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So, if somebody starts playing Rift in six months after like these changes have come to the world, they'll come into this changed world?
SH: Oh, absolutely. The backend of the system technologically has the ability to know how many users there are, different levels that are online, and where they are in the world.
To us, there are situations where you might walk up to something, and you might not be able to figure out how to get past it right away. You might not be able to do a quest. Oh, no!
We used to spend a lot of time worrying about that until we actually tested it out with people, and people went, "Holy crap. This is really different." It kind of wakes them up and breaks them out of the days of just running back and forth.
And so to us, it's more about making sure that players have a way. It's about player agency. We need to make sure that if we put them into situations where they can't quite do it on their own, we give them abilities to get past some of these things, because that's where the fun is.
So, we have everything from what we call Ascended Powers, which are abilities that let you play this PvE land control game where you can build up turrets, build up your own defenses of your own quest camps, and you can actually take part in defending them and get cash and prizes for it.
As well as giving the players the ability to self-organize much, much more easily than any other MMO. I could walk up to you in the world, and if you have left yourself available to join public groups, I can walk up and push a button, and we're now in a group together. We're able to just go fight right there. Many of our events like the Rift events, the Invasion events, and all the other events don't even require us to be in a formal group. We just share credit. We share reward. And it all just works.
Is it based on your race, or your class, or that kind of stuff? Or like what realm you spawn to when you start the game?
SH: We do have two sides. The game is fictionally about the Guardians versus the Defiant. We don't have a strong good versus evil theme. We do have two very strong outlooks on reality. The Defiant were largely considered the rejects. They have abandoned their faith. They believe that saving the world is on their shoulders, so they're very technologically oriented. And the Guardian side is the handpicked letter jacket-wearing ones of the gods.
SH: They were the ones that were fictionally picked for being really great at something, not necessarily because they're good people. So, you can be whatever type of person you want to be, and there is a reason you fit on the side you're own.
To return to your gameplay system, the way these events are triggered, is it procedural?
SH: We have both kinds. The system itself is a very abstract concept, which is why we don't spend a whole lot of time bluntly talking about the underlying systems anymore. We talk about the cool stuff you can do in it because people understand that.
So like, these big zone events that happen tend to be functions of time, population density, and are procedurally triggered. That said, we still can and do go in and trigger them by hand. So, we can juice them to do whatever we want, but even left alone, they're there to provide a tuned, entertaining experience.
There are other kinds of content that sit on the same engine. One of the examples is something we call Ancient Wardstones, which is a PvP land control game where players of both factions can go take over all the Ancient Wardstones in a zone and forcibly trigger a gigantic colossus invasion event, where they can then attempt to defeat the colossus to gain raid rewards and all that stuff.
And then we have different scales in between. And then others are procedurally triggered but then also trigger other things. [He arranges items on the table] My soda is an unsuspecting quest camp. Your business card is a Godzilla and is going to come over and take over this area. Once it takes it over, this area that's been taken over is now alive on its own. It wants to spawn invaders. It wants to continue trying to spread. So, it will spawn its own invaders that go take over other areas of the world.
And we have six planes and two sides, Guardian and Defiant, as well as the six planes. Sorry, all eight of these forces are trying to take over the world, so they will fight with each other as well. So, it really lends itself to some interesting emerging styles of gameplay.
How do you from a design perspective stop the world from just getting screwed, you know what I mean? Can a server get so infested and miserable that it's...
SH: That's it unplayable forever?
I don't know about that. I mean, I would hope not.
SH: That's exactly it. The system is smart enough to understand, like I said, what level of players are online, which players they are. Is it possible for an area to become useless? Absolutely. That's the fun.
That's what we were worried about at first. We were really worried that, oh God, what if that happens? What if that happens? Fortunately, we had the foresight to test it before spending too many months of handwringing, because it turns out that walking to an area that's been frigging destroyed -- it's a blast.
People love being the ones who are coming back in and making things awesome, and then putting up their emplacements, reinforcing their wardstones, summoning their angels to fly over them and watch over the area. It's a true PvE land control game.
I guess you are trying to put the E into PvE.
SH: Yeah, exactly. Instead of player versus punching bag, it is in fact player versus environment. These things are definitely more than your standard bag of hit points.
And it's also putting the M in massive, because when was the last time you played an MMO where you were in a raid at level 8?
SH: Because that happens in our game, and newbies get it right away. When one of these events start, you get a pop-up. "You want to join a group?" "Yes." Bang. Boom. You're in a raid. You look at the map. "Oh, there's something the size of the Empire State Building walking toward me. Perhaps the 20 of us should go see what he wants." You know, that kind of thing.