We caught up with Grinding Gear Games CEO Chris Wilson to find out how development on their ARPG Path of Exile is coming along prior to the game going into open Beta this December.
IncGamers: First of all Chris, last week you revealed that so far through the supporter’s programme you have raised over 1million USD to help development of Path of Exile so congratulations there. Has the support lived up to your expectations and how has raising funds in this way helped push development forwards?
Chris Wilson: Yep! We’ve raised over US$1.35m from the sale of supporter packs so far since April. It has definitely exceeded my expectations, and helps us maintain this pace of development speed to Open Beta and hopefully beyond. We’ve scaled up our team size over the course of the year and are working frantically on finishing Act Three by December.
IncGamers: We are getting closer to the end of the closed Beta test now. It seems like POE has been in beta stage forever so why is it now you feel that the game is ready to be opened up to the masses?
Chris Wilson: The most important thing that happens during the transition to Open Beta is the final character wipe. Many players have been waiting for us to enter Open Beta so that they can play characters that will last forever. For a long time we were tinkering with the item balance of the game, knowing that any bad results from the experiments would eventually be wiped away. We’re now ready to do that last wipe and to enter Open Beta, pledging to keep people’s characters around forever.
By the time we enter Open Beta in December, we’ll have the last of the necessary game systems in place. PvP is being patched in this week, and we’re hoping to have a trade screen functional soon. Act Three will coincide with Open Beta, adding 50% additional content to the game.
IncGamers: With only matter of weeks to go now, is there anything you think will not quite make it into the open beta that you had hoped would make it in?
Chris Wilson: Some side areas of Act Three have been postponed (to what we internally call Act3X), and will be added early next year. Most of them are not necessary for the main plot, but will help flesh out some parts of the Act once they’re in. Other than that, all the major systems we intended to launch Open Beta with should be in place. Having said that, there are heaps of improvements that we will be adding in the months following the start of the Open Beta.
With the announcement of Act III last week , what do you think players will find most enjoyable about the new zones?
Chris Wilson: One of the things that many players have been waiting for is more information on the backstory of who exiled their character and what caused the catastrophes in Wraeclast’s history. Act three delivers this information and helps push the plot forward in hopefully unexpected ways. Act three will be very enjoyable for players who like to find out answers to questions they’ve pondered while playing the Closed Beta.
The thing that I personally enjoy the most about the act is the variety of different locations and monsters that inhabit the city of Sarn. There’s a lot of interesting stuff to see, and I’m really enjoying exploring it while we work on putting the finishing touches on the content.
IncGamers: One of the cool things you have been doing each week is the Build of the Week videos where you talk us through a build created by the community. Having to look through player builds, has this helped the team tweak, balance and even change the way the skills in the game work?
Chris Wilson: Prior to doing the videos, we were already looking through player builds to see how people played the game. Having said that, getting to play one for long enough that we understand it and can make a (hopefully mistake-free) video about it has definitely helped us keep an eye on what the most powerful builds are doing. Players love to use the Build of the Week series as a way of showing off their most powerful characters and have them featured publicly by the developers.
IncGamers: How has the community of closed Beta testers helped you shape the game to what it is today? Do you think that without the feedback you have received, PoE could have been a different game as far as features are concerned?
Chris Wilson: The Closed Beta testers have been essential to the development of Path of Exile. The game is very complex, so we can’t possibly test all of the different permutations of character builds ourselves. Our community of testers have done a great job creating interesting characters and stressing the system to its limits.
Their feedback also helps us adjust design decisions that we were unsure about. While we’re sometimes pretty stubborn about how certain critical game systems should work, we’re happy to discuss our reasoning and to take player feedback on board.
IncGamers: PvP Arenas have just been launched so can you give an overview on how these actually work?
Chris Wilson: Players can play in 1v1 or 3v3 team arenas, in either of the “level 28″ or “unrestricted level” categories. A team wins a round when the opposing team has been eliminated. The first team to five wins is declared the winner of the match. We’ve added some monster corpses to each arena so that skills (such as summoning) that need corpses have some to consume. So far in our PvP alpha testing we’ve been having a lot of fun and have seen some really deadly PvP builds created by players.
IncGamers: Last month you added voice acting to the game for the NPCs. How hard was it to add this to the game and find the right voice actors for each NPC roles?
Chris Wilson: Adding voice acting to the game involved revamping how we handled NPC chat and all the user interface elements around that. We now store whether or not you’ve heard a speech option before, and have made various other improvements to fix the placeholder NPC UI that we had in the past. A lot of the implementation effort went towards polish issues like making sure that incidental character dialogue (“I have no mana”) does not repeat too often!
Finding the right voice actors was surprisingly easy. There’s a vast array of good voice talent in New Zealand, so we got the opportunity to work with some very talented actors to bring these characters to life.
IncGamers: Looking ahead to after the open beta phase you’ll obviously be wanting to keep players engaged with PoE, so what are your plans post release? Can players expect new content periodically? What are your plans?
Chris Wilson: We’re planning three different cycles of patches. Large-scale expansions will be deployed (for free) every year or so, adding large amounts of game content, such as new acts. Content patches will arrive every month or two, adding additional item variety, mods, monster behaviour, and so on. Finally, small micropatches will be deployed several times a week like we currently do, to address problems as they arise and solve balance issues in an incremental manner. It’s very possible that these small patches will continue to introduce new game features.
IncGamers: PoE is probably going to be the last big ARPG release of 2012 when it goes open Beta. Looking back on other releases such as Diablo 3 and Torchlight 2, do you still feel confident that you have gone down the right track with PoE and the game offers enough unique features to make this the game for ARPG fans to invest their time in?
Chris Wilson: Six years ago, I was hopeful that Path of Exile was on the right track to be the action RPG that hardcore players would feel most at home in. Nowadays, in light of other recent releases, I’m confident that this is the case.
The other ARPG releases of 2012 have done a great deal to bring interest to the genre and to raise the bar of action RPG quality. We’re really looking forward to adding Path of Exile to that set of great games and letting fans who haven’t tried it out yet give it a go.
IncGamers: Finally, we would love to know what you think of the current state of crowd funding . With PoE being partially crowd funded, what are your thoughts on the rise of sites such as Kickstarter and crowd funded projects? Do you think we will see projects failing to raise the funds they are looking for and there will be some sort of crowd funding fatigue?
Chris Wilson: I think crowd-funding is excellent. It frees indie developers from publishers, lets them keep control of their project, and also helps as a reality check for projects that don’t actually have enough interested players. If you fail to fund a crowd-funding campaign, it might be a sign that your project needs more work (even if that’s just in the presentation/marketing).
I think that Kickstarter is doing a great job and that it’s also good to see other competing crowd-funding sites. We decided to do it ourselves in the end – it’s hard to find crowd-funding services that support New Zealand, so we ran it on our own site.
I think that some projects will fail to raise enough funds – which is a shame, because they’re probably the ones with the most realistic cost estimates. We haven’t yet seen many high profile kickstarter campaigns fail to deliver a product, but I’m sure it’ll happen eventually (for whatever reason). Maybe that will cause crowd-funding fatigue?
IncGamers: I am going to open this up to you now to tell PC gamers everywhere why they should be checking out PoE. So sell it to us!
Chris Wilson: We’ve designed Path of Exile to be the action RPG for gamers who enjoy deep character customization. If you’re the type of player who loves to come up with crazy character builds and put together the items to test them out, then you’ll really enjoy the game. We also care an awful lot about the item hunt and various nerdy details of how game systems are itemized. If you can’t think of a greater thrill than finding a new powerful item in an online game, then Path of Exile may be exactly what you need.
Once we’re in Open Beta in December, the game will be completely free. We really look forward to seeing you in game and hearing your feedback!