I had the pleasure to spend last Thursday evening in the company of my peers in San Francisco, being treated to a bevy of sneak previews and demos of games from Trion Worlds. No longer going by the name “Trion World Network” the company has changed their brand and logo to reflect their focus: to create and innovate in the online gaming arena. Co-founder and CEO Dr. Lars Buttler took center stage after a brief time spent scarfing down appetizers in order to introduce us to the company’s new look and moniker. But the real star of the evening was undoubtedly the games, and we didn’t have to wait long to find out just what Trion has been up to in the year since they last showed their hand at E3 2009.
Scott Hartsman, who gamers might recognize from the glory days of Everquest and Everquest 2, is the Chief Creative Officer of Trion’s Redwood City, California studio. At last year’s E3 Trion unveiled plans for their flagship MMORPG, Heroes of Telara. We were told it would be a revolutionary fantasy MMORPG with some truly unique ideas… then everything went dark. Heroes of Telara went into ninja-stealth mode and hardly a word was uttered about it in the time since. The silence was finally broken Thursday night with the unveiling of a brand new trailer, along with a brand new name.
Heroes of Telara is no more. Long live Rift: Planes of Telara. Aside from being an all around (in my opinion) better and more interesting identity for the game, the new title ties thematically into the game’s rather deep and involved lore. The world of Telara is experiencing a sort of dimensional phenomenon called “Rifts” which are basically portals to another dimension or plane of existence. The Rifts are causing creatures and life from other worlds to seep into and threaten Telara. It would appear that the beings from other planes aren’t interested in being friends with the people of Telara.
There are two factions of belief concerning the Rifts on Telara. There are those who believe the powered offered by the Rifts is sacred and to be revered through the upkeep of ancient vigils. These folks are called the Guardians: sort of your standard good guys. Then there are the Defiants. These are the more rebellious people of Telara. They see the Rifts as a gift and a potential source of power. Rather than upholding the vigil, the Defiants want nothing more than to harness the Rifts’ power despite the danger inherent within them.
As you can probably guess, these Rifts are the primary characteristic of the game. Rift: Planes of Telara is very much a fantasy-themed game in the vein of Everquest, World of Warcraft, and other titles in the genre. However it’s the title’s art style and extremely vibrant HD graphics that will help distinguish it from the pack. The trailer we were presented with highlighted the game’s stunning visuals. The artists at Trion seem to be channeling Jim Henson in the way their characters and creatures look and move. It was readily apparent from Scott’s presentation that the development staff is putting a lot of effort into nailing a cohesive and original look for the game. The lighting, armor, water, and animations all looked worthy of a finished product and the game’s still only in the alpha stage.
Scott gave away a few more details before stepping down for the other presenters. Trion aims to continuously evolve their storyline and the shape of the world itself through the use of the Rifts. Plot points and major social events will all be fed through these tears in the world that open up to other planes of existence. As a way to truly bring players together across the world, create factional conflict, and in general make for more than just a theme-park, the Rifts will be the developer’s way of keeping the game alive and fresh each day.
For the time being we know of at least two different planes which will seek to move in on Telara through the Rifts. The Plane of Death is much like it sounds: a dark horrific existence. Meanwhile the Plane of the Life represents a more primal and naturalistic world filled with creatures that are akin to plants. Scott promised there were many more planes to be revealed, but that for now these two are the ones they’re prepared to share. Really the possibilities of the Rift system are endless and only limited by the art department’s imagination, so it will be interesting to see what else the team can come up with before the proposed 2011 launch.
Hartsman also briefly talked about the class system in place. At E3 last year, it was revealed that the game was targeting the ability for players to switch classes on the fly in-game and level each class independently on the same character. It wasn’t clear whether that early design decision was still in place, but Scott and the other developers at the demo kiosks assured us that we’d know more about their class system in time and that we wouldn’t be disappointed.
What Scott did reveal was that each character’s life in Telara essentially begins with their death. Each player is thereafter referred to as an “Ascended Soul”. We didn’t get to see how this comes about, but one can assume it’s handled during the tutorial stages of the game and serves as a handy way of dealing with death and resurrection from a lore perspective. Perhaps as an allusion to the game’s class system, Scott also mentioned that during their adventures players will encounter, take on, and take into themselves the souls of other heroes. Whether this means that a sort of multi-classing is still in place remains to be seen, but it certainly sounds as if the designers have a few tricks up their sleeves.
All said and done, Rift: Planes of Telara came out looking like a bold new take on a familiar game style. The Rifts themselves, dynamically spawning social events that can happen any time in the game world are potentially a very exciting way to bring players together and give them common goals or even something to fight over given the game’s competing factions. After the presentation we had the chance to demo the game with the developers and came away with a good grasp on what the title’s all about. Check back later for our demo coverage of Rift: Planes of Telara.