WildStar Interview: Jeremy Gaffney, Part 2

The executive producer for WS talks PvP, Telegraphed versus targeted abilities, healing, and more in part two of our interview

Last month I went down to San Francisco to meet with Carbine Studios and check out its current build of WildStar. In-between presentations and actually playing the game, I had the chance to sit down with Executive Producer Jeremy Gaffney and ask him about some of the more nuts-and-bolts aspects of WildStar’s design. The first half of the interview covered player specializations, Milestones, gear scaling, and Path abilities. For this second half, Jeremy discussed PvP design, crowd control, targeted abilities versus freeform casting and more.

Since you mentioned PvP a couple of times – I am not a PvPer, but I’m just curious – how are Telegraphs going to work in PvP? If you have some selected target abilities versus freeform targeting, or abilities that drop something on the ground versus those that really don’t or it’s instantaneous? Does that give an unfair advantage to the people with a lot of instant abilities?

Well, over time as you unlock abilities we’re trying to give a balanced group of – we know not every ability is going to be as useful in PvE as PvP. Some will be more useful in PvP, some will be less useful, and that’s good. We want people to spec out various ability loadouts for specialized areas and it’s okay. As designers, it doesn’t concern us too much.

I suppose it’s hard to really tell when right now I’m seeing 10 abilities.

Yeah, but I mean you should get a little bit of a feel for that too. We found, for instance, a good example is the ESPer has lots of castbar abilities and it’s a lot harder to get castbar abilities off in PvP than in an instance, so there’re those kinds of imbalances that need addressing. Some things we’ve done is we’ve added in combat options for things like turn-to-face , so if you want to lock in on one target and make sure that your cones or areas of attack rotate so you’re guaranteed, despite lag or other things that are factors in PvP, those attacks will hit. You can do that, but that doesn’t guarantee you can hit groups of people. Now your interesting sort of gameplay tends to be trying to line up a bunch of people to be near your main target as opposed to trying to swing your cone around to exactly hit the target while he’s jumping and lag is there and that sort of stuff.

I can also see that could come into play for PvP where, if you could tell that somebody’s focusing you (for turn-to-face), you could dash off to the side and break the line so just one person gets hit.

That’s exactly right, and because you can see your opponent’s telegraphs, it’s non-theoretical you can see who’s targeting you or who’s trying to hit you and that kind of stuff. There’s been a really great emerging gameplay out of the telegraph system - both the player telegraphs and the monster telegraphs because, it turns out, we designed it in part for our gameplay (“Hey here’s where your spell is hitting” – it’s just useful information to the player), but it turns out as a communication ability both positive and negative. “Hey I’m about to blast the crap out of you! Try to get out of it!” or “Hey friendlies, I’m about to cast a big healing spell in this area! Everybody cluster around!” Instead of saying you going “Hey everyone, cluster over here!”, people see it and react to it and much more than playing the interface to be like you just watch your health bar pop up randomly as the insta-heal spells go off, you actually have to participate and that’s pretty cool.

There’s a concept too that’s neat - you don’t see it too much in this level range but in the higher levels it’s cool –called victim gameplay. Crowd control’s a very interesting thing because you kind of need it to have interesting monster combats in many ways, but it sucks having crowd control used on you. So what we try to do is actually make it, this sounds bizarre, but you know fun to have it used on you. Where for a disarm spell, instead of you just can’t cast any spells for however long you just stand around uselessly or here’s a mez spell and you’re mezzed for 30 seconds. That’s a great spell for PvE – it sucks to have it cast at you in PvP. What we do instead is if your sword gets knocked out of your hand, it’s knocked out of the hand in the actual world – it’s lying over there with a sort of cable connecting you to it, and if you do nothing it’ll fly back in your hand after like 10 seconds expire. But if you run over there, woop! Now you’ve ended the disarm spell early by having run over there and grabbed it.

You had to A) interact in the world and made the battle interesting (What if that got knocked into a big pit of lava or it’s sitting on top of a mine in the mine field or it’s sitting on the spike plant in Deradune?) You now have an interesting choice to make. It makes combinations interesting where if you get rooted and disarmed, well now it’s like you better break the root, but even roots we make fun. If you do damage - if your feet get stuck in a block of rock, well if you do enough damage to the block of rock, it falls off and you’re able to get out of there. Well now I have something to do instead of just sitting there waiting for the spell to end while people beat upon me and then jump up and down on my corpse. If I’m skilled at playing, I will get myself out of that. Those concepts, it turns out, are quite fun too, both for PvP but also for PvE. Monsters do this stuff to you too, especially in higher level zones.

You mentioned healing and positioning. Are you picturing mostly “Go stand in the blue spot” or is it going to be sort of half-and-half with targeted heals?

You can spec for how you want. In general what we try and do is incent stuff more than we like dictate it. It’s very efficient to have a single-target heal which I know will go off and it will make your health bar go up and so it behooves us as designers to incent that it’s more efficient to pull off something which is harder to do, which is “Hey everybody, stand in the line – I’m gonna heal in a line. Now form a phalanx, we’re gonna dump our AoE round spells on you.” That’s hard to do, so it ought to be more efficient or no one will bother doing it and just use the single-target stuff.

I’m just picturing something like… for the longest time, Lightwell in World of Warcraft: no one used it because no one ever clicked on it.

Sure, yeah absolutely. So one of the nice things about the Telegraph thing is it’s a training thing where you know green is good and red is bad, you know at various levels. So even in the lower level combat, you’re kinda getting trained up for dungeon work which takes it to the next level. It’s not like no one on the planet has ever done “A bad thing is happening here. We’re gonna mark it in advance.” It’s just that’s been like a raid level 60 thing to do, not like a level 1 thing to do. Since we teach it to you at level 1, by the time we’ve been doing our raids and stuff, it’s pretty crazy stuff because you know all these different patterns. We can throw some pretty complex stuff at you and throw pretty much waves at you because you’ve been trained to know what these things mean , so now that there’re 20 monsters and 40 of you and you’ve got all these intersecting weaving patterns and stuff, you can actually process it pretty good, so it turns out to be pretty fun. Except for where I say you have to process it, which doesn’t sound like fun, but it’s actually fun.

This one I bring up mainly because I wrote entirely too much about it in an old post and nobody commented on it.


So all of this stuff – don’t stand in the red thing, dodge this, learn that movement mechanic. If you see an enemy’s lining up a big attack, will there be any other way to react to it? Particularly I’m thinking about it from a tank. Would I be able to, if I’m in the middle of the red, if I popped say Shield Wall or some sort of block -

Yes, because it would be very frustrating in a group fight if… Movement is cool and moving monsters around is cool, but if you’re knocking the target all over the place and everyone else is trying to hit it with their spells, it can get very frustrating very fast. And so if you spec your tank, and also it’s part how you want to play – not everyone wants to dodge around and do all that stuff, so cool if you want to spec up to just be able to tank your way through stuff, get the right abilities. You know, especially for the lower-level monsters or, not even for lower-level, but the less elite monsters like not raid bosses and things, but for the outside content that are not bosses, you can basically spec your way to be able to tank through a lot of that stuff. Just soak up the damage or take the damage but avoid the hard effect, that kind of thing, because we want you to play how you want to play – it’s kinda the precept. Not everyone wants to bounce around and sometimes it’s useful to not bounce around in group combat.

Within that though we’re trying to incent you to do some because, again, we don’t want it to be stand next to a guy and soak up damage. We try to throw a variety of multi-person fights where really you have to think about positioning. In those fights, a lot of the strategy is trying to line up things in a proper fashion to be able to hit as many of them with shapes and sizes of AoEs – that’s an interesting problem for players to solve in real time is how to solve that and it requires knowing how the AI works to an extent, how the creatures try to line up against you, and it’s up to us to try and make that an interesting and fun puzzle as opposed to a frustrating one about how you should do all that sort of stuff.

So I probably segued away from your original question on that, but the short form is that if in general you want to have a play style that is less motion-based, you can spec toward it, especially with the Warrior because Warriors are always gonna be pretty tanky.

There should be some motion. I’m just wondering if there’s was, say, for these specific hits if I block it instead of moving. Say somebody popped a DPS buff. Well, if the boss is doing this and I need to move him, then there goes the DPS buff.

Yeah, and what we’re trying to do, what we have is called Interrupt Armor which basically means if you’re gonna be crowd-controlling in some fashion a boss, you need to stack up enough similar things between enough of you to coordinate the attack to be able to do it. So if you’re gonna drag a boss around, either you need a really powerful spell or you need a powerful short-term spell to be able to like yank him - pull the boss despite the fact that he’s a boss. Similarly for you, if you build up your Interrupt Armor, then you can absorb a certain number of things until your Interrupt Armor’s cracked and now you need to deal with it. It’s been one of the more recent developments that we’ve done in the combat and that’s actually added a nice level of complexity to it, or a nice level of intricacy to all that.

One of the things that we’ve been tuning right now and one of the things that’s most interesting over time is increasing development pace so that we can actually make major changes in a fast fashion. It’s really the secret why these MMOs take so long – it’s hundreds of hours of content – and it’s having the right quality bar and also being able to physically do it fast enough. So it turns out that the tools we’ve made to allow us to do that have some nice player ramifications. A lot of that plug and socket stuff that makes housing cool will make Warplots cool as we do more of that. It was originally done for us and we can do cool dynamic events and that sort of stuff. Because of that, the two big things that have really helped development pace is that kind of like modifiable world stuff allows us to take a zone which is like “Eh” and kinda do a fine tune on it that improves the overall quality of it fairly rapidly. And the other one that’s actually really big is the modifiable UI because that’s a subtle feature – I’m not sure many users care about it – but no single thing has actually helped our development pace better in terms of iteration and that kind of stuff than being able to have the team just freely modify the UI. A junior intern on a team is like “I think I can do this better than our UI designer!” and he goes and does it, and sometimes he’s right. I’m not used to actually having a modifiable UI in games; it’s the first game I’ve worked on that had one. I don’t know how many games have shipped with one – it’s not many. But it turns out if you do MMO development, make a modifiable UI because no single thing has actually sped up development as much, and the ability to iterate and get the iterations right, and all that.

I know I like modifiable UIs. I don’t think I’ve run a stock UI in WoW or Rift in ages.

Yeah, and it’s because a million players can do it a hell of a lot better than two hundred developers, even though we’re paid for it. By sheer mass of people if nothing else, they outweigh us.

Cool, good questions. If you can think of follow-ups, feel free to hit me up.

Sure, thanks for sitting down and talking with me.

No problem at all, my pleasure. It’s almost like games are fun.

That's all the questions we had for Jeremy this time. Be sure to read the rest of our WildStar coverage from yesterday, including hands-on previews from myself and Gazimoff as well as interviews with Carbine's Community team and Content Director.

Michael "Ragar" Branham


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