Gamescom 2013 – WildStar exclusive interview with Jeremy Gaffney

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We had the chance to meet with Carbine Studios Exec Produce Jeremy Gaffney, who is currently overseeing the development of the up and coming sci-fi MMORPG Wildstar. In our interview he talks over the new additions to the game, the announcement of their business model, the depths of crafting and gear and an insightful look into how the beta community is already helping shape the future of the title.

Jeremy: I’m Jeremy Gaffney, I’m Executive Producer, which means I do as little as possible but I take credit for everything else that anyone on the team does.

Interviewer: Nice.

Jeremy: It’s accurate.

<Q> What is new at this point?

J: Ahh, so what’s new? Right now we have in game about two hundred and fifty hours of levelling content, we have a few thousand hours effectively of elder game content, which is much more replayable. We expect levelling content gets consumed and the elder game content is built to be dynamic and update itself. So what we’re showing at GamesCom for the first time is dungeon gameplay because we have this really cool fast action combat, we use telegraphs to explain what monsters are doing and what players are doing then show what that looks like  in group gameplay. And we are a fan of dungeons that are hard, we don’t like easy, wimpy dungeons, we like dungeons that are a challenge because we put the best rewards on the things that are hardest so the harder it is the better rewards we can put there.

<Q> What are telegraphs about?

J: Telegraphs are about making action combat that doesn’t suck. A couple of games have done their own takes on action combat. For us right at level one we introduce the concept of painting on the ground what’s going on, this is for your abilities we’re showing you “hey dummy your ability goes in this spot.” That’s helpful. But at higher levels the sort of base precept goes from being the simple showing you what’s happening to communicating with your group, “so I’m putting out a big healing well over here” or “I’m gonna put a fire pit in this area” and then everyone else positions themselves to kick the monsters into the fire pit. This makes very interesting, complex high level gameplay, so if you see some of the videos were releasing here you’ll see some really quite complex fights, but because there is context to them, because they’re made clear by the telegraphs on the ground we can get away with putting in more gameplay and then we reward you. The more skilled you fight the more rewards you get. So newbs can get through it because we want to train them to be hardcore elitists over time, but the hardcore elitsts coming into the game need fun stuff to do too.

<Q> Tell us about the recently announced new races.

J: Chua are psychopathic hamsters from hell, they basically are genius level IQ with moron level morals and so a lot of their quests are really fun as they tend to be pranking things, or causing disruption, or just causing chaos. The Mordesh are more dark and brooding, they’re a race sort of like elves, very high <flutten> with alchemy and magic, but somewhere that went horribly wrong  and they made themselves immortal but in the process made themselves start to decay and disease and go crazy. So they basically inflicted a zombie apocalypse on the race as a whole and so they are tied between bring brilliant and mad, so they are torn between these two areas where they are completely feral and destructive when they go bonkers, but on the other than hand they are the most elite and the most aristocratic when they’re sane. So their culture is quite a mix and so their quests reflect all this as well.

<Q> How deep is crafting and how accessible is to players?

J: There are elements of it that any player can do, right now we let players retool the items in the game to sort of custom fine tune them at a deep level. But if you’re a trade skiller and you’re devoted to trade skilling there’s quite a lot of depth to it, you can level up a talent tree over time where you can specialize and choose to be really good at one aspect of weapon crafting or armour crafting or another. There are rare recipes in the world to find and unlock. Basically there’s two fundamentally different ways that you can craft. Some is called coordinate crafting where you get a base recipe but then you need to search out for yourself the particular way the other recipes work buy finding different combinations of ingredients. The other is recipe based where you get the recipes but you need to unlock them and find them through different ways in the world. And the way you level is kind of achievement based, depending on which achievements you unlock by how many things of a different kind you make, or which crafting quests you do, you specialise throughout the talent tree about how you get better at certain aspects of it.

So it’s actually quite a fun system, we’ll do a full reveal of it but we don’t like to reveal stuff until we’ve had a couple of iteration passes, because we think stuff is awesome but if the fans go in and don’t like it then we rip it out and we re do it. Trade skilling I think has gotten be to quite fun so we’re polishing up the interfaces for it, we’ll probably do a full reveal with more details of it I’d guess in the next few months, but we’ll see, players tell us what works and what doesn’t in the beta.

<Q> What can you say about character progression?

J: Sure let me talk about the parts that suck and then talk about the parts that don’t suck. In general we trim out the suck bits and then add in the don’t suck bits. I would argue that people want a level of player choice and the system as we’d had it a lot was dominantly determined by what your stats were. Part of your stats are player chosen, your race influences it and your class influences it, but a lot of it is influenced by gear. Let’s talk philosophy for a second. So I would argue there’s a dichotomy, there’s a barrier, there’s a split between what you consider to be part of yourself, part of your character, and what is your stuff, and games over time have been biased towards stuff. Your character is some kind of awesome, but a lot of your awesomeness is based on your gear. And it’s hard to have an attachment to gear. You as a human being you like to think it’s the skills your learn that make you cool, and like how your wit and your charm and all this, and not the fact that you own a Lamborghini makes you more awesome than the guy next to. But what do most MMO do? It’s all about your Lamborghini and very little about you. So that’s a little philosophical but let’s bring it back to reality.

So we had attributes that basically triggered cool talent like, interesting rewards, but it was mostly through your gear and this made for a very fun min-max game. If I get up to this threshold, whooo, awesome stuff happens, and that felt very good and made you feel very powerful. But you were at the mercy of what gear dropped, but you couldn’t say I wanna be better at casting fireballs, you had to get your intelligence level up to a level that improved your fireballs. So we’re adding a lot more player choice back in, this is a natural iteration of the system, more than it’s “we’re ripping things out entirely”, but it emphasizes the kind of things as to why we do this stuff in this stuff in the beta and tune it and tweak it. Player feedback truly matters to us, were not about “ahh we wanna listen” and then “screw it, we’re doing the same thing”. It doesn’t embarrass us when we goof up a system or we can improve this by extending it in this way, it’s the process it’s how we like improving the game.

<Q> Could you explain your recently announced business model?

J: Sure what we love about that kind of model is it’s about options. We say play how you wanna play in the game and It’s a little too cute or markety to say “pay how you wanna pay”, but it’s kinda the goal. If you like a sub game, you like big updates that come with it, you like the reinvestment that happens and makes the game better, awesome, we have a sub model. If you hate subs though then we provide CREDD, and if you never want to pay a sub, awesome, go earn your CREDD in game which means get gold pieces and trade gold pieces with players. And that’s it, just by trading gold pieces, by playing the game. And so it doesn’t make everyone happy but there’s two classes of people it makes happy for sure, which is players who want to have the option to never pay a sub, and makes players happy to have these things to trade on the auction houses for more gold pieces. And it really pisses off gold farmers, and anything we can do to make multiple players happy, and makes us happy, cause you know we like money.. it’s kinda why we’re in business, and it pisses off gold farmers, that’s a big win in my book and its exactly the kind of thing we like doing. So we’ll probably have more options over time, but we want to keep it as simple as possible with what the options are because we really like the fact that were giving diff ways of playing the game but we don’t want to confuse people, we don’t want people worried that they’re going to have to pay again in a different fashion.

Q. What type of end game content can we expect and how much of that end game content is in a relatively finished form?

J: Good pair of questions, and I could say “we have everything!” but what we actually can prove is very much more the important part, because we need to earn players respect, it’s a necessary part of the process. So End Game content; three kinds of player that we try to target.

Number one, do you have no friends and want to play alone? Awesome, that’s like sixty per cent of people. So in the game now we have a couple of public event areas with different dynamic public events that spawn up and spawn down and cycle in the game so there’s new areas with new different quests that you can solo. We have story dungeons added to the game, where we add a new one that should be on track to about one a month but we’ll see what the timing looks like as we get them out. Those happen to extend the story of the game, they’re made for solo players, new content to consume every month. People love updates and updates are a lot of what is important to solo players.

Or do you hate your friends? Well awesome. PvP of course, you have War Plots all about forty vs. forty and more or less are scaled, build a town, fight the towns against each other, capture raid bosses, send the raid bosses out to go attack each other. We have it in development now that we just did an eighty player version of it last Friday where I got to see raid bosses stomping around killing players. So I’m sure we’ll do a big reveal of it because it’s gotten to be pretty fun and pretty polished I’d argue, so it’s definitely moving along and it’s getting there. We also of course do arenas with their own little dynamic elements but this can be like an eighty eight hour long question if I answer it fully.

And lastly for raids and for large scale you have friends and you want to play with them cooperatively, we have raids in the game you’ll see some teased in the dungeon video we do, at the end those are all different wings of a huge ass raid called the Datascape. Forty man raid, the combats are individually quite fun in it, including everything from ones that split up all players into different paths and different areas where there’s jump puzzles being done simultaneously as big powers are being laid down for the big fight. There’s lots of cool dynamics in these raids and they’re hard as hell, we’re making them so that it’s truly a challenge. And then beyond it being a challenge to complete period, one of the few things we’re doing even over the next few months is adding in a system where you can compete from server to server even worldwide to get the first versions of these things and attach big loot to it, so if you can get through this configuration of the raid this week, it’s a shared random configuration of the raid, and the challenges within it, and the bosses within it, and the random elements within it, are shared across every guild and everybody is competing on a weekly basis to be the best. And if you’re the best, legendary items are there not just for completing it but are also for doing it better than anyone else, and that’s going to be truly compelling I think, but we’ll show that, that system is in development right now so it will be coming actually pretty soon.

<Q> When will Open Beta happen?

J. So for us Open Beta means lifting the NDA; why do we have an NDA, we seem like such an open company? We talk about all this stuff, why do we have everything locked under NDA? It’s actually really simple, we like being able to test a number of systems to see which ones work and don’t work and if there’s no NDA people are like “oh I hate your trade skill system! I will never play, you’re trade skill system sucks!” when no, we have three or four in development and we’re going to pick the one that works best. We would like you to hate or game or not hate our game based on the final things we locked down pre-launch as opposed to the thing we tested well in advance. So open beta for us will happen maybe in a month or two before launch where we’ll lift the NDA fully, let everyone talk about it, we’ll still be tweaking systems, but everything will be in a pretty locked down state. A big event that is happening for us pretty soon is in October we’ll be entering the second phase beta where we’ve taken all the feedback from our first CBT1 (Closed Beta Tests) through to CBT4, some of those changes are pretty sweeping changes to itemization and how the quest system works and how the trade skills work, a bunch of those things, and we’ll be going into the second phase of CBT after making all those big sweeping changes. So it’s exciting for us to see what’s next in store and then get feedback on that before we go into open beta and do the final stage