[Welcome the second part of a much larger interview with Revival's Lead Systems Designer: Adam Maxwell, a.k.a. Snipehunter from the game's official forums. If you didn't get to read part one of this interview, you should definitely do so before continuing on, as this is merely a continuation of that original interview.]
TTH Veluux: Revival is setting itself up to be a lot different than other MMORPGs in so many ways, but what really stands out to me is your deployment phases. Can you talk about how you plan on rolling those out and why the team made the decision to do it that way?
Adam Maxwell: The phases we've planned are a really big part of what makes our approach to a game like this possible. At its core, it is a pretty standard development tactic: start with small, achievable milestones that lay the groundwork for bigger ones. We'll keep building off them, one after the other, so that each milestone is slightly bigger than the last, that way we can take advantage of what was done before. But beyond the basic strategy there, we also wanted to focus on something our potential players could experience while we build. That's why with our first stage we opted to build housing.
It is an important first step for us, since we are setting up the core backbone of the game architecture to do it (e.g. things like our authorization, rights, account systems, and their associated APIs); but it also meant that we would be building something players could experience themselves. Admittedly it won't be much at first, but players will be able to log in and see first-hand what we're building. As an added bonus, they'll get to see it improve over time as we add and change elements and features.
For me as a developer, the best part of this approach is that we also have time to really hammer together the game systems and get them ready for the point during phase six, when they all come together and this complex machine begins ticking in earnest.
TTH Veluux: That sounds like a solid plan and a great alternative to the troubling examples of early-access that other publishers and developers have been experimenting with.
Adam Maxwell: I mentioned that each phase builds on the previous one, but they get larger as well. This isn't just in obvious ways like when we move from housing interiors to seeing a whole city at the transition into phase two, but also in the form of the systems of the underlying sandbox and the greater world simulation of the game. Phase three of the development opens up our starting city for everyone to play together, but it's also the stage where we bring the NPC AI online. From then-on we'll be tweaking and tuning that system, testing it against increasing complexity with each phase that follows.
Without the founders in the city interacting with the NPCs throughout this process, that work would take a lot more time - and resources too.
That's a huge benefit to me. Because of the way we've set up our phases and their roll-outs, we only grow the team when we need to (which helps preserve the vision in the process); and at the same time giving players a chance to see things come together and even take a part in making it happen. It's a huge win for us!
TTH Veluux: After delving through your website and forums, it looks like you guys have a lot of intriguing systems that are being molded much differently than the way we've seen them traditionally built. Can you talk about all your different non-combat systems and how big of a role they will play in the game at large?
Adam Maxwell: Taken as a whole, the non-combat aspects of the game actually are a larger part of the experience than the combat itself. It's sort of a consequence of something that we call the "Rule of World", which is a design guideline we adhere to that basically says:
All things being equal, the feature or system that makes the game feel more like an immersive world is the feature to choose - when comparing two features.
Essentially, when we were deciding what would go in the game, we thought as much about what the game needs to feel like a complete world as we did about the more glamorous aspects of adventuring and combat. The result is a game experience where combat sits as a peer with the main systems of the game rather than being superior to them all. That also means that a lot of the systems of our game are interdependent, too. It's not a rule of the game or anything, but more a part of our strategy in making it possible to build each system relatively simple and have the expectation that they will interact.
TTH Veluux: I see. So instead of stacking new layers on top of a cake for bulk and flavor, you're actually custom building each slice to serve an integral part of the whole cake itself.
Adam Maxwell: It's something that I think sets us apart from many other games. In the systems design of MMOs in particular, most systems are largely partitioned off from each other so that they don't inadvertently interact in some unanticipated way. But in Revival, we are actually hoping for this. We think of each system as a tiny gear or spring in a much larger "clock" that is the sandbox simulation. To be fair, this isn't unusual in sandboxes; it's just that there aren't many sandbox MMOs around these days to serve as good example.
To offer a salient example, when you grow crops as a farmer, you have to take care of your crops, making sure that they get light and water and are planted in good soil throughout their growing period until they can be harvested. That's a pretty straightforward system right? But I mentioned that they need to get light and how much light a plant gets isn't just about where it's planted, it's also about the weather system. A storm front could move into your area for an entire week, blotting out the good light for days and causing your crops to suffer. That sort of interaction is necessary for the sense of a living world we're trying to build.
If we continue building our systems simply but interdependently much of that should arise emergently, and is a much easier way to get it done if you ask me. To be fair, I've always felt that way about systems design - even on projects where I couldn't work that way. So for me the whole approach we're taking sort of feels like, "Duh! Of course you do it that way!"
TTH Veluux: What about combat? There are some facets to your proposed system that really change how players will have to think about combat. Between the deception, the environmental hazards to certain types of armor, and even the action system of combat itself where you guys are taking a more realistic approach to medieval combat; can you go into any details about some of those elements?
Adam Maxwell: It was actually a very early goal of ours to make sure that combat didn't follow what has become the traditional "hotbar" model you see in most online RPGs.
I don't want to trash talk games that have hotbar combat or anything, but suffice it to say that we've found that somewhat lacking. It just doesn't have the ability to capture the authentic feel of fighting and the "in-the-moment" situational awareness that combat really brings. I mean, you barely need situational awareness at all in some games: You can literally fight a mob by looking at nothing but your hotbar.
I remember playing EQ2 late at night at work once (this was many years ago, back when I was working on Rift) while I was taking a break during a crunch. An engineer came up to ask me about an aspect of the quest system design on Rift while I was in the middle of a fight with a high level dungeon boss. I turned to him and answered his questions while hitting 1, followed by 3, then 2 and 4 in a continuous loop. When I finally turned back to look at the screen, I had not only killed the boss - I also hadn't lost any health in the process and I wasn't even looking at the game. I just knew the rotation needed for my role in the fight. Sure, some examples of hotbar combat are better than others in terms of the sort of tactics required while fighting; but at their core, they all have aspects of that experience in them and that's something we wanted to get rid of.
TTH Veluux: I think a lot of MMO gamers would agree with you in how underwhelming those kinds of combat systems feel, myself included. So what have you guys done to move away from this stagnant type of gameplay? How will you avoid this age-old hotbar model?
Adam Maxwell: It's was a tough challenge; because we wanted to make sure that you could have a fight like the one between Inigo Montoya and the Man in Black atop the Cliffs of Insanity in the Princess Bride. We needed to make sure that mastery of combat went beyond just knowing what ability to use, yet at the same time making sure the moves you do make actually matter. In a hotbar game that's hard to do without it feeling completely artificial; but actually, once we threw out the hotbar itself, it got much easier.
We, in essence, off-loaded a bunch of the arbitrary constraints and measurements onto the player by making them all aspects of true situational awareness.
It's now up to the player to understand that it's best to change stances and use Bonetti's Defense when the terrain is uneven and footing isn't sure, for example. It's up to the player to know that switching into a stance where I can use Thibault cancels their Capo Ferro. I could go on, but I think you get the point. It's up to the player know when to dodge instead of block, when to lunge, when to riposte, etc. The combat game is a game of timing and environmental awareness. You couple that with the need for managing your resources like stamina, health (that get modified by what's around you) and the depth and complexity deepens.
You might be a master of heavily armored medieval combat, resplendent in your full plate; but if you try to fight on a desert beach in your armor under the hot noon-time sun... chances are you're going to wear yourself out, or worse, give yourself heatstroke and end up being the architect of your own demise. Those are the sorts of concerns that have to be on a fighter's mind in Revival.
TTH Veluux: That sounds quite refreshing and likens itself to the type of evolving battlefield experience that keeps popular MOBA games feeling fresh and interesting - even though they're repeating the same exact match over and over again. Real-time situational awareness is huge for emergent combat, and I think most typical MMOs only offer that in Raids - if at all. Even then, it's still very minimal. How does a player start mastering combat in Revival?
Adam Maxwell: Not everyone will know their Capo Ferro and not all players will have studied up on their Agrippa; in Revival, you won't artificially level into some sort of mastery automatically. You'll have to earn it.
If you want your character to be a master fencer who knows all of the tricks, you're going to have to travel the world, learn from the masters of that art, and devote yourself to its mastery. We will require players function in the game's RPG systems to learn and unlock new techniques and they'll also have to learn personally, by figuring out when the best moment in a fight will be to use certain techniques. Players will have to learn how all our techniques and abilities make you move when you use them and what sorts of opponents some of them work best against.
It's also a nice tie-back into the game's content systems, where players set their own goals and work to complete them in the game. Additionaly, it's also a key part of making sure that both player skill and character advancement have a place in Revival. Admittedly, player skill actually matters more than character advancement; so I suppose in that respect our combat system is a bit "consoley" in the way players execute attacks and fight with each other. That does not mean it rules unopposed, but skill is certainly a heavy factor.
What your character knows -- and your knowledge of when to use it -- work hand in hand at creating a deep and intuitive type of combat for our game.
TTH Veluux: That's awesome. I've always felt like most MMOs lean too heavily one way or another. Most are completely skill-void, and way too progression reliant. I'm really interested in seeing a game that can blend both character progression and personal mastery into an engaging experience.
[Continue reading with part three of this interview.]
I've still got more questions and answers to come from Snipehunter, so stay tuned for the final peice of this interview coming next week. Until then, you can go visit the game's official website and browse around a bit yourself if you find this interesting. You'll find plenty of information there to whet your appetite about what this game is shaping up to be. The Mission Statement and the Developer Blogs in particular are quite revelatory. Also, if you haven't yet discovered Revivalcast, below is another interview with Adam Maxwell (a.k.a. Snipehunter) that I and a couple guildmates put together featuring this game.
To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Revival Game Page.