In the early hours of this morning Trion Worlds released the latest update for its MMORPG Rift titled From The Embers. Bringing a whole new zone to the world of Telera, it is the biggest update Trion have released so far, both in map size and content. Earlier this week I was invited to chat with Senior Design Producer Hal Hanlin to discuss the new content that is going to arrive in patch 1.6, as well as look at some new features players would be getting hold of in the near future.
Carl Phillips: So Hal, could you give us a bit of backstory as to what Ember Isle, the new zone in this latest update, is all about?
Hal Hanlin: Okay, so Ember Isle is an enormous zone. Going back a little bit, if you’re been following our story you’ll be aware we’ve just opened Hammerknell, and at the end of Hammerknell, Akylious the god of the Water Plane has been destroyed. This basically enables the Ascended to go back and get to Ember Isle, which is across the water that was previously impassable. The zone itself is a volcanic, jungle island which is lush, beautiful with ruins that are influenced by many different cultures. There’s some Mayan & some Philippine flavour in there, there’s a lot of different cultures that are mixed together to make the architecture.
Each faction has a reason to go over there; it is the ancestral home of the Kelari, and so the Defiant want to go and find out what has happen to the ancestral home, and the Guardians have an off-shoot called the Farclan which are Dwarves who were adventurers who went over the water right before it became impassable 1500 years ago, so they just want to go and find out what happened to them. It turns out that both races are alive and well, but members of them have formed a group called the Keepers that are a neutral faction that are all about maintaining peace and tranquillity on this volcanic, non-tranquil island. It is the most beautiful zone I have seen in any game, and I’m not even going to say [just the] MMO [genre], it is amazing beautiful.
CP: Was it a welcome change of pace being able to design a more colourful area in comparison to the content already in Rift?
HH: Well one of the thing we are trying not to do is have the palette be consistent from zone to zone, so obviously it’s nice to get some more greens and bright lava reds and that sort of thing visually, but what was more exciting was the opportunity to build a zone from the ground up based on how our dynamic gameplay evolves. Now, if you’ve been following our story as a company, we ran events starting in Beta 0 back in December of last year, all the way through to launch, and each in each event we introduced more and more dynamic features. These weren’t things that we just created and turned on, they were things based on player feedback that we created and innovated as we were progressing through the betas. So the geography of our world was basically built and we were putting this dynamic content layer in around it.
We had a lot of fun with it, zone invasions were great, zone events were great, the rifts were great, but Ember Isle represents an opportunity to start building on how all of those things work and start filling in some gaps that we identified and build a zone specifically for that, and so when people get to Ember Isle people are going to find that there’s a new type of gameplay called Onslaught, which is instead of having rifts opening up and having to deal with a couple of invasions, you can trigger a series of invasions by upgrading areas known as Sourcewells. When you do this the Onslaught happens and you’ll have streams of these invasions coming down on you which would ordinarily just wipe you off the map, but you can also upgrade turrets, both healing and offensive ones, around the area and you can continue to repair them as you’re defending against these onslaughts. It’s a lot of fun, and as a single player it’s a real chance-y thing, but you can find a couple of turrets to keep alive and just start picking away, and as a group it is just an amazing amount of fun.
These feature into our zone events, so you’ll have Onslaughts happening in the middle of a zone event, and you’re trying to defend that location for the goal of the event, but in order to do that you have to upgrade it which triggers even more onslaughts. It becomes a very engaging positive feedback loop, and when you complete it you of course are handsomely paid for it.
CP: Regarding Sourcewells, do you have to activate a certain amount to trigger an Onslaught, or can it scale if say only a few turrets have been repaired?
HH: Well it’s not a hard-and-fast “oh, I’ve done three, it’s going to trigger,” it starts to happen within a range of things that you’ve done, so if you go and you upgrade one you’re probably not going to trigger it. You could just repair a healing turret then go on and adventure and come back so it can heal you up, but the more you upgrade the more you’re likely to start triggering these invasions and that’s when things start to get exciting.
CP: It sounds like creating this update was an exciting time for you and the rest of the team, but were there any challenges to creating Ember Isle and the content to go with it, seeing as it is twice the size of your current largest zone?
HH: There absolutely was. One of the things, because most of our zones are relatively easy to navigate, with a couple of notable exceptions, you can have a zone event that spans the entire zone, and players have a better than average chance of getting from the south end of an area all the way to the north end to get a punch on a boss. When you are talking about a zone that is this immense, it definitely introduced almost a limit on how big we can make a zone event if we aren’t going to provide players with the opportunity to use more porticulums, so what we wound up doing is adding multiple additional portal points throughout the zone to address this problem and it has actually worked out really well. It gives [players] a reason to explore to find the porticulum, but once an event fires up you know that you can get all the way to the to the north-east in the middle of this zone event to help defend this Sourcewell without looking at it and going “there is no way I’ll make it there in time… aww I’ll skip it!”
CP: In the new 5-man dungeon Caduceus’ Rise you’ve gone for a non-linear approach to the order of tackling bosses. What made you go for this approach instead of a more traditional path?
HH: (laughs) Why does Trion do anything? Basically it was something players had mentioned to us and something our designers felt like that wanted to do. We don’t lock ourselves into a specific delivery method for our content. What we’d rather do is stay true to the core of what Rift is and then improvise on that theme and so in this case, instead of giving you a linear dungeon map, we were able to create this lush, overland, amazing dungeon and let players pick it apart in the order that they choose to attack it. Empowering the players is really what Rift has done better than anything else; we empower them to tell us what they want and we fulfil it, we empower them to explore the content that they want and we give them the tools to get there, and in this case it’s just another way to let them decide how they want to conquer the dungeon.
CP: Let’s move on to the Rise of the Phoenix raid sliver; can you give us a brief overview of what players can expect to see from this?
HH: [Rise of the Phoenix] is actually an alternative reality similar to the original Guild of Prophecy where you’re going across and there’s a threat that creeps into your own reality if you don’t stem it in a different reality. It allows us to have an alternate version of Stonefield that players will be going into, and they take on the Phoenix in a pool of lava and the end, in addition to the other multiple bosses. Again, this is another one where they can pick apart in whatever order they want but ultimately the Phoenix is the capstone.
Be sure to check out Part 2 of our interview here, where we talk more about patch 1.6, and discuss some of the new features players can expect to see in the near future.