Rift Infernal Dawn Update - An Interview with Trion

Posted Fri, Apr 13, 2012 by Shayalyn

In the year since Rift launched, it’s become known for two things-- polish and stability, and Trion’s steady stream of substantial game updates. Infernal Dawn, Update 1.8, will hit servers next week bringing a 20-person raid, new tradeskills, and more. We joined a roundtable discussion with Trion’s Executive Producer, Scott Hartsman, and Producers Adam Gershowitz and Hal Hanlin to get the juicy details.

Rift Screenshot

Scenes from the Infernal Dawn world event.

Lessons Learned about Raid Difficulty

Undoubtedly, the biggest feature arriving with Infernal Dawn is Rift’s new 20-player raid, which takes players deep into the caverns beneath Mount Carcera to battle the dragons Maelforge and Laethys and their minions. Scott Hartsman talked about the lessons Trion has learned about balancing raids so that there’s an appropriate degree of difficulty but also a high level of fun.

“We refer to it really bluntly in the office,” he says. “We basically don’t want to be ‘punching people in the face’ with the difficulty of our content. One of the core things that we’re really trying to avoid is creating situations where the success or failure of an entire encounter can be messed up by one person getting a lag blip or one person missing a single cue, and the social difficulty those things can create. We don’t ever want to create a situation where our content makes players angry with each other. That is the big key takeaway.”

“A big part of that was making sure that encounters were more team-based, so that people succeeded or failed as a team, not as individuals,” Gershowitz added. He referred to situations where, for instance, a character gets debuffed and has to either run away from the group or risk wiping the entire raid. “While there are still some mechanics like that in Infernal Dawn, they’re much less harsh in that regard,” he said.

Hartsman explained that with Hammerknell, the first 20-player raid added to Rift in update 1.3, content had been in development 6 months prior to Rift’s high level game ever existing live.

“So, as an end result,” Gershowitz interjected, “we put out a really good raid, but it wasn’t nearly as polished as Infernal Dawn. We’ve been very closely working with a lot of our raid players to make sure we’re making fun and challenging encounters that don’t also cause guild burnout, that don’t punish individual people unnecessarily, and that have really good rewards. So, overall Infernal Dawn is quite exciting for us.”

“We saw that there were a lot of Hammerknell encounters that were, quite frankly, guild breakers,” added Hartsman. “Our goal is to make sure that we don’t do any guild-breaker content ever again, because that’s an indication that we’ve gone too far on the difficult side. Suffice it to say, we’ve thought about this a lot.”

Rift Screenshot

Is it just us, or does Maelforge look pissed?

We noted the fairly heavy end game focus of Infernal Dawn, and wondered if that meant we could expect the next update to be centered more on bringing in new players.

“We try to do a little bit of something for everybody, but sometimes we want to do a little bit deeper dive and really make sure that a certain group gets a big pile of new content,” said Gershowitz, “which is what Infernal Dawn represents.”

“Outside of the game itself,” Hartsman added, “one of the things to keep in mind is that we’ve been working on our streaming client for the past six months or so--it’s available now on the PTS--and that is really something targeted at new user adoption, the ability to get into the game and play without even downloading 200 megs at this point. There’s still some polishing that’s going on with that. [The streaming client] will come out as a post-1.8 feature, but before 1.9, because we’re going to keep it on test server for a while longer.”

Hartsman mentioned that the huge push with Rift Lite earlier this year was also squarely aimed at new users and promoting the ability for players to get their friends into the game.

“Rift is still attracting tons of new players and tons of first-time MMO players,” said Hartsman, “so it’s really on us to make sure they have the greatest onramp experience in the history of MMOs.”

New Tradeskills: Fishing & Survival

Update 1.8 adds two new tradeskills to the Rift player’s arsenal--Fishing and Survival. With the fishing skill, players will grab a pole from a fishing vendor, head to a body of water, click where they want to cast, activate their fishing hotkey and wait for their pole to bend. When it does, they’ll click the fishing hotkey again to begin reeling in their catch. To add an interesting twist, players will have to keep an eye on their impending catch and may have to click their hotkey multiple times as the fish tries to run. Once caught, the player can use the Survival skill to fry up the fish as beneficial food.

Rift Screenshot

Gone fishin'.

Each one of the levels of the fishing skill, from novice to master, has a unique fishing pole players can make. The benefit is that the higher level poles can use more powerful lures. The higher level the lures, the more accurate you are at fishing out the things you want to fish--in other words, better poles mean better lures, which means better stuff. There are special nodes in the world where, if you fish around them, you’ll get special rewards or bonuses for certain types of fish caught.

Hal Hanlin told us that there are a number of companions players can acquire using the Fishing skill, as well. He mentioned that there were all kinds of crazy colored tropical frogs and a variety of aquatic creatures. Companions are permanent pets, and can be tied to completing achievements and collections. Some are tradeable.

“Plan to see that stuff expanded upon pretty significantly,” Hanlin said.

We’ve read some mixed reviews from Rift players about the Fishing and Survival skills--many are excited about the new addition, but some are skeptical, wondering whether there will be any real advantage to using the news skills, or if they’re intended to be timewasters. The team admits that the core goal of the Fishing and Survival skills was to add some fun, casual content, but there will be some benefits to having these tools in your arsenal.

“Right off the bat, obviously we made it as a fun sideline activity,” said Gershowitz, “so there are tons of things to do with fishing that don’t correlate directly with making items for the game. We have a fishing derby, fishing collections, and tons of fishing achievements. But for people who are fishing for a benefit in the game, all of the Survival-created materials are actually better than in-game drops or vendor items.”

He noted that players will also be able to retrieve artifacts using the Fishing skill. “We have a designer who’s very passionate about it, and she has a whole laundry list of additional stuff she really wants to put in the game,” said Gershowitz, “so it’s definitely going to be a lot more than just an RP way to kill time. There’ll be some very distinct tie-backs into the actual game content as well.”

Trapping Has Been Scrapped

Trapping was a skill the Trion team had tested and considered at an earlier time. Hartsman confirmed that it has been scrapped because it “wasn’t really cutting the fun bar.”

“We may decide to extend skills even further at some point,” he said, “but for now, what we’re releasing is what we’re happy with.”

Pitching a Tent

Tents and bedrolls will also be added to the game with Infernal Dawn. They started out as a roleplaying item, but then Trion decided they wanted to add a bit of utility. Players can pitch tents and create campsites, then gain some rest experience while they’re away outside of a city area.

“As long as you find a relatively safe location, you can pitch a tent, pitch a bedroll, go afk for a little bit, and get a little bit of rest experience as if you were in a city,” said Gershowitz. He pointed out that the benefit was intended to have a fairly short duration, and wasn’t a substitute for going into a city to gain rest experience when logging out for a number of hours.

Before the conversation on tents and bedrolls ended, Hartsman added, “Gersh is wondering why I’m laughing like a 5th grader over here over his phrase, ‘pitch a tent.’”

“I know exactly why you’re laughing,” said Gershowitz, “and I didn’t even realize what I’d said until you started in.”

Rift Screenshot

Is it Talk Like a Pirate Day already?

Leaderboards and Guild Tools

Infernal Dawn will also roll out new leaderboards for Rift, as well as a guild recruitment tool to allow players and guild leaders to connect. Gershowitz told us that the main goal with the leaderboards was to get the system working, and then find the activities that players found fun and track them.

“We’re definitely looking at, down the line, if leaderboards are super popular, tying rewards to them,” Gershowitz said, “but we do want to be very careful. An activity like leaderboard [rewards] can easily be one of those things that breaks guilds or breaks communities apart.”

The Future of Rift

When it comes to future plans for Rift, the team was candid about some, and cryptic about others. Two things we learned would definitely be coming down the pike in the near future will be a mentoring system and new low level Instant Adventures.

“We definitely have a full slate of things planned out. From E3 on this year, you can expect to see some cool things coming up,” said Hartsman.

“We’re working on early level instant adventures and progression,” Hanlin said. “They’re dovetailing nicely together. We wanted to make sure we had sufficient content in the one before we released the other. So, it’s in the very near future, but we can’t tell you a date yet.”

Rift Screenshot

Laethys, the golden dragon, makes her presence known.

Hartsman explained that the general idea was to have what he called “Instant Adventure Everywhere.” He said that we shouldn’t think of the upcoming lower level instant adventures as a low level only feature because, combined with mentoring, it does something interesting for all players.

“If you’re level 50 and have been level 50 for some time, it might be neat to go back and get some planar attunement levels in zones that you haven’t played in a really long time,” Hartsman said, by way of example.

“So many of our systems dovetail together,” Hanlin added. “For instance, if more people come down into low level areas to participate in instant adventures, that gives the [dynamic] event system the opportunity to spit up some more rare events in those zones.”

A Major Expansion in the Future?

Players and press alike have noticed that a recent Trion studio tour with Casey Schreiner and G4 TV’s MMO report showed a glimpse of a white board with a timeline. Speculation has been that the timeline refers to a possible upcoming large expansion for Rift. While he wouldn’t divulge anything, Hartsman said that for the studio tour they had covered up anything that they didn’t want people to see, and that we should feel free to draw our own conclusions from there.

Our conclusion is that, major expansion or not, Rift has shown steady growth and improvement over its first year in operation, and we expect many good things to come. Ten Ton Hammer wants to thank Scott Hartsman, Adam Gershowitz, and Hal Hanlin for taking the time to share details about Rift Update 1.8 - Infernal Dawn.

Trion Worlds really knows how to treat their customers I must admit. I wasn't to keen on Rift when it was originally released, but now I'm resubbed and have two maxed characters already (in under a month at that!). Having a ball in PvP and doing the high level Rifts and what not. Thanks Trion!

Trion Worlds provides a much needed foil for most MMO-developing/producing companies around. Where others are finding new ways to monetize, sell everything under the sun, and basically squeeze every last cent out of a potential or current paying customer; damn the game experience regardless, Trion has gone the other way.

Where WoW and other titles require $25+ per character for a server transfer, Trion allows RIFT players to move servers for free, ever 3 days! RIFT doesn't have expensive minipets and mounts that you can only get through purchasing them from the "special store" at $25 each (I was onboard for this when it was related to charity at least in part, but otherwise its just a moneygrab for a fully sub-fee MMO like WoW). Several times over their year of operation they've even allowed players to get significant savings on their subscription fee... I pay $89 per YEAR - that is HUGE savings... plus I even get free Veteran Rewards in game as soon as I pay for the content (ie. If I've been subscribed for 6 months month to month, I get the 1, 3 and 6 month rewards as those months come about and I pay for, but at the start of the 6th month I pay for year subscripton, I instantly get the 12 and 18 month rewards instead of having to wait for 18 months to actually pass, because I've already paid for them in advance!).

On top of this, Trion has launched RIFT with an understanding that they needed modern features - for instance, the UI was fully alterable at launch and after the first patch XML/Lua mods were out of "beta" and available. Trion also provides the most content per patch of any modern MMO and the fastest patch schedule around; there is always new content just about every month! Live events, new dungeons, PVE, PVP, crafting (as seen above) and they even recognize Roleplayers as fully worthy of having features created with them in mind, such as validating an actual mechanic-based in-game marriage! There is a wealth of content for just about anyone in RIFT!

It really starkly contrasts Trion to EA/Bioware's handing of SWTOR - a MMO with a huge budget and tons of hype behind it, being so dramatically underwhelming in every way compared to Trion's management of RIFT.

Trion seems to really be betting on player experience and its both refreshing and sadly so rare these days. They aren't creating time and money sinking grinds to cover for their lack of content. Even in this article where they mention they "We don't want our dungeons to be so hard that one player can screw up the whole group and make things erupt into drama" this is a HUGE paradigm shift - many other MMOs want to do anything to make their game more like "work" so that you play longer and their meager content offerings "last longer" because only those who play the game like a second job can grind long enough and be dedicated enough to succeed.

I have the utmost respect for Trion thus far and I believe we should all support them financially to show that player-experience focused MMOs, not money grubbing "Wring every cent out of them, and then find new ways to twist the screws even tighter" bullshit can and should thrive. I also look forward to End of Nations, their project partnered with Petroglyph to create a MMORTS on a huge scale


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