Unless you have been underground or on another planet you have undoubtedly heard of the latest MMO that is taking gamers by storm. Rift launched a few weeks ago offering gamers massive dynamic battles, the ability to build your own class and a Pvp combat system unlike any other. A lot of the Obsolete Game staff have been playing this game and slowing down our productivity, but it is totally worth it. We recently had a chance to talk with Scott Hartsman, Executive Producer for Rift about the game and the future of MMO’s.
Will you offer end game content at the time of release and if so can you tell us a bit about it?
Scott Hartsman: These days a game can’t be called AAA unless it has both advancement content as well as a healthy end-game. The trick is finding the right balance between time spent leveling up and everything that comes later.
Once you turn level 50, there’s two new group instances waiting for you, then two tiers of expert modes for all the instances in the game to date (11 instances) which unlock new bosses and areas and advance the instance’s story.
There are also level 50 zone events in the high level zones (and more will be added constantly). Initially, one 20-player raid instance has been released (with more coming over time). There are crafting recipes to continue to collect. Artifact collections to continue completing. Achievements to obtain. Rare crafting recipes to be discovered. Then there’s the level 50 PvP warfront (The Battle for Port Scion), the PvP Prestige leveling system, and so on.
What is your plan for rolling out content patches big or small?
Scott Hartsman: A week after launch, we released the first four of the 10 man raid rift encounters.
Our major update schedule (approximately every 4-8 weeks) contains new zone events, full world events that last for days, new encounters, entire new types of content, as well as entirely new zones and instances, and of course constant feature addition and refinement.
We’re doing our best to make sure that there’s always a good reason to come back and see what’s new.
Are you afraid of cookie cutter builds that can end up plaguing the game?
Scott Hartsman: We’re always keeping an eye on it, but so far it’s not a big concern. Different builds have different strengths and the spread we’re seeing is very encouraging. Our system is built more around the idea of bringing the player, not bringing the perfect spec.
When creating a MMO even if you have the lore and a vision in place there must be some things you look to add, take away or modify from other MMO’s or games, was that the case with members of the Rift team and if so can you tell us about that?
Scott Hartsman: For us it was mostly about making sure we had enough ways to express the story beyond having interminable walls of text. Our event content became a great way to introduce notable characters and give them a personality. We did evaluate our use of voice toward the end, and added enough to give the characters flavor, without over-voicing everything.
What kind of PvP mechanics do they have in mind for servers where the population is unbalanced and a faction needs a leg up to compete?
Scott Hartsman: Our PvP isn’t really about having to have perfect population balance at the shard level. If we get into more mechanics that do require balance in the shared world, we do have a few ideas for ways we’d go about combating that. 🙂
Your ads mention that the players “are not in Azeroth” anymore. Beyond that, what are some of the differences someone may find in a game like Telara environment-wise?
Scott Hartsman: In terms of the environment, the biggest, most obvious evolution is the world full of event content of all sizes.
“Events” in our system range from a single NPC doing something out of the ordinary, to public events like Rifts and Invasions aimed at solo and group players, to massive full zone and world events where hundreds of people are teaming up in multiple raids to defend the world.
It brings a level of excitement and urgency that I’d be hard pressed to compare to what’s around in any other MMO. The dynamic events are the main idea – The static content and quests are the backdrop where the events take place. Flipping the idea of game content around like that takes a bit of time for some people to wrap their heads around, but once they do, they tend to have a hard time imagining going back to a game where they’re not always happening.
For a startup company, you guys are pulling out the big guns in regards to advertising. Not many MMO companies take this approach. What made you decide to televise commercials for the game?
Scott Hartsman: We genuinely believe that we have a pretty great game here. Throughout all of our betas (through game metrics, retention, polling, you name it), we learned that people thought so as well.
All of our tests proved that the more people who tried it, the more people who walked away with a positive impression of it. Not all games work out like that. When you do see it happen, you double-down the bet. Expanding the awareness of RIFT via TV is one small part of that.
What are some of the mechanics that you feel make Telara stand out on its own in a sea of new MMOs?
Scott Hartsman: The biggest one that people encounter within their first seconds of landing in Rift is the soul system.
You choose your Calling right off the bat, then you have multiple souls to play with within the first few minutes of the game. We’re finding that this ability to customize yourself and collect up to 9 souls currently, across 4 specs, is turning into one of the biggest systems attractions in the game, as some people frequently do nothing but play with creating new builds for themselves.
Most importantly, more groups form much more easily. When more people can heal or tank or provide support if they choose to, but don’t feel they’re forced to all the time, it’s great for the overall grouping environment.
How much focus will you put on hardcore players giving feedback on what should be changed within Rift, will the community as a whole have a say on what changes may come about?
Scott Hartsman: Hardcore players tend to spot the more subtle flaws in any system, as they’re the ones who spend as much time analyzing games as the designers themselves, and a fresh perspective from smart people can be a great source of new enlightenment. The hardcore folks also tend to be the first to experience anything, so they tend to spot issues before anyone else.
Other than that, there’s no difference between the way hardcore or casual feedback is treated. We have more avenues to be reached than any other MMO that I’m aware of, and we pay attention to all of it as best as we can.
From what we’ve heard, Rift is turning out to be one of the most polished MMORPGs to release in a while. How do you feel about some games out there that decide to release early riddled with bugs? Do you feel it is a slap to the face of the players?
Scott Hartsman: Not at all – As a player myself, I get as angry as the next guy when I’ve paid for something and it’s either not stable or not finished, but I also sympathize with the teams of developers whom I can easily imagine watching their game launch, wishing they had more months to polish or finish it. No one ever sets out to make a bad game. When it happens, it tends to be a function of having bitten off more work scope than the budget will allow, or more than is technically possible to ship.
A lot of the lore seems a bit more in favor of making the Defiant seem like not only the rebels but also the heroes. Do you feel this could lead to a large population imbalance as one faction seems more intriguing than the other?
Scott Hartsman: Interesting – What we’re seeing is that the Defiant are being treated as the rebels, and the Guardians are being treated as the heroes. (Even though heroic Defiant and rebellious Guardians do exist both in the lore and in game.)
It’s led to a level of balance that’s even surprised us (the ratio was within +/- 0.1% the last time I checked a week or so ago).
What RPG’s and MMO’s did you and members of the Rift team play?
Scott Hartsman: We have a pretty huge team (120+), with tastes all across the board, and the vast majority of us are gamers ourselves. I’d say the challenge would be more about finding RPGs and MMOs that people hadn’t played.
Do you guys at some point want to include an in-game marketplace for vanity items akin to Sony’s Marketplace in EQ2?
Scott Hartsman: Right now, we’re 100% focused on making the Rift that is out there as good as it can possibly be via constant content and feature updates. New types of in-game store functionality isn’t something that’s really on our radar for the moment. If enough people like the idea, it could be something we talk about in the future.
The only store-type conversations we’ve had lately have been around working out a path to hardware authentication devices, and other merch like hats and t-shirts. T-shirts and sweatshirts? Now THOSE we get a lot of requests for. 🙂