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Interview: Will Cook On Rift's Launch

A man, in front of a tower, wearing a silly hat. Yesterday.

Rift is out today, and to mark the occasion we dispatched mad-bearded reporter Dan Griliopoulos to speak to Rift’s Dynamic Content Lead (best job title, ever), Will Cook, to find out what we’re calling “information”. Find out why they’re not opting for free-to-play, how Rift will compete in Blizzard’s playground, and how the game may help John not be a rubbish healer.

RPS: You have a mad number of class permutations, even before someone chooses their skills. How will you balance this for PvE and PvP?

Will Cook: It’s both easier and harder than you might think. We tend to view our class system as a sandbox, and the most important thing we can do is tend to the borders. Most game have the absolutely brutal responsibility to try to make all their like classes competitive. Your rogue DPS has to be in the same ballpark as that of your mage, and every time you tweak your druid’s healing you have to make sure you don’t start a war in the priest forums. We don’t have the same obligations. Your Pyromancer/Warlock/Stormcaller mage combo feeling a bit tame? Maybe try swapping in some Elementalist and see if the PyroLockAlist rekindles your damage numbers. If that doesn’t work for you, try doubling down on Stormcaller by transferring some points from your Pyro and see if that doesn’t do the trick.

Other than that, our class lead is a big, crazy Australian fuelled by Red Bull. His name is Cameron McNeil. He loves RPS, and despite not knowing him you should make fun of him often and thoroughly. , so I’m not very worried about his ability to keep everyone playing inside the sandbox. And he’s not alone—he is lucky enough to get to take credit for the work of some seriously talented class designers.

RPS: How healthy do you think the subs-based MMO market is?

Will Cook: As healthy as the talking heads tell me it is, which is to say, hell if I know. It seems to me that the battle lines are still fairly well-defined: if you’re not subscription then you’re not AAA, unless you’re Guild Wars, in which case I bet you have uncomfortable conversations with your publisher about “money left on the table,” whether or not that would have been a good idea for GW.

RPS: You said that your team is drawn from lots of other MMOs, and so was your inspiration for many features; do you think that closeness to previous MMOs is playing the game safe?

Will Cook: There are few games more ambitious than an MMO. Development times for the big ones are all well over 4 years (despite the fact that most projects will always claim otherwise), and a team size can hit triple digits before you’re even in your final year. For Trion to attempt an MMO out of the gate, let alone complete one (it’s scary to count how many projects failed or got bought in the last three years), is a crazy proposition. On top of that we have the Syfy and Petroglyph-partnered games in development as well. So at least on the planning side of things, Trion isn’t settling for safe.

As far as RIFT goes, early on, Trion had to build the base of an MMO. Once that base was built the rifts came to the fore a story element that we really wanted to focus on. Now that RIFT is hitting the public, I am proud to show off the ambition (and crazy) that has steadily been fed into our development over the last couple years by the like of Scott Hartsman, Russ Brown, Simon Ffinch, Hal Hanlin and others. The class system, the invasions, the zone events—these are examples of where Rift is heading, so hang on for the ride.

RPS: Why should I play this rather than a F2P MMO like LOTRO or D&D?

Will Cook: Because we want to work for your money. Betas have felt more like marketing than testing for some time now, and we knew there was no way to escape that. So for testing our tech we’ve been using our alpha servers for months already. Going into beta, we were confident that our tech worked, so we decided to test whether or not we could deliver on Trion’s promise of offering a service for your subscription. Before our beta events began we didn’t have zone events, but they were in by beta 3. By beta 4 they were automated. Before beta 5 all of our dynamic content had difficulty scaling. In beta 6 we added open grouping, something that most games don’t bother with for months, if not years, after release.

All of the things I just mentioned were things that we hoped that we might do someday. All of these things were asked for in the feedback of beta players. And all of these things are now game-defining features. If we keep fulfilling Trion’s promise as we have so far, then it is hard to say what incredible things will be in store for RIFT’s future.

RPS: What interview question do you most fear?

Will Cook: Follow-up ones.

RPS: So about what you were saying regarding… Ha ha, only joking. How does the end game work, in PvP and PvE?

Will Cook: RIFT has probably one of the most robust end games ever offered by a new AAA MMO at launch. For PvP we have multiple warfronts and a PvP fame system that allows you to progress in both instances and the open world. I can’t wait to see the sort of end game class spec debates we generate with our PvP end game. Our PvE offerings start with every dungeon in our game being available again at the end game as an expert dungeon, re-leveled to cap and with additional bosses, areas, and loot. Next up, we have expert and raid rifts. Designed for 5 and 10 players respectively, these raids are also designed for players to bring more than the target number in a big, sloppy, wonderful take on open world bosses. Finally, we also have a top tier instance raid game, targeted at the elite player in all of us.

In case there isn’t a group about, we have an all you can eat buffet of epic quests, faction repping, and zone events. All of the above is in game and working, not promises of will be. For that…well we’re even working on our first world events, which is sure to shake even the most sated player out of their capped slumber.

RPS: How will the forthcoming Blizzard MMO announcement affect your business?

Will Cook: “Forthcoming” seems a bit generous a term for any Blizzard release (although it does sound somewhat foreboding… like in a biblical sense), let alone the one furthest down the line. I prefer to say “someday” so as not to get too excited before the inevitable deadline push.

I can only hope that RIFT is successful enough to still be a force by the time Blizzard’s next AAA MMO comes out. I think this question will be more likely to pertain to Trion’s future releases that RIFT, but I will say that as a designer and gamer working at a competing company, I will be just as terrified and excited by Titan as I am by any other Blizzard release. With every game they seem to teach the rest of us something, and I hope on occasion we’re doing the same thing for them. In the meantime, we’ll focus on the bizarre classes and unpredictable content that makes our game great, two things that are probably too crazy for WoW to even touch.

RPS: Is there a critical mass of subscriptions you need to maintain, to make this a success?

Will Cook: If there is a specific number, then I’m sure they wouldn’t give it to the likes of me. I like talking too much and I like beer too much. I do know that our strategy has more to do with creating the strongest community that we can than trying to sell a critical mass of boxes. A loyal community will give us the information we need to continue providing them the content they want. I’m fond of saying that the community can be as frustrated and angry at us as they want, so long as they don’t stop telling us what they want. To this end, Trion has endeavoured to make RIFT a service, and we hope that our actions in beta—both our stream of optimizations as well as our introduction of several new features—have proved a down payment on this promise. Not to mention that a loyal community can do some crazy things with good word of mouth. Look who I get to talk to these days.

RPS: Will you be releasing subscriber figures after launch? What do you expect?

Will Cook: If the figures are bad, I bet you can expect a heavily doctored press release. If the figures are good, I bet you can expect an even more heavily doctored press release.

RPS: John is a really bad healer. Is there a class you’d recommend he plays?

Will Cook: If John must be your main five-man healer, then I would recommend a Chloromancer spec. Your splash healing pretty much takes care of the group, so he only has to look at the tank. If he does screw-up, then he can just blame it on the fact that the Chloro doesn’t have enough spot heal buttons and that he “doesn’t work like a normal healer.” You can then empathize, mention the class system is fundamentally biased against him, and gently suggest that John switch to his dps spec. John saves face, and everyone can get on with their night.

You can imagine what class I play.

RPS: Thanks for your time.

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