Big Ass Monsters - An Interview with TERA's Brian Knox

After a hands on with TERA at GDC, Ten Ton Hammer followed up with En Masse the next week at PAX East to talk a bit more about the AI, UI and the big-ass monsters they saw. Senior Producer Brian Knox and PR Director Matt Atwood filled us in.

Ten Ton Hammer: At GDC, we took a look at the AI, the clean user interface...

Brian Knox: And the big-ass monsters!

Ten Ton Hammer: And the big-ass monsters! So how do you convey that heroic epic feel with these big-ass monsters?

Knox: I think a lot of it is the environment that surrounds you. Making sure that the monster fits into the scale. You see a lot of games where the texturing might not be right, which throws the scaling off. We put a lot of work into texturing making sure that the scaling is appropriate. When he takes that giant swing at you, you have to physically dodge out of the way. It conveys how big and massive he is. I’m just not standing next to his leg and hitting him. I think it helps reminds players of just how big this guy is and he really can dodge a slash.

Ten Ton Hammer: That was one of the cool things playing it, you can literally roll between the guy’s legs.

Knox: Yeah. That’s a good move. Rolling between his legs, then popping up and hitting him with your sword.

Part of it too is the cinematic setup. We have to remember that you can’t make it too long. You get that little setup and you know that you’re going to see something.

Ten Ton Hammer: Let's talk UI. What made you opt to go with a minimalistic UI?

Knox: Most of the design elements in the UI are to focus on the center of the screen, on the fight. Well, how do we do that? We can’t have a whack-a-mole on the side or else nobody is going to be looking at the screen. Your focus should be on the center of the screen, and we’ve done that.


Ten Ton Hammer: But there are elements in a UI that you still need. How do you prioritize what’s going to go on there?

Knox: It depends upon the situation. When you’re in a battle, there are a few key things you need to know. You need to know the monster’s health, you need to know your health, and we’re going to make sure that the UI is appropriate for you. We put the health meters above the monster as well to keep it simple.

But, when you’re in town, out comes the UI-- all the stuff you need, like the items…all the crafting stuff. It’s all there. You just don’t need it when you’re in battle. You need to kill or be killed, right?

Ten Ton Hammer: We noticed healers play a bit differently in TERA. How complicated is it going to be for somebody to pick up playing a healer?

Knox: We’re really trying to ease people in, especially the healers, focusing first on: how do I move in the game, what are the tells that a monster does, making sure that you interact with the environment, and then adding skills slowly.

A lot of people don’t like to play healers, but just the fact that there’s just more action and fun being a healer in TERA, I suspect that class is going to raise in popularity.


Ten Ton Hammer: Will we see the holy trinity of tank, healer, and DPS?

Knox: There are some encounters where, yes, you’ll want that tank and that healer. There are going to be some other encounters where three or so ranged guys bouncing the guy around, and you’re just dodging to get out of the way, healers aren’t going to be much help. It’s kind of encounter based. Some of our encounters are designed the trinity, some are designed for a couple of guys, and some are designed for solo players. We try to bring people different mixtures, so there’s always something there for you to do.

"As for bringing a Korean game over here, oh yeah there are some challenges. The allure for me was that this was going to be done right. I want a build that is really going to focus on the market, make sure that they’re getting things right.
- Brian Knox
Ten Ton Hammer: How would you rate the level of difficulty in combat? Is it for the more advanced player?

Knox: I think that it’s a natural feel. I think that that’s one of the biggest differences between East and West. I think in the East, it’s a lot more difficult for them to wrap their heads around the combat. They don’t have all the console games. They don’t play all the God of Wars or the Fables. Our guys? We play those all the time. When we hook TERA up to a controller, it all makes sense. It works.

People online aren’t much different. The ease of combat and understanding how to do it is not that hard. But the skill player with the player is really going to set people apart. If you’re good in TERA, you’re going to be a lot better than somebody else. The skill level is really a central part.

A great example of that is actually our warrior. Are they DPS? They have two swords and they can dodge. No, they are tanks. If you have two people with super-equal skill, you’ll be a little better because you’re not taking any damage, but it’s a much harder class to play. It balances out. We’re letting skill determine the outcome of battles.


Matt Atwood: Another thing to that is the crafting system. One of our VPs who normally hates crafting, has spent so much time crafting that he got addicted to it. For me, because it is skill based, you’re going to be looking for any little edge you can get, and it makes it fun. It makes a difference.

Knox: What I think that’s cool is when you’re playing a game like WoW and you’re getting into a party, the first thing you do is you right-click and look up their GearScore [now PlayerScore ]. You add it up and you go, “This guy’s good.”

That’s not going to cut it in TERA. You’re going to have know this based on their reputation. Especially when you go into a high-end encounter, you’re not going to want to bring some bozo in just because he has a good sword. You’re going to have to know if that guy is any good. You’ll know quickly. They’re going to be hitting their dodges; they’ll be controlling the formations in the battle making sure that the aggros are on the right spot. Your score is not going to matter.

Gear Score is a little addicting to raise, right? But it doesn’t always tell the tale, even more so in TERA.

Ten Ton Hammer: But you’re still going to have the ability to min/max?

Knox: Yes. Items and RPG levels will make a difference. But when you’re talking two people together, they’ll be light years apart in terms of skill.

Ten Ton Hammer: Are you going to have any kind of leaderboards?

Knox: Actually, we’re working on that with our battleground system. The ranking system is worked into the political system. The higher you’re ranked on a battlefield, then you’re going to be able to run for office in the political system. You’ll actually be able to rule territory. It’s not all PvP focus in the political system, there’s a lot of social focus. I think that it’s a 50/50 split. There are some votes earned from the battleground and some votes earned from social and popular. So you have to go out there and make a name for yourself if you’re a bad-ass.


Ten Ton Hammer: When is launch?

Atwood: This year. We just launched in Korea. We took a look at the challenge between the two markets. We have a good advantage here because people here love action games and it feels really good. We’re starting to show the depth. These guys know the challenges. We have two-way conversations with the development team in Korea. I think you’re going to see a game that is going to feel very right for the player. That’s why we’re not going to say a specific date. It’s kind of like 'we will sell no wine before it's time.' We’re going to get it right, because we have one chance at launching it.

"One of our VPs who normally hates crafting, has spent so much time crafting that he got addicted to it. For me, because it is skill based, you’re going to be looking for any little edge you can get, and it makes it fun. It makes a difference.
- Matt Atwood
Ten Ton Hammer: Do you feel that you’re taking on a pretty big challenge here due to the fact that it was developed in Korea and it requires a certain level of skill from the players as well? Is it too niche?

Knox: I think action is pretty universal, and when you’re playing TERA, it is action based and people are going to be fine with that. I’m not concerned about that as that’s a huge plus for our market. So I’m not too worried about selling that.

As for bringing a Korean game over here, oh yeah there are some challenges. I mean, it hasn’t been done well. The allure for me was that this was going to be done right. I want a build that is really going to focus on the market, make sure that they’re getting things right. It’s actually been fun because I have these ideas, we’ll talk and have feedback go back and forth, and they’ll go, “That’s awesome! We want to put that in ours too!”

We started talking about different versions: the western version, the Korean version, and all players were, “our version has to be different.” Well, actually they're implementing a lot of our feedback right into their version anyway. We’re getting closer together. There’s going to be differences between the two versions, but it’s been great working with developers. It’s been the best experience of my career.


Atwood: How many teams can you look at from any territory where you’re going to have that kind of freedom? They’re going to say "we want a producer. We want staff in the US. We want an entire writing team in the US, not just somebody slapping on translation. Develop the story; make those quests more realistic and more alive for your market for what your people want."

Knox: The biggest thing is our writing team. We’ve got seven people. One of our lead writers, David Noonan, is actually developing a story for the future. He’s awesome; he’s worked at D&D and a bunch of other games before so he’s got a lot of confidence. This tends to be one of the weaknesses in the Korean market. You’ll see a lot of games with great polished graphics and mechanics, but the storyline isn't so well done.

We have that in our team. We’re able to develop, not just our game, but the Korean Game. Some of the zones are fully created by our staff here. They go through and write the entire story for the entire zone.

And, as a little tease, we got some cool things coming up for the combo system that we’re adding to and developing. That’s basic implementation. You’re going to see some cool stuff in the next few months.


Ten Ton Hammer: How complicated are the combos getting?

Knox: We're going to be giving more freedom to the users, and it’s going to be some cool stuff. We can’t talk about it, but it’s cool stuff.

Combos can be different too because they speed up the animation at times, which means you’ll be able to get onto your next move faster. It’s not just a 20% damage boost--you’re going to get through swinging that sword faster, which means you can turn around as your next move or get out of the way faster.

Our thanks to Brian Knox and Matt Atwood for the interview. TERA will be released later this year in the North American market and keep checking Ten Ton Hammer for the latest TERA updates, new, and interviews.

To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our TERA: Rising Game Page.

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