Trion Studios conducted their question and answer session on Reddit today with Scott Hartsman taking the stage. The Executive Producer took part in a RIFT AMAA, which stands for “Ask Me Almost Anything”. This meant that, unfortunately, some questions remained unanswerable, especially most pertaining to Storm Legion and patch 1.10. Still, some interesting questions did get answered, and similar to yesterday’s AUAA session with Trion’s Community Team, we received a rare glimpse into the work place where Telara comes to life.
The entire AMAA session can be found on Reddit, but for a distilled version with only the questions and answers, keep reading. Note: it’s still quite a long read, though I’ll do my best to cut out some of the unneeded fluff.
Kekoas: Hi Scott, author of KBM here.
Firstly, does anyone in the office use KBM (or any other addons for that matter?)
Secondly, do you feel addons are currently adding or subtracting from the Rift experience, and are they inline with the in-house goals for Rifts future?
Lastly, and selfishly. Any chance you can poke the right people in the office to get together some sort of dictionary for internal texture locations? (including UI) and more importantly for me (this would be the selfish part) a list of Ability, Buff/Debuff and Units type ID’s? A long shot I know, but would help with development my end.
Thanks for the work you guys put in to the API (Watchdog disasters aside, seems to be behaving now), especially documenting it, and also the work put in to giving us a really useful Daily Error Report. I personally appreciate it.
hartsman: Awesome job! Very well done. Thank you for doing what you do. (And same to any other addon authors who might read this — Thank you all so much.)
For KBM – Yes. I could name at least six of us off the top of my head. I’m sure there’s more. I have about 15 installed, myself.
Interesting thing about your mod in particular – Thanks for helping a few of us think about combat telegraphing more clearly. (The raid designers obviously already think this way, but it helped a few of us catch up in a really concrete way.)
When player-testing Infernal Dawn, for instance, a few of us started thinking about what was going on in terms of: “Is this going to end up in KBM, or should we make it clearer?” Which is how we got people growing when charmed on conclave, how we got the stomp on Ituziel, and a few others.
One the addon system questions – I am sure the head addon dude is reading this right now, and probably now knows I’ll ask him what you just asked here, next time I wander over there.
Foolra56: You’ve been working in the MMO business for quite some time it seems. Can you talk a little bit about some of the big things you’ve noticed change in the way the business exists over the past 10 years? Everquest was obviously popular, but I imagine everything exploded when WoW was released. How much easier is it now to get funding for an MMO vs 10 years ago?
hartsman: Great question. I’ll apologize in advance for not being able to type out an answer huge enough to do it justice — it really a massive topic.
Competition has gone through the roof, clearly. 10 years ago, just getting to launch meant that a reasonably large number of people would at least check you out. Not so anymore.
Following on to that, production costs of what it takes to get to launch with something done “the classic way,” that can stir up enough interest to get enough people to check you out, have gotten insane and are at the point of being unsustainable.
I think that, in concert with the fact that people use other online services (like facebook) for social connections, which didn’t used to exist — when previously many gamers used MMOs as their for “being social, at home, on a computer” — has led to the new styles of online games that are focused much more on gameplay — LoL, Minecraft, and so on. Tighter focused games that are clearly all about the gameplay.
I think we’ll continue seeing more of “online, more focus” and less “MMO world that costs practically a quarter billion dollars.”
hartsman:: By “reasonably” large, I meant: “enough people to actually hope we can keep everyone employed after it launches, and make enough money to keep making games.”
Back in the first gen of MMOs, the budgets were quite literally 1-2% of the total of what the rumors around most recent large scale MMO cost, all in, including licensing and marketing.
Takes a LOT fewer users to pay back a couple million as opposed to a few hundred million.
matthra: There has been some concern raised over Windows 8, by both Valve and Blizzard, is Trion Worlds concerned about Windows 8 and if so why?
hartsman: No active concerns here, but I do think the concerns expressed so far are both interesting and valid.
When “selling the actual software” in a given OS has been left to others, it’s provided a pretty great result, a lot of innovation, and a ton of customer choice.
I think the amount of actual impact will be directly proportional to the kind of user experience they’re capable of providing.
All that said — My personal view is that more choice in where to get software is best for everyone, on all devices.
PalonHawk: The first MMO I ever played was Ultima Online. I remember times when people would lose years of inventory if they were killed at the wrong time. (House key stolen, etc). Really devastating stuff.
How do you feel about a return to SERIOUS consequences for death in an MMO? Do you think it will ever return to mainstream games or is it too intense for the crowd that now plays them?
I personally think it is the one big thing that is missing from all current popular MMO’s.
hartsman: I think these kinds of mechanics are satisfying to some people, for sure — IMO, it comes down to a question of: “How much time investment are people to lose, and what’s the cost to rebuild?” — And then how many people will find that balance point satisfying?
Looking at a DayZ, for instance – It doesn’t get any harder core than that. You die, you are DEAD. But you’re also not losing a massive time investment. That appeals to enough people because the balance between time invested vs. total loss has been found for a sizeable number of people.
On the other hand, picture a game like an EQ/Rift/WoW/etc – Lots of unique items. People spending hours/days to get a particular non-commodity. You can’t really do a permanent loss system in a world of non-commodity, rare items. The number of people to whom that would appeal would be phenomenally low.
I’m not a UO expert, so I apologize if I get this wrong – But my interpretation was that there were predominantly commodity items which one could store up replacements for ahead of time, and not a ton of unique/bound items. That game definitely found its balance regarding what it took to rebuild.
Though at least inside the industry is the open question: Did it ever even work for UO at all once competition existed? Losing everything was frequently a death sentence for the customer – they’d walk. Some would stay. Many would bail.
Given that, I don’t know that it’s as black and white of a subject. Is it “the crowd who plays games now is THAT much more risk averse” or is it “that it didn’t really work even among a large crowd back then; and it only worked as long as it did because it was the only game in town at that point?” Or something in between?
Like I said, I’m definitely not the expert there – Just repeating what I’ve heard others opine on. Some smart people have said some smart things on the subject.
bctrainers: -While many can just go look at your LinkedIn profile and get an idea of your past and see the work that you have done at previous companies; what makes Trion/Rift much more addictive/fun than your previous companies/titles?
-When Rift was still in Alpha/Friends and Family, a lot of changes were rapidly taking place with the game. What was the most stressful accomplishment (aside from launch) since launch of Rift during this time?
-If there was one “oops, that wasn’t suppose to happen!” moment, what would have it been in your time in the industry?
hartsman: -The first one that comes to mind is the variance of the experience of the people I’m working with today. I don’t have an hour’s experience shipping single player games. Over the past few years, I’ve learned more than I can describe about how to take some of the better practices from what successful single player games have done in the past, and which parts can be applied to improve quality/efficiency/etc in certain areas of MMO production.
-Aside from this AMA? Easy answer – Every single major patch day. In alpha, we were never going more than a couple days without updating. If something goes wrong, it clearly must have been a change someone made in the last couple days. Not so once you’re live. Mystery crash/corruption happens that you can’t diagnose? Ok, which of the 12,000 changelists since the last major update is the problem. Good luck!
-I wish I had a funny answer for you here – I really do! The thing with ultra-complex games is that you will have one of those moments, where you log into the game to see how the patch went, and find yourself with your hand on your forehead saying, “What the f….” pretty much every week. Once you take that as a given, it’s about making sure that you have the right setup to deal with it as fast as you can once you discover it, and the humor and grace to deal with it openly, and an audience that is happy their game is getting updated rapidly, such that they’re exceptionally forgiving of those kinds of moments – Because to them, the good far, far, far outweighs the bad.
MrTravesty: What do you think the future of free to play games is?
hartsman: I think they’re definitely here to stay – There’s something uniquely compelling to a pretty big (and growing) audience about zero-friction, try it out, kick in some money if I like it, walk away if I don’t.
I think the bigger issues (and concerns) that come into play center around – What exactly are people paying for? If it’s cosmetics, convenience, and time, people view it almost as a Donate button — “I like these guys; good job, have a couple bucks.”
When it’s pay to win, you’re making a game for a different audience entirely.
And then there’s an entire range of strategies between those two as well.
One of the things that shocked me when we first launched Rift and were doing our own research was the number of people who admitted they were previous Sub-based gamers only, who, in 2011 would now simply refuse to play any game that required a subscription.
Obviously there were plenty who were okay with sub still existing, but the swing in the general sentiment was definitely there, and very pronounced.
We took that as our challenge to make damn sure we were going to be able to go above and beyond in terms of what people were actually getting for that sub, which we express through our updates and what they contain.
When we drilled down, the resistance to a sub in 2011 was in no small part because of the overall state of the economy. The number of people who simply would reply with: “Look, I’d love to play – This is exactly my kind of game, but I just plain can’t afford the $15 a month I used to on entertainment. It sucks, but I can’t.”
That’s what led to us doing Rift Lite, and thoughts of how we might do more with that program in the future. I hate that we live in a world where $15 on entertainment has entered the realm of “unaffordable luxury” to a far larger number of people than it rightly should.
I’d really like to make sure we can give those folks something to play in the future too. We can’t fix the economy, but we can try to give people an hour of socially connected entertainment here or there. That’s the social value we provide. It’s on us to figure out how to best do that.
uberwolf0: Why do you think so many companies tend to just recreate the same game over and over when they take their shot at an MMORPG? Do you feel that this entertainment field lacks innovation and if so, why do you think that is?
hartsman: Couple reasons… 1) Happens less now than it did previously, but you’d get people who really want to work on their own version of a game that they love.
2) On the business side — The more money that gets put in up front – The less “risk” people who own said money want. Unknowns add Risk. Think of risk as variance. Risk means: Potentially greater payoff! But also potentially greater failure.
You especially see that dynamic with big public companies — Their success (share price) depends on as little variance from a plan that was created well ahead of time as humanly possible. The perfect public company is one that is perfectly predictable.
The whole system is built to mitigate bad, evil Risk.
Games production is all ABOUT risk, variance, iteration, and discovery.
I have to imagine that squaring those diametrically opposed needs is the biggest challenge anyone in those situations faces.
Mordithi: What is your favorite thing to drink while playing Rift?
hartsman: Coffee if it’s early, During raids: http://beeradvocate.com/beer/profile/436/7864/
“Oh, guildies. You’re why daddy drinks.”
Zyzyx_rift: How do you feel the new “purposes” (preset soul builds) are working out for new and current players?
Rogue energy regeneration is the single most important issue for quite a number of players. Daglar, a lead dev posted saying that he would look into this back in MAY. Any chance you can let the community know anything about potential progress?
hartsman: I like the purposes a lot – One of the most satisfying things to see is when a new player’s there in chat, and 50’s are telling him or her in newbie chat: “Seriously, just stick with (purpose) for now, it works.”
Energy regen did get tweaked then – When we removed the energy regen from the tablets and applied it to the rogue calling as a builtin. As we go forward to the expansion, we’re still keeping a close eye on pacing and satisfaction of what classes feel like when they don’t have support buffs.
fluxionz: -Repetitive graphics. Where has Rift taken the graphics? Are you doing more interesting/colorful raids, and not recycling graphics?
-Selective guild beta testing access. How do you now handle advance testing of content? Is testing less exclusive?
-RoS and GP felt rushed. GS was obviously not well tested, either. There were TONS of bugs on release. Are new raids being more extensively/broadly tested before release, also?
-Guilds that exploited RoS, GS, and GP for server first kills were not punished. Has that changed?
-RNG achievements. Crazy Critter, I’m looking at you. The fact that critter spawn placement is randomized, so the number of critters you get is random, well. That was incredibly frustrating when we were a guild of highly precise players.
-Nowadays, what kind of healing team do developers keep in mind when new raid challenges are designed?
hartsman: Art Style – Ultra-Vivid everything-in-the-palette is really more a point of style of some games. At the same time, a person with a different outlook could look at HK and really enjoy it. Later areas, like Ember Isle, have a visual theme that does lend itself toward a lot more color variance. It’s about making the style fit the area.
Lifetouched/Deathtouched/etc – To us that’s not as much about reuse (since new assets are created pretty regularly), but about a consistent visual theme for each plane. There defintiely are elements of the planar themes that are being upgraded for the expansion. If the first shots of it in one of the dungeons aren’t out there already, I know they will be soon.
Guild testing – Fielding 20 who can be on time, pre-patched, and ready to go is the best thing people can do to get picked, and the best thing to ensure raids get sufficient testing. See my note below about the limiting factor being developer bandwidth. We bend over backwards here – There are many, many nights where you’d see raid designers in the office until 1am just to make sure they could work with EU guilds, for instance, to spread the fairness as much as we humanly can. One other thing that we do is to ensure no guild ends up testing more than a fraction of the content now. Despite our doing this – There still will be people who still perceive matters as unfair. It’s sad, but it’ll happen. If people require more fairness than “a guy is working a 16 hour day just so my guild can test,” to be happy in an MMO, I guarantee the MMO they are looking for simply does not exist.
Raid testing in general – Check out a post I made here elsewhere about raid testing.
RNG achievements/mechanics in general – We stomp them now. “Random chance for death in the face” “Random chance for loss,” we try to mitigate and catch in testing.
Healing details, strategies, and goals – That is so outside my depth, I lost sight of the sunlight. I will not even pretend.
fuzzyyoji: What is the one thing you think Rift has over the competition?
hartsman: Just as a hardcore player of rift myself, there’s really three things that keep me interested in playing that I don’t think are done as well anywhere else:
-Speed of useful and interesting updates – A lot of them kinda feel like I’m almost playing a new game every couple months. There’s almost always something worth checking back in on.
-Shared/open world mass PvE and events — especially now that we have Instant Adventure and mentoring. Really big game changer to me.
-I really like our raid game — both the 10s and 20s.
fuzzyyoji: What class do you play as your main? I’m an altoholic myself.
hartsman: I have to give the EP answer. “I love all my children equally.”
resson36: My first and second MMO were both Everquest, and Everquest 2, what were your roles on these games?
hartsman: I was originally “additional programming help” brought in on EQ in the post-Velious era (what that team did with five or six programmers was amazing), then became its tech director, then went on to be EQ2’s tech director for the year before it shipped, then around EQ2’s launch, became the showrunner/senior producer.
Lewichan: How did you first break into the gaming industry?
hartsman: I was 15, playing a mud called Scepter ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scepter_of_Goth ), and made friends with the people who were running it.
They brought me on as a “GM” — at the time that was a combo of: Customer Support, Billing Support, Community Management, and oh by the way, you guys also make the whole game world, creatures, items, and areas.
Decided I wanted to learn more about how these things worked, so I began to teach myself programming….
And with a whole lot of support and help from friends who worked on that game and others, actually became good enough at it to make a living. To me it’s always been about wanting to learn more about the entirety of how things work, so I can understand how all the pieces fit together.
Ceowulff: Currently the Defiant RP hub on Faeblight is protected by powerful KoS guards. The Guardian RP hub has no guards so any defiants can walk in and troll guardian RP without any consequnce. This leads to weekly problems for the Guardian RP players on Faeblight.
Since the lore of the game teaches that the two factions are at war wouldn’t it make sense to have two guards in front of the Guardian RP hub ( the blunted quill in ardgent glade ) who would protect it?
They could have a very short chase range as to not interfere with the rest of the zone activites but this one small change would do wonders for the Guardian RP community.
Any chance you could do this?
hartsman: If our resident RP caretaker hasn’t already seen this, I’ll make sure to mention it to him. If the situation’s as you describe, certainly sounds reasonable to me.
Eshne: I’ve seen a lot of the people involved in making Rift are avid players as well. do you guys have to remain secretive about who you are if involved in guilds or do you find people are mature enough to have you guys as regular players?
hartsman: Definitely secretive. The entire tone changes once someone knows you work on the game you’re playing together.
Half the reason to play with real people is to hear unfiltered feedback and get the visceral feeling yourself of the impact the game is having on people — Both the good and bad parts, but especially the bad parts.
I’ve played on full-time test servers on past games with players who knew who I was – Awesome, great fun people to play with. Completely different conversational tone.
Put less delicately: If something fucking pisses someone off to the point of fucking smashing their fucking keyboard – Hearing it in those words, helps.
campermortey: I preordered Rift when it came out, played for a couple months, got burned out, came back, and got burned out. Do you see this as a common problem with MMO’s in general (thus affecting your bottom line) or as something specific to a game?
hartsman: I wouldn’t call it a problem — I’d call it “how many people have been playing for the last 10 years.” There’s nothing special about us on this one. It’s is actually a pretty common pattern in MMOs.
Some people take it up as a daily thing, other people weave in and out. It’s all perfectly normal and okay, and the business is planned around it happening.
Ice_Hole: Do you/Trion have any plans/desire to fix up the PvP game and completely flesh it out? Or complete the Conquest feature of the game? Like I said, it all has potential, it just feels unfinished and an over simplification of what it should be. Sadly at this point, it doesn’t feel like Trion, it feels like you gave an intern 2 weeks to make a new game mode.
I like the game, I just feel like Trion neglects their PvP community.
hartsman: On segmentation.. One thing I’ve definitely noticed since we got Rift off the ground – is that a lot of people use “PvP Player” as if it was a single minded segment that’s easy to address, “if only we’d listen!”
I’ll use a totally unfair and exaggerated example just for illustration’s sake – It’s almost like referring to “The Liquid Drinking Public” and trying to come up with one answer that fits them all – while forgetting that even among themselves, there are many, many contradictory opinions.
At this point, there are at least a dozen types of “PvP players” out there, who all tend to describe themselves as “The PvP Player.”
-People who think arenas are the end all be all, but want gear progression.
-People who want TF2 – No gear, just cosmetics, perfect balance. Bring your skill only.
-People who want Frontiers
-People who want Alterac Valley
-People who for some reason REALLY enjoyed six hours of “beat up the keep door” in games in the past (PvDoor? Did we just invent a new genre here?)
-…and plenty more…
The best we can do in this world is to make the best PvP that we can, that actually fits in our gameplay system, and hope an audience is there to enjoy it. Could we pick one of those pre-existing types of PvP and do a more focused and modern updated version of it? Absolutely. But we’re trying to make our own way. That will yield some fun things, and there will also be missteps along the way.
So – Short answer. Do we value our PvP players? Damn right.
Do we plan on continuing to trying to create and refine our own PvP? Hell yes.
Is everything we do going to make everyone who identifies themself as “a PvP player” happy? Not a chance. Maybe half if we’re super lucky.
On the amount of effort that creating new game modes, features, or anything takes — I think this is a great example of the disconnect between “what players perceive” and “the amount of effort something actually takes.” It’s kind of reflected in a lot of articles lately too, about how when studios fall, people reply: “HOW COULD THEY HAVE SPENT THAT MUCH MONEY?!”
To wit — What you perceive as “a couple weeks of an intern,” is actually “more than a handful of months, for a couple senior designers and engineers, with art, UI, and production support.” Just the act of making it work across an entire wargroup, at 1000-person match scale was tremendous. And creating all of the scriptability that allowed the game mode to be created was massive effort. Then debugging it. Then testing it. And now the ongoing tuning of it post-launch.
A lot of effort, from a lot of people who really just want to create entertainment. If you don’t enjoy it – Completely your right! I respect that.
At the same time, I sincerely do hope we manage to get something out there that does suit you in the future, either through the ongoing tweaks to what we have out there today, or new PvP development entirely.
Taylor_Vontell: I’m wondering if Rift will ever be adopting a Free to Play model. It seems like microtransactions are all the rage these days. Is it something you guys are looking into?
hartsman: Take a look at the answer up top of the page for the longer answer?
I think there’s more we can do in the future with the Rift Lite we have today, to help out people for whom a subscription remains (or has gone) totally out of reach.
Getting friends able to play with friends, in a world where not all friends can afford the same thing, is something that I think all MMO companies struggle with.
TheDingoesAteMyBaby: I have always understood that you were one of the driving forces behind the fairly radical post-launch changes to EQ2 that essentially saved that game from a death spiral…kind of the counterpoint to the equally radical, but completely disastrous, similar changes that were wrought on SWG. Given the very different outcomes that stemmed from these changes, do you think any lessons can be learned on when and how a MMO might want to radically overhaul gameplay? Do you believe that any of the many failed and/or disappointing (from a business standpoint) MMOs released in the last several years would have been good candidates for such an overhaul?
hartsman: Definitely one of the forces, but there were a lot of others who were equally (if not more) important.
For us on EQ2 at the time, comparatively speaking, we had a different set of problems to solve – We had a goal we were aiming for that we already had a lot of player support for, and an IP that we owned and could do anything we liked with.
We consciously drove out a path toward that goal, in a way that would maintain and even enhance some of the better unique parts of EQ2 (e.g. housing being EQ2’s crown jewel at the time), while executing toward it in a way that was more true to what the player perception of what “An EQ Game” was “supposed” to be about.
The biggest lesson, I suppose, is “If you’re going to undertake something radical, be damn sure it’s grounded in solid support from your existing audience. If they feel they’ve been betrayed, it’s game over. Feelings are a tricky thing. You’re never rebuilding an audience from scratch post-launch, no matter how great of a job you do – Even the new audience will remember you betrayed the last one, and wonder when it’s going to be their turn.”
UniverseLost: As a gaming old-timer, from MUDs played over TelNet to dynamic worlds supporting millions of players, I often marvel at how far the technology has come.
Any past examples of concepts you’d redo “now”, if you’d had today’s technology “then”?
Any concepts “now”, that you just don’t feel the current technology can support?
hartsman: Same here.
Yes- One great example was seeing our invasions happen. We can do more with them, but they’re the first example that comes to mind. When I was writing scripts in a mud, I had written a full invasion system (which never worked right), with the idea of having entire areas invaded/attacked/defended/taken over as an event.
Seeing our devs come up with a similar idea for Rift on their own, and then pull it off in 3d, with lighting, vfx, ai, etc — Far better than even my MUD-era dreams — Was great. Still want to do more with it though.
Concept now – Yes, but saving it for a future prototype.
suineg: What do you think about the ebb and flow of nerfs when it comes to raid bosses?
It feels like a boss in a game is set at a certain difficulty until you see that not many people are beating it and then it’s nerfed until a few more beat it and then nerfed again so anybody can beat it.
Is this just the nature of not knowing everyone’s skill level so you need to start bosses off hard? It seems like you could hit the middle ground leaving you some wiggle room for just very slight tweaks.
hartsman: Great question. I absolutely see how it feels that way. That’s generally never the outright intent, but it sure does work out that way more often than not.
Generally, there’s a couple key things that cause this dynamic:
-Raid testing is HARD. I am sure you know this. When we test raids, we’re lucky to get 20 humans online for a dozen hours to try a boss encounter, which happens to be the most script intensive type of activity we create. This is primarily because each raid test needs to be tied to the human being who created the encounter. They need to be there to debug and adjust it in real time — That makes the limiting factor dev bandwidth, which is our most precious/scarce resource.
-In the history of MMOs, no live server has ever behaved the same as a test server because of live load and player interactions on live. “Worked on my desk.” “Worked on alpha.” “Oh, look, doesn’t work on live.” We try to recreate live load as best as we can, and we (as an industry) are better at that than we ever have been, but that really just means we’ve gone from 0% good at it to maybe 50% good at it over the past ten years. There’s more work to do here.
In places we don’t adapt, we are better now at assuming the differences and compensating. We actively design in safeguards for live load and live internet issues whenever we can.
If you tested Ituziel before we released infernal dawn, you may remember that the timer on his buff went up over subsequent tests — That was a case where we played it and it went fine on internal shards, but in front of players, it just needed to be adjusted to give more margin for error.
Most of what you (accurately) perceive as progressive nerfs aren’t really intentional nerfs, it’s cases where we either didn’t discover a place we’d need to adjust for live play and live load, or discovered a bug that only occurred on live.
Intravax: The art style of the weapons and armor has come a long way since the game first launched. We now see a lot more weapons with more elaborate designs and effects. Were the artists limited in the beginning on what they could do by resources/time/scope or did you just need to encourage them a bit more so they could take advantage of the powerful toolbox you guys have to work with?
hartsman: A lot of it has to do with the sheer volume of art that has to be created just to have “enough” to launch with. In that regard, yes, it’s a “limit by time” issue.
Once a game is out the door, and you’re making incremental adds, you can spend more time on and put more love into each add. I really like what they’ve been doing since launch, too.
ErrnieGerrn: I would like to formally request more Rift activity on Google+. From you and your minions
dahanese: On behalf of the Community team I can tell you Google+ is in our plans and on the horizon. Maybe not a “tomorrow” horizon, but it’s there. Promise.
saberdoom: How did you start as a producer?
What did you do before?
What’s your education background?
hartsman: -After insisting that I didn’t want a production job for years, based on my perception of the crap producers had to deal with for a living, my studio head at the time bought me lunch and asked me to take the showrunner job on EQ2. It must have been a great lunch to cloud my judgement that badly, since I said yes.
-Technical director/coder/designer. I loved the sense of hands-on “I Built This Thing That People Are Going To Have Fun Doing!” more than anything else.
-My education is a little backward — I had been a self-taught coder for years before getting into college. My education was an electrical engineering variant with a specialty in computer systems. (I knew how code worked, but I didn’t know much about how hardware worked…so I went to go learn how computers work by starting with resistor…capacitor…and up from there. Really wanted to know how the whole thing worked together.)
-Lately? Finding the time to pay attention to any given thing for more than an hour, knowing when to transition things that I’m responsible for, to other people who actually have time to dedicate to doing them right. I fortunately have help here — My (effectively) co-show-runner of our studio at Trion, Russ, is a great partner in this, and he has no problem “gently” reminding me in places where I need to just let go of a thing and find it a permanent owner. He’s awesome.
StupidGenius: Is there any thing in the works to make HK faster, of dare I say nerf it? For example, decreasing trash pulls between the downstairs bosses? I know my raid team is lot more likely to wipe on some of the large trash pulls(like the groups between Murdantix and Zilas) than the actual bosses themselves.
Second, I hear a lot of horror stories about working in the game industry, such as horrible hours, over worked/under paid, unstable work/not knowing if you will have a paycheck next week, contractors being treated like crap, etc.
Do you have any advice for those looking to get in to the field to avoid those types things?
hartsman: The changes we made to HK that let people go “upstairs” right after the entrance was cleared were in part about letting people pick and choose more of what they wanted to see. It should help you pick he experience you guys want a least a little better than at launch, though it probably doesn’t help with the full-clearability.
Re: Work environments. Yeah, this one is really rough. Things can definitely be hit or miss.
The best advice I can offer quickly is: Do homework. Don’t be shy. Ask questions. We have linkedin, facebook, and more ways to actually talk to people who work at companies than we’ve ever had in the past. Do research on the internet, find people, and ask the questions that concern you.
Want to know what being an animator is like at company X? find an animator at company X and ask them. You’d be surprised how many insiders are happy to take the five minutes to answer a friendly email.
slabby: Will existing souls be redone for Storm Legion? I’m particularly hoping Bard will become something fit for a video game and not some elaborate way to put a member of the raid to sleep during encounters.
hartsman: Existing souls are getting attention for the expansion, yep.
Bard has been one that I’ve been playtesting a lot of myself on our internal servers. We, too, would also very much like Bard to be one of the fun/effective choices, as opposed to its wide perception of “Hey, you get to be the bard.” “Aw man.” (That’s not to say that it doesn’t currently have ANY fans – We actually do hear from people who like it today.
That’s been in progress for a few months now, along with the rest of the expansion soul updates. The work it takes to get there is definitely not the kind of thing that could be rolled out in live, before the full expansion is released.
xanduin246: You guys should let me buy SL already!
hartsman: We will shut up and take your money just as soon as we humanly can. Promise.
CalmWalker: When you were designing the game, did you work at all to build in fun stuff for solo players, or even making the game playable long term for a solo player?
hartsman: A lot of our approach to “working with other players” out in the open world is really different — We intentionally tried to do a lot of drop in/drop out style gaming, in which yes, you’re getting the benefits of working with other players, and the benefits of being in an MMO, with out the introvert-unfriendly moments of second to second interdependence.
The working theory being: People don’t mind being around others, they just don’t want to be “that guy” who has to pull a group together, or “that guy” who runs afk and makes everyone else wait, and so on.
That’s a lot of how our Zone Events got started, and our Instant Adventure got off the ground as well. The benefits of the other people, without the negative friction points.
It definitely seems to have worked out pretty well so far, and we’re continuing to expand on all of it through our expansion.
Chocobaba: I just want to congratulate you on the speed of your updates, the constant interesting content, and the SHIT TONS of things you can do in Rift. I wish all devs were like Rift devs. Really awesome job you guys are doing.
hartsman: Thanks a lot for saying that. Hoping people walk away with that impression is exactly why we do what we do.
apmcmillan3: +1 To Experience Loss on Death…with some experience returned with proper resurrections. Death is inconsequential now, and I miss the consequences.
Maybe a server with tougher rule set and greater rewards.
hartsman: Funny thing. We have an internal playtest list that also accumulates random ideas. A similar idea has come up there from time to time. Most recently, last month! Never know what the future will bring. I do agree, though, that special ruleset/short lifetime servers can be a really fun thing.
Noressa: What is your favorite part of being with Trion. What excites you there, with what you’ve done previously and where you’re going.
Frivolous/fun: I need to know about shoulder cats. Thoughts? Opinions? Arm availability? And corgis. Seriously why not ponies or other random objects of cute?! (So much corgi love in the Rift community.)
hartsman: Hahaha – I have a cat who insists on sitting exactly there, usually while I’m online. It was cute when he was a kitten. At 5, it’s a little more unwieldy. (And he just did it as I was typing this…aaaand there he sits)
What excites me the most is really simple — Amazing people doing work that impresses me pretty much daily. Seeing what people can get out of our tools and systems, and how they can improve them to create even more impressive things is just mindblowing.
Really looking forward to more people seeing those elements come out in the expansion.
Foolra56: Can you talk a little about how you see the raid design plans continuing to evolve in to Storm Legion? Obviously you cannot reveal specifics of boss fights or anything, but I am interested more in the how-to part of the raid design and what has changed since launch and is still changing as you head in to your first expansion. Specifically, can you address design thoughts on raid testing and requirements for specific classes to fill a role (ie, Laethys all but requires a cleric tank).
My second question is one that was raised in the Community AMA yesterday but wasn’t answered since they were the wrong folks to ask. Do you feel like resist gating (requiring the farming of resist essences for sigils/source engines for certain bosses) is a mechanic you like? Is it something we can expect to see more of in the future?
hartsman: That’s a lot of questions – I can pick one out fastest. Resists. (Yes, I’m a raider too – Water, earth, and fire cores, with runes.)
I think they have their place – And we have quite a few ways to get resists now compared to original. Definitely a lot better now.
You can (pretty much) just buy a full core (though not best in the game), you can augment gear with runes, you can (now) augment the focus’s resist itself using the new planarite runes…
If you want complete BiS? Yeah, that’s definitely going to require more effort and raid rift drops. But, at the same time, I think BiS shouldn’t be a requirement for success. I think that’s the sweet spot.
reilwin: I remember reading about the amount of effort Trion put into Rift’s launch day: practice “launches” done repeatedly in the weeks leading up to launch. Do you think since that the effort expended was worth it? Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently?
hartsman: Yes, yes, yes, and hell yes. )
Very little would have gone differently, at least about the launch. There’s quite a bit we’re stealing from it for the way our next games are being rolled out.
That’s what led to us doing Rift Lite, and thoughts of how we might do more with that program in the future.
What type of things are you and your team looking at specifically?
hartsman: For Lite (Lite Plus?) (Not Quite So Lite Anymore?) honestly, nothing solid enough to comment in public on yet. We’ve had some brainstorms on the subject over the past year, have thrown out a number of bad ideas, and kept some good ones to germinate.
The strong desire for options that are more available to more people of a wider range of economic means is definitely there, but the expansion and live are the biggest priorities right now.
TheAnthal: Are there any plans for an endgame that relies less on stats, and more on execution?
hartsman: We saw that HK was a guildbreaker for a lot of folks. There were a lot of timing and DPS tolerances in there that were just far too tight, and way too many places where those tolerances (and corresponding extra-harsh penalties) were causing guild members to start off raid nights okay, then by the end of the night, be screaming at each other.
In our stuff since then — (and we’ve already gone back and addressed a lot of it in HK), we now explicitly keep an eye out for mechanics that will make guilds hate each other.
It’s perfectly fine if people get pissed with US, but we’d prefer to never create situations where our gameplay causes undue friction among groups of friends, in what’s supposed to be a challenging-yet-satisfying part of the game.
Seffaer: Anyway, as a game design major who is nearly ready to apply for a job, I am looking for advice on what interests top-tier game companies like Trion Worlds?
Trick answer: Experience can come in many forms. Just doing things on your own counts. Being able to see things through to ship and beyond, at quality.
Building mods, shipping them, improving them. Building games of your own and shipping them. Being members of artist or audio communities out on the web, with samples.
Produce things. Not in the “Producer” sense, but in the “I MADE AND SHIPPED THIS” sense.
That shows initiative, drive, and follow-through, and those things are make or break.
injekted: Guild Wars 2 comes out in just over a month. People say that it’s going to change the face of MMORPGs. What are your thoughts on that?
hartsman: Depends what one means by “chance the face of,” I reckon.
I am willing to bet that team is going to make a really good game. A couple friends of mine just took gigs over there, so I’m now hoping so on their behalf!
I love that we’re in an era where we can have many companies making MMOs that succeed well enough to pay the bills and invest in future games, unlike not too many years ago when there were only 2-3 that could survive. It’s great for all of us, and more options means better things for customers, too.
Treskol: What is your opinion on esports? Was it something that you considered when Rift was being created, or currently being considered for the Storm Legion expo?
Do you watch any current esports?
hartsman: As a life long gamer, seeing esports take off has been something I could have only wished existed when I was growing up.
There are always business pressures to try to be a part of the Next Big Thing, but they seldom work out as optimistically as people expect.
We have to be careful to not overreach what the game’s capable of and end up releasing something that’s just plain bad — Rift, at its core, its not an esports-friendly game system.
For the time being, for this game, I can be thrilled about esports from a safe distance.
I’m not diehard by any stretch – I do watch links that friends send me. Doesn’t even matter what game. I think there’s something kinda inspiring about watching people who are good at what they do, do what they’re good at. No different than going to a play, or watching the Olympics.
Allhopeislost: Scott, I read somewhere that not much new blood enters the mmo development world. Ie the same people move from project to project. Is this true? Do you, for example, work with mostly people you know from other mmo’s you worked on? This would somewhat explain the fact that most mmo’s are so much alike.
hartsman: I’ve read similar comments lately in light of the recent unfortunate events at a few MMO studios lately.
It’s a bit of a bias when people say that. (e.g. They see one notable name, and assume that must carry through universally.) Definitely not a universal truth.
One of the things I liked so much about Trion was that I had never worked with the vast majority of these people before. Great opportunity to both learn and teach. I think we’re up to 5 people on the team I’ve worked with in the past. (Of a studio of 130.) Very small fraction.
Added devs on the team tend to be a mix of: 1) Internal promotion on to a dev team, 2) people with mmo experience, 3) people with significant non-mmo experience, but excellent quality and/or subject matter experience in a specific area.
I think that’s how we all get the biggest benefit – When there’s a good cross section. Too much of any one of those all have their own unique downsides. You can’t go 100% in any one of those directions.
ComedicCounterpart: What is your favorite meal?
hartsman: I haven’t actually eaten anything since starting this this morning, so right now, the answer is: The Chicken Tikka Masala That Just Showed Up At My Door From The Local Place That Delivers.
It is going to be the best food in the history of food.
x-rayrockabilly: What is your favorite type of cookie?
hartsman: Chocolate chip. Maybe with some walnuts or peanut butter if I’m feeling particularly daring.