[Trion Worlds' first launch, Rift, is an ambitious MMO in a space crowded with also-rans from major studios -- so what sets it apart? Executive producer Scott Hartsman discusses the game in detail -- from design to launch logistics.]
Earlier this month, Trion Worlds launched its first game, Rift. The company, founded in 2006, had long trumpeted its dynamic server technology as the wave of the future for MMOs and other online games. It had also publicly debuted this project in 2008.
The game was then under the stewardship of Might & Magic creator and Trion co-founder Jon Van Caneghem, who left the company in 2009 and moved to Electronic Arts. Scott Hartsman, a veteran of the EverQuest series, is now the general manager for Trion's studio and executive producer of the project.
Gamasutra recently spoke to CEO Lars Buttler, who talked of Trion's huge ambitions -- to be at the forefront of the transformation of games to fully and permanently online experiences, as he sees it.
"This is the most social game in the history of gaming," Buttler told Gamasutra, and is a game that "perfectly fits today's landscape."
Said Buttler, "If people think there's a revolution going on in casual games right now, wait until we're done with core games."
In this interview conducted prior to Rift's launch, Hartsman goes into depth very specifically on the development process behind Rift, which is the company's first launch and comes from a studio packed with industry veterans. Everything from game design to the logistics of launching to player expectation is touched upon below.
You're not just the executive producer of Rift, but also the general manager of the studio.
Scott Hartsman: I am involved in some level with all of our games here. ... At least for the short term, it's been 99 percent Rift and 1 percent everything else.
Launching a large-scale mainstream fantasy MMO has not been the smoothest thing for anyone who's tried it for the last several years.
When you look at that landscape that you're launching into, what are your thoughts?
SH: It's kind of interesting. The first things that come into my mind are the expectations in the space for what is even competitive are through the roof. There's no doubt about that. It's not 2001 anymore. We're not in the Wild West.
The mere fact that you have a game up and running is no longer impressive. It has to be functional. It has to be smooth. It has to be worldwide. Ideally it's localized. And then on top of that, it's got to have plenty of the traditional stuff that people want in an MMO as well as a whole lot of things that make it unique. And so hitting all of those things at the same time is a hell of a challenge.
I've worked on all kinds of different software my life, and MMOs are above and beyond the biggest, most disparate types of technologies and types of services that exist really.
You touched on something, which is you have to give people what they're expecting, and also give them unique -- which I think a lot of the games that came out, sort of did one or the other, in recent times.
SH: Yeah, yeah.
And didn't really hit all the marks.
SH: I agree, I agree. Again, I don't think it's because other developers are dumb or they're bad. I think that it comes down to you need a specific mix of support, investment, talent, and vision.
And when I say talent, experience is in there, is a large part of it. It's one of the things that made me want to come to Trion in the first place. I've been here for about 16 or 17 months now. The support was there all the way up through the execs of the company, the board, everybody. The resources were there to actually stand a chance to succeed at hitting all those things.
The team that was built up already, which we've continued building over the last year, has experience with more single-player games and MMOs combined than any team I've ever heard of. Just before we unveiled the game, I took all the teams' names and added up all the MMOs and online games and online platforms that they worked on, and you know, we've got everybody from original EverQuest to Xbox Live to World of Warcraft to Warhammer and so on and so on.
That's like 25 MMOs, online games, and platforms. And when you have that group of people bringing in their combined experience, we've been able to short-circuit a lot of mistakes that other new companies kind of run headlong into.
One thing that you mention is vision. What is the creative vision for the game? How did you arrive at that? Because that is the crux of that tension between giving people what they want and giving people something new.
SH: Exactly. Trion, for the early [stages]... at the time you were probably last talking to [CEO] Lars [Buttler], the description for Trion was all about the technology, the platform, and the underlying cool ones and zeroes that make everything work. In the last, say, year and a half to two years, it's been more about, "And here is the expression of all of that cool technology and why you think it's fun."
For us, it's been more about creating an interesting world that has stuff that people will expect in it, you know, like their overhead exclamation mark farms where you get quests, and your instances where you can go into a group and fight dungeons. But that's a very binary way of looking at the world, and that's really how most people see it right now.
What we're doing is we're using this entire incredible dynamic content engine -- creating entire new types of content in between those two binary extremes.
So, for example, the signature thing you can do in our game, the pinnacle thing that everybody comes on board and says, "Holy shit, this is amazing," is you come out of the newbie experience, we think you've gotten a good handle on who you are and how to play the game -- these zones are under attack.
There are gigantic, massive attacks that are only possible because of our server architecture. Five, six, seven hundred people all in the same area fighting these gigantic invasions that are templated by designers and triggered and run by the gameplay system itself.
So, you can be sitting there, level 8 in our game, in your first raid, fighting off this area, defending your part in the world, and if you fail, it will be taken over. Stuff does change. So, it's not the same. It's not "log in and get the same gameplay experience. Oh, I'll just move on to the next exclamation mark farm."
We have them there, but that's the baseline to us. That's not the interesting signature. When a big colossus comes tromping through Silverwood and starts killing all the quest NPCs, takes over an entire quest camp, sets up a foothold of his own -- and starts summoning other invaders and they have now taken over this area, what are you going to do? You know, that doesn't happen in other games.
Like I said, we're spending most of our efforts, in terms of our signature features, in what can we do that's interesting that way? What can we do to mix it up in a way that you're not going to really see in any other MMO?