MMORPG: The video for your WildStar Wednesday Friends and Family alpha video looked amazing! Can you talk about the progress on polishing the game?
Jeremy Gaffney: Glad you liked it! We’re having fun, is the short form. We’ve got a small core group of people playing that are quite literally our friends and family. We’re collecting their feedback regularly, allowing us to iterate our systems and code for them every eight weeks or so, and internally the game changes daily.
Our big focus right now is on two things: making solid content (and tons of it), from level 1 to cap, and also getting our elder games out of prototype mode and into iteration and full Friends and Family testing. We firmly believe that elder games are among the most key parts to an MMO – and for WildStar we’ll have some interesting announcements going forward. As you know, we try to never announce anything that isn’t in, working, and fun – it keeps our hype to coolness ratio at a place we like.
I’ve mentioned before that iteration is a huge part of our process, and I really can’t say that enough. It is survival of the fittest – good systems get better, and bad systems need to die horribly.
MMORPG: You mentioned combat and battlefield control during battles as major aspects of a fight. Can you give us a bit more information on how these two things work together?
Jeremy Gaffney: Sure, we’ll do a more detailed reveal soon on some of the awesome-sauce of combat.
Philosophically speaking, this is what we believe:
There are actually three participants in a “one on one” combat:
We try to make all three intertwine – with interesting things to interact with in the environment, and with most spells or attacks having an effect on several, or all, of the three.
So, you place a damage field in the air or on the ground and your opponent needs to react and move in, or out, of it. You place a structure on the battlefield, say a healing well, which then allows your buddies to self-heal, buff, etc. You may decide to knock your enemy back into a pack of enemies that hate him more than they hate you – or perhaps into an explosive minefield.
The goal is to incite movement, reaction, and environmental awareness in combat. The better you are - and the more successfully you deploy the tactics of dodging, interrupting, using the environment and keeping up your momentum - the more rewards (XP and otherwise) you will gain.
It’s always a work in progress but this philosophy has already proven to yield a fun combat system, so we’ll keep iterating and improving it.
MMORPG: You mentioned some of the paths in the video. What can you tell us about the Scientist and Settler paths?
Jeremy Gaffney: Well, Paths are a cool system for us – separate from races or classes, they let you choose your play style.
For instance, the Scientist is all about those players with an appreciation for collecting, and for story. They get more powerful the more they study a creature or environmental hazard, and as an additional benefit, they unlock more back-story than the other paths.
The Settler is about a building and social play style – they build up the towns and hubs of the world and get social missions with social rewards.
The video gave a teaser – we’ll reveal a lot more about both Paths in the coming months!
MMORPG: Another important element in the video is the environments you are working on. Players seem to have much more interaction with the environment in WildStar, was that part of the plan from the beginning?
Jeremy Gaffney: We knew we wanted a truly interactive environment from early on – that’s why we developed the technology that allows us to change the world at runtime, allowing player interactions to have a significant impact on the world around them.
Then in one area, we added some of these elements – and it was fun. So our teams have worked ever since to add more of this throughout the world. It was also important to build our Paths system so that they were a big part of that interactive world technology. Through the process of iteration, we have been able to get more and more creative with these elements, making Nexus a pretty vibrant place to be.
MMORPG: You mention in the video that you throw a lot of curve balls at the players to keep them on their toes. Tell us your design idea behind these changes.
Jeremy Gaffney: In the video I was talking about a concept we blatantly took from a really smart testing team we partner with in our headquarters – it’s called zone fatigue. As it turns out, when you see the same environments over and over for a huge stretch, it just wears you out and bores you to death. Shocking, right? So as a developer, we think it’s wise to make sure that we are breaking that monotony.
So we do a ton to avoid this fatigue – for visuals, it’s lots of different subzones, lots of different micro dungeons, a host of monumental Eldan technologies gone wrong, lots of different environmental hazards (windspouts hurling you around) and benefits (Loftite gives you superjump!). Add to that a collection of monsters with a ton of variety –unique attacks, and combinations of those attacks. And then there better be great variety in the end games as well.
Variety, variety, variety. We’ve all played a ton of MMOs, and it takes a lot to keep our interest to hit max level. That’s what we are trying to build for you.
MMORPG: What type of feedback and metrics are you learning from your testing right now? How will these be implemented at launch?
Jeremy Gaffney: We get a lot of feedback on quest flow and individual world elements – for instance, tuning content density based on player feedback is crucial. Hitting the right balance between being content-rich, and outright overwhelming, is an art form.
Admittedly we prefer to trend towards the content-cup-overfloweth route; we trust our players to be smart gamers. We want to be accessible to new players, but it’s also important to us that hardcore gamers get challenged as well.
MMORPG: What parts of WildStar are being worked on the most currently? Its seems like the world is well designed, so is it now on to mechanics?
Jeremy Gaffney: We’re working on wrapping up all the systems that affect content creation; we’re also kicking off elder game work right now on a number of unannounced systems.
UI gets a lot of work every milestone; as we have announced in the past, we have a fully moddable UI, so our teams are all able to rapidly prototype their various systems (tradeskills, social systems, etc. etc.).
In general most of our development effort is focused on making tons of content, keeping the quality bar high, and making sure the game gets more fun milestone after milestone. We’re feeling pretty good about the progress we’ve been making, and we think you will like what we have to show you.