DDO Interview: 30 Minutes on Module
3 with Turbine
It finally happened. The interview you've been clamoring for became a
reality. I was excited for more than the obvious reasons because the
person who was calling me was none other than James Jones, Executive
Producer at Turbine. When the call came, things only got better! Lead
Designer for DDO David Eckelberry was in the room, too! I knew I'd be
able to toss out my toughest questions and get an answer. This wasn't
just somebody loosely associated with DDO. I had style="font-style: italic;">the go-to guys!
And let me just say that these guys were great. Talking with them was a
comfortable experience. They willingly fielded all questions and didn't
become annoyed with critical inquiries into design elements. Please
note that I did not ask about player-vs-player (PvP) combat despite href="http://ddo.tentonhammer.com/index.php?module=ContentExpress&func=display&ceid=198">the
negative views we have sometimes expressed about PvP here at DDO @
Ten Ton Hammer. That decision was mine and not any indication of a lack
of cooperation from Turbine. We're at the point that we know PvP is
coming to the game, and developers have continually stated that design
for PvP will not negatively impact player-vs-environment (PvE) game
play. I didn't want to insult them by making them repeat that position
for the thousandth time. I'll wait and see how it plays out, and then
I'll take them to task if need be!
In the past Turbine developers have stated that raising the level cap
before polishing existing content would be premature. It is my
understanding that Module 3 will raise the level cap to 12. Is this an
indication that developers are now satisfied with the existing content?
David: Most of it. We are
balancing the desires of launch players for new content with polishing
existing content. We’ll never stop polishing the game. The end result
is that we decided that the best use of our time and resources right
now is to produce new content while continuing to improve the existing
A level cap increase is sure to mean new monsters. Can you tell us what
previously unseen D&D creatures we’ll meet in Module 3?
David: The setting of
Module 3 is a desert area, so you'll see genies and efreeti. Some will
give you information and want to meet you. Others will great you with
fireballs they want to introduce you to. Our new humanoid non-playable
race is the gnolls, and players will be interacting with them. A lot of
the conflict in Module 3 is the work a marelith, a 6-armed creature
straight out of the Monster Manual, who positions herself as a queen.
6 arms? Wow!
David: Yeah, quite a lot
of Lady Secret!
Any hint on new spells or items you plan on bringing into the game with
David: Module 3 will
introduce around 3 dozen new spells (most are Level 6 spells for
clerics, wizards, and sorcerers). The new high level spells include
popular spells such as Blade barrier, many area of effect spells, and
Chain Lightning. Some of the lower spells we're adding include Blur,
Displacement, and elemental shields.
As characters advance beyond Level 10, will Enhancements continue along
established patterns, or will we see any new Enhancements?
David: Most of the
Enhancements in Module 3 expand current lines that players will find
familiar. In the distant future, we'll do some bigger work on
As long as we’re talking about Enhancements, let’s talk about
players outright refuse to play or group with warforged. They say
David: One of my primary
characters is a warforged paladin.
David: Yes. style="font-style: italic;">One of my primaries.
People say warforged are a waste of spell points to keep alive without
the resistances found in the tabletop Eberron experience. Of course,
Turbine recently introduced warforged Enhancements that restore some of
David: We're aware of the
player concerns. Addressing the warforged is big concern for the
balance team. I mean, warforged already have access to poison immunity,
energy drain immunity. We are going to do some things in Module 3 with
Enhancements to make warforged easier to heal. Warforged will have
Water Breathing basically for free—not limitless, but you'll have to
try hard to drown a warforged character. The meter moves at a crawl.
Also, players will no longer have to buy to a Feat to open up the
Nice. Can you tell us why warforged should be desirable for a party as
David: The game balance
side of things for warforged is still very positive. Players have the
ability to create a character with +8 AC and 2 damage resistance at
Level 1. That is very intense. It's very easy to have a fun time in the
first few levels because warforged are well nigh-indestructible. Their
natural armor works against Sneak Attacks. And sure, other classes can
eventually get the same resistances as a warforged through equippable
items later in the game, but warforged use Enhancements to get those
resistance and can equip other items to boost their stats with those
item slots. This provides balance.
Getting back to existing DDO content, let’s discuss Velah.
David: The dragon? OK.
Many DDO players felt her continual tweaking was making her impossible
to defeat without exploits. Can you talk a bit about the thought
process behind the changes?
href="http://ddo.tentonhammer.com/modules.php?set_albumName=album01&id=Turbine&op=modload&name=Gallery&file=index&include=view_photo.php"> alt="Turbine logo"
style="border: 2px solid ; width: 100px; height: 100px;" align="left"> style="font-weight: bold;">David: Sure. Admittedly, Velah was
like 1st grade for us and was a fair amount of experimentation. It was
our first raid and one the last things that happened before DDO went
live. Honestly, we
underestimated the tricks resourceful players would find to beat her. I
mean, dying and res[surect]ing on that spot over and over again made
the content safely defeatable—if you can think of dying repeatedly as
"safely" defeating something. We had players sacrificing themselves,
jumping off the platform with aggro. We found corner cases and exploits
to aggro. We tested the encounter a lot, but our play tests did not
uncover all of those things. We used 2 or 3 patches to fix that and
give her predictable behavior, meaning you can think of strategies and
predict outcomes. Most groups I go [against Velah] with on the live
environment now wade in, using tanks and regular tactics. But we were
seeing weird stuff—things like, “Only attack from the dragon’s back
right foot,” like that was some kind of magical spot. My coworkers were
amused by how much laughter they heard from me when the groups I played
with on the live environment said these things in voice chat.
Now people seem pretty satisfied that Velah is an appropriate
challenge, but many still contend that only min/max (or optimized)
character builds have a chance to survive DDO raid encounters. Does
Turbine test raid encounters with non-standard builds?
David: I would say our
testing characters are not as min/max as players in general. We build
them in 30 minutes and go shopping from the item database. We build
them intelligently, but we don't spend as much time as the average
player thinking about each item slot or Enhancement. We call them 90%
characters, and they can win more often than they lose. You know,
there's no guarantee that if you take 10-12 role-playing builds to a
raid—you know, the characters are built in a non-optimized way—there's
no guarantee they will have success.
You know, the game is intended to present a challenge to hardcore
gamers, too. Elite settings on dungeons are for extra challenge, and
poor builds and builds with no gear will not have success. 90% of the
game content is for casual players. We have 2-3 raids that take more
effort, more investment. You reserve a segment of your game for the
That must be difficult—balancing the game for the casual and the
David: For sure, but I
don't know of any game that doesn't do it. I haven't played every game
on the market, but most of the ones I've played do.
We’re already hearing some grumbling that the Warforged Titan is
unbeatable. Does Turbine have any plans to tweak that encounter?
David: We did beat him
internally. It helps to know everything he does and his patterns, but
players are close to mastering everything. We will make some
improvements in Module 3 to his movement rate. attack frequency for his
special move, and AI. Players are finding it is too big of a task to
dodge his Whirling Blade of Death attack with everything going on in
that space, so we will tweak how often he performs that attack.
Settle one other issue for us while you’re at it: href="http://ddo.tentonhammer.com/index.php?module=ContentExpress&func=display&ceid=257">battle
clerics—viable in the endgame?
David: They're certainly
viable. Battle clerics have a long tradition in D&D and they have a
place in DDO. You can be a pretty effective healer and still be a
battle cleric. In the groups with two clerics, one player can switch a
few pieces of gear on the fly and act more aggressively and do fine.
Clerics can even play the role of tank. I mean, their BAB is only -3
compared to a fighter at Level 12. That's not earth-shattering. I think
they are able to stay competitive. It would be hard for a battle style="font-style: italic;">wizard, but even at Level 20—when
we get there—the cleric will only have 5 less BAB than a Level 20
fighter. With spells and equipment, this difference is easily overcome.
Mr Jones, in a past interview, you said that the addition of solo
content was Turbine’s response to an unanticipated demand. Will we
continue to see new solo quests added in future Modules?
James: We’ve definitely
heard the community, players, and fans about the desire to play content
solo. We will add as we go forward and balance content. Players will
see more solo modes in dungeons. We're also looking at other things we
may be able to introduce to make soloing viable for all levels, but
solo players won’t be able to level up as fast or get the best gear in
In the case of solo quests, DDO seems to be shifting ever so slightly
from the originally stated design concept of Turbine developers. Can
you tell us what the biggest deviation from the initial “plan” has
been? And what led to that deviation?
David: Solo play is
possibly is our biggest deviation. Our vision was to replicate the
D&D experience as closely as possible for people. You know, we
wanted to replicate four people and a DM around a pizza box. But some
people don’t want to or can’t find a group, or they have only 20-30
minutes to play. We were in a situation where Game A and Game B let you
solo, so it’s hard for us in comparison to say, "No.We're adamantly
against it." That's the simple fact of the matter.
We had a situation 3 months in [from the launch of DDO] where a large
percentage of the population had higher level characters. It was harder
and harder for new characters to get through lower levels. We
definitely wanted to give new players a chance to come in and advance
without having to look for other players. And we have some players
saying, “DDO is a new style of game with active combat.” These
people don’t know how to do it or are afraid to group and show an
ignorance of the game system No one wants to look like a noob or feel
like a fool. Every Module in the future will add a few solo areas or
dungeons with solo modes.
And something I wish I new how to get out is that solo play never ends.
Say solo mode gets you to level 4. Then you can go back and solo low
level quests on a higher setting. Solo never ends. I wish people
Now I have some questions about the industry. DDO @ Ten Ton Hammer
produces more original DDO content that any other source. In fact, it
seems other networks have put DDO on “maintenance mode,” posting only
news releases from Turbine and occasionally updating item and quest
databases. What is your take on the apparent dismissal of DDO as a
growing game that deserves attention from news networks?
David: There are 5 MMOs
being produced in the next year, all fighting for media attention. It's
easy for games in existence to not get a whole lot of coverage. href="http://ddo.tentonhammer.com/modules.php?set_albumName=album01&id=Your_poison_My_lightning&op=modload&name=Gallery&file=index&include=view_photo.php"> alt="lightning shot"
style="border: 2px solid ; width: 200px; height: 150px;" align="right">
James: As a game goes
live and the audience matures, some networks hook in better and the
fans hook into certain networks better. The networks either get better
traffic or go into maintenance mode as you called it. With a ton of
big-name coming out over next 12 months, the industry in general will
get more competitive. With DDO, we are definitely committed to
continually releasing content. So far, we've been releasing content
monthly, and we will continue to do that for as long as it makes sense.
You guys are in a good position, and we appreciate that you'll be a
good place to be a source of information for the fans.
David: Yeah, it's
Turbine’s experience that everyone likes the cool thing of a few
dungeons and some tuning and tweaking on a frequent basis. That amount
of attention to customers keeps you close to your fan base.
James: That's something
we as gamers are interested in. We know what it's like for a game to go
stale. We have a lot of fans devoted to DDO, and we're going to take
care of them.
The entire Ten Ton Hammer network is against gold-farming. We won’t
exchange news with other networks supported by gold-farmers, and we
won’t accept ad revenue from gold farmers. How does Turbine feel about
platinum-selling in DDO? And how do you feel about Ten Ton Hammer’s
James: On a regular basis
I see customer reports. I get daily reports, and we are banning those
players in-game spamming ads to sell platinum. It's against our code of
conduct and it's against our terms of service. We are very active in
enforcing that because we want to provide a good enjoyable playing
experience. Spam isn’t part of that experience, so we will continue [to
ban plat sellers] on our side.
As for the stance by Ten Ton Hammer, I think it is great to take a
stance and defend that stance no matter the cost. I see that as a sign
of character as a network. The industry will change, and networks may
take a different stance. Some games may even support 3rd party trade,
but we are very active in enforcing our terms of service.
I recently wrote href="http://ddo.tentonhammer.com/index.php?module=ContentExpress&func=display&ceid=294">an
opinion piece about the games we play when we need a break from DDO.
Is there another MMO on the market you enjoy when you’re not playing
David: I play pretty much
everything. I believe there is no substitute to playing the
competition. I play in some of the betas we trade with companies. I
will probably go back and play World of Warcraft when they release
Burning Crusade. I had a blast with City of Villains and before that
City of Heroes. It’s a good MMO life, and it leads to good design
discussion here. We sit down and say, "What can we do different?" Or
maybe I know some guy at Cryptic and speak to him informally about
games. Ours is a young industry, and we have lot to work to do. We
share info that is not breaking NDA and help each other.
James: I just got done
with a trip through all of the larger MMOs. I spent 4-6 weeks in each
game and then went back through. I played recently on EverQuest
progression server, an interesting experiment in the industry. It was a
trip down memory lane. Like David was saying, we have a lot to learn
form each other. As a young industry, we all made some of the same
mistakes, but we’re not making as many anymore.
David (chuckling): We can
only hope. I think we has a half dozen of our design team here playing
the EQ progression servers, mostly for the nostalgia.
Final question: In that article on the other games we play, I mentioned
the impact upcoming games could have on DDO and the specific rumor that
bounces around on the forums that Neverwinter Nights 2 will steal a
significant portion of the DDO subscriber base. Is there an upcoming
game you see as a threat? Do you particularly like what you’ve seen
from an upcoming game?
David: Not particularly.
Neverwinter Nights is a D&D game. Some D&D fans will try it
then, but I not worried about it. A few days or weeks might see 10% dip
in our player base before people return. We understand that when a new
game comes out we have a potential to lose [players]. We believe those
who like D&D and the direction we take in DDO might try Neverwinter
Nights but we won’t lose them.
James: We have a dolid
fan base that enjoyd D&D. Neverwinter Nights is not an MMO and no
upcoming game is like DDO. Couple that with amount of content we put
out on a frequent basis, and there are a lot of reasons to come back
and play DDO again in the future. There is not one particular product
we are concerned about.
Any parting thoughts?
David: Module 3 has a lot
of features to learn about—the auction house and more. Players should
definitely hear those words.
James: Yeah, watch as our
Community Relations team releases information. There are a lot of
little things besides the headline additions. We put in a lot of work
on this part of release—the way combat functions and underlying
adjustments in low level systems.
David: Yeah, we took a
look at all melee combat and made it smoother. I think you'll enjoy the
Well, one of the things about me: I am sometimes critical of DDO. Feel
free to drop in on our forums and tell me why I am wrong and tell the
readers not to listen to me.
David: I never take it
personally. Criticism shows people care, sometimes shockingly much
about the small decisions we make.
James: We pay attention
to the criticism. We work on those things and talk about and discuss
the criticism we receive. We may disagree, but we appreciate the
attention even when it is criticism.
Thank you both very much for your time and have a great day!
do you think of this interview? Let us know in our forums!
To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Dungeons & Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited Game Page.