Saturday, July 25, 2015

Interview with Matt 'Cirith Gorgor” Bennett - July of 2015

CirithGorgor joined me at The Hideout for a second time to talk all things Hyboria. 

CirithGorgor brings his no nonsense approach on few major issues... but I will let you be the judge of that.

1/ Lets start with proverbial elephant in the room: with Joel Bylos stepping down as Game Director who is in charge of AOC? Who makes the high level decisions about priorities and content? And most importantly: this "directorless" state is permanent or are we in some sort of transition?

So, since I rejoined the team around 3 years ago now, setting the direction of the game in terms of content and system releases had always been a 3-way thing between me, the producer and the former director. Now of course that is a 2-way thing between me and the producer, for me that is the direction of anything related to my sphere of influence, specifically content and the majority of the game systems, while the producer is more involved with setting the direction on a business model side.
So really not much has changed except there is nobody with the title game director, “setting the direction of the game” is part of my job description. I know as there are no formal 'game director letters' it might seem from a player perspective that there is no direction, but I simply don't have time for these as they are more time consuming than you might think (I have done a few in the past as you may know) and I believe my time is better spent on developing said content instead, so rather I pass on information on what I have been doing to Sezmra and she takes it from there.

Is this likely to change, no, and I don't think it needs to, the only thing I possibly see changing is myself being more influential on the business side of things too, which is something we have talked about internally.

2/ Crafting update. There is no way around asking about it since it’s in the development for 3 years now. Is there a major setback that makes the update too complicated? Is it less of a priority than, shall we say Cetriss? This is the only time I will ask about release timeframe: is there one?

So the crafting update was started at a time when the team was much, much larger than it is right now and it was possible for there to be a focus on multiple systems/areas of content at the same time. This has not been the case for a while now and realistically we can only work on 1 thing at a time, before moving on to focusing on something else.
Crafting requires code work, quite a lot of code work, before it is final and this is at an absolute premium even more so as it is shared across the live team. Now the next task for the code team will be to add dungeon/raid finder system which will be usable for both AoC and TSW. I know people will say that the crafting system should be the priority, but here I will strongly disagree, a dungeon finder with linked systems and rewards for daily dungeons/raids I believe is more important to the long term longevity of the game. Bringing more people together into social situations where guilds can form/recruit and allowing more players to access our dungeons and raids which I believe stand up there with the absolute best in any MMO. This is a feature which is overdue and creates a lot of opportunities for the game and it is rightfully a top priority.
However, once this system is in place the current plan is then to move the code resources to finishing the crafting system. After the code is finished it will allow the final few steps to be completed on the content side, such as the placement of new resource nodes and the removal of the old quest based crafting.
However, one of the biggest problems with this revamp is that it has been promised and hinted at for so long and those promises have never turned into reality due to numerous complications, cuts and factors both controllable and uncontrollable. Therefore I do not want to promise anything in regards to crafting and will not give a date for this feature as it is ultimately outside of my control (specialization).

3/ Achievement system is without doubt very successful, but very inconsistent when it comes to rewards: first points milestones grant exciting stuff like runes and pets and then its all about titles & unlocks. Is there a plan to include more said rewards or the system encourages getting achievements for the sake of achieving stuff? Will the system be expanded in some way in the future or will it be just adding volume (more of already existing achievements types as we get more content).

This is the way the rewards for the system were designed. The utility items are set to lower ranks (which still require some work and dedication to the game) but which are perceived as 'achievable' by anyone, be that a 7 year veteran or someone rolling their first character. The worst thing to do with this sort of system would be to hide all the useful rewards away so that only a minority of the player base will get them and so a new player looks at the system and says forget it. This is also why the utility rewards are tied into points rather than specific achievements, so that players are not forced to play the game a certain way.
This is therefore why pure vanity (titles, mounts etc...) are set to higher achievement point ranks or much harder achievements/meta-achievements, there is a visual confirmation of your accomplishment but beyond that it’s there for the sake of being an 'achievement'.
Is there the potential for adding more rewards, yes of course, but utility rewards will follow the direction of 'being achievable by anyone' and not heavily gated. Possible exceptions here might be a reward which is only useful in end game raids or dungeons and in this case there is the possibility of tying it into more restrictive criteria, but for now that remains a possibility with no design beyond that and such rewards are more likely to be tied directly to that gated content directly.

The system will be expanded in volume, of course; when any new content or system release comes out it will have relevant achievements made, so there will be new things on each major patch. There will be a whole new sub section added along with the arenas for example.
Something we have also been looking into is linking the achievement system with the dungeon/raid finder which is in the works. This would allow us to not only offer daily dungeons but also the potential for daily achievements, such as completing the Adept trial timer for a given dungeon on a given day, repeating a certain solo dungeon or quest, or additional daily pvp goals.

Whether these sorts of things would be rewarded with achievement points or some other existing or new reward is too early to say.

4/ Lets talk PvP: while pvp got some much needed focus in recent times it still doesn't provide any means of progression as new content just gives XP to get to pvp lvl 10 faster. PvP Tier 4 gear got mentioned in one of the letters, is it still on the table? What about grouping with friends for minigames? Minigames are most popular pvp content and it's a solo experience that you can't enjoy with friends, are there plans to change/adjust that (much requested ability to be able to sign up with 2-3 people). What about that minigame that was supposed to come along with Dragon Spine? It was supposed to be tied in some way to the DS content, do you have any new info on it?

Currently with the resources assigned to the project we are focusing on one thing at a time.
Yes T4 PvP gear is still something we want to do, but there are a number of challenges. Progression in PvP is a double edged sword. Players want to progress so they have a reason to compete, I get that, but at the same time any vertical progression increases the gap between entry level PvP and the top of the progression pyramid. What I would like to do is for T4 to become horizontal, by giving more utility through set bonuses or new abilities but that is not a simple thing to achieve. Sure I could throw out a new vertical progression set in not too long, but that would not be the best thing to do for the game.

As I mentioned before, I don't like to make any promises that I know I can not deliver myself if I have to. Changes to the mini-game signup up are 100% locked to the code base, and I am not a coder, therefore it comes down to prioritizing those code changes against all other code tasks.
There are pending tasks for looking into the sign up system when it comes to the small scale team arena which has been previously talked about. The team version can't work the same way as the solo one due to there simply being too many variable conditions to handle inside a script. When this signup system is looked at for the team arena that would be a great time to also look into making any changes to the minigame signup system. Whether or not any such changes are simple or not will become apparent at that time.
As for a minigame set in Dragon's Spine, this is something which was promised along time ago, by a team which has considerably more resources available than now. If a new pvp map is added the setting could be Dragon's Spine, but it’s equally likely to be an Acheronian ruin a Khitan temple or somewhere in the Northern wilds.

5/ AAs and new weapon types for existing archetypes sound very exciting: will it be a major shift in the way we are playing the game or is it more of a cosmetic thing where, for example, assassin will perform same combos only with swords? Will new AAs be tied to some new content or will it work like AAs we already have? A lot of people are fully unlocked AAs on more than one character and are getting more free AA points daily (there is no AA points cap) won't they be able to just buy ALL new AAs on the day they are launched?

This was hinted at in one of the previous letters I believe, but the current design (which is still subject to potential change) is to require both the use of AA points (existing ones) and also utilize new systems and content as they are released. So for an example if we were adding a new combo for the assassin, you would first need to add the combo to your AA tree. Think of this part like a drop or a vendor item (similar to the upgraded combos which came which Khitai) except instead of instantly getting the combo a-la Khitai this would then add it to your AA tree as something you can spend your AA points on.
The logic behind this is that we still want AA points to be relevant and not punish players who capped them out long ago; however, we don't want everyone to just instantly have everything the second any additions go live without having to massively inflate the price and completely shut out new players from the system. This is still very much a work in progress and I don't see it happening until some time after the crafting revamp.
The current design has progression going in three ways. Firstly, new weapon types and spell schools are intended to add new ways to play the class, e.g. adding a Javelin to Guardians, throwing axes to the Barbarian, 1 handed blunts for the Bear Shaman or opening up melee to a Priest of Mitra with a blunt/shield combo or unholy spells to a ToS with a dagger/trinket combo, I'm still talking very high level here though so don't quote any of this as the guaranteed additions. Secondly, we want to add horizontal options to existing play styles such as an additional soldier stance for guarding a pvp objective, more options to replace those slotted general perks which could be a bit more interesting (like a big boost to critigation at the expense of damage) , or making slotting for different situations a bit more common.
Then finally upgrading existing abilities with significantly higher resource costs (this element is likely to be limited to PvE).
Obviously these changes are pretty ambitious and will take quite a while to implement.

6/ Palace of Cetriss will have two modes, can you elaborate more on that? Where are you putting Palace on the "gear check" scale: will fully geared character with Khitai epic be able to contribute to the raid group in a manfully way or will full T4 or even T5 be required for "hard mode" version of T6? What about T6 gear? Will we see already existing "Dragon Spine" designs or will we get totally new models? Will T6 gear have same set bonuses like T5 or will we get something totally new?

Lets talk balance first, the regular (hard mode) version of Palace of Cetriss will have its earlier encounters initially balanced around the T4 range, where I would expect that at least for DPS and Healing purposes you ought to be able to at least be useful in Khitai epics too. The Palace encounters at least for the T6 progression version does have a lot of raid wide damage by design, so survivability should be a consideration. The later encounters will be balanced to be tougher though (bosses 4-6), as you would expect, and if you are not in the best gear at this point you are likely to struggle.
Though if you are not in one of the top progression guilds don't be too disheartened at that. It is really important to me that when we make new content it reaches the maximum number of players, that's how we can justify spending the right amount of time and resources on it. Therefore a few changes will be coming in. Firstly, there are going to be balance changes made to all raids in T3, T3.5 and T4. These changes are intended to make these instances much more Pick Up Group friendly and overall much more forgiving. That does mean certain mechanics are being removed, but I only see this as a positive thing in order to open them up to more players. I stand by the belief that our raid encounters are as good as or better than those in any MMO out there and the more people who can enjoy that the better the game population will be. The consequence of this is that more and more players will be geared to the point where they can attempt progress within T5 (which will likely see some balance changes of its own at a later date) and T6.
Secondly, as you mentioned, we are looking at adding a more casual version of Palace of Cetriss, so that we really can bring the story and encounters to as many players as possible.
So the main question is how are we going to do that? I've already mentioned earlier the fact that we are working on a dungeon/raid finder system, and my goal is to bring Palace of Cetriss' more casual mode into that system for its launch. This is likely to be a little while after release of the Hard Mode, giving progression raids opportunity to compete for world firsts etc...
The raid finder will offer more casual and forgiving mechanics, but of course the loot will not be quite as good. My goal will also be to bring T3 – T4 into the raid finder at the same time as Palace of Cetriss, so that all players can experience the climaxes of our main storylines.
Gear: are we going to have 12 or more completely unique armor sets? Unfortunately we do not currently have the resources for that, 12 completely unique gear sets each comprising of 8 pieces really do take a lot of time and effort to produce. Will there be new and interesting looking gear appropriate for the Dragon's Spines primal location? Yes for sure. There will be 4 new base styles of armor (as there are in the dungeons of Dragon's Spine, though not the same visuals), there will then be between 2 to 4 color variations of each of those base styles, offering some difference between shared armor styles.
For set bonuses, if I evaluate honestly the set bonuses from T5, then they achieved some of their goals but fell short on others. They offer different and more interesting ways in which character progression is offered and potential trade offs which give meaningful choices and avoiding a major impact on PvP. However, they were extremely time consuming and difficult to set up and balance.
We do want to keep set bonuses but realistically with efficiency being very important they can't be sustained in the same fashion. A more likely outcome will be more generic set bonuses which will set characters up for T7 by adding and accumulating new PvE stats like armor and spell penetration, tenacity and perhaps critigation chance. The goal will still be to offer some meaningful choices on some gear slots. T6 gear, unlike T5, is going to see an increase to the stat budget, but with PvP consequences coming as part of those set bonuses too.
Weapons and accessories will probably see their own mini set bonuses like in T5 too, with some of these accessories coming from the final Dragon's Spine dungeon, more on that later.

7/Servers: is the company dead set on keeping 3 rule sets (pvp, pve and rage) or will Rage be folded as some point due to lack of population?

If I were able to make the decision right now, yes I would merge Rage into Fury (likewise enable those transfers). It’s not a positive thing for a new player to start on a server with a very low population like this.
However, this isn't a decision I can make, but I hope this will be the outcome at some point.

8/ Notification system would be a much welcomed addition to rather clunky text based messages for things like PvP events. Is this something you are still in active development or is it pushed further down the line?

With the resources to work on only one thing at a time it is hard to prioritize this, for now it is pushed back. New features like the Palace of Cetriss, the dungeon finder and solo arenas will take priority as they add new content.

9/Adventure pack was rather surprising addition as there were no hints that the company is working on it. Are the more coming in the future? Will those packs have same structure meaning: existing zones re-worked as new instances? Could you give us more information about planned release schedule? Is it something we will see regularly or will it be a once in a while thing?

I do stand by the fact that I believe the concept of 'Tales of Hyboria' or scenarios, are a good addition to the game. There is a whole Hyborian world available out there and opening more of that up can only be a good thing. The short scenario style means the development cycle is fairly short ensuring it does not push back other important features too much.
However, while I think certain things went well; there are others which were disappointing and need to change if we go down this route again.
Firstly, we need to spend more time on the side quests to add more variety to the gameplay and not just sending players to different parts of the zone.
Secondly, new assets need to be used. This doesn't mean a whole zone full of architecture not seen elsewhere in the game, that's unrealistic for any game, but key features should be unique and indicative of the culture where they are located. Indoor locations are more likely to see reuse, though I’d like to be able to spend a bit more time decorating the interiors in a different way, which unfortunately I was not able to do in Vanaheim.
Thirdly, the price of the standard release needs to be adjusted or combined into a subscription offer.
Lastly, a larger amount of development time needs to be set asides for polish and bug finding/fixing. For Shadows of Vanaheim, we were racing against a fixed deadline (which itself was a mistake), which meant that there wasn't enough time left after everything was functional to polish the content to the extent it deserves.
This is an honest assessment of how I feel this release went, but what I do want to emphasize is that we are aware of what went wrong, what players didn't like and which design goals fell short and if we do introduce another Tale of Hyboria then we will focus on correcting these mistakes.
Currently we haven't started any development on another scenario, but there are a few story ideas we have floating around, including, tracing Conan and Belit's steps in the jungles of Kush/The Black Kingdoms, venturing into the city of ghouls on the Zingaran border, delving into the depths of the under city of Messantia or raiding the abandoned desert city of Ababenzzar in Shem.
We would certainly be interested in hearing from players what areas of Hyboria they would like to be able to visit too though.

10/ the Slithering Chaos is the last dungeon in the Dragon Spine series: is it still on the table or are the two separate modes for Cetriss filling that need for a content update for everyone?

Yeah, it’s still on the cards, and I appreciate that it can be frustrating not hearing any updates on it. Slithering Chaos is still unfortunately blocked due to animation dependencies though. Yes I have seen the video which was leaked showing certain animations functional, but a few animations working for the sake of a portfolio video is not the same thing as having all animations functional in a combat environment. I would like to have this dungeon complete shortly after the dungeon finder is made available and if necessary the encounters will be redesigned to accommodate the animations which are functional as a last resort. The boss is pretty epic for this location so it is not going to be cut.
One thing worth mentioning is that the Slithering Chaos has always been designed with a slightly modified reuse of the Sepulcher of the Wyrm location. You didn’t think your actions in there were without consequence did you?
There is also a distinct possibility of several more unchained dungeons being added to our existing dungeon pool. The most obvious one here is the Onyx Chambers which will receive a complete overhaul (hence its absence from the achievement system), but this is likely to be combined with another smaller dungeon, such as Toirdealbach's Tomb, or the Crow's Nest.

thank you CirithGorgor for taking the time to update the community on key stuff!


Anonymous said...

First time that it feels the right guy is in charge for AoC.
Thanks for the good job and thanks Slith for, once again, a great interview.

Yumin said...

Thank you Slith, for the initiative and the great work put down. Questions were spot, on and I think CirithGorgor did a good job answering them.

Anonymous said...

Erm? feels like right person and so on? Guy said nothing besides "we have small team, and we cant promise anything" - Lets face it guys, Funcom gave up on AoC. Anyways good job Slith.

pooo said...

Very good interview. Thank you Cirith Gorgor, and thank you Slith.