Rift State of the Game: A Press Conference with Scott Hartsman

Trion Worlds hosts Rift's first "State of the Game" press conference with Executive Producer Scott Hartsman.
One of the main tenants of Rift has always been that of fostering community, so it was no surprise when only a few months into the adventure we were invited to a community summit to discuss the state of the game. Ahead of the summit we were given an advanced copy of a “Summer State of the Game Address” from Senior Producer Scott Hartsman, that will be posted later today on the official Rift forums. Scott was on hand, along with our host Chris Schmidt from Trion, to answer questions from ourselves as well as from many other major MMOG sites.

Among the most popular topics were questions about world PvP, new styles of PvE content, ways to advance your character after level 50 and much more. Below is a list of questions submitted by the various outlets, read on to enjoy;

Curse Gaming: Are there any future plans to add low level content to the game? Anything to help encourage players creating alts?

Scott Hartsman: Yes, the general idea of expanding the world and adding more stuff for people of all levels is something we have been excited about working on essentially since we started planning out post launch content. It's not something that's in the immediate future though, so I wouldn't go looking for it in the next couple of weeks, but it is something we have plans for expanding out in the future.

Curse: Are you planning to add cross server instances for PvE dungeons or PvP warfronts? Or anything else to help reduce the lengthy instance queues that some players are reporting?

Scott: Yes, in fact there is a really longer stretching plan around that whole thing and I would like to explain it in it's entirety so it makes sense. The short version is this: Warfronts are already cross-shard, wargroups have been working out pretty well. For instances themselves we have been evaluating that very thing. Ever since we upgraded the dungeon loot and made them much more available we have seen a massive boost in the number of people who are running instances up at the level 50 range. The main problem is that while we have a lot of people queuing, they aren't queuing at the same time so we would like to introduce cross-shard for that – in the same way that warfronts work.

The larger plan goes something like this; we started out by optimizing the servers, the next step was to buy a whole lot of server upgrades to act as sort of a force multiplier so that we could up the wargroup capacities and then two months ago we boosted the wargroups from 4 shards to 8 shards. The next step after that was to introduce free server transfers, which was implemented in the last content update, the current step is a lot of prepping behind the scenes involving swapping server hardware around so that we can put people into as large a wargroup as possible. Once the densities match the destinations that everyone has transferred to then things will get even better. Once we have all of that done we have a greater concentration of cross-server pools for everyone and that will allow us to make much smarter decisions about a whole bunch of subjects that will improve overall gameplay. We have this internal checklist of things we need to do and were on step 5 of 6 towards completing the plan.


GameReactor: Can you expand on the new warfront gameplay type; Escalation.

Scott: The new warfont gameplay type will be occurring in Whitefall Steppes, and I won't be getting too far into details on that, but it is something that is going to be available very soon on the Public Test Shard. I would strongly recommend checking it on in its test phase.

GameReactor: What can we expect from the new instant adventure events?

Scott: This is an integral part of what I would call the method to the madness. We have a large plan that wraps up instant adventures, the post 50 experience as well as the chronicle instances. The idea behind doing the instant adventures is pretty simple; Rift is at it's best for a lot of people when they get to take part in the insane over-world gameplay of getting involved in gigantic events, but those are so dependent on being online or being in the right place or not being busy when one starts up. So we have been brainstorming on how we can allow players who are interested in that create critical mass on their own, and what gameplay systems can we put into place to make that happen. The idea is going to be that you can come online and indicate your interest in that by clicking a button and you will be put into rapidly escalating encounters that take advantage of the various dynamic content that is available in the world today as well as new systems that will be added just for these encounters. The underlying theme is to make the massive scale fun more accessible to more people.

KillTenRats: Recent changes to Valor that were on the PTS didn't make it to the live servers, are there any future plans for changes that effect PvP players and PvE players differently?

Scott: We use the public test shard to test things. We tested out some pretty crazy valor changes last month and then didn't roll them out to live servers. We test things on Test, it's what we do.  We knew going into that test that we wouldn't roll these changes out, but we needed the healing metrics from the test to help implement further changes that are targeted strictly to PvP healing. We use data from test to make target changes to things that need adjusting. The ability to change aspects of healing and damage that affect people who are only involved in PvP combat is just common sense to us. We don't want to go nerfing every healing class in the game just because its overpowered in PvP. If something has a problem in PvP, we should fix it in PvP and the same with PvE issues.

KillTenRats: How satisfied is the team with current drop rates in the world events, such as the current water mount?

Scott: One quick thing to clarify on that, it is more than just doing one type of rift, the mount is dropping from invasions, footholds and rifts. In general we are pretty happy with the way things are working but one thing we haven't made public is that the items won't be exclusive to this event – they will become rare drops in Hammerknell related encounters after the world event is over. That includes the new Chronicles of Telara content as well, they won't just drop for raiders.

KillTenRats: What if any plans are there for Oceanic and Asian Pacific servers?

Scott: This is very important for us. It's a complex issue that even in 2011 we have to forge so many relationships with so many ISPs. Things such as  traffic shaping, traffic limits and other obstacles that make it hard to run an MMO business. We have an entire group whose mission in life is to establish  these relationships and setting up arrangements that allow our players to patch and play the game. In my perfect world we would have local light-speed hosting in every country that people play in, but that is not realistic. One of the things Trion is doing is to set up arrangements for hosting a publishing with people in other countries.

Massively: It seems as though interest in rift-running has decreased lately, any plans to make rifts and other dynamic content more attractive?

Scott: Rifts are a building block for us, the were the starting point on which we built other forms of content. We didn't assume rampaging through rifts would be something people would do indefinitely.   If you look at the content we made out of those building blocks, they are actually as popular as ever. It's just that the activity types have become much more diverse. For example the improvements made to the level 50 reward currencies in patch 1.3 has made those rewards very attractive. We have also introduced the Planar Theme of the Month, which are Water and Death rifts currently to coincide with the world event. Crafting rifts are also fairly popular but we do have some cost issues to tweak that we think will make them even more attractive. Raid rifts are off the chart right now due in large part to the daily quests that were recently introduced for them. I would say on most servers now that there are a dozen or two dozen PUG groups of both factions running raid rifts, which is phenomenal and pushes us to develop even more of them. We also recently announced PvP rifts which we think will be crazy popular as well.


Massively: Is there any further word on the end game PvP zone, Port Scion?

Scott: We do have some more live zones in development, but that will be farther off in the future. We will be working on enhancing world PvP through PvP rifts. We are happy the way that world PvP has increased sense the last update. Some of our attempts to bring PvP players out into the world to have fun have  worked and some haven't. The daily hotspots have worked out well and we think that the PvP rifts will be the next step in that evolution.

Massively: When will be able to go into the rifts and take the fight to the planes?

Scott: Wow, I can't give a specific date on that, it is definitely a theme that we like and are planning for in the future.

MMO Reporter: Will the new Chronicles of Telara instances be the standard trash then bosses style of gameplay, or something new?

Scott:: What we are aiming for are epic settings, places you wouldn't get to see, fighting opponents you wouldn't get to see and fighting along NPC's you wouldn't normally get to fight along side with. This isn't just a scaled down version of a raid instance; it's a unique and exciting experience. The first one, which we have playable and fun right now in our internal testing, is in Hammerknell.

MMO Reporter: Are you looking at further separating ranks in PvP

Scott: This ties right back into the big picture of creating larger pools of concentrated players, the hardware upgrades, the free transfers, ect. We want to create the best play experience for everyone and we will make good decisions based on the data we collect at that time. We find that even when ranks are blended that as long as the split of ranks is even, the experience is enjoyable. We don't want to due anything to extend queue times.

MMO Reporter: How is reward system in instant adventure going to be implemented?

Scott: The goal is to keep it closer to the Rift system and that method of distribution. We have found that players enjoy the idea of participation equals reward, it's compelling and it's a hell of a lot of fun.

PC Gamer:Will there be any changes made to PvP to make it less of a grind to the casual player?

Scott: I don't think of it as much of a grind, despite that fact that it is a very long experience. The moment to moment aspect of the gameplay is what makes PvP fun and what makes warfronts as successful as they are. The daily world PvP quest is a great way to get big rewards, and the PvP raids will help escalate that.

PC Gamer: Will the Instant Adventures be more story driven or action driven?

Scott: The underlying idea is definitely story driven. We want to allow more players to have access to type of characters and events that are usually the domain of raiders. We want everyone to interact with key heroes and villains in a meaningful way.

MMORPG.com: Can you give more info on the Alternate Use for Endgame Experience?

Scott: The overriding goal is to find a sweet spot between a required continued progression, and a system for feeling like you’re getting a reward just for playing the game at the cap. If it’s not a grind that’s necessary, people enjoy it more. As an Ascended it’s like this: you’re reborn, ascended, you move up to level 50 and you’ve fighting the Planes forever. So naturally after so much time you can unlock the ability to take the power of the planes themselves and turn it against your enemies. You’ll get points to use in all new planar attunement trees. There will be more bonuses, specializations, and even (balance permitting) ability modifications. It’s all a combination of this system with the chronicles, the instant adventure, the PvP and the rifts to keep people happy at level 50 for as long as possible.

MMORPG.com: Solo and duo content can be watered down usually. How will the Chronicles of Telara stuff be different?

Scott: We’re actively trying to make sure we’re hitting the bar by making these as a unique experience, and not just “look I’m in a cave”. They’re going to be something big and epic but for less people. That’s the theme.

MMORPG.com: PVP World Scale is hard to make catch on and be a big part of the game. How will Rift make sure it’s actually used and enjoyed?

Scott: It might seem like a risk, but to us we’re trying to iterate on other features that did or didn’t work before. There were certain things we thought people would love at launch that they just didn’t. Some stuff just didn’t stick. PVP Dailies and Hotspots ended up being a success though, and now that the incentive’s there they’re on the upswing. So PVP Rifts will build on the idea that PvP is a point of the activity and not just a distraction. We think the PVP Rifts are the next step and we’d be really surprised if they didn’t take off into something successful.

Ten Ton Hammer: Is there any timetable to the Chronicles of Telara release? Expansion level content or patch content?

Scott: Chronicles of Telara is definitely update level content, in fact everything we have been discussing is short to medium term horizon content. The scary part of that is that its less than half of the things we have in active development. It is extremely mind-boggling at how much we have going on, but these are things we have been working on for a good while and are more than happy to talk about them.

Ten Ton Hammer: How are shard populations doing now that the transfer system has gone live?

Scott: Ridiculously good, in fact in some cases too good. We have been closely monitoring the activity and we get email reports hourly showing who is going where, whats the velocity, whats the population on both guardian and defiant sides look like, are they queuing and if so what are their queue times like? For as incredibly complicated as this system is, I am simply amazed at how smoothy it has worked. We have had hundreds of thousands of people going though this system and its working very well.


ZAM: Chronicles of Telara instance sound like an interesting way for small groups to get involved. Can we get hints on the characters and stories we might be seeing?

Scott: That's a level of detail I just can't get into at this time. I don't mind talking about the overall vision for the future of the game, but I don't want to elaborate on that until I can be sure we are getting the best information out there.

ZAM: Any details on new warfronts that you can share?

Scott: We have a brand new warfront that we are working on internally and we like it a whole hell of a lot. We have plans and several early prototypes of things we have planned for the next year to a year and a half. But yeah, we have a new one that is chaotic new fun and in a setting you wouldn't expect to see a warfront in. I really don't want to oversell this one in case something happens and it doesn't go live, but we are having a lot of fun with it and hope that it works out.

As always we would like to thank our hosts from Trion for putting together this event, as well as the other participants for their astute questions. We look forward to seeing and hearing more about Update 1.4, it looks to be the most interesting and engaging content addition to date.

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