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RIFT v1.1 Interview with Hal Hanlin

24 Mar 2011  by   Paul Younger
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IncGamers caught up with TRION’s Design Producer Hal Hanlin following the announcement of the first major content update for their new MMO RIFT called the River of Souls which launches tomorrow across all servers.
IncGamers: As we know the world will be invaded by mass Death invasions when the event kicks off on 30 March but what exactly can players expect to see in the world when the event begins?
Hal Hanlin: What we’re not trying to do is a revolutionary ‘break the world’ event, we’re actually the continuing Alsbeth’s story for people that have been playing and have encountered Alsbeth on and off through most of their gameplay, and so Alsbeth is going to progress through each of the zones. It will be a challenge for everybody on every server as everybody will be impacted by her activities and ultimately will culminate in Stillmoor with the opening of out new raid.
IG: You say ‘impact’. What is that going to entail? Are we going to see a massive invasion of Rifts in all zones?
HH: There will be some different types of Rifts in zones that are unfamiliar, so for instance in zones that are typically attacked by Earth and Fire rifts, Death is going to be reigning supreme. Death is going to be everywhere.

IG: For players that may have just started to play the game who have not hit the level cap , what are they going to experience in this event?
HH: Well, there’s quest content and events that are coming out to where they are. One of the jokes I have heard about is that ‘Rift raids you’ and so Alsbeth is going to be unleashing some really nasty creatures in every zone.
IG: You mention that once the rifts have gone in this event, that special items such as the Spectral Horse will be gone forever. Is that the case for all the new items being added in this update?
HH: It’s one of those things, like with most things in RIFT we want things to be special and exciting but we also have the ability to adapt to the needs of the public and if that becomes something we need to second guess, we will second guess ourselves. I mean we want to make sure we are treating this as a service to the community, not just spoon feeding what we want to have out.
IG: Speaking of community, we noticed you had changes the Hag’s Curse quests based on player feedback which came as surprise as it was one of the more interesting quest lines but it seems to have been dumbed down a bit because some players were not reading the quests properly and couldn’t understand how to remove the curse. Subsequently it has been made easier which was disappointing.
HH: Well one of the things that we can do that pretty much no one else can is we can be very reactive and there’s good and bad in that. If we go down a road that’s highly unpopular and really turns out to be a poor decision, well guess what? We’re human, sometimes mistakes get made, and I am not necessary saying this was one of those, we’ll have to see what the total reaction is, we can always go back on things.
One of the great things about our system is that we are able to be nimble and so we can react to things and if there was this silent majority which thought it was awesome and we wound up undoing something they thought was fantastic, well they can let us know, and we’ll go “oh, ok cool, there was actually more weight in this other direction so let’s do this other thing”.
We can be very reactive we don’t want to every change the core of the game but at the same time you guys are paying for this as a service and we want to make sure we’re treating it that way.
IG: The River of Souls 20 man raid, what can you tell us about it?
HH: Well, I can tell you it’s a non-linear design. It’s not so much a pipeline where you jump in at the front and fall out the back. The players will discover an optimal route and work their way through and this culminates in the climax of one of the key stories in our game.

IG: One of the things I found interesting, and this may be reading between the lines in the press release, is the statement that ‘if the players are successful in their efforts to drive back the invasion…’ What if they are not successful?
HH: That’s what our game is built around. If the players don’t push them back, it’s going to be a pretty rough place to do any questing so you got to get yourself together as a group and work to solve the problems so that Telara can go back to a state you want it to be in.
IG: Would it ever get to a stage that nothing would change until players are successful? Obviously, there’s a predefined timing on this event.
HH: We’ve actually encountered that before where players don’t close rifts and there are invasions in every quest hub in the zone and rifts are everywhere and it’s a pretty crippled zone and player have to form together and fix things. It’s the core of what we do.
IG: We talked to Will Cook a few weeks ago in London and he said the post release content plans were probably the most intense he had ever worked on.
HH: Yes, we’re more intense now than we were for shipping because there is so much to do
IG: You are looking at a monthly bi-monthly update schedule at the moment, is that right?
HH: We are working on a cadence, we have an ideal goal that we are shooting for, we are actually unlike most MMOs at this state in development, we are actually ramping up for people because we have a huge increase in what our own expectations are in order to support on-going content. We have very high expectations for the game because it’s our game too.

IG: As far as the dev team is concerned, how far ahead have you been planning?
HH: It’s a balancing act right? One of the things that being service oriented does to you is that it puts you in a situation that if you go too far ahead, you run the risk of having things go stale. So it’s like we did all the work on this content but it really isn’t what the player need now so what do we do? So it’s finding that tipping point, it’s kind of like surfing, finding the moment where the wave is pushing you but you’re not being swamped by it.
IG: As far as future developments are concerned, you are obviously very pleased with the way the press have responded to game and also the community
HH: Definitely
IG: Has that changed anything as far as your outlook on future developments is concerned? In other words with regards to expansion, was there ever a point where that if the game didn’t have such a positive response on release you didn’t want to plan too far head.
HH: We have definitely been planning far ahead and we’re actually looking at innovating on mechanics and innovating on exactly how we are going to manipulate the soul system in the future. We’re definitely making longer term plans. I don’t want to give you the sense that we’re firing from the hip.
We’re making very solid long-term plans to about the eighty percent point allowing us some latitude to make changes based on what the community needs.
IG: How is balancing professions going, how closely are you looking at these?
HH: I sit right next to the mechanics team and I hear them talking about all of these things, not just class balance and economy but also crafting, We’re looking at everything, We get a ton of forum feedback but we also get some great suggestions from in-game and now it falls on the various leads and producers to weed through it and say “yes, no, yes, yes, no”, and I know we’re working on the professions.
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IG: With regards to this upcoming update, is there anything you really want to shout about?
HH: Well I think just being able to demonstrate how our system allows us to not just bake things in, I think people once they’ve played our game for a while they are like “Oh. OK. It’s Scarwood Reach it’s always this mix of plane types and that sort of thing”, and being able to demonstrate that we’re talking literally worldwide events that can completely change what’s going on because there’s areas that have never had to deal with Death that don’t have resistances to it suddenly have death. Just like the beta series we learned lessons every single time we put content out and we grow from them.
IG: Looking back at last week’s hack issues and the community helping out, how did that pan out? Was there a big gaping hole in the system?
HH: I don’t know about a big gaping hole but this guy was great, he gave fantastic information and I know that they threw a lot of people at it very quickly they managed to stamp it out very fast.
IG: Also with the introduction of coin-lock, because I keep getting coin-locked, has the support seen a big decrease in people reporting hacks.  Has that been down to coin-lock or the exploit that had been highlighted to you?
HH: Well I am going to put my own glasses on and give you my own impression of it. When coin-lock went on, there was a little bit of a lag where people had not logged in for a whole day so they couldn’t report previous hacks, then almost immediately with people being able to log in again, reports dropped dramatically.
IG: So it was definitely a positive thing which was a great idea.
HH: We’ve got some brilliant people in the engineering department so when the guy came over and started talking about what he was going to do, I looked at him with a blank stare and he finally explained to be. He sais “this is why they are doing it, if you turn spigot off what are they going to do? I was like “you’re pretty smart”.
IG: Thanks for the chat Hal and good luck with the launch of the v1.1 update.
For all the latest news, forums and information on RIFT, head to RIFT: IncGamers

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