RIFT Interview With Design Director Simon Ffinch
Questions By: Bryan King
Answered By: Simon Ffinch, Design Director of Trion Worlds
2011 is turning out to be a great year for MMOs. With the advent of new premium P2P games to entertain gamers, the competitive air in the industry just got a lot hotter. One of the games that gamers are keeping their eyes on is RIFT: Planes of Telara. RIFT is a brand new P2P MMO coming out from the new developer, Trion Worlds. I got the chance to speak to Simon Ffinch, Design Director of Trion Worlds, to speak about the game.
OnRPG: Hello and thank you for your time, please introduce yourself to readers.
Hi OnRPG this is Simon (Dead Simon) Ffinch
OnRPG: Can you please give readers a brief introduction to the storyline intertwining the Defiants and Guardians?
There is a rich and deep story line to explore in Rift, far more than I can outline here so I will keep this to just the Defiant and Guardian goals and philosophies.
The Guardians are the chosen of the gods, in this case the Vigil. It is important to note that the gods were not interested in choosing just good people. They want warriors, so they chose the best of the best regardless of their moral backgrounds. The Guardians want to restore Telara to its natural state, to bring back a time of peace and prosperity that existed before the ward put in place by the gods, began to weaken. This weakening of the ward is the cause if the Rifts being able to penetrate through to Telara. The Guardians fight against these planar invasions. The Guardians believe the Defiant are as much of a danger to the world as the Rifts themselves. They see the Defiant as misguided fools messing with powers they do not understand and cannot control. They will attempt to thwart Defiant plans whenever they can.
The Defiant believe the gods failed in the past, they point to the weakening of the ward as proof of this failure. They use an ancient and dangerous technology to aid them in their goals, including the replication of the ascension powers the gods granted the Guardians. The Defiant want to take matters into their own hands and bring about a new age in Telara. Although they too fight against the planar invasions they believe that the power of the planes can be brought under control and used to the benefit of all Telara. The Defiant believe that being stopped by the Guardians will bring about the destruction of Telara. They see the Guardians as stuck in the past, adhering to an old way that has long since gone. They believe the Guardians trust in the gods is misplaced and will do everything in their power to stop them from repeating the mistakes of the past.
One of the interesting aspects of this dynamic is that like so many real world conflicts both sides see themselves as righteous, that theirs is the only way to make Telara a better and safer place. There are shades of grey with both sides and although their goals are essentially the same their fundamental differences in achieving them puts them at odds whenever they come in contact. Each believing that they are in the right, and the other side is fatally dangerous.
OnRPG: There are a unique variety of classes, as well as an archetype system that hasn’t really been seen before in an MMO. Can you give readers a brief summary of the mechanics that the Soul/Calling system has?
The primary goal of the class system was to make it so players can tailor a class to play exactly the way they want it to play. This is done by giving the players up to nine souls (the number for launch) and from these nine they can chose any three to combine into their class. Players earn soul points through leveling and these are spent in any of the three soul trees to upgrade existing abilities and to unlock new ones. This provides a vast array of combinations for player to explore as they tweak and change their character to try out new class builds. Many of the souls have synergies with other souls, and a soul that at first glance may seem to be fairly mundane can become an instant favorite when you discover how it interacts with some of the other souls. Taking this a step further we allow players to save these builds as a ‘role’ and players can purchase new roles from their trainers to have up to four, then one build can be switched out for another at will. This takes the concept of creating the class you want to play a step further and giving the player the ability to play the class they want to play right now.
OnRPG: Are you planning on adding more souls per class via game updates or expansions? Thanks to Keledon from the RIFT forums for this question.
The system is very flexible and we will certainly be looking to expand it in the future.
OnRPG: There is also a Rift/Invasion system that is involved; can you tell readers about this too?
As noted in the lore section, Telara is a land under siege from the planes. Although protected by a ward put in place many years ago by the gods, it is weakening. Where this happens the planes are able to push through and invade Telara. These invasions will start as a ‘tear’ in the ward these tears eventually become Rifts. Either because players take matters into their own hands and force them open, giving them a strategic advantage and some measure of control over which rift might open, or if left unchecked they can spontaneously open on their own. Out of these Rifts invasions will be launched that will head to various points across Telara more often than not important locations, that they will attempt to take over. If this is successful they will setup a foothold at that location and from there launch more invasions. It will up to the players to repel these invasions and protect the key locations. We give them several tools to do this but by far the most successful is player cooperation. This dynamic balance of power really drives the social aspect of Rift and there are many strategies that players can employ, especially taking advantage of the fact that the various planes hate each other almost as much as they want to take over Telara.
OnRPG: Speaking about Rifts, Sharuko from the Rift forums asks: “How do you think Rifts, Invasions and Full Zone invasions will be affected when the game matures and there won’t be as many lower level players in those zones?”
Without going into too much detail about how we do this, the game employs various heuristics to analyze what is going on in a zone and makes sure that the level of challenge matches the player base. We want to keep it fun but not impossibleJ.
OnRPG: What art style was taken upon when developing the game? In terms of art, I personally noticed a contrasting style of fantasy, steampunk, and some other sub-cultures in realistic history’s past.
The art style is firmly rooted in western high fantasy. The look is stylized realism with each player faction having a theme that players will come to recognize. I have heard the Defiant referred to as Steampunk before and while it is true that there are some similarities, personally I think the style is a little more tech than that and less clockwork like. They provide a great contrast between the Guardians more traditional fantasy style. Trion employs some of the best artists I have ever had the pleasure of working with, all under the watchful eye of our extremely meticulous art director. They take their craft extremely seriously. There is a great deal of research that goes into making sure the cultures in the game come across as a coherent whole, from the looks of their dwellings to the creatures themselves. All of these set in some truly stunning landscapes.
OnRPG: Has the overall game design for RIFT changed substantially since the idea was first formed to create it? If so, can you explain to readers what the “RIFT before RIFT” looked like?
The fundamental principle of what we wanted to do from the beginning has stayed the same throughout development. We wanted the ability to drive players together in massive events and for our systems to be able to handle that. The zone wide invasions where we can have hundreds of players and hundreds of NPCs all participating in one event is the realization of that dream. As for the story and details of the world, yes that has gone through a lot of iterations, far too many to describe here. It was important to zero in on a world and story that would support what we wanted to do as far as game play and would make sense for a world as dynamic as we wanted Rift to be. We explored many avenues before we decided on the theme of Rift, but once that direction was settled and we all agreed it supported the game play we wanted, our amazing lore team was able to create a rich and detailed world around the concepts that the design team came up with. It then became a collaborative effort to make sure the design supported the lore and the lore supported the design.
OnRPG: As I’m sure your team is aware, some gamers are drawing upon similarities between your games and some of the other P2P MMOs out there, sometimes in a positive fashion, and sometimes not. Would you like to address these?
Rift is a fantasy MMO so comparisons are inevitable. Some of the designs we came up with are specifically tailored to be familiar to anyone who has played any number of MMOs out there. There are a lot of systems that players expect to see in MMOs these days, many of which are not particularly innovative but are required, a Bank, an Auction House and Vendors to name just a few. I know that I as a player, who has played a lot of MMOs in the past, appreciate it if when I need to interact with one of these systems I do not have to spend time learning a whole new method of interacting. I just want to do my business and move on to exploring the systems that are new and unique. Why make the player learn a whole new keyboard layout for well established functions for example. Sure we could have made it so you use T,F,G and H to move but we went with W,A,S,D. Why? Because it works and it works well, sure when you do this sort of thing players will make comparison and this is no surprise. But we think we have achieved a solid balance between the familiar and the unfamiliar. Using tried and true designs that go back a very long way for some of the more standard systems, polishing and improving a little if we felt it needed it. But keeping the main focus of our energies on what was new, the soul systems and the planar invasions.
OnRPG: Many users on the forums have complained about the racial, class, and faction imbalances that have occurred during the beta. Will these be addressed before launch? Guardian Racials appear to be defensive in nature, while Defiant Racials have 2 offensive options as well as one defensive option. Are there any plans to possibly change one of the defensive racial abilities on the guardian side to provide them with at least one offensive option?
I don’t want to go into specifics of what might change between now and launch and indeed after launch. I will simply say that we do take all feedback seriously. We get a huge amount of it, after every beta and then there is a lot more on our forums still more from our Alpha players, we even get it through email. Each department reads this feedback and we appreciate all of it, good and bad. It is an interesting juggling act, as for many of the ideas we receive there are opposing points of view about whether it is good or bad. It is our job to balance all this along with staying true to our vision of the game. I would hope that anyone who has been in more than one beta would recognize that we do listen, we do value the feedback and we do make changes based on it. We just want to make sure we implement the right changes to improve the game.
OnRPG: What kind of PvE content can players expect to see?
There is a large variety of PvE content catering to a variety of player types. From the more traditional questing path to Dungeons, Rifts, Invasions and Crafting to surprises and rewards for the explorers out there along with a collection system for the more OCD among us, with the emphasis on us 🙂
OnRPG: I would like to discuss the Mark Target key bind options currently in game, such as mark target 1, mark target 2, and so on. First off is there macro text available for this command or is it simply a key bind option? In turn, will you be implementing a select mark target command or macro text that supports it?
Yes, there is both a keybind and a /command to mark targets. Selecting marked targets is philosophically something that can be used as a way to automate play a bit more than may be healthy for gameplay, but it’s something we’d like to be able to offer – we’ll be playing with this between now and launch in making that decision.
OnRPG: For those who might like PvP more, what kind of content will be shipped with RIFT in terms of PvP?
Rift will ship with dedicated PvP servers and on those the law of the jungle pretty much reigns, on PvP severs there will be overland PvP with very few safe places for anyone of the opposing faction. You will definitely need to watch your back on these servers or make sure you travel with friends. On both PvE and PvP servers there will be Warfronts. These are instanced PvP areas where there are specific rules and challenges for each side to accomplish and/or to stop the other side accomplishing. There are even Souls designed specifically to be used in PvP situations.
OnRPG: Do you plan to reward players who explore the world fully and also expand the areas that are to be found at some stage and make them more appealing to players to seek out? This question comes from Kuldorn on the Rift forums.
Hmmm, isn’t that part of being an explorer, to go out and explore, to find the answer for yourself? 😉 Yes, in addition to the quests and other events to find off the beaten path, there’s an entire gameplay system built for explorers in mind, Artifact collection, in which you can complete collections for rewards all the way up to some epic gear pieces. We intentionally hide many of these pieces in places that are puzzling in how to get to them and out of the way of the main traffic.
OnRPG: How has the community responded to the game so far, and how are the beta stages going?
It is an incredibly exciting time for us right now. The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive and it is gratifying to see the players having a good time in a world that so many of us have poured our hearts into.
OnRPG: Where do you see RIFT a year from now?
We are all looking forward to developing and polishing our beloved Telara for many years to come.
OnRPG: Is there anything else you would like to tell readers?
Remember you are playing a game, have fun, enjoy the world we have created but above all else keep that feedback coming, we value it highly.
OnRPG: Thank you so much for your time!