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An Interview with Stephan Frost

Neilie Johnson Posted:
Interviews 0

Energy's high in and outside of Carbine Studios as MMO lovers anxiously await Carbine's new fantasy-sci-fi MMO, Wildstar. This week we spoke to Stephan Frost, Design Director at Carbine, and this is what he had to say about what makes Wildstar different from other online multiplayer games and why we all should play it.

MMORPG: Wildstar seems to direct the player quite a bit – for example, with the mission pointer. This kind of convenience seems geared toward a more casual audience. Do you consider Wildstar to be aimed at more casual players?

Stephan Frost: We have refined the user experience for those that would like to use the quest arrows to guide them to their destination. (It’s more of a quality of life feature.) Casuals can definitely play Wildstar, but there will be sections of our game that will melt faces if you aren’t prepared for it. (40 person raids, Warplots, PvP, Dungeons, etc.)

MMORPG: Thus far, which character race has proven to be the most popular and have there been many complaints about faction-specific races? 

Stephan Frost: As with most games, Humans are the most popular races. More specifically, Exile Human Females seem to be the number one choice. We haven’t heard of any massive and or major complaints about faction-specific races, there seems to be a good smattering of race types per faction that fit their theme well.

MMORPG: The Wildstar website discusses how Paths were created by researching how MMO players play. Can you expand upon that?

Stephan Frost: Paths were based loosely on the Bartle types of players. The Soldier is the Path for players who like Holdouts, Assassination Missions, and testing out experimental weapons on enemies. Basically if you are into killing everything that moves, this is your Path. The Explorer is for players that love uncovering every bit of the map. We added jump puzzles, hidden doors, and scavenger hunts for this Path to encourage players to run all over the place.

The Scientist is for the lore hungry players out there that collect and read every kind of story text in the game. The Scientist can scan objects in the world and find out information specific to only this Path. The Settler was something that we added based on the social types that hang out in MMOs. People that hang out and chat in cities and quest hubs will love the Settler Path because it rewards you for keeping the place alive. You can spawn in quest hubs, speed boosts, combat buffs, and loads of other stuff that makes life easier for you and all your compatriots in the area.

MMORPG: What lessons has Wildstar learned from past MMOs, and how have those lessons been used to create a game that represents the genre's next evolutionary step?

Stephan Frost: This is a fairly massive question that we could probably write an entire volume on, but we’ll try to keep it short. From a user experience perspective, our movement control was something we took extremely serious. Sprint, dash, double jump, etc. needed to feel fun and compelling by themselves. Combat also needed to be extremely entertaining as you level, and when you reach elder game. After all, it is the main activity you’ll be doing to gain experience and progress.

Our telegraph system is massive and provides more entertainment per fight because you’ll actually have to pay attention and get out of the threat areas. It also becomes more difficult and varied over the leveling progression. Player telegraphs and aiming also add to the skill needed to use a class effectively, and in PvP it most certainly adds a level of skill mastery. This combat system combined with Quest Content, Public Events, Challenges, Paths, Group Content, Warplots, Housing, etc. layer on top of each other to create a fun and varied experience. Beyond that, we have things like vacuum loot, that allows you to instantly collect all creature dropped items. (So you don’t have to spend time stopping and sifting through a corpse.) You can select an interactive item extremely far away and it auto runs to it for you. There are tons of little features and systems that make the user experience more streamlined. It’s strange, but when we play other games, we’ll miss the little quality of life systems that we have in Wildstar because they make the experience feel smoother.

MMORPG: How much and how has the Wildstar team leveraged the beta community's feedback?

Stephan Frost: When we went into Beta, we collected a ton of feedback via forums and in-game-metrics. We went “Beta Dark” for a few milestones to implement updates to systems. When we did, we took a large percentage of the team and started planning updates and began implementing thereafter. Improving telegraphs to show the cast timer, class ability global-cool-down tweaks, player progression systems like ability improvements or AMPs, Quest XP Progression Bar, impact effects on attacks, item tuning, etc. was a ton of work. It was probably our most intensive milestone, because when we came back from our “Beta Dark” period, we wanted to have massive improvements so previous players would see the difference. New players would also get a fun and engaging experience. 

MMORPG: Wildstar allows players to create characters that are more interested in gathering knowledge than engaging in combat. Will there be enough content to enable the more scholarly PvE players to level up and be engaged?

Stephan Frost: The beauty of the Path System is it rewards players for engaging in the type of content they enjoy. Collecting all that lore for Scientists will allow them to further progress their Path XP. If you also group up with other players that have different Paths, you can get Path XP when they complete Path objectives. (Helping other Paths actually helps that player out as well!)

MMORPG: Renown is a currency earned through group activities that can be spent on exclusive rewards – are there any exclusive rewards for players who don't engage in these, who focus on other activities?

Stephan Frost: There are numerous systems that reward you in Wildstar. Quests, Paths, Housing, Dungeons, PvP, Raids, Challenges, Discoveries, Adventures, Warplots, Public Events, Shiphand Missions, World Bosses, Rare Spawns, Crafting, etc. all have varied and unique rewards.

MMORPG: Can you talk a bit about Wildstar's in-game economy and how it's fortified against gold farmers and other in-game hacks?

Stephen Frost: We have a dedicated Economy Team that has been working on creating a solid in-game economy. They monitor and tweak tradeskills, quest items, the auction house, commodities exchange, various in-game currencies, etc.

Regarding shady gold farmers, our goal is to use a system called C.R.E.D.D. to mitigate gold farming. (You can check out our C.R.E.D.D. system here.) Other in-game hacks will have to be monitored by our experienced Customer Service Department. We also have the fortune of being published by a company (NCsoft) that has been publishing MMO’s for years, and they bring quite a bit of knowledge and problem solving capabilities to our game.

MMORPG: Publishers have been flocking to the free-to-play trend but Wildstar is a paid game. How will Wildstar compete with all the free-to-play band-wagon jumpers?

Stephen Frost: There are certainly free-to-play games out there, but there are also numerous subscription based games as well. We wanted to build a game that was a solid experience from the second you log in, and didn’t block you from having fun with frustrating pay walls. With our C.R.E.D.D. system, it also allows the hardcore players to earn their monthly subscription with in-game currency. There are certainly pros and cons to both models, but we decided to go subscription because it made the most sense for our development and game type.

MMORPG: The game features three areas: The Dominion, Exiles and Contested. Will there be races specific to the Contested?

Stephen Frost: Contested areas are just for Faction Vs. Faction PVP. Any race, on either side, can fight against the opposing faction. (If you are flagged for Open World PVP.)

Many thanks to Stephen Frost and Carbine for taking the time to talk to us and answer these questions. 


Neilie Johnson

Neilie Johnson / Neilie Johnson is a freelance contributor to MMORPG.com. She's been writing about games since 2005, developing games since 2002, and playing them since the dawn of time. OK not really, but she's pretty sure she's got controllers older than you. Witness her game-related OCD on Twitter @bmunchausen.