Skaven Exclusives! A WAR Q&A with Carrie Gouskos
In the latest Ten
Ton Hammer Live! Podcast, Warhammer Online
Producer Carrie Gouskos provided exclusive, never-before-revealed
information about the hideous Skaven! Under the influence of warpstone,
she revealed details about the various type of Skaven that you can use,
plus details on the huge Skaven dungeon! Yes! You will go into the
festering tunnels of the hideous rat-men to fight them on their own
turf. If that wasn’t enough exclusive information, I can only
say Throt the Unclean! Now wipe the crazy foam from your mouths and
read on about the Skaven. Oh yeah, there’s also some
information on changes to the RvR mechanics, the decision to stay
subscription based, and other non-Skaven things.
Ten Ton Hammer: Tell us a little bit about this RvR pack.
Carrie Gouskos: The RvR pack is the first paid content pack since we launched two years ago. Last year, we released Land of the Dead, which was an entirely free expansion pack. This time, we’re offering this RvR pack, and it is going to cost a little bit of money. What it contains is a complete change to the way in which the end-game open RvR is played. It is a culmination of a lot of work that we’ve done this year trying to bring out the full potential of the open RvR experience. It includes Skaven and everything Skaven-themed. Skaven are these super-cool rat-men army in Warhammer. I think that it is the most popular army in the tabletop game and they are super cool and we’re playing around with them. They have a lot of fun things that they do and a lot of fun attributes, so we’re trying to incorporate them in a lot of different ways. It includes an extension of the renown rank system, which is our equivalent of leveling. We’re not about making people grind through PvE levels. The point is that you get to 40, which is our max rank, and then we want you to work on your renown rank, and that is what makes you powerful in RvR.
In addition to all that, the Skaven classes are going to be playable. There’s a different kind of mechanic. They’re not going to be a whole new career that you’re going to start from scratch. There’s a lot of stuff going on. We’re really excited about it. Everything is kind of focusing on the RvR aspect of the game. As I mentioned last time, it’s what our focus has been all year.
Ten Ton Hammer: Is this RvR pack part of patch 1.4 or is it something entirely different?
Carrie Gouskos: The RvR pack is going to be timed with patch 1.4. We kind of call them both interchangeably, mostly because we haven’t given a name for the RvR pack yet, so that’s why we’ve sometimes called the RvR pack 1.4. One of the distinctions is what is available for free, so we realize that some of our players probably won’t purchase it and so we want them to have things as well. Obviously, we then split it up to things that are part of the pack and things that are not.
Ten Ton Hammer: So if players choose not to buy the RvR pack, what do they have to look forward to?
Carrie Gouskos: For us, one of the key factors is that we don’t want to charge people for anything that is population gating. So, we’re obviously going to save a lot of the cool stuff for people who buy it, but places like areas and mechanics that require population are not going to be restricted to only those people who purchased it. We don’t want to take our population, which is a bunch of people standing around, playing, killing, and having fun together, and then splitting them into two sections, one for the people who paid for it and another for those who didn’t. If we did that, even people who paid for it would say that this was worse because now my friend can’t play with me. The goal is to make available to everybody everything that is population based and then offer some really cool stuff that represents progression in the game to those who want to pay for it.
Ten Ton Hammer: How does the purchasing of the pack work? Is it one giant content pack or are there different bits of it?
Carrie Gouskos: We talked about it as not one giant thing, but as several sections. People are able to buy it in sections if they choose not to buy all of it at once. There are themed divisions. We call those themes progression, power, and personality. Each of those three themed packs is a single piece, so a person who likes power and doesn’t care about personality, then they don’t have to buy that personality theme. We’re still working out when and how much for the pack.
Ten Ton Hammer: To put it in a Rock Band type of analogy, is it like you can buy a few songs or you could purchase an entire album?
Carrie Gouskos: It’s kind of like that. It’s hard to make that comparison because it’s DLC. I think of us as being between DLC and expansion pack. We’re in the middle there because it’s not one or the other. Hopefully, it’s the best of both. In theory, you’re correct. You can buy them individually, but in practice, you’re better off buying the whole thing at once.
Ten Ton Hammer: With this type of system, do you think that we’re going to get more packs like this here on out or are we still doing full-blown old-fashioned expansion packs down the line?
Carrie Gouskos: That’s a good question. It depends upon the players and how they respond to this. This is sort of a departure from tradition that we’re trying out. The goal of doing it this way was to iterate more quickly and offer more content more frequently. If players respond well to that, then we’ll certainly continue along that line. If they don’t, then we’ll explore other options. I’ve said recently that full blown expansions are off the table because you see the MMOG market changing with a lot of games going free-to-play and things like that. I think that people are getting more and more comfortable with different kinds of monetization model.
Ten Ton Hammer: Switching gears a little bit to in-game topics. What can you tell us about battlefield objective resource nodes?
Carrie Gouskos: Sure thing! The way the campaign works in Warhammer right now is that you capture zones and move from zone to zone to zone until you lock down what we call a pairing. You lock down pairings and you open up a city. That’s the end-game. The city has this epic battle that we completely redid earlier this year to great effect. We wanted to take a look at the actual zone locking mechanic out in RvR, which is open realm versus realm. That is the core gameplay and that’s what I think makes our game very special. We wanted to make sure that it was really, really solid.
So we listened to a lot of feedback from players that said things like that it happened too quickly. Then they said that all they were doing was standing around waiting for timers to finish counting down, and I’m not fighting against other people, I’m fighting against a keep door. People call it RvDoor when they’re being really mean. We listened to that kind of stuff and we took it to heart. We’re open to criticism, and we decided to make it as good as it could be. What we did was to change the mechanic.
As you’re going and getting more resource carriers, you get siege equipment which is now super-powerful. We’re changing it so as soon as siege goes up, we want people going right after it and attacking right away. Also, there are other tactics involved. We’re adding aerial bombers, which is a way to get people inside the enemy keep by taking a flight path over there and dropping down inside and wreaking havoc inside the keep.
Finally, when the keep is level 4, that’s when you get access to the ram. The ram is now the only way to take down the door. The goal is to drive players to get siege equipment, which is powerful, and to keep the siege equipment up, and to then take down then enemy keep to capture it and move forward in battle. All of these stages combined have tactics that people are talking about. The new tactic is to hopefully spread people out, and to encourage people not to only guard their battlefield objectives, but to also guard their resource carriers. It helps a smaller group of people to take on a bigger army with some of the tactics that they can do. There’s a lot of changes to tactics. The objectives have been simplified. There’s no more waiting for timers. Yada, yada, yada. I can go on for hours about this. I’m really passionate about the changes we’re making.
Ten Ton Hammer: You mentioned the resource carriers. Can they protect themselves or do they need a garrison of players to watch out for them?
Carrie Gouskos: They can’t protect themselves. They’re going to go down. If you let your resource carrier go down while he’s en route to the warcamp, then the other side gets your resources. You clearly have an objective to keep them safe.
Ten Ton Hammer: Does that mean that you don’t necessarily have to attack the node? That you can concentrate on attacking the carriers?
Carrie Gouskos: Yeah, that’s a strategy you can use. However, you’re going to want to own a node. The nodes are spread out all over the lake, and it’s in your best interest to own the nodes. But you can take any strategy you want. You have different options.
Ten Ton Hammer: That’s interesting. If you don’t want to engage somebody right away or if you’re completely outnumbered, you can just sort of mess with them and just have fun with them. Because every once in a while, you just want to be an ass and mess with other people’s good time. That’ll probably be a good way to do it.
Carrie Gouskos: That also ties into that mechanic that we added in version 1.36, the Against All Odds mechanic, which gives you super-duper renown and stuff when you’re completely outnumbered. If you wanted to stick around and mess with people, you’re going to get rewarded for doing that. That’s the kind of behavior that we wanted to encourage. We want people to be out there fighting, even if they’re outnumbered, because, eventually, if enough of them are out there, they’re going to end up banding together and taking on the other side.
Ten Ton Hammer: Are we going to see this added to all the battlefield objectives?
Carrie Gouskos: Yes, absolutely.
Ten Ton Hammer: The campaign is getting a makeover. What can you tell us about it?
Carrie Gouskos: The zone mechanic is where we really focused. In terms of the complete campaign, we actually are not making a lot of changes to it. The makeover is really for the zone mechanic. We are looking at having you take all 3 pairings, but that is something that we’re still playing around with. We’re probably going to do it, but I’m not sure yet.
Ten Ton Hammer: Imagine I have never heard of Warhammer and I don’t know what Skaven are. What can we look forward to within the game with these guys?
Carrie Gouskos: Skaven are this sort of mercenary group of rat-men. They have some really cool abilities. Part of what we wanted to do was to capitalize on some of the cool stuff they could do. The things that we’re going to allow them to do are pretty uber, so the idea is that you go out and you hire these mercenary Skaven. You take control of one of the troops, and then you get to run around and be the Skaven. All of the credit for your Skaven troop is actually going back to your character, but that’s a little game artifice. The goal is to make Skaven playable and to do fun stuff with them and to have people run around.
For example, let’s take the rat ogre. He’s the beefy Skaven class; he’s the tank class. He has a charge ability where he kind of tears through groups and sends them all flying. He also has a hurl ability, so he can throw other members of his side up onto keep walls. He’s also the only way to damage a keep door aside from the ram, so he’s a big, brutish, nasty kind of Skaven. Going hand-in-hand with him is the packmaster. The packmaster is a supporting class, and he goes with the rat ogre and is able to do team moves with the rat ogre. He’s also important because he can summon rats and things like that. He’s sort of a hybrid class.
There’s a warlock engineer, which is kind of a defensive class that builds buff nodes and can repair siege weapons. He can throw warp stone, which is this crazy substance. He’s more of a defensive class. Probably my favorite is the gutter runner, which is this espionage class. He has permanent stealth ability. He can leap up onto keep walls, and he can sabotage siege equipment. So if somebody is trying to use on their defensive siege equipment and the gutter runner has been by, then you better make sure that it hasn’t been sabotaged because if you get hit by it, you’re in for a nasty surprise.
Each one of these four classes has a unique role and relationship to the battle, as well as the other players. We want to make them pretty powerful so that they’re something that you want to do, while keeping it part of the flow of the game.
Ten Ton Hammer: The gameplay sounds cool, and I’m sure that this is coming up. Andy Belford actually commented on it at Gamesday as well. How does Skaven fit into playing with the Order side? It makes sense with Destruction, but how does it fit in with Order?
Carrie Gouskos: Skaven are mercenaries, and we ran this all by Games Workshop, who work very closely with us. They were ok with it, and they believe that it fits. They are a mercenary class; they are for hire. It ends up working out because they aren’t really aligned with one side or the other. So many of the classes in Warhammer aren’t really aligned per se. The other thing that we need to be careful about is that it is not you being the Skaven; you’re working with the Skaven troop. The Skaven are running around and doing crazy stuff. Yes, it is for your side, but we had to look at it for the needs of the game, and they were very cool with that.
Ten Ton Hammer: Looking at the RvR pack and how it is being offered, the big question is why you’re sticking with subscription when everybody and their brother is going free-to-play right now? What’s the thought process behind that?
Carrie Gouskos: There are a lot of people doing that well and to great effect. There are a couple of reasons. To be perfectly honest, I investigated free-to-play for a while. We were working on Warhammer in Asia, and we looked at it and said that this was something that we could do and bring back to the US. It’s something that’s happening with more MMOGs. Why not? Don’t get me wrong. We’re not totally against it. One of the big things that came up with free-to-play was that in order for it to work in a RvR game, you have to consider monetizing the power, such as the weapons, armor, and things like that. This is really scary because that is something that I don’t think players embrace. If you look at MMOGs that are free-to-play, a lot of people approach it as if you spend a lot of time or spend some money, you can get it. I think that works for a lot of things, but when it’s power, then it gets into fuzzy territory. With the focus that we have on RvR, it seems that it might not work.
That doesn’t say that we haven’t thought of some things. We’ve definitely made some changes to the game’s economy this year. If we ever go into free-to-play, that would help us do that. But, it’s not where our focus was. I think the second part of that is that had an option. We could spend a lot of time converting the game to free-to-play or we could work on this RvR pack. We chose the latter. So, is it off the table completely? No. Is it something that we want to do in the near term? No. We want to provide content for our subscribers.
Ten Ton Hammer: I like the fact that you considered what type of game you have in the thought process of free-to-play. You’re absolutely right when it comes to fans and their belief that people shouldn’t be allowed to buy weapons or things that make their character better. That kind of thing pisses players off so much. If a mount that you can buy looks a little bit better than the best thing that you bust your butt for in-game, they get pissed. I think that it’s brilliant that you looked at the trends and realized what kind of game that you have. My hats off to you guys.
Carrie Gouskos: Thank you. Don’t get me wrong. We do have some vanity stuff that we’ve looked at and said if players want to buy it, that might be something we’ll make available. But power is really, really scary. And that’s the only thing that would be worth anything. If players want to buy a funny hat or whatever, they can have the right. As you said, other players will have their pride where they refuse to pay money for stuff. When you get into things that actually affect the gameplay, that is a quitting point for a lot of people.
Ten Ton Hammer: The floor is yours. You can discuss anything you want from the RvR pack to the sieges, whatever you want.
Carrie Gouskos: Ok, are you ready? I saved something special for you guys.
Ten Ton Hammer: Sweet!
Carrie Gouskos: World exclusive and never announced! I’m going to give you information about the new Skaven area, which we have not talked about at all. We’ve talked about a new place for Skaven to play, as well as the fact that we’re focusing on RvR. So, what that means is that the new playable area is a Skaven dungeon. It is a RvR focused gameplay experience. What happens is that while you’re fighting in the campaign, the Skaven dungeon will become available, so it’s not a progression in time. It’s an offshoot of the campaign. The Skaven dungeon will become available, and right now we’re looking at it being for renown rank 65 or higher. You’ll have to grind up there if you want to get in on the action. It’s a 24 versus 24 RvR, crazy mad free-for-all! But, in the dungeon are these legendary Skaven bosses.
For example, one of the bosses is Throt the Unclean, who is a well-known Skaven boss from the tabletop army. The goal is to take him out, but it’s not really to fight him. He’s there to mess with you and to do stuff to you, but the goal is to take out other players and to be the one to bring his health bar down first. When Throt appears, he has two rat ogres. One goes running towards Order and the other runs towards Destruction. They’re basically running after a guy. If they catch up with the guy, they’re basically going to kill him and go onto the next person on that side. So as soon as the rat ogre comes running towards you, you got to start booking it and get away from him, while the other members of your side are trying to hurt him as well as hurting the other side and Throt too! If you manage to get his health down below a certain point, he’ll become disoriented and go after the other realm. So he’ll turn around and start booking it towards the opposite side.
This is the situation you want to be in. You want them to have to deal with the rat ogres while you deal with the boss and take him down first. Meanwhile, you’re still fighting each other in this large, crazy area. If you kill him, Throt will summon another one and he’ll come after you again. If he kills you, he’ll go after somebody else. The goal is to work around the maneuverings of these non-player characters, but it isn’t like fighting this big PvE boss. It’s more of playing with the mechanics and screwing around with the other side while trying to stay alive. You’re given points based on how well you do against Throt and taking him down and how many players from the other side you take down while doing this.
That’s the first big piece of news about the dungeon and how it is going to work. Based on who wins the whole dungeon (Throt is only part of the dungeon and not the whole thing), that’s how you gain access to the Skaven troops. Now you can play the Skaven troops back in the RvR lake and you use them to take down the keeps.
Ten Ton Hammer: That’s pretty awesome. Does it reset after a certain time? Is it a repeating event?
Carrie Gouskos: No, it’s an event that has a chance to happen within the RvR. Once you’ve gone through the event, and there’s different instances of it since it is 24 versus 24, and completed the instance, you’ll go back into the normal battle and then you’ll have a chance for it to happen again. Basically, you’re fighting in the middle of this lake and all of a sudden, it’s DAH! DAH! DAH! The Skaven have arrived and they’re crawling up through the ground, so you have to go down into the dungeon and deal with them. Then you get to use their mercenary troops in the battle.
Ten Ton Hammer: What we’re seeing here is actual dynamic content maybe for one of the first times in a RvR game.
Carrie Gouskos: I wasn’t even going to go that far, but I’ll take it.