Rift's Scott Hartsman responds: how he plans to make live world events fun for everyone.
Rift’s first world event was a bust. It wasn’t what fans wanted or expected, and after talking to the game's Executive Producer Scott Hartsman, one thing is incredibly clear: it’s not what Trion wanted or expected, either.
“It wasn’t particularly terribly fun,” Hartsman told me during an interview, referring to the final stages of the River of Souls event. “We knew very well that we could handle hundreds of people in a single zone doing a single event, because that happens in the game all the time. The ultra-scale issue happens when you end up with a thousand people standing in the same ten-foot square.”
For those who refrained from logging into the River of Souls event, the "ultra-scale issue" he's speaking about was the servers exploding after a few thousand people all ran to the same spot on the map. It wasn't pretty. We presented our grievances to Hartsman last week, to see what he'd have to say.
Learning is half the battle
His initial response was reassuring: he wasn't just concerned with the fact that the servers couldn’t handle the stress. He acknowledged that the final stages of the event were far too short, and relied heavily on the idea that thousands of people fighting the same enemy in the same place at the same time would be entertaining, In short: even if the event had worked as planned, it wouldn’t have been all that fun.
“At the end of the day, the biggest [lessons we learned] are about space compression and time compression—they’re bad ideas, just don’t do them,” Hartsman told me. He explained that they didn’t think of the full ramifications of having such a time-compressed battle. “Having a big event that’s a going to take place over a single hour is really cool… if you can be there for that hour. If you’re not there, it sucks. You missed it.”
But the past is the past, and now, Trion is looking to the future. They plan to move away from super high-density battles like the one attempted in River of Souls. Hartsman admitted that it’s not worth building new technology to support those types of events, because, as he said, “it’s really not fun.” Instead, they want to keep the mechanics of the events closer to what's proven to be successful in the game already, such as zone invasions, but continue to theme them heavily like the River of Souls event.
The theme of the River of Souls event was its strongest asset. Alsbeth’s massive invasion from the plane of Death focused players on battling against one specific dimensional plane for the duration of the event. It brought new, unique content, including themed items and rifts that made it feel as though Telara was completely under siege. The daily quests moved the plot forward, and reminded players to continue fighting back against the forces of death.
Why with all the fighting?
Trion is also going to be more careful to take PvP servers into account when designing the world events. “The reason we ended up with Guardians and Defiants in one spot was because they had no choice. If the Defiants on your server got kicked out of the area, they missed it. And if the Guardians got kicked out on my server, they missed it." Hartsman quickly clarified that they're not giving up on the idea of including some PvP elements in events, though. Update 1.2, which is scheduled for release on May 10th, will be adding their first PvP-focused zone event, which has the two factions racing to build competing colossi in order to do battle with what Hartsman called a “mega-colossus.” They want to have PvP play a role in these big events, but they want to have a better leash on it going forward, so that it doesn't ruin the experience.
Before the interview wrapped up, I had to get one thing clarified: I needed to know if Trion killed Alsbeth. (During the final stage of River of Souls, the final boss spawned, but after talking for 20 seconds, immediately fell over dead before any player could even attack her. The rumor was that a Game Master in godmode used server-side commands to kill her, hoping to prevent the additional server lag that would've been caused by such a huge boss battle.)
Hartsman explained that the devs technically did kill Alsbeth, but not in the way that people thought. “The final event was actually a scripted vignette,” he told me, explaining that they had delayed the event a week in order to convert the final boss battle into a what was essentially a cutscene. A script spawned Alsbeth, had her chat with NPCs for twenty seconds, then immediately killed her--no player attacks required. Why didn't they want to have a big boss battle? Hartsman explained it this way, “Getting thousands of people fighting the same enemy in a five foot area… yeah, it’s not even fun at that point.”
I'm fairly happy with the direction Trion is taking their events--it seems like they've taken player feedback seriously and are looking for practical solutions to keep us happy. We know how they're going to do events differently, the only remaining question is when. "The focus right now is on the new zone events for 1.2," said Hartsman, "but I expect that it won't be too long after that." Whenever the next world event comes, I'll be there, ready to defend Telara from whatever forces want to destroy it. It sounds like it'll be more fun the next time around, too!