It's All Depth - A WildStar Interview with Jeremy Gaffey

Updated Tue, Aug 30, 2011 by B. de la Durantaye

WildStar is probably the biggest surprise of the season with its announcement at gamescom earlier this month, coupled with hands-on time with the game the very same day. We wanted to dig more into the world of WildStar so we sat down with Jeremy Gaffey, Executive Producer of WildStar, being developed by Carbine Studios and published by NCsoft.

Combat in WildStar TTH: The WildStar announcement was quite a surprise to all of us.

Jeremy Gaffey: I’m kind of amazed myself. We’ve been working in stealth for a long time. I’m amazed that we’ve managed to keep it to ourselves. The company was formed by 20 or so of the senior and lead guys of World of Warcraft, who started the company back in the day. Since then, we’ve been pulling people from all sorts of backgrounds. If you mention a main MMO, we probably have someone who’s worked on it, such as Asheron’s Call, City of Heroes, and City of Villains. Everybody has worked on a bunch of stuff. Inside the industry people. You may know a bit about the studio, but how there was no leak about the game; I don’t know how.

TTH: Especially given to where you’re located at in Irvine--you’re in the same building with everybody else.

Jeremy Gaffey: Yeah, exactly.

TTH: I think you may be the only people who have ever announced an MMO game and gave a hands-on the same day. How long have you been working on it? How were you able to keep it a secret?

Jeremy Gaffey: For me personally, I’ve been on the project for three and a half years. The company formed before that in kind of the Blue Sky mode, where it did research for a couple of years before entering into production on WildStar.

In terms of how we pulled it off, up until three days ago, only six people outside of our company had played the game other than friends and family who were coming in, signing NDAs, and getting handcuffed and doing it. The key was that we logged the crap out of everything that goes on in the game. We have feedback on all of that. Every time we’ve gotten people in, we record everything they do, we log everything they do, and we change the game based upon that. So the secret was to go hands-on immediately because we’re logging all the paths people pick, we’re logging all the paths they walk through the game, and change the content based on that. “Oh, hell. They didn’t find these three challenges. Ok, we better make them more obvious. Too many people find it; we better make it more obscure. Nobody likes this class, so let’s change that.” That kind of stuff. We do that constantly. Part of the reason why we announced, while we kept it a secret as long as possible, is that we need more bodies in there. We need more testers, so it’s going to leak at some point. So let’s come out publicly now.

TTH: One of the things that we noticed when we first started playing was how easy it is to play. It has all the standard things like hotbars, but you have additional complexities, like those red lines we see on some of the screens.

Jeremy Gaffey: The threat indicators. What we want to do is let players build momentum. What we mean by that is the faster you play, the better you weave things up, the better the rewards you get.

There are three phases in our combat: there’s recognize, then react, then reward. We show the players what’s happening and we give them a bunch of ways to solve it. It’s simple really.

You'll see a red indicator around the mob, so what do you do about it? You can dodge out of it; you can double tap and dodge. You can knock it over, stun it, use crowd control, you can use high cooldown abilities to kill it faster. Then we give you a reward for it. There are different kinds of rewards. If you can dodge it successfully, it gets vulnerable so you can kill it faster and it’ll take more damage. Also, we give you xp rewards for this.

To start off simple: you provoke an attack, you get a threat, dodge out. Now you get an evasion bonus and then it gets vulnerable, teaching you that this is exactly how you go about doing it. We give you xp rewards that pay you off as you do it.
Exploring in WildStar

Exploring WildStar

As you fight multiple enemies, you get bonuses for chaining stuff: killing multiple things at the same time as it gets more complex. Juggling different things at the same time gives you that payoff. You gain double kills, triple kills, and beyond that. You gain momentum as you go from fight to fight.

The key there is this: a novice player coming in and playing their first MMO--keep it simple early and make it more complex as you go. If you’re an advanced player, you’ve got multiple level 85s, you’ve played every game in existence; right from the start, you’re going to start digging into the complexity. It’s the key that pervades everything. Part of this is the paths: choose your own play style and part of the game biases over to it.

We want to keep it simple for newbies, but we’re all gamers. So right beneath that is a hardcore system so that you’re actually challenged by at a low level. None of us want to go “kill 10 more goblins” again in our life, it’s got to be a bit more variety than that early on. Very rapidly, we start adding more layers so it gets more interesting.

TTH: How many races do you have?

Jeremy Gaffey: Human, Aurin, and Granok are three that are unlocked here at the conventions. Each faction has a variety of races. We have two factions: the Exiles – basically you’re the good guys and the Dominion, who are effectively the bad guys. Each has their own selection of races. Humans are in both factions. One of the things that you learn in MMOs is that people tend to pick their race based on some odd criteria. Usually, it’s how they look; how pretty they are or not or how badass they are. If you don’t know anything else, you pick human. That’s why you stick humans in both factions so you don’t have faction imbalances from day one. You put pretty races on both sides so they can always pick a pretty race. You put badass races on both sides so if you want to play a badass, it’s not that everyone has to play one faction. Faction imbalance sucks so you put a lot of  work into your races to avoid that.

TTH: Seaking about factions and balancing factions, that all points to one thing for me and that would be PvP.

Jeremy Gaffey: We have a zero-bullshit policy at Carbine where we don’t talk about stuff that we can’t show. We definitely have PvP and it’s important.

There’s no better way on this planet to set fire to a huge pile of cash than to make an MMO and not put the elder game in it because people buying your box and leaving after two months sucks. We prefer not to do that. So we’re making sure that we have elder games in each area, including PvP. It has to have it. Or else why bother making an MMO? It’s all about keeping people for the long term, not losing them after two months.


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