Tuesday, June 18, 2013

WildStar Q&A with Jeremy Gaffney


Despite what you may initially anticipate, this is not a joke or parody article. I understand that me saying that only further perpetuates the notion that it is. Thanks to Team WildStar's community director, Troy Hewitt, (@CRB_Aether) I have wrangled a pretty good Q&A with WildStar's Executive Producer Jeremy Gaffney, who you may recognize from... everything. I asked the tough fun questions and got some honest interesting feedback.


Miguelito: As you may or may not be aware, most of the weirdos who will be reading this interview almost certainly feel betrayed by the current homogeneous MMO market. If you were to offer a specific feature or characteristic of WildStar that could bring a retired Ultima Online or Star Wars Galaxies veteran back to the genre, what would it be?

Gaffney: For veterans of those games in particular, housing’s gonna have a lot of appeal. But my psychic senses detect that you’re going to ask about that in a few questions, so I’ll hit a less obvious one and soliloquize: over time we’d like to provoke a rares market similar to what UO had – but less so based on crazy bugs like picking up terrain tiles (well, we might accidentally have some of those) and instead, more systematically have things that enter the world for periods of time that are collectable and interesting.

We’re still mucking around with some of the what’s and how’s (we iterate a lot, so pinning us down is nontrivial) but I really think that the rares economy was an overlooked subtlety of UO that I haven’t really seen done right since – maybe some of that itch was scratched by achievement systems entering the genre, or EQ2 collections, but there’s something cool about a world alive enough that not everything’s static and there all the time. Discoveries (random player-started mini-events that can be anything from boxes of loot, to bots that follow you around and buff you, to quests, to dungeon entrances) are part of that non-static feeling, but in my opinion collecting and having an economy around those sorts of things are cool. There’s so much stuff in housing alone, that making some of it rarer than others (and/or player craftable, or rare drops, or seasonal, or requiring obscure quest lines or activities to get) is a natural in any case. Damn, back on housing.

(Oh, for those who aren’t all UO-y, my familiarity comes from being lead prog on UO2 as well as playing) – a big market of rare items kind of emergently developed in UO. Mostly this was all based around bugs and glitches to start – you could pick up a grass tile that wasn’t nailed down if you hustled over to the right spot after a server reboot, or items that were once available and then left the game. When developers try to manage stuff like that (as did some generations of the UO design teams) it’s very easy to make it TOO accessible – an obscure quest gating stuff over time is done by most players in the game, or a 1% drop is still found by thousands of players daily. Some of the UO rares existed with dozens total on a server, or were even unique. All emergent, but those kinds of things are developer crack to see if you can get some of those cool elements that arose without depending on bugs. Even just gating when items can enter into the economy and then seeing what happens with the economy when you guarantee scarcity for a period of time thereafter is interesting.)

Anyways, that’s a subtlety and won’t bring that crowd back into the genre (which was your original question) and that will develop over time as the game is live or not. More obvious answers are housing (tons of depth there), Warplots (build a destructible town, chain down some raid bosses, and sic them on your enemies, what ain’t to like?), dynamic content (kind of an overused buzzword, but great when done right), competitive raids, social systems support (through settlers and more). And other stuff, but I’d just as soon not be a USP bullet point machine gun.

I can now focus all of my UO2 hatred on somebody! Neat!


Miguelito: One of the things I always mention about the golden age of gaming is the presence of tangible consequences for failure that makes victory more exciting. Though there is no unforgiving death system in WildStar, is there anything in the works that makes victory over player opponents sweeter?

Gaffney: Yeah, we’re debating just how much persistent pain for instance to put into Warplots (how much “skin” should you put into that game? Persistent warplot damage? Ante up some epic phat loots to be won or lost in the match? Opinions welcome, jaded MMO crowd). We think that death should be meaningful – you bonded well in EQ when someone jumped in saved your butt, and might make a lifelong friend, and part of that was the pain of death. But simultaneously in the same game, you were pissed if someone killstole you – and that is a remarkably similar behavior. So hitting the sweet spot on what is good pain and what is bad we’ll admit is nontrivial. In general I’m advocating that the more ‘elder’ the system the more hardcore it is.

Nobody openly admits that they want to be tortured by video-games, but Ninja Turtles (NES) had a water level for a reason.


Miguelito: Player Housing hasn’t been done right in a MMORPG for a very long time, so...

a. Can you have a vendor in your house?


Gaffney: Yep, but not the way you mean. Some plugs you add to your house have vendors so you can buy/sell tuff. However, you probably mean like a vendor that can sell items for you like Lineage 2 or Ultima Online or some such – and we use the auction house for that. We feel the immersion of setting up a vendor is outweighed by having to run around trying to find them all, but some players will probably argue otherwise.

b. Instancing aside, do players have to get an invitation to get to your house, or can you lure unsuspecting victi... friends to come hang out?


Gaffney: You can set your house public or invite your so-called friends. If you have any.

c. Can you PvP on your homestead?


Gaffney: You can duel, but PVP housing is called Warplots - it involves building giant fortresses with 39 of your buddies, chaining a raid boss down to it, and beating the crap out of other fortresses Like 2Forts in Team Fortress, except you build the forts, and send dragons to attack the other fort, and build factories that create mech suits to hop in and start destroying each other. So nothing like 2Forts.

d. Can your house have some sort of psychopathic butler that attacks you Pink Panther style? Can he be a robot?


Gaffney: Awesome. Nope. Also, Seek help.

e. What is the thing you like most about your player housing system?


Gaffney: It’s all about making your mark on the world – it’s just cool to build a place and call it your own, and we’re trying to tie as many systems into it as possible so it’s not “just” decorative. Not that decorating is suck either, but there’s something about tying it into the world that takes it up a notch. Also the plugs they are adding are crazy, mini-quests and puzzles and social “party” plugs and things attacking your land… just cool.


Miguelito: Be honest, were there any crazy features that just didn’t make the cut?

Gaffney: We experiment with all sorts of stuff, so there are tons of these. Most end up making it back in in some perverse fashion however, so I’m scared to mention any that might reappear.

Crossing my fingers on rideable llamas...


Miguelito: All the cool kids play immersive hardcore sandbox games. I suppose that isn’t really a question.

Gaffney: Yeah, that’s what our grandkids tell us, the whippersnappers.

We do some freeform aspects (settler campfires, dynamic discoveries, housing, etc.) and some fixed (towns, hubs, some static quests, etc.) and some hybrid (settler buildings in towns). We tend to do more themeparky stuff early (new players need direction) and more sandboxy stuff later (you’re at level cap, you have big boy pants on now - go build a town and take it into battle, you crazy shiny flower).

But it’s like business models – people often enjoy hating gameplay styles more than liking them, really, especially because you’ve been burned (or burned out) by one game or another. So we really don’t stress one way or another and do what we find fun, and then people can choose what to dislike or enjoy.

Freedom at any level is always a good thing for the longevity of a MMORPG.


Miguelito: All the cooler kids have cool kids, will I be able to melt face with one hand on the mouse and one hand holding my adorable 6 week old baby girl?

Gaffney: Nope, sucks to be you. They call that “cigarette combat” and we actually require skill and gameplay and two hands, so you’ll have to let your baby fend for herself until she’s old enough to farm gold for her weekly allowance. Or a babysitter.

That's okay, she's 8 weeks old now and she can fend for herself.


Miguelito: It seems sad to see all those space ships and not have one of my own... Are there any plans to expand WildStar to the stars? If so, can you do it in a non-terrible way?

Gaffney: The latter question is the important one. The engine’s built to allow flight, but we won’t add that kinda thing unless we can make it awesome. You can bop up to the moons (low gravity zones, w00t superjump) and the defense ring around the planet, but that I’m sure ain’t what you mean.

I'll take no space-flight over rail-shooter bullshit any day of the week... Not that I'm naming names... SWTOR...


Miguelito: I am definitely loving the sense of humor in the Dev Speak Videos and Trailers. Can I expect to laugh my ass off all the way through WildStar, or is the tone going to be ironically somber?

Gaffney: We aim to have all the light-hearted levity Game of Thrones shows to its main characters.

I see what you did there...


Miguelito: Ever since Super-Metroid, Double-Jump has been awesome. Age of Wushu aside, why do you think that so few MMORPGs have capitalized off what should be a no brainer feature?

Gaffney: I have no idea, but we are laughing all the way to the bank, clutching our key feature in our little hands. Actually most games don’t pay enough attention to movement, you spend about 70% of your time moving, 20+% fighting – those are key to make be awesome, and often the 70% gets ignored. We call it making sure there’s “Joy of Movement” which I think we stole from the Guild Wars guys.

I'd love to see some Tony Hawk features added to the platforming in WildStar!


Miguelito: Is WildStar a ‘true’ Massively Multiplayer game, or are zones broken up into separate cloned instances?

Gaffney: We’re for realzors. We instance noob zones so that there are only 10s of people around on launch day not 10000 in line to kill a sheep though. Level 6 and up it’s big open world. Group content we do instance usually so it’s not standing in line to kill your needed Guk.

So... happy...


Miguelito: How do you feel about the relationship between balance and novelty? Is it is more important for character classes to be equal, or for them to be unique and interesting?

Gaffney: I actually counsel designers (and have for years): Make it fun, then balance it. Fun is harder than balance, so tackle that first. Then don’t balance all the damn fun out of it.

I would say that I couldn't say it better myself, but I probably could... because I rule.



Miguelito: For such a high profile project, you sure seem to be handling the community without kid gloves. Are you confident in your product or something?

Gaffney: I dunno, we screw stuff up all the time. We just built the tools and engine around having it be as easy as possible to make it better. We have an all-inclusive no-BS policy – me to my team, my guys to each other, and all of us to the fans. It means not promising things we don’t have faith in delivering. Our Community Team just won’t allow it. We’ll get some stuff wrong when talking to the community, but we’ll err on the side of being forthright about our mistakes, communicate as frankly as we can about what went wrong, and what we’re doing to fix it. We hope people will cut us slack when we goof and say too much, or talk about something which then has to change for a production related reason. Sure, we’d rather not goof it up in the first place, but we’re at least going to be honest about it. It also helps that we have the best community team in the business. Don’t tell them I said that, though. The fear and stress keeps them focused.

Thanks for giving us some time to share a little bit of WildStar with you. Now we’ve got to get back to work.

Thanks for making me feel important!


That's all, folks. Team WildStar, if nothing else, has made great strides in transparent development. The game definitely looks promising so far, so let's all cross our fingers and hope I don't have to write a follow up!

Miguelito out.


15 comments:

  1. Really like the Q&A template. ;-) Oh and thanks for the interview!

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  2. Thanks! I literally just made it... like... just now.

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  3. Love the no "cigarette combat" illustration. I guess I'll need to put down the sammich to play well.

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  4. Maybe you can get one of those sandwich holders that wraps around your neck.

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  5. Blues Traveler is probably more apt.

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  6. " Discoveries (random player-started mini-events that can be anything from boxes of loot, to bots that follow you around and buff you, to quests, to dungeon entrances) are part of that non-static feeling, but in my opinion collecting and having an economy around those sorts of things are cool" - Econ pvp woodie
    It's been close to 4 hours I might need to go see a doctor?

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  7. Feature list makes this game look like WoW 2... or did I miss something?

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  8. There is definitely mass-appeal in this game, but it seems to offer more than your typical clone for old-school types. We'll just have to wait and see.

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  9. It's just that this interview makes it seem this WoW expansion is anything else but a WoW expansion.

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  10. I'm just going to acknowledge that they're trying and move on. If the game releases and it's terrible I'll be writing more about it :D

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  11. The answers to these questions have proven to me that this game will officially suck ass and be nothing but a repainted WoW clone.

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  12. While by my (and your) cynical definition, this is exactly correct, I still hold out that some of the "sandpark" features are a step out of the dark age of gaming.

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  13. My problem is i don't believe anything these guys say. These Dev's say one thing and do something else.I think its another over hyped game.

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  14. Right, but they gave me a Q&A so they're alright! Also, it's better than TESO, but that's a Fucking low bar.

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