Part Four of My Visit to Trion: Embargo Lifted and Final Thoughts

Earlier today the embargo was lifted on the stuff that happened outside of the Round Table.  Most of the stuff that was covered in the embargo had to do with out tour and what we saw while taking the tour and talking to devs in each ‘department’.  We were lucky enough to talk to folks from every department including the Raid design team, the UI team, Art and animation and Localization.

I am going to break this report down by department to make it easier to read.  Even with the embargo lifted, there are some things that I saw that I can not talk about, so please understand this up front.  I will let you know everything that I can talk about.  At the end there will be a lot of screenshots as well as some shots from inside the studio mixed in.

The Art and Animation Folks

The Art/Animation Team

Our first stop was in the art and animation area.  This area is really large and the workstations are very impressive.  Each station has a very large Wacom tablet, as well as two monitors for working.  I was impressed that most of the monitors had a window up with the Official Forums on it.  Matter of fact, I saw that throughout the studio.  Just another example of how much Trion listens!

As far as new information is concerned, there is not a lot to speak of, we did get to see a couple of team members working on character customization.  Things like skin tones, beards and the like were all being worked on, so hopefully we will see some new stuff in that area soon.  We also were shown how the animation team animates each model and it is really some cool stuff!

Rift Event Team

Rift Event Lair

The Rift event team is in a smaller room but their setup is almost identical to the Art teams.  They were working on new Rift events, which they say will be ongoing work.  They are determined to keep the Rift events fresh and not allow them to become the ‘same-old-same-old’ after awhile.  We were shown a Rift raid and, though I can not say a lot about it, I will say that it looks really nice.  The team pointed out that they have not even touched the tip of the iceberg with what they can do with their tool-set and I think we are all going to be surprised with the flexibility and power that this tool-set delivers.  There are going to be some really, really cool stuff coming down the pipeline!

The Raid Design Team

Next up, we headed to the Raid team and what a visit it was!  I am not going to be able to speak much on this front but I will try to get in what I can.  First, we saw Hammerknell!  It was absolutely awesome.  Everything from the look (its beautiful), to the layout (its big!), to the bosses (awesome!) was jaw-dropping.  If you are a raider and looking for a new fix, Rift will more than fill it for you.  The raiding will be incredible in this game.  Incredible.

We also got to hear a bit of their design philosophies and, even better, the team’s high enthusiasm.  These are folks who clearly love what they do and it shows in the care and hard work they put into their jobs.  Lucky bastards!

U.I. Design

We were fortunate to talk to the UI team next and were filled in on what they have planned in the future.  Some I can tell you and some I can not.  What I can say is that add-ons are going to be in the game at some point, though they are still working out what they want to allow them to do.  They are really being careful with this aspect because they want nothing in the game that can ‘play the game for you’ but they do want some stuff to make certain things easier.

They also let us know about a new feature that will be hitting very, very soon.  I can not say but you should be hearing about it any time now.

Engineering

We were fortunate enough to see some very cool things here.  We were shown a real-time map that has the average player FPS in colors all over the map.  They can tell at a glance what areas are getting low FPS and then take a look at optimizing that area.  They can also pull up just about any information they want from the UI.  Gold distribution, PvP hotspots….just about anything.

Yes, Trion knows what you are doing!

Q&A

Q&A Headquarters

Quality control doesn’t sound like a very sexy job but it is absolutely vital to the Trion team.  These are the folks that hammer out the patches and make sure they are not broken before we get them.  With Trion’s track record, I would say they are doing a pretty damn good job!  They are also some of the hardest working folks at Trion.  They regularly stay late to test patches before they go out.  Remember all the late night patches during the beta events?  Yeah, thank them!

This is also the home of Amary, who writes some of the most amusing patch notes in the business.  I imagine translating all the technical stuff into easy to understand language for us normal folk is kind of difficult and Amary pulls it off with flair.

Final Thoughts on the Trip

Well, that about does it for my coverage of Gamer Day 3.  I want to end this by thanking everyone that I had the privilege to meet during my trip.  Everyone, from the other fan-site operators to the Trion team, were unbelievably cool.  I really hope I will get to see them again in the future and I will certainly be talking to them through Twitter, email, phone and every other way I can.

I know that a lot of what I have written in my posts over the last few days may be construed as ‘fanboy’ talk.  But, you know what?  That is fine.  After watching other MMO devs more concerned with hype than truth, moving as slow as an iceberg with every fix and not listening to the players at all, what Trion is doing is very refreshing.  Trion is the model by which all other MMO development teams should be judged. I mean that whole-heartedly.  Trion deserves to succeed and I think they will.

So, thanks to everyone who has read my articles the past two days.  Between the plane flights and all the writing, I am totally exhausted but it was all worth it.  I am going to leave you with a few more pictures and screenshots from my trip.

Thanks!

More of the Art Team

Map of Telara

Demo Time!

Rift Beta Event 4 Almost Didn’t Happen For Me.

I live in an older apartment complex.  This has its upsides and downsides.  Upside is that the construction seems to be more sturdy and the walls are thicker, so I have less problems with noisy neighbors.  Downside is things like what happened last week.

I come home Thursday evening to find a note on our door from the apartment office.  Apparently, they have decided (in conjunction with my cable company) to rewire the complex or somesuch.  Because of this, my cable TV and my internet was scheduled to be down all weekend and into this week.  My cable company was giving me a discount on the bill but it would still mean that I would be unable to partake in Beta Event 4.  I, of course, was crushed.

Luckily, I remembered that my Droid 2 phone (through Verizon) could be used as a Mobile 3G hotspot.  Now I must admit, I had little hope in the speed or latency of the connection but it was worth a shot, right?  And, because of my work, I have unlimited data on my service.  Might as well try it!

Well, I am happy to say that my little Droid 2 and Verizon performed more than adequately.  I averaged 80-130MS latency throughout the entire weekend and only disconnected twice due to an incoming phone call.  The download speed for the patches was not near as fast as my cable connection but, other than that, it worked fine.  I must say, I am pretty impressed.  Good job Verizon!

So, as for the Event itself, it was pretty awesome.  I had decided, earlier in the week, to re-role to the Lotham server.  I had been playing on the RP=PvP server because that was one of the few without a queue last week and it was not a bad server but I am preferring Lotham.  I decided on Lotham because that is the server that most of Goon Squad had rolled on.  They are going Defiant there so I am going Guardian. I have a lot of memories from Goon Squad back on the Mal’Ganis server and I figure that I can relive some of those glory days on Lotham.

I first created a Cleric and went with the Warden/Inquisitor/Purifier spec and it seems to be a lot of fun and very effective for both leveling and PvP.  However, it is just not might style so  after hitting level 16 I dropped the character and made another Rogue.  This time I went with Saboteur/Assassin/Riftstalker and what a nice combination it is!  The burst damage is just insane.

My Saboteur! Ain't he pretty?

Most of my points are in Saboteur with the remaining points in Assassin for the +crit bonus and I can do an amazing amount of burst damage after applying my charges.  The strange thing  about the Saboteur is that you do no damage when applying your charges and then one large burst damage after detonating them.  The saboteur has a large number of different charge types, each has a different effect.  The first one you get, Blast charge, does a tremendous amount of single-target damage when detonated.  After that you get the Spike Charge which does burst and then a very large DoT to a single-target, the Shrapnel Charge which does a large amount of damage to the target and all targets around him and the Caltrop Charge which snares the target longer for each active Charge when it detonates.

In addition to the Charges, the Saboteur is full of other little tricks.  You have an Adhesive bomb which is a targetable AoE snare, a Fragmentation bomb which is AoE damage to the target and any targets around him and a Chemical bomb which is a targeted AoE ability.  All in all, the Saboteur is full of neat little tricks.

For the first few levels, you will find yourself just applying Blast charge five times and Detonating but as you get higher level, you will be mixing up the charges quite a bit especially in PvP.  I normally applied a couple of Blast Charges, then the Spike charge for the DoT and maybe a Caltrop charge for the snare.  Detonate that and you do a lot of burst damage with some DoT damage and you slow the target down.  Lots of fun and lots of room for experimentation dependent on the situation.

Combined with the Assassin’s Stealth and the Riftstalker’s teleport abilities, I was a highly mobile instrument of death.  None of the Saboteur’s abilities (except traps) have a cast-time so I could move around at will and never pause except for laying down a trap.  This suits my playstyle in PvP to a tee and was a lot of fun.

Speaking of PvP, we had our first look at Warfronts this weekend.  Warfronts are Rift’s version of battlegrounds in World of Warcraft or Scenarios in Warhammer Online. If you like those you will like Warfronts because there is little difference in the ones we saw.  The first, Black Garden is a fairly simple map in which you have to grab a “thing” (The Fang of Regulos) from the middle of the map and control it to receive points.  Of course, the other teams job is to take it away from you so the entire team is required to keep you up and healed.  In addition, the Fang itself places a DoT on you that gets worse as time goes on so heals are very important.  The Warfront is very similar to a few of the WAR scenarios.  So much, in fact, that it is time to revive a great comic strip that breaks down the objectives very well:

Someone needs to make a Rift version!

The Warfronts went really well but it is painfully obvious that Guardian is entirely outnumbered and by far the less popular of the two factions.  The queue time on the Guardian side was nearly instantaneous at all hours of the day and night but on the Defiant side it could take up to 20-30 minutes to get into a game.  There are simply too many Defiant and too few Guardians and it is really showing.  In addition, most of the big PvP guilds rolled Defiant and, in many cases, Guardian was simply outmatched.  Early in the weekend I lost almost every game I played but it evened out Sunday night to Monday morning and I went on a 17 game win streak.

I think that a few of the major Defiant PvP guilds should possibly reroll to Guardian for release.  This will make for a better experience for both sides.  Getting destroyed in every match is not fun but neither is winning every match with no competition and waiting for a long time for queue pops.  Hopefully, this will even out at release.  We shall see.

Other than that, the rest of beta was very smooth and Trion is continuously showing us new tricks with the Rifts.  The events this weekend seem less numerous than the prior weekend but they added some neat stuff to them.  The events now add a zone-wide sky change when they happen, which seems particularly ominous.  The entire sky turning red and the color scheme shifting to make it seem like the whole forest is on fire was pretty cool.  I was unable to partake in the Gloamwood events because of my level but I hear those are cool as well.

Its the End of Days!

Well, thats it for now but I intend to make another post soon about leveling and leveling without questing.  Hope to see you soon!

In Rift, the Rides Come to YOU!

The coast under attack from a Foothold on the small island.

“Help!  My God, we need Help!  Help NOW!!!”

Those were the exact words I was greeted with upon logging in to Rift Beta Three today.  Typed in General Chat no less.

Now, stop for a minute and think about that.  Just think about it for a minute.  How many themepark MMOs can you imagine that being said in?  Not many I would bet.  Now how many of those could you imagine that being said when it does not involve PvP and when the person saying it is level 12?

I bet there is not one.  WoW certainly never has any real danger at that level.  Ditto for LotRO, Aion, Age of Conan or any other themepark MMO I can think of currently.  Yet, you see it all the time in Rift.  Constantly.

The world of Rift is a dangerous place.  Much more so than any other MMO I can think of that is not named Darkfall or, perhaps, Everquest.  There are constantly invasions happening and an invasion will wipe the floor with a solo player of the same level.  It is really a whole new experience.

Syncaine, of Hardcore Casual, got into the Rift beta this go around and I really look forward to what he has to say about it.  I know that he will say that it is a themepark MMO because it very much is one.  However, this one is a bit different.  You see, in Rift the rides sometimes come to you. Quite often, in point of fact.

Imagine walking around Disney World with your family, merrily eating your cotton candy and talking about what ride you want to hit up next.  When, suddenly, a trap-door opens underneath you and whisks you off to some random roller coaster.

That’s Rift in a nutshell.  Its a themepark but one so different from the norm.

 

In Rift, the rides come to you!

 

 

One second you can be merrily going about your questing business and the next you are smacked upside the head by a Fire General and his elite minions.  It is really a unique experience that I have not seen in any MMO to date.  Guild Wars 2 might have this feeling but we don’t really know yet and its a long while until its out.  Right now, Rift is it.  It is the only MMO that encourages grouping this way.  It is the only MMO in which you could be crafting one second and fighting elite mobs the next.

I have heard many complaints about quests in Rift and I agree; they aren’t anything special.  They are your normal “kill x of these” and “take this to that bridge” type quests.  But on top of that is a layer of dynamic content that can make you forget all about questing.

I spent the majority of my night fighting off invasions, destroying footholds and closing Rifts.  Questing was reserved for the “in-between” times.  I still leveled fast and I still got loot but I did not feel a slave to the quests.  That is a nice feeling.

The footholds and invasions are such a unique feature and they react in such interesting ways, that I soon forget about questing.  When two Invasions come together some really cool things happen.

 

My Bard, Bragi, jamming his lute while defending Argent Glade.

 

 

Tonight I found myself unable to turn in a quest due to an elite Fire Invasion taking over my quest hub and my little Guardian Bard was stuck.  Unfortunately, there was no one around at the time to help, so I stayed at the periphery and attempted to pick off the elites one by one.  Suddenly a Defiant NPC  Invasions attacked the Fire Rift from the side and the battle was on!  I stayed back and helped the Defiants by picking off the Fire minions in the back.  After the fight was over, the Defiants stood victorious but seriously wounded and weak.  I was able to finish them off and destroy their foothold, thus freeing my quest hub.

There is nothing else like this out there.  Nothing.  The fight was amazing to watch and a far cry from any other MMO experience I have really had before.  The fights can get really chaotic.  Just wait until you find yourself in the middle of a fight between Life, Fire and Defiant forces!  It can not be described.  It is so chaotic and dangerous and all around fun that I can not help but love it.

Yes, Rift has its problems.  I still have a few issues with the Global Cooldown.  I still think that the world suffers from a distinct lack of “fluff” and could use some farms, village and signs of every day life to spice things up.  I still believe it is too linear and could use some racial starting areas.  I still have my problems.

But, in the end, none of that really matters because what Rift does well, it does really, really well.  It creates a very unique, dangerous world to level in, with constant activity and real reasons to group.  What other theme park MMO gives you that?

None, I tell you.  None.

To end this post, I leave you with some video I shot outside Sanctum.  I arrived to Sanctum to find the small encampment right outside destroyed by a Fire invasion.  I was invited to a group and we began valiantly defending our City.  Everything was going well, when a Life Invasion attacked our flank.   Take a look and see if we survive!

A little warning though, I am terrible with video editing.  Thus the video is pretty much raw footage, with no music and no real edits.  Still, I hope you enjoy!

Stonefield Preview at Rift Nexus

Those lucky folks over at Rift Nexus have gotten us an exclusive look at one of the zones in Rift, you can find the writeup here.  This one is called Stonefield and it looks fantastic!  I have a few criteria that I use to decide whether I like a zone or not and Stonefield passes the test:

  • Is it an expansive zone or does it look cramped?  Stonefield looks huge, so no problems there.  Its hard to gauge the size by watching a short video but I think it is safe to say that Stonefield is at least as big as Westfall or Badlands in WoW.
  • Are there interesting landmarks to see and explore?  Certainly looks to be the case here.  Mines, huge waterfalls, huge dragon skeletons all make an appearance in this zone.  The zone should be a treat to explore.  I hope many of the mountains and waterfalls can be climbed.  I would love to see an Open Dungeon, even a small one, hiding behind one of the waterfalls.
  • Are the mobs laid out intelligently?  This I can not tell from the video.  Looks to be well-populated but not too populated but it is hard to tell.
  • Conducive to open PvP?  Certainly seems to be the case but can not really tell.

The zone really reminds me of Arathi Highlands but much greener.  It also would fit right in with Hibernia in DAoC, very green and lush.  Definetly different than the other Defiant zones we have seen in the past.

I really love the troll as well.  LotRO, for me, has the best trolls.  Huge, lumbering and vicious looking.  Rift may have trumped those.  This troll looks positively frightening!  I can not wait to take one of those down or, even better, gank another player who is trying to take one down.

Yeah, thats mean but thats what I do!

A Look at the Plane of Fire

Looks hot....

MMORPG.Com has given us a look at a new video of a Rift from the Plane of Fire! The video can be found right here and there is a small write up on the Rift located here. Looks very nice, though I personally think the Plane of Death was a bit cooler looking. What I really want to see is the Plane of Life. That Rift really has a chance to be something different and wild, in my opinion.

Still, the Plane of Fire is looking sharp and the chance of seeing a Red Dragon coming out of that thing makes it all worthwhile! I simply can not wait to face one.