our fourth exclusive interview with Trion Worlds, Ten Ton Hammer
probes ever deeper into the upcoming href=""> style="font-style: italic;">Rift: Planes of Telara
MMOG. This time, we talk to Lead Systems Designer Cameron McNeil, who
goes into depth of the combat system in style="font-style: italic;">Rift.
The combat-themed discussion also touches on various abilities, soul
trees, the user interface, and even PvP. If you wish to have a question
answered in a future interview, please submit them in our href="">official

style="font-weight: bold;">
Ton Hammer: For most MMOGs, the heart of the game is the combat system.
What about
style="font-style: italic; font-weight: bold;">Rift:
Planes of Telara style="font-weight: bold;">? How does that combat
system work?

The combat system in style="font-style: italic;">Rift
is very similar to other traditional MMOG combat systems.
There’s ability selection, target selection, cast times,
cooldowns; if you’ve played an MMOG, you’ll
understand the core fundamentals on how the game plays. A lot of what
happens though depends on your class, what you’re doing, and
how you want to play the game. We don’t want to change the
fundamentals of the game. We want to change what sits on top of those
fundamentals and the things that make it fun. Pressing
“1” to swing my sword, changing that
isn’t necessarily what we want to do. What sword do you want
to swing?

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alt="rift: planes of telara"

For a given fight, depending upon my class, I’m going to find
my target, I’m going to start off by throwing a
damage-over-time spell, I’m going to hit my instant,
I’m going to start throwing around my bread-and-butter
fireball, and when they get close to death, I’m going to
finish them off either with my instant, which has hopefully cooled off,
or with another ability that will hit them harder when
they’re under a certain amount of health.

For harder pulls or larger mobs, I’ll throw in some crowd
controls, pop a cooldown, drink a potion; all the things you would
expect to do in an MMOG.

Ton Hammer: Basically, it’s along the philosophy of
“if ain’t broke, then don’t fix
it.” Would the advantage here be that it sounds like the
system would easily be picked up by players if they’ve ever
played other MMOGs before?

Yes, very much so. We
want people to sit down and start playing immediately. Having never
played Rift
before, you should be able to pick it up and go, “Hey! I know
how this works. Let’s start killing stuff!” What we
have is an incredibly flexible soul system that allows players to
create their own classes and play style. What we want is for players to
define how they want to play, which abilities to use, what effects they
want, and the general strategy. That’s where we want our
players to feel that our game is different. That’s what we
think is fun. It’s not in pressing the
“1” button, it’s in my choice as a player
deciding on what I’m going to do.

Ton Hammer: How many abilities are going to be within a rotation?
Obviously, you can’t give exact examples, but do you think
it’ll be a lot of rows of hotkeys that people will be using
or is it going to be five to seven main abilities that people will
rotate through?

Each class has
generally about 20 abilities. We certainly don’t expect you
to be using all of those. A lot of those are situational, and a lot of
them are reactionary. In my general rotation, four or five abilities
are might what I throw around. If something happens, I have access to
other things. A lot of it depends upon your class as well. If
you’re a stealth class, you’re going to have a few
more buttons that you’re going to use. If you’re a
class that’s going to set themselves up as a tank, then
there’s going to be one or two more things that
you’re going to do at the start of combat. We don’t
expect you to be pressing the one through nine buttons in order before
looping back to one again.

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alt="rift: planes of telara"

Ton Hammer: Would you say that you have the standard arsenal of
damage-over-time, direct damage spells, AoE spells, and that sort of

There are certainly
those abilities in there, and more abilities sitting on top that you
don’t see around the place very often. Your standard MMO fare
is in there. That’s your meat and potatoes, and
there’s a little bit of desert thrown in on top of that as

Ton Hammer: Does that mean that we’ll see the holy trinity
return in combat, where you need to have a tank, a healer, and a DPS

Yes you do if
you’re going to attempt a dungeon or a raid, but unlike other
games, who your tank is might not always the same person. If the
warrior isn’t on for the night, someone can change their role
quite easily and use the options in another class. Just because there
is a holy trinity, it doesn’t mean that you have to have the
warrior, cleric, and the mage.

Ton Hammer: Talking a little bit more about the combat on the screen,
some games tend to get so intense with ability rotations that you find
yourself focusing on the UI and not the combat itself. Would you say
that that is something you’ve been trying to avoid?

something that we’re very aware of. There are things that we
try to do to make sure that the information you need is easily
accessible onscreen. We have an incredibly talented UI department who
are looking at these things all the time. How do we make this better?
How do we make sure that your focus isn’t sitting on the top
left or the top right corner of your screen? We want you to be looking
at the center of your screen. We want the effects to be meaningful. We
want you to know what everything means. If something happens and you
have to react to it, there should be something sitting there to help
you know when to do it. You shouldn’t have to look at the top
right hand corner of your screen and go, “Oh! That little
icon has popped up.”

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alt="rift: planes of telara"

Ton Hammer: Do the abilities have ranks?

Yes. If an ability
requires a rank, then it has a rank. For example, how much your
fireball hits for. That’s going to go up in ranks. Something
like a Silence, we don’t put ranks on that. It’s a
single ability. You buy it once and it’s there now.
There’s nothing else there that needs to rank up on it.

One of the reasons for that is when you do get a new rank in an
ability, we want it to feel special. We don’t want it to be
that you go up a level, and now you’re hitting for one more
extra point of damage. We want you looking forward to getting those new
ranks. When you get a new rank, it’s like,
“Awesome! I’m hitting for more damage now.
I’m healing more now. This makes me feel better as a

Ton Hammer: You’re bringing meaning back to leveling again?


Ton Hammer: How will players gain access to new ranks or new abilities?

New ranks are
unlocked slightly different from new abilities. Once you have the first
rank in an ability, you are always entitled to upgrade to the next
rank. There are no restrictions on it. We don’t want there to
be a restriction on it, other than “Hey, you got to level 35.
You now get access to rank 4.” For unlocking the abilities
themselves, that’s kind of the core of our system. We have
this href="">soul
system where you define where
you want to spend your points. You decide if you want to be a little
bit of a champion, and a little bit of a paladin. Depending upon the
number of points that you spend in those classes, that’s
going to give you access to abilities that they have. If I want my
Charge, then I’m going to have to spend some points in my
champion. If I want my Shield Throw, then I’m going to have
to spend points in my paladin. Once I get the first rank of it, that
ability is unlocked for me. I don’t have to worry about not
spending enough points to get the second version of that ability.

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alt="rift: planes of telara"

Ton Hammer: Are there any abilities that are unlocked just be leveling
without spending points in the soul trees?

No. You only gain
ranks by leveling. With that being said, equipping a soul tree will
always give you something a little bit special and a taste of the class.

Ton Hammer: How frequently are upgrades to the ranks available? Does it
come with every level or every two levels? How does that work?

It depends upon the
ability and it depends upon your level as well. At the start of the
game, we hand them out a little more frequently to ease you into it.
After that, for damaging and healing abilities, it’s going to
be every five to six levels. It’s enough so that
you’re not running back to the trainer every other level, and
when you get it, it feels important. It shouldn’t be a matter
of, “Oh my God! I can’t play until I get my next
rank.” It should be, “I’m playing well
and when I get my next rank, I feel really powerful for a level or

Ton Hammer: Are you going to have different abilities for PvP than you
would for PvE?

We don’t
have different ability sets for PvP versus PvE. We do have different
things, such as crowd control, that has diminishing returns and a
maximum duration. There are those things in place to make sure that
we’re not creating an unpleasant experience for people. We
want you to have fun while you’re playing. On top of that,
because we have this wonderful soul system, we can create, and we have,
PvP specific souls. These are souls that you take into PvP. They have
very specific PvP uses and abilities and are things that you would want
to take in with you.

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alt="rift: planes of telara"

Ton Hammer: Just to reiterate, the abilities reflect more upon the soul
rather than the calling? Or would you say you get more abilities from
the calling itself than the souls?

The calling itself
has no impact upon your abilities. Your abilities come directly from
the soul. If I want to be a warrior that deals a lot of damage, I pick
my champion soul. If I want to be a warrior who tanks hard bosses, then
I take a paladin soul. The abilities that those two souls grant you are
obvious in what they do. You have your paladin with your shield blocks
and your shield crushes. You’re a champion; you’re
swinging around a big two-handed weapon. Your soul defines what you do,
not your calling.

Ton Hammer: To touch a little bit on the UI in terms of combat, do you
have separate windows for hostile targets as opposed to friendly
targets or targets-of-target?

There’s two
parts to that question. A multi-target system is something that should
be built into the core of the game’s combat system itself,
with abilities and effects designed around having access to multiple
targets. What that means though, generally, is that tends to lead to
more complex combat systems. One of our goals is to ensure that style="font-style: italic;">Rift
is very accessible to new players, and we feel that a multi-target
system takes away from that accessibility. So it’s something
that we’re not looking at right now.

The second part of that dealing with target-of-target and focused
targets; we certainly have that for the people who want it. We
don’t feel that just adding an offensive and defensive target
into the system itself is going to help players who are new to MMOGs.

Ton Hammer: In your personal opinion then, what is it about the combat
that really engages you as a player?

For me,
it’s all about choice. What choice do I have when
I’m creating my class? What choices do I have when
I’m in combat and fighting? Did I take someone with stealth?
Does that give me a kind of sap? Can I open with a stun? Should I take
the mage who is very flimsy, but can deal a lot of damage and can root
from range? A lot of it is how do I want to play this class today?
It’s also about solving problems. I tried to kill this guy,
but it didn’t quite work out. How can I come back and kill
him? Did he put a DoT on me or did he summon some friends? What can I
do that will make killing this guy easier the next time I face him?

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style="font-weight: bold;">
Ton Hammer: So there’s a lot of strategy involved, you would

Yes, that’s
exactly it. What are you taking in with you and how can you best use
it? What does this other guy have and how can I counter it? Especially
in PvP, that’s something that’s going to be ongoing
within the game itself. As soon as there is a flavor-of-the-month
build, someone else is going to be working on the best way to kill that

Ton Hammer: Is there anything else you want to tell us about the combat

I think what
we’ve created here is not just the combat system itself;
it’s a combination of the combat system and the soul system.
Our combat system is something people can sit down with and feel right
at home. Very soon into the game, you start to see what’s
really cool about our game. You get to see this wonderful soul system
where you can make your own classes and make your own choices.
It’s not just that the combat is fun, it’s the
whole thing together that makes for a really rewarding experience.

Our thanks to Cameron McNeil. If you have any questions that you would
like to see answered in a future interview, post them in our href="">offical

To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our RIFT Game Page.

Last Updated: Mar 29, 2016