Rift has been one of the largest and most successfull
MMO launches of the year and with a new patch just around the corner we sat down and chatted virtual with design producer Hal Hanlin about the development of the game and where gamers can expect to see Rift going in the future. (Note:Shawn Sines contributed heavily to this article).
How does it feel to have the game finally out and have people playing it? Did you do anything special to celebrate the launch of the game? Is the hard part of the game getting it out the door or maintaining and keeping the game up and running?
It’s been amazing. Having seen the game grow from where it was in 2008 to where it is now, I am blown away by it. Getting to watch hundreds of thousands of people live in that world is terrific. I’ve made console games and MMOs and there is just something so much more personal about Massively Multiplayer games. With console games you hear anecdotes or watch Youtubes of people’s experiences with your game. In an MMO, you get to watch them experience it first hand. You get to see the chat console light up with excitement when a major event begins. That’s fun!
Now that Rift is out, and players are finding the content, are there any areas of the game you've already decided to tweak? Anything that most surprised you about the way the game is being discovered/played?
We had years to imagine how players would experience the content. We had carefully diagrammed flows through every area. Of course we know all the underlying math… Then hundreds of thousands of players hit the game and all of a sudden you learn for real how good your planning was. In our case, we had some tremendous successes and a couple of humbling moments. What we learned more than any individual detail is that we have to remain as alert and nimble as any company has ever been; more so. We introduced our players to a world that changes and adapts to their actions. We devised systems which would make it feel like Telara was raiding the players! The appetite that the players have demonstrated for this is profound and we resolved to keep feeding them. Instead of rolling most of the company off onto side projects, the entire team is still focused on making the live game even better.
A demonstration of that is our ability to roll out a new 20-man raid one month after launch. We have incorporated much of the feedback from our community and are bringing out features they asked for like Looking For Group, appearance slots, and additional roles. On top of that, even, we added a brand new 10-man raid instance and 2 new 10-man raid rifts at the 2-months after launch mark.
We’re just getting our stride!
Rift is a game full of setting and background, how important is it to you to tell a story? How does Rift help players looking for that story find it?
Story drives everything we do because even if a player bypasses all of the quest text and just slams through the game, they are participating in it constantly. We don’t rely primarily on walls of text for our story. We immerse the players in the events, invasions and rifts and let the story soak in as they play. If anyone wants to dig further into the lore, we have a mass of information available in books, lore-relevant drops from mobs, and vignettes throughout the world. As we add more content, we continually strive for new ways to impart the story. In addition to all of that, we have Sagas, which are crafted by our Lore team and which are intended to be a deep dive into some key elements of the background and motivations of the Cults.
Time travel is a common sci-fi technique, but you're using it to push the game, maybe it's too soon to talk, but do will players get to see the results of their actions? Will you be handling divergent timelines or other common sci-fi timetravel related concepts in Rift?
Time travel, alternate versions of Telara… Yes, we love to play with those notions. With patch 1.2 (Spoils of War) we introduce our first of many Slivers. This one is a 10-man raid instance that takes place in an alternate version of Shimmersand and is a lot of fun. As you may know, we also have a dungeon called the Fall of Lantern Hook, which shows players another time-line when that town is completely decimated and players have to deal with the aftermath. Rifts and the story of the Planes and Cults makes this sort of thing quite sane and plausible. You can surely expect to see more along those lines.
We don’t have any immediate plans for branching storylines, mainly because it dilutes the amount of polish each branch gets. As you know, we have an immensely high standard for quality for what we put into our world. That came from making hard choices and throwing away lots of good content to retain only the great content.
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