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SDCC 2010: Massively's interview with Aion producer Lani Blazier

Rubi Bayer, @@rubi_

San Diego has been the place to be for the past few days, with developers bringing out all the latest and greatest to show off at Comic-Con 2010. We at Massively have been pretty busy, in part with Aion's web producer Lani Blazier.

Aion's free expansion Assault on Balaurea is just over a month away, so Lani had plenty to talk about. She gave us a look at what we can expect with 2.0, and spent a bit of time answering our questions afterward. Follow along after the jump to see what she had to say.

Massively: What can you tell us about 2.0?

Lani: We launched in September, and we basically have spent up until now getting feedback from all of our territories and going back to the dev team. We're really wanting to give the players what they want and what they're asking for. Of course there are going to be the obvious things like content; they want more quests, more instances. Back in May we had our 1.9 update and we introduced a lot of that, and addressed some of their concerns.

With 2.0, which is our Assault on Balaurea update coming September 7th... well, we really set the bar for ourselves in May. It was a pretty big update. This next update, which is a free expansion, is about 3 or 4 gigs of new content, so it's a pretty significant expansion. We'll have a refresh SKU, which is so players don't have to sit there and patch their game for days and days if they just want to go play, they can just do that. With 2.0 we've raised the level cap from 50 to 55.

We've also introduced our pet system, and just from reading all the comments from the players on the forums, that's something that they're really looking forward to. Pets won't just be cute and cuddly -- they will be -- but they'll also have functionality. We have an inventory pet, so basically it's your pack mule that carries around all your items for you. We have a production pet, so when you go around the world and find junk loot that you don't want, you can feed it to your pet and it'll produce a better item for you to use. I usually say you feed it and it poops out a prize -- it's a whole new meaning to "world drops."

"I usually say you feed it and it poops out a prize -- it's a whole new meaning to world drops."

There are also alert pets, that actually alert a player when something is sneaking up behind you. We have multifunction pets that are a combination of the ones that I just mentioned, and that's our pet system.

There's another thing coming that I'm actually super excited about, without telling too much. We have an area called The Abyss, and that's where the PvPvE combat is. There are a lot of fortresses and artifacts that players have to go and capture. A lot of that involves flying, because in The Abyss you can fly everywhere. On the actual planet, there are only certain zones where you can fly, and that's because originally there was the Tower of Eternity that connected both halves of the planet. When that was shattered, it created The Abyss. And wherever the pieces fell on both sides of the world, it created an element called aether, and that is what fuels flight. So in The Abyss you can fly everywhere and on the planet there are only certain areas.

So we wanted to bring that PvPvE experience, capturing fortresses and artifacts, to the world rather than only being in The Abyss. It's called Assault on Balaurea because when we launched Aion, we focused a lot on the player factions, the Asmodian and the Elyos. Now we're focused on the Balaureans, kicking their asses.

You're going to have two areas, one Asmodian and one Elyos. When you get into it, there are fortresses and artifacts on ground level that players have to capture, and they're contested areas. When you capture it, a passage to a canyon will open up, which is the only way you can cross over to the opposing faction's area. When you cross over, and you successfully capture fortresses and artifacts on that side, it unlocks an amazing boss that's going to take hundreds of players to take down.

Fortresses and artifacts have always been in The Abyss. But these two new regions, Gelkmaros and Inggison that we've added, these are new. We've also added eight new instances, two of which are soloable. Sometimes you have players that play an MMO, and you think "Oh, they like playing with lots of people and grouping all the time," and that's not the case at all. Sometimes they like the social aspect, just knowing there are people around them, but they like to play the game solo, so we dedicated two of our instances to those types of players. We're giving them that same experience of going into an instance and getting the rewards, but for the solo player.

Is this separate from The Abyss?

This is separate from The Abyss. Now it still counts toward the overall contribution, so the influence ratio changes the taxes and all that stuff, so they do control that. They also award medals like the other fortresses do. The only difference is you can't fly in those fortresses and they're in a different land than The Abyss.

Something else we did was analyze the level curves and that data, trying to figure out if there are levels where players are getting stuck. We realized levels 18-23 were kind of sticky, levels 38-41 were sticky, for example. So we constantly analyzed that date, pushing more content, pushing the story, giving the player a feeling of purpose, driving them up the levels rather than just sitting there beating on the same monster over and over again.

What lessons have you learned since launch?

I think we didn't realize how quickly, how hardcore some people can be and how quickly they'd get to level 50. Within a couple of weeks we had a lot of level 50s. And those are players obviously that don't read the quests, they just want to get to the endgame. That told us we've got to step it up. We've really got to flesh out our endgame, add more content, and that's why our updates have been so big -- 1.9 was big, 2.0 is going to be even bigger.

Now that you're raising the level cap to 55, are you adding more content for those players?

Yes, it's five levels of quests, gear, weapons, all that new stuff for those levels. Then of course with those eight new instances, we also have a new Dredgion. It's actually one of the most intimidating things you'll see when you're in The Abyss. You'll be fighting with the opposing faction and you'll think that you're doing really well, and then you'll see the Balaur battleship creep out. Because it's an AI-controlled faction, it's actually one of our balancing tools. You'll never know if they're going to come in and help you, because sometimes they will. Sometimes they'll come in and just destroy everyone -- it's really unpredictable, and that's what I love about it. It keeps you on your toes.

It's almost like a fun social experiment, because you'll see it drop down, and you look at the opposing faction, and you stop and you wait. Do we put aside our differences and go for it, or do we just have a free-for-all? That battleship that drops down, players can actually go onto, and it's called The Dredgion Instance. Basically we have the Elyos and the Asmodians starting on two separate areas, and they're fighting their way through the Dredgion to get to the end. They can choose to beeline straight there, or they can choose to intercept one another and sabotage their route to the end.

What do you think that this expansion offers players who tried it when it launched, and left?

That's one of the things that I've talked to players about. We had a player that was super hardcore when we launched. She made 50 really quickly, and then she just kind of slowed down. She was a big PvE player, she wasn't really into PvP. She said she'd read all the quests, done everything, and she just deactivated her account. When I ran into her again, I said "you've got to come back for 2.0." We talked about it and she's just super stoked about it. And that's the thing, when I'm talking to players, trying to let them know that of all the updates, 2.0 is going to be the reason you need to reactivate your account and try this out. There's just so much cool stuff that's coming.

Thanks for you time, Lani!

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