WAR Land of the Dead Premium Member Q&A

Last week we asked the Warhammer Online enthusiasts among our Premium Members to submit their best questions for the WAR team. And, though it took a tag team of no less than five Warhammer Online developers to accomplish the task, we have some great answers for you! First, Paul Barnett and Josh Drescher take on questions about the Karl Franz encounter, the token system, more DAoC-ness, more siege weapons, and more in a 19 minute video that's as entertaining as it is informative, then we put your hardcore questions to WAR's team leads culminating in a four pages of quality written Q&A. It's all in our Warhammer Online Baltimore Games Day Premium Member Q&A!

Before we could stop them, Warhammer Online Creative Director Paul Barnett and Associate Producer Josh Drescher grabbed our list of Premium Member questions and ran with it. Luckily we caught the next nineteen minutes on video. Paul and Josh tackled questions from Arkane, Mordon, Yalyss, and Splen on the Karl Franz encounter, tokens, more DAoC-ness, more siege weapons, and many more of WAR's hottest topics. We have a little bonus footage of some of the coolest stuff we saw from the floor at Baltimore Games Day 2009 for you as well.

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::pitch man voice:: But wait, there's more. Andraema, VasDrakken, and a few others had more questions, so we tracked down several other key Warhammer Online devs and staff to get you the best answers we could at the Baltimore Games Day '09 event. Here are their answers:

A dungeon dock in Land of the Dead.

Ten Ton Hammer: This wasn't a premium member question, but let me see if I can lead into one. What can you tell us about the live events related to Land of the Dead?

Mark Davis, Live Events Lead: This event [Rise of the Tomb Kings] is unlike any other event we've done before. Our other events have been very person-centric: "What do I get?" This time we're going to take a different approach - it's a realm event, it's a server-wide race between Order and Destruction. When you log in, you'll have your live event page as usual, you'll have your tome task on the right hand side, but on the left-hand side, rather than seeing your personal rewards, you'll have a scoreboard of Order and Destruction and a number of points.

Whoever has the highest number of points at the end of the week is going to get access to the Land of the Dead first - 24 hours unfettered access. From Gabe earlier you probably learned about cadence - we balance our rewards that way, knowing that you're not going to hold onto this dungeon for 3-4 days, you're going to get it for 3-4 hours. So you can imagine what 24 hours of unfettered access is going to do for you.

Ten Ton Hammer: What sorts of events and PQs will lead into this?

Mark Davis: You'll be doing public quests in the cities, where you'll see an airship that's nearly finished in construction and you need to make sure it gets launched. You'll also be doing a number of different tome tasks related to finding parts out on the battlefield, different depots of crashed crates, that sort of thing. All the other fun stuff that comes with live events, quests, killing other players, etc.

Ten Ton Hammer: One of our members, Mordon, noted that the city PQs are a bit boring and repetitive. Are these Rise of the Tomb Kings PQs meant to liven things up in the cities? Will you use live events to ramp up the excitement in these areas?

This will definitely do that. This public quest is unique - the first two stages are what we call "level agnostic" - it doesn't matter what level you are.

The statue of Nagash, which you can see come to life in the LotD Q&A video.

Ten Ton Hammer: Gathering quests, delivery tasks, that kind of thing?

Mark Davis: Resource gathering, monsters that are low enough level, that sort of thing, or time-based things - have to do it in a certain amount of time. But it's mostly object interaction so it's not difficult. But in stage 2, there's the possibility for what we call a "panic stage" to happen. You're used to doing stage 2 and progressing to stage 3, but what could happen in stage 2 is that you're repairing that airship and suddenly a fire breaks out in the fuel pumps. And now, 'What do we do now? This is not part of the formula!" You've got to run to the water pumps and start putting the fire out. You have 60 seconds to do it. If you can do it in 60 seconds, you resume stage 2. Maybe next time, it's not a fire but an explosion. It can be a number of different things that happen. It adds some panic, it breaks people up and gets them in the game a little more.

Overall, our PQs out in the world, we don't touch with live events. But since you asked, I can tell you something about what we're doing with Public Quests. Now that the population's settled up in tier four, we're learning that maybe those counters in stage one maybe weren't the best idea. 175, maybe not such a good idea. We're actually going through the game right now and lowering all those stage ones, all tiers, all pairings, across the board. We're thinking in the neighborhood of 30-50 on stage ones. Stage two, stage three stay the same. Easy, hard, those variables stay exactly the same.

If you look at the Land of the Dead, all of those conditions are thirty at a minimum, unless there's a case where you need to do something like interact with these ten objects. It makes the PQ a lot more fun to run over and over again. Some of these cinematic endings to these stages are great, but when you're faced with 175 monsters, I don't care how avid of a player you are, you see that number, it's a lot. It's a deterrent. PQs are meant to be fun, that's what we want.

Ten Ton Hammer: Yalyss had a few questions about server populations and merges. Any news on this or character transfers?

Mark Davis: All I can say is that I know we're talking about it, but I have no idea of the decisions that have been made on when and how we'll do it. But we are considering it.

Ten Ton Hammer: Adraema asks if Mythic had plans to bring European and International players into the fold for exclusive event items and collectible items from events like this, and whether Europeans can be included on test server and live events?

Ushabti, one of the toughest dungeon bosses you'll encounter.

Bob Mull, Community Relations Director: That's a very timely question, actually. I just returned from visiting GOA in Dublin last week, and that was one of the subjects we talked about and just the general perception that Europeans are somehow a second class Mythic citizens, so to speak. That's not it at all. That's not what we want people to believe, and it's not true from our perspective. The European audience is as important as the Taiwanese audience is as important as the Russian audience. Customers are customers and they should all be treated equally.

It's safe to say that [non-NAs] don't get quite the same level, maybe, as you said. Particularly when it comes to, like, we'll do a PTS [public test server event] and we'll give out rewards, or events like Baltimore Games Day and give out collectibles. It's one of the things we're talking about - how do we get better in sync, with Tomb Kings in particular. It's not a matter of whether Europe is second class or not, it's a matter of two corporations working together. It's a matter of - hey, we need to test something quickly, and Mythic can do that in a very rapid way because we have all the resources right here and GOA does not. So how do we set up a process by which we take a little more time, we give GOA the time they need to understand what we're doing, so the players are the beneficiaries.

So the public testing for 1.3, the Tomb Kings stuff, we're working very closely with GOA to try to match that on both sides as a starting point. The forums is another place - we're working with them to get our developers joining the discussion on their forums as well. It's that kind of transparency, where their players feel like they can talk to a Mark Davis, Gabe Amatangelo, Jeff Skalski, or an Adam Gershowitz in a forum discussion thread on a particular topic. That topic might be something like 'we're looking at class balance for white lion' or whatever it might be and they get feedback that they can take back to development and these players get to be more a part of how the game is developed over time.

It needs to be much better than it is now. I hear them, I love going to Europe and meeting players. As a player and a community guy, I cringe every time I hear that the perception is that Mythic doesn't care about them. And we want to change.

Ten Ton Hammer: So there is a possibility of more exclusive items for European players as well?

Bob Mull: That's one of the things that we want them to start matching us and going ahead. It's just a matter of resources. Their community team is aware of this as well, and we're working with them to figure out the best way to do this. We like to give our prizes and stuff, but we don't want to do it to the detriment of other players or to create a perceived bias.

Ten Ton Hammer: Yalyss asks about population caps on fortress fights. Are you happy with where these are at?

Jeff Skalski, RvR Lead: I'm not. Quite honestly, that was one of those things where we designed our game thinking players would do one thing and they're not doing at all what we expected. We thought for sure that a group of people would hit the fortresses and then a group of people would immediately start working on the next pairing. What's happening is that as soon as that fortress goes contested, it's like a magnet - everyone wants to go. Whether that's because of the loot, whether that's because it's one step closer to cracking open the city, it's really drawing all the players, which of course causes server crashes. Because if you put 600 people in a small area like that, and you're going to crash your server. So we had to put pop caps on.

The concept of purges and RvR combat within dungeons, is central to the Land of the Dead experience.

Unfortunately if you don't do that, you have to instance them. We went back and forth between the two systems, and we decided not to instance them. And the reason we decided not to instance them, we felt that they were such a big landmark that for me to be in one fortress siege and you guys to be in another,for you guys to win - you take down the fortress lord with three minutes left on the clock - and my side loses. Then to say 'that's a wash, guys, we didn't take the fortress,' and you're like, 'But we just won!' And it resets the pairing, it's now back in Praag, that's kind tough. So we put in a pop cap, first come first served.

And that's not to say that it's perfect, because it's not. If there's anything that I could fix or improve on the system, it's when I die and can't get a rez, I spawn at a warcamp and now I lost my spot. I hate that. I want to see it where you can respawn and not lose your spot. So to figure out a way to respawn near the fortress inside that invisible imaginary bubble - would be good. Now, of course, that's a tough thing to do. We didn't do it right away because you're going to have players constantly funneling in, it's going to make it really hard to attack or defend that fortress. So we're discussing how to do that.

Ten Ton Hammer: Is there a chance that these population caps could be increased?

Jeff Skalski: We can increase and decrease them like that, but they're at where they're at based on performance. The fortresses funnel players to such a small area, as it was originally designed, so we have to be really careful with how big that population cap is, because players are going to funnel. Now if we go back to the fortresses and decide to spend time on redesigning the fortresses to maybe have players capture multiple objectives, then yea, we can dial it up because we're going to spread the players out. So it's all part of a limitation with the hardware. It's one of those things that we have ideas how to do that, but we have to look at everything else that's going on and ask if that's more important or is fixing the main city PQ more important, or is letting players come back and defend their city in the captured state. So it's a balance.

Ten Ton Hammer: One of our premium members, Mordon, asks a number of questions about server hardware and network throughput. You're not a systems guy, but I'm guessing that as the RvR guy, you bump your head against hardware limitations more than anyone else here. Is Mythic making improvements to the hardware so that maybe at some future date these population caps could be increased without impacting performance?

Land of the Dead PQs and dungeons are built to minimize performance issues while maximizing fun.

Jeff Skalski: The answer to that is yes. We have a dedicated group of engineers who just focus on - if there's a crash, why did it happen? Was it because of an ability fired off? Did 300, 400, 500 players come to one spot and do something? Their inbox is flooded every morning with reports from all these players and they have to sift through it and decide - this happened 100 times and this happened twice, let's tackle the thing that happened 100 times first. And then: performance goes hand in hand with that. How can we get rid of the hitchy-ness. There's times that it's like a death by a thousand cuts - it's not one thing, your performance is getting hit from all these angles. There's not this one almighty answer that we fix and everyone's going to run at 60 FPS. So it's taking those cuts away. If you rewind time and look at what the game was when we launched and what it is today, it's night and day. I know a lot of players don't see it like that becuase you might still have a crash now and then, but I think we tend to forget how often it happened back in the beginning. We've done so much to improve it. And we're actively working on it. I just saw a preview of a fix we have for some of the chunkiness you see, where you can be running at 45 FPS and it slows down just for a few seconds and then goes back up to 45 FPS. Trying to take some of that hitchy-ness out, always working on it.

And maybe over time we address the population caps. But sometimes we intentionally don't. An example would be city instances - we initially set it to 48. Our original intention was not to have it 48 on 48, Our original intention was to make it 96 on 96. But when we had it 96 on 96, it was pure chaos in the streets of Altdorf, and not in a good way. And that was because of how the play space was built. At that point you can't go, well, let's rebuild Altdorf to make it work, let's take Praag and make that kind of an Altdorf. I understand that way of thinking, but Altdorf was built as a living city for a reason, and we wanted players to fight in those streets. We probably could raise it past 48 from a performance perspective, but we don't want to. There's no need to.

Combat and Careers Lead Nate Levy also addressed VasDrakken's questions about expanding the tank's role in RvR. You can find his answers in our Future of Combat and Careers article. Thanks to Paul Barnett, Josh Drescher, Mark Davis, Jeff Skalski, and Bob Mull for taking time to answer our VIP questions at Baltimore Games Day 2009.


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