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Scott Hartsman Interview

Michael Bitton Posted:
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Trion Worlds invited us out to San Francisco to check out their upcoming games Rift: Planes of Telara and the MMORTS End of Nations. While at the Trion HQ (which from the outside looks like the lair of a badass supervillain, by the way), I got a chance to sit down with Trion’s Chief Creative Manager Scott Hartsman for a one-on-one interview on Rift: Planes of Telara.

According to Scott, Rift is a “very dynamic MMO world” and he went on to explain the differences between the two factions players can choose from in the game. Players can choose between the Defiant and Guardian factions. The Defiant are a technology-based faction who throw caution to the wind and seek out forbidden “world-destroying” technology to pursue their cause. The Guardians are the “chosen ones of the gods” as the gods require an army, and this army consists of the best men and women of particular specializations, whether or not they were good or bad people in life. The two factions are also at civil war with each other over a resource known as Sourcestone. Sourcestone is used to power Defiant technology, while the Guardians use it to commune with the gods.

Scott describes the world of Telara as being under attack by six different planes, the planes of Earth, Air, Fire, Water, Life, and Death and he also made note of the fact that Rift is replete with the typical features players would expect in a modern MMO ranging anywhere from loot, to dungeons to mounts, but he also points out two key features of Rift that truly set itself apart from other MMOs.

Of course, the obvious key feature to Rift is well, Rifts! But it goes further than that; Scott describes the high-end of the rift feature as “invasions”. Invasions are masses of forces entering the world of Telara from a particular plane (or several planes) complete with their own agendas, which can get real hairy as the forces of the six planes don’t necessarily get along with each other. Of course, players can also choose to ignore these invasions if they occur in territory of an opposing faction or they can actively participate in the invasion aiding the NPCs in trashing their enemy’s footholds. If ignored, players will find that their quest hubs are overrun by invading NPCs, and the world around the areas that have been invaded will look reflective of the particular plane that overran it. Players will even be able to tell where an invading force came from by visible “planar tracks” along the ground.

Rift offers a multi-class system dubbed the “Ascended Soul” system and while this is all good and dandy, obviously many gamers look at this and think of the potential balance issues, so I asked Scott about their plans to deal with balance issues and he had a pretty surprising response. Scott actually enjoys people thinking about the balance challenges, as he feels that people are thinking of ways that combinations could end up being “too much fun” and that their stance is that they don’t even really want the system to be perfectly balanced. Indeed, Scott doesn’t even believe achieving perfect balance is something to aspire to, as players would be able to do everything and no one would feel special. Scott doesn’t view balance as a huge issue in a game like Rift where you can switch things at a whim, as opposed to your typical MMO where if something gets nerfed you may be stuck with it. Ultimately, Scott expects that there will be “out of balance” builds, but that the possibilities are so great with the soul system that players can discover new “out of balance” builds to trump or counter one already in existence.

Worried that players might discover a one-size-fits-all optimal spec, Scott assured me that this would not happen, though he admits that undoubtedly there will be optimal builds for specific activities. For example, players might create optimal runner builds for certain game modes, or super tough tanks for Capture the Flag PvP. However, the latter example would be slow and heavy and not quite as useful in a situation that requires a runner, so it wouldn’t be perfect for everything. “Fail” builds will be possible as well, but since you can switch builds around any time you like you can easily sort your build out.

Discussing the soul system a bit further, I wanted to find out about what sorts of limitations your initial calling imposed on you as well as what exactly is involved in the acquisition of additional souls. As far as limitations go, your armor proficiency is basically limited by your calling, so a plate wearer like a warrior can wear anything, while a mage would be limited to cloth and such. The acquisition of souls is gradual as you level up, with two souls being awarded to you from within your archetype at specific intervals. Other souls can be acquired through various in-game activities such as crafting or even raiding.

Explorers will be pleased to know that Trion is considering the explorer playstyle as well. Artifacts and Collections are described by Scott as basically collectible items found in the game world that can be turned in for a reward once a collection is completed. This encourages players to stray off the beaten path that going from quest hub to quest hub tends to create. Trion intends on creating a beautiful world and Scott says they want their players to see it.

As far as PvP goes, Scott tells us that we can expect to see three quality warfronts (battlegrounds) at launch, as they are testing five or six right now and they expect the best ones to rise to the top. The idea being that they’d rather have three solid offerings over six that are “meh” as “no one comes back to meh.” One of the warfronts they are testing at the moment actually incorporates the rift gameplay as well.

Scott briefly touched on crafting as well. Players can expect an array of typical harvesting and crafting tradeskills such as mining or harvesting and they can have up to three of these active per character.

Closing things out, Scott and I discussed the impact of population balance on their game as they make use of a two-faction system which has been shown to be problematic for other games in the past, but Scott feels trying to win that battle isn’t really possible, so they intend to make up the player deficit by introducing NPCs where necessary.


Michael Bitton

Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined MMORPG.com as the site's Community Manager. Follow him on Twitter @eMikeB