Posted by BuckGB at 5:26 pm on 01.20.2012 (1 year ago)
In other words, it's a big deal. Huge, in fact. And that's why we didn't hesitate for a second to get in touch with Turbine's director of digital communications Adam Mersky, as well as DDO executive producer Fernando Paiz and senior producer Eric Boyer, to find out just how ambitious their goals are for the expansion. Read on, fellow D&D fans:
GB: How long have you been chatting with Wizards of the Coast about the idea of taking the game into the Forgotten Realms?
Fernando: That’s been going on for a good while. None of these things have happened really fast. We’ve been live with the free-to-play model from September 2009 so if you think back that far. We’re now coming up on 2½ years into this model sometime this quarter. So we probably started talking about this with them about six months after we went free-to-play where we really started seeing the success as something that was provable, that was going to keep growing the franchise, and then frankly had legs. That’s right around the time that Turbine was firming up our plans to move The Lord of the Rings Online in the same direction because of the success of the free-to-play model. And well, it’s been a long time coming.
Really, it’s not an easy thing to get this kind of thing approved through many different folks, Wizards of the Coast being one. When we started, Atari was in the mix, so they were part of the conversations even though more recently they’re working directly with Wizards of the Coast because of the licensing deals that have changed on that side of things outside of Turbine’s control. But, yeah, it’s been something we’ve been talking about for a very long time. I think ultimately what really sealed the deal for us was last year when Rise of Isengard presales started going and when we very quickly got to see that Rise of Isengard was The Lord of the Ring Online’s biggest expansion pack ever, best selling expansion pack of Turbine ever, and it was under the free-to-play model where frankly there was some question as to how does a free-to-play game release expansions and does that make sense and do players buy it? And so having that experience under our belt really helped to finally seal the deal here. And we’ve been working on it in active development for almost six months now with art and design documents. And now the full team is on the project. We’ve grown the team and we’re in the thick of it building out a new world. It’s very exciting.
Eric: The concept of introducing Forgotten Realms into our game setting without having characters actually play a different game like a DDO 2 and have it interweave with our Eberron lore was something that only recently came into play with WotC giving direction about how we can merge the two worlds. And so we’re establishing that story in our prequel, Update 13 releasing this year, and it will establish how the worlds blend. And then with the start of the expansion, we’ll actually have a quest that you go through the whole journey to travel to the Forgotten Realms.
GB: It’ll be a little weird seeing a Warforged running around the King’s Forest, won’t it?
Eric: That’s right. That’s right. Yeah, and with goggles nonetheless.
Fernando: Yeah, there’s definitely some of that, but that’s been one of the great things about getting involved with Wizards of the Coast and really kind of poking at what’s okay and what’s not okay and what can fit into the realm of the rules and the storylines and then ultimately what’s okay in the DDO version of the universe which doesn’t exactly have to be the same thing that’s happening in the source books with WotC. But, yeah, it’s been a long time coming. We’re very excited about the story we’ve created with the Forgotten Realms experts over at Wizards of the Coast and we think the players will really enjoy it as well. Obviously, at the end of the day it’s about taking players on a great ride and on some fun adventures and we think the players won’t be disappointed.
GB: You said that Update 13 was going to introduce us to the method we'll use to reach the Forgotten Realms, but once everything is live and the expansion’s been out for awhile, will it be possible for us to create characters directly in Eveningstar rather than starting out in Stormreach every time?
Fernando: No, that’s not something that’s going to be available in the initial release. The expansion is focused on epic levels and the epic content primarily will be what players will find in the Forgotten Realms areas. But that said, we’re taking steps to make sure that you don’t have to wait until level 20 to start getting involved in the epic storyline. It will start at level 16 with the Update 13 free adventure pack, which is the prologue to the expansion pack story and the setup for how players will eventually get to Forgotten Realms. So you don’t have to start at level 20 - you can begin more around level 15 - and will be able to get into those dungeons and start playing. We're also taking steps to make sure that players are able to get up into the higher levels a little bit faster, move through the early levels in the game, group with their friends, and get to these great stories that they want to play in Forgotten Realms. And of course there are going to be big features like the druid class which will be available to all players starting at level one and pretty big updates to the game systems. Like, notably, we’re redoing our enhancements UI. That’s going to improve the gameplay right at level one for everybody, whether they be free players, VIP players, or players who are playing the expansion pack.
GB: Are you going to drop the Eberron Unlimited subtitle now that it's going to span two campaign settings?
Eric: Yeah, starting early this year we’re going to be Dungeons & Dragons Online. That’s also something that we had taken some time and had a lot of discussions with WotC about how we represented that. So we’re officially going with Dungeons & Dragons Online as our primary title and then we’ll add the subtitles when it’s appropriate, for example, "Menace of the Underdark" for the expansion.
Fernando: Yeah, that’s kind of a big deal and it’s almost buried news in all the big news that’s happening here is that Turbine now has permission to be Dungeons & Dragons Online without having to have a subtitle attached to it. So that’s the brand of our service, Dungeons & Dragons Online. We'll be including adventures in Eberron, and we'll include content like Menace of the Underdark. Conceivably, we can expand to other D&D universes and other parts of those existing settings over time. So, really, we’re just the online experience of DDO in the MMO space right now.
GB: How much different will the Forgotten Realms locations look from what we’ve seen in Eberron? For example, how will the Eerie Forest compare to King’s Forest and how will Stormreach compare to Eveningstar in terms of art design and the overall feel of each location?
Fernando: This is a very important topic for us and if my art director was here in the room with us he could go on and on about the very many details he’s putting into that. But needless to say it’s important for us to establish a new look for the game to make it feel like you’ve arrived in a different world and we’re taking a lot of steps to make that happen. So everything from new technology upgrades that are going to let us do better trees and terrain to creating the world of the land of Faerun in Eveningstar and the surrounding areas. There’s a country called Cormyr and, of course, how we go into the Underdark and how we’re going to realize the look of the Underdark and some special features that are going to come into play there. There’s quite a bit going into it. Obviously, there’s a lot of history and features in DDO which we’re building on top of, so it all will feel like one game but you’ll also very distinctly believe you’ve stepped into a new world and it’ll be like no experience you’ve had in DDO before.
Eric: Yeah, we definitely want you to know if you’re in Forgotten Realms or if you’re in Eberron simply by looking at the scenery around you.
GB: If the expansion proves to be very successful, are you in a position with Wizards of the Coast that will allow you to add other Forgotten Realms locations? Eveningstar is conveniently located near Shadowdale, Hillsfar, and even Myth Drannor.
Fernando: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s one of the exciting things for us is thinking about all those great future locations that we want to go. I’m not going to lie to you, it’s not completely open and we have to work closely with them to make sure that our plans line up with any plans that Wizards might have or even plans that other licensors might have to develop in games where certain folks have areas of the world carved out. But it’s such a big setting, so rich with lore and iconic locations and characters that there will be no trouble finding many exciting places to go and really, for us, it's about lining up the next several places we go to expand our world initially starting from Eveningstar and some of the areas we’re going to venture into in the Underdark. But, eventually, we're going to go as far as we can in Forgotten Realms or other parts of the D&D universes.
GB: As someone with multiple level 20 charactrs, I’m likely going to be doing a True Reincarnation prior to the expansion's release. As such, I'm curious how True Reincarnation will be affected by the five new epic levels. Once the expansion is released, will characters have to reach level 25 before they can True Reincarnate?
Eric: We’ll definitely be releasing the real system details later but ultimately the 1-20 True Reincarnation will not be affected by the epic levels. You’ll have that same experience. What we’ll be getting into the details on later is: what will you do with epic levels if you’re at level 25 and you True Reincarnate? You’ve changed your first 20 levels that you’re playing again, but we have another system to sort of incorporate with the epic levels that follows that. So, those people that have True Reincarnated three or four times won’t be impacted by the epic levels.
Fernando: Well, there shouldn’t be any negative impact from the epic levels, anyway. But in summary, leveling will work a little bit different past level 20. True Reincarnation will remain based on the first 20 levels, but we haven’t really spelled out details of both how advancement changes beyond 20 and how that’ll also factor in with True Reincarnations beyond level 20.
I think one of the core questions in the heart of what you’re saying is: am I at some great disadvantage if I TR today or if I don’t TR today? And I think the short answer is no. Right? That’ll remain more or less consistent with the current system and past level 20 you’ll be able to TR even going forward.
GB: At the moment, you've announced one wilderness area, the King's Forest. Will the King's Forest follow the same setup as the other wilderness areas we've become accustomed to? Is it going to be filled with explorers, slayers, and quest entrances? Also, I don't know if you can say anything just yet, but will there be a wilderness area or two in the Underdark?
Fernando: Yes, it is based on our current wilderness tech, but you’ll also see some improvements and evolutions in both how our content team is using that stuff and maybe some small system upgrades there too. So, look for a few changes, but very much feeling consistent with the rest of the game. And without going into too much detail on our other content plans, I will at least confirm that there will be a wilderness area in the Underdark as well.
GB: I've chatted with you guys a few times over the years about the druid class and I know it’s something that you’ve wanted to add for a very long time. I suspect it’s probably been a very challenging class to add considering the shapeshifting abilities and new spell repertoire you have to consider. What more can you tell us about the druid and the challenges you've encountered adding it to the game? Additionally, what should we expect from their spell selection beyond what we've seen in the ranger's arsenal?
Fernando: As far as what was the hardest thing about it - sometimes it’s not the sexy stuff that’s the hardest or it’s not the part that you’d think that would be hardest about the sexy stuff that ends up being hard. The thing that’s gotten us for a very long time is shapeshifting. And it came down to an inherent limitation in our engine with players changing physical size in the middle of gameplay. Believe it or not, that’s not a super easy concept to change in the engine. That’s taken us a very long time and that’s been a core feature that had sort of blocked us on what we wanted the druid to be because their really cool new trick is that they get to assume different animal forms and that’s something no other class can do.
Apart from that, like you were sort of alluding to, there’s just a lot of work that goes with realizing the druid and making them good. So that’s one of the reasons that last year we ended up doing the artificer class, because we didn’t get our shapeshifting tech in time so that we could do the druid last year but we also knew that we would be very busy this year with the expansion in the first half of the year and we just needed to get ahead on things. So we built the artificer as our first pet class so that we could build some of those mechanics and some reusable bits of technology and some learnings from how players liked the artificer and what we can do better so that the druid could be really great as far as having an animal companion. Like the artificer has their homunculus pet that can be leveled up and customized as you go. Beyond that, on spells, I guess I’ll hold off on talking about specific spells other than to say that, as you expect, there’ll be a mix of some ranger abilities or other magic that might be useful by other casters in the game, and a few unique spells for the druid as well.