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The Year in Review + a Look at 'How We Did It'

By Suzie Ford on January 16, 2018 | Columns | Comments

The Year in Review + a Look at 'How We Did It'

Throughout 2017, Grinding Gear was a busy company with expanding Path of Exile. Between The Fall of Oriath and War for the Atlas and with all the new content added between, Exiles had a lot to do. In our latest Exiled Tribune, we take a look back with the team at the year that was as well as catch up on design and development blogs across several topics.

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TAKING A VICTORY LAP FOR 2017

The first article of note on the PoE site comes in the form of a handy dandy list of all of Grinding Gears' accomplishments throughout 2017. It's an impressive list, though by no means inclusive of everything that was accomplished through the year. Most notably, of course, are the two huge content expansions that dropped, first The Fall of Oriath and then War for the Atlas towards the end of the year. In between, record numbers of players were actively involved, three challenge leagues launched, new language support was added and much, much more. Of course, the most important thing is that Chris Wilson found an Exalted Orb!

Check it out:

  • We made Path of Exile into one ten-act single playthrough with the launch of The Fall of Oriath.
  • We set a record number of players online (147,333 on our server alone).
  • We released two of our largest ever expansions in one year.
  • We launched three challenge leagues: Legacy, Harbinger, and Abyss.
  • We introduced support for three new languages on our international servers: Spanish, German and French.
  • Launched in China, with support for Simplified Chinese. It's huge in China. Even months after entering Beta, it's still #1 on the upcoming games list on 17173.com
  • We made our console debut on Xbox One.
  • There were 58% more hours played of Path of Exile on our international realm in 2017 than 2016.
  • Around 4.6 million players played Path of Exile on our international realm this year.
  • We added stairs to Lioneye's Watch.
  • We expanded from 92 to 105 staff members.
  • We deployed more than 45 updates/patches to our realm.
  • We posted 281 news articles - an average of 5.4 posts per week.
  • We released a new book: The Art of Path of Exile.
  • We finally replaced the microtransaction stash with a useable one.
  • I found another Exalted Orb.

HOW WE DID IT

Updates over the past couple of weeks have really been centered on the "how-to" parts of development. Not only is it fun to read for budding game developers, it's also a lot of fun to read for players who simply like to know "what's going on under the hood" with game's development and why certain design decisions are made. Between the more technical aspects of Path of Exile and the more artistic ones, the articles provide readers with insight into their favorite game.

The Undying

First up is a detailed and fascinating perspective on the design philosophy behind the Undying. Developers felt that the Undying had become a "relatively unremarkable monster type" and wanted to do something more to make it stand out in the game. To that end, the team went through a series of planning stages to create something unique for the race throughout the game.

Our intention with the player's first experience of Act Three was that the first area would be very quiet, with no monsters to fight outdoors. Upon venturing into the shade, though, players would be charged by deadly City Stalkers and would have to retreat to the safety of the sun. Their experience with the rest of the Act would involve a game of caring very much which areas were shaded, while occasionally being forced to step out of the light to travel between buildings. Because of their early encounters with the City Stalkers, they would fear every moment spent out of sunlight, as it is one step away from being swarmed by the deadliest monsters in Path of Exile. We intended for City Stalkers to have immense life regeneration, preventing players from making reasonable progress past them. 

Gems

Next up on the design docket is a discussion of the design and development of Gems. Most notably, the thought process behind the most recently-introduced gems is explored. As you may recall, nine new gems were added "including four Skill gems that focused on Necromancy", one of the signature features in War for the Atlas. Senior Game Designer Rory discusses moving from a general discussion of skills that would be added and how gems could fit into that design matrix. For instance, taking the base skill of Detonate Dead and changing it with the addition of a gem was something the team actively explored. Of course, some skills worked better than others in this regard, but, as Rory says, all of that is part and parcel of game development..

We had also prototyped a skill codenamed "Infernal Sweep" which was a fiery area of effect sweep attack that exploded nearby corpses. Early testing showed it felt bad to use, having to swing twice to first kill some enemies then again to detonate their bodies for larger area damage. The skill was visually spectacular, but didn't play well unless it was boosted in both starting area and damage to the point where it both invalidated the roles of Sweep and Infernal Blow. This skill went back to the drawing board and we'll likely see it again in future with additional mechanics or without the reliance on corpses. 

The article further goes into details about Support Gems and how design iterates from concept to finished project. You can check it all out here.

Elder Uniques

Similar to gems, a number of "elder uniques" were added in War for the Atlas that can only drop from The Elder himself. Game Designer Hrishi took some time to discuss the Cyclopean Coil, Blasphemer's Grasp, Nebuloch, Hopeshredder, Shimmeron, Impresence and Watcher's Eye. Each has its own unique niche in Path of Exile, both in terms of its unique look, but also in terms of what it adds to the overall player experience through attribute focus, ailment focus and much more.

[T]he unique items needed to be made in such a way that made them generally useful for a wide variety of builds, and to create a reason to keep fighting the Elder many times, or the items would feel like they had no value. 

The general design of a lot of elder uniques is that they are intended for a large variety of builds. Because of this, the focus on these designs are attributes, ailments, charges, curses and auras.

The Map System

Given the central nature of maps in War for the Atlas, the feature itself involved a great deal of time in development. It's been a work in progress over the course of the last expansion, but also throughout the lifespan of PoE itself. The design of the system is driven by two design goals: Random levels are critical and "anywhere can be a functional end-game". Most interestingly, GGG looked at issues affecting the ARPG genre in general and how it planned to address the boredom that many players find at end game:

The big issue that we faced when the end-game was in this state was staleness of the final areas. Players who wanted to find the best items and earn the most experience were forced to repeat the same few areas over and over. While the random levels were doing a lot of work, we needed a lot more variety. In the 0.8.6 patch, we added a special end-game called the Maelstrom of Chaos. This was a set of consecutive areas that tapered upwards in difficulty level, with random monsters and random tilesets (from a selection of eight). 

While this improved the boredom issue of people playing the same areas over and over, it created an entirely new problem that we hadn't seen before: content difficulty entitlement.  It was quite frustrating, watching people intentionally sabotage their own progression and then getting angry about it. Eventually we realised the truth: the game design was at fault and needed to change. We needed to find a system that made players feel good about playing at the right level for their progression. 

You can read the very interesting discussion here.

Concept Art in War for the Atlas

One of the most interesting thing for a lot of fans is to see the concept art that developers start with and to compare it to how it ultimately ends up when launched. The PoE site has another series of images from the art team to show off things that can be found in Atlas Supporter Packs, Elder design and Unique items. You can check it all out here.

The Fire & Ice Mystery Box

The idea with this new Mystery Box was to build on the success of the earlier-released Chaos & Order Mystery Box. To that end, GGG decided on "another dual themed box", this time (obviously) fire and ice. The article begins with a discussion about designing a dual-themed armor set being a challenge that went through several iterations before the final design was discovered. 

How the box would be given out to players was unique and the way it was implemented in WftA is something that will be included in further mystery boxes going forward:

After much discussion, an idea emerged to make it so that you could combine fire and ice microtransactions into the split microtransactions. This served the dual-purpose of being both thematically-appropriate and an interesting and unexpected way to soak up duplicates from the box. 

We were enthused about the idea and thought it best to keep it a secret at the initial launch of the box. We felt that the box represented great value even without mentioning the split microtransactions and that trying to communicate it might confuse the announcement. We were happy to leave it as a nice surprise for players who would discover that there was added value beyond what they initially open from the boxes. We were also curious to see what the reception to the combining technology would be, without us having hyped it up with marketing. 

Check up on the full design process here.

ABYSS LEAGUE STATS

Last, but certainly not least, the GGG team has compiled an interesting look at the Abyss League and at what type of content players are currently engaged in. If you're a stats-hound, you'll want to head here.

Suzie Ford / Suzie is the former Associate Editor and News Manager at MMORPG.com. An avid gamer, Suzie lives in the desert Southwestern US with her own personal minion.
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