RPGamer was able to participate in a roundtable discussion with Scott Hartsman, the executive producer of RIFT, the other day. Journalists from several outlets asked questions about the game, its development process, and especially RIFT's post-launch plans. Here's what we learned:
A brief overview of RIFT:
RIFT has been in testing for 6-8 months now. It's a fantasy MMORPG set in the world of Telara during a conflict between the Guardian and Defiant factions, which gives it a religion versus science flavour. Telara is at the nexus of all known planes in the universe, which are currently colliding with it.
Scott is happy to be in charge of a studio of the most talented developers he's ever met. The team is half composed of developers with hardcore MMO experience and half with hardcore single-player AAA console experience. Scott says that they bring the best of both worlds to the MMO. To make the game both graphically impressive and accessible, it has two renderers. One works well with older hardware and one with newer hardware, allowing the graphics to shine for players with recent machines.
On rifts and other dynamic world events:
A rift is what happens when a plane intersects with Telara. The boundary can tear, and the denizens of the planes attempt to take over Telara. The longer the rifts go untouched, the more invasions spawn, with planar beasts attempting to take over the settlements and towns in Telara. They're designed to be a social experience, which along with the public grouping system gives everyone something to be a part of.
We've seen mostly low-level rifts in the betas so far, but raid rifts and "expert" rifts will come out later. Raid rifts will be in the shared space, as the dynamic content system happens in the public world, though there will also be instances available. Gigantic zonewide events are a huge part of the game. A player can be wandering around a zone doing normal quests, then suddenly the skies go dark, and all sorts of craziness descends on the area.
The dynamic event system is designed to handle players of many different levels. Even if a player is overlevelled for a big zone event, it can still be challenging for them. Right now, players can group up to do instances with friends of different levels as well. Trion is looking into systems that will allow players of different levels to group together after launch.
Trion is aware of player concerns about large guilds or high level characters overwhelming the rifts. They've designed the game so it doesn't reward that kind of behaviour. There are guild rift events, but they will only count if they're at your level. In general, they're trying to make sure there aren't active incentives for people to mess with other people's game. They would rather be inclusive, though, and won't punish players for grouping with others of a higher level.
The world event system is dynamic and knows how many people are around. Too many players or too few players in an area aren't a problem- the system is programmed to be aware of that. Creature and crafting material spawn rates are also dynamic. Since they've put this system onto the beta servers, they have almost never gotten reports that players are having difficulty progressing due to overcrowdedness.
On the game's intended audience:
The visual style of the game is supposed to be hi-res/detailed as opposed to cartoonish. The gameplay is set up to be accessible for newer MMO players, but also to experienced MMO players. The more time a player spends with it and the more they choose to learn about it, the more complex they can see it is.
Trion has intentionally made the game's basic mechanics familiar to players who have played MMOs before, so they don't throw a ton of new concepts at players at the outset. After the first easy steps, players are let out into the shared world and are introduced to the idea of invasions and rifts.
On end-game content:
Trion intentionally designed the game around making sure that there's plenty of end-game content available. In terms of hours of playability, they expect to have more hours of endgame content available at launch than levelling content, although there will be lots of levelling content as well.
On the PvE side, there are two dungeons available to level 50 players, then expert modes for older dungeons, which will advance the storylines of those dungeons and even open up new areas. There will also be expert-level rifts and 10-person raid rifts in the shared world. There will be 20-person raid instances, one of which will ship right off the bat. More events will be unlocked not long after release.
For PvP players, there will be high end warfronts for max level players, plus levelling up PvP prestige. New types of dynamic content events are coming; there will be a PvP land takeover event that will happen in the shared world, for example.
On the progression of RIFT's story:
Stories in general are more satisfying when they have a logical conclusion/satisfying ending. In terms of progression, Trion has been writing down specific plot points that they'll be telling over the coming months and years, and what updates will be happening to show the progression of the story. They have the story they want to tell, and are breaking it down into how they're going to tell it.
The RIFT universe has a lot of room for expansion. There are far more planes available than the ones that will be colliding with Telara at the beginning. More planes can appear, players may visit the planes, and there may be other continents on Telara itself. Telara is in flux, so new, crazy things can happen any time. There may even be other types of Ascended. Trion's immediate focus involves making sure there's a sane progression for players to experience at launch, and they'll listen to players' concerns.
On levity in the generally-serious world of Telara:
RIFT is set up with a certain amount of intensity and tension to the world. However, the team doesn't want to take itself too seriously. The game has silly stuff like fire squirrels and student hazing quests at the university. They've been trying to keep some humor in things and have some safe places to go, though the safe places may not be where you're used to them being based on other MMORPGs.
On dealing with the notoriously difficult MMORPG audience:
Differentiating RIFT from other major MMORPGs isn't a big goal, and in fact many of the game's basic elements were purposefully made familiar for MMORPG veterans. Trion focused on making the game stand out as a whole rather than purposefully departing from formula at every turn. Some things that make RIFT unique include the soul system (class customization), the mass zone events with huge numbers of players pulling together, being able to hop into a public group or raid, etc.
The more time players spend with RIFT, the more unique things they'll see. The similar things are more of a veneer to make the game accessible to MMO players. Trion is especially proud of the dynamic event system, which allows them to constantly create new content and new types of gameplay. For example, the new PvP events being introduced in the current Beta were developed quickly over the course of several weeks.
Trion knows that many players have been burned by other new MMOs that quickly failed. Scott states that RIFT is finished and fully-functional, which puts it ahead of most failed projects. When RIFT is still around and thriving in 6 months, they hope that will convince any doubters. They intend to put their money where their mouth is.
What would the RIFT team add to the game if money and time weren't a limiting factor?
Scott believes that if somebody gave him a billion dollars and another year of development time, they would probably end up with a worse game. They've been editing and cutting unnecessary things, and don't want to overbake it. Right now, he likes where they are because they're getting feedback from players and have the chance to give the players more of the things they enjoy. The developers are ready and eager to launch the game.
On faction balance:
The game is set up so that the population of the two sides doesn't need to be even. PvP objectives don't prevent others from playing in an area, and the PvP warfronts have their own population balances. Cross-server warfronts are also implemented in order to assist players if their server is dominated by one of the factions. As it stands in beta, however, both factions appear to be equally popular.
On the polished nature of the beta:
The team is very experienced and has been playing the game a lot. They've been doing closed testing since last May. They've fixed 16k bugs in the last 6 months, and they're ahead of the curve in terms of fixing bugs, so they're now fixing them faster than bug reports come in.
On gold sellers and spammers:
There's been a learning spam filter in the game for 6-7 months. That's pretty standard and the technology for combatting spam is good now.
Thanks very much to Scott and Stephanie from the RIFT team for spending time with us during the busy pre-launch period. For more information about RIFT, see our game page and beta impression.