Before this year’s Gamescom in Cologne we knew next to nothing about what Carbine Studios had been cooking up for the past few years. We reported on the developer blog which detailed the artistic direction they were intending to go with for the project, and with days to go to the big event in the Koelnmesse we were presented with a few teaser images, but other than that we were in the dark. Nothing. Nada.
Then Gamescom happened, and boy did they deliver with not only the details, but with a playable version of the game that was gleefully thrust in our faces. And it looked glorious.
Tucked away in the NCsoft area of the business centre, Carbine Studios were eager to show off their hard work to groups of journalists. Dealspwn was invited along to the press session, being presented by Lead Content Designer Michael Donatelli and Associate Content Designer Paul Mattson, to unveil the fruits of their labour. Get seated comfortably though, because there is a lot of ground to cover.
The session began with the announcement trailer being played. If you haven’t watched it yet, here it is in all its animated glory.
Right off the bat Donatelli told us that Carbine were looking to do things differently in regards to the MMO genre, as well as the industry in general. He pointed out how they had not only announced a new title at Gamescom and released a trailer, but had brought a hands-on demo along as well, something that is relatively unheard of with the announcement of a big budget title. In a continually growing section of the gaming industry they had to differentiate from the rest of the pack to get noticed, but Carbine are armed with a team who have been involved in the development of many AAA games over the years; Word of Warcraft, Everquest, Metroid Prime and Fallout to name but a few. With their collective experience they had the knowhow to break the mould; it was just a case of figuring out how.
Being a group of gamers themselves, the goal at Carbine is to make a MMORPG that is enjoyable and fresh, and this means they spend all their spare time playing the games they love in the name of “research” (which is also my excuse, the curse that it is.) Donatelli explained that during its development so far Carbine had invited gamers to test the product to see what they liked, what they didn’t, what they found intuitive and fun, and what caused them trouble in an effort to fine tune the game (they were even noting down the public’s reactions to the demo on the show floor.)
However, it was stated that to achieve this Carbine had to nail down three key areas of development to build upon before they could progress; a unique art style, an evocative setting for the story, and innovation.
Donatelli described the look of WildStar as a “very big art style, very over-exaggerated” that was developed to encompass a large gaming world that not only kept the player interested, but looked like a world in need of heroes. This visual design allowed them to achieve things they would not have been able to with a more serious art style, and made sure they could capture both the danger and beauty in the worlds they were creating, as well as provide a way to deliver dramatic scenes. However, it was important that everything looked sleek, allowing the player to “kick back and get a chuckle every once in awhile while you’re playing the game.” It has been mentioned before that Carbine wanted to create a style that appear to be aimed towards younger players, but appeals to all ages by finding the balance between fun and drama, and in my opinion so far they are heading down the right path.
To build an evocative setting, WildStar is based on a planet called Nexus; the former home to a long vanished but incredibly advanced race called the Eldan. Of course, as it has been abandoned by its former owners, the entire world has, as Donatelli put it, “gone to shit” with ancient experiments and advanced technologies gone awry, turning Nexus into a dangerous place (and whatever caused the Eldan to disappear is also “still out there”, Donatelli mentioned.) That isn’t stopping people from venturing there however, as the planet is ripe with unclaimed tech that could be put to good use, and those that survive it get the spoils. It’s a good old fashioned ‘goldrush’ with advanced technology, and the player is thrown into the middle of it all. While it will be possible to find clues about the history of Nexus as gamers progress through the main storyline, the answers will be found in the end game content, being referred to as the “Eldan Game.”
Chances are you have gotten this far in the preview and thought to yourself “Well, that’s all well and good, but how is it different to other MMOs?” This is where the innovation comes in, as Carbine are using what they describe as layered gameplay elements in WildStar. To do this Carbine went back and looked at the four main playstyles that gamers tend to gravitate towards while playing an online game and created Player Paths to accommodate them, those being the explorer, the conqueror, the collector and the builder. Donatelli was quick to point out that these paths were not the player race and class, but another layer to go on top. Confused? Allow me to explain, as we get into the many layers of WildStar that utilise what Carbine are calling a ‘momentum system.’
By choosing a certain Player Path you will see the game world in a completely different way to how another player will perceive it. “It doesn’t affect the overall zones or story in the game,” Donatelli commented, but adds something different to the experience as you play. For example, the Explorer path would get goals such as finding the highest hills, discovering an underwater cave, or revealing a hidden doorway for other players. The Soldier path on the other hand would focus on the combat, having the ability to spawn public quests to defeat waves of enemies, and progress in military ranks. For the collector role, the Scientist path provides a place for the achievement hunters, for the person who wishes to unlock absolutely everything. While other paths will have access to plenty of lore in WildStar, the Scientist will have access to a greater layer of knowledge about the game world, including weaknesses of enemies.
The final path of the Settler, assuming that of the builder role, is not just about constructing things but allows a focus on the social aspect of the game, building up relationships with other players. The example given was how a builder could construct a medic hospital for a town that doesn’t have one, gathering supplies for the venture. Once it is built (in real time, we were told) the hospital would spawn medics that would then travel around the zone healing players. There was mention of how players could ask a Settler to provide a higher level medic, which said Settler could do depending on what they built or upgraded in the local town. In doing so it creates a sense of community for the players, and we were told there would be other ways for Settler to contribute to the game world, such as social spaces.
Donatelli then gave us a brief example of all the paths in action in one area. Imagine a small area with a bunch of jungle cats; the Soldier would go in and kill the weaker ones, and once he had killed a certain amount, these weaker ones would fear the Soldier in question. This would lead our fighter to focusing on stronger enemies, until ultimately taking on a mini-boss of sorts, the defeat of which would provide a zone-wide buff for all the players. Meanwhile, a Scientist in the same area, killing the same jungle cats, would be collecting samples from its fallen enemies. In doing so it allows the player to learn more about these particular mobs, such as strengths and weaknesses. Elsewhere, the Explorer might see a huge tree next to where the jungle cats are, and if they are able to climb that tree the Explorer would not only unlock additional content for themselves, but they may reveal new and hidden areas for all the players around them. All of this would be happening at the same time, alongside the Settler helping out other players.
While these various amounts of layers sounded impressive, it was interesting to hear that Executive Producer Jeremy Gaffney had told the developers that while MMOs were all about the numbers like XP and stats, it was important that WildStar was fun to play to begin with, and they could balance the numbers afterwards. As such, it was important to provide gameplay though could be enjoyable for both casual players and those that want a more challenging experience, so the ‘challenges’ were created. We were given a few examples of these, the first being of a player killing several jungle cats. The game would recognise this and issue the player with a challenge, “Can you kill 10 of these enemies in 2 minutes?” Elsewhere, an Explorer who had climbed a few trees in an area finds another one to scale, only to be issued the challenge “Can you climb this tree in 45 seconds?” This would not be compulsory to attempt, with the player able to walk away or just ignore it if they so wished, but if completed successfully a reward would be issued, and again this would be on top of everything else already mentioned.
Donatelli went on to talk about some of the dynamic content that will be featured in WildStar. Spontaneous quests that pop up on your communicator could have you rescue a person who had been swallowed by a gigantic slug, and in freeing them you would unlock additional content. Similarly, there might be some NPC poachers who arrive on the scene and are after the jungle cats. If left to poach, the number of jungle cats will decline to the point where you might be offered a quest to take out the poachers. The idea behind this is to not only give varied content but effects to ecology around you as you play, giving this design of layered content a noticeable effect on the game world. Of course, casual players can enjoy the game at a base level and play through the main quests, but by giving this layered approach that builds up as a player progresses it allows for a deeper MMO experience for those that want it.
Be sure to check out part two of our WildStar Preview, where we look at combat mechanics, some of the player classes & races, and the in-game demonstration!