After the press session earlier on in the day (if you missed it, you can read the preview here) I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to sit down with Lead Creative Designer Michael Donatelli and Associate Creative Designer Paul Mattson to talk a litte more in-depth about Carbine Studio's upcoming MMORPG WildStar. After sitting through the hour-long presentation I had quite a few questions for them…
Carl Phillips: Right, let’s start off with an easy one; how has Gamescom been for you this year?
Michael Donatelli: Gamescom has been great, better than I expected. I’ve been [in the industry] for over a decade now, and I’ve worked on a lot of IP’s that people know, so I’ve been like “Hey, we’re going out to talk about the game” and it’s an IP that’s already established or been around for twenty years, so you feel confident that there’s going to be a built-in fanbase. But this is our IP, this is something we created, so it was a little daunting, so we came out here wondering if anyone was going to like it, but apparently everybody likes it, so it’s much better now!
CP: Before Gamescom, Carbine had stated they have been taking inspiration from many animation styles while creating the look for WildStar to find the correct balance between fun and drama, using animes such as Full Metal Alchemist and Naruto as examples. As a team, how did you approach this to get the right results?
MD: Well, I can’t really speak [about the] art. I mean, I know you’re talking about the blog from Matt Morcaski, our Art Director, and every time we talk we pretty much talk about pretty much all those things you called out. I think we have one of the best art departments in the games industry, but I’ll let [the art] speak for itself. How we wrapped our head around that was much the same thing. Any time [Matt] talks about some kind of cartoon or anime style, I end up watching it so we’re in the same headspace. As I mentioned before, it’s like Firefly meets Indiana Jones, I watch a lot of these movies, trying to get into the headspace of these characters where there’s this dramatic thing, but there’s always this underlying tongue-in-cheek to the art so we mimic that in the content. That’s what we said about the trailer, which has the same kind of flavour as our quest content. One of the zones that we didn’t get a chance to show you, but would have loved you shown you guys, after you leave zone we used in the demos is called Algoroc.
Now Algoroc is a place kinda like this wild, dusty frontier, it’s all very wild and untamed. There’s a town that’s being built, much like the beginning of [the TV show] Deadwood, where it’s all starting to come together, much like many places on this uncharted world. When you get to the town there’s these kind of highwaymen, this gang of guys that aren’t just with the Exiles or Dominion, there are loads of different alien races from all over the universe that are converging on this place that’s got this very sci-fi western feel, and you go around the corner and there’s this guy that’s being harassed by this group, making him dance and shooting his feet. Elsewhere there’s a guy being made to put a pumpkin on his head and they’re shooting the pumpkin… so when you get to this town you’re like “this is insane,” and we have layers to that, so you can stop them from doing this, you can confront them, but it’s humorous and dramatic at the same time, so we try keep that throughout the entire game.
CP: I have to ask, will we be seeing something like the awesome hoverbike used in the trailer as a mount in the game?
MD: (with a sly smile) Well… here’s what I can say… it’s a great video. As a matter of fact we worked hand-in-hand with Blur [Studios] so that every aspect of that video was exactly what our game is, so everything you saw in that video are our assets.
CP: You spoke during the press session about the social aspects of the game, specifically the Settler. In addition to being able to build hospitals to help players during quests, will they be able to create bases for guilds to meet in, or will that sort of thing be handled at a place more like an Inn in WoW?
MD: (Whispering to Matt) Yeah, yeah, I know… Sorry, he’s telling me what I can’t tell you!
CP: (Laughing) No worries, that’s fine!
MD: So, again, not to trot this line out but we’re going to be a fully featured MMO, and if you’ve seen something in another game, you know, trade skills, and all those great things, we are also going to have it in this game. Now, I can’t speak directly to guild housing or anything like that, but if someone else is doing it, we’re going to be doing it and probably a little bit different.
CP: What sort of crafting element will be involved in WildStar?
MD: We have an economy team that is working on crafting as we speak right now. Again, there’s a myriad of things we’re planning to do with that that I can’t get into, but I can say that right now we’re using a system that I mentioned before, the momentum mechanics. In combat, [we said] if we apply this momentum mechanic and use these layers, the player can partake in any way they want, and then we did it with content as well as combat, and we’re probably looking at the same thing with [crafting mechanics]. We want to make trade skills in a way that casual players can get involved, that seasoned players can be challenged by, so we are definitely doing all those things and we’re currently in the process of-… (Paul starts nudging Michael) (Laughing) I’m sorry, I really can’t say!
Paul Mattson: (Shaking his head) He really can’t!
CP: Every time I’ve gone by your booth on the floor it has been filled with people wanting to have a look at the game, and you mentioned that you have been taking notes on the feedback you’ve received from those that have tried it. Have you had any feedback that has stood out so far?
MD: Well, I guess it’s a personal observation really, but what I heard from someone who was watching [the public] play, it’s the same kind of feeling I got when, and I think it’s when it clicked, with us putting content in, and with me being a content designer there’s that math involved like “how long is a player going to be in the zone?” and “how much time do you want them to spend there?” so there’s those factors. We did this zone [the Northern Wilds] which is actually in our game, this is not some kind of special area [designed for Gamescom], it’s from our 3 to 6 player experience, and I’m playing this, testing it, and I know it will be a 45 minute long experience.
But in the end I’m recalling it and looking down and it’s been two hours, and I haven’t finished all the content, and that’s when you know it’s right. You know, those games where you’re playing ‘til three in the morning and then kick yourself in the ass because you’ve got to be at work in four hours! But it was so good that time flew by, because of the momentum system and being able to do as much as I wanted to get involved in.
In an MMO it doesn’t usually work that way, it’s very much “I have to kill ten monsters, oh this is going to take me forever.” [At the time of the interview] Only five people on the show floor have actually finished it, and there’s so many people standing down there, and it’s a 40 minute long demo. So I’ll be watching as they get really close, and all of a sudden it’ll switch off. They’re all like “ARRGGH!” and they look around because they’re angry, so [as feedback] it just speaks for itself!
CP: I know you cut the character customisation out of the demo to save on time, and I think that was for the best as I’m sure I could spend 20 minutes messing about with the different choices, but what can you tell us about the customisation options that will be available?
MD: Character customisation is a big priority for the art department, and I know they have a lot of plans to, erm-… (Paul starts to nudge him again)… so anyway, yeah! There’s a ton of plans for customisation, and it’s awesome. As a matter of fact, it’s not just character customisation; they look at customisation across the board. They’re very tuned into that, you’ll see.
CP: In regards to the story in WildStar, will players be able to affect the story at all, or will they be following a linear progression?
MD: There is a progression to follow and that’s the base level [of content]. There is a way for players to affect story… that I can’t talk about, but players can affect the on-going story in the zone, they have a way to put their mark on the world, so to speak.
CP: Of what you ARE allowed to talk about…
MD & PM: (Laughing)
CP: … what would you say is your favourite aspect or part of WildStar?
MD: Well, mine’s that it’s different; it’s a different kind of game. Everyone who makes MMOs says the same kind of shit, like “Oh, we’re doing it different, it’s going to be different,” but this feels… you know, I get to be my Spellslinger. I’m a gunslinger, I’ve got six guns on each hip, I’m wearing a leather trench coat down to my ankles, and I’m doing insane stuff in the game! I haven’t had that feeling [of excitement] in a character class I can play in a long time, and the coupled with the different ways we do things from the “same-old, same-old,” it just feels like a different kind of game, man. I like it because it’s different!
PM: I’m with him. It’s the broad overview, and the setting’s amazing. All the classes that I can’t speak more of, but we obviously know everything that’s in there. It’s just an amazing game, and we can’t wait for the full thing to out and for everyone to play the full thing as much as, you know, we all do!
MD: Yeah, I can’t stress enough… there is way cool [unannounced] stuff just waiting to get out here, and we can’t talk about it, but once you walk out of [the Northern Wilds] and into the next zone in Algoroc… I don’t want to say ‘cos it’s probably safer to stay hushed!
PM: I think I can say, ‘cos I’ve worked on it! In fact when we go back I’m working on a pile of stuff for Algoroc that is looking awesome.
A huge thanks to Michael and Paul for taking the time out to chat, and a major thanks to the wonderful folks at NCsoft for putting up with me all day!
Now for the important question Dealspwners; what are your impressions of WildStar so far? Has the day of coverage piqued your curiosity? Intrigued by the direction Carbine are taking this MMO? Can't stand another word on the subject? Sound off in the comments!