Rift Junkies and Rift Podcasts Coverage of the Trion Trip

Besides my coverage of the trip to Trion, there are a few other excellent posts covering everything.  Both Rift Podcast and Rift Junkies have some great things to say about the trip!  You can view them at the links below.

 

Rift Podcast has their coverage here.

 

Rift Junkies posts their thoughts here and here.

 

Thanks to Arithion from Rift Podcast and Teljair and Draegan from Rift Junkies!  Make sure to read their thoughts and support both sites!

Rift Podcast: Round Table and Drunk Edition

Rift Podcast has posted their new Podcast for the week and this one is audio from the Round Table!  There is also a surprise ending that consists of all the folks from the fan sites getting drunk and talking about Rift.

Listen to it right here! Its worth the listen and I am very glad I was able to be on!

Part Three of My Visit to Trion: The Roundtable Completed!

Let’s continue where we left off!  I have a whole lot more to go over, so buckle up and get ready for a ton of information!

 

The State of Raids and Expansions

Starting off with todays post with a question from Draegan (of Rift Junkies) in which he asks about a comment that Trion recently made about having more raid content than they had originally planned for launch and what allowed for that.

Scott stated quite simply that the team kicked ass, simple as that.

Hal: Yeah, what he said was right.  The team said, “you know what, what we have is good.  We can make another one, I had this dream….

Hal, Scott and Russ then used this to illustrate a point about their team.  Basically, because the servers are so stable and they are not having to put out huge structural fires the team is able to work ahead.  A byproduct of this, Russ says, is that the morale of the team is so high that the team works that much harder.  He goes on to say that they receive emails from the team at 2:45 in the morning talking about a new raid idea they had.

Russ:  At 2;45am I have people working on my game.  Not because I am sitting there, kicking them in the nuts saying you need to work on this game.  Its because they love this game and that is how you make a great game.

Arithion (Of Rift Podcast)  moves the conversation along by asking about the UI in raids and the possibility of a guild calendar.

Scott says that he has a Power Point presentation with an entire list of things that they want to add into the game at some point, it was just a matter of prioritizing it and getting it organized.  He says that most everything that players have been asking for is on the Power Point presentation.  I, of course, asked to see the Power Point presentation.  He said no. 😦

I go on to ask what their expected release schedule was in terms of content patches and expansions.  Scott replied that they have an outline of how they want it to go for the next few years but it entirely depends on release and what they see afterwards.

Scott:  Very literally, its promise nothing right now, until we see what happens when the rubber hits the road.

The Racials

Arithion asks if the racials in the game currently will be the racials at launch.  Scott says that the abilities will be but not the +stat modifiers.

Scott: From the start we wanted to make the racials impactful.  We aimed for impactful but kind of went the wrong direction.  I will say that flat out.  We made them as impactful as like an incredible activated high level trinket.  So where, your racial was magically ten percent of your power.  Holy crap that was not what we wanted to go for ever.

Instead they wanted to shoot for impactful fun.  I had to ask who came up with hibernate, the single worst racial ability ever.  Scott is quick to take “credit” for that, to much laughter.

Scott: To give you an example of development teams not always agreeing with one another; Hey, Russ, what did you think of Hibernate?

Russ:  Oh, my God….

The conversation immediately after this was really funny.  Russ says that the original idea was good but that they kept changing it with things like not being able to be used in combat and then killing you after awhile.

Scott:  But, wait!  We’ll put zzzz’s on it!

More on Future Content

Draegan asks if content planned after release will be solely raid content or do they plan five man and solo content as well as new zones.  Scott says that their immediate plans are to extend raid content but they do have other content as well.  They are wanting to make sure that raid content is solid, fun and complete first and then build from there.

Scott: We’ve been in production on post-launch content for quite awhile now.

Russ: Oooh, yeah…

Scott:  Again, its a weird luxury to have, honestly.  I’ve never worked on a game where we were this far on post-launch content pre-launch.

I ask if they are planning on EQ2-style progression, in which the expansions come with a level cap raise or DAoC-style progression, in which the expansions do not increase the level cap but give you other types of advancement.

Scott says that they have not gotten that far yet because they are so focused on launch and content immediately after but that they are fortunate to have members on the team that have created both vertical and horizontal advancement.  He also adds that his first job in EQ was the design of the AA system but that they have to be really careful with any type of AA implementation.  Due to the way AAs worked it could get really confusing as far as who was more powerful than who.  You would have one guy who was level 72 with `26 AAs and another that was level 75 that had only 4 AAs, causing confusion and problems in content design.  They want to avoid that.

Draegan is next up with a question and this one is a really good one.  He asks how long it takes to implement new dynamic content, from design to actually getting it onto the server.

Scott:  It depends entirely on the complexity of the Rift.  Anywhere from an hour to a month depending on how complex the thing is.  I mean, you could build an entire zone out of our Rift tech right now.

He goes on to state that they could create a smaller event in an hour and implement it immediately onto the server with no patches.  The toolset they have allows them to do some really crazy things in real time without even turning stuff down.

Draegan continues with questions by asking if they have plans for GM led events.  Scott says that they can and are doing that right now.  GMs can spawn events and so can the server itself.  He says that they have decided to make the big events a top down decision and not solely a GMs discretion.

Scott: The interesting thing with doing it with GMs manually is that it really doesn’t scale to success.

He says that in the early betas they had developers playing the role of GMs and doing it manually to prove to themselves that it doesn’t scale well and they found out that it did not.   They still can schedule events for a certain time but the world is not dependent on it and the servers handle most of it themselves.

The Soul System

Draegan continues to monopolize the questions (Just kidding, Draegan!  They were great questions!) by asking how easy or hard it was to implement a new Soul.  Russ says that it depends on the Soul and Arithion says she wants a ninja in the Rogue archetype.

Russ:  A ninja in the Rogue class?  Only if a pirate is the warrior class!   So, a new soul is not simple.  One that is a fully, honest to God new Soul and integrates into all the other things.  Just for balance.  That will take awhile.  If I wanted to make a soul that allows you to dance in the city, I could do that pretty quick.

This seems like a perfect opportunity, so I use this to ask about the fluff Souls that they had talked about earlier in interviews.

Scott: We’ve been concentrating on getting interesting things out in the world through collection rewards, story-line quest rewards, the racials.  So, we’ve been focused on that.  We only had certain amounts of bandwidth to do the fun stuff.  So, we are trying to get the fun stuff integrated into all the right places.

Russ continues by saying that the tricky thing about souls is how it works with all the other souls.  They want to make something thats fun, not just something that is an add-on.  Scott says that it would need a lot more planning before they talk about that.

Scott:  I mean think about it.  Imagine you are sitting around as your Reaver/Paladin warrior and you decide you want to run your cook soul that puts on your chef hat and makes you run around yelling “Bork, bork, bork!!’, wouldn’t it be really annoying to have to swap out your warrior soul to do that?

The conversation then takes a turn into talking about what things Trion can track in the game.  Scott says that every single thing that you do in the game can be tracked.  How many times you respec and anything that affects yourself, the economy, a creature or another player can be tracked.  I ask if that means if they know how may times I have ganked somebody.

Scott: Oh yeah.  I can’t tell if you ganked them or just killed them legitimately but we know how many times you killed them.

Come on, Scott!  Ganking IS legitimate!  🙂

My next question was about the PvP souls and whether they should get their own slot and not take up one of the three slots as they do now.  Scott says that there goal is to not make them a required Soul for PvP.  They want to make them available if you want them or want to do a specific thing but not completely necessary.

Scott:  Thats the other reason you can only put 21 points in them.  They are not full 51 point souls for that reason.

Auto-face and Auto-run

Arithion asks if they plan to implement an auto-run feature like Lineage II and Aion.

Scott: No, no, no, no, no, no.  We are also not doing auto-face.  Don’t get me wrong, the first time I saw a game with auto-run and auto-face I thought that it was really cool and useable.  And then, the bots came.  And anything that bots make that much easier, we really won’t do.

Okay, I have to admit, at this point I cheered.  I am so very tired of the auto-face arguments on the forums.  Hopefully they will quit now, once and for all.  No auto-face people!

Scott says that they understood that seeing your target during a fire rift was difficult so they changed the target UI and they added the tracking abilities.

Next up, I ask when we are getting to go to the Planes themselves.

Scott: So, I won’t answer that question but I will answer a different one.  The thing that is always tricky to do when introducing new content to any game, is that you always need to make sure you are always showing something ‘cooler than’.  So, if you are interested in our game today, what we show you tomorrow should probably be cooler than whats there today.  You want to make sure that the next thing you are releasing is cooler than what you just released and, speaking as a guy that actually did release and expansion that was all about Planes at one point, its really difficult to go to a place ‘cooler than’ once you go all Planes all the time. Our plan is always show more and greater, without jumping the shark.  You don’t want to do the Arthur Fonzarelli moment a month after you launch.

After some talk about Guild broadcasts and server broadcasts (they are doing Guild and server broadcasts but they are not doing world-wide broadcasts, as in first time a raid is completed.), I asked if there would be an Armory type feature.  Scott says that they have thought of one but that they wanted to get the game working first before they put effort into something like that.  He says that if they had one today he could think of about ten features that would not be in the game.

Scott then says that he would not be surprised to see an IPhone and Droid app soon.  It seems they have devs in-house that have done apps before.

Gold-Sellers/Spammers/Botters/Hackers

I ask how Trion intends to deal with Gold-sellers and spammers.  Scott says that they already have a spam filter in-game that gets more intelligent as spam is reported.  Similar to the spam filter in your Gmail account. As far as hackers:

Scott: We already do things like track speed hackers.  Track people who are trying to do bad things to our client that I can’t really go into detail about.  I mean we already get reports on them six times a day and CS is even banning them in betas and even canceling pre-orders.  That is fifty dollars we do NOT want.

Character Customization

Arithion asks about character customization and if we will see more of it in the future.  Scott says that we will see more skin tones, hairstyles and other things but they have to be very careful with adding to much because of the impact on performance.  Everything they add to character customization can have a drastic impact on frame-rates and they have to guard against adding too much and ending up running like Vanguard.  Since they support these open, huge events it would be a shame to open up character creation and then no one could play the events because of performance.

Scott: We can’t de-rift Rift by making cooler characters.  By the end of the day if its Rift gameplay versus characters, Rift gameplay has to win otherwise we don’t have a product.

Scott does say that they will have to do a “barber-shop” type feature in the future.

Wrapping Up

The rest of the Round Table slowed down a bit as we asked more questions that they really could not answer.  I am going to do a bullet point for the remainder of the info.

  • They have plans for more World PvP and an extension of the Wardstone system but they are unable to reveal much about it yet.
  • They have thought about doing a Darkness Falls style contested dungeon but they want to see how popular it might be.  (hint, hint!)
  • The game currently supports X-Fire and SLi, as well as multi-core processors.
  • Port Scion can not be talked about yet but it will be a big deal. They have big plans for it that they are not quite ready to release.  I am expecting an open PvP zone with a major twist.

That about ends it.  There were more questions asked but they could not be answered or released.  I am assuming that the answers are all in that damn Power Point presentation.  Damn you, Scott!

Again, I want to thank Scott, Russ, Hal and the rest of Trion for this opportunity to sit down and ask these questions.

Also, I should have my final thoughts on stuff covered by the embargo later today and my final thoughts on the visit!  See you all then!

 

 

Part One of My Trion Visit

Just arrived home from my visit to Trion for Gamer Day 3 and I am exhausted.  It was a very busy few days and between the plane flights, the tour and the drinking I am pretty exhausted.  However, I wanted to put a little something up to tide you over until the “embargo” is lifted on Monday morning.  So, today I am going to start with the general outline of our visit and tomorrow I will go in-depth about the round table discussion.

At the end of the studio tour yesterday, we were able to sit down with Scott Hartsman and Russ Brown, the Executive Producer and VP of Development, respectively.  I am going to cover what went on during the round table, as well as some details of my trip and experiences.  This will all be covered tomorrow so stay tuned for that.

Arriving in San Francisco and Dinner

I arrived in San Fran at about 1:00PM local time and I was totally beat.  A long night at the airport and two plane flights, just about did me in.  I went straight out and caught a shuttle to my hotel, the Sofitel Hotel in Redwood City.  The hotel was amazing and, conveniently enough, right across the street from Trion’s studios.

After checking in and getting up to my room, I went straight to bed for a nap.  I must be getting old. 😦

I woke up about four hours later and got ready to meet Trion and the other fan site operators downstairs in the hotel bar for drinks.  I want to take this time to thank all of my fellow fan sites whom I had the pleasure to meet during this trip.  Each and everyone of you were fantastic and I think I made some long term friends during this trip.  Thank you to Ciovala of Telarapedia, BCTrainers of RiftIRC, Draegn and Teljair of Rift Junkies and Arithion of the Rift Podcast.  You guys made the trip that much better and I thank each and every one of you!

At this time we all sit down for drinks and the Trion team started arriving.  We were lucky enough to meet Cindy Bowens, community manager for Rift, MissDoomCookie, Defiant Lore Lead, Erick ‘Zann’ Adams, Assistant Community Manager and even Dead Simon himself, Simon Ffinch.  There were other Trion folks there as well so forgive me if I don’t name them all.  I had much to drink that night!

After a few drinks, we headed out to the Mistral Restaurant for dinner and more drinks.  We were joined by even more Trion folks, including Scott, Russ and Hal Hanlin.  The dinner was fantastic and so was the company.  I was able to make some suggestions about the PvP servers to Scott and Russ but I am sure they won’t remember them!  Worth a shot though!

I will say that it was awesome to see that Russ feels the same way about PvP, ganking and griefing as I do.  I bet he is a terror on the PvP server and it is pretty obvious why he has played a rogue in all of his demo videos.  I have thoughts of him ganking some poor sap on his rogue and giggling like he does on all of his videos.  Just perfect.

 

Dinner with Trion, Rift Junkies, Telarapedia, RiftIRC and Rift Podcast.

 

After much fun, drinks and laughter at dinner we all loaded up in various cars and taxis and headed back to the hotel.  A few folks made a pit-stop back in the bar for a nightcap but I was just too tired.  Yes, I am getting old.  I went to bed in preparation for the big studio tour the next day.

The Tour

I want to warn you before you start reading this part that I have to be really careful with what I say.  The majority of hard information about Rift and what we saw will be in a post on Monday morning but I can give you some generals thoughts on the studio and the people we talked with.

 

Trion's Building Reminds Me of the Decepticons.

 

As I said, Trion’s studio is right across the street from our hotel.  So, it was a quick walk over Friday morning.  Trion takes up two floors of the building, with art, animation and design on one floor and human resources, public relations and such on another.  They have a lot of space and they make use of all of it.

Seeing the studio just makes me want to work for a game company even more.  The studio is full of “geek” memorabilia.  Everything from movies posters, to anime, to games and everything in between.  It is divided into ‘departments’, with art and animation in one space, raid design in another and UI design in another.  We were able to visit each department and ask questions of each.  I will have more on that on Monday, as well as some pictures of the inside of the studio.

After that, it was demo time and we all were able to sit down to some honest-to-god Rift fun and then off to lunch.  Lunch was served up inside the studio, which was good because I don’t think anyone wanted to leave.

 

Playing Rift with the folks from Ten-Ton Hammer, Curse and MMORPG.com!

 

 

The day at the studio finished off with a Round Table, attended by all the fan-sites, a few press members, Scott Hartsman and Russ Brown.  We were able to ask an hour worth of questions and Scott and Russ answered everything they could answer, with much humor and laughter.  It was a great time and I will have a break down of it tomorrow and if you happen to read this Scott, I still want a look at that damn Power Point presentation!!! 🙂

After that it was off to dinner at a local brew-house, with much beer drinking and talking about the days events.  Sadly, we had to say our good-byes to Cindy and Amary as they headed home while we went back to the hotel for one last night in San Fran.

Luckily, Erick ‘Zann’ Adams was staying in the same hotel with us and he came back for drinks.  The rest of the night is a blur as we attempted to put together a drunken podcast, listened to Zann sing an original song about Madden football (wtf?!?)  and watched Teljair piss off Draegn by using ‘netspeak’  all night.

I actually have video of Zann performing his Madden song and I will upload it for the right bribe.  Or I will not upload it for the right bribe. 🙂  I really want to hear what Arithion can salvage of our drunk podcast because the majority of it was unairable.  Good luck with that Ari, you will need it!

Unfortunately, my time at Trion came to an end last night and I had to fly back to Dallas this morning.  I had an amazing time, got to see a lot of really cool stuff and met a lot of really cool people.  Hopefully I will have the chance to this again and I hope to see all the Trion folks and my fellow fan-site operators again in the near future.  It was an amazing experience.  It truly was.

Again, look for my run down of the Round Table tomorrow and even more information about our tour on Monday.  There is a lot I want to share with you all and I think you will enjoy it!

Thanks!

 

Let’s Set Aside the Game for a Moment and Talk About Trion.

In today’s post I want to set aside the game.  What I really want to do is talk about the company making the game, Trion Worlds.  Let’s forget about whether you like the game or not.  Maybe you love it, maybe you hate it but I think one thing should be agreed on by everyone who plays or follows MMOs.  That is, quite simply, Trion should be the model on how future developers interact with the community, run their beta and develop their game.  If you compare the development of Rift to WAR, Age of Conan or a whole slew of other MMOs pre-release, you will see a refreshing difference when it comes to how Trion does this.

The NDA

 

First, let’s talk about the NDA.  Mark Jacobs, formerly of Mythic Entertainment, had this to say about the NDA and the dropping of the NDA:

“As to NDAs, the rule I’ve always gone by is my “time before release rule” in order to judge the confidence the publishers have in their new game (doesn’t apply to ports or games that are already out in other places). I add a +1 for every week prior to release that the game’s NDA has been lifted and come up with a score. If <4, there’s a lack of confidence in the product, if you are >8, they really believe in the game. WoW had a great score (the highest I believe) and some of the MMOs that failed, had, as expected, low scores. A score of 4 is just about the minimum you should expect from a MMO publisher.”

I say he was right and his own game proves this.  Warhammer Online‘s NDA drop happened only a scant few weeks before the game went live.  We can now see that Mythic had little confidence in the game and rightfully so.  By contrast Trion dropped the beta NDA a full three months before release.  Now, it must be said, there is still an NDA covering the Alpha participants but I have seen very few MMOs allow beta players to talk so freely about their game so long before release.

Access to the Game Pre-Release

 

With the release of the newsletter last week, Trion opened the flood gates to the beta servers.  Each subscriber now has VIP access to the beta servers, which allow for automatic entry to every beta event.  In addition, each newsletter subscriber was given a VIP key that allows for 25 more people full access to the beta.

For all intents and purposes, the Rift beta is now completely open.  With the number of VIP keys available from the subscriber newsletter and websites like MMORPG.com giving away hundreds of keys everyone who wants in can get in easily.  Never have I seen such open access to a game this far out from release.  WAR went open beta just 11 days before release.  Age of Conan just 22 days before release.

Not only are they allowing unprecedented early access to the client but they are letting players see more of the game than most developers do.  The current beta client will allow leveling up to level 30 but future beta clients will allow access up to level 42, only 8 levels before the cap.  Age of Conan capped their beta to level 20 which, coincidentally,  is the exact level in which content ran out.  Trion is allowing access to the full world at each cap.  Dungeons are open, War Fronts are running, Rifts and invasions are running.  Bottom line, by the time the beta is ended you will know whether the game is worth buying or not.

 

Responsiveness to the Players

 

Trion has also set the precedent when it comes to listening to the players and responding to their complaints and suggestions.  Look at the list of things Trion has added, fixed or improved upon since the first beta client and you can not help but be impressed:

  • Players wanted to gain access to Souls sooner.  Trion completely changes the Soul acquisition system, making Souls easier to get and giving them the ability to get them sooner.
  • Players thought the combat was a bit too unresponsive.  Trion adds ability queues and changes the way key presses trigger abilities.  Combat is now much smoother.
  • Players thought Rogue energy regenerated too slowly.  Trion now allows energy to regen during the GCD.
  • Players thought that invasions and Rifts were not powerful enough and happened too infrequently.  Trion unleashes the events upon Telara.
  • Players wanted Open Groups ala WAR.  Trion puts them in.
  • Players complained about the lack of anti-aliasing.  Trion adds it.
  • Players complained about Tab Targeting.  Trion fixes it.

The list goes on and on.  They have even more in store for the future, fixes to Racial abilities, master looter and a whole slew of things that the community wanted.  Every developer claims to listen and many try but I have never seen a developer do so as quickly as Trion does.

Polish and Promises

 

I have talked about this before but I wanted to state it again; Trion promised only what they could deliver.  They did not promise the moon, only to have to pull features before release.  They under promised and over delivered.  Exactly the opposite of most developers.  The game, in its current state, is more polished, complete and bug free than WAR, AoC and even Aion was months after release.  It runs well, there is a distinct lack of bugs, all features are present and accounted for and everything works.  Compare this to most other MMOs on release and the difference is striking.

You May not Love the Game but You Should Love the Company

 

As I said above, you may not like Rift and that is fine.  Just like other MMOs, it will not appeal to everyone.  Some are looking for a game that is radically different from prior MMOs and if that is the case, no Rift will not appeal to you.  Some don’t like the graphics, the combat or the lore and that is okay too.  I understand that.  But, no matter what you feel for the game itself, every MMO player should love how Trion is handling this release.  It is the standard by which every other developer should be held accountable.

For too long we, as MMO players, have stood by and watched as developers released buggy, unpolished and incomplete messes onto the gaming public.  We watched as they hid their faults behind NDAs and open betas that just began a scant few days before release.  We watched as they promised to do anything and everything and then failed to deliver even the basics.

Finally, we may have a developer that does not do that.  That is not afraid to let players see what they have to offer pre-release and that is not above listening to player suggestions and then implementing them quickly.  Whether you like Rift or not, you should applaud that.

 

The Greatness that is Trion Continues.

I love Trion Worlds.  I really, really do.  I have never, ever seen a MMO developer that is as receptive to the community and as caring.  They not only communicate, the listen. Take a look at past patch notes if you don’t believe me.  They want to get this game right and they are doing everything they can to do it.

But it extends beyond just the mechanics of the game.  They care about the community and the players and they have shown that, at every turn, they want to do right by them.  This fantastic attitude continued this evening.

Yesterday, when news of the pre-orders hit, many potential players headed to Gamestop or logged into Gamestop or Amazon to pre-order.  This included me.  You see, I really like having the box when I buy a game.  The digital downloads are very convenient but nothing beats having the box and all the goodies inside.  This is especially true for the Collector’s Edition.  So I, like many others, ordered from Amazon.

My order complete, I checked my email….only to find that there was no pre-order code included.  This meant I would not get into the betas and would not get the headstart.  Well, that is not acceptable!  So I called Amazon.  After talking to no less than four different people, I found that none of them knew anything about the pre-order codes.  I was pretty pissed.

Logging into the Rift forums, I found many others with the same problem.  Not only from Amazon but from Gamestop as well.  All of us had pre-ordered, none of us had received a code and Gamestop/Amazon knew nothing about it.

A few minutes later, Abigale posted that they were looking into the matter and hoped to have an answer soon.  This was pretty late, so I did not expect anything that night.  I logged off and hoped to see something by Friday, the day of the next Beta Event.

Today I log onto the forums to find this thread by Abigale, which says:

As many of you have reported, there have been some issues with code distribution from Amazon and GameStop. We are working to get that fixed and you will get your codes in time for the head start and all of the benefits of your pre-order. However, it looks like you may not have them in time for this weekend’s beta event.

We are not going to let that happen. We want to make sure that you don’t miss this event! So if you purchased your pre-order from one of these outlets and do not already have a VIP code, we will flag your account with VIP access ourselves. You can reach Customer Service through our Support Center. Send them a copy of your receipt and they will be able to help you.

Beta 4 invites will start going out later today but we will continue to send out batches of them throughout the rest of the week as your accounts are added. So if you don’t get an invite right away, give it some time. We will do our very best to take care of you.

We apologize for any inconvenience and confusion and we will do our best to see that you get to participate in this event. Thank you for your patience!

I immediately log into customer support and send them a message with my receipt attached.  I figured that I would get a response back sometime Friday or Thursday at the earliest.

Nope.

They got back to me in twenty minutes. With all the people frantically messaging them for help, they get back to me in twenty minutes.  And this wasn’t some form letter either.  This was a live person, not only letting me know they got the support request but actually fixing my problem. I am now a VIP and eligible for all the beta events.

That is amazing and just another indication of the greatness that is Trion Worlds.

Character Builder for Rift!

Ware, of the Rift forums, has designed the first working character builder for Rift: Planes of Telara.  Of course, it still is incomplete but it uses all of the abilities and Souls we have seen do far.  I encourage you to take a look at it.  I guarantee it will take up a few hours of your time if you are anxiously awaiting Rift”s release!  You can find it right here!