wanted to make a space game anymore.”

“But while we were making Strike Suit Zero, we were making these massive ships for the player to destroy, and we were intending to take it further and add some DLC where you could fly these huge capital ships. It didn’t work out, but the idea was born there: something that would allow players to pilot these massive, kilometer-long ships.”

The team spent a long time thinking about these capital ships: how they would be armed, how they handled, how they looked and even how they would explode. As a result, the team were hungry to create the game. As Strike Suit Zero wrapped up, a lot of people in the office were spending time playing World of Tanks and League of Legends, including the studio’s CEO James Brooksby.

This was important, because later James floated the idea: “Hey, how about some sort of World of Tanks in space? Something kind of team-based?”

“It started out simple, as a kernel of an idea.” Mummery said, moving his arms about enthusiastically as he talks. “Then we drilled down into, well if you’re in charge of the capital ship it would have multiple systems. It would be able to do multiple things, it wouldn’t just fire one gun. It kind of developed into this direction where you ultimately have teams, a couple of ships battling it out, but we were moving from a single player game where you can just respawn, into a quite automatically complex 3D multiple system, capital ship arena-based thing.”

This made the game more complex than most MOBA titles already available, notable when MOBA games are already fit to bursting with mechanical depth. Recognising that it would take some work to get to grips with, the team shed the idea of a single life deathmatch, reasoning that many players would struggle to get to grips with their ships straight away, and would need a few do-overs before they felt comfortable, especially while flying in a 3D space.

“We wanted to make sure people had a chance to get into the game, even within the context of the game. So we wanted to go respawn, and as soon as you do respawn with complex systems, you need ways to ensure turnaround, you need to ensure continuity of play, and you need ways ensuring momentum through the game. So we started looking at League of Legends, Dota, and how they did it, because historically those games had encountered and dealt with problems that we’d never faced in Strike Suit Zero.”

As a result, the team started to look at things like laning and progression. Several MOBA elements hit the cutting room floor: “Because we were already starting from a relatively complex point of view with space, 3D, multiple systems, capital ships,” said Mummery. “We didn’t want to do shops, we didn’t want to do minions, we didn’t want to overcomplicate anything beyond capital ships wailing on each other.”

“We didn’t want to do shops, we didn’t want to do minions, we didn’t want to overcomplicate anything beyond capital ships wailing on each other.”

However, that meant the team had to look at how you can alter the momentum of the lane without minions, encouraging players to pull and push lanes, giving them reasons to leave or fight in their lanes. This led to the introduction of several objectives, mines, resource capturing, upgrades.

All of these exist, according to Mummery, “purely to create a situation where a team has to pull back, even if they’re on a strong offensive, so the other team can push forwards.”

Despite taking notes on a variety of different online multiplayer games, Edge Case Games found that many of the problems they experienced were unique to the sci-fi world they were creating. One compelling issue was how to create tactically important areas in space, with geometry in space meaning that for any choke points you try to create, players can just go above or below it.

The answer is to let players warp-jump to different sectors, something that admittedly ticked a lot of boxes for the science-fiction obsessed team.

“We decided to use separate areas of space to create a structure to the map that otherwise wouldn’t exist, so that gave us sectors, which gave us jumping between sectors, which is cool. It is something that you see in sci-fi, it’s what Battlestar does, Star Trek does, and we wanted to introduce that as a core gameplay mechanic.”

“Suddenly, maps existed in different locations that you could move between, and the concept of 3D movement in space, was something no one had really done before.”

“It was time to start making the thing, as soon as we worked that out.  The first thing we did straight after Strike Suit Zero is, myself and James Gilby, a game programmer, went off and started to work on the prototype, and dragged in a few other people, and started creating a playable prototype that … well, we dragged people from all sorts of companies, from Lionhead and EA, and all over the place to play our prototype and tell us what they thought.”

The team ditched a few features based on the feedback they received – they’d originally wanted to go full 3D, as they had in Strike Suit Zero, but our team couldn’t handle capital ships in 3D fighting with multiple systems, it was just trying to get your turrets to line up to something at a weird angle, underneath you when fly inverted, it was too much. So we simplified the control scheme down to the submarine style that we shipped with, and still have today.”

The most surprised thing for Mummery was how quickly they managed to get everything to come together, with the game releasing onto early access within four to five months of starting work on the project.

The team had accidentally created a MOBA, albeit one with a hard science fiction bent that saw players engaging warp engines and jumping from place to place for space-faring smackdowns instead of farming creeps.

In the next part, we’ll talk to Mummery and Edge Case Games’ community team about how they encouraged a community to form around a MOBA created by a team based in a modest two level office in the shadow of Guildford train station, over the monolithic presence of Riot, Blizzard and Valve, and the near unlimited money those companies can direct at marketing.

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