Exclusive Vanguard State of the Game Q&A

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The journey has been tough for Vanguard from its wildly-hyped development to its rocky launch. Even though Sony Online Entertainment has poured the man hours and resources into the title it purchased from the now defunct Sigil Games, the stigma of stability issues and not fully substantiated hype still plagues the game's buzz on the web. Current Vanguard subscribers know a good thing when they see it, but will SOE ever be able to overcome the bias of the general public?

Salim Grant, Senior Game Designer for Vanguard, fielded an array of tough questions from Ten Ton Hammer's Danny "Ralsu" Gourley. Grant's answers address SOE's commitment to the title, outline the priorities of the development team, and reveal a little about the future of Vanguard.

Vanguard has changed quite a bit from the pre-launch product to the game that players enjoy now (e.g. so-called “meaningful travel” that wasn’t very meaningful has been replaced with teleporters). Can you highlight some of the major features of Vanguard in its current state and help identify who the typical Vanguard player is (raider, solo, casual, etc.)?

A large seamless world is even more impressive when a player travels ten levels below ground without a single load screen.

Salim Grant: The various features of the game have not really changed save adding an enhancement system to the list. Our major features would be:

  • Large seamless world
  • Large selection of races
  • Many classes, some very unique
  • Diverse character customization system
  • Flying mounts
  • Overland raid encounters
  • Item enhancement system
  • Racial mounts
  • Chain based reactive combat system
  • Diplomacy system
  • Involved crafting system
  • Player housing

I think the typical Vanguard player tends to be a casual small to large group player.

Late in the development of Vanguard, a vocal group on the official forums (then run by Sigil) made a lot of noise in favor of PvP. The game then launched with quite a few PvP servers, which have been consolidated down to one. Several forum posts from SOE staff have indicated that we wonÂ’t see much additional support for PvP at this point. What do you think went wrong with Vanguard PvP, and how would you repair it in a perfect world with unlimited resources?

MMO gamers tend to think of EQ2 as a stable game in its current state, but the stigma of a shaky start remains with Vanguard.

SG: There are plenty of things that went wrong in VanguardÂ’s development but I think that has been aired out enough at this point. With unlimited resources I would recruit PVP oriented designers and place them side by side with content designers. This groupÂ’s focus would be making sure that content changes and such accommodated the PVP server and they would produce content that focused on the PVP community. 

Speaking of official forums, Sigil had planned to run without official forums. Soon after acquiring the rights to Vanguard, SOE launched official forums anyway to give players a central location for interaction with the developers and support staff.  Do you believe any MMO can ever get by without official forums, and how would you illustrate to gamers that SOE has lived up to its pledge to interact with its subscribers?

SG: I think that the affiliate set-up Sigil had was a great system as it let the players get some benefit for helping to grow community and word of mouth advertising. I think SOE has done fine interacting with players on the forums. The Vanguard dev team spends a lot of time on the forums talking to players and trying to resolve bug issues.

ItÂ’s no secret that Vanguard suffered from optimization and performance issues at launch, something SOE has worked to improve throughout the life of the title. How would you rate the performance and stability of Vanguard now in comparison to another popular SOE game, EverQuest II?

SG: I would rate the performance as very good. The recent release of Pantheon has shown that the optimizations over the past 2 years have greatly increased our game stability.

Major content updates to Vanguard have offered raid areas. Early in VanguardÂ’s raid history, the client wouldnÂ’t really support groups bigger than 12. Then raid parties reached 18 with some success. Raids are purported to fully support 24 players from here on out. How have optimization fixes enhanced raids and your ability to design new content?

SG: Game optimization has not affected our ability to design content outside of allowing us to have 24-man raids. Multiple optimizations to server performance have reduced sluggishness when multiple raids are in a dungeon but these optimizations were not done exclusively for raids they were done to enhance the gameÂ’s performance.

On May 8, 2009, SOE revealed the Naratoz Focus of Chaos, a sort of epic weapon for the Psionicist class. What other traditional end game content will Vanguard players see? Will we be getting epic quests or alternate advancement?

SG: We are planning on releasing alternate advancement, and the epic weapons will be released with Pantheon.

The forest went quiet when Silam Grant said "alternate advancement." 

In that May 8 Telonian Tribune, players also got some glimpses of Narcanos, the final boss in the Pantheon of the Ancients raid area. How has that raid encounter gone in testing? Can you give us any hints about what this boss will do that makes it challenging?

SG: Implementation of Halls of Shattered Souls has not begun as of yet, so unfortunately there are no details we can give.

A popular rumor on the web is that Vanguard is still running only because it is part of the Station Access plan, and many new gamers are reluctant to invest their time in Vanguard for fear it is not fully supported. Ten Ton Hammer’s Eric “Dalmarus” Campbell saw a very different picture at Fan Faire 2008. What can you say to alleviate fears or clear up any misinformation?

SG: I think that article clears things up. SOE supports this game very well but the company has other games and employees to worry about. We all get the attention we need, and in the end it is about the team itself and how much we want to move things forward.

As a follow-up to the previous question, a recent Ask a Dev feature released on May 6, 2009 noted that SOE will “probably never add another dev for crafting and diplomacy specifically.” Diplomacy was one of the most unique features of Vanguard. Does this statement mean that development of that feature is done or merely that there will never be a person who does nothing but diplomacy, that all developers work on all aspects of the game?

SG: We have a developer that does nothing but diplo and crafting. He does an excellent job and if we add anymore designers in the future they will not be hired to work exclusively on either of these spheres.

Finally, that same Ask a Dev feature notes that most bugs in the game are quickly corrected, but it also says “we have many other things to do and very few resources.” What else is the development team doing? Is the team working on new content for Vanguard or other games? And what does this mean for the future of Vanguard?

SG: We are a development team. We need to get content out to keep people interested. We only work on Vanguard, and when we are not fixing bugs we are working on new content or systems we would like to see in the game.

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