Scott Hartsmann Talks about Rift: Planes of Telara

I recieved the chance to sit in on a conference call with COO and Exectutive Producer of Rift: Planes of Telara, Scott Hartsmann. He started the interview with a description of the game and a light hearted jab at himself saying that all he did for Trion was, “…convert oxygen into carbon dioxide and take up space at a desk.” For me, that’s just the perfect way to start an interview. It shows that he’s just a guy and puts people at ease. Hartsmann also stated that the developers he works on Rift with are some of the most talented in the industry. It’s nice to see someone in authority give props to his team. Here were some of the points touched on by Scott and those of us in attendance.

Graphics

Rift has the ability to have high end, HD graphics providing you have the machine for it. Hartsmann stated that even if you have an older system, Rift is still playable, which is what they were striving for. Hartsmann said that on high end machines, the game gets about 75fps, according to their tests. The Rift team wants to get away from the mindset of, “It’s ok to have a crappy performance level,” which is what Hartsmann feels is happening with most MMORPGs these days. Trion Worlds wants to, “make sure that everything they do will shine.” Hartsmann then added that the team actually has two renderers built into the game so as to optimize for old and new systems alike. So while you won’t be seeing the same thing as your friend who has a super pc gaming machine, it will be perfectly playable by most machines.

Rifts and How They Interact With the Game World

Telara is the very center of the nexus that makes up all of the planes in the universe. A Rift is what happens when these planes intersect with Telara. The boundaries between the planes and Telara rip open, which allows the other planar creatures access to Telara and to actively try to take over the world. As these invasions happen, if they are left unchecked, they can take over parts of the game world. Players actively combat this by killing the creatures in public groups, where you can join an already active group while they are taking down the invaders. They have low end rifts(that can be solo’ed or grouped to kill) all the way up to high end-expert mode rifts, where you actively lure out specific invasions. There are also Raid Rifts where it takes at least 10 or 20 (sometimes more in my actual game experience) to take down the Rift and the invaders. For the most part, this is how all the Rifts are handled, un-instanced in the shared world space. Also, the game actually knows who is in the area of a rift along with how many people there are and thus tries to scale the difficulty accordingly. That way, the Rift won’t be a cakewalk (although there are Rifts that have specific levels, but those would give high level people no rewards) and likewise, the Rift won’t run you over either. I actually experienced this first hand as I was soloing a rift that just happened to open near me, but was soon helped by nearby people. The game ramped up the difficulty of the Rift a bit, (which also gave us a bonus stage) to make it more of a challenge. Aside from monster spawn rates, the difficulty shifting also applies to crafting. The more people in a zone, the more crafting mats will be in a zone.

Gameplay

Trion intentionally made the gameplay feel familiar so that anyone, from a new person starting out to a high end raider switching from one MMO to this one would feel like they already knew how to play the game. They intentionally started out the game in a way that newer players could get their feet wet and not be overwhelmed by the game, while older MMO players who keep with the game will also be satisfied because as you learn more about the game, it continues to gain complexity the more you learn about it. Hartsmann also felt that keeping the gameplay familiar makes it easier on everyone since they are already comfortable with that style. Thus, right at the outset, you feel right at home with the gameplay. Trion felt that if they tried “reinventing the wheel” so to speak, people would feel lost and would lose interest quickly. Scott also tackles the “feels like Warcraft” question that was inevitable. First off, he fully admits that there are elements of the game that, “…feel like WoW, but they also feel like War, Everquest, and every other hot-button based game ever made, of which WoW wasn’t even the first, they’re just the biggest.” Hartsmann feels that most every other aspect of the game is different in some way.

Endgame Content

Trion Worlds felt that some of the new games have lacked endgame content because they were rushed out the door with just enough progression content to keep most people going. However when people DID get to endgame levels, there was nothing to do. Scott feels that they will have more endgame aspects than just leveling content at launch. At the moment, there are dungeons and zones to level in (along with the invasions and Rifts), but at the endgame, more choices actually open up for the player. If you are a PVPer, you get to level up “prestige,” which is basically an endgame PVP leveling system in which you unlock abilities and PVP souls. The Battle for Port Scion is a “warfront” reserved for max level players (Warfronts are instanced PVP areas.). There will also be, in the shared world, a sort of land controlled takeover game for high end PVPers. As far as PVE goes, right now there are two level 50 dungeons, and two complete tiers of expert dungeons. After that, you can revisit dungeons previously played and advance more storylines. In some cases, whole new areas unlock to progress even more storyline. In addition to that, you have persistent world expert Rifts that are on a difficulty level equivalent to the dungeons and Raid Rifts. Hartsmann also uses the term “a metric crap ton” to describe endgame content.

Story

Do we eventually vanquish the “bad guys?” Scott obviously didn’t want to say outright that yes, in the end, the players win. What Hartsmann did say is that in a logical story, he feels there has to be a logical conclusion eventually and it needs a satisfying ending. Stories are always better when there is a flow, major turning points, and actually end because then you get to tell new stories.

Where Does Trion See the Game In Coming Years?

The story takes place on a world named Telara, but keep in mind that it’s just that – one world. We still have all the other planes that intersect with Telara, which Trions said they have plans on exploring in the years to come. As you look at the map in-game, you also see that Telara is one big land mass, and that characters are only on a part of that land mass. The team also plans on exploring the rest of Telara as the game progresses. The rest of the world could be in worse shape than this part of Telara and will open up to gameplay eventually. For right now Trion is focused on launch and live content, along with the endgame, as it stands now. Hartsmann used the words, “not a big stretch to imagine” a lot, which tells me that they definitely plan on opening up the rest of the game world as the game goes on, along with jumping into the other planes, and possibly other worlds, thus expanding on ALL content eventually (New races, new places, leveling up, endgame, etc.).

Why Go with the Same Old When it Comes to Races?

Really it was more of a stylistic choice. Trion Worlds felt it fit the story well and stayed consistent with the fiction. I still feel that they could have come up with more original races than the standard human, dwarf and elf combo, especially when creating a whole new world from the ground up. That said, Scott had also said that they have definite plans for new races, but could not get too far into it.

If Time and Money Weren’t a Factor, is There Anything Trion Wanted To Put in, But Didn’t?

Hartsmann uses a writing analogy for this question (and called it the most dangerous question ever). “Most of editing is an improvement. Most of editing is cutting down something. So it’s really about knowing what core pieces you need to be able to accomplish your mission as clearly as possible.” Hartsmann felt that if he had more money and time, that it would be a worse game because they would have kept overthinking and eventually overbaked the game. This is why they iterate the game in front of the public and they listen to the community. Hartsmann felt that instead of adding content, or whatever, that they would instead overthink the core gameplay and probably ruin what they already have that people like. He also says the whole company from the CEO on down, is focused on what people want and what the community comes up with. They will continue to be active in the community as well.


Just a reminder that Rift: Planes of Telera comes out March 1st, 2011 and comes in two formats: a regular standard edition and a collector’s edition that comes with the following extras:

“¢Ancient Tartagon Mount: Available at level 20, this turtle mount increases player speed by 60%
“¢Collector’s Satchel: Increases the size of your primary backpack to 24 slots
“¢Bogling Wastrel: This unique pet sets you apart from the other Ascended
“¢8GB RIFT USB Drive
“¢RIFT Soundtrack
“¢SteelSeries Gaming Mouse Pad
“¢128-page Hardcover Comic

If you preorder the game from Amazon.com, you’ll also get a crystalline rune enchantment AND your choice of pet (Cockatrice Chick, Deep One Spawning, or Hellhound Pup). If you preorder from EB Games, you’ll get a Swirling Sourcestone Rune and the same choice of pet. Stay tuned to Diehard GameFAN for MORE Rift: Planes of Telera coverage.

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