How do you divide your time between balance and performance? What do you do, as a developer, when the loudest wheels are squeaking about one issue, while others claim they have no issues at all? These are the quandaries of the smaller developer, especially a developer running a game that obviously offers something different.
We took some time to ask Mike Madden, Director of Product Management, and Frank Lucero, Studio Head, about their concerns as well as what they see happening in the future. So click past the cut to see what they had to say!
Frank Lucero seemed to feel the same way. "When we get down to the point of what I call 'opinion problems', like maybe this should be balanced this way or maybe this should be balanced that way, then I'm feeling comfortable. It's not like something is broken. Our server uptime is like 99.9 percent. The players are on the boards complaining about the right things. Although we do have to deal with performance, which is the one that's on our radar right now. But so far, so good."
PvP balance is something of an evil, tentacled beast. How do you balance, especially in a game in which players are constantly finding creative new ways to use the open skill system to play differently? The developers have been addressing that with state of combat posts, showing what players might expect going forward. "We're not going to go off on our own and make changes and then let them see the results," Madden said. "Rather, we'd like to let them know what we see, what we'd like to do, and then ask for that discussion. We don't move too many dials at one time, maybe two or three and see how it settles in."
What about players who might want to jump into PvP right from the beginning? What advice would they give a newbie?
"One thing that has come up on the forums and that we're discussing is that we don't want level 60s coming in and decimating level 10s or 15s who are just trying to get their blades dirty for the first time in PvP."
The developers have added the Shade, a newbie-friendly PvP area for players to get their weapons bloody without too much consequence. They've also optimized the starting quest lines to speed up the leveling and learning process without forcing the player to hoof it around the streets of Purgatory for too long. Monitoring feedback from the forums is a priority, and the playerbase helps fill them in on what might be working... and what might not.
Mike Madden emphasized the importance of open character creation. "That was the intent all along; instead of going with the traditional class base, we wanted to devise a system that not only lets you make the character you want but is also systematic content. Our experience in Shadowbane showed us that those players will find and fiddle with that system to almost no end. What happens in the end is that players will find a counter to almost everything. If one player turns out with a very powerful build, someone else will come along and figure out a way to stop him."
"If you want to be Gandalf with two swords, why not? The developers want players to be able to make that character if they want."
So what can players expect from the game within a few months? No dates were given specifically, of course, but the devs have a pretty detailed list of where they want to go. It's a solid plan six months out, one that is sure to balance new content and optimization on the priority list.
"I can tell you the direction we might be taking and some of the themes we are looking at," said Madden. "One of the first things we want is to increase the guild vs. guild interactions. So we're looking at an inquisition system, where even within the main faction, guilds could go to war. Those wars can carry over into what were once protected areas. We think even the bystanders of that will be encouraged and see some pretty good PvP action within the city and still be protected from it. Beyond that, we're making guilds more like a character, growing thanks to the contributions of its members. How devoted you are to your guild can be proved by donating to your guild, which in turn can be used for guild-wide buffs or levels of advancement."
It's interesting to note that the size of the guild will not matter. Guild activity determines success. This will encourage tight-knit, active guilds over massive ones with many inactive members. These guild upgrades will eventually lead to "Holy Wars" in which guilds can manage, own, destroy, and siege churches -- physical structures in each zone that players will attempt to conquer. The zones were inititally made large enough to include room for these future buildings. Guilds within the same faction will even be able to challenge another guild for its church.
So what has been the biggest complaint about the game so far? "Performance is still the largest complaint," said Lucero, "but the game is the first to launch on this platform. We're bringing some hands on board to help them work through the issues. We're going to get there; we're going to get this thing to run how people expect it to run." How about the biggest compliment? The devs say that would be the players' assertions that the cash shop is not "pay to win" and that the development team has been honest and upfront. "We are players, so we care as much as they do," said Madden.
For the future, he adds that UTV will be hosting events and always adding new fixes and content, but players "better start making their character because you can do offline advancement and come back when those future options come on." The game is free to download and play, so if you want to take him up on his offer, you can at the official site.
We'd like to thank the team at UTV Ignition Games for taking the time to sit with us. It looks like the future is bright in the battle between Heaven and Hell.