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The Future of Rift: A Q&A With Scott Hartsman

William Murphy Posted:
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Today I had the good fortune to sit in on a telephone press conference with Executive Producer Scott Hartsman and the fine folks at Trion about the future of their flagship title: Rift. There’s a producer’s letter from Scott that's posted on the official forums (and hosted on our own site at the link above), which addresses this summer’s major plans for Rift. Already well on its way towards being one of the most prolific MMORPGs in terms of post-launch content, the team doesn’t have any thoughts of slowing down.  

There are all sorts of new additions to Rift coming: from new world PvP initiatives in the form of PvP Rifts, plus solo and duo content in the form of Chronicles of Telara Instances. There’s even going to be a form of endgame character advancement so that you can keep growing and earning experience and character skills after level 50 (Alternative Advancement!). And there’s just so much more. The overarching topic of the call was all about what’s next for the game and the list is a long one. Scott and the rest of the crew at Trion have a lot of plans for Rift and they’re quite aggressive and open in sharing them. We all got to send in some questions in advance and Chris Schmidt from Trion and Scott went down the line one by one until they were all answered. Bear in mind that these questions and answers are paraphrased a bit, but I tried to be as detailed as possible in my note taking. Grab your popcorn and dig in… you’re not going to want to miss this one. Curse: Are there plans for more lower level content, maybe a way to encourage alts? Yes, absolutely. The general idea is to expand and add more stuff for all levels. Not in the immediate term, but it’s definitely something we’re expanding in the future and actually have plans for on deck. I just can’t be more specific right now. Curse: How about Cross-server instances for dungeons to reduce queue waiting? Yes, absolutely. There’s a really long plan around the whole thing, but the short version is: Warfronts are already. We’re evaluating the Dungeon queues now. More people want to do them all the time now, and at level 50 it’s the best experience. But there are not enough people queuing as they level up. Cross-server queues are in the works, but the plan is have the capacity of the groups large enough on the server side to widen the pool for cross-server queues. The next step, right now, is to swap shard hardware around to get everyone into largest possible server groups. Once all this is done, we’ll have a greater concentration of cross-server pools for everyone. So well, yes. We have a strategy, and we’re on step 5 of 6. GameReactor: Can you go in depth on the warfront gameplay? Sadly due to my lack of expertise, I can’t be too detailed, but it will be up relatively soon on the PTS. Check it out there for sure, and there will be more info coming. I promise. GameReactor: How about the new instant adventure events? They’re really interesting. The idea behind them is simple. Rift is at its best when people get to take part in the over-world events, but they’re dependent on being on at the right time and in the right place. So how do we let people create critical mass on their own and do it with less people? With these instant adventure events, you can come online, tell the game you want to do something, and you’ll be put together in rapidly escalating encounters, invasions, and other dynamic content. Basically it’s going to be massive fun on demand. GameReactor: Will they scale with the amount of players still? The number of people in a group together will be presented with challenges that match the group size. Rewards during these on-demand events will also scale with that.  

KillTenRats: Going forward what are the plans regarding PvP changes since the PTS Valor changes didn’t go over to Live? The PTS is where we test things, and we tested our crazy Valor changes and ended up not rolling them out. We knew that we weren’t going to roll them to live, but we still needed to test them to gain metrics on what we’re trying to do. So we can use that data later on to make the right changes. We want to change PVP healing and not alter PVE healing. We just need to figure out how to do that appropriately. This way one side is not affected by the other. It doesn’t make sense to nerf the dungeon runners because the PVP-ers are overpowered, you know? KTR: How does the team feel about drop rates for Event Items like Water Rift Mounts? One quick thing is that it’s much more than just doing Rifts. The rare drops drop from water and death related everything (footholds, events, invasions). These drops won’t end when the event ends. You don’t need to be online for the event to get them or never see them again. They’ll be part of Hammerknell raid, and also one of the future Chronicles of Telara small group and solo Instances. KTR: What if any plans are there for Oceanic and Asian Pacific server hosting? Even in 2011, we have to forge relationships with so many ISPs. We have traffic limits, shaping, etc. to worry about that we didn’t expect. So we’ve been setting up relationships with every ISP that will talk with us, even the bigger ones in other countries. So we’re actively working on it. In a perfect world, we’d have local hosting in every country, but it’s not realistic. We’re drilling into it, and setting up local arrangements for hosting with other companies in other countries. Massively: Interest in Rift-Running has decreased. How will you make them more attractive to pull people back into them? The idea of going out and rampaging through Rifts is one of our building blocks, but we never expected people to do them forever and ever. If you look at them as building blocks in the whole game, as a part of the Epic Events and World Events, they’re trending up especially in update 1.3 with the currency improvements we made. The Planar Theme of the Month which fits into the storyline of the world events has also made water and death rifts more popular. Crafting rifts are also being tweaked, and there is some stuff to address there. Raid Rifts have gone off the charts lately. One dozen to two dozen PUGs on both sides are running any region at any given time. So we’re retuning the Raid Rifts in response to this attention. But obviously, our new PVP Rifts are also expected to be really popular as well. Massively: Are there plans to revisit Port Scion End-Game PvP? We’re going to be focusing on enhancing world PvP through PVP Rifts mostly and warfronts as well. Daily hotspots are very popular for being so rewarding. But we’ll where things trend and decide from there. Massively: When can we take the fight into the Planes themselves? We cannot give specifics, but yeah… we love the idea, and are planning on it for the future. Stay tuned! MMO Reporter: Will it just be trash then boss instances for Chronicles of Telara Instances? The idea is to give people epic settings and unique aspects of stories that will only be in these chronicles. Fighting alongside and against people and things you won’t see elsewhere. We want them to be cool and not just rehashes or downscaled versions of larger instances. The first one is in Hammerknell. They’re the real deal, and will be something really popular for smaller group content we believe. MMO Reporter: Has the team thought about separating ranks in Level 50 PvP? That all ties into the server layout and PvP tweaks we’re making. Once we get them all into the proper layout, we’ll start making decisions on whether this is needed. Basically once the pool is larger for war-groups, we can make our choice then. MMO Reporter: How is the reward system for Instant Adventure? The goal is to keep it closer to the Rift system and its method of distribution. Participate and overcome challenge? Get a reward. There’s no reason to veer from that, as we think it works really well.  

PC Gamer: Any changes coming to make it more viable for casual PVP players to succeed? I don’t think of it as a huge grind for the casual, but it is a longer climb intentionally. We think the dynamic nature of PvP makes it less of a grind all around. The daily quests and the daily PvP Rifts will also help this out. There will be more ways for a casual to do the daily PvP stuff and get the rewards, but they’ll just never beat those guys who play 12 hours a day, and that’s okay. PC Gamer: Will the Instant Adventures and Chronicle Instances be more story driven or action driven? The underlying idea is story-driven, letting smaller groups get access to more story that’s usually reserved for our large raid group content. MMORPG.com: Can you give more info on the Alternate Use for Endgame Experience? The overriding goal is to find a sweet spot between a required continued progression, and a system for feeling like you’re getting a reward just for playing the game at the cap. If it’s not a grind that’s necessary, people enjoy it more. As an Ascended it’s like this: you’re reborn, ascended, you move up to level 50 and you’ve fighting the Planes forever. So naturally after so much time you can unlock the ability to take the power of the planes themselves and turn it against your enemies. You’ll get points to use in all new planar attunement trees. There will be more bonuses, specializations, and even (balance permitting) ability modifications. It’s all a combination of this system with the chronicles, the instant adventure, the PvP and the rifts to keep people happy at level 50 for as long as possible. MMORPG.com: Solo and duo content can be watered down usually. How will the Chronicles of Telara stuff be different? We’re actively trying to make sure we’re hitting the bar by making these as a unique experience, and not just “look I’m in a cave”. They’re going to be something big and epic but for less people. That’s the theme. MMORPG.com: PVP World Scale is hard to make catch on and be a big part of the game. How will Rift make sure it’s actually used and enjoyed? It might seem like a risk, but to us we’re trying to iterate on other features that did or didn’t work before. There were certain things we thought people would love at launch that they just didn’t. Some stuff just didn’t stick. PVP Dailies and Hotspots ended up being a success though, and now that the incentive’s there they’re on the upswing. So PVP Rifts will build on the idea that PvP is a point of the activity and not just a distraction. We think the PVP Rifts are the next step and we’d be really surprised if they didn’t take off into something successful.  

Ten Ton Hammer: Is there any timetable for Chronicles of Telara? They’re definitely update content, not expansion content. Everything listed in my letter and talked about here is on the short-to-medium timetable. But scarily enough, the stuff we’re working on now is less than half of what we’re doing behind the scenes. We’re testing these features though internally already and are very happy and excited to talk about them. TTH: How are shard populations since the transfers began? We’re monitoring them daily and we see people moving and total population, etc. And all signs point that things are going really well. We get emails every half hour that tells us who’s going where, what’s happening where, etc. This way we can turn on and off transfers as needed. We’re really thrilled with how it worked out. ZAM: Chronicles of Telara sound really interesting. Can we get hints on the story and characters? That’s a level of detail I can’t really be the expert on. Once we have more info, we’ll get it out there. But I’m afraid it’s the short answer for you! ZAM: Will post-50 experience gain be used for customizing abilities? Absolutely, that’s the entire idea. We want the characters to not feel stunted or limited by gear gains alone at level 50.  

ZAM: Any more info on new warfronts that you can share? I really want to; we’re play-testing internally, loving it, and early prototypes for even more are coming along. It’s new chaotic fun in a setting that you wouldn’t expect… but I don’t want to oversell it yet. ZAM: What about the game outside the game sort of stuff, mobile developments and apps? We think of that external gameplay feature stuff as very important. How can we keep people involved with Rift while away from their desk? So we’re working on some new cool things, but more details will have to wait. We have prototypes, and we’re expanding to more devices, but can’t go public just yet. Gamona: Are you a Casual or Hardcore gamer, Scott? As the Executive Producer, of course I want to make everyone happy! I love all my children equally. I used to be so hardcore that I had calls from guilds at 2am, and I’d wake the Sleeper like a pro, and I love the idea of making those kinds of adventures available to more people. It’s a benefit to everyone to aim wider than just one side or the other. Gamona: Are you a console gamer at all? If you were stranded on a desert island, what three games would you take? I’m the worst console gamer ever. We have a 360 and a PS3 at home, but I usually stick with DLC games. I mean, I haven’t played a game on my console in about a year… sadly; I’m just not a big console gamer. PC is my arena. Gamona: Have you thought about a Rift Fanfest? At PAX Boston we had like a Rift-Fest Version Negative 1, but more seriously I would love nothing more than to do a Trion or RiftFest. As we roll out more games, we’ll take stock if it’s something we can do.


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.