Our first look at Rift: Planes of Telara was good, very good, but we had some questions. Will these great looking "HD" graphics run on yesterday's computers? What drives the two player factions, and will their be all-out PvP or just a flavor of hostility? Is "dynamic content" limited to Rifts - tears between the Planes and Telara which allow nasties to invade - or does Trion have more mind- and world-bending tricks up its sleeve?

To help answer these questions, we lied about our credentials and scored an interview with Scott Hartsman, Trion Redwood City Studio Lead, Creative Director, MMORPG development veteran, and all around nice guy.

Ten Ton Hammer: Let’s start with the name change. What does Rift: Planes of Telara say about the game that Heroes of Telara didn’t?

Scott Hartsman, Trion Studio Lead, Creative Director:  So the original name Heroes of Telara… there were a couple of issues there. As people were spending more time on the present day lore – what’s going on in the world right now (which is something that really turns into the focus when your engine and tools are ready)… once you’re doing launch content development, some of your story ideas, that’s where they really get proven out. We realized that so much of the story was revolving around Telara’s relationship to the planes - that the Rifts were such a central element to the story-  that it seems to be a much stronger way to connect people to what this world is about.

The other part of it is that “Heroes” kind of implies that you’re all good guys. As we all know, some people want to play good guys, some people want to play bad guys. You’re not being shoehorned into a good guy role in this game.

So Rift: Planes of Telara fit the world that was being made, it fit the content that was being made, and actually drew from story elements that had existed in the original lore of the game.

Ten Ton Hammer: That’s a good segue into the two player factions of the game – the Guardians and the Defiants . What motivates each faction, and is the a good vs. evil sort of thing? What’s the “big evil” that both groups are fighting?

Scott:  The “big evil” is a story point that’s going to be introduced a little bit later on. Right now, what we’re really trying to get out there is that the Planes are pushing in on Telara.

In a traditional good vs. evil setup, the Guardians would be good, the Defiants would be evil.  But really, both view each other as evil. The Guardians, on the one hand, are very spiritual. You could call them traditionalists. They have a relationship with the old gods of Telara and they draw their power from that relationship to the gods.

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A Defiant Bladedancer hopes to make a martyr of a Satyr.

On the other hand, you have the Defiants. They’re more practical, more about taking risks. The Defiants are more technology-driven, and one of the things that separates these two factions so thoroughly is that the Defiants are resurrecting old, abandoned technologies that the traditionalists long since outlawed as offensive to the gods. So we’re actually able to bring a slight cyberpunk twist in some of our visuals. Think of it as very high magical technology – it lets us do some cool things with visuals and story, in addition to the Rifts and the Planes, which are really strongly unique to us.

Ten Ton Hammer: Does that steampunk or technological twist tie into your class choices as Defiants vs. Guardians?

Scott: It impacts it. Right now our class system is something that’s really cool, we’re love it a lot, but since we are still pre-alpha, we do have the ability to say that it’s just not quite baked enough to the point where we’re ready to talk about it. We’ve played through a lot of our classes and, as you saw, we’ve been demoing lots of classes. The idea is to make sure your side does impact you, it just might not be exactly through your classes. 

The sides have their own cities, so it’s not like everyone’s in the same city and we all just happen to hate each other.  The Defiants are on one side, they’re southern,  Guardians are northern. And the things that go on in the cities will be fairly reflective of their backgrounds and aims in life.

Ten Ton Hammer: Just to be clear, are these capital cities by faction or by the individual races?

Scott: Yes, by faction. The Defiant city is called Meridian, the Guardian city is called Sanctum. It’s very much faction based. This is a world that is at war; there is a civil war going on in addition to the invasions. Think of them that way; it’s not like, ‘oh, I’m in happy Defiant land.’ It’s like I’m in the Defiant war headquarters.

Ten Ton Hammer: The graphics look great. A lot of games claim to be hi-def, but I think yours more than meets the standard. Have you given thought to a minspec yet?

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A Defiant Reaver shows off Rift's in-game graphics, and a massive belt buckle.

Scott: Yes. Min spec is something that you always need to be careful of in MMOs because MMO players – and I’m one of them – we’re social creatures. If I want to play a game, I want to go play with my friends, but I can only play with them if they can all come with me. So we’re very sensitive to that.

The HD graphics that we’ve been showing off so far are all on moderate to high-end machines. They are not on supercomputers. Personally, I have a 6 year-old Dell XPS at home and I can play the game just fine. It does not require the latest greatest shaders or processors to give players a fun, engaging, and still very pretty experience.  The engine itself supports things like vistas that run off kilometers into the distance. On low-end hardware, maybe you need to bring that in a little. Can you still have fun moment to moment gameplay? Of course! So it’s really more about graphical, over the top features  that gets scaled. But the engine does scale itself really really well.

Ten Ton Hammer: As far as the dynamic content, which was the big talking point when we first saw this game last June and it remains big today with the Rifts concept: how do players primarily engage this dynamic content as it’s happening? Are you hoping players start using general chat for more than complaints and bad jokes again?

Scott: It depends on the type of content that we’re talking about. At the end of the day, dynamic content is something that’s important to us as developers, and players can be aware that it exists or not. To us, it’s more important that players feel that the world is fun and exciting in a new way. So, for example, since the gameplay behind the one Rift type that we’ve shown you does involve very obvious callouts on the maps, clearly that integrates with the maps. But there’s hundreds and hundreds of other events that the average player might not even necessarily think of as an event, and just be like, ‘oh, whoa, what is that?’ 

So it’s more like opportunistic content, where a player just happens to see something cool and gets a new experience out of it, which is really kind of neat. We do fully expect though, even when we’re not calling these things out on the map, that players are going to have enough of a sense that something special is going on here to call things out in chat. “Has anyone ever seen a such-and-such in Silverwood?” “I’ve never seen a such and such in Silverwood.” And then a bunch of people can go check it out if they want. One of the smaller ones isn’t enough to change the world all on its own, but once you have a world that has hundreds of them and then you’re adding more and more over time with an engine that thrives on this sort of approach, you end up with something that’s really special.

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Chief among Telara's rules:
never, ever whiz on a torn Rift.

Ten Ton Hammer: Part of the charm of Rift for me – an avowed alt-aholic – is that the replay value for this game seems like it will be far and above any other MMOG I’ve tried.

Scott: The amount of difference between replays and over time in general is actually a really important balance point for us to try and hit. Are we perfect at it right this instant? No, but we’re pre-alpha, we get to be not perfect yet (laughter). Somewhere in between “all static, all the time” and “it’s a different game every day” – both of those extremes can be equally bad. It’s up to us to find the right balance as to how much of the world is changing and how often, and are we talking temporary changes or permanent changes. Temporary changes we can do way more frequently than permanent changes, because there’s not just a bunch of familiarity changes that we’d have to cover – imagine logging into a game every month and feeling like you don’t know anything. 

But also think about the impact it has on people that want to make database sites or fansites. These are things we actively think about, we know there’s things we can’t do because we’d never have any support sites. The work would be overwhelming for them. So to us it’s all about finding the right balance. One of the things that brought me to Trion was an emphasis on quality. Bluntly, the desire to make sure we get it right is strong, as opposed to rushing out something half baked. Is that a guarantee? There’s no guarantees in this industry. But, am I more confident with this project than I have been with anything else?  Oh, absolutely.

Ten Ton Hammer: Obviously, no one intends to launch a half-baked game, but it happens. And often.  Do you feel like you have the time and the resources required to take this game the full distance prior to launch?

Scott:  Absolutely, absolutely. We have the resources, and the studios that are working together inside and outside Trion communicate and collaborate freely and frequently.  We’ve got what we’re calling the Trion platform, which consists of work done at all three studios as well as our Austin tech center. When you’ve got that many brains solving a lot of common problems, you can get economies that you can’t get by having 50 or 100 guys in a building.

Ten Ton Hammer: You’re a long-time veteran of MMORPG development,

Scott: I have scars to prove it… (laughter)

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Shimersand's major exports include giraffe parasols and fantastic concept art.

Ten Ton Hammer: And not to mention a pretty excitable guy. But I don’t think I’ve seen you quite this excited about a game in all the times we’ve met. What’s different about Rift?

Scott: I got involved in this game at a different point in the dev cycle. By the time I got involved in the last project that I worked with – I mean, clearly I was excited about it, and the team was phenomenal, and great people to work with – but it was much later on in the dev cycle than Rift is.

When I joined Rift, I was there for more of the foundational elements and I was there both to understand the smart things that the team had already done and to add my experience to their already insane amounts of experience. Half of the team has an incredible amount of single-player and console experience, and half of the team has more MMO experience combined than any other team that I’ve ever heard of. I added it all up last week on a whim, and people on our team have had development responsibilities on 27 launched MMOs, not including expansions. 

So it’s that range of experience – yes, it’s exciting, but I’ve never been around so many smart influences. I think that has a lot to do with the industry maturing, but there is something that feels really special about this project. It’s not standard elves in tights fantasy. It’s fantasy with – like I said – a magical technology element, a constant and active threat of invasion, and an extra-planar element. There are six known planes that are attacking right now, and I can’t talk too much about where the story will progress in the future, but knowing that that story exists and has been thought out well – it definitely gives you something to feel excited about. 

Ten Ton Hammer thanks Scott Hartsman and the Trion team for a closer look at Rift: Planes of Telara!

You can learn more about this title, tentatively slated for a 2011 launch, in our first look at Rift: Planes of Telara article, the first Rift dev diary video, Rift at Ten Ton Hammer, and the official site.


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

Last Updated: Mar 29, 2016

About The Author

Jeff joined the Ten Ton Hammer team in 2004 covering EverQuest II, and he's had his hands on just about every PC online and multiplayer game he could since.