WAR: Beta and Beyond - Where the Game is Now
On a recent trip to the EA Mythic studios in Fairfax, VA. MMORPG.com Managing Editor Jon Wood spoke with Paul Barnett and Josh Drescher about the state of the game since our last report, beta and building a living world.
When we first arrived at the EA Mythic studios last week, those members of the media who were in attendance sat down with Josh Drescher and Paul Barnett to get an update on how the game had progressed since the last time that we had talked about Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning. This was only one of the many presentations that we had, and we will be bringing you reports from those specific area presentations over the next week.
“Now that people are running around,” Paul said, “we’re making a game.” What he meant by that was that planning and designing the game are one thing, but it isn’t until you have actual players responding to (and breaking) the systems in place that the real work of making something for others to enjoy begins. He looks at beta as a chance to try things out and as such, they are currently in the process of seeing what works and what doesn’t for the game.
When the beta for the game goes down, it gives the developers a chance to focus in on player feedback, and Paul gave us an example from RvR. While EA Mythic is happy with their experience in Realm vs. Realm with Dark Age of Camelot, they wanted to know “how do we learn from that and make an evolutionary step?”
For those who might not know how EA Mythic is running their beta test, it is a little bit out of the ordinary when compared to your average test. Instead of just releasing players into the wilds of the game, each beta phase concentrates on a different element of the game (when we were there, it was the High Elf and Dark Elf areas that were feeling the love). This process, which they call “targeted beta stages” tells players exactly what it is that the devs need to know about, when they need to know it and we are told that it “creates a great focus on what needs to be done.” By taking the game offline, we are told, you allow your developers to take the time to improve the game without the extreme pressure that a live game brings.
So, what’s come out of these focused beta stages?
Previously, the Warhammer team had been focused heavily on the scenario instances for their RvR. They had some persistent world RvR (about 10%). It’s not, we are told, that people were unhappy with the scenarios but the feedback that they received told them that players wanted more. As a result, they increased the amount of persistent world RvR, they implemented NPC guards into the mix (Which keeps players from just tagging control points without a fight) and more. They also wanted to go further with what had already been developed siege-wise, which has led to some really interesting mechanics that we’ll talk more specifically about in the Siege report. The team has also done work on their Public Quests and other areas of the game as well. In short, for the EA Mythic team, this interesting beta seems to be working.
From there, the guys led into talking about the different (and sometimes seemingly random) elements that have been added to the game in an effort to bring the world to life. After all, we are told, they’re trying to make a full, living world and not a machine. As an example, we were told about Lairs. Lairs are places (caves and the like) in the world that aren’t pointed to by any quests. Instead, players will simply stumble across them. Sometimes, they will find a happy surprise, other times, they might get their butts handed to them by a powerful mob. Really, it could go either way. The point is that these lairs are intended to reward players for casual exploration outside of the scope of the quest line.
Then… there’s the plungers. Now, I know what you’re thinking, and no, we’re not talking about the kind of plungers you keep by your toilet in case of an embarrassing emergency. In this case, we’re talking about plungers like Wile E. Coyote would use to blow up his dynamite, you know the box with the “T” on top that makes things go ka-boom? Well, Paul and the team have placed these plungers, dubbed “Plungers of the World”. These would be placed throughout the maps, in places that people really shouldn’t be in the first place (at the bottom of a cliff, for example, where players aren’t meant to be). The plunger would shoot the player back up to where they were supposed to be (and possibly kill them). As I sit here writing this article, I can’t help but wonder if this was a joke, or wishful thinking, or if these really do exist in-game. In any case, the example illustrates this next point perfectly:
“It’s the strangest things that people find cool,” Paul said. While it was said in the context of explaining these peripheral features, it really seems to sum up Paul’s general game design philosophy. “It’s the little things,” he said, “that really grab you, even if you can’t explain why.”
“You can’t replicate the pattern,” Paul said, referring to the proverbial video game template, “and miss the point.” The point, in this case, is the creation of a game that is, above all else, fun and engaging for the players.
While that just about does it for the Progress report portion of the Warhammer goodness, you can also check out our interview with Mark Jacobs about the launch date delay announcement, here.