Interview: Persistent hero levels and more in Petroglyph's MOBA, Rise of Immortals
When playing multiplayer online battle arena games (MOBAs) like DotA, LoL and HoN, it's a bit disheartening to start at level 1 over and over again each time you start a match. Whether you've played your favorite hero twice or ten thousand times, you'll never see a drastic difference in your character at the start of the game. Petroglyph Games aims to change that by adding persistent levels to Rise of Immortals, the latest foray into the free-to-play MOBA genre. It sounds crazy for a genre that revolves on leveling in each match, so we sat down with Petroglyph's Steve Wetherill, the executive producer for RoI, to find out more about the game.
But first, a little backstory: RoI has an impressive list of features that you simply won't find in other games of the hero-vs-hero variety. For starters, progression will be unique to each individual hero (called an Immortal in RoI), through experience gains, customizable skills, and persistent itemization. This is revolutionary—after you've been playing a specific hero for awhile, you'll be significantly more powerful than someone who picked the same Immortal, but has never played them before. The other big surprise is RoI's PvE mode, where less competitive players can enjoy co-op or solo play against AI monsters, learning the game as they go.
The novelties don't end there. RoI will include a social hub (tentatively named the Stage of Conquest) where players can chill out and show off, much like a MOBA Orgrimmar. With plans for collectible pets and two-to-five player teams, it looks like RoI will be a welcome breath of fresh arena air. Still not convinced? Take it away, Steve.
PC Gamer: It's clear that the game is inspired at least partially by other MOBAs like DotA. What areas of DotA in particular do you want to improve on?
Petroglyphs's Steve Wehterill: We find that MOBA players tend to gravitate to a fairly small range of characters, so by moving persistence to the Immortals, we reward players who put significant time into a given Immortal. This also means that in matchmaking, a player’s rank is more likely to match their actual skill with a given Immortal. We hope to appeal to the hardcore MOBA players with our primary PvP scenarios, and to then broaden the appeal of MOBA games by introducing a less competitive PvE experience for more casual and first-time players. We’ve also included a social hub, where players can interact and show off their avatar and persistent statistics while they set up their games. This area also features vendors where players can equip their Immortals with persistent items.
PCG: How exactly does RoI relate to Guardians of Graxia, your previous fantasy turn-based game?
SW: Rise of Immortals is set in the same universe as Guardians of Graxia. Our backstory is that hundreds of years after the events of Guardians of Graxia, the power crystals of Graxia, which were very important in the Guardians game, have begun to fail, and this is leading to catastrophe as the floating continents begin to crash to the planet’s surface. Ultimately, a tournament is declared and Immortals are summoned forth—not only from Graxia, but from the known universe and beyond—to do battle. Winners earn the right to keep their crystals, but losers will have theirs destroyed (for the greater good).
PCG: What games or myths inspired the character design?
SW: We were inspired by a wide range of media culture, including games of all kinds, movies, TV, sci-fi and fantasy fiction books and related poster art, comic books, and more. We wanted our Immortals to be diverse and visually interesting, while still functioning in the archetypal roles of Strength, Agility and Intelligence. Our characters are mostly fantasy based, but we have introduced various “tech” elements into the character design and general game art direction. A few of our Immortals have a sort of steam punk feel to them, which fits well with the backstory: the populace of Graxia is desperately trying to “fix” the falling power crystals by bolting on various electronic and mechanical doohickeys.
PCG: What can we expect from the PvE scenarios? Will there be any “boss” monsters?
SW: Our PvE scenarios feature typical MOBA laning, creeps and towers, but it’s combined with a dungeon crawl experience. So yes, there will be bosses and sub-bosses. We steered away from the “PvP against bots” approach for the PvE mode, though we are evaluating this as a possible additional scenario type after launch.
PCG: How much stronger will an Immortal with the best gear and highest level be when compared to a new player? Would they ever be matched against each other?
SW: There are two primary ways that players can persistently level their Immortals. The first way is through the acquisition of Artifacts, which may be found as item drops, or bought from vendors using our Prestige Points, which is persistent earned currency. Artifacts provide various stat boosts to the Immortals’ base combat attributes. The second way that players may persistently level their Immortals is through the Discipline Tree system. This allows players to spend Discipline Points to boost their combat abilities and attributes.
Ultimately, a high level player is going to have quite an advantage over a lower level player, so the way we tackle this is through skill-based matchmaking. We do also allow ad hoc games, which let anyone play against anyone else, though these games are not ranked.
PCG: What kind of microtransactions do you plan on implementing? What made you decide to go with the F2P model?
SW: Our microtransaction system sits right inside the game, rather than being on a peripheral website. At launch, we’ll offer a number of Immortals for free, while others will be available via our Petroglyph Coins currency. Additionally, we’ll have a range of “skins” for the characters, ranging from texture swaps to full model, texture and animation swaps. We’re looking carefully at how to structure other potential microtransaction offerings, but they’ll likely include persistent elixirs and potions, as well as things like Discipline Tree build slots, additional Immortal slots and so on. Ultimately, however, we’re a F2P game, so there'll always be a significant part of the full gameplay experience available for free.
PCG: Run us through the Immortal design process.
The first step is to roughly sketch out the general balance of Immortals across the three archetypes. Then we look for diversity within the archetypes, going for an overall balance of male/female/monster/other Immortals. It's important to foster team-based gameplay (in both PvE and PvP), so we look carefully at how players might combine Immortals in different team makeups, and how their abilities might complement one another.
Once we have a good idea of the archetype and general role of the Immortal, we start conceptualizing its look as soon as we can. We often find that visualizing an Immortal gives us new ideas for how that character will move, the exact nature of their basic attacks and animations, and how the abilities should work. As we progress through modeling, texturing, rigging and animating, we will often make adjustments to the underlying design of abilities as the Immortal comes to life.
As a rule, the development team plays the game at least once a day, so we're able to identify and resolve issues very quickly. We've settled on an iterative development process that combines our testing with feedback from the community that's currently playing the game.
PCG: How many abilities does each Immortal have? How much do they vary?
SW: Each Immortal has five combat abilities, with the typical Ultimate ability available at level 6. The 5th ability is referred to as the “Signature” ability, and this is unlocked at persistent level 25 (which is halfway to the max persistent level of 50). The abilities vary quite dramatically between the various Immortals, though some abilities are themed to the specific strengths and focus of each Immortal and archetype.
PCG: Who’s your favorite Immortal?
SW: I really like Kyrie at the moment. She’s an Agility character, so she has to mix it up with the enemy in order to gain XP and gold. Although she's not well armored, she's very nimble and has a set of complementary abilities that allow her to snipe (long-range Shurikens), and perform surprise attacks (her Rush ability combined with her Laceration Post make a great combination). She needs finesse in order to survive, but her basic attack is truly terrifying when she reaches level 20 and has the appropriate items equipped.
PCG: What kind of player is RoI tailored to?
SW: We definitely aim to appeal to the seasoned MOBA player with the PvP scenarios, while the PvE scenarios are aimed at those players who might be put off by the very competitive nature of PvP.
PCG: How many maps are slated for release?
SW: We’re still finalizing the map count, but we aim to support PvP 1v1 through 5v5, and PvE 1vE through 5vE. We’ll continue to tune our maps as we progress through our external beta testing and will announce more specifics as we get closer to release.
PCG: Anything else you’d like to add?
SW:Thanks for the opportunity to talk about Rise of Immortals! We're looking forward to expanding our beta testing phase and seeing how new players take to the game. We're considering much of what the community has to say, so keep those ideas coming!
Sounds like Petroglyph know exactly what they want out of the MOBA genre. You can keep tabs on the game and sign up for the beta at www.riseofimmortals.com.