The single coolest part of my visit to Trion was our chance to sit down with Scott Hartsman, Hal Hanlin and Russ Brown in a ‘Fan-site Roundtable’ format. We were able to have an hour of dedicated time with the head-honchos of Rift and ask them any questions we wanted. Of course, they could not answer everything we asked but they answered what they could and even when they could not they were sure entertaining.
So, I have struggled with how I want to present this round table to you readers. I could do a verbatim blow-by-blow account of the roundtable, full of direct quotes, transcript style. Or, I could do a more free form account, with some direct quotes but also with my opinion and commentary.
After much thought and trying both ways, I have settled on the second approach. Let’s face it, this is a blog and a blog means opinions. So that is what I am going to do. I am sure the other sites will fill you in on the exact wording and a blow-by-blow account and they will probably do a better job of it than I could. So, read on to find out what was asked, how it was answered and what I thought of the answers!
The first thing that I must state, up front, is how dedicated, enthusiastic and intelligent both Scott and Russ came across. I have read, watched and heard many an interview with the two but interviews can be deceiving. I can unequivocally state that what you hear in their interviews is what you get in person. Scott may know and understand more about MMOs than any single person I have ever heard. He understands how they work. He understands what the user base wants and he is determined to get it right. Russ is the same way and may be even more enthusiastic. His ever present giggle was in full force throughout the round table and his enthusiasm and excitement is contagious.
The Roundtable Starts
The round table started out with a question posed by yours truly. I have been rather disappointed in the lack of pet options for the pet Souls, specifically the Beastmaster and Ranger pets. The lack of options and the ‘sameness’ of the pets is particularly irritating when you played a hunter and WoW and saw their pet training system. Scott was quick to agree that the pets do look too much alike but replied that it was a lot of work to change the pet system and, though it was something they were looking at, it would not be something we saw by release or soon after.
I was expecting this really. Looking at the quality of the rest of the game, I figured that Scott and company were probably not completely happy with the current pet system but I also knew that it was not something they could really change by release or immediately after. I am very happy that they are looking at it, however, and I hope to have a more ‘full-featured’ pet system in the future.
Next up, we had Arithion asking about the possibility of Titles giving a stat when equipped ‘ala LotRO. Scott and Russ both agreed that there was no reason to do this because they had so many ways to add stats your character already. The foci system, the crafting system and general gear all already do this and adding yet another one would be overkill. I pretty much agree with this and don’t think it is needed. Arithion clarified that she was thinking of just a single stat per title and they said they might think of that.
On the State of the Game and What Has Changed Over Development
Draegn then chimed in with a question about what the biggest change Scott implemented after coming on board was. Scott talked about a white board in his office that started out with around 400 ‘to-dos’ and now is completely finished. He stated that the biggest thing that he has seen is how they are starting to expose the story and lore more and more. He also talked about how a lot of what we think is ‘new’ features are things that they have had planned from the beginning and we are just now seeing.
Scott: Alot of what we talked about before was technology, technology, technology and then it finally came time to talk about the game, the game, the game.
Arithion quickly followed up that answer by asking if they were happy with where the game is as it is about to be released. Both Scott and Russ agreed that they were farther ahead of where they thought they would be at this time.
Scott: Russ and I have to do board slides for our board meetings every month or two and its really need being able to fill out the slide where you are “not only did we do all the stuff we said we were going to do but here’s all the things we totally did not think we were going to get in the game.
Russ then talked about how they would put things into beta and it would totally change from what they originally intended and they ended up going in a totally new direction with things.
Draegn continued by asking what the biggest surprise was, where they thought something was going to work but ended up going 180° in another direction.
Russ: I would say nothing has gone 180°, which is good, I would say like invasions and the soul system have went better than expected. I don’t know if its like 20° but look at some of the classic concerns we had; “This class system is too complex for users”. This is a problem we have to solve. No, its not. It was a problem that didn’t exist.
Russ continued by talking about invasions and how they were worried about what solo players would do during an invasion. That turned out to be a false worry because they found out players would “kick the shit out of them!”. He said that they were worried about having to hand hold players but that they found out they did not have too and players would figure it out themselves. They spent a lot of time worrying about stuff that was never a problem to begin with.
On Listening to the Player Base
After a bit of small talk and joking, Arithion asked a great question about whether it was possible to listen to the fanbase too much and how you balance that.
Scott: I can tell you what you absolutely can’t do, is go out and read the forums and just look for pure volume of screaming and you can’t look for ultimatums and you can’t look for those kinds of things.
He also says that they still have to pay attention to the things players are saying and take a hard look at them. Russ chimed in by saying that you have to look at the heart of the problem and not necessarily the specific feature.
My next question was if there were topics on the forum that are posted so often that they are just completely tired of them. I used the example of arenas and flying mounts. Russ was quick to chime in on this!
Russ: Well I will tell you this, I will be honest with you. There are things, when they are posted up, they cause physical physical pain to the team. But we need those, right? Because they keep us honest.
Its at this point that Russ breaks down and tell us the truth: he hates player housing. But he goes on to say that they need players telling them this and that he would rather have passionate players telling them they need player housing than not. Even though it causes him considerable pain.
Scott comes in to save the day for fans of player housing by saying that he loves it but has concerns over the social aspect of the system. He understands that there are a lot of players who want housing and they will be looking into it for the future. Russ makes a funny comment that everyone at Trion reads the forums and every time that there is a thread about players wanting houses, he gets about 60 emails from the team pointing it out!
Our next topic was one that was brought up by me and one that is near and dear to my hearts. That is how Trion balances ‘convenience’ features with the need for a living, breathing world. I specifically mentioned flying mounts, the ability to teleport to dungeons and WoW’s Random Dungeon Finder. These are things that are great convenience features but, in my opinion, tend to harm the open world and the server community. This was a topic that I really wanted to hear Scott’s and Russ’ thoughts on and they were happy to oblige.
Scott began his thoughts on this topic by mentioning an interview that he did recently where he stated that they were not terribly concerned how long it took to get to max level because they wanted the journey to be fun and they knew they had a healthy end-game at the end. He said that because of that comment, many players took that to mean that Trion doesn’t care about a living world and the leveling portion of the game. Which is not true at all.
Scott: The amount of time something takes and the fun you have while doing it are not things that are tied together. And, so, the same can be said for the immersiveness of the world. The amount of time that things are forced to take and the value you get out of world style game play are two totally different things. I think a lot of times people will assume they are tied together because they have always been tied together in other games but we are making our game.
On the Possibility of a Random Dungeon Finder Coming to Rift
Arithion asked the question that we were all dying to know and that is if we will see a Random Dungeon Finder in Rift at some point. Scott quickly stated that it was something they are thinking about and it is possible that it would be cross server. He knows a lot of people do not want to see one but he says the value may be worth it in the end. I ask him if they have thought about how a cross server dungeon finder would impact the server community and Scott says that it may not be cross server. They are still looking at options. He goes on to say that he has found that LFG tools do not work. They spend weeks creating them, asking for opinions from the community and then get it into the game and no one uses them after the first week. He believes that what is needed is one that actually makes the group for you.
Scott: People love groups. Its a fallacy that people want to play solo all the time. Its that people don’t want to be ‘that guy’ that puts himself out there and shouts in a channel to try to pull a group together for the next 45 minutes and probably fail. Thats not a fun experience. Half our game is in dungeons, half of our game is in raids and if no one is using them, we have failed. The only thing that has proven to get people together is when you can help them form groups.
After some debate back and forth, primarily with Arithion and I on one side and against the RDF and Scott advocating for it, Scott makes a very valid point and that is that we have one reference point for the RDF right now and that is WoW. Just because the WoW RDF does it one way, does not mean that Rift’s RDF would do it the same way.
Scott: You are falling into a trap that a lot of people fall into and that is: MMO does not equal WoW. Lots of games have succeeded before WoW and lots of games will succeed after.
I think that this is a valid point and if Trion is able to design a random dungeon finder that lessens the impact on the server community and on open world, I am all for it. My only point of reference is WoW and I think it was horribly done but that is not the only way to do it. I guess I am in a ‘wait and see’ mode for this one. Only time will tell.
I had originally planned to cover all of the round table in one post but I have come to realize that this would be simply impossible. The above information was only the first fifteen minutes of the round table and there is another hour to go! I am going to continue through out the week releasing more info from the round table, so check back often. Next installment will have some information about Raids, PvP and the infamous Power Point presentation!
Be sure to listen to the Rift Podcast for audio of the visit and the infamous drunken podcast segment! Also, check out Rift Junkies, Telarapedia and RiftIRC for more coverage and another take on the roundtable!
See you next time!