Jeonghee Jin & Jaehee Kim On Black Desert Online’s Land Of The Morning Light

Since it first released in 2014, the MMORPG Black Desert Online has grown exponentially in scope and content, adding a host of new classes, areas, and experiences for players to enjoy. The game comes from developer Pearl Abyss, which has plans for multiple other adventure titles in the pipeline like DokeV and Crimson Desert. Although the title has received many substantial additions over the years, Black Desert Online‘s latest expansion Land of the Morning Light is one of the most unique to hit the game yet.

Land of the Morning Light brings an entirely new region to Black Desert Online inspired by Korean folklore and the Joseon Dynasty. The expansion draws from real-life locales and history to deliver a more narrative-focused experience, with eight different stories told across 15 chapters. These all center around the game’s new bosses, which replace the typical monster zones in Land of the Morning Light. Each is an amalgam of traditional Korean stories weaved together, and players can take them on outside the story as well with the new competitive Boss Blitz mode.

Related: Black Desert Online Land Of The Morning Light Preview: In-Depth Korean Folklore

Screen Rant conducted a sit-down interview with Pearl Abyss America CEO Jeonghee Jin and an email interview with Executive Producer of Black Desert Online Jaehee Kim to discuss the inspirations behind the new expansion, the challenges that come with such an intricate addition, and what they’re most excited for players to discover in Land of the Morning Light.

Jeonghee Jin On Land Of The Morning Light

Black Desert LOTML expansion screenshot showing a group of people out in nature surrounded by stone structures.

Screen Rant: First I would love to hear a little bit about the collaboration process. They mentioned in the demo that you guys worked with over 20 Korean institutions for historical accuracy and that kind of thing.

Jeonghee Jin: Yeah, we’ve been working with a lot of different organizations just to be able to recreate this very Korean content in the best version, so we can really represent them in game. And we wanted to make sure we just don’t rely on what we know and what we remember; we wanted to make sure the experts also confirmed that, “Oh, this is really the best representation of what they know.” Actually, I believe it kind of started with our new title DokeV, because one of our upcoming titles DokeV is also actually inspired by one of the Korean folk tales.

While we were working on that title, we started working with these organizations to talk about some stuff, and then we got this idea: we really wanted to also bring a little more Korean stuff into Black Desert and wanted to work with them closely just to make sure we get this right. We’re not really doing something that’s just like a little Korean, so I think the collaboration has been very helpful. They not only also gave us a lot of insights and information on how we should do things, but also they helped us a lot with how to communicate about this, like in the marketing and PR space.

For example, you know, the Korean Tourism Organization, they were actually very excited to work with us because we show a lot of beautiful Korean landscape in this new Land of the Morning Light region. They loved it. You probably saw in the trailer that we show the actual Korean landscape and spots, the places in-game that we actually created resembling those, and they actually really wanted to promote Korea through this Land of the Morning Light region in Black Desert. We had a big pop-up store in Seoul, Korea. That was actually the Korean Tourism Organization’s event space; they own this big space where they usually just show off Korean culture, or sometimes they did events for K-pop, kind of cultural events too, and they had us use all that space just to promote Land of the Morning Light. In a way, it also promotes Korea as a tourist destination.

I think Korea as a country is also getting a lot of spotlight these days as a culture or content hub, like a lot of K-pop fans and K-drama movie fans are actually trying to visit Korea these days. So I think the timing was also right for this type of collaboration. We started with some ideation on how we can represent Korea in a proper and vast way in-game, and then we ended up working a lot on marketing campaigns. We also worked on a music video, where a Korean traditional singer sings a song in The Land of Morning Light backgrounds. I think it actually really ended up nicely working with these people on a lot of fun ideas.

In the presentation, I noticed there was a lot of talk of sort of pivots or moving away from certain things, whether it’s moving into more of a narrative focus or nonlinear storytelling, or even just how now the cutscenes transition into combat. Can you talk a little bit about those goals that you guys set for this new expansion and what prompted them?

Jeonghee Jin: I think we’ve been really focused on trying to create something new all the time, I think that’s something we’ve been really trying hard for the last couple of years; some of the examples are The Eternal Winter expansion and Abyss One: Magnus. We’ve been trying to introduce more new features or something we can build that works better for the players, and for this Land of the Morning Light expansion we really wanted to try new things again. And some players have always asked us, “Hey, can you just make the storyline a little more interesting? I think you guys already have great stories in the background, but it doesn’t stand out very well.”

Or even like for Boss Blitz which we are introducing this time, I think we just wanted to create new features or a little more advanced features that our players have actually been wanting to see in game. So those are like, a little more focus on narratives and nonlinear storytelling, or even a little different with boss fights and mechanisms; I think those are the ones that we believe our players would love to have in-game. We thought with this new big expansion, we can try all these things and have a big package and give it to our players as a big gift – and I hope it works.

In the future, do you see sticking with nonlinear storytelling and bigger narrative focus?

Jeonghee Jin: I’m not sure about that specifically, but I think that’s something we’re trying to see how it works this time. And definitely if our players love that direction, then I’m pretty sure my devs are going to try more in that direction. I think we’ve been very sensitive about what players talk about, it’s just difficult because all players have different voices. They don’t just have one paper that says, “Hey, this is what we want.” [Laughs]

There are some very extreme PVE players, there are some beginners, there are some life skillers. I think all different players have a different voice here and there, so it’s really hard to find the right balance and give something that everybody loves. But I think that’s actually what we’re trying; we really love to hear what players want and what players need and the find out the best direction for the next update.

And you mentioned Boss Blitz, that’s another huge part of this expansion. How did that first come about as a big new mode?

Jeonghee Jin: Yeah, I don’t think I’m the best person to talk about how it started, because a lot of these probably were discussed many, many times with the devs, and then at some point they were like, “Hey, let’s try this.” But I think we have a lot of PvP players who really like competitive gameplay, and we really think we have to take care of those competitive players better. Even for Boss Blitz, it’s not PvP, but I think in a way it can also encourage more competitiveness and people who just keep trying after one boss fight to another.

I think it’s gonna encourage them to try more difficult ones and try their limit. We have leaderboards that change weekly, and I think that encourages players to hone their skill sets and do it again and again just to see how better they are, and they also enjoy competing with other players in this way. So I think this is just one of the things we have been wanting to do just to care for those players who want that type of content.

And in the future with Boss Blitz, can you see more bosses coming down the line?

Jeonghee Jin: I also cannot tell. [Laughs] I have an idea but I don’t know if it’s something I can share. <

Black Desert LOTML's Gumiho nine-tailed fox boss preparing to attack.

In terms of the creative process behind picking the bosses that you do have, can you talk a little bit about what diving into that folklore was like, and were there any that maybe you thought about pursuing but it just wasn’t feasible in game for one reason or another?

Jeonghee Jin: Yeah, that’s also something our designers can answer the best. But I’m pretty sure I heard they just went through so many different figures from the Korean folklores and tried to combine some of them to create an interesting story. So we’re not taking everything as is from Korean folklore, as that’s boring; we’re massaging them to create something that can work really well for this Land of the Morning Light in Black Desert.

So I think they actually went through so many different figures and monsters and different things from those stories, and then made up our own creative Black Desert storylines in Land of the Morning Light. I’m pretty sure they screened a lot of things and they had to spend a lot of time picking up what they believe is gonna be the most interesting, and something that our players are going to love too. I’m also very familiar with some of those bosses; I’m not very familiar with just a few of them, but I’m very interested in learning about them more because they all have very unique stories and backgrounds and I’d love to learn more about them too.

I was curious if you had a favorite boss of the ones that you are familiar with?

Jeonghee Jin: I actually don’t have a favorite just one thing, but I liked the Mudang one, Bari. She’s very interesting. It’s a little scary, because all the Mudang ladies are kind of scary to me; how they do things it feels like, “Oh my gosh, I feel I’m watching a Japanese horror movie.” But I kind of liked that, a little psychological horror movie feel. So I like that one, and I like all the others – they are all kind of unique.

Related: DokeV News & Updates: Everything We Know

What do you think will surprise players the most about this new expansion?

Jeonghee Jin: I think and I hope they’re going to be surprised to see how well this very Korean content blends into the existing Black Desert world that is totally a Western feel. And would bet they are surprised to see all these new and different features that we really didn’t have a lot in the previous version. So you know, things actually you just mentioned, like there’s like a new boss and Boss Blitz and focus on narratives. These are the things a section of people were looking for more, but we probably couldn’t offer in the best way in the previous version of Black Desert.

I think with The Land of the Morning Light we’re also trying a lot of new things like cutscenes and it’s gonna feel very different, but I think it should. We’ve been focusing on the Land of the Morning Light stuff in the Korean lens; it’s Korean culture, it’s a Korean Joseon dynasty team, but it’s not actually all about just the Korean thing. It’s more about bringing in a new lens and we wanted to cover it with very Korean looking things.

But at the end of the day, we know our players are also looking for more game features and more stories and a little more technical advancements, and we actually put all those in Land of the Morning Light and I’m pretty sure our players are going to be surprised. This is not just a new land that resembles Korea, this is also a lot of new changes and hopefully they find it very fun to play.

This land is so huge, it must’ve been a really big undertaking to map it out and build this whole area from the ground up. What was that like for you guys?

Jeonghee Jin: I think it’s a lot of work to be honest. [Laughs] I’m not really programming, I’m not drawing things. I cannot imagine how our team works in a huge update within such a short time. It’s been a while actually since we announced The Land of the Morning Light, if you remember we first announced it in December last year; it’d been already months back then that they actually started working on this new region. And in Korea it came out at the end of March. It’s really great speed, how they can work on this big content and big land with a lot of new things we created. So I think this is really amazing work, how they can make everything work very harmoniously in such a short time. It’s a lot of work, but they’re also very happy to bring in these new features that will make our players happy too.

Like you said, you’re not really like on the programming side, so in terms of challenges you might not be as familiar with that sort of end of it. But I’m curious from your perspective what the biggest hurdles have been making this really big addition to the game?

Jeonghee Jin: I think this is probably not only for The Land of the Morning Light, but for all the big updates we’ve been working on and we’re going to be working on for Black Desert. I actually use this analogy a lot, but I think MMORPG and live servicing MMORPGs are actually very similar to making really good music through an orchestra. There are so many different musical instruments – you have cello, viola, you have a lot of string instruments, and you also have pianos and you have symbols and a lot of different things really have to work on one piece of music all together. And there’s this composer that keeps everybody focusing on that music together.

But even when you have all the best performers for that specific musical instrument, if one person makes a little weird sound, then you’re going to feel like, “Oh, what was the sound?” Or if they don’t go in exactly the same beats, then you’re gonna hear a little weird music. So it’s really hard – even with all the best performers, all the best instrument players, it’s gonna be very hard in a job to make a beautiful sound all together from beginning to the end, because everyone really has to be in a good harmony until the end.

I think MMORPG is very sophisticated – it’s a very big game, there is so much action in-game that’s going on all the time. I think it’s a really tough job, but when it works out all together well, like in the art section, in the programming session, music and sound – everything will work in harmony, just to make one great update all together. People feel like, “Oh, I sure hope this works out really well.” If something is off, then players are gonna see it, right? Even music actually affects a lot, even a little technical issue will also affect a gameplay experience. If the graphics are not good enough, then people are gonna see it.

So I think every component we really have to play in the best way possible. It’s a really difficult job to do, so I see a lot of challenges here and there. But I’m always very proud of what we are offering, because I know how difficult it is. And I know we sometimes have bugs and issues in-game, but this is a very complete game that has so many different components here and there; and we are constantly improving, we are constantly fixing things. I hope our players appreciate that effort. I know we have some problems, but we are always trying to improve and fix those.

Black Desert LOTML's new ship sailing in the water.

What are you most excited to see players react to?

Jeonghee Jin: As I mentioned briefly, I’m pretty sure they’re gonna think this is cool. But just on top of that, I hope they are nicely surprised to see how much extra we really tried to put in The Land of the Morning Light as something new – we haven’t done enough before. The narrative focus and nonlinear gameplay, new Boss Blitz, and also a lot of folktales actually that are really interesting. To learn about not only the beautiful land and some of the cultural stuff, they might want to learn about a little more. I hope they will really enjoy all this new things we put in The Land of the Morning Light and I hope they are very nicely surprised to see all these together.

Yeah, I meant to ask, do you think this new expansion might inspire some players to do a deep dive into Korean history or Korean folklore?

Jeonghee Jin: Yeah, I hope so. I believe there are gonna be some players who really want to study more about those, because even for me, there are really interesting stories and I actually never learned enough. So I think this is probably a really good opportunity for some of those players that haven’t thought about or haven’t learned about Korean culture, history, or some stories coming out of the country. I think it’s going to be a very good opportunity. We actually have a lot of information that we’re going to add on the website so that people can find more details about what each boss is about and what the specific stories are based on for those questlines. I hope they find it interesting and also fun to learn about Korean culture, history and folklores.

Why was this time period chosen in the first place? Is it just because it was the longest running dynasty?

Jeonghee Jin: Yeah, I think that this is the longest running dynasty and also a lot of the modern day Korean cultural heritage actually comes from the Joseon Dynasty. Before that, the country was kind of divided with a lot of wars, and some of the kingdoms were united. But I think whenever Korean people think about history, the longest section that they can go back to is the beginning of Joseon Dynasty.

Of course, Korea is a country that has a very, very long history – over 5000 years – but before the Joseon Dynasty, we don’t have a lot of details we learn about. But in the Joseon Dynasty there are a lot of things that happened that also affected modern-day Korean culture. I think that’s why a lot of Korean dramas also picked that specific era.

Is there anything else you want players to know about this expansion?

Jeonghee Jin: First of all, I really hope our players love this content. Also, players who had a little break from Black Desert, or want to try Black Desert new this time find it very unique and interesting. I’d also like to mention that it’s amazing to see how we made this happen. Because I know some of the Korean games tried to bring some kind of Korean cultural thing or Korean outfit into the game, but this is an enormous effort. Like this is a big lens, big region that exactly resembles a Korean Joseon Dynasty. It is a lot of work, I really cannot emphasize anymore. [Laughs]

I also think this is very meaningful to us, especially for MMORPGs like Black Desert that are usually set in a medieval European fantasy world. I think previously when Korean companies wanted to go global, we had to avoid something Korean because usually MMORPGs are like, “You’re one of the knights fighting the monster.” A very Eurocentric world. And that was just kind of our Bible – there was no other option, and we really have to follow that direction to make the game appeal to the global audience. But after seven, eight years of life service for Black Desert, I think we got to the point where we finally thought maybe now our players are ready to embrace more diversity.

There are so many fun, interesting stories and folklores in the Korean Joseon Dynasty, why don’t we try something new? And now we’ve ended up having this big expansion, and I’m very excited. I really hope our players appreciate that effort and it’s not like, “We love Korea, you guys also love Korea, we have to show you something Korean.” It’s not that simple; there were a lot of efforts and discussions underneath and we really had to discuss with a lot of different teams, organizations.

There were a lot of arguments about how to communicate about this, how to localize this if a local legend was not easy. Some old Korean words we even couldn’t find the right English word and apples-to-apples translate. It’s been a great journey so far. I really hope our players – whether it’s perfect or not to their center – I hope they enjoy this new exotic Korean region that also brings in a lot more novelty in their gameplay.

Jaehee Kim On Land Of The Morning Light

Black Desert LOTML expansion key art showing a character in armor walking through a Korean market.

Screen Rant: This is one of Black Desert’s most ambitious expansions yet, with a ginormous new region. Where did the idea for a Joseon Dynasty-inspired area first come from?

Jaehee Kim: Prior to the development of the Land of the Morning Light, Black Desert Online had already introduced several oriental characters, including Musa, Maehwa, Ninja, Kunoichi, Striker, Mystic, and Lahn. This inspired me to envision a day when I could share with adventurers the rich narrative of their ancestral home, the East. When the decision was made to bring this tale to life within the game, we carefully selected a subject matter and background we were familiar with, so we could be confident we could develop it well.

All the bosses in the new expansion draw from Korean folklore, with each being an amalgam of a few different stories. How did the team decide on which tales they wanted to include? Were there any boss ideas that wound up being scrapped because they weren’t feasible to translate into the game?

Jaehee Kim: The boss had to be impressive and beautiful above all else. Our studio’s art team proposed a diverse range of boss ideas, and most of them were selected. Each boss was developed with consideration for their suitable characteristics, as they all had a clear background story. While Black Desert Online has many monsters, we have strived not to use the same monster whenever possible. This has been a challenging task, but our efforts that have accumulated over several years have enabled us to create new, distinct bosses.

I know that to make this expansion, the team collaborated with over 20 Korean-based institutions to ensure maximum accuracy and detail. Can you talk a bit about what that collaboration process was like?

Jaehee Kim: We began by discussing the inclusion of specific architectural structures and natural landscapes in the Land of the Morning Light. We conducted research to identify and investigate the actual locations of buildings and landscapes that would serve as our inspiration. We did not stop there and worked to provide opportunities for global adventurers to immerse themselves in Korea’s rich traditions and culture.

In this process, we collaborated with agencies like the Cultural Heritage Administration and the National Museum of Cultural Heritage and other relevant agencies under the ministry of culture and tourism. With their cooperation, we crafted 3D models of cultural heritage sites and tourist destinations from various regions throughout the country, incorporating them into the game. For parts that require complex details, we used cameras to capture multiple shots while rotating 360 degrees, ensuring accurate additional photography. For distant elements like unreachable rooftops or cliffs, we used drones for remote filming, striving to capture details. In certain cases, we did direct scans of the locations, while in other cases, we utilized data provided by the Cultural Heritage Administration.

Black Desert LOTML's Duoksini boss swinging their fist which is followed by a blue trail of light.

What were the biggest challenges in making this expansion?

Jaehee Kim: It was a matter of how to differentiate it compared to existing regions. Black Desert Online is a game that never stops to constantly seek new challenges. When we created the expansion Mountain of the Eternal Winter and re-made Balenos, our design goal was to advocate a full-fledged story and introduce new areas for new users. Additionally, the Magnus update shifted the focus from typical quests and hunting gameplay to mechanics-centered gameplay.

After much consideration, we removed the repetitive hunting elements that had been traditionally added to new regions and developed “Boss Blitz” as a replacement. Players can now enjoy battles with bosses at their own pace and receive rewards on a weekly basis.

Developing a new region without hunting grounds was a new challenge for us, and we were uncertain whether adventurers would appreciate it. We put in a lot of effort into development. Fortunately, our Korean adventurers were highly satisfied with it. We believe global adventurers will also enjoy this content.

Related: Black Desert Xbox Review: Addictive & Layered but Lacking Innovation

Do you have a favorite new boss in the expansion?

Jaehee Kim: While every boss is really attractive, if I had to choose just one, it would be Gumiho, the nine-tailed Fox. As a legendary creature with nine tails, the Gumiho is a well-known eastern mythological creature that global adventurers will be relatively familiar with. One of the positives about our Gumiho, first and foremost, is her beauty. Haha. When the concept art team at our studio first presented the human form of Gumiho, everyone was delighted and screamed, “This is it!” We did our best to make her a captivating character.

In particular, the nine-tailed fox is a renowned monster in the East, with slight variations across different countries. In Korean folklore, the Gumiho is known to transform into a human to seduce humans, eventually eating their livers. This aspect reflects the characteristics of regions with Korea’s mountainous terrain, where many accidents caused by wild animals are frequent. The nine-tailed fox in Black Desert Online also reflects these unique regional characteristics.

Land of the Morning Light also takes a much larger narrative focus than past expansions. What inspired this pivot, and do you see future expansions continuing this more storytelling-centric style?

Jaehee Kim: Black Desert Online is continuing to strengthen its storytelling, ensuring adventurers to fully immerse themselves in the world of Black Desert and continue playing. The creation of the Mountain of Eternal Winter and Balenos described above reflects this point. The stories in Land of the Morning Light are an extension of this same approach.

While we will continue with this approach in the future, the methods employed may vary. Black Desert Online is a game that will never stop to pursue new challenges, and this will extend with new narratives. We strive to go beyond bare dialogue and cutscenes, and we will pursue new ideas and experiment with different ways to effectively convey more engaging stories to adventurers in the future.

How do you think Boss Blitz will change how fans play the game?

Jaehee Kim: We did our best to develop an engaging new gameplay experience that goes beyond repetitive hunting, giving players the ability to strategize and overcome boss patterns. Through the main quests of Land of the Morning Light, players will have the opportunity to delve into their back stories and become more immersed in battles against bosses.

However, Boss Blitz serves as content that demonstrates alternative ways to grow players’ character and to enjoy combat in Black Desert Online. The fastest and most effective way to enhance your character will continue to be through hunting in the existing regions, and we will continue to maintain this for the future as well.

What are you most excited to see players react to in the new expansion?

Jaehee Kim: After immersing yourself in Land of the Morning Light, we hope that you will exclaim, “It was an absolutely fun experience and a thrilling adventure!”

And if you felt a desire to explore the real destinations within Land of the Morning Light in Korea, that would bring us so much joy.

Source: Black Desert Online/YouTube

The Land of the Morning Light expansion is available to play now in Black Desert Online for PC, with consoles slated to receive the update at a later date.

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