'Free Expansion' on the Horizon

There are a few MMOs out there that hold a special place in my heart; one of which doesn’t have the best reputation, but is an extremely fun and innovative game nonetheless. Of course I'm talking about Vanguard, which had a rough launch and hasn't quite recovered from the players that canceled shortly thereafter. But now it seems that there's hope. As we mentioned over the weekend, Sony Online Entertainment has added a few of their titles to Steam in an attempt to bring new players into the game. In addition, old accounts in good standing were reactivated until January 31st to give former players the opportunity to return to Telon.

The development team has also been working on an amazing amount of free content that is unlike anything SOE has done before. The team is raising the level cap, adding AA's (Alternative Advancement) and implementing new raids and revamps to existing group content. We sat down with Salim "Silius" Grant, Lead Designer of Vanguard, to talk about all of the new 'expansion like' content that will be making its way to the live game soon.

Tamat : Hey Salim, thanks for sitting down with us to talk about Vanguard.

Salim : Thanks for the opportunity Andrew!

Tamat : Vanguard has been live for nearly two years now but unfortunately the 'buzz' in the community has died off quite a bit. What is the games current state?

Salim : Our current state is pretty good actually. While I would love to have a bunch more subs I am glad to finally be where we are now. At the beginning of the year I said a few times that our goal was to get our trial out so that we as a development team could do what makes this job fun. We are all excited now to be actually working on new content along with some new systems and fixes to some old long standing issues.

We have various things coming down the line that I think many people will enjoy. It is a lot of work but we have all become very close as a team and so now things have become second nature in regards to making sure things are being done.

This attitude means that our current state is very positive. Vanguard has certainly had some problems and we still have some but as the game has grown the past year we have seen the product start to sparkle based on the response of those seeing our game for the first time and many who decided to come back for another try.

As far as buzz, it is an unfortunate side effect of not being able to get new things out quickly. We focus on bugs and try to get fixes out as much as possible but that is not enough to bring many people back. Content is something that takes time for a team this size to put out on top of having to fix various old and new issues. The catch 22 of adding to the game introducing more bugs means less time for content work because we put out more content. Thankfully we have been able to patch more frequently as of late and this gives us a lot of leverage when it comes to addressing a major problem on live or get some smaller fixes in that may be annoying people.

Tamat : I want some specifics! Don't make me blackmail you with those pictures from Fan Faire!

Salim : Well what do you want to know about first? We have several things coming online in the next few months that we are all excited about.

Tamat : How about new content? Are you guys working on any new raids or dungeons for groups?

Salim : At Fan Faire we unveiled our next two dungeons, Nexus and Pantheon of the Ancients. Both of these dungeons are going to have a group component and a raid component that you unlock.

As we get closer to releasing these dungeons we will be releasing new features like AA, item enhancement, and increasing our level cap.

Tamat : Whoa! That's a lot of new content. We'll get to the level increase and Alternate Advancement here in a bit, for now; let's talk about these new dungeons! What's the story behind the Nexus?

Salim : Well without giving away too much the Nexus is the home base for Kenakra Ren the head of the Ulvari invading Telon. After their exploits in Pantheon players will find out the truth behind the cataclysm and what happened to the gods. When they enter the Nexus this truth will dig even deeper as they fight to stop Kenakra from achieving that which even Lord Sartok has failed to accomplish.

Tamat : What about the Pantheon of the Ancients? I'm sure there are many that never had the chance to rock out in the old version. What's changing in the "revamp", if I can even call it that…?

: Heh I think it is has become much more than a revamp. The story of the Pantheon will be told to players as they go through the content. As they consume this content they will be training themselves to become warriors for their particular god. This title comes with pleasantries like godly armor, the ability to ask your god for a blessing via black rift stones, and the chance to create your mighty steed a Pegasus.

Pantheon also focuses on players having to be on their toes a little more. The inhabitants of Pantheon were made to test those who enter and these inhabitants can tap into the powers of the gods as well as use unique abilities based on their race.

:  What about the amazing mechanics that existed in the first version of Pantheon? Will it retain the unique feel that it had originally?

: Pantheon utilized a questing system that was never truly finished and unfortunately has been removed. With the new Pantheon we will introduce some mechanics like mobs doing combos based on abilities that other mobs cast. For example, some of the casters in Pantheon can turn you into a toad. This results in reduced defensive and offensive abilities. If you happen to be near a larger creature and they cast the ability stomp because you are a toad you will die a horrible crushing death.

We will stay true to the feel of the original trials and how they worked before will be reproduced the best we can but things like the sisters fight at the end will more then likely have to be changed completely.

Tamat : What are the level ranges going to be for these dungeons?

Salim : We are looking at Pantheon being for 50 to 55 and Nexus being 55+. The + represents having some AAs.

Tamat : We’ll then, that obviously forces me to move on to questions about the level increase and the alternate advancement system! Both of these have me extremely excited! Is it safe to assume that you guys are looking at raising the level cap to 55?

Salim : Yes we are but I have not decided how I want to spread it out. I am considering doing the 5 levels first then introducing AAs as a part of Pantheon B and adding more with Nexus. Everyone here is excited about this as it represents a significant achievement for us. We have had a year of trying to get things together and now we are able to actually extend the game some by adding more levels and abilities.

Tamat : Obviously classes will be getting upgrades to existing abilities but are there any plans to add brand new lines of spells?

Salim : We are mixing it together. While some will be getting new lines for the most part we are taking old lines and adding to them. In all cases we are giving them a new name that is based on the added effect thus starting a new line. 
We will also be merging as many buffs as we can into a single buff with one icon to help make going through your buffs a little easier. These buffs will be upgrades to their previous buffs as well. Some classes like Dread Knight will be getting something kind of different that plays off of their DC ability and we have a cool ability planned for rogues. Necros and druids will see upgrades to their pets as well.

We are also using this chance to hopefully fix some of the power issues we have with our game. The way some of our formulas work is not very expansive and we are looking to fix some of these things while making some of our stat mods a little more valuable.

Tamat : Sounds like an amazing amount of content for a free update.

Salim : Yes I am very happy with what our team has been able to pull off given our size. Vanguard is a huge game and sometimes I wonder if the challenge is too much but then I talk to the team and their tenacity and ambition makes me feel batter about where we are taking things.

Tamat : We still haven't even touched on AA's. What are they going to be like and how will you be able to earn them?

Salim : We are modeling it after the EQ AA system. We really enjoyed this system when we played EQ and think it is still one of the best. You will earn AA experience and use it towards special abilities. These abilities may have multiple ranks and prerequisites to be purchased. Once we get that out the door we will look to expand on it as the year progresses.

Tamat : Will there be innate abilities in addition to class specific abilities? Can you give us any rough examples?

Salim : If by innate you mean passive or always on, then yes there will be. Standard things like increasing your run speed or raising your attribute cap will certainly exist as well as class specific ones like bonus damage when you use ability A, B, or C.
The system has been coded and now it is waiting the content side of things. We have not gotten to that point since AAs are after the level increase and a part of a release after Pantheon.

Tamat : Sounds like you have a lot to do! I'll let you get back to work. Before I let you go, do you have anything else you'd like to share with out readers?

Salim : Well, I first want to thank all of those who have and currently play Vanguard. It has been almost 5 years that I have been on this project and I can say that Vanguard is certainly a diamond in the ruff. We had a rough start but things are starting to get exciting around here as we look to fill up more of our world and move the game forward.
We still have issues that we have to resolve and we will continue to take care of them as fast as we can while providing our players with new and exciting content. This team is dedicated to the project and the support we have received form SOE and our player base has been phenomenal considering where we started.
Thank you everyone for another year, stick around and bring some friends because I think next year could be a great year for Vanguard.

: Thanks Salim, we're looking forward to Vanguard in 2009!

: As am I and thank you Tamat for the chance to get the word out there.

Andrew "Tamat" Beegle


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