An exclusive look at RIFT's Update 1.2 and beyond with Scott Hartsman [Updated]

With almost two months on the post-launch clock at Trion Worlds, RIFT appears to be holding its own in the wild and woolly field of MMORPGs. With a major update and the first world event under its belt, RIFT is sailing into the future with the wind at its back and a hull full of subscribers below.

We got Trion's Scott Hartsman on the phone to discuss RIFT's second big patch, Update 1.2, as well as to see how the game's progressed thus far and where the team is trying to take it into the future. And of course we couldn't let this opportunity pass by without a candid dissection of the uneven world event and how Trion plans to learn from its mistakes.

So hit the jump and witness Scott Hartsman giving us a Care Bear Stare full of info and exclusive tidbits about the inner workings of RIFT!

Steady as she goes, Mister Hartsman!

The first -- the very first -- thing we wanted to squeeze out of the treasure trove of knowledge that lies within Scott Hartsman's brain was "How is the game holding up now that we're past the first month of free play?"

While we didn't get specific numbers of subscribers beyond a cryptic "many," Hartsman assured us that RIFT is going strong and growing nicely. He said that back before launch the team whipped up projections of how the post-first month landscape would look -- how many people would stick around and resubscribe and how many new folks would be purchasing the game -- and right now RIFT is greatly exceeding those projections.

"All the indicators of things you'd want to go good are going better than anticipated," Hartsman said, noting that Trion is hiring people like crazy in order to meet the current and future demand. He also said that the digital sales of RIFT are definitely greater than the retail sales: "It makes us incredibly glad that we have a ton of digital partners, retail partners and our own digital downloads shop so that people can get the game the way they want."

The team is keeping an eye on server populations and uses the "recommended" flags on the lesser-populated shards to foster community growth. That said, character transfers are something Trion is working hard at providing for the future.

We asked how the team is holding up with all of the craziness, and Hartsman said the team is big enough that it's been able to rotate staff out on vacations and breaks to reduce stress and burnout. He's pleased to see so many members of the team willingly playing RIFT -- more than any other game team he's led.

Hartman told us that one of his favorite forms of feedback so far came from friends and players who've regaled him with epic tales of their encounters with the dynamic events. Some have told him that RIFT has put them off other "static" MMOs altogether, and he's thrilled that it's resonated with as many people as it has.

Around the world event in 80 forum threads

With the first highly touted world event a mixed bag at best -- or a fiasco at worst -- we asked Hartsman what went wrong and what the team's learned from the attempt. He didn't shy away from the topic but was candid about the flaws that the team identified: "It's about understanding the underlying design reasons and addressing those reasons when we plan [world events] in the future. As long as we understand the 'why' and plan better for the future, it'll be better."

The two biggest areas of concern were the compression of time and space. "If you compress a world event in too small of a space or too short of a time, it's not an experience that people find fun," Hartsman admitted. So while the first world event was in full swing, the team behind the next event was already evaluating these problems and adjusting future attempts to learn from these mistakes.

So players should expect to see world events that spread things out over a longer time frame and across a larger space so that more people can participate in them. Hartsman said that the devs noted players valued more being able to participate in a time and place of their choosing rather than being able to say "I was there" at a specific point. As such, Trion will adjust future events to focus more on putting people in control of their own destiny instead of being tied to an in-game clock.

One of the aspects of the world event that surprised the team was the popularity of the event currency and the drive to accumulate the special rewards. As such, this will be focused and expanded upon in the future.

Hartsman wanted to point out that the world event reward pack that the team handed out as consolation prizes for those unable to contribute to the final phases has been extended to all characters created before or during the event -- not just those who had participated in the event. Players have a week and a half to claim these packs in game and spend the currency at the special vendors before they are taken out of the game.

Update 1.2 off the port bow!

The most exciting part of the interview came as Hartsman opened up about the upcoming Update 1.2, currently scheduled for May 4th -- although this is subject to change, as always.

One of the biggest improvements with the update is the addition of a Looking for Group tool. This was something everyone wanted, Hartsman said, but the team refused to rush it out the door in poor shape. It does what you would probably expect: Players can queue up for an instance by role (the system recognizes which builds you have and offers options for tank, healer, support and DPS) and then wait as the tool assembles the group for a cooperative adventure. Once a group is formed, the system thenn throws them into the maelstrom automatically. The LFG tool isn't just for dungeons, either; it's designed to help players get together for world quest content like epic or arena quests.

The LFG tool will come in handy in conjunction with 1.2's improved daily dungeon system. Trion's tweaking the daily dungeon quests so that you can either do one per day or let them pile up so you can knock out a bunch at once. Hartsman said that this caters to the "weekend warriors" who want all of the special rewards of daily dungeons but can only make time for them once a week. The game will store up to seven daily dungeon quests for you at a time.

Another huge addition with this update is an appearance system. Now players who are dissatisfied with how their characters look can slot good-looking cosmetic and armor pieces into outfit sets that will override their current armor. As a result, Hartsman said that we should see a rise in the amount of cosmetic gear seen in the game. The team is working on creating cosmetic theme sets for zones; for instance, Iron Pine Peak could have a snow ninja set while Shimmersand might feature a desert warrior outfit.

Currently we don't know how many different outfit slots players will be able to purchase (with the first being free), although we were informed that a final number will appear on the test server next week.

The flotsam and jetsam of fun

Update 1.2 isn't just about the Looking for Group and appearance systems. Trion is adding a fifth role to the game that players can purchase for 100 platinum, allowing for even more experimentation between builds. The update will also contain a "metric ton" of small UI tweaks to make the game that much more player friendly.

As a good portion of the playerbase is at max level, something Hartsman and the team planned on for this point in the game's lifespan, the team is slaving away at plenty of new endgame content. One of the new types of level 50 challenges coming in this update is the addition of "slivers," 10-man raids that can only be seen in the world if you've used an Ascended Power that reveals them. The first sliver is called "Gilded Prophecy" and will have you fighting Golden Maw cultists from another reality amid a huge sandstorm.

In the past Trion has said that it's only just started to scratch the potential of the dynamic event system, and with 1.2 Hartsman says we'll finally go deeper. The team's created three additional types of zone-wide events for high levels, including a "tower defense" event where you have to control strategic locates, an "escort" event to protect moving resources, and an event in which players can summon their own Colossus to defeat the Colossus of the enemy.

Low-level zone-wide events have also been improved and increased, so players of all levels will be able to engage in more epic battles than ever before. We were psyched to learn that the world map will now show you where major events are happening in other zones, so you can log in and figure out where the hot spots are right away.

Trion's also beginning a Recruit-a-Friend program in the next couple weeks, an event in which players can gift friends free trials and get awesome in-game items if their friends buy the game. This isn't because the game is "dying" by any means, Hartsman assured us, but rather because Trion is about aggressive growth. The more people the team can get to play the game, the better it is for the community.

And while players have been able to use Twitter to broadcast their achievements from inside the game, Update 1.2 will bring Facebook integration for those who wish to update their profile with RIFT-related notices and videos.

Second star to the right and straight on 'til morning

So past 1.2, what can we expect? Naturally, Scott Hartsman wanted to keep future surprises close to his chest, although he did mention that character transfers and guild banks were two features the team is working hard to get to us. Anything else? Oh, maybe a little something involving world PvP events -- but he refused to specify further.

We appreciate Hartsman's taking the time to update us about RIFT, and we look forward to getting our hands on Update 1.2 in a couple of weeks!

[Update: Trion Worlds is now looking at a May 10th release date for 1.2.]
This article was originally published on Massively.