WildStar Interview: Mike Donatelli

Towards the end of last week I managed to snag 15 minutes of Mike Donatelli’s time to talk about raids. If you don’t know him, he’s now the WildStar Product Director. Here’s how we got on.

Towards the end of last week I managed to snag 15 minutes of Mike Donatelli’s time to talk about raids. If you don’t know him, he’s now the WildStar Product Director. Here’s how we got on.

Ten Ton Hammer: What do you think differentiates WildStar’s raids from your competition? Why is it unique?

Mike: I would say right off the top of the bat, the fact we embraced 40 man raids. We all had fond memories of 40 man raiding and I feel as a genre we haven’t pushed 40 man raids are far as they can go. With telegraphs, environmental hazards -  we can make entire floors collapse! - we wanted to push the envelope. There’s a fine line between raids being painful to do and being fun. We didn’t want them to be so hard that people would be frustrated and hated them or so easy that it was too easy. I think we’ve hit the perfect mixture of that even if its taken a while but I think the fact we concentrated on 40 man raids from the start makes a difference for us versus everyone else.

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Ten Ton Hammer: How greater advantage do guilds that have a large amount of experience have over over those just starting out?

Mike: I think it’s the nature of the beast that they will. If you want to get more players experiencing dungeons and raids you can make them easier. If you want to make them harder by just making the monsters harder, but it’s the same raid, you could do that but you wouldn’t create much of a challenge. I feel like the people who are used to being in 40 person raids with a certain amount of skill and management to that, we think that’s a whole new level. In our raids you’re constantly moving, you’re constantly interacting with the environment and the environment with you. It’s exhausting to play one of our raids because it’s a sport almost. Guilds that have previous experience will have an easier time than new guilds but our combat is so different from other games. We slow roll you into it: adventures, dungeons, twenty man raids and forty man raids.

Ten Ton Hammer: There seems to be quite a high margin of error in WildStar’s raid environments. Not only have you got to deal with telegraphs but also player skill at using and avoiding them…

Mike: One of our earlier iterations of the game saw the player arriving on the Ark Ship. The Ark Ship from levels 1 to 3 had crazy telegraphs and when you hit the planets surface, it ramped up really fast. We decided to slow it down to small circles, squares and triangles because people used to playing MMOG’s were dying in the first three levels. We toned it down and made it a slow curve so once you get around 14-16 we take off the training wheels and that’s where it takes off with the difficulty of creatures and telegraphs. By the time you hit cap the hope is you’ll have telegraphs learnt but you’ll never know what a monster might do because we mix and match the telegraphs. Our hope is you’ll have mastered it by the time you start raiding.  

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Ten Ton Hammer: There’s mention in the Dev Speak video of lots of loot coming from raids. For people who know very little about WildStar, are the best items only available from raiding?

Mike: I would say that it’s a mix. Everyone wants their ‘thing’ to be the best. We have craft gear that offers some of the best items in the game but we took a little bit from here and there. The fact is that in a raid there’s gear progression. When you hit the 20 man raids you’ll obtain purples and in the 40 man raids, you’ll obtain legendary items. There is a gear chase there, but there’s also a further chase on top of that. Depending on what item you get has a random chance for a rune slot and what ends up happening over time, is that those rune slots have primal rune slots. You can find matching runes in crafting or drops throughout the world that you plug in to those to make them even more powerful. There’s also Omni rune slots (which can fit any rune) and super rare rune sets which can be crafted that provide an additional bonus. There’s a game within a game, within a game here. The min-maxers can get uber powerful items from raids. We have the same kind of thing in PvP where you’ll get PvP style rune sets and gear. There’s also the defence and offensive ratings. On top of that we also want to ensure that if you’re gaining all these Elder Gems at cap (from PvP and PvE) that you can’t one day decide to buy all the best raid gear if you’ve never raided or the best PvP gear if you’ve never PvPed.

Ten Ton Hammer: As a follow on from that, first raid encounters tend to be a bit of a gear check. Have you scaled encounters so skill is more powerful than gear early on in raids?  

Mike: I almost want to say there’s a bit of both. If you don’t have the gear I don’t expect you to last, but I’d also say there’s a ton of skill involved. The first boss in the 40 man raid is two giant robots. You have to tank two bosses at the same time who fire off huge telegraphs, the raid leader then has to split two teams into two different rooms. Team 1 is having to try to shut down the shield generator while Team 2 is trying to shut down the spawn generator, while still holding out. This is the first boss and while there’s a gear check, it’s skill reliant. One of the things I said when we first started doing this we started off by going down the same old path but with bringing telegraphs into the mix we scrapped the first dungeon and redid it. In this day and age, raids should feel like a military assault rather than the old-school 40 man that we’re used to.

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Ten Ton Hammer: How long has it taken a typical Carbine team to complete a 40 man raid?

Mike: The way we’ve tested it is, is we say “Hey it’s Friday, it’s raid day you’re going to fight this boss!”. Its been very much a scheduled process. We have had a guild in Beta get really far through the first 20 man but that was with us supporting them. We’ve a server that we have raids running all the time but as a team I don’t think we’ve ever sat down and run the raid for a whole 8 hours.

Ten Ton Hammer: Raids are appealing to a hardcore audience and WildStar’s going to get its fair share of people new to the genre. How are you going about encouraging them to seek out guilds and participate in raids?

Mike: This game was an amalgamation from lots of people. They’re passionate lunatics. When I came in here years ago they were like, “Oh man we have housing!” and I just replied “now?!”. Things like that are usually an afterthought but they were really nutty about social systems. We have in the game “circles” that are shack-like groups. They act a bit like a mini guild where you can chat and socialise and if you play alongside your circle friends you’ll earn a currency that you can spend on your guild. We’ve tried to encourage at every turn for players to get together. If you take housing, there’s a buff board as soon as you get there that says, “Hey, if you try out PvP today you’ll get a 10% bonus to experience.”  My hope is that with incentives like that players will be encouraged to try certain areas of the game on that day. From personal experience (EQ and Dark Age of Camelot) I was terrified of Frontiers - I didn’t want to go out there. One day I got lured out there and since I’ve been a rabid PvPer from that day. I’m hoping with the social systems in the game, the housing buffs that players will get that bleed over.

Ten Ton Hammer: As a last question, how strong is your resolve to not adjust the raid difficulty?

Mike: For raids, my strength is ultimate. We have no looking for raid tool. Raids are for raiders. We made raiders for raiders and Warplots for groups of PvP raiders. You get your character to cap in every other game and you hit a wall and the developers aren’t prepared for you to hit that wall so soon and they try to get some content out in 8 months. We’ve ensured that there’s post-cap play spaces, new zones and expansions worth of content planned over the next year. It’s not planned like, “Oh, we’ll do it in the future”, we’ve got a patch of it ready right now. The idea here is that for solo players, new people, casual people, that when you hit 50 its not the end. You have the new currency, new zones, public event places, dailies, weeklies and its all to say that when you hit 50 and you’ve got your awesome mount and gear, that you don’t have to re-roll because there’s so much for you still to do.

Ten Ton Hammer would like to thank Mike for taking the time out to plough through our questions alongside the other media attendees!

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About The Author

The only game to have distracted Lewis away from MMOG's over the last 15 years was Pokemon Red. Despite that blip, Lewis has worked his way through countless games in the genre in search of something that comes close to his much loved (and long time dead) Neocron. Having written for several gaming networks before Ten Ton Hammer, Lewis likes to think he knows a thing or two about what makes an MMOG and its player-base tick.

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