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State of the Game Interview - Part 1

Gareth Harmer Posted:
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Did you know that Nexus, the focal planet of WildStar, used to be called Meridia? Or that a player-created addon is now pivotal to Carbine’s debugging process? During Gamescom, I got the chance to sit down with three of the studio’s development supremos: Lead Client Engineer Jon Wiesman, Lead Content Designer Megan Starks, and Technical Design Lead Nick Roth. During a long discussion, we covered everything from building Farside to prototyping Vindball.

Bear in mind, these people aren’t the head honchos at Carbine, which is why I left questions about server populations, release schedules and other similar topics to one side. I also didn’t fire PvP and class-shaped questions at them since it’s not their area of expertise, although the latest patch has addressed many immediate concerns. And if you’re looking for a recap on upcoming content, take a look at our recent previews on The Defile and other quality of life changes.

But first, I had to ask Nick Roth, formerly Content Systems Lead, why his business card was out-of-date.

MMORPG.Com: So Nick, what are you doing now?

Nick Roth: I’m the Technical Design Lead on WildStar. What that means is, basically, my team handles the underlying systems that the Content team and the Dungeons and Raids team all use to build the game. We own the public events system, which is used everywhere for open-world public events, Dungeon objectives, Adventures, Arenas, Battlegrounds, Warplots, etc. And so we sort-of build the scaffold with which the designers build the game.

MMORPG.Com: One of the questions that crops up, particularly at the moment, is the blend between rolling out new content and fixing longstanding bugs. What would you say the split is?

Roth: For our team, because we do a lot of the framework and we’re the first responders of new content, as the content team has requests for new content in the future, they make requests for our team to design those solutions that will help them make the content. But at the same time, we are very hands-on with the overall day-to-day maintenance of the game, and stuff in the live game that needs updates and changes, and just tuning and balance as well.

MMORPG.Com: Would you say that the responsibility for bugfixing and QA also has to be shared with the players, in terms of getting on the PTR and so on?

Roth: I don’t know if I’d use the term ‘responsibility’, but every time we get feedback from the players, every time we have people playing on the PTR, and just sending us reports (whether they be bug reports or feedback), all of that helps to make the game better. It’s something that we thrive on, and our fans have been passionate on the issues they care about, and we enjoy being able to listen to their feedback and address it.

A lot of that is we’re a game developer, and it’s up to us to release a polished game, and it’s something we’re really focused on. Instead of just saying every month we have to release this content on this day, we’re focusing on making sure that the content is polished and ready. That’s really important to us.

MMORPG.Com: How would you say the development has shifted since launch?

Roth: That’s a good question. I’d say that our live response team is the new addition that comes in after launch. Previously, we had one realm up, which was the beta realm, and everything was in this fishbowl that we could look in and examine all the aspects of. Whether the players are reporting issues or not, we get to see everything – the whole picture.

Once you get out into a launch environment, there are realms that have different economies and different balances, every little change you make can affect different realms in different ways. Being able to balance and tune to different needs of different realms with different players is definitely a different thing, as opposed to just developing the game itself.

MMORPG.Com: In Defile, you have a fairly major role with the new public event that’s coming in.

Roth: Yep, it’s called Siege of the Lightspire. It’s a public event that is designed for a group of 20 players or more, to have a little bit more advanced tactics and coordination requirements. Sort of for the players who may want that large-scale player content, but don’t necessarily have the time commitment to take on raids.

It’s five stages – the first stage is a coordinated bombing run where players hop in these assault ships and are flying around to take down these Grim Worms. And in order to take down these Grim Worms, they have to sync up attacks on these exoganglia that are on the back and take them all out, because they’ll just regenerate if you poke away at it. After that there’s a series of holdouts, where the players have to defend a friendly unit against the onslaught of the Strain. There are five mini bosses as the next stage – they’re called the Archfiends. And then take out some power generators.

Then on to the Dreadwatcher - that’s a 20-player boss, and it’s got multiple phases. Because the Lightspire’s surrounded by Exanite, which repels the Strain, they’re taking the bodies and goop to build a bridge and free the Entity, who’s been trapped there for a thousand years.

MMORPG.Com: In the Blighthaven patch, you also delivered a similar thing with tower defense. How did that go down?

Roth: We saw a lot of interaction, and players grouping up to do the event. It was our first foray into this 20-player open event content, and it’s something that we learned a lot from. Just the way that players approach these types of content - it’s something that we’ve definitely carried over into how we build Siege of the Lightspire.

We have the medal system in Guardians of the Grove, and it felt a little bit too complex for players to handle when they’re not grouped up. It’s one of those things when, if you’re looking at an event from objective to objective, players can handle grouping up and coordinating stuff, but when it comes to an overall event, it’s going to be a little tough for players to have that for the overall duration of the event. Making sure we break it up into bite-size stages is something that they’ll see in Siege of the Lightspire.

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Gareth Harmer

Gareth Harmer / Gareth “Gazimoff” Harmer has been blasting and fireballing his way through MMOs for over ten years. When he's not exploring an online world, he can usually be found enthusiastically dissecting and debating them. Follow him on Twitter at @Gazimoff.