Dark or Light

Q&A With Scott Hartsman

William Murphy Posted:
Interviews 0


I hate to start out with the tough ones, but I’m really interested to hear the response so bear with me: There’s a whole host of MMOs coming out in the near future. Many are pushing the envelope in a lot of different ways. Consider me one of many MMO-discontents. How would you sell Rift to me as a game that’s more than just the “same ol’ song and dance?” What makes Rift stand out from the pack?

Scott Hartsman:

It's all good. Some of my favorite people in the world are MMO discontents. Hell, half of our team are MMO discontents. Trying to make a game that we're happy with is a challenge.

If you look at MMOs over, say, the last ten years, you see this pattern. The ones that succeed to the point where they can be considered leaders all have two goals something in common: Make something that they personally think is awesome and new, while making it both complete and recognizable enough to where people will be willing to spend their's and their friends' time time playing the game.

Then, once they have that, they do everything in their power to try to actually bring that plan to life, which is usually a lot harder, takes a whole lot longer, and is far more expensive to bring to successful completion in a polished way than they could possibly have imagined. Many MMOs try this, and most of them fall short.

There's a saying in software development: The first 80% of a project takes 80% of the time. The last 20% of the project takes the other 80% of the time. (It's a joke. Get it? It means: "Big software is really hard, and getting to done is more work than you could have imagined in your worst nightmares.")

MMOs are like that, only the last bit actually takes the other 500% of the time, as you iterate and polish and toss out things that just didn't work, replace them, and make sure that what you ship both works and is fun. No one launches an unfinished game because they want to - They do it out of necessity. With Rift, we've been fortunate in the extreme in that we've genuinely been able to take the time to get things right.

In our case, we see a world where there's more than just the static content of MMOs to date (but the familiar base is there as well). Where the world itself is at war -- not just with you, but with itself, in interesting and fun ways. We see more than just the static classes that are seeing less and less customization possibilities in other games. We see a world that hits on the major themes and features and iterates them in ways that people will find useful and unique. We see a game with kick-ass art, and great sound and music. We see Rift.


It seems that the new trend in the MMO world is to offer your game up for free and make money off of optional subscriptions and micro-transactions. Rift is going for the tried and true subscription model, but I guess the question has to be will there also be a “Cash Shop” for additional content (experience potions, etc.)?

Scott Hartsman:

We've been entirely focused on the game itself, and a lot less concerned with trying to "innovate" in business models. I put that in quotes since it's a pretty polarizing topic. Some people love the idea of having more cool stuff to pick up, other people don't like it, and there are valid arguments on both sides.

Honestly, we're genuinely all about the game experience itself. That's where all of the effort has been going. That's been the thing that we've believed we'll live or die on, so we've been focused there.

There's a simple reason for that belief: "You will never go wrong with 'make the game better,'" so that's where we've doubled-down.


On that same note, stacked up against the ever-growing crop of subscription games that turned F2P, how do you feel about the way the industry is migrating towards that model, and what do you think it means for Rift?

Scott Hartsman:

I think they're an entirely valid way to try to grow an audience and build a business. It's just not the way we've chosen to go with Rift. If you have a game that's doesn't have the complete experience, or you know a game isn't going to stand up to, or hasn't stood up to the hypercompetitive subscription model where the audience expectation is (frequently unrealistically) sky high, it's fantastic that there's that alternative.

It has let more online worlds stay in business a hell of a lot longer than they would have otherwise, it's let people launch worlds with smaller feature sets and survive just fine, and that's good for everyone.

It brings more players into the space, and introduces them into a new type of game they might never have otherwise tried. Everyone wins.


Rift’s class system to me seems to be the game’s most exciting invention. But it also seems like an absolute nightmare from a balance and design perspective. Care to shed a little light on how the team’s approaching class-balance in terms of PvP, and even more so in terms of making sure each class feels distinct?

Scott Hartsman:

When you look at the raw numbers, it's pretty common for people to think that balance must be a nightmare, but in a lot of ways, it hasn't been any worse so far than previous games I've worked on. Getting into specifics of "Well, first we make sure that healing is appropriate in PvP, then see how that applies to PvE," and so on, because you'd have a 1000 page treatise.

That said, let me talk about it at the highest level.

It's hard work, no doubt, but we were able to start on it far earlier than any product I've worked on in the past. By the time this game launches, there will have been well over a year of pure iteration and improvement.

On top of that, we have more people working on souls and callings than other games I've worked on (Instead of "The Class Balance Guy," we have "The Class Team"), and their combined experience stretches across more than their fair share of MMOs, whether we're talking EQ, EQ2, WoW, DAoC, WAR, and more.

It's real work, with real problems, but it's doable work, with fun solutions.


Similarly, it seems that the Rifts themselves are being used to drive the story and create world-wide events for players to partake in. But the technology behind the Rifts, where portals to other dimensions open and what’s on the other side seeps in, seems like it could be ideally used to create a world that’s always changing. Not just via the Rifts, but by say bands of mercenaries, or diabolical wizards bent on domination. I guess what I’m asking is whether the team’s given any thought towards capitalizing on the Rift technology for other world events?

Scott Hartsman:

And then some. I really believe that the future is extremely bright for this particular kind of content.

For the moment, we're focused right now on making sure that we have enough coverage on dynamic content, and really making sure to nail both Rifts and Invasions as best we can, as opposed to being focused on, say, "Look! Invasion from the plane of Guys With Top Hats! EEEEEEK!"

This dynamic game that plays out in the existing world is something that has a hell of a lot of potential, both for interesting content and new kinds of dynamic happenings in the world, on top of Rifts, Invasions, Defenses, and other fun things people are doing.

On top of that, there's also having it work at different scales, to make sure there are great things for solo people to do...for groups...for raids.. It really lets us break out of some of the standard molds of existing MMOs and do more to make sure there's always something fun and fitting to do when you're online, in a way that brings some of that all important "we're in this together" social feeling back into MMOs.


Scott, I really appreciate you taking the time out of your day to answer these, so let’s do one more and I’ll let you get back to you know, actually making the game. What’s next for fans of Rift? The beta’s almost upon us and then release is not long after that, but there still seems like so much more for players to learn about the game in the meantime. Care to give us any hints on what’s on the horizon?

Scott Hartsman:

Welcome! Waitasec. I see what you did there.

"Beta almost upon us" ... "release not long after that." Nice try, Bill. I'm spilling nothing.

Let's see. This past week we showed a bit about one of our higher end parts of the world, Iron Pine Peak. We've released a video that shows some of the great music in the game, and how we're using two different composers to make sure that the Rifts and the World feel different down to how they sound when you're in them.

What's next? PvP, Prestige, and Valor? Or maybe Guilds and their Quests and Perks? Our warfronts, the latest of which is a hell of a lot of fun, and definitely unique to Rift?

It's hard to pick, actually. Hopefully we don't keep anyone waiting too long for the next interesting news about the game.


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.