Wildstar Dev On Biz Model, Jumping Puzzle Pain & Sunsets

Wildstar Dev On Biz Model, Jumping Puzzle Pain & Sunsets

Yesterday, I caught up with Carbine Studio’s bossguy Jeremy Gaffney to see what’s been going on in their upcoming mega-MMO Wildstar. While he wasn’t quite ready to reveal how the game will make money, he did drop a few big hints about the payment scheme they’re looking at. We also tackled the jumping puzzles which made me see red last time I played the game, how they’re continually responding to player feedback, finding the sweet spot between too easy and too hard, and the one weird trick to cut down belly fat that apparently makes both Wildstar and WoW’s terrain so timeless.

RPS: What are you able to tell us about the business model at this stage?

Jeremy Gaffney: Some of the stuff we’ll be talking about [at Develop] will relate to what we’re doing with our business model, but not pointing it out as such. We’re going to a reveal in a couple of weeks, basically, because what we really want to do is have a dev speak that talks to it in detail.. Because if there’s a single thing we’ve found, it’s that nobody loves a business model. Everybody hates business models. No-one’s like “I love a subscription game!”, it’s “I hate cash shops” or “I hate free to play,” or “I hate subs.” So what we want to do is try to be flexible, let people pay how they want to pay and do a bit more of a hybrid.

But we don’t want to confuse that too, because part of providing flexibility is potential confusion, so we’ll do a dev speak that explains in detail, “here’s what the hell we’re talking about” in non-bullshit terms, in language that devs will get and users will get.

RPS: I suppose there’s a certain fear of having certain tags, like ‘free to play’, attached to a game these days – it can provoke a negative response straight away.

Jeremy Gaffney: Yeah, we’re a hybrid model at the end of the day, so people are going to pick on their least favourite aspect and tag us with it. And that’s fine, you can’t change human nature, so so be it. People have a right to be jaded, because there’s enough that comes out. Being unique in this space is tricky, especially in the land of giants and the land of the larger the budget is, the more scared people usually are to innovate. Telling your boss how you just set fire to 100 million dollars… It’s safest to do what’s done before, when perversely what’s done been before is what fails.

RPS: Would you say, then, that you are innovating, or will it seem very familiar when it’s revealed?

Jeremy Gaffney: I think we’re mixing innovation and doing what’s been done well before, much like the game itself. I guess in the art of teasing, then, some of it is stuff that’s been done before but we have our own particular spin on it. Some people will say ‘oh, it’s a clone of this, that or the other’ and some people will say it’s a ton of new stuff, so we’ll see.

RPS: Is there a tension to so often having to talk about your game in terms of money, rather than its content, because the business model is always the big MMO question now?

Jeremy Gaffney: Yeah, but I mean the best games out there I think do a good job of letting users pay for what they want. Take League of Legends – every three weeks you get a new hero. People are excited because it’s something new, and it’s overpowered because it’s something new, people don’t know how to counter it yet. I’ve talked to the guys over at Riot about it, because the fans will argue that the new heroes are OP because they design them that way. What Riot say, over beers, say it’s only because it’s new it feels OP, but then every three weeks it’s something new and exciting, and if you were just about to drop out of the game, there’s something that pulls you back in. It’s good for retention. That’s powerful.

I think the games you’ll see doing really well going forwards are the ones that manage to add stuff to the game rapidly. Look at what Guild Wars 2 is doing with giant new patches every couple of weeks. What’s interesting about that is that there are two types of things that are attractive to new users. One is things that are press-facing, that are new and interesting and neat, and then there are those which retain the users you already have. Balancing that mix of where you’re spending your time, it’s really hard in development. Rapidly new updates like that, it’s not usually pressworthy, the game has to be ginormous for that to be press worthy, but you need that mix of bringing in new people with ‘aha, here’s this giant new system and oh my god now there’s earth-shattering giant robots going around destroying everything’ versus ‘hey, we’re just going to make sure the game stays fun.

RPS: What has changed the most since I last played Wildstar last Winter?

Jeremy Gaffney: We’ve done a big new patch every five to six weeks, a huge patch, and it’s literally between 30 and 70 pages of patch notes. Because the secret is that if you can actually listen to your fans and then modify your game to make it better on a regular basis, you kind of win. If you can modify your game quickly, so that there’s a constant stream of new things that are coming out, you kind of win.

RPS: Do you mean balance things or content things?

Jeremy Gaffney: A bit of both. By balance we change a lot of systems, we change the user interface for a lot of things that work or don’t, we track stuff taking every character that hasn’t logged in for two weeks, and we put a skull on the map for where the character was. Why hasn’t someone logged in for two weeks? It turns out there’ll be clusters of skulls around your worst content, or the level ranges where it got too long or too tedious, or you didn’t have the right stuff.. That kind of analysis is actually really important, because you get a ton of feedback from what people say, but here also from what people do.

It’s also more convoluted than that, we encourage people to log off near houses and so on, but out in the actual world, what was the last content you interacted with, why did that content drive you out? Whether that number of users is large or small, if you are an intelligent developer you’d better be making that as small as possible, learning from the people. The massive benefit of being an online game is you’re the god of your little world. You have all the information, it’s a matter of having the time and inclination to process what’s actually going on?

RPS: How many of those skulls were where someone was on the Explorer path and trying to jump up a tree with lots of branches and falling off again and again?

Jeremy Gaffney: [Laughs uproariously]. There are clusters right around those damn trees… We actually put in something just for that, we were finding people were double-tapping to dodge, and were accidentally dodging their asses to death off the edge of a cliff. You’re like ‘I need to place my little beacon, taptaptap’, and dead.

RPS: Yeah, I had turn off the dodge in options when I played it, because if I got the timing wrong I’d just be hurled out of the bloody tree.

Jeremy Gaffney: We’ve got an option on the interface now, where you can just click on the little dodge meter thing and temporarily turn it off. That reduced our Explorer raining death count [laughs.] I remember in EverQuest back in the day, the newbie zone for the Wood Elves is all up in the trees, and so it would rain down newbie elves all the damn time. You could walk underneath it and it was this cascade of newbs trying to figure out how to walk around.

We did learn over time, we did a focus group, bring in users every week under NDA. There’s a jump puzzle in one of the early zones, and this one woman tried it and failed. There are three of us in the room watching, and she tries again, and fails. Then she tried 40-something times, and over this we started cheering as she’d get to the second stage. This attracted more devs in, so by the time she finally did it, people from across the building were watching and we’re like “you guys need to shut the fuck up, because she can hear you cheering every time she makes a successful jump, she can hear you going ‘noooooooooooooo’ every time she flops.” Finally, after 40-something times she made it to the top. It wasn’t that tough of a puzzle, but we just hadn’t tuned it quite right. 40 of us came running into the room, like ‘yeeeeeeeeeeah!’ She was so mortified.

RPS: I had very similar at the demo day, the more I failed the more frustrated I got, the more errors I made from impatience, and I had this small crowd of games journalists gather to watch me. I knew there was like a hundred other things I could be doing in the game, but I felt I had to get to the top of this damn tree, click whatever’s there…

Jeremy Gaffney: You’re helping us tune our game. Also it means that the reward has got to be damn good if you finally make up there, is something we’ve learned. You don’t want to be ‘oh, some XP.’

RPS: I don’t remember what the reward was, I have to say. I just dropped the mouse and went outside to calm down once I finally did it.

Jeremy Gaffney: [laughs] Well, if you do that now you’ll end up as a little skull on a map somewhere.

RPS: I’m going to presume mine wasn’t an isolated experience, then, so what have you done in terms of those jump puzzles other than the dodge thing?

Jeremy Gaffney: Basically what we’ve done is expanding the level, open world PvP is now going on, so you get to shared zone earlier, and we’ve logged the crap out of everything, then pulled the crap out things. I’m sure this will leak, but we’ve just done in beta a list of 27 changes based on player feedback. They’re fundamental, it’s things like how quests are delivered to pieces of the UI to how itemisation works, to how the attributes system works. We’ve found weird stuff.

We were two classes of users at the level 15-20 range, and what’s happening were half of them were saying ‘this game’s great’ and half were saying ‘this game’s way too fricking hard.’. So we dug into the map and we found that there’s a system where you can hand-tune your item. People who did this, who basically were crafting their own items, were kicking ass, and those who were not were dying in droves and had no idea why. It’s because they weren’t customising their items to actually be efficient. They weren’t min-maxing. That’s on us as developers.
We either need to make it obvious why you’re dying, and give you the tools you need to fix it, or we need to really stage stuff out so as users you’re coming in and understanding. We were trying to dump too much stuff on newbie users, all these systems, challenges, paths, blah blah blah and then on top do this item customisation. If you missed the tutorial pane or you didn’t see the little 32 pixel by 32 pixel icon to go do it, or read your item tooltip, you’d never learn the system. That’s on us, that’s the kind of stuff we have to tune. We want to make sure the game is challenging, but it’s not a challenge based on shit that’s in the UI or some unintuitive thing, like double-dash throwing you off the top of a treetop. That’s not fun, that’s you fighting the UI.

RPS: There must be some conflict in yourselves, where you’ve made a system you’re proud of but you have to kill your baby to cater to the lowest common denominator, potentially.

Jeremy Gaffney: We think that everybody over time should be able to get up to level cap, whether it’s by smacking their face into a lot of monsters along the way, staggering through. Above level cap, it’s elitist, it’s fricking hard, it’s not for everyone. Grandma’s never going to make it through a raid, you know? But there’d better be enough challenging stuff along the way, because people don’t want dumbed down games either, they want a sense of achievement for actually doing stuff. So that mix of ‘hey, if you’re an expert player here are all these puzzles and stuff along the way that only you can do.’ The great mass of newbs out there are going to have to find four buddies and do this thing that you’d be cool enough to do by yourself. If the game’s too easy for you at low level, you get bored. It’s fun briefly, but it’s like playing with god mode. After a while you’re ‘ah, screw this.’

It’s fun, actually, as developer, it’s where the sweet spot is. It’s why we dump tons of rewards on you if you do more, if you fight loads of monsters at once. Newbies will never know, they’ll only fight one thing at once. Experts are like “I can fight these five things, I’m going to scan three of them at the same time because I’m a Scientist, I’m going to set up this landmine to go blow up half of them, I’m going to train them into another mob…’ You’re going to get a whole ton of reward for doing that, but you actually had to think and have skill to be able to pull that kind of stuff of. Newbies are still out there grinding their first response.

RPS: Do you guys liaise with the Guild Wars 2 team at all, to learn from what they’ve got right and wrong?

Jeremy Gaffney: Last week actually, we sent ten of our guys out to ArenaNet and did a big post-mortem on what’s worked for them and what’s not on Guild Wars 2. One of the things they’ve done is so fricking hard, and I don’t know if obvious to users or not, but they’ve doing three week patches, big new patches every couple of weeks. That’s fricking hard, you look at Riot with League of Legends, their entire company is devoted to nothing but making sure they have a new hero come out every few weeks. With Guild Wars it’s the same kind of thing, they have 17 individual teams focusing on individual features, who all coordinate on different branches to be able to merge in, have new stuff come out every couple of weeks.

RPS: It’s insane, I’m forever reporting on two or three person indie teams making amazing things from scratch in a few months, and then you have ten times as many people just to introduce a new character in something that’s already released.

Jeremy Gaffney: If you’re a big content game you need a big team, there are very few ways to avoid it. You can try to do what Camelot Unchained is doing and have just PvP, because PvP… Well, Dust 2 is still PvP, that’s still brilliant for Counter-Strike twelve years later or whatever it’s been. PvP you don’t need to generate a ton of content for it. Randomised content, you can get away with that but people see through that facade fairly quickly. That can’t really be everything, though it can be a big chunk of it. Diablo proves that, the old Diablos, not really the new ones. Or user-created content, what Neverwinter Nights is trying to do. Pulling of those things are where you’ll see the indie teams making the big-scale MMOs because you need to come up with a trick for the content. I think you’ll see very few of the us and the WoW-style, Everquest-style, huge masses of content tuned by large teams. Guild Wars is another one of those , and it pulls it off without a subscription fee, which is quite remarkable.

That area is very tough to sustain, especially because you have to compete with every other game that’s done it before. It’s not that the games are dead, they’re still out – WoW’s still trucking along with ten million subs. It’s ‘only’ ten million now, but it’s still ten million. It’s not doomed, it’s still going to be played ten years from now, and we have to compete with that every time we make a new game. Especially with new IP, you’d better be good, you’d better get all the details right. Look how many games have been left by the wayside.

Another thing is elder games. Have many MMOs have neglected putting in the game at the top level? It’s stupid, because where do you spend most of your time, it’s at that top level. You cannot depend on having a rapid patch cycle, like ‘oh, we’re going to cram in all those elder games a month after launch.’ That doesn’t work at all. You need to tune them, you need to balance them. Most of our work between now and launch, it’s getting those elder games tuned up. Because guess what, having a raid, a group of people who are hardcore raiders, who can level all the way up the game, then you need to be tuning it based on their feedback as they’re doing it over and over again, that takes time. That takes nothing but time. That’s why you see game after game after game launching without frickin’ elder games, or ‘hey we’re going to patch it in.’

RPS: You think they weren’t able to test it during development?

Jeremy Gaffney: Testing it is very, very hard. Testing it right is very, very hard. Tuning it right is very hard too – did you make it too easy, or did you make it too hard, so only the top 1% can do it? The sweet spot’s in the middle of that, and finding that sweet spot is tricky. But name me a game that’s launched with a good elder game in the last five years.

RPS: It’s certainly a common complaint I read soon after launch.

Jeremy Gaffney: That’s why every new game that comes out, you see it sell one million, two million, three million boxes. People are interested in MMOs, but people burn out because there’s nothing to do in the long haul. If we do that too, you can say what frickin’ idiots we are, because at the end of the day that’s where the users are, that’s where the money is, where the retention is, where you game becomes compelling and fun is there’s something to do a month after launch.

RPS: So you’re willing to make the grand statement that you’ve got it right with this? We have heard very similar claims from other developers in the past.

Jeremy Gaffney: I am comfortable making the statement that we’re fucking idiots if we don’t do it right [laughs].

RPS: I always like to ask this – name me one thing in your game that you’re proud of that almost no players will ever notice.

Jeremy Gaffney: It’s tricky, because I have the executive producer hat on most of the time, so I get to do boring shit most of the time. For me personally – but it’s a team effort, many other people have impact on this – stuff I had a direct hand in was the plug and socket system, making sure that the world was modifiable. Most users will never give a crap, it’s not like we stick a bullet point on the box saying ‘hey, we change our world all the time’, but the whole world is based on these plugs and sockets, we swap in and out new pieces all the time.

Why don’t people notice? It’s because users don’t notice dynamic shit, like a spaceship crashes and a new dungeon appears where it hits, and guards go out from it and setup outposts with quest givers and things. The guy who saw the spaceship fall out of the sky knows it’s dynamic, but everyone else is like ‘hey, cool, some quests’, because they’re just consuming the content as they level up and are in the next area. But I think it adds an ineffable quality to the world, of realism, or of sandboxy-type elements. That kind of stuff I think is important. It’s what’s going to let us keep up a really frequent patch schedule after launch, because we’ve set up the world to move in different pieces all the time.

Something else, and I don’t know how well known this is, but in World of Warcraft, which something like 40% of our team came from, the sun rises and sets in the same spot every day. Most people don’t know that. And the moon rises and sets in exactly the same spot, so if you look to the West it’s always the sun and the moon going up and down. Why? Now you can bake in lighting everywhere across the world, so you know that your light source is always coming from the west, it can always be across the mountains or whatever, and that’s why WoW’s terrain and stuff still looks good a decade later and everyone else’s looks like crap. It’s because they pulled off tricks like that to be able to bake that stuff in.

So it happens to be that our soon and our moon always rise and set in the same spot, and our terrain looks really good in part because of that. We do a very similar thing, we make sure the light sources always come from one side and then you can have your artists go hand-paint. We take it to another level, because our artists can actually paint on the ground like it was a canvas, so they can bake it whatever the hell they want. It’s those kinds of tricks that users will never notice, or if they do it’s a rarity, but here it is a decade later and have you ever see anything mentioning that the sun always rises and sets in the same spot in WoW? Nope.

RPS: I’m going to go and login tonight and watch it go up and down. Thanks for your time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wildstar’s Combat Trailer

Aiming Is The Aim: Wildstar’s Combat Trailer

Sorry, John. No WildStar for you. The lovely looking MMO’s latest vidbonk (I’m trying that word out, let me know how it worked for you) details how different it’ll be from traditional MMOs in its combat. Specifically how you’ll aim. I’m sad that the fact that you will be aiming in an MMO is still a big deal, but it is. In WildStar you can use the traditional method of hitting TAB to face in the direction of enemies if all you want to do is cast off a spell in a general direction. I’ve always hated that form of combat, so the “freeform aiming” system, basically taking a bit more control of the direction, is more my thing, and it affects offensive and defensive skills. When the voice-over pointed out: “You’ll know a good healer when you see one,” I couldn’t look John in the eye.
Here’s John on healing.

I’m glad this is a bit more complicated than just aiming and firing. Enemies can miss as well, so someone who knows how to dodge and can aim will have a skill-based advantage. And it looks like whatever you fire fills the targeting shape, so if you funnel more enemies into that you’ll do more damage to more people. You’ll even have different cast shapes, so the same aim won’t be true for everything. Cast (aha!) your eyes on the vidbonk.

 

 

 

Wildstar Has Two Other Races

Furry Zombie: Wildstar Has Two Other Races

Wildstar, it turns out, still hasn’t revealed all its special bits to us, with two more races making an appearance at San Diego Comic Con, for some reason. They are the Chua (annoying-looking “crazy” cute rodent things) and the Mordesh (morbid space zombies). So that’s the furry and undead demographics catered for, but all I really wanted was a gold-plated robot. Turns out they already had one.

There’s a video.

 

Viewed Prior To Release: Wildstar

Viewed Prior To Release: Wildstar

We sent Brendan to see Wildstar. This is his report.

A lot of good games have come from pitting the player against ‘the frontier’. (What is Minecraft, for instance, if not a blocky representation of a pre-civilisation?) On paper, the MMO genre seems perfectly suited to the frontier, since it could so easily harness real human nastiness to provide the sense of danger and lawlessness. Some MMOs, like EVE, embrace that interpretation of the wild, at the expense of giving new and inexperienced players an easy ride. On the other hand, WildStar – a new project by NCSOFT currently in beta – is shaping up to be a much more conventional, welcoming game world. A place where the frontier is a cartoon one.

It is set on the newly discovered Nexus, a lost planet of legendary status, thought of universe-wide as a source of riches and adventure. A sort of intergalactic El Dorado. The player’s role is of courageous frontiersman or frontierswoman, who must go out into the dangerous wild. But this is a thematic wildness, provided by the setting, lore and NPCs, rather than a ‘real’ wildness, which is always best provided by the threat of other players. Although there will obviously be PvP elements, they are distanced from the PvE part of the game in ways that will be instantly familiar to MMOers – but more on that later.

The character creation screen is likewise familiar, offering an assemblage of alien races and classes. To give a few examples, there are the Draken (one part goat, one part lizard, one part beard), the Aurin (very thin, lots of hair, rabbit ears) and the Mechari (a transformer, minus the transforming). The classes are fairly customary RPG types. The ‘Warrior’ as tank, the ‘Spellslinger’ as damage-dealing mage, the ‘Esper’ as healer and support, and so on. Although some races are limited in what class they choose, this limitation is somewhat offset by an extra layer of variety: the ‘Paths’ system. This allows you to adopt one of four professions on top of your character’s build so far – Soldier, Scientist, Explorer or Settler. It might sound a little elaborate but really all this means is that there are three tiers of creation – race, class, path – resulting in any number of combinations.

Each of these ‘paths’ is permanent and each has a variety of mission types particular to them. The Scientist’s missions, for instance, focus on unlocking secret labs or ancient structures, cataloguing the planet’s flora and fauna, hacking enemy computers, and generally Indiana Jonesing about. The Explorer’s missions are all about going further and further across the map, charting new areas and staking a claim for your alliance. There are bits of equipment and objects scattered around which only certain professions can interact with, so if you want to completely farm an area of its XP, you would want someone from each path in your party. This way all players will get some XP for every computer your Scientist clicks on and every satellite dish your Explorer sets up, as you all go along vacuuming loot up from all the corpses the Soldier leaves behind.

In my two-hour long session, I played as a Spellslinging Settler, whose role is to build structures in towns and activate little do-hickeys in each settlement to keep the place appearing functional. I would go around town maintaining the banners, torches and satellite dishes for small amounts of XP. These devices would reset to their ‘deactivated’ state within 5 minutes for me or another Settler to come and do it all again. NCSOFT say that, thus far, these maintenance jobs are purely for appearance – the satellite dishes might whirr and rotate for a short time but they are more of a housekeeping activity and don’t currently help other players in any way.

There are some exceptions to this. Like when the Settler builds some sentry droids, which can guard the area and lend support in a fight. Or when you take on an ‘infrastructure’ mission. This is when you have to collect resources and build a hospital, prison, spaceport, or something else like that. Once constructed, these buildings will house new characters with quests for whoever wants to take them. The confusing catch being that the building will dissolve back into its ‘unbuilt’ state after a few minutes to allow other Settlers to build for XP. Unless, that is, other players keep adding resources to it. In this case, the structure will remain.

However, the Settler also has some advantages in combat or when scouring new areas with a party of players. There are construction posts close to enemy-infested areas where the Settler can build machines that give a boost to speed or max health. There’s another that increases the XP earned within a certain bubble. The idea is that your party will be about to tackle a bunch of laser-wielding spacesuits or irradiated jabberwockys and the Settler can prep the area with all these different buffs before the fight occurs.

And when the fights do occur it is very MMO. There are spells, stuns, high damage attacks, flurries – everything you might expect. But the Combat is also about range and positioning, with lots of wooden jumping, dodging, strafing, backflipping and double-jumping out of the big red glow of the enemy’s attack range. Simultaneously you want to make sure they remain within your damage-dealing ‘cone’. While this focus of constant movement will be refreshing to those looking for a little more dynamism in their dungeon, it can also feel a little cumbersome and took me some time to get used to. And, although the paths were the focus of the demo, most of my time was spent peppering generic bad dudes with bullets and leaping out of the way of their attacks, in order to rescue some prisoners from cages.

When I escaped from that, exploring the planet revealed a world that wasn’t afraid of verticality. There is a type of crystal on Nexus that acts like that most obscenely-named of minerals, ‘unobtainium’, in that it causes the overlying earth and rock to float. It has the same effect on the player when you are close to these crystals, allowing you to leap huge distances. All of which results in these rudimentary platforming sections where you are challenged to scale mountains at the behest of an insolent countdown timer which suddenly appears on screen.

NCSOFT have yet to reveal how the guild system will work but the PvP component will comprise of large battlegrounds, an arena for bouts of 2v2, 3v3 or 5v5, and something called ‘warplots’. These fights look to be similar to the sieges of Guild Wars 2, in that there is a settlement that has to be built up with defences by one team while being charged and razed to the ground by another.
Yet the most interesting aspect of WildStar is arguably the ‘frontier’ conceit. The website and promotional material so far suggests that, as a group, you will be able to go on an expedition into the unknown parts of the world and stake a claim on the land. But the exact mechanics concerning this part of the game haven’t been fully explained. The idea of your ‘home’ is one exception.

Players will be able to build and maintain their own house in the world and NCSOFT have come up with an admittedly clever solution concerning the limitation of space in the game world, by doing what every horrible megacity has been doing for decades and building ‘up’. In this instance, player housing will be placed on islands in the sky. But this also negates the chance of conflict over land space. Whether you’re a fan of that decision will depend on whether you like your MMOs to taste spicy or sweet. Personally, I think sticking to the safe road of disallowing your players to burn each other’s houses down somewhat defeats the idea of a game about frontiers. Then again, the closest I’ve ever come to enjoying an MMO was Mortal Online, so WildStar’s cuddly WoWish conventionalism doesn’t exactly feel targeted at me.

In fact, the question of WildStar’s target audience is an interesting one because its cartoon aesthetic and jokey promotional videos seem to be angling for a wide audience, not necessarily those who go from MMO to MMO. At the same time, the mechanics, quest types and XP-farming imply a requirement for genre fluency. Overall, I get the feeling of a game that is welcoming newcomers, while also being subtly aimed at a very particular 1.3 million people, or, at least, a sub-section of that diaspora. It has yet to reveal its business model or set a concrete release date but, as of April, the beta is underway. If the current taste for F2P doesn’t disappear we may soon be discovering that the frontier planet of Nexus really is a wild free-for-all.

 

 

 

 

 

WildStar Wednesday: San Diego Comic Con

 Hello Nexians!

@Team_WildStar has been spending some serious quality time planning our presence at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con. We’ve got a panel! We’ve got an Arkship event! We’ve got a party! We even have special Nexian cocktails as created by one of our very own community members from WildStar-Roleplay.com, Chemical Cutthroat, aka Qizzer!

And we’ve packed it all into one single Friday, July 19th.

Let’s talk Comic-Con panel first! It’s titled Bringing an MMO to Life: The Stories and Characters of WildStar!

Storytelling and character development in MMOs can be extremely challenging, but both are vital when trying to launch a new IP. Our Lead Narrative Designer Chad Moore, Content Director Mike Donatelli, Creative Director Matt Mocarski, and Design Producer Stephen Frost will break down how characters and stories are developed in WildStar, and the ways they are reflected in the game. Join Carbine as they talk about the creation of key characters, the development of story arcs, and how it all culminates into making the player the star of the show.

The team will unveil never-before-seen game footage, the reveal the hotly anticipated final two WildStar races, and your chance for an exclusive invite to a VIP Arkship event! We’ll be giving a special, small group of people the opportunity to hang out with Carbine Developers, where they will be the first ones to get their hands on the super-secret content we are taking to this year’s gamescom and PAX Prime!

We’ll end the night with a big party, WildStar style that’s open to everyone! Come join us, have a drink on us, and take some time to navigate Nexus on your own in our designated WildStar gameplay lounge.

It’s special Nexian cocktails, music, dancing Carbine Developers, a photo bomb booth, and the opportunity to meet one of our most favorite voice Actors in WildStar, the amazingly talented star of stage and screen, Courtenay Taylor!

Of course that’s not enough! This is Carbine Studios after all! We’ll be giving away some serious prizes throughout the night, as provided by our friends from Alienware and Logitech!

Now that we’ve removed any possible excuse you might have had to join in the fun, here are the specifics:

WildStar Panel Discussion
11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
San Diego Convention Center, Room 24ABC
111 W. Harbor Drive
San Diego, CA 92101

WildStar Arkship Fan Event
7-11 p.m.
Hotel Palomar
1047 5th Avenue (between Broadway and B St.)
San Diego, CA 92101

Will we see you there? Head on over to our Facebook page, and let us know!

#ROWSDOWERPOWER!

Best,

Troy “Aether” Hewitt

 

WildStarOL: The Engine Interview2

We take a closer look at the beating heart of WildStar with Lead Software Engineer Steve Moret.

WildStar has a very hand-made art style, with painted textures and cartoonish models. How does that influence engine design?

The very obvious answer is that graphics programmers have to support artists in making their art look the way they want (e.g. implementing shaders that simulate various material properties, making new particle system types, etc). But the real answer lies in a story about an early build of WildStar that looked much, much different than what you’ve ever seen publicly.

When we started this project draw distance was the big thing. We wanted to draw out into infinity. There were grand ideas of starting off in space as you dropship down onto the planet Nexus; live rendering the game the whole time. We had implemented an awesome level of detail system that would guarantee constant pixel densities of the terrain system while blending the least used terrain textures into a custom color channel so the textures could be unloaded. It even super sampled terrain that was extra close to the camera (kind of the way anti-aliasing works). For the resources it was taking up, it looked great! And it had a near constant memory footprint. Programmers were high-fiving themselves all over the place.

Then one of our Lead Artists came to us, complaining that he couldn’t control what something looked like as it travelled from the foreground to the background. Of course he couldn’t! Our engine would pick the least used terrain textures, dump them to the color channel, and blend up the rest. It had a constant memory footprint!!! What didn’t he understand?! Did he miss the high-five memo?

Apparently, he didn’t want that. He showed us the concept art for his asset and said, “See this; I made something that looks like this.” And sure enough, his model and texture looked nearly as awesomely painted as the concept. “I want this to look exactly like this no matter where we draw it,” he continued. We said, “That’s impossible, when it goes further away we HAVE to make its textures smaller.” He said, “Well then I want to be able to control each MIP level, paint each one separately if I want. It has to look like this.” And it clicked with us. We needed to design a graphics engine where an artist can make sure his art looks right no matter where it is.

So we scrapped the terrain mipping and rewrote our graphics engine to draw things more “consistently.” It has certainly cost us in draw distance but everything you can see is exactly the way our artists intended, always (well, except when a designer places it).

 

There’s a lot of general talk around advanced graphics features such as DirectX 11 and PhysX. Are you planning to support these, and how important are they when developing an MMO?

Our renderer was written with DirectX11 in mind, but we also made sure to support DirectX9 (there may even be an unofficial OpenGL port in the works). WildStar is trying to target a large range of MMO players, from the casual to the hardcore. Some of them may have older machines; and not all of them can afford fancy graphics cards. While I can’t say what our min-spec will be at launch; I can say that I want WildStar to run on as many computers as humanly possible.

I’ll also say that one of our goals was to try to get a consistent look across all video cards and machines. Most of the DirectX11 features we take advantage of we use to make things run more efficiently, not to drastically change how things look.

How wide a range of systems are you planning to support? Will there be benefits from using a high-end system?

It’s hard to say at this point. WildStar has not gone through a significant amount of post beta optimization yet. We get our biggest benefits from 64bit systems (being constrained to 2GB of addressable space is no fun). And we try to take advantage of as many cores as we can. But our art style helps us look good even when we’re knocking the top 3 MIP-levels off of our textures. I’d say the benefits will be a higher frame rates, higher resolution displays, more detailed textures, more complex shading and lighting effects and, of course, a further draw distance.

I’d really like to thank Steve Moret and Carbine for revealing more about WildStar’s engine, and sharing a little of that awesome nerdy side! WildStar is currently in closed beta and aiming to launch in late 2013. To be in with a chance of getting into beta, be sure to sign up on the official site.

 

WildStar: The Engine Interview

We take a closer look at the beating heart of WildStar with Lead Software Engineer Steve Moret.

The game engine is often an unsung hero of modern MMOs. When it works brilliantly we hardly even notice it, focusing instead on the dramatic art style, sublime musical score or excellent narrative. It’s only when problems emerge that we sit up and take notice how our favorite games are presented to us.

But what about the technology that brings it all together? After seeing the upcoming MMO for myself, I wanted to recognize this unsung hero of gaming greatness, and so I asked the folks behind WildStar if they’d shed some light on how their engine works. Whether it’s processing game rules or delivering pixels to our screens, WildStar’s MMO engine is a complex machine that acts as a window into the world of Nexus.

With Carbine’s upcoming MMO entering closed beta, we were eager to take a closer look at this mystical device. Luckily, Lead Software Engineer Steve Moret agreed to give us a rare peek inside the box and explain some of how WildStar’s engine works. From those first lines of code to more recent features, Moret explained what goes into the software that will be sitting on our desktops.

What’s the starting point for something as large as an MMO? Do you begin with something off-the-shelf and build out from there, or do you literally start from scratch?

Step one for us, was to decide what we could use off the shelf, and to see where it would take us. Back in 2005 we knew we had a few years of R&D time, so we evaluated a few off-the-shelf engines and, while these engines would let us show off some fancy graphics in year one, they didn’t look like they’d scale to our needs 5+ years later. We decided to spend a majority of our work home brewing the correct solution for each problem.

Luckily, a majority of our problems were already known. Many of us Carbinites had recently left Blizzard after launching World of Warcraft. To be honest, I had many of our anticipated problems spelled out for me during my interview with Carbine. It was obvious to me from day one that the entire team already knew what we were signing up for. In fact, most were excited and overjoyed to try and start over, this time, not making the same mistakes that might have been made before.

What parts form a modern MMO engine both in terms of what we see as gamers, and what we don’t?

Obviously every game is going to be different; but our technology at Carbine is broken down along 3 boundaries (many of which share components): Clients, Servers and Tools. The clients are things like our patcher, the game client itself and, strangely enough, our UI editor (since the editor is going to be used by players, we treat our UI editor as a Client application and not a Tool). The servers are made up of all the processes necessary to handle the back end of things (David Ray’s informative dev blog covers lots of this), and the tools are all the tools we use to both make the game, and support customers once the game is running (GM tools, log processing, web reporting and game access, etc).

Making up those parts are lots of smaller parts, things like an OS abstraction library, a networking library (for communicating), a graphics library (for drawing pretty things), database libraries for reading / writing data, graph navigation libraries for pathfinding, scripting languages (both server side and client side), physics simulators, input handlers, joystick routines, localization code and more. Most of these aren’t directly recognizable to the end user, certainly they appreciate that their game draws pretty and that their text is in their specific localized language but, for the most part, they’re oblivious to what is happening or why.

Some of the parts I’ve listed above are combined to form even more complex layers. This is where noticeable features begin to emerge. For example our graphics library may handle drawing polygons to the screen but our model system sits atop that and handles animating skinned models, and our costume system sits atop the model system and handles swappable textures and geometry on those models.

Gluing all those little and medium sized parts together while adding in a lot of game content is what the game layer is filled with. This layer contains all the logic to give you XP when you complete a quest, or to make sure a valid path exists between you and the monster that you wish to do a flying leap toward, or to make sure your avatar is missing a weapon when you get disarmed by your opponents.

These game layer systems exist in forms across each of the three components (clients, servers, tools). Sometimes in slightly different ways (for example a server has no idea what language a player is playing in, nor does it even have access to localized text) but some version of the Quest system exists on both the clients, the servers and the tools.

When building an MMO, what comes first – the client or the server?

In my opinion, it better be both. But in our case we had a simple terrain and model renderer first (about a month or two into development); a couple months later we had a basic server that let us run around and see each other (needless to say this was when we received our first cheater). We then started layering in all of our complexities. At Carbine features are always added to both the client and the servers at the same time, usually by the same programmer. Fun fact: we still maintain our standalone server-less Client; our artists use it to preview their art without having to connect to a server.

We take a closer look at the beating heart of WildStar with Lead Software Engineer Steve Moret.

How do you balance what to perform server-side versus client-side?

The general rule at Carbine is that we treat your client as a dumb terminal that is trying to send us malicious data at all times. That means that basically everything has to pass through the server for validation at some point.

At the same time, we have to assume you have tons of latency. I’d really love it if the world had a network infrastructure that could guarantee <10ms pings from any two points on the globe, but thanks to the laws of physics that’s just not gonna happen. We generally assume your client has at least 300ms of lag at all times. This means we have to simulate many things on your client while it is in transit to the server. Sometimes this might mean you play a pre-cast animation for a spell, only to get the message “Invalid Target” because your target is already dead. We’ve found it’s hardly noticeable vs. hitting the attack key a fraction of a second later, but I guess the end user will be the final judge of how well we hide the lag.

What is the development process like? Are there similarities with standard software houses that use an Agile process, or is there more to it?

We’re a mix of Agile principles as well as your traditional waterfall model of software development. While we have the traditional Art, Audio, Design and Programming departments many of us have broken up into Agile style Feature Teams. These teams handle core parts of the game (like Social, Economy and Encounters). They have both long and boring traditional meetings as well as 10 minute daily stand up meetings. We don’t really scrum and sprint but we kind-of do.

What we certainly do a lot of is iterating; features get rewritten and redesigned many times before they’re even shown to anyone outside of a Feature Team.

What stage of development is the engine currently at? Is the core complete, or are you continually adding new features?

Mostly done; yes and yes. While I’d say the core of the engine is done; we are continually prototyping new quest objective types, path missions, adventures, PvP battleground types, arena styles, Warplot components, neat things to put in your house and more. The goal has always been to have a flexible MMO engine that we can continue to support forever (that’s kinda scary to think about now that I say it). We’re always going to need new bosses, with new abilities and new telegraphs, giving the player awesome loot with new effects. All of that will keep us developing forever.

Can you give us a feel for the complexity of WildStar’s engine, and how big a project it is compared to art, content creation and other areas of development?

Well, we have lots of code (99% of which is C++). The engine is roughly 750,000 lines, the Client specific parts are roughly 250,000 lines, the servers are about 500,000 lines, and we have over 1.1 million lines of code in the 130 or so tools we use daily. We’re also pretty good at deleting unused projects and not leaving commented code in our depot, so I’d imagine the 2.6 million lines of code we have are live, active, important lines of code.

Our programming department only makes up 25 of the 210 Carbine employees that I’m aware of. Although, given our job postings those numbers may have slightly changed by the time this article is posted.

What’s been your biggest challenge that’s arisen from a request from the design team?

Luckily that feature was cut, so I can’t really talk about it. But problems regularly arise from Carbine’s over-the-top, pie-in-the-sky, go-buck-WildStar attitude. Some of the best ideas take the most amount of server database storage and there are some hard limits on what we can store if we want to handle the numbers of players we’re hoping to have (i.e. lots). Add to that a desire to not delete old accounts and we end up having to fit everything in 2-3 megs of player storage. Not so great.

Player exploration was a great example of pushing this limit. The size and count of explorable hexes had to be carefully tuned to not cost us too much database storage. Make the hexes too small and we need 100s of megabytes of storage per player, make the hexes too big and you don’t have a reasonable amount of fidelity to show on your map. Hopefully we’ve hit a happy middle ground where players don’t have to worry themselves with the cost per gigabyte of enterprise class storage.

Is there a feature of the WildStar engine that you’re particularly proud of, or which other games don’t have

As a programmer at Carbine, my personal favorite part of our Engine is that math is expressed in typical expression syntax, for example when calculating the barycentric interpolation of a triangle defined by the vectors v1, v2, v3 and scalar co-efficients f and g you can just type:

CVector3 result = v1 + (v2 – v1) * f + (v3 – v1) * g;

In my previous experiences at game development studios, math libraries were written in Intel Assembler Notation and the above would have to be written as:

VectorSubtract(temp1, v2, v1);

VectorScaleFloat(temp2, temp1, f);

VectorAdd(temp3, v1, temp2);

VectorSubtract(temp4, v3, v1);

VectorScaleFloat(temp5, temp4, g);

VectorAdd(result, temp3, temp5);

This lets us express math that looks and feels natural, and we’ve come up with neat techniques using C++ templates to prevent temporary copies by lazily evaluating upon assignment. I certainly hope that other game studios are also taking this path; the old style of writing math with function calls stinks compared to writing clear expressive math expressions.

*pause*

So, the other programmers have officially said I’m too nerdy, and need to include their favorite Engine features too, so I’d like to also point out that we have an awesome database layer that has a version control system built into it so that you can make local changes and preview them before committing them to the database for others to see (or even suspend and transfer changes to other users). Also, several people said that sockets and plugs (a system we use to replace terrain features for dynamic events) are really awesome in that it is very user facing and really makes the world feel like it is changing as you play. But to be honest, I’m just happy that I move the camera by typing things like:

CVector3 velocity = CVector3::ZAxis() * CMatrix::RotationYawPitchRoll(m_cameraYaw, 0, 0);

m_positionVelocity = velocity.Normal() * (float)cv_CameraCharMovementSpeed;

m_position += m_positionVelocity * secsPerFrame;

 

 

Wildstar-CrimsonIsle-ALLIES

ALLIES

ICI Directive 04.3221.098-Nx
Re: Crimson Isle Strike Team
Fr: Pheydra, Central Axis: ICI
Please inform your contacts that there is to be no further discussion about the strike team being sent to investigate the anomalies on the Crimson Isle. As of this morning, the emperor has deemed this mission our highest priority, and mission parameters will only be available to those with A-7 security clearance or higher. Data concerning personnel is also extremely classified. Anyone caught leaking information will be considered a traitor to the empire, and punished to the full extent of the law.

Wildstar-CrimsonIsle-ENEMIES

ENEMIES

Collegium: Scientific Report
Re: Unidentified Humanoid Population CI36
The data concerning the unidentified humanoids [designated Species CI36] inhabiting Crimson Isle is mostly inconclusive, although we have determined with the utmost certainty that they are native to planet Nexus. Bio-phase scans do indicate an alarming level of biological mutation throughout the population, well outside the expected margins even for a small, isolated community. High levels of distortion in our visual imagery make it difficult to be precise, but anthropological models based on limited cultural data seem to indicate these humanoids are primitive, superstitious and barbaric. Cannibalism is a distinct possibility. Any all teams that approach this population should do so with the utmost caution.

To: Dominion High Command
Fr: ICI – Military Operations Branch
Security Clearance [A-8+]
General Warbringer: We have completed our analysis of the anomalous signal interference over the Crimson Isle. We are now 94% percent certain that it is not a natural occurrence. The level of sophistication required to conceal an anomaly of that size indicates FCON Military technicians (85% probability), Black Hoods operatives (93% probability) or both (91% probability). The Exiles are unquestionably trying to hide something. ICI recommends that a strike team be sent to infiltrate the island and determine exactly what the enemy is doing there.

 

 

Wildstar-CrimsonIsle-OVERVIEW

OVERVIEW

Located off the coast of Deradune, Crimson Isle has been neither explored nor colonized by the Dominion because of its remote location, rocky terrain and deadly wildlife. But recent long-range scans from the Arkship Destiny have revealed some tantalizing details that may soon require further investigation.

The southwest region of the island is a scattering of isolated, rocky beaches. Most of these are infested by the vicious scrab, a native organism known for its deadly sting and nasty disposition. Scrab make their nests just beneath the surface, and are infamous for bursting from the sand and attacking unsuspecting victims. In fact, the sheer abundance of these nests was the primary reason the Dominion’s initial exploration team deemed the region uninhabitable.

Further inland, reconnaissance scans have discovered an unidentified settlement. Although clear visuals of the region are difficult to acquire due to frequent dust storms, imagery seems to show a ramshackle collection of primitively constructed dwellings inhabited by a group of unclassified humanoids. Bio-phase scans have revealed the existence of a number of mass graves, with skeletal remains displaying unnatural mutation. Collegium analysts have posited this mysterious group is indigenous to Nexus, but further data about them is currently unavailable.

In the northwest corner of the island, readings seem to indicate energy signatures that are consistent with Eldan technology, although it has been difficult to determine its exact nature. Unfortunately, recent attempts to scan this region at higher resolutions have been unsuccessful due to anomalous signal interference. In light of these strange new developments, the Dominion military plans the deployment of a covert strike team to investigate. Depending on what they discover, more direct and decisive action may be required.