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 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!

Part Two of My Trion Visit: The Roundtable (First Fifteen Minutes)

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!

Amazingly Awesome War Front Report.

Ok, you know how much I like PvP, right?  And we all like videos, right?  Especially concerning PvP, right?

Well, take a look at this one from BFF!!

 

Great look at the two War Fronts in this week’s beta test.  I must say, that warrior ability is sweet.  No warrior in World of Warcraft can do that!!  Yeah, Rift kicks ass.

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.

 

Great Rogue (Assassin) PvP Video from Beta Four

Thought I would post up this nice PvP video from Beta Four.  This was done on my server (Lotham) and is really a nice video.  Take a look:

 

You can find the thread where the creator talks about his spec and such right here.

 

Updated:  I meant Beta Four, not Five!

Rift’s Enviable Position

If you take a look at the big name MMOs released in the last three years or so, you will find a very common denominator with each of them.  That is, they all released with bugs and/or a lack of content.   Funcom promised the moon before they released Age of Conan.  They talked about the tavern brawls, the siege system and full support for Directx 10.  All were listed as features for release and all were dropped.  In addition, there were huge gaps in content in the game.  Indeed, levels 20 to the level cap was devoid of content.  Players were faced with grinding mobs to hit the level cap.  On top of all of that, there were huge performance problems and the game ran terribly for just about everyone.

Warhammer Online was in a similar boat.  They, too, promised many features that they had to drop.  Four capital cities were gone by release and only two survived.  They had major performance problems as well and their in-game mail system was not even working (really, how do you mess up a mail system?).  This was all compounded by the fact that the Tier system was broken to begin with and just not fun.

Finally, Aion released.  It, arguably, released in the best condition of the three.  The game engine ran pretty well.  There were few huge bugs and it ran pretty darn smoothly.  Their problem was in content.  There was very little after the first 20 levels or so.  Like AoC, players were forced to grind mobs to level and the lack of content showed, as players left quickly after the initial free 30 days.

Contrast those MMOs to Rift.  Unlike AoC and WAR, Trion has not promised the moon.  They have instead promised only what they are sure they can deliver.  There will not be a massive cutting of features before release.   In addition, what is in the game works.  Very few bugs exist in the beta client.  The performance is solid for most players and the game just works.  Finally, there is content.  Content from level one all the way up to the level cap (don’t ask me how I know this, I just know!).  And, even at the level cap, there is content.  Trion has announced two end game raids and ten heroic dungeons at level cap.  In fact, there is as much end game content in Rift as WoW had on its release and that is not even counting the PvP content, the group raids and the Rift raids.

So, what does that mean for Trion and Rift?  Very simply it puts them in a very enviable position.  A position that few MMOs, if any, have enjoyed in the last four years.  Unlike WAR and AoC, Trion does not have to spend the majority of their post-release time fixing major bugs.  They don’t have to worry about rushing content that was promised for release out the door.  Unlike AoC, WAR and Aion, they do not have to worry about rushing content out to fill in content gaps during the leveling experience.  They have all those bases covered.

What it means is that Trion is going to be able to concentrate on adding content in a much more focused environment.  They don’t have to rush it.  They can concentrate on adding content that they wanted in the game but did not have time for.  Stuff that they haven’t even talked about.  I have heard people lament the lack of fluff in the game so far.  Stuff like Guild Banks, Barber Shops, a more full-featured Pet system.  Trion did not promise that stuff because they knew they could not get it in the game in time.  Unlike other developers, they promised only what they could deliver.

But, once release hits, they will be able to start adding in that content.  Adding some fluff to the world.  Maybe adding in some additional leveling areas or racial starting zones.  All that stuff that is not 100% needed in the game but that everyone enjoys.  They will be in a position to add it because what is already in the game works.

I believe you will see a lot of content patches post-release.  In my opinion, Port Scion and its PvP zone will be one of the first major content releases but I also think we may be seeing a lot of smaller content updates.  Things that add fluff and additional features.  Trion has put themselves in a pretty enviable position and the players are going to benefit from it.

Really, I just think its nice for a developer to promise only what they can deliver.  Don’t you?