ZAM - WildStar: Raiding Reborn?

Discussion in 'Wildstar' started by Harlequin, Aug 28, 2013.

  1. Harlequin

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    http://www.zam.com/story.html?story=31749&storypage=1

    We interview Content Director Mike Donatelli about WildStar's raids, guild fortresses, patch plans and more!

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    By almost any measure, Mike Donatelli is a busy man. As Content Director for Carbine on upcoming MMO WildStar, he oversees a huge number of teams. Social systems, economy, crafting and dungeons are all part of his domain. About the only thing he doesn’t manage is combat and PvP, with Carbine choosing to have a dedicated team purely focused on those classes, mechanics and telegraphs.
    It’s clear that he’s also excited to be able to discuss WildStar for the first time outside a locked and sealed office door. For the person responsible for a large amount of our journey to level cap and beyond, it’s clear that he’s proud of what his team has put together.
    The reason is obvious: Donatelli is one of us; a classic old-school died-in-the-wool MMO fanatic, who fought his way up after landing his first industry job with Mythic, doing Customer Service for Dark Age of Camelot. “I played the crap out of MMOs and a buddy of mine got in there and he said, ‘Hey look, they’re looking to set up customer service.’ So I got in that way and I worked myself up to customer service supervisor. When I was a supervisor I was like ‘I’m done’. But then that gave me a really good insight into the way players react to the things devs would do.”
    “I’d have players telling me ‘Not only does this encounter suck, but it’s broken.’ I would troubleshoot it and then take it to a dev, and say ‘Look, I got a hundred player complaints last night about this.’ They’d be like ‘That’s the way it was intended.’ That’s not a response. I think that really colored my view of feedback. When all you’re doing is dealing with the player every day and what they love and hate, it gives you a definite view that a player is not something to abuse but it’s a customer.” Since then, Donatelli worked his way up the design ladder working on Warhammer and Crimecraft, before joining Carbine as a Senior Designer.
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    A Promise of Legendary Raiding
    Donatelli and his team have been focusing on that old problem of raider burnout – how do you keep raids fresh, interesting and worth running week in, week out? With the promise of twenty and forty man raiding, coupled with raids that change every week, I was eager to know more. And I was floored by the response.
    The dungeon team hit a problem early on. If dungeons change every week, what happens when one group gets a boss with DPS adds, while another group gets the same boss with healer adds? If you’ve got a world first kill riding on it, changing the adds can change the difficulty completely. Donatelli told me that the raider guys on his dungeon team were flipping desks.
    His solution was to ensure that every server has the exact same dungeon configuration every week. But that’s not all. “Imagine a boss room in a raid. Then imagine a boss room where I can swap plugs, so one time you go in there’s a gaping chasm across the whole thing that’s shooting steam up in the air and you have to use your utility movement thing to go back and forth across it and not take damage, and then the next time you go in it’s not there anymore. And now it’s like steam geysers with multiple tubes of steam. We can do that.”
    “I’m not going to say it’s never ending and you’ll never get the same one twice. I’m saying that there'll be a dozen different variations, that boss fight is the same boss, same loot same things you want, but it’s ‘oh my god, it’s the one with the chasm, this sucks.’ You know what I mean? ‘But this is the one we’re going to get for a week so we have to develop our strategy around that.’”
    The tells and telegraphs will still be in play, with Donatelli adding that “We can do so many things with group telegraphs. There’s a level of those telegraphs you don’t even get to see in the level 6 content. Where your group and your raid’s telegraphs interact with each other in that experience is crazy.”
    The Path system, where players choose an adventuring style to suit them, is also a key part of the raiding experience. “We have a lot of path interaction where Settlers who build things can build very cool things, and Soldiers have super cool abilities and because we can say you’re in this instance and this week it’s this with these plugs and these sub bosses, I can also turn around and give these [Path] abilities. So now, because you’re a soldier you have a special ability you didn’t have when it was that other thing. And again, it just allows for a level of replayability that is just not there in the ‘shit a monster out, stick it in a room’ and say ‘watch out, it’s going to knock you in the fire.’”
    “The 40 man raid … it’s the craziest thing I’ve ever been involved in, design wise. It’s old school, we have play tests where all we do is run around the dungeon with 40 guys just to make sure that the play space is of an appropriate nature. But the combat and the things, those boss fights are unlike … I wish I could talk about it. But there’s some crazy stuff in there that you, like, holy crap, this boss fight itself could be an entire dungeon, so it is a massive undertaking. We’ve been working on it; we’ll probably end up working on it the entire project.”
    With raids changing configuration every week, my thoughts immediately leapt to a possible return of high-end competitive PvE. To support such a measure, you’d need some kind of leader board system to gather stats from raiders. Once again, Donatelli delivers.
    “The leader boarding and competition is 100% what we’re doing. Whether that feedback is dumped into a webpage that we run or if it’s an in-game window you can pull up, that I’m not 100% sure about. Now we’re building the hooks for that in-game so that we can pull those metrics out and deliver them in a format to the player base, but I’m not exactly 100% sure whether that’s going to be in-game or out of game. Leader boards across all those group and guild orientated things was always a high priority.”
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    Guild Warfare
    Outside of raiding, there’s one other activity that Donatelli shared some details on – flying fortresses. Using the same system that’s been built to provide player housing, Guilds will be able to build massive platforms in the sky, then send them to battle against other top guilds. It doesn’t end at just unlocking the feature either, as Donatelli explained how you’ll be able to convert your fortress into a floating platform of death.
    “Go throughout the world, play all the content, collect the 18 pieces you need to build a helicopter pad so that helicopter’s fly off and strafe the enemy stronghold. If a player wants to hoard points and then use that for orbital strikes, then they can do whatever they want. That is all that is, that is two enormous groups of players, creating their own fortress and fighting against someone else’s fortress and it’s however they want to do it.” We’ve also heard rumors of being able to capture raid bosses and use them as cannon fodder against your enemies.
    Beyond guilds and raids, Donatelli assured me that dungeons would appear throughout the levelling content, with that same variability tech in use that we’ll find in raids. He also mentioned something that he cautiously described as “a more group orientated, strategic, game play experience” that we’ll be able to experience while climbing to level cap.
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    Push Button to Change World
    This plug-and-socket power isn’t just confined to dungeons, with Donatelli also having the power to change the world at the push of a button. By patching content in beforehand, it’s possible for him to trigger events while the game is live, with players immediately experiencing the changed landscape.
    “In one fell swoop, with a very easily made cinematic from our cinematics team. I can show a meteor plummeting towards the planet’s surface, white screen the whole thing out, shake the whole world and take the mountain away and swap in an enormous crater with a meteor in it that is spewing out aliens. And I can do it in runtime. If you’re on the mountain, you’ll just get knocked way, way, way back and you’ll land on the ground and all of a sudden there’s a collision on an enormous thing that has now changed the entire landscape”
    “Now there’s certain elements I won’t get into too much of, but there are elements that could reverse that. And as long as we do it right, we can do some pretty amazing stuff. You as a player for a month wouldn’t even realize that you’re standing on top of what we’re going to flip a switch one day and make a wildly different play space. You could still do the same content in and around it but we can change that stuff. And because it’s so nuts - the evolution of it - where the game can go is pretty crazy.”
    “A lot of old games that I won’t name they would try to do things of that nature. Ok look, we’re spawning in these things and they’re floating over the terrain. That’s why all that floats, because there’s no collision. So it’s very easy to put anything you want floating around in the sky or in the sky box because you don’t have to get on top of it, but we can make it so you can get on top of all these things. Bring in whole new play spaces. If we wanted to bring in a space cruiser and have it hovering around, we can put you on it, you can run around on it. That’s even easier.”

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    We interview Content Director Mike Donatelli about WildStar's raids, guild fortresses, patch plans and more!

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    The Meaty Patch
    Executive Producer Jeremy Gaffney has committed to delivering a fresh slice of new content every eight weeks. As the man in charge of making this happen, I asked Donatelli if such a thing was possible. The answer comes back to an interesting distinction by the team; rather than calling it end-game, our time at level cap is described as Elder Game by the team.
    “I guess the easiest way to explain it is, as far as I’m concerned, in the design that we have planned there is no end. I have a design for 18 months past launch, and this isn’t expansion content or big drops, it’s just instances and dungeons and solo story game play. Jeremy wants to make sure that we have made sure that there is something for the guys that just want to run by themselves, the group players, the PvP group players, the solo PvPers. I have a ton of design ready to go.”
    “If we could implement it before launch that would be awesome, I’d love to have six months of it ready to rock and roll, but we’re pretty tight as it is right now. The idea is that I don’t know when this is supposed to end so I didn’t plan around it ending. It’s better to call it elder because you get to a point and you’re that level and that content is not necessarily on the treadmill, it’s a larger thing, but it doesn’t end.”
    “I know we can pull off an 8 week [schedule].If you had told me when we were doing 3 month milestones that we could pull off an 8 week milestone, I’d have said you were absolutely insane, but we managed to do it and I’m happy with what we’ve produced, however I feel that the team is really going to have to nail it, to get out ahead of that. My plan, my hope is to have at least three of those in the hopper by launch. Three things of content that are already in game you’ve already downloaded or bought it in the box. It’s already gold mastered so then I can throw the switch and we’re already chugging along.”
    “One of the reasons why I didn’t blanch at the thought of doing this is because this day and age, I can turn around and downloading a gig is not a big deal. I remember in the old days if you wanted to download 100 meg you had to flip the switch and go to bed. You’d be up the next day and that thing might be done. Nowadays people won’t even worry, ‘yeah whatever I’ll download an entire game off of Xbox, it’s like 8 gig, I don’t care it’ll take 15 minutes.’”
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    Donatelli is also primed and ready for special events, by having map plugs ready in advance. “The art is already there. There’s a map somewhere else that has all the plug information and that stuff, you don’t ever see it, but that’s what I’m swapping to and from so it’s all on the disc or it’s all in the game. Throwing in some monsters, some dialogue, some things of that nature is very low impact. From a technical standpoint I know we can do it. From an 8 week milestone standpoint I now we can pull it off, but again it’s kind of like that razor’s edge. We know there are so many layers of content to get it all right and get it all in the game.”
    I also wanted to make sure that we’d be getting full-fat patches with enough content for us to really sink our teeth into. Could Donatelli guarantee that we wouldn’t get wafer-thin updates?
    “Well, how I can guarantee that it’s not is that Jeremy mandated it would not be, and then my big schedule that we put together was several iterations in the making. Because it’s like, this is what we’re going to do! And he’s like, that’s not enough. And we had to come up with enough things to fill the gaps. But yeah, we have. The idea is, there are a lot of things I can’t talk about. There are a lot of big chunky combat things, a lot of zones, dungeons and shiphand missions.”
    “When I say shiphand mission, ship missions are a thing unto themselves. It’s go off the planet someplace else and do this whole, entire thing that could take two hours to do, so it’s definitely not a quest. Like we’ve said, quests are super easy, we can crap quests into the world. But as far as Jeremy Gaffney’s concerned, that is never going to do, so the plan that he has approved, that I put together is definitely, it’s kind of the twist.”
    “We’ve already planned all that out and I have a team, we’ve bulked the team up pretty well this year. The idea is that at the end, where you generally have to cut a bunch of people loose, our plan is to keep all those people, but for a reason. It’s very easy to turn around and say ‘oh, we’re going to cut 50% of the staff because we only have to keep a skeleton crew live team together to make sure bugs get worked out.’ That’s old school. If we’re going to follow Jeremy Gaffney’s path we have to have an army of developers constantly churning stuff out. I think he’s right, I’d play that game.”
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    Building the World
    On top of the dungeons, raids, shiphand missions and all the other stuff that Donatelli’s aching to share, his team is responsible for fleshing out the open world. With a current build rate of nine square kilometres of finished content every eight weeks, that’s a large amount of world building. It’s something that requires a highly collaborative approach, with Content Design acting as the central point.
    “We have a very interesting design process. The content design team puts the content in, but we utilize other teams as I mentioned before. Narrative design - we use them as a library. We’re like ‘Hey, we have this cool idea to have these big buttes all throughout the zone. We’ve going to put these tornados that throw you up in the air and spin you around, and you have to control your fall to land on the next level and do a lot of platforming game play’. So we came up with that idea on the content team and then they went to lore and said ‘Hey, tornados chucking you up in the air and you've got to land in other tornados that chuck you up further to get you up this enormous mountain...Why?...How?’ And in lore, because they’re the keepers of the lore, they turn around and say, ‘Well, we have primal energy. The whole universe is made up of primal energy and primal elements and one of them’s air. So there could totally be, naturally occurring primal air pockets.’”
    “So we name them primal air pockets and they write a bit, they flesh the lore out. It’s a very cool thing for us to do - we come up with the game play idea and we go to them and ask how we fit it in our world. Because, as we mentioned before, story is super important but it’s easier for the narrative design team to weave it in and it makes for some really cool things.”
    “It’s the same thing with combat and encounters. We turn around, we lay all the monsters out in the play space and we know these monsters are targets of this content. We know that there are Path targets involved; we know that there are challenges.
    “We go to the Encounters Team and say ‘what we’re thinking is these are all pirates. Space pirates. We think that they would do these things and this type of combat from a content perspective. They go in and look at it, then they say ‘Eh, play space is kind of small for that but what we’ll do instead are these things.’”
    “I went to the Art Team and said ‘Hey, a Robot Sheriff, he needs a ten gallon cowboy hat.’ And the art guy said ‘You know what, he does. Give me two days.’ If he’d turned around and told me that there was no way, he couldn’t fit a cowboy hat in there I’d have turned around and maybe gone a different way. But because he can and because it’s fun, and I would say that’s the basis of every we do. It all starts with ‘wouldn’t it be fun to do this thing?’ and people are like ‘Yeah, that would be fun.’ And that’s how challenges got made, I sat down with an artist and we talked about it. An artist named Max Matzenbacher - we were talking about challenges in Darksiders versus challenges in Dante’s Inferno and we were like ‘Let’s try it in the game. We can totally do that.’ And we did! And it’s one of the bigger things in our game.”
    It’s that fluid relationship that Donatelli has with Lead Narrative Designer Chad Moore and Art Director Matt Mocarski that helps WildStar become more incredible than anyone could plan. “Matt will pop his head into my office, in the middle of a playtest. I’m playing with twenty people and they’re watching me play their content. He’ll come in and say ‘I’m going to set that asteroid on fire.’ And I’m like, ‘OK.’ Then I have to turn around and say ‘He’s going to set this whole asteroid on fire, so...’ We’re very fluid. There’s so much compromise going on, but it’s always compromise for the better.”
    “Chad, before I went to the artist and said ‘hey, put a cowboy hat on this guy.’, I asked him if it wouldn’t be bad ass to put a tin badge and ten gallon on this guy. He was ‘Hell yeah, see if you can get some boots.’ I’ll start with the hat then I’ll try and eek the rest of it out of the art department at a later date.”
  2. Harlequin

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    This one is a bit older, from February and checked but didn't see it posted, but also has some good info.
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    Subtle

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    dam, had not seen this before. if all this is true and not a publicity stunt then this game will be truly epic.
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    Keleynal Jesus Freak

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    I think it's truly what they intend. The question is execution.
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    Gyoin Over Analystical Extreme Gambler

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    Since then I recall hearing about content drops being 4-6 weeks apart, and this is stating 8. Other than that, most of the information is something I've already read or heard before.
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    Keleynal Jesus Freak

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    I think 8 weeks is very reasonable. With the pace I play, I think I would get frustrated with monthly additions since I may not be able to keep up.

    What I found really interesting is that the plug and socket system may be more than a feature in the game; it sounds like it could BE the system. There is mention in there of pulling things out of the environment and putting other stuff in it's place- mixing and matching whole landscapes and areas. In the world and in dungeons and raids.

    Maybe all games are designed this way, but having something modular like that sounds brilliant to me. I'd love to see art sets of changing seasons. There's always summer zones and winter zones, but it would be awesome if they all changed with the seasons. The amount of art may be cost-prohibitive, but as the game matures and they have larger libraries of images to pull from, I could see them doing that.
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    Gyoin Over Analystical Extreme Gambler

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    That's the thing, games AREN'T typically built this way. They are static and not able to be modified much. Think of WoW holidays. Nothing outside of it's usual environment changed, they just added things on top of it. Instead of "replacing" things, things were added mostly and then removed after, not altered. (I think, I'm not a programmer, but as a player that's how it seems).
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    Rajax

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    Ship missions or whatever they were called seemed like new info to me. Some of it seemed new while the update rollouts were supposed to be 6 weeks instead of 8 - not sure if it is up-to-date or out-dated.

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