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Pre-GDC Interview Reveals Trion's Plan

William Murphy Posted:
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MMORPG.com: How goes?! What’s the status with ArcheAge? Everyone’s champing at the bit here, and we’re hoping beta’s around the corner.

Scott Hartsman: Really well!  We’re in Friends and Family Alpha right now, with proper Alpha as our next step.  Expect that announcement before too long.

Since our return from the trip to Korea a month ago, tech work has been accelerating. With the Russian launch now passed, XLGames has been able to double down on the remaining engineering needed for our version.  In addition to that, we’re also having our studio devs help out wherever possible. 

We want ArcheAge to be live in the west just as much as you do, we promise!  We’re doing everything in our power to make that happen, and XL is doing everything that they can as well.

MMORPG.com: What have been the biggest challenges, outside of translation, in bringing AA over to the West?

Scott Hartsman: The amount of engineering work that it takes to support a new region.  No question.  I know I’ve talked about this before, but probably not in detail – There’s a lot more that goes on than people might think on the software side alone.

The main areas of that tech work (and why they’re important) are:

  • Making the game support three languages in the same version.  The other regions don’t need to do that – They’re all single-language.  (…so we can ship in our US and EU languages…)
  • Integration with our account system   (…so people can log in...)
  • Integration with our patching service (…so people can update…)
  • Integration with our operational system (…so we can run the servers at scale on our cross-continent infrastructure in the US and EU…)
  • Implementation of game customizations for the western audience (…so the game is properly amazing…)
  • Integration with our billing/wallet/mtx system (…so the game’s model can be the one that will make it the biggest, most enduring success, and fits in with western expectation of free yet fair…)
  • Integration with our data services (…both so we have the ability to answer customer petitions with useful information, and we can understand how the game’s being used…)
  • Implementation of the elements for our business model (…so the model fits the audience and the game...)

It’s a lot of work.  The pace has accelerated drastically in recent months, and work is happily getting knocked off that list one by one.

MMORPG.com: Can you give us an example of the elements of the business model or gameplay changes?

Scott Hartsman: Sure – A couple of the best examples are gliders and mounts.  Currently, the best ones in the game in some regions are exclusively purchaseable from the store.  That may be ideal for the other markets, but doesn’t fit the western “No tricks, no traps” F2P vision and sensibility. 

What we do with mounts and gliders is to make sure that you get some solid enjoyment when you purchase one, but you’re still earning the best.  That’s just one example of a few dozen types of requests that have been going back and forth between Trion and XL.  XL has been a great partner in both helping us think through elements of how our model applies to ArcheAge as well as doing a lot of work to make it happen.

MMORPG.com: Is the recent launch in Russia at all informing the US launch? There’s been some chatter that their launch would guide you in one way or the other with how and when to launch here.

Scott Hartsman: We’ve been watching it closely, primarily to see the Russian players’ reactions to individual elements inside the game.  We don’t draw concrete conclusions from another audience, but we do learn of elements to keep an eye on for our own alpha and beta to see how players react.  Having that advance heads-up is really helpful.

The “When” has always been “As soon as the game’s technically capable” –  I’ve mentioned previously that just because of the realities of development bandwidth the order would be China, Russia, then ours – And we’re now at the point where we’re next.

MMORPG.com: How about the translation itself? Can the map be read in English yet?

Scott Hartsman: A picture’s worth a thousand words!   Here’s a look at Ynystere, on the continent of Haranya.

MMORPG.com: Let’s talk about something a little near and dear to current ArcheAge players who are on the Korean client. There seem to be some strong opinions with some of the changes to the game made with 1.0, which emphasized more themepark than sandbox elements.  Can you comment on this? 

Scott Hartsman: Happy to.  ArcheAge’s sandbox elements have always been the core gameplay that attracted us to the game as well.  There were a number of changes that have been received really well, and a couple that have definitely been contentious.  After seeing the release from the outside, then going to Korea to meet with the team at XLGames, we got a much better understanding of what was going on.

As with all MMOs, a post-launch content release was planned.  That content did release as a part of version 1.0.  At the same time, in Korea they had discovered economic issues that needed addressing in one of the core sandbox systems, Trading (also known as Commerce). 

While they do genuinely want to be pushing the sandbox elements forward prominently, they had to double-back and make some economic fixes to that system. At the same time, they went ahead and released the post-launch content update.  The combination of doing those things at the same time can absolutely cause people to misinterpret the intent – Content moved forward, sandbox didn’t.   

The teams at XL assured us that the sandbox elements remain a huge priority to them, that they value them over all else, and they’ll be able to push them to the forefront in future updates in the different regions.  As we saw with the Russia release, XL prominently did push on Sandbox/PvP enhancements to the game with custom vehicles, and a nod to how important PvP is to them, being true to their word when it comes to what’s important to different audiences.

As for the western version, XL has been extremely supportive of our requests when it comes to ensuring ArcheAge is genuinely the premiere, AAA sandbox in the west.  We’ll be getting into more of those details as the game gets through its alpha and beta.

MMORPG.com: One of the big things seems to be that PVE content in general became a lot more “boring” in that time to kill was drastically increased and class changes really snuck up on folks.  Have you played with this at all? Can you comment on it?

Scott Hartsman: Haven’t played with this yet, and I really don’t want to speculate without us getting to play it ourselves.

One benefit we’ll get from our timing is that by the time we launch, the balance here should ideally be tuned more optimally.  If there’s one thing that I’m sure all of us have seen in every MMO we’ve ever played, it’s that the job of balancing for optimal fun is always ongoing.

MMORPG.com: Another worry folks have is that the level 50-55 game which was added with 1.0 seems to be mostly about PVE dungeon grinding, and not about the sandbox crafting, which is the opposite of what a sandbox like AA is supposed to work towards.  Are XLGAMES’s changes something for Korea specifically, or would these be coming to the US when the game launches, too?

Scott Hartsman: By the time we’re talking post-launch 50-55 for the US and EU, I expect that it will be in good shape and a fit for our audience.  XL has been reading their own users’ feedback and has also been incredibly good about taking our advice to heart for the western audience. 

Let’s get level 50 out first, then talk about level 55. :)


William Murphy

Bill is the former Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.