Man I love my job. Not only do I get to play fabulous games and write about them, I also get to talk to the people behind the games and hear what makes them tick. Such was the case a few days ago when I sat down virtually with Scott Hartsmann, Executive Producer of RIFT: Planes of Telara, to chat about the game, it's mechanics, and what it has planned for years to come. The following is a paraphrase of the interview, and there are some very interesting insights we learn about the game therein.
Scott Hartsmann: Hi, I’m Scott Hartsmann exec prod of RIFT, we’re making an MMO and it’s really fun. We’ve been testing for 6 or 7 mos now, it’s quite obviously a fantasy game. We’re stuck between two worlds, with guardians and defiants. The world is at the nexus of all these different planes.
I get to be in charge of a studio full of the easily most talented devs across the disciplines in the industry: MMO experience mixed with AAA console experience.
Performance wise, the game runs 75FPS on high end hardware with excellent graphics. We’re trying to make sure that everything we do actually does shine...The game scales all the way down to super crappy hardware. We are making sure that everyone can log into the game and not worry about hardware barriers.
I’d like detail on the definition of what these rifts are in context of the game, and how they work in the persistency of the game world.
Scott: a rift is what happens when two planes connect, and the boundary becomes thin, and when the plane boundary breaks and you have a plane spawning creatures into Telara. That’s the fiction for it. In terms of mechanics, they are meant to be a social gaming experience, where people walk up and participate in a group experience and are rewarded for it. At the high end there are expert mode rifts, where you go out and go out and try to get the rifts to spawn. Raid rifts are not instances. It’s a dynamic content system taking place in the shared world.
Mechanically speaking, the rift is a building block. You can be in our game, minding your own business, and then the rifts spawn and people in the zone all get quest objectives.
It seems like you geared this toward a more mature and gaming audience, complaints with current MMOs centered around them being dumbed down to casual players. Are yu gearing more toward the hardcore audience?
Scott: visual style is supposed to be high detail, high rez, as opposed to cartoony. Gameplay itself is set up to be very accessible to new players up to players who have played mmos for a long time. Anyone at any level of experience should be able to log in and play, and then it should feel very complex for the more experience players. But it is intentionally accessible at the outset, because it’s important for players to know how to navigate the world. At an hour or two of gameplay the player stards getting into a shared game world with rift world events. We kind of have to step people up into the gameplay.
Shared play with people in same levels in the same areas?
Scott: right now, if you come into a shared world event, like a rift event, a colossus, players can group up and play together in there and find that being overleveled for it doesn’t make it incredibly easy. You can group with friends of various levels right now and do dungeons. We are looking to add systems so that you can group with friends of varying levels.
What will end content in general be like?
Scott: we intentionally designed the game around making sure we were going to have a lot of end game content. In terms of hours of playability, I am 99% sure we will have more end game content than leveling up content. A bunch of new things open up at max. there is an end game pvp leveling system that allows you to level up within pvp. In terms of pve content, there are general dungeons at level 50, and entire new areas unlock in dungeons. At the same time you have signle group expert rifts in the open world, you have 10 man raid rifts in the world, and you also have 10 man raid instances in shift, and we are looking to unlock other ones in the not too distant future. Then we have the pvp warfronts for max level players. We have new types of dynamic content events, like pvp events. We are looking for a lot of end game content. I love the journey, the journey is half the fun, but you have to have the other half -- the end game.
Do you see the story of Telara and its battle against Regulos as a persistent one, or will there be story progression in RIFT that ultimately leads to the world's vanquishing of their common enemy?
Scott: yeah I think, stories in general, are more satisfying when they have a logical conclusion with an actual ending. It’s better to tell stories that have a flow, and have major turning points and have an actual end, because they we can tell a new story.
We are looking at ramping up specific story events so that we can clearly show visually how these stories will progress.
Here’s a question about the rifts: If there were a bunch of different high level characters in a rift area, the lower level players couldn’t participate because the mobs would die too quickly?
Scott: The game doesn’t reward people for doing that. Guild quests will only reward rift play at your own level. That being said, there are lots of things to join in with other players at higher level. We would much rather be by default inclusive and only prevent high level grouping where we need to. This is a dynamic system, it knows where people are, the rifts are a renewable resource. We are not going to run out of them.
Once the population matures, will new players be logging into towns overwhelmed?
Scott: the system is aware of how many people around it. It is highly unlikely for an event requiring 400 players in an area with only ten, because that’s very very unfun for the ten players. It’s really cool how they work.
The dynamic system is part of the material spawn rates?
Scott: Yes, as well as the crafting nodes and the mob spawns are dynamic.
Where do you see this game going in a couple years, specifically how you will expand in the future?
Scott: the thing I like the most about our universe, when we talk about Telara and the six known planes, the origin lore has much more of that. We have a universe lore that allows for new and exciting things happening all the time. It’s not a big stretch to imagine that there’s a lot more to the world, and it’s also in worse shape, and there’s more to the world and it also has its own kind of ascended. There’s a lot here to expanding the leveling content, and the end game content.
Why go with elves dwarves and basically humans on one side, where you have new unique races on one side. The elves and humans seem a cop out when so much about the game is unique.
Scott: It’s definitely a stylistic choice. You start in the storyline with the Methosian kings and the races that started out with the vigil. It’s mostly a story choice because the races within the story. Suffice it to say we do have plans to expand the race selection on both sides.
The game appears to take itself very seriously. How do you plan to counteract a feeling of virtual battle fatigue over the long term?
Scott: Fortunately it’s not quite as bad as it sounds at first, at the end of the day but I can’t say that a game that has a death touched battle pet named hand of regulos and fire squirrels does take itself too seriously. There places to be safe, they aren’t just places you would normally think of it.
I’m going to say the wow word, and many say RIFT is very similar. Beyond the dynamic system , how do you plan to differentiate from wow?
Scott: We aren’t trying to separate ourselves from wow. We are more interested in standing out on our own. The soul system is something people are having a lot of fun with. The dynamic systems are something that’s very different. But we want the game to be accessible to people who have played hot button fantasy games. On top of that we do have our own unique stuff. Once you start looking at these dynamic events. We have the opportunity through these systems to be able to keep creating new kinds of content.
Worried about the longevity of the game. Game plan/selling points for attracting players that are worried RIFT will fail like games like APB.
Scott: Most of the games that failed at being a functional products. Our game is finished, and it has the elements that a game needs to succeed, but the only way to prove to the community that we will be around, is six months down the road and still there. I’d like to convert those people simply by putting our money where our mouth is. It’s just part of the state of the world we live in. The MMOs are the most frequently underestimated software on the market today. Many companies get into the business not realizing how difficult they are to make.
If you had no limits, what would you want to put in this game?
Scott: The most dangerous question ever. Writing analogy: first draft to final, editing is always an improvement. It’s very easy to overbake something and overthink something, so if we had an extra year I think we would actually have a worse product. We have been iterating in front of the public so that we don’t actually go back and work on something too much.
My impressions of the beta were a little different from others. While I appreciated some brilliant design decisions and the beautiful visuals, I eventually got bored of playing the beta and I’m not exactly sure why.
Scott: It happens to me as well, when you play a beta everything is a little fake and plastic. People want to jump in and play the real thing and start progressing in a game that really counts.
As I said I feel like the game stopped being fun after a while. It might be an issue of personality, I’m not sure if that’s because I was forced to play the pompous Guardians and I was reacting to that or if it was the fact that this game feels like what I wanted EQ2 to be and in the end I’m not sure if I want to be playing EQ2.
Scott: Well, not every game should have every feature. It’s a good thing that games are different, otherwise the games would be bloated with elements from all sorts of games and no one wants that.
So why is your beta so darn bug free? How is it you get to have such a bug free beta?
Scott: For a couple of reasons. One, the quality of the team we have here, with so much MMO and Console experience. Also there’s a level of professional pride because our team plays the game, and they don’t want to go home at the end of the evening and play a bad game, or have their friends play a bad game. Also, once you get the game in front of players for 6 or 7 months, you start hearing about bugs. We have about 16,000 bugs closed so far, and that averages to about 500 a day. As long as you get a good system in place and close bugs quickly before you get new ones, eventually the game starts to look polished.
What do you plan on doing if one faction becomes more popular than the other?
Scott: I’m not really concerned about that because we don’t have a land controlled pvp game, because then you have to worry about balancing. At lot of it is about not needing to design around balance.
Every game they always have goldfarmers and cheating. Plans to combat this?
Scott: Have a learning spam filter for about 6 or 7 months now in game. Spam filter technology is getting better and better these days. We’ve had an incredibly polite beta in terms of goldfarming.