GB: Since we haven't spoken with you since October, can you give us a brief update on what aspects of the game you've been working on over the past few months?
Turbine: Our number one issue has been combat - working on class roles in combat, feats and spells, initially focusing on melee. Melee combat has traditionally been exceedingly boring in MMPs, but we think our combat is shaping up to be anything but.
We've been doing a lot of work done with our engine, trying to break away from the "feel" of older MMPs. Common complaints about MMPs focus on how static and unengaging the play can be: Pull! Inc! Taunt! Nuke! Heal! Rest! Ding! Grats! Repeat! While it's a tried and true formula, it's also a tired one. As MMP players, we have already played that game several times over. We like rewards, but we don't want that to be the only point. So we're concentrating on giving combat an intense visceral feel, while using the strengths, weaknesses, and abilities of the D&D classes.
GB: In general, what can players expect from D&D Online's character advancement system that differentiates it from its competition?
Turbine: Multiclassing and prestige classes are two of the signature options that the D&D ruleset provides. D&D characters advance along multiple lines; class abilities, spells, skills, feats, and items, to name a few. The amount of combinations along all these axes is pretty staggering.
GB: Is character advancement going to be handled in roughly the same manner as in the D&D 3.5 edition rules? What are some of the alterations have you made to the PnP advancement rules to make the game flow better in an online universe?
Turbine: We have been very faithful to the PnP rules in terms of character advancement. People know what a 3rd level rogue can and can't do. They know that at 5th level, the wizard gets his first fireball, and never looks back. We're staying very true to that. In addition, the PnP ruleset provided us with the solution to one of the larger problems facing MMPs in general. We do not award XP based on repetitious monster killing - we give out XP based on overcoming specific challenges and missions, rather than per kill.
GB: Do you intend to include epic character levels and prestige classes at launch, or will these features be added after the game's release? Can you give us an example of a significant bonus or award to be gleaned from reaching a high level in D&D Online that we do not yet know about?
Turbine: We will have some prestige classes at ship, but not epic level advancement. As for (high-level) bonuses, we definitely don't want to lock away the (fun parts) from all but the highest-level players. Character level in D&D Online will matter the same way it does in PnP D&D, but you don't necessarily need to be high level to access and enjoy the different types of content and social systems we're creating. We think the big opportunity for us is to make D&D Online just as much fun to play at the lower and middle levels as it is as the high end.
GB: Can you give an overview of the quest system currently in place? Will quests have any random elements to them, or will each one have specific steps that must be completed?
Turbine: On the whole we're trying to stay away from randomness, where randomness is defined as (Get the [red foozle] and give it to the [random NPC]). Yes, there could be 50 different types of [red foozle] and 50 different names for [random NPC], but does the experience feel different? Does it add any additional fun or gameplay? Recent examples have shown that it does not.
Randomness certainly has its place. But players expecting that every dungeon will always be laid out the same or have the same monsters will be surprised (sometimes fatally). We want to create randomness when it makes sense in the world, such as hard-to-navigate sewers or stumbling upon a separate challenge while doing a quest (ala D&D's random encounters). But questing itself will be (designed) in every sense of the word.
GB: What sort of ideas have you come up with for quests to make them more intricate than typical "FedEx" quests we've seen in other RPGs and MMORPGs? Could you provide an example of a more intricate one?
Turbine: One of the hallmarks of D&D questing has always been the number of choices that a player has through the course of the quest. Maybe you decide to double-cross the Duke. Maybe you don't save the prisoners in time. Eberron focuses on "pulp/noir" style narrative, where secret societies battle in the shadows, using the players as pawns and archons. As such, we want our quests to branch in interesting ways, giving alignment an important role, and allow for multiple outcomes, with depth and replayability as a result.
GB: Are you planning on including some sort of "epic" quests that possibly span multiple character levels or extended periods of time?
Turbine: Yes, there will be a variety of different quests, some taking a very long time and/or requiring a lot of coordinated effort to accomplish. Again, our lodestone here is the feel of a D&D campaign, where there are recurring themes or loose ends that aren't neatly wrapped up at the end of the play session.
GB: Some MMO games focus on the ability to include soloing possibilities. How important will grouping be in D&D Online, and will it be the favored method of exploration?
Turbine: Our goal is to give players useful soloing activities, but those activities will not result in level advancement, to the degree that completing quests and missions with a party of players would. Grouping will be key to success. Our goal is to replicate the feel of adventuring with a group of friends, not replicating single-player D&D-based CRPGs.
We'd like to give our thanks to the Dungeons & Dragons Online development team at Turbine, especially Ken Troop, for taking the time to answer our questions! We're watching this one closely, so be sure to check back from time to time for even more information.