Rift Dev Blog #4: The Challenge of Dynamic Content

In the latest installment of our exclusive dev blog series, Content Designer Will Cook explains the challenges and perks of adding dynamic content to Rift.

While we all patiently wait for the fourth Rift closed beta event to begin today, let's dive into our latest exclusive Rift dev blog entry. Content Designer Will Cook has written an incredibly interesting and in-depth look at the challenges of creating dynamic content for an MMO. How did Trion Worlds design its massive raid rifts and zone-wide events? Why is the team so focused on creating a living, breathing world? Cook answers these questions and more in his dev blog entry. Check it out after the jump!

In case you've missed them, feel free to look through our previous dev blog entries from the Trion team. Keep an eye on ZAM for more exclusive blog posts as we count down to the game's March 1 launch date!

The Challenge of Dynamic Content

“Last night I was beating up on some goblins, trying to find their leader for a quest when a life rift opened over top of us. A bunch of satyrs came out and starting fighting the goblins. I jumped into the fray, trying to close the rift. Right as I seal it a satyr invasion force spawns and takes off for my quest hub. I take off after it, catching up to it as it reaches the hub, only to find an invasion of Defiants already attacking. Safe to say it got crazy for a bit, but in the end I stood victorious, a level higher and sorting through my shiny rewards. Then the sky darkens and I see the call out — the whole of Silverwood is under attack. That goblin leader will have to wait!”

You would be surprised how difficult it is to build something that everybody really wants. Dynamic content is something that everyone knows when they see it — we’ve all experienced it from time to time, during an unexpected world event or an uncontrollable PvP tug of war. We’ve felt it in our single player sandboxes and procedural generated dungeons. We all know dynamic content when we see it. But we don’t always know what makes it. Sometimes it means that new monsters have replaced old ones. Other times it means that we got caught up in something fun the game didn’t intend for us to do. It can even mean that we’ve joined hundreds of other players in a surprising world event.

Our goal on Rift has been to build a system that could guarantee these moments — these emergent experiences — for the player. First, we needed to give dynamic content some definitions that could encompass all these unique experiences. We knew that we wanted to ensure that players could experience this content wherever they adventured. We also wanted to make sure that we supported large numbers of people, and that organized grouping wasn’t always required. Our rewards had to encourage a spirit of “jump right in” in order to get people to stop worrying about whether or not they had the optimal setup for an encounter. Lastly, dynamic content had to have consequences in order for it to matter. Content that repeats in place is reliable, but it is also business as usual. Nailing all these points has been my focus for the last few years, so let’s talk about what we did and why we’re all so excited over here at Trion.

Most content in MMOs is static, ready to repeat for the next wave of players. With rift events we want to give you the impression that they can happen anywhere, which is why we have seeded the words with thousands of possible spawn locations. The invasion forces that spawn from rifts are even more flexible, moving along our global highway systems to achieve their goals. Zone events take advantage of these placemats and highways in attempts to truly overwhelm a zone. It all comes together for any amazing infrastructure that avoids the stigma of location-locked content. After all, how can it be dynamic content if you always know where it will happen?

To support large numbers of grouped and ungrouped player, we designed dynamic content in all shapes and sizes, from minor invasions to massive raid rifts and zone-wide events. These desires also led us to create the scaling difficulty of rifts. The more stages you can complete, the harder they become, and if you are skilled enough (or have enough friends) you can reach the final boss for a chance at the best rewards. Speaking of rewards, it seemed a shame that many of my favorite MMO memories, those involving snowballing open-world PvP and hectic world events, didn’t seem to have much in the way of rewards for those activities. We wanted to make sure that Rift’s dynamic events tracked and rewarded these encounters in a purposeful way — when the world of Telara throws some dynamic content your way, we don’t want you think twice about jumping in. To address this issue we created our effort and contribution systems, which have been designed to track you and reward you during these events, whether you’re tanking a rift boss with your group, stalking an invasion alone, or rushing to join a horde of players in an attempt to stop a rampaging colossus. Not even death will stop us from getting you your just rewards.

Consequences were the toughest puzzle of them all. There are countless unwritten rules for creating an MMO world that successful designs in past games have impressed upon the entire industry. No monsters on the roads; Never stop the player from questing or doing what he plans to do; Group content should always be separate from solo content. While I will acknowledge that these sorts of rules of thumb are the guidelines that we designers live by, challenging them is where we have found a lot of success in Rift. Invasion forces can and will travel on roads. Why? Because it was friggin’ awesome when Frodo and the lot dove off the road to avoid the Nazgul. Why do we let monsters take over your quest hub? For the same reason we assault your entire zone with zone-wide events: because you can’t help but get carried away in the fun of a living world where you can see the effect of action and inaction.

In the end, it’s that feeling of the living world for which we are striving. MMOs seem to have a special talent for creating moments that we never forget. Whether you were one of the few to see Lord British fall, one of the many to experience the wrath of the Sleeper, or a simple noob reeling from all these legendary tales, we are all in search of our next epic encounter. Rift's dynamic system is primed to deliver those unique, memorable moments every day, at all levels of play and for all types of gamers. And as those in our beta events can confirm, we developers will be right there with you, making sure there is always something new, right around the corner.


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AWESOME system, but...
# Jan 11 2011 at 3:31 PM Rating: Decent
1 post
First let me say, I loved reading this insight into the design of the rift dynamic system. I also really enjoy the practical application of this system in the game. From beta 1 through to Beta 4 so far, the game has truly gotten more fun every time I play.

With that said, I fear that this dynamic system is actually starting to feel "static" to me. Partly because of the insane number of events that spawn perhaps, but I often feel like I see the same thing over and over. One only has to stand at any major outpost or city, for a period of time, and you will fight off invasion after invasion after invasion targeting that location. With a dynamic system, why am I repeating the same static encounters over and over?

Sometimes it even seems as though the location of rift openings is starting to become predictable as well. Not the timing of course, but there are locations where they just always seem to open, and there are destinations where invasions always seem to run.

However these are all issues that hopefully can be tuned during subsequent beta events, so that the issues go away, because I for one sure do love the system!
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