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The Paths to a Great Game

WildStar Interviews - By William Murphy on September 20, 2011

The Paths to a Great Game
MMORPG.com:

Tell us a bit about what you do at Carbine Studios, and where you came from before working on WildStar.

Eric DeMilt:

My name is Eric DeMilt, I'm the Sr. Producer on Wildstar. I got my start in the industry working at Interplay Productions, first as a tester and later as a producer in the Black Isle RPG division. Some of the more notable titles I worked on include: Stonekeep, Fallout 2 and Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance. After Interplay I spent some time at a small publisher called Encore and then as worked Designer/Producer at a small startup in Reno, Nevada called BattleBorne Entertainment. Designing was a lot of fun but I was eager to jump back into a full-time production role on a project like this, with a team like this, when the opportunity to join Carbine came along.

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MMORPG.com:

The story and setting of WildStar is reminiscent of two things for me: Firefly and Titan AE. Am I way off base, was it a coincidence, or is this something your artists and creative types picked up and ran with?

Eric DeMilt:

You are not off a base at all; Firefly is an especially strong touchstone for us. Similarly, the entire body of Don Bluth's work was a significant influence. However, I wouldn't say there is any one influence that we picked up and ran with. It's more that the look and setting we arrived at is reminiscent of many of these things. As we developed the game's look and setting we had a lot of artist and designers drawing on a wide range of influences to create something unique, memorable and iconic. Many of our influences came from comic books, American and Japanese animation, fantasy and sci-fi novels, and a wide range of feature films. The elements you see represented in the game are those that gave us the right combination of larger than life/high-personality characters, in otherworldly/beautiful settings in which we could tell a broad range of stories from the epic to the light hearted, and gave us the right mix of fantasy and technology.

MMORPG.com:

The Path system seems like such a simple but ingenious addition to the traditional MMORPG landscape. What was the genesis for this feature?

Eric DeMilt:

The genesis of the path feature started with our design focus on "letting players play how they want to play." As we developed content we wanted to make sure we were delivering experiences people wanted. This drove us to constantly ask ourselves - Why are players here on Nexus? What did they come here to do? In hindsight the answer was obvious. Some players came here to fight, some came to explore, some came to discover and learn, and some came here to be social. As we looked at these player needs (our needs, as players really...), we designed content and built a system around it. Why not design addictive layers of content and systems, and build reward streams around the things players want to do? Things sort of grew from there. The initial prototypes "hooked up" with the team in internal play sessions, and externally players loved them as well so we continued to build on the idea, test it, improve it and evolve it into Player Paths as you see them in game today.

MMORPG.com:

We saw a lot about the Explorer and Soldier paths at PAX. Though we only got to see a bit of each. Can you give us some more examples of the type of content both will be taking part in?

Eric DeMilt:

The Soldier and Explorer path content you played at PAX was from one of WildStar's starting zones. As a feature, Paths are meant to expand and grow as the player does. At these low levels we are showing Explorers some of the basics of their path like avoiding an avalanche to place a beacon on a snowy mountain top, or revealing a hidden path and making your way to the top of an otherwise inaccessible rock overlooking the zone. This isn't where the Explorer Path ends, though. As you get further into the game, Explorers are leveling up and doing more-and-more; finding hidden vistas that unlock hints to other hidden points in a zone, discovering valuable Eldan relics, and unlocking content behind hidden doors that only Explorers can see.

The same is true for the Soldier; in the 3 to 6 range at PAX the Solider was starting holdouts - public quests spawning in waves of monsters, different fight mechanics, and unique bosses. Further into the game Soldiers will be leveling up and seeing additional mission types including; assassinations, demolition, and rescuing captives. One of the cooler ones is a mission type where we drop special gear (think something crazy fun and destructive flamethrower!) that you get to use to help accomplish your mission.

MMORPG.com:

What about the Scientist and Settler? They weren't polished enough to let people play at PAX, but they sound really interesting. Could you delve into a few more details on how the Settler will spend his career?

Eric DeMilt:

I'd love to go into more detail about these, but I'd rather wait until we have something more to show about them. I'll let you know when we're ready to speak specifically about those paths.

MMORPG.com:

How about the Scientist? On the surface it sounds a lot like Explorer, only the stuff you'll be uncovering will be lore related. Does it go deeper than that? How does it affect the world and other players?

Eric DeMilt:

I'm afraid I'll have to give the same answer I did for the Settler question: I'd love to go into more detail about these, but I'd rather wait until we have something more to show about them.

MMORPG.com:

It seems like WildStar is going to blend the Sand-Box and Theme Park philosophies. Your whole team motto is "Play how we want to play." I assume that makes for a whole lot of ideas you want to squeeze into the game. Are there any things you wanted to put in that you know you can't? Vice versa?

Eric DeMilt:

The great thing about where we are at in the development process and as a team is that there is a world of opportunity in front of us. We start with building a world we want to play in then we test that world and those game play ideas with real players, then focusing on more of the bits that really resonate. At the end of the day, we know that we can't be all things to all people, but one of the greatest things about making an MMO is that we get to make a world that is flexible enough to support a wide range of play styles. It's one of the few genres where you really are encouraged to support so many player types.

Right now as we are developing content, we are exploring new ideas, creating prototypes, testing and iterating. We've had some successes taking ideas that resonate with the team, and systemizing them in a ways that meet our expectations of fun and balance, and having those ideas resonate and test well with players. We'll keep building on those successes, and trying new things that let players play how they want to play.

As far as the conflict between what you want to put in the game and what you can't, that's always a problem. There will always be good ideas that end up on the cutting room floor or great ideas that just don't fit the game. However, if you start off with a feedback rich, iterative process and a design principle of "let players play how they want to play" you are going to have a lot more of the good stuff in the game than simply building blindly and planning to get everything right on the first try.

MMORPG.com:

Will the focus of WildStar be on gear, player stats, skill, or all of the above? I mean, will we be raiding until our eyes bleed for Laser Sword of the Monkey +1 at the level cap, or are there bigger plans in place?

Eric DeMilt:

All of the above. There are definitely bigger plans in place. I can't go into much more detail now, but as we've said, we are working to create the world's deepest MMO. We want to give our players an experience they truly own, with opportunities to look the way they want, master the skills they want, in ways that are enjoyable for them and the people they play with. Raiding until your eyes bleed is one of those things people love to do (maybe not the bleeding eye bit?), but that doesn't necessarily mean you'll have to raid to get premium drops. Our goal is to give the player more of the things they want, with a commitment to making a deep rich MMO with a strong elder game.

MMORPG.com:

Can you shed any light on crafting? With the Settler path helping to build towns and the like, it WildStar sure seems like a great game to put a meaningful crafting system in. Something that's more than just "collect this, click button, get item".

Eric DeMilt:

I think you hit the nail on the head with the world meaningful. Crafting is important to crafters right? They want it to be meaningful, not just an add-on to a game that's all about combat or exploration. That's the kind of crafting experience we want to provide. We're doing some work in this area right now, and are looking forward to being able to share more information in the coming months.

MMORPG.com:

You spoke a lot about creating the deepest MMORPG ever during PAX. That's a bold claim. A lot of folks are going to scoff at that all the way up to release. How are you planning on meeting that sort of incredible goal?

Eric DeMilt:

You are right, it's a bold claim. I tend not to believe them myself when I hear other companies make them. Not just games, right? Count the ads you've seen across the web or on TV that claim something is the greatest, the fastest, the most groundbreaking, the most amazing thing that will ever, blah, blah, blah.

It is a lofty goal, but it's what we are working towards. It's a goal that's inspirational. We all joined this team to be a part of something great, to make the next great MMO.

It starts with having a team with a unified vision, a deep appreciation and understanding of what's been done before, and a commitment to taking things one, or sometimes many, steps further.

At Carbine it's our goal and our culture to make something great. We work in cross-discipline teams to develop features in a way that brings them to the game as quickly as possible. We focus on fostering feedback, collecting data, and really looking at how people play the game, then iterating based on what we we've learned to make constant improvements. The same is true of depth. We're a team of gamers and MMO players, our goal isn't just to make "game x with 3 new features", it's to make a game that hooks us like our favorite games did, with the depth to keep us playing for hundreds and hundreds of hours like those favorites did.

So yeah, we've made the statement to our fans that we are working on the deepest MMO ever, and we look forward to proving that out over the coming months. And ultimately, we can't do this without the skeptics. They'll keep us honest, and we'll keep working to realize that promise.

William Murphy / Bill is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002. Be sure to follow him on Twitter for all of his pointless rambling.