time Ten Ton Hammer had a chance to see style="font-style: italic;">Rift: Planes of Telera,
the more excited we became. After getting our grubby mitts on the game
at E3 2010, we tracked down Scott Hartsman, Chief Creative Officer and
General Manager of Trion Redwood Shores Studio, in order to have him
more fully explain classes and characters having multiple souls in the
game. After some “persuasion,” he agreed to talk.

style="font-weight: bold;">

Ton Hammer: The response to the E3 2010 class system seems split
between those that think that style="font-style: italic; font-weight: bold;">Rift style="font-weight: bold;"> is simply co-opting
talent trees with the soul tree system, and those that are a little
overwhelmed with the possibilities. What would you say to the former
crowd? Would you say it's your own take on talent trees?

I actually kind of
wouldn't. For those who say that it's just talent trees, the only
thing I have to say is that once you play it you will totally
understand. Just to give you an example from the character I
most recently rolled, I chose a warrior. I still had choices with just
the one soul up through the first fifteen levels, and it's cool and
it's fun. It gets drastically different when you're faced with the
choice of what your second soul is going to be - it's reinforced through
the fiction and you're this awesome ascended being, therefore you have
the ability to control multiple souls. You're making an active choice
as to what the next path is that you're going to choose.

It's so different than staring at the same three panes that don't
really involve a whole lot of choice at all. With our system, you can
customize it down to which individual abilities out of these classes
you're going to take. We err on the side of being a little bit too
generous, intentionally, in giving you choices also. For example, say
my first soul has a melee finisher that's okay, but my second soul has
a melee finisher that's actually quite an upgrade, so when I get that
second soul I can use one of my attack point builders from my first
soul, add a finisher from my second soul, and it really drastically
changes the results. By being smart, you can determine which abilities
work together to give you the best damage. It's choices at the micro
level like that, as well as at the macro level - which 2 or 3 of these
choices do I want to have at any given time?

Letting people get a hands-on with it is about the best thing that we
can do. All through E3, it was really cool to watch people's eyes light
up as they play when they realized, 'Whoa, I was a healer up until five
seconds ago, then I slotted this other thing and now my cleric also has
this mage-like DPS ability too? This is actually fun! I totally get it
now.' We're just looking forward to more people being able to try it

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Ton Hammer: So for the 'just a talent tree' crowd, the core message is
that these abilities and enhancements interact with each other across
souls? And that applies to all souls?

Absolutely; lots of
different interactions at different levels.

Ton Hammer: I was going to ask if players can 'double up' on souls, but
from your illustration it doesn't sound like that would make much sense.

Doubling up in the
literal sense - absolutely not. But what you can definitely do is
effectively double up by just investing in one soul all the way to the
end. That's a perfectly valid way to play also.

Ton Hammer: So if players envision a very limited role for their
character but want to be very good at what they do, they don't have to
explore the myriad possibilities you're offering them?

Yeah. If I have a
tank soul, I can go all in. I mean, I can go all in on that sucker the
entire way. That's going to give me root abilities that are only
available to people who do just that.

Ton Hammer: So with all of these choices at hand, let's talk a little
bit about the inevitable - revising your choices with a respec. Could
you describe the respec options you're planning to make available to

What we're going
for is, I think, pretty ambitious for a launch feature set, but this is
one area that there was no way in hell that we were going to skimp
on. What we are doing from the outset is, yes, you absolutely
can from the outset go to a trainer and pay (with in-game currency) to
reset your souls. You can then re-invest those points any way you

Characters will also have multiple attunements - multiple specs - from
the get-go, so you do have the ability to buy multiple specs
immediately in the game. All of those have hotbars saved with all of
your loadouts, and once you have those multiple loadouts, you can
switch between them in the field.

For example, my current character has a high-end DPSing plate-wearer.
He's got his 'I am übertank' spec, which is mostly invested in
a single tank soul. He also has a hybrid soul where he's 50-50 with a
DPS soul to really plow through soloing, questing, that kind of stuff.
I can switch back and forth between those two anytime I want, and later
on I'll go buy a third spec. And maybe later on when I find a different
role for myself - PvP perhaps - I'll buy a fourth spec. The idea is to
give players the ability to come up with loadouts that they like and be
able to switch them at will.

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Ton Hammer: And you can pick up multiple attunements at any level?

This is an open
question for us - should we tie multiple specs to different level
ranges - i.e. I can buy a second one at 15, a third one at 30, and so
on. But the more I play the more I think we don't want to do that -
just open them up all at once instead of trickling them out over time.

Ton Hammer: How are players' ability points divided between these
multiple attunements? Are you picking and choosing between abilities
you've already bought, or is there a separate point pool for each of
your attunements?

You have one pool
of points for your character. At level one you have 1 point, at level 2
you have two, and so on. It's which places you choose to invest those
points is where it goes.

Ton Hammer: In many MMOGs, players typically have their level-up build
and their group build, but then at level cap, their chosen build
becomes narrowly defined so as to capitalize on their class's core
strengths. Is this how you envision things playing out with attunements
style="font-style: italic; font-weight: bold;">Rift style="font-weight: bold;">?

I think high-end is
when you want to give people the most flexibility. For example,
wouldn't it be neat if you could take your plate-wearing dude and have
him be a cool soloer in one set, a great PvPer in another set, and an
awesome raid tank in another set? I think it's really important to give
players more things to do in the high-end rather than pigeon-holed
into a single role. I think that's kind of boring.

Ton Hammer: But players tend to pigeon-hole themselves, seeking that
one über build, right?

Sure, and I think
it's on us to make sure we have a game where that's not the
end-all-be-all game experience. You're talking about raiding, and the
classic case of the tank that's built up and geared up to be a raid
tank, and that is it, period, end of sentence. I think it's on us to
make games that have more to do even when you're that guy.

Ton Hammer: So from a class design perspective, are you designing with
all that in mind? Will there be multiple paths to perfection in any
given role?

I don't know how
close we'll get to this; I'm a very honest person if nothing else. But
the goal is this: no matter what choice you make at character select on
day one, the idea is that, yes, you should be able to go be the best at
endgame-something, but that you should be able to successfully fulfill
multiple roles in group, in raid, and in PvP. We don't want anybody to
ever be at the point where they've put hundreds of hours of time into
this character, and now that they've hit the end-all-be-all, they're a
one trick pony. That's really not fun.

Ton Hammer: So the idea is that there will be no bad class development
choices, essentially?

  Don't get
me wrong, we're giving players the tools to make all kinds of bad
choices. But, none of them are irreversible, and sometimes the
difference between good and bad is just moving a few points around. We
expect there to be a lot of theorycrafting too.

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Ton Hammer: On the classes and callings
style="font-weight: bold;"
target="_blank">page style="font-weight: bold;"> , we see nine of
the 16 souls revealed. Are you pretty set in concept for what those
classes will be?

Absolutely, on all
but one. And the other thing is: there's more than 16. That's all I can
say on that right now. The thing that you should take away when you
look at that website is that that ain't the full complement. There's

Ton Hammer: Since not everyone has the time or desire to delve deep
into theorycrafting to make the kind of character they want. Is it
clearly laid out, or will we have to sit down and puzzle about our
character out-of-game using detailed charts and graphs?

I wouldn't worry
about that too much, because we expect a couple of things to happen.
First, when you have a system like this, and it's customizable, there
will be many conversations, threads, etc. of what's your favorite
build, what works well for this, etc. In any game, there's going to be
some cookie cutters that everyone is going to like. That's fine.

For those who are just in style="font-style: italic;">Rift
for the social experience and don't want to play the class system at
all, that's fine. Just keep investing in the one class you picked.
Chances are, you will come out okay. Alternately, built right into the
game is the invest and preview ability. It's not a system where every
time you click a button [your choice is] confirmed forever. If you go to respec
all of your points, yeah, you can respend them nine or ten different
ways and experiment with them in real time before you finally hit okay
and accept all the changes. We're building that in from the beginning;
I think you have to with a system like this.

Ton Hammer: So respec'ing won't break the bank? It's not an escalating
amount of money you have to pay?

It's not obscenely
escalating, we'll put it that way. We're expecting people to want to do
this. Actually, we're expecting people to need to do this. We're tuning
it more to be a token cost and less of a 'holy crap, I need to save up
tons of money so I can do X tonight.'

Ton Hammer: Some folks think class balance will be an impossible task
with the system you've described. I'm not sure how anyone can talk
balance prior to beta, but how are you addressing balancing concerns
from the get-go?

Sure. Here's the
thing: I love when people say, 'Oh, this is going to be hard or
impossible to balance' because, to me, that means they're adept at
finding ways to cheat the system, which means they're going to have fun
with it. That said, there are some people who think of imbalance as a
universal problem. Imbalance is only a problem if it traps users into a
corner where they have no way to make their situation better. This
system gives you so many tools to help you help yourself. And if
something is incredibly out of whack, of course we'll deal with it.

Ton Hammer: It often seems to matter more that players have the
perception that classes are out of balance, whether they actually are
or not. Are there things you can do at this stage to address the
perception of imbalance? Sort of work on your trusting relationship
with players?

The perception of
imbalance I think is always going to exist. I'm actually more afraid of
systems where there is no such perception because if you have achieved
perfect numeric balance, congratulations, you've just made the more
boringly overbalanced game in existence. That's actually far more
deadly to the success of a game than making something that had the
potential to be too interesting. A lot of it will always come down to
how good an individual player is behind the keyboard.

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Ton Hammer:  Have you toyed with the idea of class build
presets? Sort of the old
style="font-style: italic; font-weight: bold;">KOTOR style="font-weight: bold;">-ish auto-level idea?

It's something
we've talked about, but that's the kind of thing where I'd want to see
what happens in beta first to determine if we really need that. In our
testing so far, we have our own fair share of newbies (on a dev team
this size, we have lots of people who aren't involved with the class
system at all, and we haven't seen the need for it yet). If we need it,
we can go that way.

Ton Hammer: That kind of leads into my last question. The soul tree is
a purely level-based development system; you're getting points per
level to spend on classes and callings. Will there be a skill-based
component to character development as well?

Not to developing
primary skills like that, no. Our tradeskill system, however, does use
learned skills over time. But for combat, it's all about the leveling.
You allude to something that we've had lots of conversations about,
continuing to add new dimensions to the system. But we realized we were
already going to have our hands full with just the system as spec'ed -
we'll try that first and then see if we need new complications. So far,
I think we're good. We started out on the assumption that we'd need one
full time class designer to handle all the souls, and very rapidly that
expanded to 3 and 4. Most games that I've worked on in the past have
generally had one person or two. It's rapidly turned into something
that we wanted to double down on to ensure we come up with something
great. We're trying to put our money where our mouth is on that one.

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

Last Updated: Mar 29, 2016

About The Author

Jeff joined the Ten Ton Hammer team in 2004 covering EverQuest II, and he's had his hands on just about every PC online and multiplayer game he could since.