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RIFT Beta Test Analysis With Scott Hartsman

21 Dec 2010  by   Paul Younger

IncGamers managed to have a quick chat with Scott Hartsman, RIFT’s Executive Producer and TRION’S CCO to find out more about their upcoming MMORPG RIFT.
Last weekend saw the second  Beta test session for the game, and as far as Beta tests go for MMORPGs,  RIFT has already proved to be highly stable and very polished, in fact some completed games have not even made it out in as good a state as the first and second  Beta tests for RIFT.
The Beta Tests
Scott told us that there are around 200 people currently working on RIFT and that they were very well prepared for the beta test. The development team have been working hard to achieve the level of polish which was obvious in the first round of testing.
Scott said that the feedback they were receiving from players was highly positive and they are taking all feedback into account whether it’s good or bad. However TRION does look at the quality of feedback, who is posting and where it is being posted.   Although the Beta forums were abuzz with suggestions, this was only a small portion of the feedback and many of the quality comments were coming through the in-game reporting system.
Around 20,000 pieces of feedback were submitted to the development team from inside the game itself during the first test, and all of them are being looked at and triaged by developers, Quality Assurance teams, and community teams alike.  While doing this, TRION is also sorting through the thousands of comments their beta forums, which will be reopening each beta event.
During the Beta tests the team were on-hand and working away to fix problems and making improvements for future betas even while the test was in progress.  During the test the team really wanted to really test the game so they started to spawn larger rifts in the world to really push the technology to the max and also receive feedback from the players in-game on the invasions going on around the game world.
The RIFTS
During the early stages of the first Beta, small rifts would open up and they were not too challenging. When asked about the RIFT invasions, Scott mentioned that the second half of the first Beta test was when they really kicked things up a gear and the development team wanted to see how players would respond to larger invasions and give the NPC invasions a chance to set up footholds in the zones. 
Trion had  members of the development team on-hand throughout the Beta tests, they watched very closely what was going on and how players were reacting. They were monitoring stats and actions of players to see how they were tackling the challenges in the world and dealing with the rifts. It’s safe to say that players are going to see some pretty amazing things as the Beta test progresses and Scott assures us there is still a lot to come from the rifts and what we have seen so far is just the beginning.
Interface
Right now RIFT is working on polishing the standard built-in interface and making sure it’s highly customizable.  When asked about whether they would implement full addon support, Scott stated, “much of that depends on the progress of future betas – We like the idea of people being able to enhance their game experience in new and creative ways, but not in ways that automate gameplay.”  
When TRION are happy with the base UI they will look at opening it up further. There may be some restrictions on what players will be able to do with customisation to prevent botting, but it’s clear that TRION are very open to the idea. Scott himself has been involved in interface design and user modifications on other MMOs, so he is very aware that it can be an important part of the game and community.
Optimisation
During the first test it became apparent there was going to be some work needed to the game optimisation as even high-end PCs struggled when larger groups gathered, especially around RIFT invasion combat. During one test  period Scott mentioned that players were gathered in groups of 400 and there were also 500 NPCs into one small part of a zone during an invasion to see how far they could push the technology.
As part of the development process, Scott was keen to reassure players that optimising the game is something that is continually being done by the development team and is an on-going process throughout the testing.  
When asked, he wasn’t shy about letting us know that “optimising the engine and visual assets is something that we’re working on every day.  We’ve already got some fantastic improvements implemented as a direct result of the performance metrics we gathered throughout Beta 1. “
As the Beta progresses players should see some notable differences in the game’s performance,  and by end of the second beta test there was a notable improvement to the performance of the game.
{PAGE TITLE=RIFT Beta Test Analysis With Scott Hartsman Part 2}
Voice Comms
We raised the subject of voice of communication in-game and asked Scott if it was something they were looking at integrating into the game.  At this point in time TRION have not got any plans to add it. When asked why, Scott pointed out, especially in the fantasy MMO genre,  that so many gamers already use third party systems such as Ventrilo it doesn’t make as much sense to invest the time and effort into developing our own system, when that same effort could be spent on making better gameplay.
 “For now, we want to keep focused on the things that make the game experience itself better.” added Scott.
The Story
RIFT throws you right into the action from the start and players can progress quite quickly which does mean you can miss out on backstory elements if you so choose.  Scott said that TRION have intentionally created cool things to explore and places to discover even more story information, which allows players to progress through story elements. Those who enjoy the lore can take the time to investigate and read everything if they so desire.
NPC Voices
Scott was part of the EverQuest 2 development team and was involved in the process of adding fully voiced NPCs to that game at its launch. When asked whether it was something TRION had looked at he said that the problem with presenting all of the game content in this way, he had this to say:
“Fully voicing NPCs completely changes the way you have to make content, and it actually removes one of the elements that makes an MMO special: Constant iteration and rapid improvement.
“It was really interesting to do it in the past, but one of the things that makes an MMO an MMO is the speed that you can react to what’s going on in game.  Being able to make improvements quickly is critical.  Fully voicing everything hamstrings developers.  It takes far longer to get to quality, and severely restricts how quickly we can improve further from there.  Then, after all that expensive work, huge numbers of players end up just wanting to skip them and get back to the gameplay.” 
There is also the time and money investment that would be involved, and as he pointed out, they would rather be spending that time and effort improving gameplay and content to make game as fun as it can be, instead of having to worry about voicing all quests in many different languages.
Professions
Profession options have been quite limited so far in the Beta because of the level 20 cap for the first couple of beta events, but according to Scott there’s already more there once people get into the higher levels.  Much of the focus of the beta 1 event was to make sure that spawning, harvesting, and crafting could scale to the number of players in the beta, and improvements were already made for Beta 2 and beyond.
PvP
While PVP was not present in the first Beta test since it was a focused test of only one of the sides, it is coming.  According to Scott the reason they have set PvP servers now is so that when they do increase the level cap and have players playing on both sides, as well as open warfronts, players will already have their characters ready to go. PvP players can expect PvP testing in the future but Scott wasn’t quite ready to let the cat out the bag as to when that would be. PvPers stay tuned!
Guilds
Guilds are something TRION are obviously very passionate about and it’s their aim to provide as many tools as possible to guilds to make guilds easy to set up and also manage. TRION recently held a Gamers Day where they invited guilds to come and try the game right in the studio and provide feedback.  Some of their requests made it directly into the game the very next week.  The good news is that all the feedback is being taken on-board and they are doing their utmost to bring more guild features to the game ey can. They aimuymoat tohbr ng to make guild management as easy as possible and give larger guilds the best tools possible to make management as easy as possible.
Mounted Combat?
One question that crops up in nearly every fantasy MMO nowadays is if there is to be mounted combat? According to Scott it’s not something they are looking at but it has come up in discussions. The problem, if you can really consider it a problem, is that there are so many ideas on the table from both the development team and the testers that the TRION team have to prioritise each individual feature.  Scott added, “You really need to know what your game is about, and know which features you’re going to have time to get in at incredibly high quality.”
The Plan
With other MMOs outlining their development roadmaps, we asked Scott if TRION had put a plan down for RIFT’s lifecycle. There is a plan in place but he was keen to point out that all plans in the MMO market are speculative because things are changing so fast.  They do have a roadmap but it is very tentative and they’ll be watching the MMO space very closely and tailoring RIFT’s progress and development as the genre evolves, and players begin reacting with the world in a live environment.
TRION are in a unique position as they are both developing and publishing the title. We asked Scott if the development team were under any sort of external pressure to get the game out the door and he simply said “Absolutely not.”  The development team answers to the CEO and TRION’s board of directors and only when they think the time is right and the game solid will it be released.
 “The key thing that made me pick TRION as a place to come work was the emphasis on quality, all the way up the line.  We’re still working insanely hard, but everyone involved here genuinely believes  that the best way to success is to provide the highest quality experience that we possibly can.”
Future Tests
With the second now completed, the Trion development team are working hard and pulling long shifts to make sure the next tests  run as smoothly as possible.  During the first test the interest was so high that the queues were very long so, acting quickly, they doubled the number of servers available.  If they aim to achieve the same quick response times with server management and apply game changes during the beta the next test phase promises to be one MMO fans can’t afford to miss.
No date has yet been announced for the third test but stay tuned to IncGamers, we’ll let you know as soon as we hear from TRION.

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