Dungeons & Dragons Online Interview

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Despite the fact that Dungeons & Dragons Online isn't as popular as The Lord of the Rings Online, Turbine has invested a significant amount of time and energy over the past couple of years into keeping DDO updated with regular content modules.  There have been so many updates, in fact, that the game is a much different experience than it was in 2006.  To get a better idea of what some of the latest modules have brought to the table, as well as what the team's plans are for the immediate future, we chatted with executive producer Kate Paiz:

GB: For those who haven't followed DDO for awhile, can you give us an overview of what you've added to the game over the past year and what we can expect from Module 8: Prisoners of Prophecy?

Kate: You bet. We've added a tremendous amount of new game features and content over the course of the year, starting with Module 6, The Thirteenth Eclipse. Mod 6 was released in January, and included a new content module, the Vale of Twilight, and increased the Level cap to 16. The level cap included new feats, enhancements and level 8 spells. My favorite 8th level spell introduced was Trap the Soul, which allows a Sorcerer or Wizard to force a particularly nasty monster's life force and its body into a gem on a failed Will save. This gem can then be used as an ingredient in an Eldritch Device for certain crafting rituals.

The Vale of Twilight brought to life a storyline which has dominated our playerbase this year the invasion of the Devils Armies of Shavarath, the Plane of Battle. In this first chapter, players had to go to the Vale of Twilight and defend against the Pit Fiend General Arraetrikos, who was aligning the power of Shavarath with Xen'drik in an attempt to open a permanent, coterminous gateway between them.

Also included in Module 6 was some great changes to make the game more fun and accessible for players we changed the death penalty to an item wear system (instead of an XP penalty), rest shrines became reusable on solo and normal difficulty level and on landscapes, and solo difficulty level XP and loot rewards were increased.

Our 2nd Anniversary Release, which went live on February 27, 2008, featured an amazing live event in which the Shavarath devils, enraged that we had defeated their general Arraetrikos, staged an invasion of the Marketplace which resulted in the destruction of the Market tent live the evening of March 8th. Tons of players logged in over the course of the week to watch the gradual progress of a great vortex over the tent and deter the hordes of devils invading the marketplace, and we saw amazing concurrencies the night of the explosion, as players witnessed firsthand the awesome power of the Shavarath Devils. Also released for the anniversary was a slice of Birthday Cake, which summoned a Djinni willing to grant one wish to the player. Many players enjoyed the rain of ham that accompanied some of the options.

Module 7, which went live on June 3rd, introduced the first new class to DDO Monks! Monks are an awesome class to add because they bring a really cool, visceral hand-to-hand combat mechanic to the game. The animations look great, and their martial arts style really enhances the active nature of the combat in DDO. Module 7 also continued the story of the Shavarath invasion, with the discovery of an underground cavernous region below the marketplace. Players can venture into one of three raid wilderness areas under the city and fight Giant Skeletons, Beholders, and more Devils to thwart more city-wide destruction. A lower-level area, Three Barrel Cove, also brought a great pirate vibe to the game, as we filled it with mid level monsters outfitted in pirate gear.

With Module 8, players get a bunch of new features, most notably Hirelings, new Character Generation, and a new story-themed tutorial and introduction to the game. Hirelings are a great system which will be released in a series of live events over the course of November that enables players to hire NPC combatants to join them in their adventures. Each player is allowed to bring one Hireling on a quest, which will really help small party and solo players take down difficult challenges. The classes of hirelings offered will be: Clerics, Paladins, Barbarians, Fighters, and maybe Wizards and Sorcerers. Players can control what their hirelings do through a Pet Bar, and each hireling has its own personality, which may result in them taking surprisingly initiative from time to time.

The new Character Generation allows players unfamiliar with the 3.5 Edition D&D rulesset to make more enjoyable, well balanced characters right from the start. We guide the player through choosing a class that suits their playstyle, and then offer them three different pre-built paths that define feats and skill points, but have enough variety that two different fighters in the same party will likely have totally different builds. The paths last all the way through advancement, so that players can get a real sense of what makes a good choice for their character at all levels, and can stray off the path anytime they want to do something different. We still support all the depth that character generation did before, so that players well versed in the 3.5 rulesset will still be able to customize their hearts out.

To go with the new Character Generation, we have a new story-based introduction to the game. Players will now start on a beach on one of the islands in the Thunder Sea, having been washed up there after a white dragon attached their ship. They'll immediately join up with a group of level 10 NPCs, who help explain the basic mechanics of the game while leading the player back to civilization. Once in the village, the player will need to rescue the villagers from raiding bands of Sahuagins and the attacks of the dragon. Each dungeon adventure comes with a few tips and tricks for how to play the different classes in DDO, and provides a great, engaging opening to the game.

For high level players, we have a continuation of the Dragon and Giant conflict from Module 4, Reaver's Bane. This time, the Stormreaver has realized the errors of his ways, and is helping the Dragons from Argonessen defend against the nefarious plots of the recently undead Sor'jek. After players killed him in Tempest Spine, the Truthful one, an undead Dracolich, changed him into a Giant Lich, and he is eager for his revenge.

Module 8 was released last week and is available now on our US servers.

GB: You've already made some references to a Module 9 update, too. What will Module 9 bring to the table and what sort of timeline are you looking at for its release?

Kate: Module 9, currently slated for our 3rd anniversary, will feature a bunch of great changes, some of which we are sharing and some which we are keeping mum about at present.

We'll definitely be continuing the infernal invasion storyline by taking the players to Shavarath to fight the Devils on their home turf. Players will make friends of old enemies once again as they make their way across the battle scared ruins of the Plane of Battle to once again deflect the expansionist tendencies of the Devils.

Module 9 will also increase the level cap to 20. We're looking forward to players enjoying a full suite of standard abilities, 9th level spells, and a variety of rich enhancements.

GB: What new raids will be introduced in Module 8 and Module 9? Any chance you can give us an example or two of new raid loot being introduced in either of these two modules?

Kate: Well, Module 8 doesn't include a raid we heard from a lot of players that raids as the only end game wasn't ideal, so we are giving those who don't love raids a break in this module with a final dungeon that is a very challenging 6 person adventure. Module 9 will definitely include a fantastic raid (hope you like a whole lot of Pit Fiends and Horned Devils) and we've got some great raid loot to go with it. These raid items will not leverage the crafting system that is something for M8, but in M9 we are focusing on more traditional named raid items that instead combine to greater heights. Some of the high-level Enhancements players can get at level 20 will also stack with the raid set bonuses to give even greater benefits.

GB: How is work progressing on the Druid class and the Half-Orc/Half-Elf races? What advantages will these new additions offer to players?

Kate: Work is going well :). The Druid class will feature classic abilities, like shape-shifting, and we're very excited about getting it out to players sometime mid next year. The Half Orc and Half Elf will be coming sooner, probably in Module 10, and will also echo their classic, D&D player handbook selves. Everyone is very excited about the Half-Orc's +2 strength bonus as well as customizing their tusks.

GB: During Gen Con, it was mentioned that we'll be visiting other planes of existence in DDO sometime in the near future. Which planes do you have in mind and what types of environments, adventures, and creatures will we run across there?

Kate: We've been enjoying the alternate realms for some time, and players will be able to really dig deep into Shavarath in Module 9. Shavarath will come with a celestial host of Archons (like the Solar Archon), a demonic host including some old favorites like the Marilith, Efreeti, and Djinn, and an infernal host of Barbazu, Orthons, Pit Fiends, and Horned Devils.

The planes feature both the environmental hazards that you would expect out of them and also appropriate monsters to give players good variety and challenge in addition to the Eberron based adventures. Players can travel to Dal Quor in the Prison of the Mind, to search through a 3D maze of traps and monsters for the Mistress Orphne. Risia, Fernia, Lamannia, and Dolurrh (among others) also pop up in various places, especially in Prison of the Planes, where players must journey into the alternate planes to collect orbs to help thwart the Stormreaver the first time.

GB: Green Steel crafting was introduced in Module 6 and expanded a bit in Module 7. Do you plan to expand crafting even further with new items and potential effects? If so, are there any examples you can give us?

Kate: Module 8's loot system allows players to craft armor in addition to the accessories and weapons they were able to get from the Shroud eldritch devices. Players get three types of runes from the adventures in the Reaver's Reach, and can apply one of each type to a +5 armor blank appropriate to their class type. The trick is that players don't know which effect will be applied by the rune they've got, so there is a chance that as they explore the system they'll come across something they don't really want. No big deal, though, because they can just overwrite with another rune of the appropriate type. Once they've gotten the right effect from, say, the Tempest rune set, they can move onto maximizing the eldritch or sovereign runes.

GB: What can we expect in terms of feats, spells, and other additions when the level cap is raised to 18? How about when the cap reaches 20?

Kate: Players are going to enjoy some amazing spells from the 9th level list, including Mordenkainen's Disjunction, which will temporarily strip all the magical properties off equipped items. We've also got the instant death spells of Weird and Wail of the Banshee, and players will be pleased that they will be able to cast Meteor Swarm (the Pit Fiends can't have all the fun!) Regretfully, Wish and Time Stop will not be introduced with Module 9, though, as the challenges in bringing them to life in an MMO still require more balance and tuning testing. We will also be filling in some lower level spells, such as the Prismatic spells, so that lower level players get some additional abilities as well.

In addition to the expected feats, players will be able to choose from a selection of Prestige enhancements that really add to the character's abilities. One such enhancement, the Paladin's Hunter of the Dead, will make Paladin more resistant to the attacks of the undead and gives any attack they make against the undead have a chance of behaving like a Vorpal Strike.

GB: Once the level cap reaches 20, do you plan on adding Epic level content? How about prestige classes? Any hints to what sort of post-20 additions we might expect?

Kate: We have lots of great plans around epic levels, Prestige classes, and more planar adventures. We'll talk about that more as we get closer to Module 9's launch :).

GB: Some of the game's earlier raids have become a lot less popular over the years, simply because a majority of the loot isn't as good as what can be found in later raids and getting raid-ready (for Vault of Night and Zawabi's Revenge, in particular) requires much more of a time investment. Are there any plans to make some of the earlier raids more enticing and accessible?

Kate: We've been focusing on creating new content, but have heard a lot of requests to update the older raids to a more accessible model. It's not planned at present, but is something we discuss on a regular basis so while I don't have an announcement on that at present, it is definitely possible we'll go back and revise them at some point in the near future.

GB: What sort of plans do you have for DDO in the coming months on the technical side of things? For example, our groups seem to be experiencing more lag recently, there are still some Windows Vista compatibility issues, and, the last time I checked, high resolutions like 2560x1600 could be picked but still can't be accepted.

Kate: The resolution issue has been fixed with Module 8, as have some of the Vista compatibility issues. Module 8 also brings support for DX10 for those players with Vista. Also, in the past week we've made some hardware and software improvements which should ameliorate certain types of lag, though the lag monster is a multi-headed beast, and we'll continue to work on it in the coming months.

GB: At one point, there were rumors that Turbine was working on a full expansion pack for Dungeons & Dragons Online. There were even retail listings for a "Dungeons & Dragons Online: Forsaken Lands". Just to set the record straight, was an expansion ever in development? If so, why was it cancelled or put on hold? If not, would you ever consider releasing some type of add-on, if only to get the game back on retail shelves?

Kate: We've put out 18 free live updates or modules over the last two and a half years, but have never done an expansion pack. At one point, we were talking with Atari about going back to retail, but decided to focus instead to getting great, fun content out to our subscribers. We do not currently have an expansion in development, but are working on some things that I think players will really like for Module 9, and look forward to talking with you more about them in a few months.

Thanks for your time, Kate!