Aion Vooncast Q&A Transcript

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Last week, the Ten Ton Hammer staff had the fantastic opportunity to sit down with fiifty MMO fans and Ten Ton Hammer readers in a Vooncast focused specifically on NCsoft’s upcoming MMO, Aion: The Tower of Eternity. Since Aion has been such a popular topic, the Ten Ton Hammer staff quickly transcribed the entirety of the Aion audio recording and we now have the text version up for you to enjoy. But, if you really want to listen to the subtle nuances hinted at in the Vooncast, make sure you click here!

*Please Note: The text has been modified for easier reading. It may not be word-for-word. All game references remain the same.*

Ten Ton Hammer: Can you give us a quick status update on Aion and how it’s progressing?

Brian Knox: We’re testing the game with our friends and family right now, and we’re have a lot of fun. There are a lot of people that are probably playing the game more than they should, but that’s a good thing.

We’re moving towards a fall release, and the localization team is working hard on the content. And we do have a lot of content. Not only are we working with what was released back in November, but we’re looking at all the other content that’s been released since then as well.

It’s quite an undertaking. We want players to be wholly immersed in this game, and we want them to feel like it’s been culturally made for them. We don’t want players to feel like they’re taking part in this odd, foreign world. It still has to make sense, even when you can fly or when you see three eyed goats. There still has to be a cultural footprint.

Lani Blazier: And you’re right. We do get asked quite a bit about the localization process and why it’s taking so long when the game’s already launched in Korea.

The truth of the matter is that it’s not just a direct translation. We’re not going through all of the written words and just translating it into English. There are a lot of inside jokes that are culturally relevant to specific countries, so what we’re doing is more – and this is what we call it internally – a culturalization process. We’re taking everything that’s written and making it relevant to our Western market.

We’ve hired a team of published fantasy writers that are now working on this all the time. It’s a big task; definitely no small effort.

Ten Ton Hammer: And these are writers, and not just translators?

Brian: Exactly. We do go ahead and get it translated, but then we “rewrite” it. These writers have worked on previous titles before for other Western developed games. We really want the quality to be high; we don’t just want to correct the grammar of the translators. That’ll get you nowhere.

Ten Ton Hammer: The idea of crafting in Aion has been a little bit misconstrued in the community. Can you talk a little bit about crafting in Aion? Is it like a traditional MMO? Or a little different?

Brian: We give a lot of option in our crafting system. You’ll actually be able to pick up every profession: weaponsmith, armorsmith, alchemist… You can take all of those – I think – up a few hundred points. At that time, you’ll need to choose one of those to take up to an expert level. We try to give everyone a little bit of everything, it’s kinda similar to our class system as well.

Crafting really goes through and fills in the gaps in the game. A great example of this is that you can get store bought gear, drop gear, quest gear, and crafted gear. You’ll get quest and drop gear at random intervals throughout your leveling progression, but store bought gear you’ll only get at levels 10, 15, or 20 thereabouts. Crafting gear you’ll be able to access between the store bought intervals, like at level 13, 17, and higher.

It will always be worth it for crafters to make their gear. If you’ve got two sets of armor at level 20, we don’t necessarily want the weaker set to be the crafter gear. On top of that, you’ll have the chance to create special items as a crafter. These are items that are much more valuable.

Then, of course, there’s all the consumable professions as well.

Ten Ton Hammer: It’s funny that you mention that crafting will “fill in the gaps” because one of the concerns is that particular classes – for instance the Gladiator – have to rely wholly on store bought gear. Is that just a problem until the crafters really begin to get into the game?

Brian: Yes and no. I’m pretty much relying exclusively on questing gear right now, and I’ve filled in a couple pieces. But I’m also playing on an employee populated server where there isn’t this huge bustling economy. That said, crafting is one thing I generally let my wife do, and she helps me gear up so I can go kill people.

Everyone has their thing. Some people love crafting, and they do it all day. But for others, not so much.

Ten Ton Hammer: Could you talk a little bit about melee combat, since we have these class interviews that are featuring these hefty, melee style classes? Maybe touch on the philosophy of combat in Aion and how flight changes the dynamic of the game.

Lani: Sure. Flight definitely adds a huge dynamic to combat. That’s so true. There are other things now that you have to think about.

For example, anytime that you’re actually in the air, your defenses decrease so you’re actually a bit more vulnerable. So you can’t just get everybody to fly above a monster or an opponent and start hammering down on him.

You also have to take into account your flight time and speed. There are certain buffs and effects you can give to yourself to increase the time and the speed you can fly.

Brian: And it goes both ways. You can have a character that’s focused on flight, but you can also be “ground-heavy.”

Audience Questions

Ten Ton Hammer: What kind of anti-bot steps are you taking?

Brian: We’re always working to prevent bots and improve our customer service. We can’t really go into the inner workings of anything, but we’re always striving to give the best customer service possible.

While the in-game systems are crucial – like the economy and crafting – the back end systems also are very important. These are the people that work behind-the-scenes and we don’t talk about, because if we start talking about them, then the exploiters and botters will figure out what we’re doing and navigate around them.

It’s a back-and-forth battle, but something we’re committed to working on.

Ten Ton Hammer: What incentives do players have to engage in PvP? NCsoft has also had difficulty with end game content in the past, and players wonder how you’re going to address that aspect of the game.

Lani: One of the cool things about Aion is that – and anyone that’s read articles about our game – probably knows that we’ve tried to marry PvE and PvP. I think that makes this game especially unique experience, and especially so in the Abyss where you’re trying to control different artifacts and fortresses and those that do have control are given the best hunting grounds and the best items become available to them.

We really wanted to make that a focus to our PvP. We wanted players to experience that.

Brian: As far as end game content goes, we don’t want to force players down a certain route in our game. You’ll be receiving benefits and rewards from PvP and PvE that are pretty much the same. By doing that, we allow players to transfer back and forth a little bit easier between the two playstyles. Aion’s the type of game where, if you don’t want to participate in PvP, you don’t have to. But you very well can and enjoy capturing fortresses and pwning people as well.

Lani: On top of that, you might be engaging in combat within the Abyss against the opposing player faction when a giant battleship comes out of nowhere and drops a whole legion of the Balaur. Then you’ll have to figure out if they’re fighting you, your enemy, or everybody at once.

While you’re playing, you can really see that shift when both player factions decide that they should put aside their difference, kick the Balaur’s butts, then go back to fighting. And this all happens without any talking actually going on!

It’s actually really interesting – socially – when that happens.

Brian: You’ll see some unspoken truces, that’s for sure.

Ten Ton Hammer: How do polymorph and “the tree” spell work into the lore of the game?

Lani: There are actually quite a few quests that we showed at GDC that had the polymorph spell implemented into them. There are actually a number of instances where you can use that particular spell and have it help you complete a certain mission without drawing attention to yourself.

At GDC we showed some instances of where you were polymorphed into a parrot, and then you could sneak onto a pirate ship and go unnoticed.

Brian: In terms of roleplay-ability, I mean Rangers can polymorph into things to move faster on the ground. Some of the later skills you get from PvP will actually allow you to polymorph into a raid boss, and there are some pretty sweet YouTube videos up covering that one.

Ten Ton Hammer: Is there a war in the office? Do the various NCsoft employees play on the separate factions?

Lani: Yes. Absolutely.

It’s funny, because I started out actually playing Elyos, because I thought I was going to go Asmodian at the launch of the game. The story now is so rich in the game – you spend the first ten levels learning about your factions history, and you become connected to that.

Now I think it would be very hard to tear me away from the Elyos. I might eventually give the Asmodians a chance, but we have in-office arguments about it all the time.

Brian: Anybody that plays Asmodian, I think, is just a little bit too angry. *laughs*

Ten Ton Hammer: Will the North American and European version of the game be up-to-date with the Korean version when the game launches?

Brian: It’s our goal to be as close as possible. We’re not sure exactly where our release version will be compared to the Korean version, simply because we’re not there yet.

Everyone asks me that question, and I think it’s really beneficial for us to be as close as possible. It’s just easier to manage the databases and all that stuff. At the same time, there will be some delay due to localization.

That’s one of the things we wanted to improve on with Aion and really with all of our global releases.

Ten Ton Hammer: In other games, like World of Warcraft, the quests are very repetitive. An example would be to kill X monsters. Will there be a variety of quests with different activities for players to complete in Aion?

Lani: We certainly have those “standard” quests in Aion, where you go and collect certain things. That said, they’re typically relevant to the area that you’re in.

But then we have our campaign quests, and that’s really where the overarching storyline comes in. Those quests will move with you through level 1-50, and those quests aren’t necessarily about “killing ten rats” or that sort of thing.

Brian: And we really try to bring story into it to differentiate and add some variability to the quests. The cut scenes really help draw you into the quests. Rather than being bombarded with walls of text, you’ll see your character in a cut scene, interacting, and it will help draw you into that particular quest, even if that quest is to kill X monsters.

So, yes! We have lots of game mechanics and ways to spice up the quests. Almost every quest has a new ability or item associated with it. I mean, we have a quest where you turn into a parrot!

Lani: And for myself, I’m the type of player that doesn’t want to go talk to this NPC than that NPC. But I’m finding that the writing in the game is so well done, especially with our humor writers that are working on the text. If you’re the type of player that likes reading the text, I think you’ll find it very rewarding.

Ten Ton Hammer: Will you release an early server list so legions can pick a server and build a community around that?

Brian: We have some good ideas in place so players can get together on the same server and prepare. We know how important it is to migrate in groups. One of my philosophies is that we’re not selling Aion to individuals, we’re selling Aion to groups, guilds, legions, communities, etc.

That’s definitely in the plans. We don’t have anything necessarily that we can talk about right now, but we’ve got some good ideas.

Ten Ton Hammer: Will you balance the classes more towards PvP or PvE? In essence, will you make the classes fight each other in a balanced fashion or fight monsters in a balanced fashion?

Lani: One of the cool things about the game being released in Korea first, by the time it comes over to the West, we’ll be able to benefit from all the time that they’ve spent balancing the classes.

So, with that in mind, I wouldn’t say that the classes are set for either PvP or PvE. Again, we really wanted to combine those two types of gameplay.

Brian: And it is a huge challenge, and a good question. From the outset, when we decided to make a game with PvPvE, we knew that it would be one of our major challenges. And over the past few months, I think there have been some balance issues that we’ve addressed and fixed.

There are some that remain and we still need to work on. But in an organic, evolving world where you constantly have players rethinking their strategies, you can’t always predict what they’re going to decide.

And it doesn’t always come down to one-on-one battles either. I mean, it could be how players interact in parties, solo, in a raid situation, with an elite team, and more. The goal is to really just ensure that players have a role and no one gets left out.

Lani: It also depends a lot on the player. You might have two people that are both sorcerers, but in the end it really just comes down to player skill.

Brian: There are a lot of skill-based systems in Aion, I mean if you strafe you add some dodge, move forward you add some offense, and move backwards you add some defense. We try to add some skill differentiators in there as well.

Lani: With the chains as well, because we didn’t want the players to just keep hitting the same button over and over again. You really have to make decisions on the fly.

Ten Ton Hammer: Will the game lore change over time through player actions? Or will it stay static?

Brian: The good news there is that we have a cool and unique setting in Aion. You don’t see it out there in another world.

The other cool thing is that we own the IP, so we think that it gives us a lot of flexibility not only where we want to take it, but where the community sees it going as well.

It provides us with a flexibility level that you don’t always get in an established IP. And things will change and evolves, and there will even be some secrets that are unveiled through your journey in the game. I really think that there’s a unique opportunity for this game to open up the roleplay crowd that really gets into the lore and history and can really take part in this game.

It really is a world that we can shape.

Ten Ton Hammer: With wings being introduced at a very early level in Aion, along with enhancements that up flying speed, does that rule out flying mounts or ground mounts?

Lani: I don’t think anyone would really want to rely on wings as a form of transportation. There are certain areas in every zone of the game where players will be able to fly, and there are good lord-based reasons why that is the case. You’ll also be able to teleport to certain areas.

There will be point-to-point mounts, but they don’t look like your traditional gryphon or anything like that.

Brian: There are point-to-point sort of mounts, but the traditional developer answer to that would be: there’s nothing planned at this time. That said, nothing is ever ruled out.

You can eventually replace your wings at certain levels, which is pretty cool. But flight isn’t meant for transportation. It’s meant to be a strategic part of the game for combat, quests, etc.

Ten Ton Hammer: Are there any plans to change how the Chanter will buff their party?

Lani: This question is probably being pulled from the Chinese or Korean version of the game, but it’s important to remember that the way a game is being played there isn’t necessarily how it’s going to play in North America.

Brian: In general, we’re just starting to talk about the game, so those sort of details aren’t something we want to talk about just yet.

Ten Ton Hammer: Is the “dragon” NPC race a counter to the “player zerg” of PvP areas? Do you have any other ways to balance the PvP areas for the side that doesn’t necessarily have as strong of a force?

Brian: We’re paying a lot of attention to the server balance in the beginning of our live release, and we’re going to strive to have healthy servers throughout. If you don’t have healthy servers, then you’re not going to have a healthy game, and you’ll have unhappy players. It’s something we take very seriously, and we have a lot of measures in place to focus on that.

I think the previous launches have done a really good job of that, so we’re going to take a look at the things they’ve done and hopefully improve on them.

Ten Ton Hammer: Some players suggest that Aion is more linear than some MMOs. Do you agree? If not, could you comment on the open world aspect of the game?

Brian: The first two zones are really designed to be kind of an intro to the game. In those places, we want players to grow their character and learn the game. But the world opens up pretty quickly as you progress, and it gets almost limitless in the terms of where you can go.

You might look at the maps, but just because there’s a road there doesn’t mean you have to stay on it. In the beginning, we want players to see things in such a way that they fully understand what they’re going to be involved in.

Ten Ton Hammer: Can you expand on wings being craftable items?

Brian: I think that’s something that we want to talk about a little bit later, in terms of the details of the gameplay.

Ten Ton Hammer: What are the features you’re enjoying the most in your testing?

Brian: One of our favorites around the office is the “Glide” feature. It sounds kinda simple, but it’s basically turning your wings into a hang glider. It’s really turned into a competition where you go and find a hill and glide down to pick up a bit of extra speed to see if they can get farther than the other person.

Ten Ton Hammer: Thanks again to Brian Knox and Lani Blazier for taking the time to answer our questions!
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