Dungeons & Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited Interview

Eschalon: Book II

Release Date:2006-02-28
  • Massively Multiplayer,Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Third-Person
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay
As demonstrated by the six updates they've released in the past year, Turbine has made good on their promise to deliver plenty of new Dungeons & Dragons Online content following the game's switch from a purely subscription-based to a free-to-play hybrid business model. A seventh update is just around the corner, and based on what we know about it so far, it looks to be the most ambitious content patch they've released to date.

To get a better idea of the changes and additions the U7 patch brings to the game, as well as how the team intends to handle some of the game's current issues, I chatted up design director Ian Currie:

GB: You're getting ready to release the seventh update since Dungeons & Dragons Online went free-to-play. For those who haven't been following the content being added with this patch, can you give us an overview of what's to come?

Ian: Update 7 is our biggest update yet. We're releasing two new races - the Half-Orc and Half-Elf, which players have been requesting for some time now. We're also releasing our second free adventure pack that includes 3 new adventures for level 12 characters and a new raid that supports levels 6 through 10 as well as epic difficulty. We've put a brand new coat of paint on our UI, spiced up the auction house and have added an spiffy new view of the inventory panel that allow players to be more organized and quickly find items . Also in Update 7 is our most ambitious live event to date. It features a preview of a new barter system that we'll be seeing more of in the future. In addition, Update 7 contains new prestige enhancements and all sorts of tweaks such as hireling AI improvements and many bug fixes.

GB: What new enhancements will you be adding with the addition of the Half-Elf and Half-Orc? What will make these races unique, particularly in the case of the Half-Elf?

Ian: Most people know the Half-Orc is all about an extra +2 strength, making him the strongest race. But it doesn't stop there. In addition to that, the Half-Orc gets an interesting line of enhancements called Orcish Fury. The first version gives the character a +2 morale bonus to strength when below 50% hit points. With Orcish Flury II you get an additional +2 when below 50% hit points and Orcish Flury III provides an additional +4 (for a total of +8) when below 10% hit points. It's a pretty cool concept that can allow a nearly defeated Half-Orc to make an incredible comeback.

The main attraction of Half-Elf is the Dilettente feats. This allows Half-Elves to choose a '˜splash' of another class without having to truly multi-class. Some examples of this are that a melee character could use scrolls and wands like a first level caster, or a Wizard could gain proficiency with martial weapons. In the future we plan on adding enhancement lines to further improve these 'semi-multiclasses'. Of course Half-Elves get access to all Elf and Human feats and enhancement lines by default, allowing for a lot of flexibility.

GB: At the moment, most classes don't have access to all of their intended prestige enhancements, and others - like the sorcerer and favored soul - have none at all. When might we expect more prestige enhancements? Do you intend to add race-specific prestige enhancements, too, such as the Dwarven Defender and Warforged Juggernaut?

Ian: We intend to release new prestige enhancements regularly. Update 7 contains more prestige enhancements than any previous update and if all goes well, we will add a nice batch in Update 9. Our to-do list in this respect is rather long and while I can't say when it will happen, I can confirm that the Dwarven Defender and Warforged Juggernaut are on the list.

GB: Where do we stand on the Druid? Do you still plan on adding the class in a not-too-distant update? Have you considered the addition of any other classes?

Ian: The Druid has always been on our to-do list, but various reasons have prevented us from introducing it in the past. We are now revisiting it and it's right up there near the top of our wish list. We also have a number of other classes we are seriously considering but nothing is set in stone at this time.

GB: Why did you decide to add a lower level raid in Update 7 rather than more high level content? We haven't seen the addition of a new high level raid since Tower of Despair was added in Module 9 (pre-Eberron Unlimited).

Ian: Players have been asking for a low level raid for some time and we felt it was a great idea to get players earlier exposure to one of DDO's greatest strengths. We had a concept that we thought was a fantastic match for such a raid and we went for it. We're very happy with the results. We realize that many players have been hoping for another high level raid so we did add an epic difficulty mode (epic is restricted to level 20 characters) for those who enjoy those types of challenges. Our next raid will be high level.
GB: Will Update 7 introduce any tweaks to help reduce server lag? For example, since Dungeon Alert is notorious for contributing to the game's lag, have you ever considered removing it or at least altering it so that it's no longer an issue?

Ian: Improving lag is a never-ending process. There are many types of lag and various causes. Update 7 includes a few important fixes which should fix the most common causes of lag we've been able to find on the live service. I don't know that we've found anything with Dungeon Alert. Dungeon Alert was designed to help reduce one type of lag. What it does is show players when they made many monsters in a dungeon active at once. At that point, we want players to kill the monsters off rather than running around and waking up more. As always we encourage players to use the in-game bug reporting tool to send us data on any causes of lag that they believe they may have found.

GB: The concept of letting players determine their own item properties when crafting in The Shroud was quite unique to DDO, and it's obviously garnered a lot of interest as there's almost always a Shroud group listed on the LFM panel. Do you intend to add more crafting to the game in the same vein as what we saw in The Shroud?

Ian: Absolutely, but with a friendlier approach. We have a design all set to go and are quite excited about it, but we haven't started actively working on it yet. Like all the things on our wish list, the timing is always subject to resource scheduling and other considerations. I can't even tell you when I think it will be released as it could easily change, but I think I can speak for the entire design team when I say that I hope it will be very soon.

GB: Have you given any thought to letting players break down their Shroud-crafted items back to their original shards or base ingredients? Between crafting mistakes and some items being outperformed by epic loot, I'm sure I'm not the only one who has a couple of Shroud items that I'd like to deconstruct. You could even make it a DDO Store only perk, if necessary.

Ian: Yes we have thought a lot about this. In fact, at one point we were working quite seriously on it. We had a prototype of the deconstruction portion a while back, but we never had time to fit the rest of the crafting changes into one of our recent updates and we decided that it made more sense to release a more comprehensive feature at a later date.

GB: The ability to upgrade older raid items to epic versions with a seal, shard, and scroll is a pretty good idea in theory, but the execution of the scroll aspect seems a bit flawed as they just randomly drop on the ground for anyone to pick up. Don't you feel that this promotes ninja looting and other devious tactics, particularly when it's a pick-up group running an epic quest? Do you have any plans for changing the way epic scrolls are obtained?

Ian: We agree that it's not perfect as it is now. We did just recently develop a prototype system that we think will be the solution. We'll play test it in an upcoming development cycle and hopefully go forward with it. It will likely still involve a random chance for party members to acquire the scroll, but we expect it will help resolve the conflict inherent with ninja looting as it will be automated.

GB: There are rumors that you will be making the rune effects more predictable when crafting Dragontouched Armor in Reaver's Refuge. Is there any truth to this? If not, are you content with players running Prey on the Hunter several times in a row just for another chance at getting the Tempest or Sovereign armor property they're looking for?

Ian: As of Update 7, the rune effects are now identified which should have a significant impact on making the related crafting easier. As for running Prey on the Hunter or any dungeon over and over, no I can't say we'd be content with that as it doesn't sound like much fun. I think it's human nature for us to want to be 'productive' when we play an MMO, but I think it's the designer's job to create balance. We certainly would like to think the new rune identification would make it more efficient to run the various dungeons rather than grind one dungeon, but that could simply be an indication that a specific quest is imbalanced and needs to be adjusted.
GB: When the game launched back in 2006, Armor Class seemed to be pretty important and anything in the high 20s or low 30s was significant. Now, however, an Armor Class of 70+ seems to be the goal in order to have significant protection when facing high level mobs and players are being forced to use exotic character builds and carry around Wands of Shield and other items just to get there. Are you content with the way Armor Class is handled in the DDO endgame? Have you ever considered retuning it?

Ian: At the present time we don't think the endgame demands high AC (e.g. 70+). Some of us are running high level characters with 50 AC and are not finding it to be an issue and certainly partial damage mitigation can make the job of your party's healers significantly easier. One of the most important changes to epic difficulty that has already been made is that minions have -1d20 to hit on every roll. This was intended to widen the range of viable AC, and we think it worked very well. That said, we're always analyzing the mechanics of the game with an eye to improving balance and need to remain open to further changes when necessary.

GB: Players still fondly talk about the marketplace blowing up to this day, so that particular event obviously had a big impact on people. I know you're planning a new live event for the launch of Update 7, but do you have any plans to host more regular events?

Ian: We are also fond of the marketplace event which is why we revisited it in our latest raid for Update 7. So many of our new players didn't get a chance to see it (back in 2008) and we're really glad we now have a vehicle to share some of that history with them. We'd certainly like to do more regular events, but the more memorable ones take a fair bit of effort and we have to be careful to balance out our efforts between that and new content. Update 7 finds us experimenting with a new live event model that involves combat, teamwork and a raid-like battle that supports 24 players. We think this has a lot of potential, but we'll see how players react and take it from there.

GB: As someone who has played the game off-and-on since beta, one concern I've had is that nearly every unique dungeon drop implemented over the past couple of years is flagged as "Bind to Character". Aside from ingredients, the best tradeable item you can bid on at the auction is maybe a Royal Guard Mask or a Ring of Spell Storing - the same items we were buying and selling years ago. Do you have any plans to add more tradeable (and desirable) named loot to the game?

Ian: We recognize that well equipped players that don't grind for rare drops likely got their gear from an 'alt' or bought it from the auction house. The current casual-game compels players to gear up level appropriate items via the auctions and the changes to the Auction House UI in Update 7 should actually help the user experience a great deal, as well as stimulate the variety of items up for auction. As a design team, we probably have more than a few reasons to have some amount high-end or rare items bound; as the game has evolved the most motivating reasons have likely evolved as well. We will continue to evaluate the rewards as we continue to modify systems and content that was previously '˜level cap content' and this should have a positive effect on lowering the grind aspect of acquiring 'named' gear.

GB: Now that The Lord of the Rings Online has gone free-to-play too, do you intend on doing any cross-promotions between the two titles? For example, would you ever consider bundling or linking items on the DDO store to similar items on the LOTRO store (additional bank storage for both games at one low price)?

Ian: Our new business models have transformed both DDO and LOTRO. Now that the barrier to entry has been removed players are definitely checking out both of our games. The items in the store catalog as well as the Turbine Point wallets for each game are stored separately so bundling items from both games is not something we offer right now.

GB: With both free-to-play implementations behind you, where do we stand on the possibility that either game might be brought over to consoles?

Ian: I think many of us think that DDO would play very well on a console, especially with its instancing and active combat system. It's by no means a direct port though and in any case a lot of the technology, UI and gameplay would likely be at least a little different. As game designers it's certainly attractive to imagine the possibilities. :-)

Thanks for your time, Ian! Don't forget to stop by our Dungeons & Dragons Online subsite to check out other articles, fully searchable equipment, spell, and effects databases, and more.