At the Barker Hanger in E3 this year, I found Bill Fisher, Senior Game Designer and Adventuring Content Lead at a single lonesome demo station. Bill Fisher came to Vanguard from EQ, has been with Vanguard since day one and stayed with Vanguard. I simply asked him to tell me what was happening at Vanguard.
"We are improving and polishing the game," he said, telling me about the optimizing that has taken and is still taking place. "Players have reported as much as a 20% improvement in frame rate." He went on to list the things they had done. Increasing dedicated Quality Assurance staff, to be sure nothing falls through at patches, and a dedicated Bug Team were two. "We fixed 1,200 bugs in the first 1 ½ weeks after SoE took over the game. Game updates are scheduled for approximately every six weeks, and the ability to construct Guild Halls will come on live very soon."
Bill had recently seen the bill of materials required to construct a Guild Hall and marveled at the sheer volume of work that would be required to undertake such a task. I had to chuckle. Well, it's a huge structure meant to house many people. In the real world, that bill of materials would be much larger and longer. Players have been waiting for that for a long time, I mentioned. "I can't believe the amount of resources it's going to take!" exclaimed Bill, "but it's going to be very neat as it involves all three spheres of gameplay in Vanguard. Diplomats, Crafters as well as Adventurers have to be involved to create a Guild hall."
I was informed that John Hegner was recently also designated "Lore Master", and his task is to straighten out the many stories that are in Vanguard and mesh them into a cohesive whole. As Bill tells me, John has also been with Vanguard since day one, and is an avid table-top gamer. "The stories in Vanguard were disconnected. John's task is to bring them all together and also lead us into future story arcs."
"We are also finalizing the Brotherhood system. This will allow you and your Brotherhood members to share XP, even when your characters are offline." Bill explained that it was a device to keep friends together. This will remove the security issues of sharing passwords, two-boxing, etc. as friends try not to outstrip each other in leveling or wish to help level each other. There can be six members in a Brotherhood - as much as a regular group, and characters have to be within five levels of each other - the Brotherhood system is not meant for power leveling. "Of course if someone never logs in, and doesn't pull his weight, you can kick him."
As for what else is coming in the near future, Bill summoned his Griffin mount - and what a gorgeous model it was. "Flying mounts are in production, and this Quest line is complete," he said, "and other Quest lines are in the work."
We ran through the Ancient Port Warehouse. A new level 50, 12 person raid dungeon recently announced in Vanguard's Milestones 2. This is not an instanced dungeon, but a huge physical structure with five different wings that is able to support several raids and groups at a time.
"We've really integrated all three spheres of gameplay in this zone," said Bill. "Your Diplomats will be able to parley with the NPC gnomes in there, and maybe you can get some special buffs for your party." As for the crafters, there will be new materials and recipes to be found.
We saw the massive constructs that the ancient Cartheons employed gnomes to build and visited the airship room several times just to marvel at the artwork. "No, no player controlled airships are in the works." Oh come, on... I cajoled. You can tell me. If the art work is in, if there are flying mounts, why not airships? What if I seed this as an idea for the future?
As part and parcel of the optimization of the game, the Vanguard team is also working on a new level 1 - 10 "trial" island. Partly a marketing tool since that will allow new players to try the game for free through level 10, the artists and designers are using the same engine to build this area as the rest of Vanguard. Once tweaked and optimized, the same techniques will be applied throughout the game.
"What do you want the fans, the critics and the readers to know about what's happening with and at Vanguard?" I asked.
"Vanguard has a dedicated team," Bill responded. By that, he meant that the members were dedicated to producing a great game and dedicated to Vanguard's success. Not that there was a team dedicated to the project. The live team currently consists of 50 - 52 programmers, led by David Gilbertson, the current producer of Vanguard. Dave was the Lead Artist and also has been with Vanguard since day one.
"Any changes come from the team in discussion with Dave, from direction of the players and from members of the team playing the game," said Bill. "Criticism is fine, but what we are really looking for is constructive criticism. Tell us what you feel is wrong and how you would like it fixed," Bill requests. "We're people too. We need actual constructive feedback. Comments such as 'This sucks' help no one."
So, there you have it. Since the take over from Sigil, the Vanguard team has been energized with clear direction and dedication to create the best game they can.