And thus we begin a new year of RIFT, teetering between uncertainty and promise. For as severe as Hartsman's departure will be felt in the development of the game and in its community, we're also looking ahead to the title's third year of operation and a new update that looks to add even more delectable treats on top of this fantasy buffet.
So today we're going to say goodbye to Scott and hello to Update 2.2 as we look at the recent state of the game post.
In my time covering and playing RIFT, I've drawn three conclusions about Scott Hartsman: He's a man of vision, he's a straight-shooter, and he's remarkably down to earth. I first met him at PAX, where he and the team were promoting RIFT prior to the title's launch. I had no idea who this energetic guy was, but I listened politely as he and his staff made a pitch as to why I should care about this game. Obviously, something rubbed off because I began to play it and, well, I'm writing this right now.
Since then, Hartsman and I spoke during several phone interviews. Oh, he never invited me over for a backyard BBQ and I enjoyed poking fun at him and the game from time to time, but I genuinely liked the guy. This wasn't just a business for him, it was a sincere passion for making games that he himself would love to play.
It's largely because of Hartsman that RIFT developed the way it did and why it shares common blood with EverQuest II (just look at the two games' features list some day... it's uncanny). And so his loss is not just mourned among the fans, but a fount of worry over where the game will go from here.
It's no secret that Trion has had a bumpy past few months, with layoffs, the mess over finishing up End of Nations, and now Hartsman's departure. People love to connect the dots between such events and establish a "doom and gloom" narrative that is parroted as more fact than speculation. Yet there are a few problems with this scenario, because there's a lot of hope to cling to as well. Trion released a well-received expansion for RIFT, it picked up ArcheAge to publish here in the West, it's on the verge of releasing Defiance, and it has End of Nations and Warface on the way as well. Plus, RIFT is still here. People are still subscribing, still playing, and still enjoying.
The world hasn't ended just yet.
I think the more interesting question is that of how Lead Designer Bill Fisher will guide the game in perhaps different directions than Hartsman did. Knowing that Hartsman was firmly against free-to-play for RIFT opens the door to the possibility that it's now on the table (and perhaps has been in the works for some time now, if you consider that innocuous little shopping cart button on your UI).
So what cues are we picking up from Fisher then? The lead designer took over the second half of the state of the game post to deliver his own vision for the upcoming months.
First things first: It's a remarkably short state of the game post, especially by RIFT's standards. In past years, Hartsman wrote these fantastically detailed addresses where he would look over the previous year and then drop a load of hints about what was to come. In comparison, Fisher's six-paragraph post seems... skimpy, is the best way I can describe it. I mean, I've read a lot of state of the game posts that litter the grounds of January, and this just feels lacking compared to many of them. It also doesn't contain much information that's useful to us as players.
Fisher begins by not looking at 2012 (Storm Legion is barely mentioned in this post), but by going back to alpha to try to paint a picture of how special the game is. Then he emphasizes how the team's been adding a lot of content since the launch. Again, no specifics; this is done is as generic a way possible.
The only part of the post that's of interest is a paragraph where he mentions the upcoming 2.2 update, which will bring back the Carnival of the Ascended, add new zone events, unlock tier 3 for planar attunement, and add hard mode to a couple dungeons. Aaand that's it. He makes lip service about Update 2.3, but it's not even worth mentioning his brief mention of it.
I know this part of the column sounds bitter, but I'm not. I'm just disappointed. State of the game posts are wonderful opportunities to rally the game's fans and get us excited. I really don't see anything here that's exciting at all. We aren't cheering over the last year's achievements, because they're not mentioned. We're not anticipating anything past 2.2, because the rest of 2013 is not mentioned.
I've heard that Fisher's style is decidedly brief, but even so, it's a lackluster post that comes at a time where the community really needed reassurance and something to cheer over.
Perhaps it's not all his fault. Perhaps it's a chaotic time of transition and preparation at Trion, and the team wasn't quite prepared to give a full rundown of the upcoming year's activities. All I know is that I want to root for RIFT, but I feel like we're limping into the year while waiting for some second wind to happen.
So here we are, teetering between uncertainty and promise. Which will win out?
Whether they're keeping the vigil or defying the gods, Karen Bryan and Justin Olivetti save Telara on a weekly basis. Covering all aspects of life in RIFT, from solo play to guild raids, their column is dedicated to backhanding multidimensional tears so hard that they go crying to their mommas. Email Karen and Justin for questions, comments, and adulation.