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RIFT's Update 1.9: An interview with Scott Hartsman and Hal Hanlin

Karen Bryan

"It's about more players being able to do more things with each other." That's how Trion CCO and RIFT Executive Producer Scott Hartsman described the core goal behind Update 1.9. And based on the upcoming changes, it looks like there will be plenty of opportunities for both. From Conquest to mentoring to low-level instant adventures to the new 10-man sliver and even the arrival of global chat across all servers, the world of Telara has several exciting new changes on the way.

Massively sat down with Scott Hartsman and Design Director Hal Hanlin for a roundtable discussion about what's in store for 1.9. Read on for highlights and a look at what's coming from this rather beefy patch.

Gallery: RIFT: Conquest | 5 Photos

Instant adventures

Hanlin and Hartsman were first asked for clarification about which low-level instant adventures will be featured in Update 1.9 and when players could expect to see an IA in every zone. Hanlin explained that the devs didn't want to announce Gloamwood and Stonefield until they are sure they are ready to go live and the team is pleased with the progress of those zone events, so there will be four IAs in 1.9: Silverwood, Freemarch, Gloamwood, and Stonefield. In addition, he hinted that the devs have plans to go further than that, but he didn't want to elaborate on what, when, or why. Hartsman added that they want to see the effects of low-level IAs in combination with mentoring on gameplay as they continue to look at adding more to other zones.

Hanlin said that one great thing about instant adventures is that they're modular, so the team can experiment with gameplay and not worry that it will end up breaking part of a 20-step quest chain. Hanlin's favorites are the ones that start as a familiar kill quest but turn out to include rare mobs that weren't there before, which is essentially a chance for "extra sprinkles on top." Trion has also been culling out the ones that either didn't telegraph correctly or didn't work out as planned.


When asked why more MMOs don't add mentoring, Hartsman explained that "it's an obscene amount of work, a lot of engineering work, a lot of systems design work. Engineers have to implement the system, and the designers have to go back and do calculus for every tier of content across every class, and in RIFT, it's even more complicated because of all the souls." He went on to say that it's taken months and months of effort to put it in place, although he feels it fits RIFT's philosophy of letting players do fun things with others.

Hanlin added that there's no one right way to play the game. "You can solo, do a chronicle, join a group, do warfronts, do some PvP, jump into Conquest, and with something like mentoring, it adds to what you can do."

One situation that comes up with high- and low-level players participating in IAs and zone events is the speed disparity between mounts. The potential problem is that low-level players end up one step behind when traveling to locations on the map. When asked whether the devs have come up with a solution, Hanlin said they have addressed it; the solution is that the entire group will move at the speed of the fastest member of the group, so everyone moves together (and lowbies feel like they're on a rocket ship).

Barber shop

Next, the team was asked about the barber shop and whether there are future plans for increased customization. For the first run, the team wanted to make sure to get the tech and the lighting in because there's a lot of systems work that needs to happen to get things up and functional. The devs are starting with re-customization among existing options, and they're working on a plan to add a greater palette of greater things to do, which they hope to be talking about in future releases. Those will range from new styles to new assets from scratch as well as some existing extensions of some of the current options too. They're looking at a staged release over time, and the initial release is as much about the underlying tech as it is anything else.

Global chat

Global chat was the next topic of discussion, and Hartsman explained that its addition was "Trion at its Trionness, which is that we're getting it out there and want to see how people use it." What the devs didn't want to do is over-legislate and start coming up with weird exception handling for problems that might not even exist for real. So for now, they want to take the feature, see how it works, and make adjustments to it in real time. In the meantime, it's been about "what will the world look like if everyone could talk with everyone in real time."

When asked whether this could lead to cross-game functionality, like a for Trion games, Hartsman said that cross game chat is on their radar as something that they'd like to do, but at the same time, they are still keeping core goals around how they can "iterate development and iterate at the highest quality and keep iterating the most rapidly." One downside with any common system is that you tie the speed with which games have to be developed, so you create a lowest-common-denominator situation. There are times when the team thinks, "Wouldn't it be neat if you could be friends across titles, find friends and so on?" but the priority is on the quality of the individual game because that's what keeps people coming back.

Ten-man sliver

Switching gears, the team next discussed the upcoming sliver, Primeval Feast. In this sliver, explained Hanlin, Lord Twyl beats Greenscale, and since the weather and seasons are his playthings, they're more than effects -- they're actually part of the gameplay. He described different scenarios based on the season, such as a Wickerman harvest sacrifice during the fall, and said that weather adds a thematic element as well as drives gameplay.

If you were wondering whether players will see raids and slivers make their way to the dungeon finder tool, it looks like that might happen down the road. As more people learn how to play the game at higher levels of skill over time, and as the team has introduced weeklies for 10-mans and first tier 20-mans, it becomes something that's more possible. The devs don't have concrete plans now, but they agree that it's getting to be the time.

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When it comes to Conquest, there's a lot to do besides straight up slaughter, and Hartsman said that Trion is putting the finishing touches on game changes of things to improve gameplay and make things clearer. During the past play tests, the developers have continued to look at how approachable all of the non-combat activities are and how easily they're understood compared to the land control/killing game. Hartsman added that watching chat during events has been educational for the team. They had a lot of people, especially in the last one, recognizing individual developers by name, and they were indeed right there with people, being confused alongside them, and coming back to say, "That was great and fun, but here's what we can do better."

Hartsman shared an anecdote, saying that he recently leveled a character up to 50 and decided that he would be only a gatherer/crafter in Conquest. "He will take no land, and make no kills. He's the Conquest pacifist. If everything works, you should be able to do that."

Hartsman elaborated on the rewards system in Conquest, saying that, in general, the idea has been that you can switch, but Trion played around with a bunch of ideas on how to do rewards long before it hit PTS. They decided three persistent factions that you had to grind notoriety with over time (making you advance all three) wouldn't play well. They wanted to make sure that if you wanted to play with friends, you could, independent of what level advancement they happened to be in. The devs went with malleable teams, and the concept of rewards is if you can participate a couple of times a week; it's not a situation where you need eight hours of grinding to maintain buffs. The buffs don't begin to wear off until a day later, and on top of that, there are the persistent conquest rewards, which are available only from the merchant inside the zone. Instead of needing to grind all three sides to get fun stuff, you can also earn rewards from the PvP action during the game itself. If you win a match, you get to stay on the map and spawn the collossi, which gives you more rewards and currency. In short, you get prizes for participating, but real reward is for being the winner and beating up the bosses as well.

As they get closer to a tight balance, the devs are seeing a shifting wave of the three colors across the map, and it's engaging gameplay to guess where opponents are going. They're trying to create an open-world feel with real strategic elements. Players can look at the map and see where battle lines are and be able to take the extra time for groups of five commandos to run behind enemy lines to turn the battle. In order for that to happen, there needs to be some amount of time for travel, and in more recent tests, battles have ranged from one and a half to three hours. They still have maximum kill cap to keep them from getting interminably long, but Conquest is intentionally not a 5-minute warfront because Trion wants to allow time for players to move around the map and find ways to turn the tide of battle.

Update 1.9 is due to go live this coming week, and you can be sure that Massively will be there to cover it all! Thanks to Scott Hartsman and Hal Hanlin for taking the time to talk about this exciting summer update!

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