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Questions and Answers With Rift’s Dynamic Content Lead, Will Cook

by on March 24, 2011

The Massively Multiplayer Online Role Play Game, Rift has been out for three weeks now and has had more than a promising start to life in the world of MMORPG’s. In a genre that has had so many failures before it, Rift stands out as a real contender.

We caught up with Rift’s Dynamic Content Lead, Will Cook to find out why Rift has been so successful at launch and to discuss balance, new content and more.

At the launch presentation you mentioned that new talent/skill combinations are being created all the time by the Rift community. How do you plan to balance the game when certain compositions become too powerful?

Starting things off on the wrong foot, I’m going to risk giving an answer that I’ve given before (I promise to try to say some original things too): our class system is both harder and easier to balance than one might think at first glance. Games like World of Warcraft have strict obligations to the player to make sure that every class is competitive in the roles that said class can perform. Elemental Shamans need to be able to put out enough damage to compete against Boomkin, both of whom need to be able to keep up with Mages. The situation is the same for PvP-centric games like Warhammer, where class balance can be make or break the fun. In these sorts of game the class you pick is the class you are stuck with, and every balance update is an intense time.

In Rift, we have related but different issues. Any soul combination that is a little too crazy probably will have to be pruned, but that is hardly a crisis due to the flexibility we give the player. Similarly, certain soul combination that feel compatible but perform poorly will get some love as often as possible. Our only strong obligation is to make sure that no soul ever becomes universally neglected by players. The experimentation we encourage with the soul system will hopefully ameliorate any other concerns. Your dps combo feeling a bit tame after the recent balance patch? Try moving some points around or swapping a soul. If you don’t care about keep the same rotation, then use one of your other role slots (saved specs) to try out a completely different combination of souls. With the soul system there are multiple ways for your character to get to the top of the dps and hps charts (although at the moment I’m loving my rogue tank/healer combo—Riftstalker + Bard + Assassin = stealth Bardstalker ftw!).

How often will you look at balance? Will balance issues be addressed in patches or hot fixes and how quick will these come?

My favorite part of working on Rift is that I never have to make the above claims unsupported. Since our launch just over a week ago we have already patched our first feature and balance update. In that update some problematic abilities were modified up and down, but soul combinations were largely left alone. Before and since we have made several hot-fixes, but we don’t see much point in crowing over what should be a basic level of service.

Our goal at Trion is continue to offer new updates as rapidly as possible, which is a bit hard to get across in a press release. Anyone who got a chance to play in our betas would have seen this policy in action, as we released several large features as a direct result of player feedback (zone events, open grouping, and dynamic content scaling making for some darn big features). The update last week was our first among many for Rift in its live state, and we hope that by the end of the first couple months of you will be sold on Trion’s promise of service. Given this strategy towards updating our game, you can be guaranteed that balance updates will drop as often as necessary.

At the moment the only PvP available is standard world PvP and Warfronts, do you plan to release an arena system or any other kind of PvP content in the near future?

We are designing several additions to PvP already. I think I would get in trouble if I gave away too much before we have something ready to show, so I’ll just sneak in a personal opinion: we are seeing some very cool interactions between player pvp and dynamic content and it would be darn a shame if we didn’t cultivate such a uniquely Rift-y take on player competition.

At this early stage do you have plans for further content such as expansions and major content patches? How often would you like to release major content updates?

I have a bad habit of talking too much, and as a result I think I answered this question above. For those of you skimming until this point:
Our first minor update went out within two weeks of launch, and you can bet the money in your wallet that we’ll have a major update for you within a few weeks. It is our intent to release as often as we can and still retain the polish that we have put into our work so far. Rift is a service you’re paying for, not a game that gets a bug fix every 3-6 months.

Do you plan to add guild/ player housing? Will there be any form of guild progression to give members of guilds incentive to play/stay in their guild?

I remember the first thing I ever heard Scott Hartsman say was that communities make MMOs worth building, worth playing, and worth updating. That is the kind of talk you like hearing out of your creative director. After Scott joined the project he spearheaded the creation of guild leveling and guild perks, both of which are in game right now. As far as other, oft-requested guild features go…well I can’t say anything specific without getting sent to my room without supper, but I can say that we hear the cries our players loud and clear…and we have this service model that I keep harping about…and we like updates…

There is no API for add-ons at this time, will you be adding an API at any point in the future or will you release new UI features yourself?

Without a doubt, new UI features will be added as often as possible. Check the patch notes—we’ve added some already. The API issue is a pretty hot topic in the UI area, and thankfully smarter people than I are discussing it. Until the issue is decided, I hope players can tide themselves over with our built-in tools, which include our features from our favorite MMOs, and more importantly, our favorite add-ons. From quest helpers to dynamic event tracking to scrolling combat text, there’s a ton of awesome features you can turn on in our UI if you spend a couple minutes in the settings.

– Ctrl+F will search you bags.

– [/savequip #] and [/loadequip #] are the best things since sliced bread for those who love swapping their soul builds and need to keep track of their gear changes.

What was your biggest challenge whilst making Rift and what are your biggest challenges going forward?

The biggest challenge in our development was keeping the faith that the inherent craziness in the soul system and rift/invasion systems would eventually pay dividends. For a while there we had classes that we couldn’t control, and no idea how to make sure that players got the abilities they needed along with the ones they wanted. We persevered and ended up with something that we love, and something that can grow along with our game. Working personally on dynamic content, I can tell you that we had more than a few battles convincing people that maybe, just maybe, monsters could be allowed on the road. The first day an invasion took over a quest hub I had a whole team of designers giving me the evil eye. Zone invasions were scoped off the schedule upwards of four times because they were considered too large and too unproven to spend time on. However, as time went all we all learned lessons about what did and didn’t work, and as a team we started to take more risks because we had faith that we could pull off some pretty cool things.

So now our biggest challenge is to keep that momentum, and make sure that the players are right there with us. How do we filter usable feedback from the ravings of malcontents? Damned if I know, but I do know that there are people on this team that are hard at work doing just that. We’re about to roll out our first shot at a world event. How the hell do we test something that big? Even worse, if it does go well, how do we top something like that?
I have only the vaguest ideas about how to answer any of the above, but given the team I work with, I could not be more excited.