Gaiscioch Talks to Christopher Junior About RIFT’s Rising Star
By: Edward "Screenager" Orr | : 1947
It is almost four years since Rift’s first major expansion, Storm Legion launched. Now, Trion are gearing up to launch their latest update to Rift, Starfall Prophecies. Due to go live in Fall 2016, this expansion finds players facing such insurmountable odds that only the might of a united Telara can possibly overcome them.
A huge comet approaches Telara, delivering the wrath of an ancient enemy. To stop this monstrosity, players will need to band together and venture into the planes of life and fire, as they traverse this giant hunk of space rock. The five new zones in Starfall Prophecies look fantastic. The Scatherran Forest, for example, are torn from the life plane and clearly reference the ethereal Fey race as inspiration. High fantasy dominates with a natural palette, soft focus, and gorgeous greenery that surrounds some of the game’s newest additions.
Players eager to pet a bear will expect to pay for the privilege. Rift’s free to play strategy during the launch of Nightmare Tide was far from successful with several items falling behind paywalls. Trion is taking a more transparent approach to Starfall Prophecies. Paywalls have been demolished, level caps have been raised, content has been made far more accessible and is available, including bears and unicorns, for a single box fee.
I sat down with Christopher Junior, Game Director at Rift, to talk a little bit about the new expansion and more.
With new foes being based on a comet, how do the ascended land on a giant hunk of space rock?
So that’s a great question. Players will find that they start in a small city and they will notice a whole bunch of Telarin mages there. They basically went there before the players did and set up a colony, allowing players to transfer from Telara to the comet. It’s as you’re accustomed to, but just a little bit more powerful.
The Guardians and Defiants have been unified to fight this force. Is there any PvP mode expected to make an appearance or is Starfall an exclusively PvE update?
At Launch it is exclusively PvE content. We will still have buckets of new warfronts for level 70 players, but we are planning to do some Warfronts and Conquest stuff next year. The way we do it is, we release an expansion and it’s not all available at start. We like to roll it out over a year and a half, and within a year and a half we will have new PvP modes introduced.
How will new armour and weapons affect those who choose to PvP?
What we are doing is taking the level 60-65 bucket we have right now and stretching it up to 70. Then we do bolstering to normalise everyone’s stats. Players can get new gear but they will not be at a complete advantage. The only difference will be that they do not have access to legendary abilities.
For those of us that departed after storm legion and now find themselves drawn back by Starfall Prophecies, what would you say is the most outstanding improvement between the first expansion and now? Also can a returning player expect to see it right away?
The best thing since then would have to be multi core support, which we released about three months ago. It’s fully live right now. It’s free for everyone. The game supports multiple cores now. When 4.0 comes out we are actually going to be upgrading to 64-bit clients. So the best improvement would be multi core support and the upcoming 64-bit client.
The game runs, ridiculously better frames per second wise, it’s nuts!
That’s a huge change for a game that’s been around for a while? Does that mean you are building for the future?
We’ve been around five years in April. We are definitely investing in the future but at the same time we’ve been live for five years. We now have that grace period where we can step back and see what have we done, what did we have to compromise on, and address some tech stuff we’ve got to clean up. It’s really nice to have those opportunities.
Will there be planar invasions in the new zones or will they have entirely different threats?
There will be planar invasions and we will still have Rifts. Since the comet has flown through the planes, it has pulled pieces of everything into it. We are actually adding a new type of adventure called planar assault rifts. For anyone that already does our instant adventures, it’s very similar. Basically, you join a queue, it finds a whole bunch of people, it slaps you together, and it throws you into the plane. So you can grab five of your friends, jump in and fight a rift in the plain of fire or rift in the plain of death. It’s a sort of instances combat that you can jump in and out of whenever you want.
We are also adding zone events called fortress sieges where players will eventually bound together. They start as single player or small duo groups, go to the content, kill all the bad things, knock down a wall, and go to another area that’s now group content. They continue on, knock down that wall, and it now becomes raid content. You can grab your (nine) friends (or a public group), jump into an instance and fight the boss at the end.
So this is giving players a taste of raid areas?
It is very much, yeah. One of the big things for Rift is that we want to make sure everyone has access to everything, all the time. Raids always sort of fall behind with that. It’s maybe one or two percent of our hardcore audience plays raids and it’s great to give everyone else a chance to play them. As a result, last year we introduced raids in instant adventures. So what used to be our outdoor, friendly, casual, we now throw them into raids. So we released Hammerknell and Mind of Madness as fully pugged, twenty player, fun raids where they get to experience the story and everything else.
It’s great to see that Rift, as a game, understands that the rest of the community outside Raiders exists. While the top percent of players are great to aspire to, they don’t pay the bills at the end of the day.
Don’t get me wrong, we love our raiders. They are hardcore and probably some of the most passionate voices of the community. We love to give them content. We focused so long on giving them these amazing, deep raids that the biggest problem we had was that we had these amazing storylines in our expansions but they would always end in a raid. As a result, some of the players never got to experience them. Now we finally have the time to step back, open them up and get everyone in there. On top of that, we are actually releasing Looking for Raid with the expansion. People will be able to queue up and find a raid group.
Are there any massive world bosses to overcome that require fifty, or more, people?
So we won’t have anything that is on the scale of VOLEN like in Storm Legion. We do have some smaller world bosses and we still have the standard world events that we always have, where the entire zone is taken over.
Volan was great, unfortunately Volan was extremely expensive to make and having two hundred players turn up in the same place to fight one boss, we might have had a few issues with that. This time it was a case of stepping back, seeing what we could actually handle and it’s what we are actually taking in the fortress content. Everybody will be fighting together at the final point and then they’re going to jump into an instance of their own. This lets us deliver a better overall experience as it’s easier to predict how many players are going to turn up.
Rift is pretty much two things at any one time. We have one of the most expansive, open character class systems and the other half, open world dynamic content. So we are always going to have big open events like that.
Are there any new features specific to guilds?
So we just released a new feature called starter guilds. Everyone who joins the game now, who’s never had a character will instantly be grouped into a starter guild. We have one on the Defiant’s side and one on the Guardian’s side, so you are instantly in a guild and you will have like-minded players to play with. You can leave at any time and join your own guild.
Aside from this, we are looking at adding new guild levels for the expansion and yes, there is new stuff coming for guilds but we aren’t quite ready to start talking about it yet.
So how do starter guilds work from a structural point of view?
At the base level they are essentially a shell of the existing guild system. You don’t have all the perks, you don’t have leaders, there are no ranks. Everyone has the same rank when they join and you can leave at will. We went ahead and made these guilds level five and gave them all the perks they get at level five. They get the benefit of guilds but without the drama of maintaining the guild, having a bank, stuff like that. It is a guaranteed social circle where you will know there are friendly high level players joining, to help you out, or people who are just as new as you are.
Do you need to incentivise these high level players to join Starter Guilds?
We actually haven’t. It’s something we talked about in the past but we just had incredibly helpful players who just enjoy helping each other. I know a player that will jump into a Starter Guild once a week and give out twenty bags.
So are starter guild something that were built to fit the existing community ethos or did the community take to them naturally once they were in the game?
We very much built Starter Guilds towards the community. Nobody had said ‘ Hey, we want a Starter Guild ’, but the complaints we heard were ‘ I don’t know what to do early on ’, ‘ I don’t know how I’m supposed to play ’, and ‘ I don’t know where I’m supposed to play ‘. Rift is very open and has many options, and it made sense to give these players a place to group together and work it out. It’s been pretty amazing so far. We were worried about things like spammers but, it just hasn’t happened. All the things you might worry about aren’t occurring.
Is it fair to say starter guilds are a fairly low reach solution to a solution that might have otherwise required massive investment in new player experiences, tutorials, and UI redesign to cure.
Yeah very possibly. Once you have a game like Rift, it’s really hard to answer all those questions, for new players. We’ve got guys that have been on the team for ten years and it gets to a point where we don’t always know what new players are missing. By the time player communicate it to us it’s too late. Anything we can do to get them to talk to each other is a win for both sides.
Now onto a few non Rift questions. How did you get started in the industry?
Wow, I’ve been in the industry for eleven years now. I was actually in IT well before. I spent about a decade in that. I played Everquest, loved it as my first online game, got into a really strong guild with some really opinionated people. It ended up that I was guilded with somebody who worked at Sony, at that time, didn’t realise it and after being really active in the community was asked to apply as Everquest 2 was coming out.
Interviews for Game companies are insane. I had an eight hour interview with twelve to thirteen different people, two group panels. A week later I got a call back, packed up everything, moved to California, and it’s been eleven years since.
What piece of tech has you excited?
For me personally, it’s VR.
It’s VR for everyone this year. So which headset do you like best?
The Vive, it’s incredibly fun.
Did you step off the ledge?
No, no I couldn’t. Atlas Reactor actually did a really cool thing where you can play the game in VR and see all the NPCs in life size, scares the heck out of you! There are a couple of zombie games I played, a rhythm game, and stuff like Elite Dangerous looks amazing in VR. It’s the future!
As for the future of Rift, it is looking bright with an incredible heritage, it is one of the few MMORPG that has survived in a fiercely competitive market space, for so long. While Trion’s first love might not be drawing in Legion’s numbers, they are listening to their players and there isn’t a single garrison in sight. If you plan to return to for Starfall Prophecies, you can find out more at http://www.starfallprophecy.com/en/ .
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About the Author
Edward "Screenager" Orr