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Rift: Building A New Realm
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Rift: Building A New Realm

March 28, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 5 of 5

So, launching.

SH: Yeah.

Those are hard, I've been told.

SH: They're very hard. This is why we're practicing the shit out of them. The way we're testing the game is even built on one of our best experiences in the past. So, what we're actually doing right now is something none of us have tried -- but it's what we all want, given everything we've learned. "If we can do it, here's how we would do it" -- this way.

We have been running a closed test on two or three servers since April of last year. So, that's where we do our rapid daily iteration in front of a live audience, and the best things I think we did was get to the point where we can do rapid daily iteration.

Because taking an MMO from "in-development-zero-audience" mode to "we can update this reliably every day" is hard, especially when you have a 120-person development team. It's just hard.

And especially when you've got a company that's not done if before as a company, and you're just building on your ops infrastructure, your patching infrastructure, your customer service... Anyway, it's work. We've had that rapid iteration test running. Then we have the beta events that we've been doing. We did the beta events this way for a couple of different reasons.

Number one, it gives the development team time... It gives us the opportunity to look at a given beta test, react quickly during it, then take a breather -- don't have the pressure of running live then -- then bust ass on getting some core key stuff that people really want like that public group system. That's like one of like 15 features that we've actually done during the downtime between betas. So, that's great for us.

The other thing that that lets us do, obviously, on the marketing side, it lets us theme them as events, and then we run little contests around them to try to give people... "Hey, we like you. Log in, win prizes. It's great." And then we're able to give them each their own little story, which is cool, too.

But I think the most important thing it does for us is it lets us practice launching, because launching is usually something that companies do one time, and sometimes it goes well, sometimes it doesn't. We've been launching every two weeks for the last three months.

At this point, I'm used to on launch day having to be the guy sitting there being stressed out, trying to coordinate a hundred thousand people, doing all the stuff in the office. These days, we've done our seventh launch right now through beta. Our ops guys know their jobs. Our production staff knows their jobs. Our engineers know their jobs.

This open beta launch day, it started at 10 AM, I walked into work at 9:40, and went, "How we doing?" The head of development for the studio went, "Want to open them early? We're good." "Yeah, open them early." "Alright." Didn't have a single crash, didn't have a single problem for the next 24 hours. You know, it just worked. We're hoping like hell our actual launch works that well because we're certainly good at running betas.

There are two things that can happen at launch. You can exceed technical problems. Those are tough, but you can get past them if you have a compelling game. What you cannot get past is not having a compelling game at launch.

SH: Correct. I agree.

Because if your launch sucks and you launch a game that isn't robust enough, it will pretty much poison the internet.

SH: I totally agree. It's one of the same things that we talked about -- fun versus optimization, or fun versus balance, right? The guideline that we give our systems designers: "Make fun. We can balance fun. Don't give me something that's perfectly balanced, and then tell me we need to make it fun because you'll never succeed. You can add balance to fun. You can't add fun to balance."

So, yeah. It's a lot of why our Soul System turned out the way it is. You know, we've got this unique class system that gives people abilities to do all kinds of crazy, insane combinations. Mathematically speaking, the number of combos you can make is in the thousands. No, we are not hand-balancing every one of those thousand combinations. That would be asinine. We're more concerned about anything a given character can do much less any individual soul.

We knew we had a winner with the system when people started spending more time playing and experimenting with just the souls and classes sometimes than they did actually in the world adventuring. So, yeah, we knew the system was fun. We knew we could make it balanced enough. It's not going to be perfectly balanced. It doesn't need to be. It does need to be perfectly fun, though. I'm with you.

Obviously that becomes a big thing with MMOs. This gear is totally not balanced. it has to get nerfed. People start freaking out. That kind of stuff. But you're not too concerned as long as people are having fun...

SH: As long as it's not egregiously broken. Like, for example, the hypothetical example, if I am doing 100 points of damage every time I swing a sword and you're doing 1, we have a problem, but we already have it well within the range where it's not a big issue.

Yeah, I mean, of course, like any MMO, we'll correct things as they come up. That's why we're very fortunate in that we've been testing these abilities and these souls and these classes in front of users for the better part of a year. A year of time of getting beat up in front of people who are smarter than you are -- the players -- is good.

Article Start Previous Page 5 of 5

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