Exclusive Wildstar Interview: Carbine's Stephan Frost

After playing WildStar at Eurogamer only a few months ago and in desperate need to know more, I invited the WildStar Reddit community to submit their questions to Carbine, alongside our own, in the hope of answers. Luckily for us we managed to bag Stephan Frost who was more than willing to chat about the game. Here's how we got on.

Ten Ton Hammer: Having played WildStar for the first time at Eurogamer, the game is incredibly polished. I did have two primary concerns, though, the first being quests. You’ve gone some lengths in talking about the revised quest system. Why do you feel the old one no longer worked? What’s your perception on a modern quest system? The nearest comparison would be Guild Wars 2 and its hearts, which are technically quests, with the exception that ArenaNet removed the NPC. How do you feel your new system and theirs differs?

Carbine: Thanks for the kind words, the Carbine Dev Team has been working extremely hard to ensure players will be jumping into a fun and polished experience with Wildstar.

One of the things we strive to accomplish in Wildstar, is to evolve MMO systems and content to make them more engaging. We’ve changed the “kill 0/15” mechanic to be an xp bar that fills up as you kill mobs. Simply put, the more dangerous the target mobs you kill, the faster the bar fills up. We also tie in other content, (like Challenge and Path systems) to reward players that effectively multitask. All three systems have the same target, so if you play it smart, you can level faster and receive better rewards for all three systems. We call it “Layered Content,” and it feels supremely gratifying for players that are paying attention to all these systems. We also have quest objective arrows that point to the player in the proper direction. Don’t know where to go? Just click on the quest objective and an arrow will point you to your destination.

WildStar screenshot

Regarding the GW2 quest system, there are a few differences. Their system auto-populates the public events for their content delivery (the hearts). We also focus on more than just quests, we focus on Content that players will encounter in the PVE experience. In our system, there are a few ways the player can find Content. We have the following Content Types:

Communicator Call Quests – An NPC calls the player via a communicator and says they need something. (One example is a Chua calls from the stomach of a giant creature, asking you to find and rescue him.) You can also turn these in over Comm. Call, meaning you don’t have to run back to town.

Public Events – A scaling objective that needs to be completed out in the world, which usually involves larger amounts of people. This could be to bring down a massive boss creature, or could be setting drills to mine for loftite and kill the rabid creatures in the surrounding area. These scale so you won’t be blocked if you don’t have enough people in the area to help with the content, but it’s certainly easier with more friends. (This is similar to the Guild Wars system in its delivery.)

Traditional Quest Giver – A homie with a Quest Bang over his head will give you stuff to do in the area.

Path Missions – Path content is given via the Datachron, and appears when you wander into certain areas in the world. These are all different depending on your Path type, and content within each Path varies from zone to zone. (Soldier, Scientist, Settler or Explorer.) Don’t know what Paths are? Check this video out.

Shiphand Missions – Content that allows you to go into space and land on asteroid belts, board rival ships, decimate invading factions, protect precious cargo, etc. This uses the public event system, so these objectives scale depending on how many people are in the group.
Challenges - These are usually time restricted pieces of content that fire off when the player engages unknowingly with Challenges. An example would be jumping up to the top of a mountain within a certain amount of time, or disarming a certain amount of mines in less than two minutes.

Ten Ton Hammer: The second issue I had was combat feedback. While the skills classes use was punchy and fantastically animated, there was no “oomph”. There felt very little in the way of impact with a lack of on screen effects or chunky sounds. Is this something you’re working to improve as you continue through Beta?

Carbine: Most certainly. In fact, this is one of the first things we addressed when we went beta dark. Impact is one of the things you need to feel as a gamer, as combat is the thing you do most often. High impact is something we focused on, and that comes with a few things:

  1. When you attack an enemy, he has to react like he’s actually being hit. Our animations team went in and made some modifications so that when you hit an enemy, they’ll react by turning their head around, left or right, depending on how you hit them.
  2. We also added some additional visual effects so players can see that the enemy gets hit.
  3. We also enhanced the sound effects so that whether a Warrior swings his sword or a Spellslinger fires a shot with his pistols those things feel more cohesive and impactful when combined with the improved visuals and animations.
WildStar screenshot

Ten Ton Hammer: The newly presented “Leveling Up” panel that provides you with a run down of what you can now do at X level is a great idea. Do you think this level roadmap is sufficient to instil a sense of value in level progression or do you think people will still jump straight to what skill they get next and what new armour they can wear? Do you have anything else planned to reward players for their progress?

Carbine: There are a myriad number of rewards we’re planning to provide players with as they progress through content. One thing we look at when we’re working on progression is to check out other games and see where players have gone out of the levelling progression, where have they stopped playing. With that analysis, we’re making sure that things are being added to make the progression more interesting to the player. As you’re playing through you’re getting more cool stuff for playing continuously. So besides mounts and other cool items, you’ll get access to things like Housing, PvP areas and different dungeon types, etc. If there’s something cool coming online, you’ll know about it through this levelling system. We want the levelling experience to be more a matter of constantly having something to look forward to, and not just a grind. We want players to not just feel powerful as they progress, but we want them to have all of the sweet trappings that go with that to show off in the world.

WildStar screenshot

Ten Ton Hammer: Limited Action Sets are all the rage at the moment. Elder Scrolls Online, Guild Wars 2 and WildStar all utilise them. From experience it’s a system that has to be played to appreciate its subtleties. How do you feel you’ll convert those used to managing 40 skills at a time? Could you elaborate on high level abilities and how they replace/complement what we've seen already? vere)

Carbine: The interesting thing about LAS is that in the game types that we have I can change what my abilities are. If go into a Dungeon, I have different dungeon abilities. Playing PvP I have different PvP abilities I’ll use or PVP or PVE, I have a rollout for that. What you can appreciate from that variety is not only identifying what your skills and preferences are, but also those of other players. We also have Ability Tiers and Amps. Ability Tiers if I have a particular ability I can level it up over time, making it more powerful (i.e. leaping higher or farther, a stronger Pull ability for objects and enemies). So if you find something you like, you can level it up over time.

We also have the Amp system, which is a progression system that allows little perks overtime to allow you to become more powerful over time.

Ten Ton Hammer: What are your feelings on the current classes you’ve revealed? Are they were you want them to be or can we expect any significant changes in the coming weeks? Have there been any major headaches from a balance standpoint from any of the classes?

Carbine: Class balance will never end – we will continually have to tweak over time. It’s just part of the process. We need to ensure each game type has a meaningful role, and that they’re as balanced as they possibly can be.

The classes feel pretty good from an abilities stand point. We may change the roll out on when you get certain abilities to allow you to adapt to changes in the levelling content. A lot of it is tuning and polishing at this point.

Ten Ton Hammer: Can you tell us something cool about the current classes that we don’t yet know? We’re a curious bunchÂ…

Carbine: Ability tiers and Amps are things that are a ton of fun for replayability and trying to further progress your character. We spend a lot of time making sure abilities use the free-form targeting system for the most part – but that wasn’t always true.

There shouldn’t be any crazy changes outside of the two unrevealed classes that are soon to come.

Ten Ton Hammer: In regards to PvP, it’s known to be a minefield for developers to balance the divide between the different game modes and skills (PvE versus PvE). Are you prepared for this task and how do you intend to approach it? Will you split the skills where necessary?

WildStar screenshot

Carbine: This is something we have to focus on heavily. We’re at a point with classes where we’re just polishing at this point. We’re looking at cool down rates and things like what tools are available at what levels. While it’s not an easy one – it’s one we’ll be working on a lot between now and launch to make sure WildStar has a great combat experience.

Ten Ton Hammer: How do you plan to deal with hostile/offensive players out in the game world? Most MMOG’s rely on dated report system that allows the perpetrators a long time of “muck running” before receiving a gentle slap on the wrists. Have you the systems in place to deal with this?

Carbine: Firstly, you have the option to turn off PvP, so if you want to quest in peace, you can turn that off. In-game we have guards in towns, and respawn options that will allow players to escape the wrath of any other players. We have some pretty swell Customer Support tools and an experienced live team that has years of experience handling such problems. We are preparing for these issues the best we can with a great CS team. For the most part it will just have to be a matter of us keeping on top of problematic players.

Ten Ton Hammer: You aim to release patches every four to six weeks. How are you approaching this: will you coordinate multiple teams similarly to ArenaNets Living World model? Is every patch supposed to provide new content or can we expect patches to alternate in terms of > bug fixing > content > class improvements and so on.

Carbine: We plan on doing a few things – but ultimately we have to make sure the game is polished first. And then after that we start making post-launch content. We’re already starting that now, and we have quite a bit of post-launch content in reserve, so when we go out for the next couple of weeks, the only thing we’ll need to do is just start polishing it. So when we do that, we do have different teams that work on different things. Every patch will be different – sometimes you’ll get a PvP map, sometimes you’ll get a PvE map, sometimes you’ll get new housing items or a new dungeon, sometimes you’ll get new items or new item challenges. We have a myriad of things that will be coming in, and we’re preparing to deliver that on a four to six week basis so you will have stuff to do continuously.

Ten Ton Hammer: Players are growing more and more vocal about the need for games to be optimised. In videos of WildStar combat by your in-house demonstrations, everything runs incredibly smoothly. Are your closed beta testers reporting the same thing, considering your engine's compensation for latency and the average gaming rig capabilities of some of your testers? I must admit on the show floor the game ran incredible but that could have had something to do with the hulking Alienware rig powering itÂ…

Carbine: We will continuously work on the user-experience is a pleasant one. The last thing we want is a laggy experience for our players. Since we’ve been in beta, we’ve continually been working on making sure the frame rate is improved, usability is better, that lag is not an issue, so that’s something that definitely needs to keep getting better and better.

WildStar screenshot

WildStar screenshot

Ten Ton Hammer: The most important thing for many MMOG players is the ability to play with my friends. Unfortunately many modern MMOG’s push solo play to the fore. The flexibility of Shiphand missions sounds great but do you intend to add features to allow players to group together even at different levels? Is questing (and the new quest system) being developed in a way that encourages grouping?

Carbine: Certainly, there are a lot of things that we encourage grouping for. A great example is with paths. Let’s say your buddies are all different paths, if they complete a path mission, I get Path XP for one of them completing some paths. Which is great because it means you can level up faster in paths, and we’re encouraging you to group together to do that.

Regarding the quest system – if we have the XP bar that fills up as you kill more mobs. If you’re in a group, all of those kills count towards that bar filling up. So again, you go faster through these things.

Regarding group play, the Shiphand missions do scale. So if I want to go in by myself you can, or if you want to go in with 5 people you can. Regarding dungeons, it’s set to where you can do mentoring. If you’re a level 50, and you want to run a level 20 dungeon with a friend who’s a level 20, you can and you’ll all be at the same level range; so you can help your friends level-in even at different levels.

Ten Ton Hammer: After seeing a presentation about your world building software and how easy it is to use, have you ever considered giving players access to (parts of) it? This could be a source for bite-sized content like shiphands or the house dungeons and it would surely make players happy that anticipate games like EQ LandmarkÂ…

Carbine: At launch, we are not going to support that for player-moded stuff. We do have a UI system that’s fully modable that players can use, which we encourage heavily. In the future, that’s something we would definitely consider, but we have no plans for it right now.

WildStar screenshot

Ten Ton Hammer: Lastly, what nuggets of information can we expect to hear from you in the coming months? There’s still so much unknown and a community chomping at the bit to know every little detail. Are you guys going to be turning up the heat on your blog posts and information outlay?

Carbine: Hell yes we are! We are going to be talking more about the undiscovered classes, along with more depth on the current classes that you do know about.

Look out for a lot more DevSpeaks. You can expect to see information on adventures, higher level dungeons, trade skills, mounts, etc. Expect to see a lot more WildStar in the coming months. 

Ten Ton Hammer would like to thank Carbine's Stephan Frost for taking time out of his very busy schedule to take part in this interview as well as the WildStar Reddit community for some fantastic questions.

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