RIFT v1.2 Interview with TRION’s Hal Hanlin

27 Apr 2011  by   Paul Younger
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IncGamers caught up with Design Producer Hal Hanlin for a chat to find out more about the v1.2 update to RIFT which is bringing a whole stack of new features to the game.
First up, people were surprised to see a fifth roll appear. What’s the thinking behind the addition, it seems early in the game’s life to add a fifth role
Some people have been satisfied with four. I myself bumped up against the edge of the fourth role but it depends on how you play, there are some people who master one role or a small number of roles. I myself kind of bumped up against the edge of the fourth role. It depends on how you play.
There are some people who really master one role, and or one small number of roles, so maybe they have one for their PvP, one for their dungeons and one for general questing. Other people really get into the micro nuances of making sure that a build made from three souls is slightly different to another, so if I’m facing a magic heavy enemy, I’m going to switch over to this. So it’s the people that are really trying to min/max that little half a percent of damage in a certain scenario that are really going to benefit of the extra role.
Other people like to be simply thematically different. My son and I play together and I have one that is really heavy pet class and I have one that is really heavy tanking so I am playing where I am the tank and he can do all the damage, and the more people I play with, I tend to fall onto different roles and that’s where I get my main benefit from another role.
So, really it’s just to give you more options, I mean that’s more experimentation space?
It totally is, that’s exactly what it is, if people find a role that’s working and they’re able to go through a dungeon and a raid and they are feeling they are doing pretty well, but what if I were to just to throw a little bit of Void Knight in there instead of a Reaver? What would happen then? Let’s fiddle around and have this test bed, and when they hit something that’s better than one of their existing ones, then maybe they drop out one of their old dungeon running roles and replace it with their new one and they have a new test bed they can play with.
Next up, Slivers. Tell us a little bit more about these and how they are going to appear to players and how they are going to function in the world?
Ok, well we can use them any way we want. Currently we have decided to use them as our headlining 10 man instance raids. However, the entire idea is that you have reality and then you have shards of reality and then you have these slivers of the reality, and so that’s where the term Slivers came from. You can think of it as a different timeline. It can be an alternate reality impinging on our current reality. It can be future/past alternate realities. Maybe in a different reality one of the dragon gods could be superior so you find that you’re in a 10 man raid where, ‘oh my god Regulos won’, or whatever. So that is the idea behind why we are using them.
We have the ability to use them in any number of other ways in the future but that’s our current status.
So are there going to be quest lines leading into these Sliver instances to try and tie the current lore in with things that have happened in the past?
Everything in our game is tied to our story. For people who just click their way through the quests and don’t read them, that’s fine. We try and show you story rather than tell you story so you’ll be playing and fighting alongside Asha as opposed to having her just blether at you in the quest hub.
One of the things that are key to our long term goals is that any time we introduce new content it has to be cohesive to the world. So yes, this is an alternate reality of Telara. In this case it’s a separate Sliver in Shimmersand that is still embedded within our core story. In this case, one of the cults is about to discover some incredibly powerful relics that have been hidden in other realities and if that reality’s cult has become more powerful they can influence our reality.
So how will these appear to players? You have added new Ascended powers?
Yes, it’s not just for the openings, in the short term it’s going to be revealing the openings, but we have ambitions for using this for revealing additional things. I don’t want to go into too much detail until we actually have it to the point that it’s at our quality bar. I don’t want to promise what we’re not delivering. But you use your Omen Sight or your Quantum Sight whether you’re guardian or defiant and it will be helpful in finding things beyond the entrances to these slivers.
With regards to Slivers, are these going to be randomly generated or are they going to be in the same places all the time. How is that going to work?
These are crafted content, these are 10 man raid instances. For a more random experience or a less land-locked experience for 10 man, there’s the raid rifts so that’s more open world and players are aware of those. For 1.2 we are introducing two new raid rifts, one theme is based around the earth plane and one themed around fire.
My thinking is that you could also do the same thing with the rifts?
Potentially but this is actually a separate instance that you and your raid is going to face, this by yourself without anybody coming in, you are transcending and going into this Sliver as opposed to a raid rift which takes place in full view of everybody and has its bragging rights.
How often are you looking at adding Slivers?
Well it’s a balancing between making sure there’s plenty for raiders to do but also they fulfil a purpose within a progression. So they are going to be part of the gear progression curve and we’ve been having meetings to figure out that specific number because we are very nimble at creating content very quickly.
We don’t want to flood one section and leave another section dry so we’re in the process of planning the best way to roll out Slivers to players and find out. You know, do we always want to use them for 10 man or are there other things we want to use them for? There are conversations about using them for some of the sagas and that sort of thing, so there’s a lot of different ways we can use them and right now the Gilded Prophecy is awesome and exciting so we’ll see how it goes down with players and massage our strategy from there.
Next, the Wardrobe feature. How exactly is the Wardrobe going to function and what is its purpose?
Well the purpose is for people like me who spend a ton of gold on dyes and that sort of thing when I find a nice piece of armor and I make it all look nice and then I get this next piece of armor which has better stats. So for gameplay I want this new piece of armor but I have this gorgeous piece of armour I want to look like I am wearing.
What the appearance slots do is let you effectively build a full outfit that doesn’t affect your stats. For instance role players can dress up the way they want to, and we’ll be adding some clothiers that sell non-armour dress items that players can wear and that sort of thing. It’s for further customisation for your character and allowing you to more closely bond with them.
So if I can put it in layman’s terms, it’s like pulling on a bathrobe on top of what you already have on and people will see the bathrobe but you still have the same stats from what you have underneath?
*Laughs*… Sure, OK, errrm. If we’re going to go down that road, let’s call it an awesome silk kimono
*Laughs*. Well in theory that’s what we’re saying, it’s purely a cosmetic thing. Not that I want to go raiding in my bathrobe.
It also allows people who for instance have acquired some of those really cool hats that want to have the little Deepone stuck to their head or something like that. It allows them to have that really cool aesthetic without losing out on the stats for the helmet.
I addressed this in my last interview with you Hal, regarding armor variety and it has been mentioned before that a lot of the armor looks the same even though they may be from a different set. Is the wardrobe a way to get around that?
Well we actually have an enormous variety of armor but we replace armor every few levels so people see armor pass through really quickly. However, in the passing you may see a piece of armor that looks really cool. For instance I have a warrior that has really cool armor that I really want to wear, but then I get a breastplate that has the higher stats then I want that. So it’s not to bypass anything, it’s to simply let you find something that really sings to you and continue to use it.
One of the things mentioned was the different types of gear, like sandy camouflage gear that you could wear in Shimmersand for example. Are you going to have lots of different themes? And if you are, can you tell us about some of the things you have been looking at?
I don’t have any info on that right now, but I know we have plans to, but I haven’t talked to the art director so I can’t tell you specifically what’s on that documentation. The idea is to give people lots of variety but at the same time not sell short the people who so want new amors that actually have function.
The Looking for group tool is another major addition. How have you approached the design of that?
What we want to do is let players take advantage of the roles they have built and since each calling can fulfil multiple tasks within a group, when you choose to look for a group whether it’s for a dungeon or a rift, or for a quest, it lets you specify you are a warrior that would rather do DPS than tank and so you specify that, or you could sign up for both, and since you have the capability with your roles to flip-flop you can actually do that in mid-stream, if too many people come in and one guy changes his mind, then fine everybody just flip-flops because that’s how the soul system works. The idea is to build groups that start out effective and once you get together you can become even more effective.
So if somebody gets in a group for example and then decided to change, is that not going to unbalance things as people could be unaware of changes?
Well that’s where s a little bit of communication comes in. For instance, if the person who’s healing has a build that’s doing pretty well but you come into a boss that has really high damage output and you need somebody to switch over then that’s the idea behind roles. You could have one of your DPS Rogues slip to a Bard heavy role and buff everybody and you know the expectation is that it doesn’t supersede roles but gives you a good starting point to begin your encounter together.
The idea is that you get a cookie cutter, two DPS, one tank and two healers. Let’s put together people who know what their characters can do and when they get in there if you need me to do something else to help support you in this way, ask me and we’ll flip-flop roles.
Looking at the new zone events, the Tower Defence, Escort and Clash of the Colossi, these sound pretty cool so tell us more about those.
They’ve been a lot of fun actually. We’ve been testing them in-house every other day and it’s a great deal of fun because we have mastered the ‘hey we have a bunch of invasions, now kill the big boss’ type event. We know how to do that and can crank those out and keep them interesting and not feel cookie cutter. So Scott tasked one of the pods to come up with new game types and they put their shoulders to it and came up with these three new game types. We tested them out ready to cut anything that didn’t meet muster, and it turned out that all three were actually quite fun. These new game types will serve as a template that we can spin off additional versions of later.
Taking one example, Clash of the Colossi, you go out and you are fighting invasions and you’re gaining a token item that you turn into a repository. Ok that’s pretty same, same, we have done it a couple of times, we know we can do it, we know we can make it fun. What happens when you turn in the sufficient number however is that your faction summons a massive Colossus of your own. It storms over and starts to punch the big zone Colossus, and then the other faction puts together Colossus. You then have these three Colossus slamming faces together in the middle of the map and you’re surrounded by Guardians or Defiants who are tentatively at truce or slaughtering each other, and then whoever comes out on top gets the opportunity to kill the other guy’s Colossus
So it’s a bit of a free for all? A massive punch up?
You know it seriously depends on the server type. We’ve had events that have run where everybody is really polite. Nobody uses AOEs and everybody’s just using point source damage and they whittle the big guy down then of course it goes into a fracas after that. Then we’ve had others that have just been AOE fireballs all over the place. *Laughs*
These new game types are specifically for the level 50 zones, Iron Pine, Shimmersand and Stillmoor and once we’ve put these out we have also implanted a new user interface to help explain to players what they’re expected to do, when they’re expected to it, and then we’ll put that out there. We’ve tested them extensively internally and we’ve tested them on the test shard.
Every single time we put content out to the user we learn something. We don’t use you guys per say as a test bed, we simply put out our best effort to have you guys either tell us it is awesome or it needs work. We have a great rapport with our community in that if you guys tell us “hey, this was a really awesome event” we’ll maybe make more of this type, but if you say “meh”, maybe we’ll refine it or pull it. We’re not afraid of throwing away content, we’re afraid of not putting out our best effort.
One of the things I have noticed, and this is kind of the opposite you see with MMOs, is that you seem to be driving players to reach level 50 quickly. We’re two months into the game so what’s the thinking behind that?
I for instance play every night and I am only level 36 because I explore, craft and artifact hunt. Other people they motor through, so one of the things that has always been our operating principle is we don’t make you wait until 50 to get to do cool stuff. If players progress quickly we have a robust end-game and we continue to add raids, raid rifts, Slivers and that sort of thing. We’re not so much rushing them through, but we understand people don’t want to grind away a million hours just to get that next thing. Play our game, have fun.
What it feels like sometimes is that you guys have a list of awesome ideas and are putting it in for level 50 characters and you’re urging people on to hit 50 to experience the new content.
We do have an amazing ability to put out new content, we’re not afraid of adding new zone events as you say, we’re not timid about, hey modern philosophy says you spread the raids out really far and keep people limping along doing grinds and stuff like that. We’re more along the lines of that if I were a player would I want something really cool to do? It’s about players of all levels having fun. We happen to have a lot of end-game content and we keep adding to it, so why not let them get there too.
Are you ever afraid the team is going to burn out at some point?
I won’t lie to you it’s a lot of work; nobody has taken any time off. We are trying to fully hit our stride, we’re coming close to hitting our stride, and we know that we’re the David in the David and Goliath battle and we understand we are on an uphill journey to make sure players want to come to our game. We love this game. We’re creating a new IP, we’re a new company, and we’re made up of industry professionals with five, six, seven games each under their belts. We know what it takes to fight that uphill battle and we’re just doing it.
We know that TRION is working on at least three titles. Are the teams very separate?
Yeh, we have not rolled people off of RIFT. In most MMOs, this is the fifth MMO I have worked on, most MMOs, you keep a skeleton crew behind which is why it takes 2 years to get a new raid out and you limp it along and you are just there to maintain the revenue stream, you are not there to add content. Well in our case our entire team stayed on the live game. Every single person in the design team is developing content for the live game.
We’ve got some good momentum. We have fans that are seeing us thinking “hey, these people are on the forums, they’re playing alongside us, they’re experiencing any rough spots too”. Then they see that we’ve just fixed something and they think “Wow, cool”.
For us we’ve actually ramped up, we’ve just added five new designers. We’re continuing to add people to the team that’s supporting this game and it is a labour of love. It is a job and our absolute long term success is being the most nimble AAA developers in the industry. That’s what we’re trying to be.
I know you probably can’t say but I’m a journo so I’ll ask anyway. I know you released a press release saying 1 million accounts had been created on launch. How are things looking now?
I won’t give you numbers of course like you say. We had a meeting with Lars Buttler, and Scott had been hearing all of these numbers, and with every metric we set for ourselves we have exceeded our expectations multiple times.
Moving onto guild matters because the IncGamers Guild had a couple of questions on this. What is the guild level cap?
The cap is 20 but nothing in the universe stops us from adding more, but right now it’s 20.
Have you guys set a limit for guild members?
As of right now, and I have just checked with the team, there is no limit at all. We have seen guilds of 1200 members+
OK Hal, where the hell are those guild banks? :)
*laughs* It’s something we are very mindful of.
I think everyone kind of expected to see it in v1.2 and as our guild grows it’s becoming more of a frustration.
I do understand that, on the other hand I will point out that the claim to fame we’ve made so far is we are very hard on our own content and we won’t put something into the game that won’t meet our muster.
Is it not a basic dynamic of just whacking down a chest that everyone can access?
That would be a way to do it certainly, that may not be a RIFT way to do it.
OK, I’ll just put the trademark on that method now.
*laughs*
Server transfers? What’s up with those?
We have an awesome game so I really appreciate… *laughs* Nothing at the moment on that.
OK so tell us something that’s really awesome about the v1.2 update.
I’m a crafter and one of the things that gets me really excited about is the ability for me to craft an item that opens a rift that’s going to give me plaques because I don’t go out and do raids as often as most people do. Look for a new weekly quest that’s going to point you in that direction on your crafting quest giver.
Thanks to Hal for the taking the time out to talk to IncGamers and you can follow all the latest news and features over on RIFT: IncGamers.

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