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Scott Hartsman Interview

By Michael Bitton on December 22, 2010 | Interviews | 0

MMORPG.com’s Mike Bitton recently had the opportunity to sit down with Trion’s Scott Hartsman to talk about their beta title, RIFT.


Players were surprised with a massive zone wide invasion during the recent Guardians of the Vigil beta event. Please give those of us who were not fortunate enough to take part in the event a rundown of what players got to experience.

Scott Hartsman:

Yeah, so this is, we've been holding this one back because we didn't really want to talk it up until we had absolutely proven that we were going to be able to do it and do it right, and this beta was the first time we had all the right people in all the right place to make it actually happen.

The general idea is, yeah, you can tell a story using cutscenes, yeah you can tell stories with voices, whatever, we're really wanting players to actually play through these epic moments in Telara's, not history, but in its present time. And so, the event is in most of Silverwood, on the Guardian side of Telara. The theme for the zone is there's Prince Hylas up in the, the top of the keep, and he's kind of decided that he's allied with the Plane of Life and he is retaking Silverwood in its name. And when he does that, you actually play through it, it's a full zone wide event, our biggest one this weekend had just around 600 players involved in it all at the same time. It was a zone, the zone went from a normal run-of-the-mill zone you've seen before into dark, ominous music, raid bosses running around, real gameplay objectives that you had to go through to finally make it up to his keep and and shut him down, and then doing that at the same time, defending the two key points in Silverwood from being attacked less you get overrun and lose that way.

So, it's a really huge leap forward on the idea of running mass events at mass scale for large numbers of players in MMOs, it's really, if you think about it, it's kind of a new kind of content.


You guys have put on two beta events so far, what's the player reception been like?

Scott Hartsman:

Really good, overall people have been, they've been walking away impressed with two things I think, more than anything else: one is the quality of the game as a whole, is surprising people that we're taking something of this quality and calling it a beta, which is good, and I meant that in a positive way I should say. And the other part is, aside from the gigantic event stuff that we just sprung on everybody without really warning them at all, was the rate at which we're responding to the key things that are concerning them with the game.

I think one of the things that a lot of people have come to believe, whether it's true or not, is that companies only run betas to do stress tests and to try and sell you the game and they're not going to take any feedback, blah blah blah blah, and we've done beta wrap-ups after our first two beta events that, where we spend the entire weekend, easily half of the team spends the entire weekends on the servers with the players so they can actually see what people are really talking about, and we then come back to the office, and go, "OK. How can we best react to what the people are seeing? And how can we make the game better?" and then we figure out how to tell people what's going to get better and then we try to make it better in time for the next beta. We did that with beta one and we just posted the wrap-up for beta two a couple of hours ago.


Putting your game in the hands of tons of players is a surefire way to reveal both the strengths and weaknesses of your game. What features have players been the most excited about? And what areas of the game have you learned may need some work?

Scott Hartsman:

The Soul System has been every bit as positive as we would have figured. There has been some valid comments about people wanting to get into the flexibility of the system sooner than we had planned out. The way, in this current beta , the way it works is, you're really only starting out with the choice of 12 of the 32 souls. So, if you, for example, you choose a mage, you're only having a choice of three to begin with, and you could get your second one later on, at level five. The way we got a lot of feedback that people really prefer to pick, every time they want to make a choice, they want to choose it out of the full set of eight souls for their calling, and we went , "You know, they're kind of right, that would make the game a whole lot more fun." So, that was one of the first things that we, that we said we were going to do immediately for beta three.

And then the other part of it was making sure that, that we know that when you're playing the system that once you have a sufficiently large pool of points, like 30 or 40 of them, you have a lot of different options open up to you, but on the extreme low-end and on the extreme high-end that people were feeling very pigeon-holed. You know, when you've only got five points to put somewhere at level five, well, chances are that you're not really playing with the Soul System, you're just putting them all into one thing and calling it good. And so, we're also going to end up giving out more points throughout people's careers, including early on to make sure that people have the ability to get into the coolness of designing their own custom classes, literally from the first quest of the game on. I think those were our biggest ones, it was the, the biggest strength is, this system that's so much fun to play, the biggest weakness of this one feature is that I want to play it more, we feel like you're hiding it from us, and we totally didn't want that to be the case, and so we went through and realized we could open it up more.


To clarify, does that change the total amount of points players will have to play with at level cap?

Scott Hartsman:

Yes, yes, it will. And we're not too concerned about the balance impact from there on, it's going to end up being more fun for players and the way our system is setup, balancing creature strength is something that we balance on a mass scale multiple times per week anyway, so it's something we're already very good at doing.


Do you have a final point total nailed down?

Scott Hartsman:

Given that we just made the final go/no-go call 24 hours ago, I know where we'd like to end up, but I don't want to say which number is for sure. The goal is to make sure it's, we want to sanity check it in front of internal testers first, and then we'll get it out there in time for the next one.


Abigale noted that the beta events also serve as a stress test for the game. Have the events been successful in this regard? How have Rift's systems held up under load? And will you be making any notable adjustments as a result of the stress testing? For example, to spawn rates or the frequency of Rifts.

Scott Hartsman:

The overall stability has been far greater than we could have hoped for in our wildest expectations. It's precisely because of that stability that our engineers have been able to focus on a lot of the gameplay improvements that we've been trying to make and the gameplay tuning that we're doing right now. So, again, for this beta, instead of our engineers running around because our servers are on fire, they're able to react calmly to actual gameplay improvements that users care about, and so the server stability that we've seen so far has very directly impacted the quality of the final gameplay features, just because our engineers, like I said, haven't had to worry about the servers going down. In the biggest event that we had this weekend on Silverwood, and it was on one of the UK servers, there were 573 players all in one single event, that's pretty impressive in this genre and this type of MMO at all.


The first beta event featured the Defiant faction, while the second focused on the Guardian faction. What will the focus of the next event be? When is the next event scheduled for?

Scott Hartsman:

Remember when I said that one of our recurring themes is that we really really do like to put our money where our mouth is and actually listen to what people are saying? One of the biggest pieces of feedback through beta one and beta two was, "I want to play more. Please please please do an event between Christmas and New Year's, because we're all off school, work, or whatever." Despite the fact that it's going to cause a whole lot of people to have to work, it's exactly what we're doing. And so, we're doing a remix event of 1-20 Silverwood and Freemarch, only this time with more events, more zone wide events, as well as zone boss events, as well as the expanded Soul System to let people really dive into playing with all kinds of incredibly cool combinations.

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Michael Bitton

Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined MMORPG.com as the site's Community Manager. Follow him on Twitter @eMikeB