What a day! Loic Claveau, European Lead Community Manager at Carbine Studios, invited a couple of fan sites to take part in a Q & A session with Jeremy Gaffneys, Executive Producer, via Skype about Wildstar!
While I am not the most eloquent writer my spoken English is even worse, haha. I have spent all day in a state bouncing between being happy for getting the great opportunity to speak to an idol whose games I have played for years and at the same time being nervous about being able to communicate properly.
The Wildstar publications over the last weeks have had pieces of previously unpublished content appear uncommented in screen-shots, week after week. This was topped by the the latest Wildstar Wednesday, were Jeremy introduced a gameplay video from the friends and family test and showed various mechanics in action (You can watch the video at the bottom of this post). A few days later Jeremy hosted an “ask me almost anything” at reddit, talking about many parts of the game and it becomes clear that Carbine Studios is going to reveal more of the game and tell us about information they have successfully dodged the past year.
Back to the Interview! The other participants were CosmicDebris from Jeux Online and Dann from Wildstar Hungary.
Even though Carbine Studios recently started to show us a bit more about their game I did not really expect to get a lot of answers or to have Jeremy delve deep into details, but I was mistaken! The interview turned out quite interesting and I had the impression that Jeremy, who is an eloquent talker, got carried away by his enthusiasm, in a fun way!
Q: Are races/classes restricted to specific factions, like for example Shaman/Paladin in World of Warcraft?
A: Each faction will have its own races and but use the same classes, for balancing reasons. There is a reason why other other games had different classes, but over time switched to merge them.
Both factions will have humans since players that are new to a game and do not know about the alien races and their abilities tend to choose humans. We want players in both factions to be able to do so.
We try to give archetypes of races to both factions, like the big burly guy, cute and small one or the dexterous looking race.
Q: Can you elaborate a bit more on end game character progression?
A: We want you to play the game as you like to play. There is benefits for each of the classes, races and also for each path. If you are an explorer you get for example access to a super jump pack, things that help you explore the world. It is important to us that you are able to differentiate your character and not have you feel like a cookie-cutter as you progress along the game. We already have some variation based on the path you choose since a Spellslinger who is a explorer feels very different form a Spellslinger who is a soldier. Beyond that it is important to us that you customize what your abilities are and we have some interesting systems around that which we can’t talk about, yet.
These systems each need need to make it through the goblet of “is it fun?”, “do the testers get it?”, “does it feel like an improvement?”. We also do something like that for our trade skill system. The reveal of our trade system is coming up and then we can talk about how we do them.
At max level, the elder game, it can’t be just like “hah, I reached max level now it is all about gear farming!”. One of the problems we wanted to avoid is that you feel gimped by choosing the wrong race at start. You know, players don’t know much about the game and simply choose the race they think looks the most fun and we don’t want them to feel that they hurt themselves in pvp or raids by these early choices. If you chose for example a tiny race and want to be real good at strength based abilities you will have to work harder than the Granok to achieve this, but you won’t be limited.
Q: You said that you do not want to have players make a choice at character creation that they might regret later. But at the same time you choose the path right at character creation.
A: That is true. We have debated about that and at the moment they are permanent choices. People make wrong class choices all the time, where they regret that they would like a stronger, faster class or do not like cast times. But if you ask players if they like to build stuff, explore stuff, kill things they know how they like to play. It does not matter if you heard of the path system before or the Bartle Test of Gamer Psychology. There are not really any wrong choices and it makes sense to put it up at the beginning since it is a fundamental part of your character.
Q: You say that player paths are +25% content but as completionist I see it as -75% lost since I cannot experience content of the other paths.
A: The completionist play-style is the scientist. You examine stuff, learn how things play together and become more powerful doing so. There is plenty to do for a completionist. You are going to examine the game world, you are going to get the achievements and collect every collection mechanic we put into the game. You are going to unlock any random dungeon that can be created. You can play the game in this kind of fashion and we know there is a big chunk of players like that and it is one of the reason why we build one of the paths (scientist) as an all around style. There are 15-20% of players who play completionist style. A small fraction of these wants to get the 100% score, getting all achievements and we support this.
Part of the elder game is to make new characters and try out different races, classes and paths, which is one of the reasons we have a plenty amount of content change based on the path you play. You will see new content in areas you have already been before.
Q: What is the maximum Level? How long will it take to reach it?
A: The goal to have hundreds of hours of fun and content while leveling up. The leveling game is only part of the fun in an MMO, where the second part is the elderly game. that starts once you reach your maximum level.
There is no better way to set fire to a huge pile of money than to create an MMO and not have an elder game. After all the long time it takes to level up we want you to have something cool to do once you reach maximum level. The goal is to not have you run out of stuff to do or getting you bored while doing it. We are in the process of testing different things on friends and family version of the game and base the elderly game on the feedback we get there.
Q: Will there be a specific healer class?
A: We try to let everybody play the game as they want to play and multiple classes can heal. For example the Esper, which we already have revealed, is a pretty good healer. Not everyone can choose to be the tough guy taking all the hits, but everyone can choose to be a damage dealer, regardless of their initial class.
We try not to have that one class to fill out your raid group/dungeon group, because it is a pain to stand around and wait for the healer. So we try to give as many abilities to different classes and make sure you can spec that way and build their character to fill multiple roles.
Q: Can we make individual character builds?
A: You choose your race and based on the race you get a limited sets of classes you can play. But everybody can be every path. There are a already a lot of combinations with the 4 paths we have announced and the final amount of classes. As you advance in your path you get more abilities to choose and the cost of these skills are based on your race.
For example the huge rock guys, the Granok, are great at doing all the strength based stuff. It is especially easy for them in the elder game to get access to this stuff. On the other hand it is very hard for an Aurin to do and they will have to put a massive amount effort to make it work. All these things influence on how you customize your character and thus the kind of build you are going to have.
Q: Is it possible to tame animals?
A: Not that we have announced yet, but for sure we will have it for quests. You can get an animal to turn into a mount, or have it follow you around and support you.
In terms of taming being systemized as class or trade skill, we haven’t really announced anything, yet. We are testing lots of stuff and definitely have a big interest in it.
Q: What can you tell us now about the social designer that you mentioned at gamescom?
A: We can talk a little about that. We don’t really like to hype stuff and not have you see it. Many of the social elements fall under this category. We have a lot of cool ideas but we need more testers to test them out well.
The settler is the player path that really focuses around the social part of the game. There are 2 key parts for them, social quests and social rewards. They build up main parts of the game area, like houses, cities, add new vendors, new entries on taxi hubs, general improvements to an area. Everyone likes having a lot of settlers in the area since the area keeps improving a lot.
For example you may make a pick-nick and everyone who eats at your pick-nick gets +10 strength, but at the same time you get a stacking +5 strength for each participant. It will benefit the player and others to use the pick-nick at a crowded place. You can’t really look up on the web to see “where is the best spot to place a pick-nick?” because it varies where people are gathering on your server.
Q: Can you tell us a bit more about the trade system and auction house?
A: The auction house is actually in the middle of implementation, we will need to see what the final form of it is.
The idea is that buying and selling is a standard MMO feature, but we are experimenting with ways to make interaction between players more interesting for trade skills or being able to work on a quest together. These are the toughest systems to test in an MMO. All theories and ideas are nice but in the end the players decide if the features are cool or not. Before we go into further detail we need to finish prototyping and we need more testers.
Q: Do you have plans for guild housing?
A: We haven’t decided one or the other and thus can’t talk about that kind of stuff, yet.
Q: What plans do you have on raid sizes?
A: In general we like larger raid sizes. Exact specifics require a lot more testing. Our company has only like 150 people and getting together sufficient groups for elder game content is quite a challenge, which is why we do friends and family testing now to get more helpers.
Philosophically many games started off with larger raid sizes and over time back down to lower raid sizes. Especially for new games that come out, you need to have some challenges in your elder games. Our elder games are not for wimps.
Anyone can level up, but real skilled players might do it more efficiently. They can do combat really well and take advantage of extra experience bonuses. But in the elder game it is not about the casual player, it is about the hardcore guys who really want a challenge. While it is not all about having huge groups, some guilds are really good at gathering and organizing. This implies larger raid sizes.
Some games talk about 10 man and 5 man raids, we will do some raids that are larger scale. We will get into detail once we are talking about elder game which is still in an early stage of development.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about group and raid system?
A: This is subject to player testing and feedback. Our groups are 5 man at the moment and we are balancing around that.
Currently we are in the process of filling up the world with content and are starting right now on the elder game. We have not talked much about raids and are prototyping systems, before we can finalize things. We have some cool ideas but we need to have real player’s feedback to see if these work or need to be replaced with a new system. This is an ongoing process and as we progress we will start to talk about it.
Q: You mentioned that servers can house thousands of players, are big events possible with many players at the same location?
A: Yes, absolutely. Players do what the hell they want to do. The players can have huge battles on a pvp server or simply get together and congregate. It is an essential part of this business to make sure your engine supports having 200 players get together and beat a world boss. We build our engine to make sure they can and we want the players to get together and do crazy stuff.
Q: Will there be flying mounts?
A: Yes! the world is built for flight and Wildstar will provide flying mounts. We have a variety of flying mounts and experiment with different kinds of powers. We are using a lot of effort to make sure that movement is fun. 50% of your time playing an MMO are spent moving around and it has to be fun. This is why we have super-speed, super-jump, double-jump, or loftite for ground movement.
We tease a lot of these high level things like flying mounts in quests, or environmental effects, where we throw you in the air and you need to land somewhere, get a speed-buff for a temporary mount or flight with limited access. As you get to higher level we give you more abilities to choose and then a permanent mount with some abilities. The philosophy is to give you movement types early on and you can choose the movement type that you enjoy the most.
Q: Will there be armed vehicles or have special abilities?
A: Since we are a SciFi game not all mounts are creatures, some are vehicles. We already have shown the Hoverbike driving around.
The Hoverbike is not the only game-play element in the debut trailer which is actually in the game. Driving around on your Hoverbike and falling into dungeons that rubble up out of nowhere, studying plants that burst into flames. By the time we have made these last videos there isn’t much we haven’t shown, aside artistic elements like jumping on top of the dragon and shooting it into the head. But these dragons to exist somewhere and plants in Gallows may be a bit more deadly than they appear.
These game-play elements touch the subject of mounts, too. The Hoverbike is not the only mount in the game, we have a bunch of them.
Q: We saw a lot of jumping around, will it require dexterity?
A: Yes, it will require dexterity. If you are an explorer we let you do a lot of stuff like this. If you see a tree, then there is probably a way you can leap from branch to branch to get up. As explorer we will reward you for exploring stuff like that. We don’t have a lot of that for other players, since not everybody likes doing this and there is dexterity required to do it. We don’t want to have situations like “mom can’t play because she can’t figure out how to jump from platform a to b” or if someone is handicapped we don’t want them to feel like they can’t play.
As explorer you will find a lot of optional content at areas where you can bounce to or jump to. It is not all about jumping around, some parts are only visible for the explorer where you can find a hidden path rubble up out of nowhere and get to otherwise inaccessible places. Then your non-jumping friends can follow you up and find and take part in the rare content that is up there.
Q: You mentioned that dungeons can appear, how will this happen? Will these be predictable events?
A: We do several kinds. A common example is that a spaceship lands next to you and brings you somewhere else. Our engine lets us modify the terrain at runtime. That means we can have a dungeon entrance rubble up, have micro dungeons or even caves appear.
In early development we had these things appear random. For example a spaceship crashes, guards start to come out and secure the area and a little dungeon inside the ship popped up. But players did not realize that this was happening dynamic, since the event had already happened when they were not in the area and players thought it was just normal static content. So we changed these events to be player started. The player interacts, and sees the cool thing happen and realizes that he caused this change and have him observe its impact on the game world.
Part of layered content is about interacting with the environment. There is one area in the game with various prey and predator animals. There are also druids in the area who start healing and buffing animals and have these packs become stronger or weaker. Prey is scared of you. You walk into prey animals and they run away into a bunch of predators and nearby poachers. The AI reacts by firing at the group. If there is a druid in that group he will buff the prey which turn out to be tough for the predators and you come by and can take advantage of the situation. None of that is an dynamic event, it happens because of an interesting base system and an AI that can handle it. These kind of unique things happen on their own accord.
We do have scripted events, but having these kinds of systems near each other that cause interesting interactions. In our video you see loftite, a blue crystal which makes you super-jump. As scientist you can study loftite and it becomes more powerful for you, enabling you to jump even higher. So I was running around studied loftite and accidentally jumped a bit too far, landing in a minefield close by. It blew me up to the loftite and it made me jump super high. This way I found a chain of events that brought me to low Nexus orbit *laughs*
That kind of interaction is just cool. We built the world for flight so it handles everything, sending you to lower Nexus orbit … until the part where you land *laughs*
We know all the content and even we are surprised how these mechanics work together.
Q: Will there be a series of in-game events that will make the world evolve?
A: Absolutely. We intent to put more focus on story and single player content into the elder game. Other games focus on farming and raiding for elder game content. They even progress their story in raids and if you are not a hardcore raider you cannot experience the story.
The Wildstar story advances in the game world and we like you to be able to participate as solo player in your elder game without being yelled at “don’t stand here, more dots, more dots, don’t die there, you newb!”
Story and raiding does not work so well together. During raid you can’t just sit in a corner and read a book on this demon in front of you and his impact on the world or you would end up dead.
Q: Talking about dynamically changing environment, what sorts of effects will we see in the game world? Will rain cause a flood for example?
A: One of the zones we show in the video has wind as a dominating theme. The wind will affect all kinds of stuff. Smoke effects on the battle field will get blown around, wind sprouts will blow you up in the air, the grass and trees wave heavily in the wind and even affects the spell particles. We try to make as many things as possible reactive like that. We want you to get the vibe that you are in a windy area.
We have a lot of things that the AI knows and reacts to them. For example there is a use for fire. Some creatures run away from a campfire and others come to warm up.
We don’t at the moment do have rain create a flood, but we are also in an early development stage and it is too early to say this will or won’t get in.
We like these effects on your environment, as they affect your play style, combat and thus on your game experience.
Q: How far are you in development and what are you focusing on?
A: Right now we are in production mode, adding layer content to the many zones we have. We load these zones with a very high density of layered content, small and big in scale, and have the player interact with it.
For example the big bad robot you have seen in the video (at the end of this post) is shooting laser beams and you have to juggle with that at the same time as you are, as scientist, studying why these rabid creatures glow in the dark. Then we add time challenges, kill quests, discoveries and have new dynamic content popping up.
Layered content is quite fun to add as developer.
We add content and test it, get feedback and make it better and better and better. This is the process we are in right now. It is literally friends and family that are testing this and as we test more systems we add new people and eventually this will turn into a beta program. We are not talking about dates, but it will happen as soon as we run out of friends!
Q: What kind of realm types will Wildstar have? PvP/PvE/Roleplaying?
A: Our goal is to provide opportunities for all the micro-communities that will make up the WildStar community as a whole. That means talking with roleplayers, fans of PvP, fans of tradeskills, etc, to find out what they want, and working to meet those expectations. In short, we will discuss the nature of PvP, PvE, and Roleplay Servers with our fan base to make sure we understand what people need, and that we are delivering it.
Q: Can you tell us about item customization?
A: We have a deep reveal coming up featuring the trade skills, crafting and harvesting systems, but yes item customization is a feature that will exist in Wildstar.
Q: What is the motive behind pvp? Will there be instanced battlegrounds?
A: If you are on a PvP Server, there will be open world PvP. In the last video we only showed 2 zones Algoroc and Galeras which will take you to about level 20. The zone afterwards is where you start with open world pvp. As we reveal that zone we will talk more about that.
We will do large scale, instanced battlegrounds, pick up group style, where you win or lose and then move on. Since our engine supports modify-able terrain this means that we can do a lot of cool stuff in battlegrounds. We will talk more about that at a later time.
Q: What happens if a character dies?
A: At gamescom we had a variety of death effects and you choose the one you want. For example to come back near the combat with a higher penalty or in town with a lower penalty. We want to hit the right level between danger and frustration. This is not really finalized, yet as it requires a lot of data to analyze and player input.
Q: In Asheron’s Call it was possible to level up monsters and create interesting situations with that. Are there such options in Wildstar?
A: I was a fan of that system, actually I am wearing my Asheron’s Call shirt today. For those not familiar with the game, I founded Turbine in 1993/1994 and worked a lot on Asheron’s Call.
It was very amusing watching a rabbit, that someone leveled high, lay waste of other poor, innocent players. But it is also dangerous because it is a griefing technique.
In past games I used to charm a goblin give him a magic sword and put my high level thorns on him. It was fun to watch how he ran around killing newbies until eventually one of them killed him and took the sword. It was a great deal of fun for me, but I am not sure if it was a great deal of fun for the low level players that tried to kill the goblin. *laughs*
So we try to strike a balance, but I love that system and emphasize with the desire for the return of it.
Q: Wildstar is announced for PC only, do you have any plans for console gamers?
A: No, we won’t do anyhting for consoles. We don’t like to make a game that is “ok” for both platforms, we want to create a game that is awesome for one. If we decide to make a spin off at a later stage we might decide to make that one console only.
It has been quiet in the Carbine Camp for a long time and things did not really seem to advance at all. Until about 2 months ago, even Wildstar Wednesdays covered pretty much information that an attentive viewer could have already gathered from gamescom 2011 coverage. You began to wonder or even fear that more than a pretty starter zone, the Northern Wilds, did not exist.
When I review the interview, it is not so much what Jeremy said, but how he elaborated our questions. When I am very enthusiastic about something, there are all these ideas and details that rush through my mind. My mind is so full of stuff that it needs to spurt out and this is what the interview reminds me of. Jeremy seems so full of enthusiasm when he talks about the game and its mechanics that you get a feeling that it is in good hands. It seems like many cool ideas were already implemented and ready to be revealed.
So I am very happy and appreciate that I could take part in this Q & A. It is great to see that Carbine invests a lot of time even in us smaller fansites. It is far more than I could ask for. I’d also like to thank Dann from Wildstar Hungary who helped me out after the interview! Thanks!