Costumes! AMPs! Chua Balls!
Just when we thought we wouldn’t have any WildStar to Wrap-up, we’re back with more details for the upcoming MMORPG. While we’ve been hammering the site with video content up the wazoo thanks to our access to the game’s first 15 levels, Carbine haven’t been resting on the laurels. For instance, they finally got round to doing that Stalker livestream, showing off the super-stealthy bastard in all its glory. Not only that, but the long awaited Pappy Vs Frost developer PvP showdown actually happened, and although Stephan Frost was (perhaps not surprisingly) victorious, Chad Moore definitely gave him a run for his money, so kudos Mr Lore-man!
That said, the highlight of the stream was clearly Hugh Shelton’s glorious beard, something I made quite clear to him on Twitter.
— Carl Phillips (@CarlPhillipsUK) January 19, 2014
Seriously though, it's as if he and my virtual alter ego McGarnagle were actually separated at birth. Evidence is below.
Anyway, let's get down to business.
Carbine and NCSOFT decided it would be fun to include me in a conference call for the next big information blowout on customization (which, yes, I know is spelt the American way, but I can’t stay mad at those scamps at Carbine. Basically, what I’m trying to say is – please send all your grammar correction feedback in the direction of Jeremy Gaffney.) You see, customisation (take that, letter ‘Z’!) is always fun in MMOs when players are given the opportunity to utilize it, and because Carbine recognised this early on in development they decided to incorporate it into the heart of the experience. To talk about this, head of PR for North American Michael Shelling headed up the call with several members of the Carbine team - social feature team lead Joseph Piepiora, creative director Matt Mocarski, systems designer Nick Roth, and class designer Hugh Shelton.
It’s worth pointing out that what you’re about to read is one of the biggest articles I’ve put together, and while all the information will be key to newcomers, there are definitely some new tidbits for those that live, eat and sleep WildStar. So, hold onto your butts - it's time to talk about customisation in housing, player characters, combat, and mounts.
Those of you who have already seen our episode of Dealspwn Playthrough dedicated to housing will already know a fair bit about this, but before we got to the new bits of info, social features team lead Joseph Piepiora gave us a rundown of the basics, so here's a recap. Players first get their own house at level 14 when they go to their respective faction’s capital – Thayd for Exiles and Illium for the Dominion – and are given a quest from intergalactic corporation Protostar to visit their “housing of the future” booth. After players have toured around the exhibit (and basked in the glorious muzak-esque tones that play while doing so) they are finally given a plot of floating land on which to call their own.
Costing 1 gold to place down a small house, it is then up to the player to decide whether to place down extra structures into the available plugs, which vary from small material gathering plots, to huge structures that provide mini-games, to crafting benches and basic vendors. While some of these structures are purchasable, most of them require a FabKit to be placed, which players can only get by questing around Nexus or by completing challenges successfully. Piepiora pointed out that they were evenly spread throughout the content, so players should get their fair share of these just by doing what they normally do anyway in an MMO.
The second way players can spruce up the floating slice of heaven is by spending what little currency they have at that point décor items for both inside their house and for the land in general. What makes this more impressive is the tools Carbine provides the player with, allowing them to place any items anywhere, rotating or scaling it to any size they wish. Want to place a canopy outside next to your mining nodes? Go ahead. Want to place a garden hose coming off your house? Put that sucker in there. Maybe you want the world’s biggest banana next to your bed? Dream no longer – you can do exactly that, and then proclaim yourself the banana king / queen. Basic and advanced controls are available to cater to those who just want to place items down and be done with it, as well as those that want to build a virtual masterpiece, playing into the theme of player choice that Carbine have spread throughout their game.
It’s important to point out that this isn’t just to make your land look more interesting and lived in, as placing structures in plugs and objects in a house provide the player with benefits to their gameplay experience. A structure with a mini-game allows players to win rewards on a daily basis, be it an extra item for their house or the social currency Renown (which allows players to buy rarer items.) Meanwhile, certain décor items provide XP boosts to everything the players does, as well as increasing the amount of rest XP provided so long as the player logs out in their house. Another point Piepiora made was how the latest Winter Beta patch included a preview window for housing items, allowing players to actually see what potential or existing purchases look like before placing them on their plot – a fine example of Carbine’s current goal of improving the quality of life for players now that the core mechanics have been realised.
In fairness, we’ve already seen these features in action in our dedicated episode of Dealspwn Playthrough where I got hands-on with the housing system, but there have been a few changes since we made the episode such as the inclusion of a preview window, allowing players to actually see what potential purchases or existing items before placing them on their plot. It’s clear that in this regard Carbine have been focusing on getting the core mechanics down first before providing the polishing touches.
One last thing was brought up on the topic of housing - player neighbourhoods. Teased to players several times throughout development, this particular feature won’t be included at launch, and Piepiora was keen to mention that it will be coming later down the line. “Now, we probably could have slammed something into the product, and it would have alright, but really the Carbine way of doing things is we want to make sure that it’s as polished as possible and as interesting as possible for the players, “Piepiora said, “So when we put out Neighbourhoods, they are going to be epic, and we’re very excited about that.”
When you consider how much time you’re going to be spending staring at them, it’s not hard to believe how long some people spend making sure their character looks as good as possible. It’s for that reason that Carbine have put a huge emphasis on providing players with the tools they need to achieve this, both in terms of creation and once in-game, something creative director Matt Mocarski explained as we kicked off the section on character customization.
“We started with the philosophy that we wanted to make sure that the characters represented the world and the style of the game,” he began, “and it’s a big decision to make – and you have to make it very early on in production – about what you are going to offer the player. Are you going to offer every option under the sun, to where they can take one model and mould that into something that they like, or are you going to offer an array of options that are a little more varied but have a little less customisation on a micro level?” Once the game had been revealed back in 2011, the team at Carbine felt that in many MMOs that were out, the options in the character customisation suites, while robust, ultimately encouraged the player to “make really ugly or bad decisions” – something they were keen to avoid.
“When we asked the team and looked at ourselves and what we really wanted, we wanted characters that were appealing characters that had certain traits that were recognisable, and didn’t look like they were broken or didn’t look like they fit in with the world,” Mocarski continued. “So we kind of started with that – “let’s try and make as many options as we can to appeal to a wide variety of players, and have the characters have options that we feel fulfil the personalities of all these different races.” He went on to explain that Carbine were focused on making sure that the races looked radically different from one another. “If you look at a lot of other MMOs out there – a lot of other games that have a robust character customisation – usually they have too many and races that are slightly different from humans with different ears or different brow lines or different coloured skin” said Mocarski. “So we really want to have these, I think what we call, Silhouette-breaking, signature features on each of our races so they could be identified from afar, [and] appeal to a wide variety of people.”
In terms of their goals, I’d say the developers at Carbine have got it spot on, and it’s something we’ve explored ourselves in our Playthrough episodes on the options available – to Aurin ears and tails, to Draken horns, to all those metallic Mechari face-flaps (as I like to call them), to the ability of making any Chua look adorably psychotic. That said, forging the look of an avatar is just the start of the journey in an MMO, and Mocarski went on to point out that over the course of the several hundred hours most MMO players put into a game, tastes can change and the developers at Carbine identified this as a potential problem.
“Usually when people hit max level they all look alike,” Mocarski begain. “They’re all wearing the same armour. They don’t really have a lot of options at a high level, so we tried to figure out what can we do throughout the entire gaming experience to give the player more options, and that started with a thing we call costuming.” Again, if you’ve been keeping up with my Playthrough episodes, you’ll have seen costuming in action, but here’s a quick explanation for those not in the know – usually with MMOs that constantly drop gear with increasingly better stats, they end up with the worse dress sense imaginable. Colours will be mismatched, sometimes styles will clash, and your character will generally look ridiculous if they aren’t wearing a complete set designed to go together. Players of WoW might feel this is similar to the Transmogrification system that was added to the game, but that of course cost money each time the player wished to customise an item.
So here’s Carbine’s solution - from level 6 onwards, WildStar grants players the ability to add to a costume set where you can take any armour piece in the world and apply it to their avatar regardless of what they are currently wearing, and at any time they wish – for free. Found an awesome jacket at level 30, but hate the way the level 50 chest piece looks despite its much better stats? Just put that level 30 jacket in the costume slot for the chest and you’ll keep the look whilst gaining the stats of the other item. This also works for specific costumes that drop throughout the world that Mocarski described as more thematic – no stats on them whatsoever – so players can look like a Dominion uniform, or a chef, if they want to. This of course provides the roleplayers out there with some fantastic options, and as Mocarski added at that point, “this allows players to really create their own characters and have their own experience.”
At this point Shelling interjected with an interesting new bit of info that Carbine had recently added the ability to costume weapons as well. That said, if any of you are thinking of using the costume system to, let’s say, get the jump on others in PvP matches and battleground, you might as well forget it. It was confirmed during the conference call that costumes will be turned off in competitive arenas for the sake of fairness, so you’ll just have to brush up on your skills instead.
That, or learn this ridiculous dodge-jump roll and fling yourself to victory.
Beyond costuming, players can further customise their chosen getup with dyes, with Morcaski stating that “every item in our game is dyeable.” By visiting a Protostar dye booth, players can apply any colour they have bought or discovered in Nexus. “It really gives a robust way for the players to express themselves,” Mocarski continued, “from level 1, to level 50 and beyond cap.” One example that was brought up by Shilling was that for guilds, this means that no matter what armour a player is wearing they can be sporting the guild colours all the time, but as Mocarski quite skilfully segued the conversion towards, the recently announced inclusion of Holomarks allow players to utilize a system that, while similar to tabards in other MMOs, is absolutely nothing like tabards.
As mentioned in a recent post on the official website about guilds, Holomarks allow guilds to take a custom-built crest and, thanks to the sci-fi setting, project it as a hologram anywhere on a character – be it the chest, shoulders, back, or even floating above their head like some sort of regal angel – and you can even turn them on or off at any time. It was briefly mentioned that the team are looking into ways of incorporating Holomarks into housing for guilds, but that the team “aren’t ready to talk about it yet” (I suspect that we’ll have to wait until War Plots are unveiled for that particular topic.)
With all this talk about customisation, I had to ask Mocarski about editing your avatar beyond the initial customisation screen. After all, we’ve all been there – 10 hours in and you decide the skin tone isn’t quite right, or someone walks by with a hairstyle that makes you go “actually, that probably would have gone better with my majestic beards,” and so I asked if the team were developing or had at least discussed the ability for players to change their appearance in some way in-game. “We had discussions about that very recently,” responded Mocarski. “It’s not something we’re going to have in at launch, but we are definitely considering it post-launch and if enough people give us feedback and it’s something that they want then it’s definitely something we’re considering.”
So, don’t be too surprised if ProtoStar Corporation get into the beautification game in the future. For money!
When we talk about customisation, most of the time it is purely cosmetic choices, but Carbine have worked hard at putting that feeling of choice right into the combat mechanics thanks to the Limited Action Sets. It’s yet another topic we have previously looked at in our Dealspwn Playthrough series, where players much choose up to eight abilities at time to use in combat that fit to their play style, be it assault (for the DPSer in all of us), support (which covers tanking or healing, depending on the class being played), or utility (which provides hybrid abilities useful for most situations.)
After that, players will need to assign tier points (which are gained from level 10 onwards) to further power up these chosen abilities or add new effects. For example, putting points into Warrior’s leap ability will initially increase the distance for the move, but once it hits a major Tier (ie. once four or eight tier points have been assigned) it allows Leap to break the Warrior our of any CC currently affecting them. Basically, it boils down to the individual player whether or not to focus on just one ability to gain the extra effects, or spread them out evenly among the entire LAS. That said, to stop players from unlocking a major tier as soon as they hit level 14, each tier is unlocked every five levels, meaning the first major tiers won’t be available until the player hits level 25. While some might find this initially restrictive, I feel it’s a mechanic that allows players to experiment with the various abilities as they level through the content, and also means that they don’t become overpowered too quickly.
This may seem a little daunting at first, but don’t fret – if you decide you’ve made a mistake in what skills you’ve picked or where you’ve assigned your tier points you can change them at any point while out of combat. It’s yet another example of how Carbine are providing the player with the power of choice.
One system that we haven’t been able to go into too much detail on is the AMP system, which is effectively the nearest thing to a traditional talent tree that WildStar has. A little history lesson first though – the AMP system was a result of feedback from players in the initial part of the Closed Beta. “Players were saying that they wanted to have some choices that were more permanent than their others,” class design lead Hugh Shelton explained, “[They wanted] things that made them stand out from other players, things that were tailored to their playstyle, and so we added the AMP system.”
The AMP system has multiple branches, each with their own passive abilities that provide the usual affair of increasing Crit Chance or beefing up base damage further, but there are also passive upgrades to unique class abilities. For example, Stalkers can unlock an AMP that ensures that Stealth does not break when they do their initial burst of damage. “This is a pretty large playstyle change,” Shelton said, “especially for PvP where you are now able to stealth and not get broken out when you’re wading into a large crowd of enemies.” Proc events are also a key part to the AMP system, with one example being a sudden burst of AoE damage once a player’s shields are down, or they could instead choose to increase the effectiveness of their lifesteal.
On top of all of this, there are also AMPs that unlocked skills that can be added to a LAS. Unlike other skills which can be bought from a skill vendor (and congrats to Matt for finally finding one of those in his video series, The Noob!) these are only available in the AMP system, and one such example that Shelton gave was Assassinate – a high-powered DPS skill that could be unlocked for the Spellslinger. “It’s one of those abilities that is iconic to the class,” Shelton began, “and the only way you are able to get it is if you the invest points in the AMP system to unlock that ability. This will make it so not every Spellslinger is running around with these really powerful abilities, which is something we were seeing before.”
Of course, with the AMP system representing permanent choice verses the flexibility of the LAS, Carbine needed a way of ensuring that players really thought about how they allocated their points, so to respec the AMP system will cost in-game money, and that cost will escalate with each respec. Shelton went on to explain that not all AMPs cost the same amount of points, so passive upgrades like armour pierce will cost just one point, while bigger ones for Proc events or ability unlocks could set you back “between three and five points.” The last bit of info Shelton gave on the topic was that some AMPs could only be unlocked by acquiring them in the world. This could be a random drop, from a vendor, or (if you really want them) from another player on the Auction House. Some might see it as an easy way of ensuring players have things to do at level 50, while other will see it as a rite of passage to becoming a skilled player. The way I see it from my time in the Winter Beta, there will always be the "right" allocation of points for a specific role (until balance / nerf patches, yo) but overall the AMP system does its job in providing choice to the player in how they play the game.
The last major topic of the day was all about how you get around Nexus. We already knew about the Granok Grinder (ie the hoverbike that was shown in the announcement trailer) and we’ve already seen the awesomeness that is hoverboards (which are super fun, by the way, and I can’t wait to challenge Matt to a race with the sickest of jumps whilst “Danger Zone” plays in the background) but WildStar has many other ways to get about the town in style, and so systems designer Nick Roth took over at this point to talk a little about the travel arrangement on Nexus.
With it being a sci-fi setting, it would have been easy for Carbine to add in an instant fast-travel system similar to Guild Wars 2, but Roth explained that they choose to go with mounts and taxi rides because they didn’t want to trivialize the size of Nexus. “We want you to still feel immersed in the world,” Roth explained, “but you need to be able to get from point A to point B in a timely manner.”
He went on to say that there will be a large number of mounts to add to you collection, although only a small selection will be available at the faction capitals at level 15 – the rest will need to be hunted down by killing mobs and completing quests. Basically, expect completists to be in search of that oh-so-rare mount as the ultimate status symbol. Each faction will have access to four mounts initially, each representing one of the player races, with Roth pointing out that this helps players identify friend from foe in the field. “You’ll know if you see a hamster ball rolling around that that’s going to be a Dominion player,” he said, referencing what could be the greatest mount of all time – the Chua Hamster Ball.
Of course, with this whole conference call being about customisation, we had bigger fish to fry, and so Roth began to detail the ways you can, as the kids used to say, “pimp your ride,” be it a mechanical mount or a tamed member of the local wildlife. Using items called flair, mounts will have four slots – front, back, left, and right – for which players will be able switch items between at any time. Hoverboards are an exception to these rules though, instead only providing three slots so that the wings match and unlocking at level 25 instead, but Roth was quick to state that the artists had “gone crazy” with the various designs available, each scattered around Nexus for players to find. Roth then mentioned that a lot of these mounts and accompanying flair would be found in the Elder Game content to ensure that there were things to do and collect once players were at level 50.
One of the questions the team has been getting regularly on the closed beta forums is “do the customisations enhance the mount in any way beyond visual?” The answer is no, with Roth explaining that the team didn’t want to force players to adopt a certain look for their mounts just because it was the most optimal choice for their mount. It was at this point that Roth gave us a sample of what players could do with their mounts, “You could take your war pig and put a ramen bowl on top, and have put a brain tank on the front.” There will be sets of flair to give all slots on a mount the same style, but players will be free to mix and match, creating their own style to show off as they wander through the world.
Additionally, each mount can have separate setups, so you could choose to have a brain tank on every mount, but for your Grinder you could have a guild emblem instead of your ramen bowl. Although there will be plenty of flair to find when they game games live, Roth was quick to point out that the team at Carbine planned on adding even more sets of flair into the game post-launch. “It’s a really cool way of giving an additional level of style to travelling throughout the world,” Roth said.
A couple of interesting points was brought up as we finished off the topic. The first of which addressed if a Granok could get hold of a Chua Ball and roll around in one of those. Sadly, our rock-based friends will have to dream of such a glorious moment. “The tech is there,” Roth began, “but we wanted to keep the player’s faction mounts to their faction. It gives them that sense of ownership and it also means that when you’re out in the world in a PvP environment you can still see “Oh look – there’s a Dominion mount. That player coming towards me is ready for some hurt.” The second point referred to mount-jacking, and again, dreams of performing a Halo-esque Ghost hijack will be unfulfilled. “In terms of stealing their mounts, it’s not a Grand Theft Auto style of thing,” Roth explained, “but all mounts have a health bar when you’re riding around in the world. So if you want to gank somebody that’s driving by, you’ve got to kill their mount to get them to dismount, or you can line up a skill shot stun and stun them off their mount.” So there are your choices – stun them to oblivion or use good old fashioned brute force.
And that, as they say, is that. A huge thanks to Michael, Joseph, Matt, Hugh, and Nick for taking the time out to talk to us, and a special thanks to NCSOFT for letting me invade their conference call. Stay tuned for more WildStar coverage, as we'll be getting to grips with PvP in our next episode of Dealspwn Playthrough.