Currently only 300 friends and family beta testers have seen the inner workings of WildStar, a number that's about to increase dramatically. Before that happens, Executive Producer Jeremy Gaffney let us in on some of the secrets of this path-based sci-fi adventure MMORPG with a lighter side at gamescom 2012
Wildstar's Story and Combat Philosophy
Last year I compared WildStar's story to Firefly's and got an ear full from our community. The humorous twists and explorer hooks hold true, but those who think WildStar is perhaps too cartoony and lightweight for their tastes might be driven to reconsider. Jeremy describes WildStar's story as "mid apocalyptic." The most powerful race on the planet - high magic, high technology - has disappeared. Everything's going wrong - giant robots gone haywire, destroyed machinery everywhere. One faction - the Exiles has been revealed, another will be revealed in October.
Wildstar seems built around and for environmental variables. One example were blue crystals that appear in certain places, and have an important gameplay tie-in: characters that approach them become lighter than air. Using these, players can super jump into content that they wouldn't be able to travel to otherwise.
Variety such as this is definitely the spice of Wildstar. Jeremy explained: "It has to be fun from the moment you get in the game up through level cap. We have to keep players engaged the whole time. It can't be like, oh man, it's level 30 , it's a grind, meh. We've all played a trillion MMOs, so we're going for super high variety."
Surprises kept popping up. Jeremy pointed out a mining node that looked much like any common mining node. He explained an important difference - some of these nodes are the backs of monsters, and killing these monsters provides more minerals. Also, players have about a 1% chance per mining attempt to spawn a world boss that spews out resources if defeated. Not only that, but players can journey into the defeated monsters lolling mouth to discover the mineral monsters treasure room. In addition to providing fun and variety, Jeremy explained that these little friends of mining nodes also help limit bot farming.
We even happened across some treasures of a more tactical sort: a minefield that enemies are vulnerable to as well; a giant robot half trapped in its hangar telegraphing its attacks; ships flying overhead targeting their spotlights - and each could be effectively used on enemies. I asked if players would be punished with less experience and loot for their cleverness. Jeremy explained that this was so, but bonuses for speedy kills, heals, evasion, and much more would more than make up for the rewards lost by not killing monsters the old fashioned way.
Telegraphs are an important aspect of combat. "We make sure monsters have a series of attacks they can do, so you never fall into a rut of hitting the same keys over and over." To help players avoid these attacks, WildStar makes avid use of the ground targeted "circles" or telegraphs warning players of an impending attack. But circles on steroids would be a more accurate description, since circles appear as lines, crosses, multiple circles and many more shapes so that players like me who constantly dodge backwards can't get used to dodging in just one direction.
Jeremy described the game's four "paths" for players, which is how the game actively tailors progression to your playstyle. Paths have been followed in detail throughout WildStar's development, but Jeremy shared a few updates on each path as follows;
Soldiers - The soldier path will come naturally to most WildStar players, but the game offers a lot more than rote combat. Jeremy explains: "About 20-25% of your missions switch over to be solely about combat. Monsters attacking, giant bosses coming up out of the ground, that kind of thing. Even if you aren't a soldier, your friends can help you with those."
Settlers - "If you're a settler, it's all about socializing and building. The same stuff you do with housing, these guys can do in the quest hubs - open shops, add to the taxi network, field hospitals, all sorts of cool stuff." Jeremy explained that the game provides basic services such as a network of transport between major points of interest, but players can extend these networks and get a nice bonus to XP for doing so. Since I ran my own druid taxi service in the original EverQuest, I was pretty excited to hear about this.
Explorers - Explorers are experts at finding bonus content, perhaps through treasure maps, minigame puzzles, jump puzzles, time challenges, and the like. One explorer area holds a corporate spaceship crashed into a mountain lake. By rescuing the crew, explorers can briefly open up a new vendor hub for all players nearby.
Scientists - Scientists are the collectors of WildStar. They get extra links in the galactic archive, extra story stuff, and extra xp revolving around discovering lore.
Carbine has a slew of unannounced features they're slowly bringing to video, and their most recent video features housing. It's well worth a watch, especially if you're a fan of intentionally campy advertising.
What's promised is one of the more ambitious housing systems we've seen yet at launch. "We have the technology to change our terrain at run time... people can change big chunks of land. It's not just about the house itself, it's about the ability to modify terrain outside too." I asked Jeremy if the featured defensive cannon is just for looks or if competitive content might be built around the housing system. "We've announced no such thing," he said with a laugh.
But he continued: "The first time we turned on housing for our team of 120 or so, we did a power play day over lunch and people placed over 64,000 objects when it was purely decorative. Since then, we've taken the assets and tied them more to tradeskill systems, quest systems, and the combat systems to keep introducing functionality. So, will there be combat associated with housing? Yea, there sure will." Jeremy promised "deep dives" on that in the future.
PvP and Dynamic Events
The pastoral scenery of the first few areas we explored gave way to Thayd in the zone Galeras, an active siege and battlefield surrounding a level 20 town, complete with warships flying overhead and crashing down, gunnery emplacements, and plenty of grit that seems more at home in Call of Duty than Wildstar. The Firefly analogy holds here; though the game is chock full of lighthearted, likeable characters and clever entanglements, things can get dark at times too.
Though PvP hasn't been discussed in detail, Jeremy mentioned that the nearby contested area of Whitevale is the first place where Exile characters will first experience open-world PvP. Just like loftite, battlefield imagery and contested PvP is all designed to keep players from feeling zone fatigue. But one variety of gameplay the game is not centered around is dynamic events - occasional public quests made famous by games like Warhammer Online, Rift, and most recently Guild Wars 2. That's not to say the Wildstar doesn't have it's share of roving events and limited-time-only quests. "We have dynamic events but we don't harp on it, because you level up pretty quick. You're in and out of an area in a half hour or hour so you kind of don't know what's persistent and what's random."
Elder Game and Upcoming Reveals
This attention to detail will extend to level cap. "So now you're at cap, now what? Elder games are what keeps people playing for the long haul. There's no better way to set money on fire than to build an MMO and not build an elder game. We're doing seperate elder games for PvE, for PvP, for grouped PvP and PvE so that no matter what your playstyle is, there's something fun for you to do."
As for accomplishing solo elder game content without just turning to rep grinds, daily quests, and tradeskills, Jeremy explained that there are 6 content teams producing 6 square kilometers every 8 weeks. We've tasked several of those teams with doing nothing but producing endgame content. "We'll have new dungeons and new areas that are advancing the world story, and solo players will get to dig into what's going on," presumably while getting better gear in the process." As for raids, Jeremy hinted at the return of 40 man content.
Development Status and Revenue Model
"So we're not ready to talk release date," Jeremy stated, "but I will offer you a few bars more than 'it's ready when it's ready.' Our commitment is to create a hundred hours of content to level cap. That has to be fun, that has to be polished, balanced, and bug free. Beyond that we have to create other full-fledged systems - level cap PvE, group and raid content, and PvP- that are interesting, innovative, and fun."
In a word: "We're actually pretty close to feature complete. Other than that, it's all about content." As for specifics, Jeremy quipped that Carbine will be opening up the friends and famiyl beta when they run out of friends and out of family. "It won't be next week, but its not far off either."
Jeremy also shared a few thoughts on business model: "We're basically going to have a different business model in every territory. Korea's all about PC bangs, that requires a different model than what's going on in the US or Europe. A lot of markets are in transition too. Because of that, we're launch supporting a bunch of business models."
Our thanks to the Carbine Studios team and Jeremy Gaffney for offering us a peek behind the curtain at gamescom 2012.