Read on below the cut for Senior Designer Dan Enright's take on itemization, the problems of mudflation, the advantages of public quests, and some thoughts on the next generation of MMOs.
Thank you for speaking with us today, sir. Can you generally describe what your role is on the team?
I'm the Senior Game Designer, so I do a lot of reviewing and editing of designs, and design consulting - so basically sit in a lot of meetings and edit a lot of documents...
You've been working on these kinds of games for a while then, we understand ..
Yeah, I've just had my nine-year industry anniversary...
Your first game was EQ?
Yeah, I started working on EQ ... EQ 1 ...
What year was that?
1999... early 99.
So was that basically at launch, or was that the first expansion?
Right around launch, so I worked on a lot of pre-Kunark stuff, and then Kunark was the first expansion that I worked on. I worked on that up through Planes of Power, and then I went and worked on EQOA, both versions of that, for the PS2, which was awesome. A great experience. And then, from there I worked on a whole bunch of prototype projects, and then I was lead designer on Free Realms there for a while. When SOE acquired the publishing rights to Vanguard I got sent over there to kinda like do an evaluation of their database and help them as best as I possibly could. "As best as I possibly could" get ready for launch and that sort of thing. And then I came here!
And so how long have you been here?
I've been here for about a year and three months now. Came here in January or February of last year.
Had they moved the launch date back by the time you arrived?
Honestly, I'm not even sure. (laughs) I'm not even sure. I think it was still slated for the original launch date when I came on.
What are you concentrating on right now?
Right now? Tuning a lot of the systems matrix, so I'm working on a lot of the economic-related systems and values, coming up with a lot of our itemization, like the values of items, a lot of it is done procedurally, through formulizing game stats, so I've been playing with those and sending those along - and just today I came up with the procedure for pricing the career training, requiring new abilities, I've been doing a lot of that.
The model in there right now, it's all a placeholder scheme?
That's right. In doing that, I've been working a lot with the community's teams since they don't currently have a designer embedded on their team, I've been working a lot with them on fleshing out their designs and stuff. They've got some really bright engineers on there, but I help them out, as needed.
The different careers - do those all have a different curve, or do they all have similar curves?
They're pretty symmetrical at this point, we've got measures in place for if we want to adjust it. I try to build things pretty flexibly, so that we can manipulate them, draw them forward, be necessary obviously if updates come online ...
What's your tack on itemization? Are you trying anything in particular to make it especially interesting for players?
That's a whole topic. (laughs) Um... I'm trying to watch what I say here! (laughs) We have a very linear progression, which is pretty typical and standard in the genre. So we're definitely not an economic simulation, our economy is obviously still important and has an impact on the game, but it's not a *core* aspect of the game like it is in say EVE, or A Tale in the Desert, or games like that which are largely social and economic simulators. Our economics systems are there and in place, our itemization methods are really in place, to make progress feel rewarding, so we're really focusing on the cadence of when items are going delivered, or when items are required. We're also noting when things become available, both for progression, power of balance, and as a reward mechanism, because it feels good to get new things!
"By differentiating the rewards and making them each appealing in different ways that are available in the different public quests, it got people moving around a lot more between the different public quests to experience that content."
This is thinking out into the future, of course, but are you planning on ways to extend the launch game's itemization out into expansions? Are you taking any steps to avoid mudflation?
Yeah, we've definitely got plans for all of that, a lot of our plans extend well beyond our current level cap, just in case ... it's good to design the things with the glass ceiling there. Talking about mudflation - the Kunark Everquest expansion was a prime example of that, when that expansion was being developed, we were under the impression that this was going to be our last expansion - our only expansion - which proved to be incredibly incorrect. So we hit more of that hard ceiling there and I think that it exploded. I think everyone since then has learned that you need to keep it open and try to develop as much of a glass ceiling as possible, or a limbo bar if you can keep raising that bar!
It's interesting that Blizzard has sort-of fallen into the same trap.
Yeah, their approach is pretty interesting. They basically seem to just have no problems saying "here's the new content, this is what you should be doing", speed you through the earlier stuff.
What is your take on that? There are a lot of folks very divided on that issue.
You know our end game city stuff we always want to be valid, we always want to be desirable, we always want people to be encouraged to go there and participate in that stuff, so we're going to be maintaining that. Since our items, like all of our systems, are governed procedurally it's a lot easier for us to have this glass ceiling and for it to be gradually adjusted. There's really not even a whole lot of adjusting that needs to be done.
Of course if there's new, more difficult content available, then the rewards are going to be appropriate to that content, but we're hoping - we've got a few things that we're toying with, that we're hoping to be able to not entirely invalidate any of the previous content, I guess that we want it to always be compelling, we want it to always be rewarding. There's several ways we can accomplish that, so we're looking at all the options. Items are just one of them.
Were there any particular challenges with Warhammer? Jeff Hickman just did an interview recently where he talked about you folks designing the game with RvR at its core and later layering the PvE on the outside of that. Were there any particular challenges with keeping Player vs. player content, or RvR, as the mechanic, as the core of the game, as opposed to the more standard PvE stuff?
Uh, no, because we're doing a lot of really interesting things. Pretty much symmetrical parallel progression through RvR and a lot of it's still being tuned and finessed, but it's coming along pretty well. You're rewarded through RvR parallel to if you were just going through the PvE content. That said, the items you do receive through RvR, particularly those with renowned requirements on them, are geared more towards the RvR gameplay in terms of what stats are available on them. The majority of our stats have relevance both in RvR and in PvE. We tried to intentionally make that relevance as equal as possible, so that regardless of where you got your gear, you weren't constantly having to swap it out based on your gameplay activity.
Just the different ways of acquiring the items, the loot drops that are available throughout the world, the quests' rewards, there's the RvR stores, which are interesting. Currently on the beta they're charging currency for them and have renowned rank requirements, but we're moving to RvR tokens, they're already available in the cities on the beta, during one of the last beta phases ... part of the token system was in place then, so a lot of the beta players have already been exposed to it. You get the RvR tokens, so you use those basically as an alternate currency for the RvR store.
How are players going to earn those tokens? Doing scenarios?
Player kills, scenarios, the city PQs, there's varying degrees of tokenage, just like the current system, so there's multiple ways to get them, but all from RvR activities.
Public quests were already part of the game's concept before you came on, but did you play a part in the way the public quests exist now?
"Public Quests are our instant gratification big encounters. You still get this big dramatic raid boss at the end ... but it's an ad-hoc cooperative environment."
It's one of those things, you can be running along, you can see something happening and you can jump right in and participate without having to go through a long process of organization and pre-planning. It's kind of our instant gratification big encounters. You still get this big dramatic raid boss at the end, or PQ boss at the end, the final stage of the PQ, but they're constructed in a way - it's an ad-hoc cooperative environment.
Trying to remove a lot of those pressures and those barriers that people have with socializing. It is a big barrier to entry in this genre, and a lot of times you can jump into these games and there's a fear that "do I want to join that group, because I don't really know how to play my character yet, and I'm new to the game, you know they might get angry at me..." and there's all those pressures, really are meaningful and have a big impact on the playerbase. By easing people into more cooperative situations, which I think is what the public quests do great, I think will help us in the long run, because these people might end up just happening to be in the same public quests with the same people repeatedly as they're advancing. If they're advancing along, and they play at similar times, they might be running into the same people on these public quests consistently, and so that'll help break down that barrier and help them to start communicating, and forming those relationships.
Adding to that - where do you fall on the issue of 'casual' vs. more 'hardcore' gameplay? At first glance Warhammer seems to be a very 'hardcore' type of game.
It is. I personally consider it a pretty hardcore game, which is why I think it's really important for us to have things like the public quests that can help reduce the barrier to entry, and help get people involved in the community, get people involved in the game and the game systems and everything. As much of that as we can do early on, it doesn't have to be hardcore right off the bat, but obviously, completing a campaign and capturing a city is going to be very difficult. It's for the dedicated, but the entire realm can participate, so even if you've just got a small core group of those hardcore, high-end players on the server, everyone on that realm is going to benefit from their activities - and be able to partake in the content, so all of those things are a pretty new approach to that problem.
From a really high-level perspective, obviously you've worked in the MMO industry for some time. How do you feel the player experience now compares to the player who'd jump into Everquest, back in 1999?
The market's definitely different. One of the good metaphors for that is really those early adopters were people that were playing games on Commodores, and would sit there through the fifteen minute load times - versus the people now with the really high-end machines, who have no tolerance for that kind of thing. Because the market has expanded so much, a lot more types of players have come to the genre, there still is a market there for the more hardcore type games, or even the old school games, there's a lot of nostalgia associated with them. The problem is identifying what were people just putting up with, versus what was really adding to their experience.
I'm not going to pick on any games in particular but I think that some of the games out there actually make decisions with all good intentions, thinking they're the right decisions for the current market, or they're trying to grab everyone in the current market instead of pockets of the current market, and they make decisions that actually remove some of the market. One example of that is you see a lot of the modern games have an extreme symmetry, as far as balance and fairness and layout of the world, which actually drains a lot of character out of the game. One of the strong high concept aspects of EverQuest, I think, actually were those intentional imbalances - the Iksar have high innate amour and can swim at run speed. Someone comes up and says "well, isn't that an imbalance in PvP" or whatever, but it's really like "sure, in some situations, but we don't care." it actually added a lot more character to the game.
The fact that the cities and zones weren't laid out symmetrically. They were laid out with thought and planning as far as level progression goes, just like we're doing here, but the fact that some were close to each other, some were far from each other added dynamics and character and made the world feel more plausible, more organic. That's just one example, but there's things like that, that I think get discounted too often.
You've had the opportunity to work your way - literally - through a couple of generations of MMOs now. Given that a lot of people see World of Warcraft as the start of a new type of generation of MMOs, where launching in a polished state is really important, what do you see as a feature, or a group of features, that would differentiate what we have now from the next generation of massively multiplayer games?
Breaking out of the DikuMUD mold? I know there's definitely a market out there for that. There's already examples of it out there, like EVE, a successful project, broke out of the DikuMUD mold. That's one way. It's not a singular genre any more, we're already past that point. I think WoW introduced so many people to the social aspects of these games that they've expanded the market to a great degree, but it doesn't mean that all of those people just want to play WoW. I think there's a lot of people that would be drawn to similar, but different experiences out there.
I think there's lots of opportunity for future games. It's really... it's risky. But the opportunity's there. We're doing some pretty risky things, but so far the response has been fantastic. We're really just trying to do what we think is best for our game, for WAR, what's best for Warhammer ... for our core audience, the people that want WAR everywhere!
We really appreciate your time, sir.
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