Path of Exile Interview with Grinding Gear Games CEO Chris Wilson21 Oct 2013
This week Path of Exile will finally launch after one of the longest beta tests we can remember. It’s taken Grinding Gear Games time to get their free to play ARPG to the point where they have locked down game features and systems. We caught up with Grinding Gear Games CEO Chris Wilson a couple of days before launch to find out how the game has progressed and how the team are feeling now they’ve reached the launch milestone.
GGG started in 2006 so it’s been a long journey to get Path of Exile launched. How are you feeling now a few days before launch?
It has been an awesome journey! At the moment the team is working very hard on the last 100 or so issues. At the time of writing there are five days until release so we’re performing last minute fixes and quality assurance. While I always wish we had more time, I’m so proud of this version of Path of Exile and am really looking forward to launch day where we get to share it with the public.
Looking back at the game’s development is there anything you would have done differently as far as GGG as a company is concerned?
I’m honestly struggling to think of anything that I would have done differently as a company. We’ve retained our independence and still own almost all of the company ourselves. This independence has made it a lot easier to create Path of Exile to our vision rather than someone else’s.
Path of Exile has had one of the longest beta tests I can remember but was that something you had always planned or was it more of a necessity as a learning process for the team?
I remember thinking “we need at least a year of a live economy before we perform our final wipe”, and hence I’m glad that we were able to run a long Closed Beta before we wiped the game at the start of Open Beta in January. The lessons we learnt during that time really paid off and resulted in a much stronger item economy. To some extent we’ve been worried about the overall Beta period running for so long because there’s a propensity for modern games to stay in Beta forever and to use it as an excuse for quality. We’re looking forward to finally being released!
The launch brings loads of new features to the game, the Scion class being one of the major additions. How did the class concept come about because she’s pretty much a mix of everything?
She was one of the initial seven that we designed in the first few weeks of the project (back in 2006). The idea of a blonde female generalist class who specialised in Strength, Dexterity and Intelligence equally has been in the game for a very long time but was disabled until we revamped and updated her this year. Our awesome writing team created a compelling backstory for her and 150 lines of dialogue that are spoken as she travels through Wraeclast.
The Scion class slips right into the middle of the passives tree and when we spoke back in 2011 [corrected] you said:
“There’s room for one more right in the middle. Who’s good at all three things”.
However, you also said:
“We won’t need to add more characters though, since they’re largely determined by their skills, which all characters can use”.
What changed during development that prompted another character addition?
It’s saying things like that that I regret later! The tree has undergone numerous revisions throughout the years and the addition of a less-specialised generalist class is not only much easier now, but also a lot more appropriate. Back in the older tree versions, players received different ratios of Strength, Dexterity and Intelligence for assigning points in anything. They now pick up those attributes by selecting them as passive skills. Until this change was made, the generalist class found it very hard to get enough attributes to do anything meaningful. In addition, we’ve gradually tightened up the attribute requirements on skills over time, so there’s less of an issue with each class being equally good at all skills.
When designing the Scion, especially when it comes to the extensive passives tree, how hard has it been to shuffle the passives without causing problems for the current characters? How have you worked around this?
Any updates to the tree disrupt some characters, but we’re providing a global passive skill reset for this reason. A lot of effort is going into reproducing people’s old builds on the new tree to make sure they’re viable and are built in an understandably similar way. At the moment, the tree is changing every day to accommodate this.
The launch brings more content to Act 3, how much more exactly?
Six new world areas (across three new tilesets), five new Act 3 monster types (plus a few more elsewhere), three new quests and a gigantic grand finale boss fight. This is repeated in the three difficulties and also represented in eight new end-game Maps that use the new tilesets.
What about that obligatory Act 4? If my memory serves me correctly that was planned for launch a while back?
At least for the last year or so, Act 4 has been planned as our first additional Act added after release. It’s very likely we thought it’d be ready in time for release several years ago, but we’ve substantially raised our Act quality standards, so they take a fair amount of time to finish! Work on Act Four is underway and it’s looking awesome. I expect it’ll be a fair while before we can show it off, but it’s going to be awesome.
You have mentioned that the GGG team plan to release “expansions” every four months. Are these mainly new items/gems or are we talking additional level content to existing acts?
We’re planning to include new gems, Unique items, microtransactions, bug fixes and balance changes in biweekly content patches. The four-monthly expansions will have much larger features (like a revamped trade system or new game modes), and new content like areas and monsters.
GGG has released a lot of content in the past few months so are we going to see a reduction in the weekly/bi-weekly updates?
We’re expecting to pack even more content into these updates. There’s a more rigid schedule of a content update every two weeks, so we’ll be able to plan for them to include specific predictable contents (listed in the answer to the previous question). As we scale up our team, our rate of content addition will hopefully continue to increase.
This week you stated that it would take around 12 months to release a new act. Is that something you have already started development on or will there be a gap before development begins on major content?
We’ve already started development on the next Act. In general we’re doing concept art and quest/NPC design for one act as we’re finishing the game balance and testing on the previous one. To some extent the speed of creating Acts depends greatly on what resources we have. If players continue to generously support us, we’ll keep cranking out new Acts and other content!