PAX EAST 2018 - Ashes of Creation - Making of The Most Anticipated MMORPG
- 1 Notes 
- 2 Intro
- 3 Q&A
- 3.1 One of the great things about ashes of creation is you're bringing MMO's back but you're bringing them back in a fantastic new way with a lot of different mechanics that we're really going to be excited about. Give us the brief history, from of game design standpoint, what ashes is and the story behind how you're bringing it up?
- 3.2 I want to allow each team member to talk. We talked about their history but we'll talk about what you're working on the project. Matt you're the character artist, all these guys in the audience they get to create their own characters. I'm excited for your Orcs. I know they have different names, but I'm an Orc fan. When you're going in and sitting down at your desk every day what's it like for you to build out these character templates that everyone in the room is going to be playing?
- 3.3 Jeff you tackle a lot of systems in the game and you're kind of the guy as Lead game designer. Tell us what's your day today like what challenges are you building for them to accomplish or epicly triumph over?
- 3.4 Steven, do you want to talk a little bit about your day to day?
- 3.5 Akil, Tell me about the technical side?
- 3.6 Michael you started talking and I wasn't watching the videos I'm looking at the environment suit building and it truly is I love Epic Fantasy and it truly is an epic fantasy world and they were both fans what makes you tick when you sit down and look at how you're going to build out the Zone how you're going to build out the end of the pathway that the the players are running down or the trees around it. Give us your thought process?
- 3.7 We've all played MMOs in this room I'm sure we've all been extremely frustrated and throwing are mice or keyboards or flip their computers at dungeons. What is it that makes a dungeon interesting from your side. But also Matt what does it make it makes it interesting for my character side? Talk about classic fantasy, go into an undead dungeon, And your clerics like “Yeah this is me, going to crush everybody” and then you go into like a woodland dungeon you get your Ranger and Druid, stepping up. So what's it like for you guys from a mechanic build out, these environments that enhance the experience for these characters?
- 3.8 We talk about dungeon design. We’ve all RPGed and gone through it. But MMOs create that open world, and you started to talk a little bit about the node system, but one of the beauties of what MMO's really does is allows you to explore this rich world of Vera. Can you go into the lore of what ashes is really all about. So, talk about that from a design perspective. We are all going to be in a dungeon hallway, probably frustrated at some point because of something Michael put in there. But will also be rewarded right at the end. But then, we go outside of the cave and suddenly there's this amazing landscape in front of us. And we can work on that ourselves as our character. So tell us a little bit at the open-world building experience that you guys are working on?
- 3.9 You just had a successful Kickstarter. One of the top ever for an MMO. And you are continuing your outfit development. When are they going to get to play?
- 3.10 When can we expect nodes part 3?
- 3.11 How do you intend to keep the community cemented from somebody that just started playing the game versus somebody that's been in late game / end game for weeks?
- 3.12 I'm wondering if, on a server there's enough level 50s that get together and make one node their permanent home. And enough players want to move around and there's really no one contest that strength. Do you guys have any systems in play or systems in mind that might be able to counteract that? Something to keep it balanced for newbies and experienced player when they want to change the world?
- 3.13 I'm sure everyone in this room is going to love and enjoy this game. But we all want to do different things. I think it's important to kind of figure out a balance between what people want to do. Because, there's going to be people who want to just do the exploration, or they just want to sit and roleplay in cities. or they want to do PVP, they want to do all that stuff. How do you guys plan on a balancing all that. Is it going to tilt more in the favor of the higher demand or is it just going to try to be all one together thing?
- 3.14 You talk about how you want your world to be meaningful and have players have an impact and I think it's really ambitious and awesome. But I was wondering how you were planning to balance casual players against very hardcore players. How someone who, for example, would be able or willing to only spend 5 hours can compare in meaningfulness to the world to someone who spends 25 hours and up in the game?
- 3.15 You said that you want the world to change, and the nodes to change. Are there any systems that are going to be in place to prevent gaming the node systems. So say a guild, or a collection of guilds, decide that they want a node in this specific section, because they know that dungeon, they know that boss, they want that loot from there. So, they siege the city and then intentionally gather at a specific node to fill that up because they’ve heard elsewhere better node than the other?
- 3.16 I’m curious about more of the culture, and the lore. You did go a little in-depth about how we will be exploring it through the ancient ruins and what not. Will there be more advanced things like Botany or being able to explore more in-depth more specific things about the game? Or is it all just going to be us creating history and culture?
- 3.17 What stops people from abandoning one node to go to a better one instead of sieging it?
- 3.18 One of my favorite parts of EverQuest 2, which many of you had a lot of work in, was the alternative ways to advance your character outside of killing monsters and gaining levels. The alternate advancement systems, the little flavor things, like killing orcs to gain enough lore to learn to speak orcish. What can you tell us about those sorts of things that you plan to bring Ashes, if anything?
- 3.19 I was wondering if in the future you guys had any plans for open accepting of player made mods or add-ons maybe to change the UI or icons on the map, or players will be able to make any of these things?
- 3.20 A lot of MMOs have a history and a legendary characters and stuff like that. I'm wondering how Ashess is going to stack up to that?
- 3.21 One of the biggest appeals to open world MMORPGs is the fact that it contributes to a lot of player interactions. What are some of the things that you've learned from the successes and failures of previous open-world MMORPGs like ArcheAge or Black Desert?
- 3.22 The amount of classes you guys have is ambitious for balancing. My question is: Crafting, how flexible are you planning to make the crafting, to balance out all those classes?
- 3.23 Player housing is extremely difficult to do. In games like Archage, you run out of land in 24 hours. In games like Black Desert, player housing is boring to somebody, who, like me, only place 3 hours a week. How are you going to keep player housing and player land accessible, usable and enjoyable?
- 4 Closing
- 5 References
- Video starts with some gameplay footage
- Audio is low. Hard to hear.
- Welcome to Pax East. I am very excited, and very humbled to be up here to be able to talk to you about ashes of creation. And the best part is I don’t need to do the talking, these guys get to do the talking. Ashes of Creation is an new MMORPG that is in development at Intrepid studios, made by these gentlemen here, and I’m excited to see MMO fans in the audience, because I’ve been playing MMO’s all the way back to Ultima Online. It’s a great, I don’t call it a genre anymore because everything is an MMO. But this one really captures the fantasy epic feeling we’ve all had coming through the past few years. So, without absolutely no further MMO talk we going to go right to Ashes of Creation talk.
- Let me introduce the team, and they’re going to tell you a little bit about themselves.
- Sitting right next to me is Matt Broome. He is the Lead Character Artist, and he gets to make you all of you look absolutely amazing in beautiful armor. So tell us your game history.
- Matt Broome: My name is Matt Broome. I’ve been making MMO’s for almost 20 years. I’ll give you my most recent ones. Last game I did was H1Z1 Art Director Character Lead. Before that, I did Planetside 2. We broke the guiness world record for most players on a server. Before that we did DC universe. I was art director on that, character director, as well as, Visual director for PS3, PS4 and PC. Currently, I’m at what i think is the best job I’ve ever had which is Intrepid, making the most ambitious MMO I've ever made and being character led there. I think we are going to shatter expectations.
- The man next to him with a big smile is Jeff Bard. Jeff is Lead Game Designer and he has an incredibly rich history which he is going to tell you about.
- Jeff Bard: I grew up at Sony Online Entertainment, started there in 2003. Lived, breathed did everything MMOs. I've worked on every side of the game design process. Worked on Star Wars Galaxies. Worked on Everquest 2 alot. It something that kind of gets into your soul and once you're a part of that genre it's really hard to go anywhere else and that's one of the reasons why I'm so excited to be with Intrepid Studios, because we can really take game design a step further in this genre and get out of the stale sort of same same things that we've been doing for the last 10 years. So, I can't wait to get into your guy's hands.
- The next person on the panel is one of my favorites because I love getting his phone calls even if they're like 7 a.m. in the morning. We always have great talks which is so much fun. And that it is the person who's bringing this to life, which is CEO and creative director Steven Sharif.
- Steven Sharif: My most recent project is Ashes of Creation. Before that, I was a hardcore MMO player. I've been playing MMO’s since 25 years ago, I was 7 years old. Played Neverwinter on AOL when it was $6 by the hour to play. That was my first game. For me, I had a rich, successful history in business, and I retired and really what I wanted to do was create a Studio, that could make what I felt was missing in the genre. I was not very happy with the direction that developments were going in and being in San Diego and having access to some of the most talented developers in the industry to bring on board this project was just a no-brainer. I'm really happy with where Ashes of Creation has gone since we announced the title beginning of 2017, end of 2016 actually. I think we're making unbelievable progress and I really can't wait to show everybody what we have in store for them, and what this project can bring to the genre.
- Next to Steven is one of the guys with one of the toughest jobs which is Lead technical designer. So he's buried behind the keyboard all day. This is Akil Hooper.
- Akil Hooper: I've been in the industry for about 18 years, 19 years, something like that. And I worked on EverQuest and Everquest 2, where I was lead designer, creative director. I was creative director for both EverQuest and Everquest 2. I was the lead designer at Disney Interactive for a little while. I was a designer and producer for obsidian on the Fallout New Vegas. I'm happy to be here. I'm excited.
- Like me, he's probably one of the few guys who played Dungeons & Dragons first edition, when I did, back when I was 6 years old. Michael bacon, who is lead environmental artist, has an incredibly rich history. Michael tell us about your past in games.
- Michael Bacon: Incredibly old. I go back a long, long way, i’ve been in the industry over 20 years now. Started in a small startup company in Wilsonville Oregon working on console stuff. And then just kept on going, moved onto gauntlet commander, Worked on the Everquest franchise for awhile, over a decade. Working on all of the EQ2 expansions, well I guess they’ve made more since I moved on. Took the environment track, making gigantically ridiculously big worlds. Then I hooked up with the studio here and I love the culture. Our mantra is pretty much go big or go home. He picked the right guy for that.
- You went big, we all saw that. Look at the gameplay, love that it’s gameplay and not a cinematic trailer.
One of the great things about ashes of creation is you're bringing MMO's back but you're bringing them back in a fantastic new way with a lot of different mechanics that we're really going to be excited about. Give us the brief history, from of game design standpoint, what ashes is and the story behind how you're bringing it up?
- Steven: Ashes of Creation is an open-world non faction based, High fantasy MMORPG. Some of my favorite times that I've had in MMOs is when there were these massive battles. There were just massive content of players that were always present in the starting area. It's always difficult to get back to that kind of nostalgic first experience. From a high-level perspective, that was obviously our objective. We want to feel that again. Obviously that's the chase that every MMO player that's been around for a while is going for. But with Ashes of Creation a lot of our systems are designed around Community, bringing people together, and offering them a way to really shape the world around them. I know for many following Ashes of Creation already, we often talk about our node system. The core design structure of the game is that the world is built through the systems that then grant access to different services, different storylines, housing, crafting. Pretty much everything that you can imagine an MMO can be, is built through the system that's directed by the players and where they are and where they choose to be in the world.
- Jeff: One of the things we did was broke down what makes an MMO different from any other game out there and it's really about the people playing it. All the best stories from an MMO come from doing ridiculous things that are outside of what the normal prescribed gameplay is. Those are my favorite to hear, those are my favorite stories to tell. It's looking at how we can give tools to the community to create those moments and to reintroduce the idea of a band of people coming together and doing something together. You can't get that in any other genre. We're really trying to lean into that and give everybody the opportunity to really make a difference in the world.
I want to allow each team member to talk. We talked about their history but we'll talk about what you're working on the project. Matt you're the character artist, all these guys in the audience they get to create their own characters. I'm excited for your Orcs. I know they have different names, but I'm an Orc fan. When you're going in and sitting down at your desk every day what's it like for you to build out these character templates that everyone in the room is going to be playing?
- Matt: It's a lot of fun. I mean it's complex. The whole thing about MMOs with the characters, which this room probably knows, it's about how scalable they are and how good they can look when they're scaled in volume. That's always the puzzle that you're dealing with. On Ashes of Creation, it's by far the most races and unique looks that I'll have ever done in a game, and that's regardless of EverQuest and other titles I’ve made, even spent time on Star Wars Galaxies. This is ambitious. What we're really doing now for solving some hard problems on scaling high quality character assets. That's what I do every morning. We come in and we figure out how can we give each one of these looks truly unique visual Aesthetics, but at the same time not cheat the quality volume. Steven makes it really clear we shoot for the moon every day. So, we're trying to make the best MMO characters with the highest detail level, running at 60fps, real time on servers every single day. We play test every single week. It's a different Studio, because we are constantly benchmarking and testing the game, the characters. We’re not just making pretty art and hoping it works 2 years from now. So it's different.
- Steven: I think that's why you know you mentioned earlier about gameplay. It was important to let the community see the development of the game, like real-time development. That's been kind of rare in the MMORPG specific industry and the game industry as well, because it's a two edged sword. When you're seeing something that the work is in progress, that's being built in real time, you're going to have a percentage of the population that says “oh that's the end product, it doesn't look right ” And then you're also going to have the benefit, which is the other side of the sword, where players, the community, which MMORPGs are the most unique community in the gaming industry, the most unique genre. There's no other game that's like the connectivity, the social interactions, the guilds, the things that bring us together as players. We want that process, that discussion, that interconnection between the developers and the community in this project as it develops. It's so important for us as developers to see the real-time feedback. We can jump in Discord. We can jump on our forums. We can send out emails, whatever it is, to see real-time feedback from the community, about the strides we’re making in development. And part of what Matt was discussing with regards to how character pipeline are getting set up right now, is we want the most in-depth possible character tree for players to be able to work with regards to either their look, or the creation of that character. It's going to be pretty in depth.
- Host: It's both, I mean that's the best part, right. You want high functioning characters, you can do the great superpowers, amazing attacks that they're going to put together, but you also you know you're looking at that screen every day you want to see the cool stuff, the effects, the clothing ,the armor. It's awesome. I'm very jealous of Matt's job. And I am a horrible artist I can draw stick figures with swords.
- Steven: I will say something interesting about Matt. When were in meetings and in the conference room, sometimes he will sit with his sketch pad and he'll just start freestyling on the sketch pad. It blows me away, what in 10 minutes this guy can make on a sketch pad. It is unbelievable.
- Jeffrey: Matt’s background is incredible
- Steven: I want to put those sketch pads in a museum.
Jeff you tackle a lot of systems in the game and you're kind of the guy as Lead game designer. Tell us what's your day today like what challenges are you building for them to accomplish or epicly triumph over?
- Jeffrey: It's really about talking to Steven everyday. Interpreting what he says and spreading that out to the team, so we can build on that vision. It's a big project and it’s about trying to find the quickest simplest way to do the things that Steven wants. So we don't get lost in the weeds, that we don’t spend a lot of time wandering out in the wilderness, and that we take 8 years to push it out. It’s about finding solutions quickly, finding the right solutions and then implementing those solutions. We are a very iterative studio, so we're constantly putting stuff in game, testing things out, trying to find the fun. Everyday is different. There's no two days that are the same in the studio and that's one of the really cool part about it. There's no sense of drudgery at all. Really exciting work that we're doing and we're really pushing the envelope on what design can do in an MMO. If anybody has played the experience, the utility abilities of the characters, that's a system that you are not going to find in any other MMO. It’s a way to tell a story that doesn't involve any words and it's a way to bring life to the world. It’s such a core part of the game play and such a fun system to work with because we have these options that we wouldn't have otherwise. It's a lot of discovery, a lot of implementation, a lot of really hard working long days, but at the end of the day we're creating something really awesome.
- Steven: I think the thing is, even though it's a lot of hard work, a lot of long days, but at the end of the day you get to see what you worked on that day implemented in game. I think that the most important thing for us, is that we were able to get up and running very quick with these ideas on an iteration process in the game.
- Jeff: Everybody knows what they are doing. Really cool thing is, we have a studio that's full of experts, which is pretty rare. The MMO industry isn't huge. There's not a lot of people with our background. And all of us together form Voltron. I’ve not had an experience like this before and it’s very refreshing.
- Akil: To add, one of the things we like to do a lot is we argue. One of the things we like to do at the end of an argument is to say “Let’s just play test that. Let’s just see how that works” Because there is no better way to tell who won the argument then to play test it and see what falls on the floor.
Jeff: We can theorycraft all day long. But theorycrafting is so much different that actually playing it and feeling it.
Steven, do you want to talk a little bit about your day to day?
- Steven: Yeah Absolutely! Every day for me, coming into that office, I got to tell you that the most exciting thing is honestly the culture that we’ve built. Coming into this industry as a newbie, from an industry standpoint, not as a gamer, I've heard interesting stories about other Studios and those cultures that existed. What we've built at Intrepid is a lot of fun. I mean at the end of the day, it is a lot of fun to be able to work with people that have the experience these developers have, that have the passion for gaming these developers have, and that had the atmosphere in the office where we can express our experiences as Gamers, as well as developers, and come to a fun playable game that we can look at. My experience, when I come in, I'm giving these overarching ideas for for the game, how I want systems to play out. Then I confer with my designers, on how they can best implement those systems in the game, and bring them to life. At the end of the day, what I didn't realize when I first got started, was just how much of literally everything that's going on you must know. And I will admit that my greatest weakness, from an understanding standpoint, was anything that had to revolve around engineering, the technical side of things. I had a very firm understanding of design because I played a lot of things, I've experienced a lot of different designs, I know what systems work or decay a servers integrity, from a community standpoint, And I wanted to avoid those things. But from engineering standpoint, I really had to very heavily rely on what my Engineers were telling me. But over the past couple of years now, having been immersed in that, I've gained a better foothold and understanding of those things. But what I'm trying to get to, as creative director and CEO you are dealing with all the business things, dealing with the design, dealing with engineering , dealing with Art, or dealing with Concepts theorycrafting, you're dealing with marketing, press. All of those things kind of just make your head explode a little bit, but I think that I underestimated, maybe at the get-go, just how much I needed to fully grasp on all of those subjects at the same time. It's been a lot of fun, I got to tell you. The most amazing part of what I get to experience is being interactive with the community and seeing on Discord, on our social media, the excitement from the players seeing this come to life. Like in real time, seeing it happen is the most rewarding thing for me and I know for the team. It's a major morale booster. It gets us excited it is something we feed off of when we get to show people the progress we're making.
- Jeff: Talking with everybody yesterday and I'm sure talking to people today, it's so cool to talk to you guys and hang out with you. We are creating this together, it's not just up here, that we are doing the thought process. It’s all out there to. Without you guys, we couldn't do this. So it's fun.
Akil, Tell me about the technical side?
- Akil: So my job is pretty similar to Jeff’s, but I focus on taking those things, taking those ideas and making sure that they're very portable. Because we have something like the reveal system, that Jeff was talking about, we're going to need to implement that like thousands of times in the world. And each of those instances of it have to be implemented quickly they need to be able to be debugged quickly. I focus a lot on making sure that stuff can be can be repeated and debugged and replicated very easily and quickly. I've been working a lot on abilities, just making sure that the ability system works and when you push a button the right thing happens and then happens again and keeps happening and that is doesn’t crash the server which is hard sometimes. Every day is different. I don't know if I'm going to be working with and NPC AI, or with abilities, or with world events, or with nodes. I just love the challenge. I love the surprise. I love that I am constantly engaged.
- Matt: It's kind of funny too because Jeff and Akil are being super humble. Just coming from years of doing MMOs, typically, at other companies designers and disciplines are kind of kept in their lanes. I have never worked on an MMO or walked in and see designers doing what they're doing. But Akil will be doing code in the morning and design side implementation into unreal in the evening. I've never seen it.
- Akil: I don't recommend that because there's nothing worse than having to be the coder that you yell at for a design system that is broken.
- Matt: Recently I had a problem where we wanted to see the characters run around in the client in their own little whiteboard. Whiteboard is like this testing environment. And Jeff put this together in 6 hours and I mean I can't even tell you I ‘ve been in this engine for 16 years and I couldn’t have built it. Some of these guys are doing stuff in there that is amazing in the engine. Steven has set up this environment of, if you see a hole that needs to be filled, you just walk over, pick up a shovel and fill it. You end up having designers doing some code, artists doing technical stuff. It’s very non traditional. And I think that’s why you guys see turnarounds this fast from Kickstarter. Because we're not in meetings trying to figure out how many people watch, while someone digs. Everyone just picks up a shovel and start digging. If you say look somebody's filling in the hole in, then everyone will run over start filling in and solving the problem.
- Michael: We all have our own roles, but we also wear a lot of hats. I got problems, but we just sort of spread and whoever is fast and good at doing that job just takes it over. I think that's what's really amazing about the studio is just the flexibility that we have to work on this stuff. We push ourselves so when we come in the thing we did yesterday we are going to do better today. Constantly pushing the envelope and trying to outdo ourselves from the day previous to that. I think because of the flexibility, yeah we're smaller team for this type of project, no doubt about that, but we are super agile. We love what we do. We come in and it’s like christmas everyday.
Michael you started talking and I wasn't watching the videos I'm looking at the environment suit building and it truly is I love Epic Fantasy and it truly is an epic fantasy world and they were both fans what makes you tick when you sit down and look at how you're going to build out the Zone how you're going to build out the end of the pathway that the the players are running down or the trees around it. Give us your thought process?
- Michael: One, you have to take what the designer has in mind. We have lots of talks about that and then it's just translating, but I'm always pushing for different shapes, forms, textures, silhouettes, movement, and go in directions that are a little bit surprising than things that have been done previous and then I just explore. We want to move forward and make a breathing, living world.
- Akil : Michael and I worked on EQ2 at the time, every once in awhile. He would just show up with a fantastic dungeon that he made in his free time like. “Here’s an awesome dungeon” We’d be like “Thanks! This is fantastic, we weren’t expecting this” He just loves what he does, and is so great at it, amazing stuff just falls out everywhere around him.
- Michael: I don’t like to talk, I just like to show and do. I just do things. I want to blow everyone's minds. I’ll just do this and this and this, and show it to them. It’s going to land like a bomb. I kinda enjoy pulling these things out of my hat, and landing it. It’s very rewarding.
- Steven: Another great thing about Bacon is if I go to bacon and I'm like, “You know, I want a castle. I want a castle that has some of these elements to it.” I can just walk away and I know the next time I come back I'm going to see the most badass Castle I've ever seen in my life. You’ll see four of them. You’ll see a flying castle, a castle on the ground. Which one do you want?
We've all played MMOs in this room I'm sure we've all been extremely frustrated and throwing are mice or keyboards or flip their computers at dungeons. What is it that makes a dungeon interesting from your side. But also Matt what does it make it makes it interesting for my character side? Talk about classic fantasy, go into an undead dungeon, And your clerics like “Yeah this is me, going to crush everybody” and then you go into like a woodland dungeon you get your Ranger and Druid, stepping up. So what's it like for you guys from a mechanic build out, these environments that enhance the experience for these characters?
- Steven: I think one of the most important things specifically with regards to dungeon building, is that you want the dungeon to tell a story. You want to look at an environment, at an area, and you want to like what you're seeing right here with this boss. You see that heart that's just beating in the background in the center like, what is that? Why is that there? How does it relate to this boss? Then, you can kind of tell them through the narrative that Jeff or Akil may put in and learn about it and it's a central figure in the dungeon, the identity of that place and it's something that you can just explore.
- Jeff: When I’m trying to talk with the artists and then tell the story that you want to tell and help them see where you're going with it. What bits are important, I never say, “Hey! This thing looks like this exactly.” What I say is, “I kind of want something like this, I want it to have this effect” and then I let the artist take over. Because, they have a much better eye than most of the designers. The things that they come up with are things that are in my head. I might say five or six words to Matt, and then all of a sudden it's like what was in my mind is there on the page. I don't know how he does that. I don’t know how any of the artists do it. But it's that storytelling, That Collaboration of the two departments that allows us to go down that road.
- Matt: Steven always sets the bar from a creative standpoint because a lot of times you feel like work. What we're really doing, he is going to talk about his day is going back to Neverwinter. I feel like most days you're almost capturing his childhood. A good character artist, Any Artists business, I always say that they listen more than they draw. You’re basically just encapsulating what you're hearing over a period of time. You just start to translate that into the game. A lot of what we're doing on the characters comes from that. I remember on day one the first thing I did was get together with Jeff and I said where are the designs, because we really need a story to make characters and stuff look believable and it it all starts with design. You just can't make it up out of nowhere.
- Akil: Visual storytelling is one of the most important things in a dungeon. But just in general I like to think of dungeons as having kind of like multiple layers of History. You're going to a dungeon and you can see what happened there yesterday, you can see what happened there 10 years ago, you can see what happened there a hundred years ago and you should be able to walk through a dungeon and know all of those things as you walk through it without saying anything.
- Michael: To a degree. Sometimes I’ll build a hall like an L. You don’t know what’s around the corner. I don’t know what’s around the corner. You know then I use my imagination, go well, ‘that would be really cool’. So, I go around that corner and I’ll see something that is scary, okay I'm just going to go for that, I was going to like get it where when a player turns the corner they're going to open up to some evil McStuffersons or something.
- Matt: This is another thing I really love about being at Intrepid. You know in prior games, if say for instance, I just had this conversation recently with the producer Peter. And we're sitting, talking about the characters and we're going over the schedule and we're trying to describe some of the new armor sets. Peter goes oh so like Starfire. Literally the producer goes oh my God that's perfect. We started theming things from a conversation, again it’s that whole shovel filling in holes, we started theming you know art Direction Just in real time. It's just extremely fluid but in the best possible way. A lot of inspiration just comes from your brother and sisters around you and what’s happening in the moment, and it just breaths life.
- Steven: And that speaks to really the experience on the team of not just what their backgrounds are as a developer but what their backgrounds are as a gamer. Knowing what you liked in other things and then being able to draw inspiration from those things.
We talk about dungeon design. We’ve all RPGed and gone through it. But MMOs create that open world, and you started to talk a little bit about the node system, but one of the beauties of what MMO's really does is allows you to explore this rich world of Vera. Can you go into the lore of what ashes is really all about. So, talk about that from a design perspective. We are all going to be in a dungeon hallway, probably frustrated at some point because of something Michael put in there. But will also be rewarded right at the end. But then, we go outside of the cave and suddenly there's this amazing landscape in front of us. And we can work on that ourselves as our character. So tell us a little bit at the open-world building experience that you guys are working on?
- Steven : Part of that discussion about the dungeon and not knowing what's around the corner also plays into both the lore of the world and how the node system works. As nodes develop and they build up from a merchant to an encampment, to Village, to a town, to city, and eventually Metropolis. At every stage a node develops, it's unlocking narratives, storylines it's changing the spawn population of the area around it, changing what bosses exist. It's triggering events where you may have these legendary dragon attack the city. It's basically writing the story of the server based on the actions and determination of the player. So, you may experience a dungeon one month earlier and have a completely different story that relates to this location. And then the next month, because something has changed either geopolitically or from the node standpoint, a new node has erupted attracting the attention of some different type of adversary. And that dungeon will change. From a replayability standpoint, from experiencing a living world that changes with the actions of the community, you're going to experience different things around that corner.
- Jeff: That dungeons not going to stay the same. That's one of the really cool things about it. It can get old playing the same dungeon cuz you're never surprised by anything. You know exactly where every boss is. You know where every path is. You know exactly what to pull when. There's nothing really surprising about that. The node system really allows us to change those things up. It's a lot of really simple systems layered on top of each other that allow us to get really incredibly complex behavior on the server. As far as the storyline goes, that’s how the story is built as well. We have kind of a sense of history from thousands of years of History baked into the story. A lot of it is about mythology and discovering what true mythologies are talking about and finding out what really happened on this world so long ago. That's part of the discovery process. We want people to feel that throughout the game not just in terms of lore but in terms of the world itself.
- Steven: For me personally, in my experience in playing MMOs in the past, yes there are rich stories there but they're just stories that you usually read about as a player and not so much experience in the game as much. We bring the lure into the world and it has an impact on how you interact. You will have choices in that quest line that you can make that will change how that quest works for you. You're going to have to take into account what’s been happening in the world to make those particular choices.
- Jeff: Yet knowing your history is going to help.
- Steven: We are keeping the lore, obviously for those who have been following Ashes, very close to the chest. The reason for that is because it is very rigid. It is diverse. It will have applications outside of just the MMORPG. We intend to take it much further. But I want it to be something that the players get to reveal themselves. That's not just handed to them and then the experience is lost. They should feel when they're experiencing this that it relates to them on a personal level as well.
You just had a successful Kickstarter. One of the top ever for an MMO. And you are continuing your outfit development. When are they going to get to play?
- Steven: We may have a date that we may announce at the end.
When can we expect nodes part 3?
- Steven: Nodes part 3! So actually, one of our team members is not currently with us here at Pax, and his name is Tristan Snodgrass. The reason for that is because he's currently back at the studios working on nodes part 3. So soon trademark.
How do you intend to keep the community cemented from somebody that just started playing the game versus somebody that's been in late game / end game for weeks?
- Steven: That is a great question. It is often times, in my experience, a problem that a lot of MMOs have is that those starting areas become vacant of players. And it's so sad, because one of the greatest aspect of an MMO is that community that you get to experience. One of the great things about the node system is that, it really works from a new player acquisition standpoint. Where these nodes tend to develop larger near the starting locations, areas, around the world. It brings these players back to those locations, if they’re citizens and want services within those cities. So, as new players enter the world, they're going to be surrounded most likely by more population, because people are coming back to those larger nodes. In addition, we have certain systems that will relate kind of in a way towards a “mentorship program”. That upper level players are going to be able to benefit from partying and / or helping certain lower-level players, and getting them situated in the game.
- Jeff: Part of the whole experience with nodes, is that there is no real end game in that the world is constantly shifting everyday. Month one is going to be really different from month two and that's for the level 50s and level 1s. That sense of what's new is going to be the case for any new player who comes. They are going to be able to participate in these systems and make a difference from day one. I think it's going to be a different MMO. You're not going to feel the same way as a level one.
I'm wondering if, on a server there's enough level 50s that get together and make one node their permanent home. And enough players want to move around and there's really no one contest that strength. Do you guys have any systems in play or systems in mind that might be able to counteract that? Something to keep it balanced for newbies and experienced player when they want to change the world?
- Steven: Yeah, absolutely. The thing about nodes is that, you can declare citizenship to only one node. When you declare that citizenships, let's say your example, of one Guild perhaps wanting to take all their members and have them all declare the same citizenship to a location. The longer and node exists, the higher the prize it is to take. Some systems with regards to crafting progression and/or rewards and bonuses for the reliquary that we haven't really touched on a lot, those systems are going to be so enticing that from an incentive standpoint, it will compel other groups to either potentially break alliances, or siege the city in order to take the goods that are potentially in it. From an incentive standpoint, we have that at play. Additionally, we don't have a cap, per se that we've been announced yet on the citizenship aspect of being in a node, but we do have soft caps. It becomes more costly, the higher number of citizens, each time a new person wants to join, to be part of a node. So, there is sort of a soft cap on how many citizens one node can have. And it might be that not all in the guild can participate in that area. There's kind of a natural divide a pseudo faction, so to speak, between who is a part of that node and who is not. Additionally, last thing, we have conditions that you can set between node with regards to other nodes being friendly with each other and acting trade alliances or they can declare war on nodes. Similar to how “Guild Wars” may function in different games, where those citizens become hostile to each other, based on the player government that elected in that particular node. Those systems all cater to allowing a conflict that's meaningful and that also provides a non imbalanced relationship between stronger guilds and not a strong guilds.
- Akil: Another soft cap we have is the number of non instance housing. Players might want to clear to another node, just so they can have a house.
I'm sure everyone in this room is going to love and enjoy this game. But we all want to do different things. I think it's important to kind of figure out a balance between what people want to do. Because, there's going to be people who want to just do the exploration, or they just want to sit and roleplay in cities. or they want to do PVP, they want to do all that stuff. How do you guys plan on a balancing all that. Is it going to tilt more in the favor of the higher demand or is it just going to try to be all one together thing?
- Akil: This is something that Jeff and I talk about a good bit. There is a guy that wrote a book on game design called Bartle and he breaks gamers up into different categories. We will often talk about the different categories of gamers and trying to satisfy their needs. We're like “Oh yeah we could do this for explorers to get explorers more engaged in the game. We could do this this for socializers to get them more engaged. It is something that we're paying attention to. I don't think that we will necessarily go towards higher demand, because it's hard to tell what's demand and what's just vocality but we will try and address all those gamer types.
- Steven: I think the most the most compelling design argument, for how those different sects of gamers interact with each other, is dependent from the design standpoint of interdependencies in the systems. For example, as a Raider or as a PVPer, you're looking for the best gear. You're going to devote your time towards leveling up and going out and participating in the things you enjoy like pvping, perhaps going for Caravans, or seizing cities and castles, and all that type stuff. If you want the best gear, you're going to have to rely on a person who has devoted their time towards crafting potentially. They may not be a PVPer, but they have a place in in your wheelhouse because you need their services. And then, that Crafters are going to need a person who who is either a gatherer, or plays the economy as a merchant in the nodes with the auction houses that are regionalized. That person is going to have to work with the person who specialize in trade, that takes Caravans with either mercenary groups or other guilds that are PVPers between the nodes to get the resources they need. Building dependencies on different groups or factions of players that exist within a large world like this MMORPG is what kind of solidifies the bonds that allow for them to exist either harmoniously or at least in a way that they know you need those types of players.
- Jeff: All of those players make an MMO what it is. An MMO lives and breathes on its community. We don’t want short shrift to any one of those types. All of them are important. The RPers are important. The people who just want to hang out in the inn and talk are important. They all add to the game and so we want to make sure that we take care of all them.
- Steven: You want to give them a home in the game, from a system standpoint as well.
- Jeff: A meaningful home
- Steven: For example, when you are talking about RPers, our Tavern games and Taverns and the Freeholds and building up those narratives at players can direct.
- Jeff: You can run a business based on RPing which is really cool
- Steven: I think it's the old phrase: if you build it they will come. You build the systems that entertain or play towards certain groups, they will come and they will play.
- Akil: Most people aren't just one type, so having those other things built out and well supported, means that if you want to do something else, instead of going to another game, you will just do more of that in Ashes. It's to our benefit to make that as robust as we can.
You talk about how you want your world to be meaningful and have players have an impact and I think it's really ambitious and awesome. But I was wondering how you were planning to balance casual players against very hardcore players. How someone who, for example, would be able or willing to only spend 5 hours can compare in meaningfulness to the world to someone who spends 25 hours and up in the game?
- Jeff: Because everything reacts with what players are doing, casual players are still impacting that. They still have access to the same systems that a hard core player does. They might not spend as much time, and obviously not going to get as much benefit, but they will still have an impact. Because what they do will be necessary for the health of the server.
- Steven: Not only that, but from an event standpoint. there are events that are happening in the world, in the game, that you won't need to be a hardcore player to impact and join. For example, the trigger events from the PVE standpoint against the city's, the trades of the Caravans, those natural Battlegrounds that exists, the castle sieges you can login for them. There's a lot of systems that are at play where a person can simply login, participate, have fun, be impactful and then log out.
You said that you want the world to change, and the nodes to change. Are there any systems that are going to be in place to prevent gaming the node systems. So say a guild, or a collection of guilds, decide that they want a node in this specific section, because they know that dungeon, they know that boss, they want that loot from there. So, they siege the city and then intentionally gather at a specific node to fill that up because they’ve heard elsewhere better node than the other?
- Akil: That’s gameplay right? That's cool. That's not something that we necessarily need to fight. We just need to make sure that that's fun and balanced for anybody else. So, we're trying to look at that from a different angle.
- Steven: When you say game the system, I interpret that as, working in a way that we didn't intend. If an opportunistic group of people come and they spend hard amount of time working on benefiting from either location that's near that you know dungeon or whatever, that's actually playing the system, not necessarily gaming the system. But I think if we are referring to systems working in ways we don't intend, we have a lot of back end metrics, that we are watching, that are built-in from an early standpoint in the game. That when we are live, we will be able to watch and make sure they are working as intended. And if they're not, we'll have fixes for them.
- Jeff: We have a lot of levers to move to make sure if something is too easy we can turn it down, if something is to hard we can turn it up. We can almost do that in real time.
- Person at mic: So if nodes end up not shifting hands as much as you think you could up that NPC security.
- Jeff: We can decrease the Decay rate of Node and how much taxes contribute to the decay.
- Steven: The way that the systems are being designed, from a balancing standpoint, we're taking into account how we would like the nodes to change per se, how often. And we've designed attrition systems for certain cultures that may have more dominant over others. These are things that in Alpha and Beta, we will be testing and watching and making sure that our objective is achieved, from a gameplay standpoint. If it's not we'll come back and recalculate.
I’m curious about more of the culture, and the lore. You did go a little in-depth about how we will be exploring it through the ancient ruins and what not. Will there be more advanced things like Botany or being able to explore more in-depth more specific things about the game? Or is it all just going to be us creating history and culture?
- Steven: NO, no no.
- Jeff: There is a lot of history to discover. It's not going to be just players writing the stories. We're going to be writing plenty of stories and ways to discover what has happened in the world, how to deal with what's happened in the world, and how to move the world forward.
- Steven: I think that where this question is stemming from is: Often times in game development for MMOs, you have had studios that have release these “player-driven” content and it ends up being no content, or not fun content. What we understood from the get-go is that we're going to have to make a LOT of content. And we're prepared for that and we are have a lot of source material to work from and were very, very happy and excited to do that. It's going to be meaningful choices that open doors to content you're going to love.
What stops people from abandoning one node to go to a better one instead of sieging it?
- Steven: Nothing
- Audience Member: There is no disciplinary thing for leaving a node?
- Steven: There is a cooldown period on your declaration of citizenship, but that's pretty much It
- Jeff: Eventually if everybody decides to leave a node, that node will decay and be reclaimed by the wilderness.
One of my favorite parts of EverQuest 2, which many of you had a lot of work in, was the alternative ways to advance your character outside of killing monsters and gaining levels. The alternate advancement systems, the little flavor things, like killing orcs to gain enough lore to learn to speak orcish. What can you tell us about those sorts of things that you plan to bring Ashes, if anything?
- Jeff: There's a bunch of different systems. There is the religion system, the organization system, there is your racial progression, artisanship, class, All those things are independent of your main class. You can raise those, outside of what you would call your adventuring class. There's a lot of different things to explore and things to gain levels in.
- Steven: There's a comfortable balance of linear progression with regards to your characters level progression. Those things all house different experience factors that give a viable way forward when it comes to that linear progression. I think that's important because you offer players the opportunity to really focus on the things that they enjoy rather than being pigeonholed into something they don't.
I was wondering if in the future you guys had any plans for open accepting of player made mods or add-ons maybe to change the UI or icons on the map, or players will be able to make any of these things?
- Akil: UI maybe.
- Audience Member: Not like content, but for people that are more focused on PVP, or things like that, they might make it so that like the health are in an easier to see, like their buffs, something for the competitive aspect.
- Steven: With regards UI, ours is going to be very customizable in and of itself. That's our objective for UI. With regards to the seeing where health is at and stuff like that, that's different story. But unlocking different APIs for people to get like DPS meter, We don't want things that divide. Sometimes, when you give some communities the agency to make those things, it facilitates the division.
- Jeff: There becomes Haves and Have Nots. There becomes an external meta on how you play the game, and we want everybody to play the game in the same way, with the same tools.
- Steven: Another thing about that is, our mind isn't made up necessarily with regards to how this would work, but we will watch as we go through alphas and betas, how this happens, and come up to for decision. That's not a difficult implementation. It's something that we can do you know after
- Jeff: Yeah, we can flip that switch anytime we want to.
A lot of MMOs have a history and a legendary characters and stuff like that. I'm wondering how Ashess is going to stack up to that?
- Jeff: Lots of games have a lot of content, because they've been out for years and years and years and years. They have a head start on us. There's no real good answer to that other than the fact it's a new game. There's a lot of stuff to discover. There's not going to be any dearth of content there is going to be plenty of it.
- Steven: Another aspect to that, totally agree, but we do have heroes in our story. We have those named characters that you will read about and even potentially through some type of, well I don’t want to get into that, sorry. So yes we have legendary characters.
- Akil: More of those characters will come up as you play the story, the people you're familiar with.
One of the biggest appeals to open world MMORPGs is the fact that it contributes to a lot of player interactions. What are some of the things that you've learned from the successes and failures of previous open-world MMORPGs like ArcheAge or Black Desert?
- Steven: I'll just answer my top 3. One: Listening to the community and being real time in changes. I'm not talking about the creative vision of the project, I'm talking about specific practices that people don't like. Two: We want progression to matter and we don't want to undermine that progression by offering a cash shop that's going to give these pay to win / gimmicks towards monetization. In an MMORPG, economy is extremely important, especially for us, that matters. Third: The last thing, we want players to be fulfilled in what they do. We don't want the rug to be pulled out from under them later on by some major change that's going to trivialize the amount of time they put into the game. So, those are my top 3.
The amount of classes you guys have is ambitious for balancing. My question is: Crafting, how flexible are you planning to make the crafting, to balance out all those classes?
- Steven: Pretty flexible. But, one thing we do want to make sure about crafting is that, when you're a master of a particular aspect of the crafting, your a master of it and it's meaningful in the world and other players. We don't want everybody to be a master of everything. We want your choices to have some consequences, and we want them to mean something.
- Jeff: The individual sword that you craft, your a master swordsmith, you will have a lot of flexibility in what the end product is. But, the flexibility in terms of which class you end up as depends...
Player housing is extremely difficult to do. In games like Archage, you run out of land in 24 hours. In games like Black Desert, player housing is boring to somebody, who, like me, only place 3 hours a week. How are you going to keep player housing and player land accessible, usable and enjoyable?
- Jeff: One of the things is that, we help to maintain what land is available based on: one plot of land per character per account
- Steven: There are three types of housing. There is instanced housing that developed by governments within a node. They can build an apartment building perhaps. It might have a certain quota of apartments that are available. People can do that. Second, there is static housing that exists within a node, that is, you see a house, and you buy it, and you can buy from other players. The third is the Freehold system. The Freehold system is limited to one Freehold per account. It is a parcel of land you may build infrastructure on it. You may build housing on it. You may build business on it. It’s a big piece of land. What we do to avoid things like a land rush, making it more accessible is that these systems are tied to the development of nodes. And nodes change. They can be destroyed. They can delevel. They can level up further. It's not going to be, I log into the server day 1, I need to run to the spot to get a house because it’s the best spot and I don't get a house there I'm screwed. Instead, I need to go out and build the world, before I can build a house. And I may not know which node is going to develop to stage 3, where housing becomes available first. And there's no fast travel, where I can just instantly teleport across all the land and get there and Rush it. So, it's more strategic in planning for players to see and follow where the development happens. And if they lose out there's opportunities elsewhere in the world for you to to do it again. Or siege that node down.
- We have been very satisfied with our pace of development so far. We've been hitting ahead of schedule internally on a lot of things. And we're actually very happy to announce, that we are going to be dividing our alpha one into two phases. The first phase is going to be a way for us to get a lot of players into different Arena modes and test out our Castle sieges, test out our city sieges, test out our large player battles, raid vs. raid, Guild fights. We are happy to announce that first phase of alpha one will be launched early in Q4, this fourth quarter of 2018
- Right now, as some of you may know, we are in what we call our Alpha zero, which is our pre-Alpha testing phase for us to to get a lot of back and systems up, and to get a lot of core functionality in on the Node system, and then how that relates to narratives, dungeons, and spawn populations. We are also happy to announce that everybody in this room will be getting an alpha zero invite.
- I will say, that on behalf of the team at Intrepid Studios, it is an absolute privilege, pleasure and honor to be building this game for the community for you guys. It is no short pleasure for us to see the reaction as we're developing this game. Sometimes It brings some tears to the eyes, it brings a warm feeling to the heart. As passionate gamers as you guys are, and we are, it is exciting for us to be moving this genre forward. And we couldn't do without everybody's help. So thank you guys!
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