Editor’s note: At the tail end of January, you saw our beta preview coverage of Path of Exile, the upcoming MMORPG from New Zealand developer Grinding Gear Games, and a lucky few of you got your hands on beta keys to join in on the fun. As promised, our interview with Grinding Gear Games co-founder and Path of Exile Lead Designer Chris Wilson is now available in three transcribed parts. Below is the second part, with the first part here and the final part coming tomorrow!
CG: That’s brilliant, that actually gives me a bunch of confidence about PVP. Does this apply to support skills also? I imagine there are infinite possibilities for the supports that we could slot to these.
CW: That’s right. And there’s a lot of those that we have planned that aren’t quite in there yet that will hopefully make the system a lot deeper than it currently is in its current form.
CG: Can you tell us a little more about what additional summons we’ll see? Right now there are two, if I’m correct.
CW: Yeah, at the moment there’s raise spectre and raise zombie and technically dominating blow, which converts monsters to your side temporarily. It’s extremely likely that there will be a skeleton raising skill in the near future, it’s working in the office, it’s just finding the right place to insert it and make sure that it’s tweaked and there are several ideas flying around the office for that, you know… how many skeletons does it raise at a time and are they using random equipment? There’s a bunch of questions. We do intend to do several more types of summons after that, there’s a lot of design space there for ones that aren’t just undead or ghosts we can have a single large summons or smaller swarmy guys. There’s various ideas being thrown around related to animating pieces of armor or equipment that you encounter and those types of summons will hopefully appease a lot of the players that enjoy playing the necromancer style build as it were.
CG: You are going to be supported by the real money shop. With the free to play thing, as I’m sure anybody who has been following your game, knows your stance on this is that it’s not going to be pay to win, it’s only going to be non-game changing abilities. Can you expand more on that, explain what the idea behind that is?
CW: Well there are two notable things about this gaming company. The first one is that, because we are targeting a relatively hardcore crowd, it would be really bad for us to… if we embrace the pay to win model we would alienate most of the core audience, I mean, no one would want to play PVP in an environment like that. Even the PVE players would… who are they competing against when people can just pay to win. We understand that with a group of players like this it would be a bad idea to go down that path and we could hopefully win a lot of respect from them by not doing so. Secondly, because we’re a small indie studio we want to take the low risk approach which is where you go for more players and get less money off each one, because you are not monetizing it in as many ways. Because we are not trying to alienate people with a pay to win strategy it enables us to hopefully hit a much larger target audience. People who enjoy buying micro transactions will have a variety of various cosmetic things that they can buy and people who are just happy to play for free can enjoy the fact that we’re providing all of the content without any restrictions on whether they’ve paid or not.
CG: With the vanity stuff, one of my things is there are going to be 6 characters at launch. With the armor and everything we are going to look kind of unique but are we going to have options to change either the gender or change the makeup of our character, either through the vanity shop or as options added later on?
CW: So this issue is interesting because a lot of people really identify with the sex of their character and if they really want a male witch or whatever and when you’re actually playing the game it’s difficult to see the actual skin of the character and what their actual face looks like and that sort of thing. So we can say no outright to any sort of specific customization, you know, earring and that sort of stuff because it is sort of unnecessary because you can’t see it. Though, we do understand that players do have an identity thing with the actual sex of their character and if they feel really uncomfortable playing a female or male character and they’d enjoy the class more as the other sex that’s something we acknowledge that they want. Now the reason we’ve only gone with one sex for our existing characters is that, for a start, it saves you a lot of money. For each additional character that you have to rig and animate that’s essentially more expensive than another monster added to the game. So by only going with the single sex character classes we did free up quite a lot of budget that we can spend on monsters. In addition, we feel it helps with the personality of the character classes to say that the marauder is a guy, the witch is a girl and we can come up with particular stories behind them. But a lot of people have demanded the alternate sexes and I suspect it’s something we will look into at least for future. Once we have a bunch of money coming in and we can look at what additional items to add to the shop we’ll definitely consider it but there are no promises at this stage.
CG: Over 5 – 10 years, games are going to have an influx and a decrease in their subscriber base. As the game gets older and older is the vanity shop going to be constantly updated with new stuff to keep people 5 years on still wanting to spend money, or is that a problem that really hasn’t been faced yet?
CW: We anticipate that we will have to continually add things to the vanity shop because of the fact that we want to continue to get additional money from the players who enjoy buying things and wearing them. We definitely have plans to continually add items to that rather than just recycling old ones.
CG: You guys are independent. Is that something you guys plan on sticking with, or if, somebody came along and says, we want to take you under are umbrella, and this may be a question you can’t really answer right now, but is that something you guys would consider, or is this independent all the way?
CW: So, were independent for a couple of reasons. The first is that we enjoy our independence. It gives us a lot of freedom to do things how we want to. Secondly, it means that we can publish the game in a way that we want and that means that we’re not stuck on some portal with 15 other game that are all grindy typical MMOs and we can make sure that the micro-transaction currency that we’re using is something that’s appropriately costed for our game and it’s not some currency that’s shared between 12 other games. In addition, with regards to your question to whether or not we would be taken under the wing of another company, obviously if there was some amazing offer, it would be a shame to turn it down but it’s unlikely that a traditional publisher arrangement would work with us and we have talked to many publishers online who have offered to publish our game but we feel we can handle each of the aspects of the publication ourselves so we’ve developed tools to do this. We have good build and deployment tools. We have the ability to distribute a patch out to a lot of players. We have very well designed servers in my opinion which can handle quite a large player load on a relatively modest amount of hardware. We’ve done what we can to make sure that we will be able to successfully self publish it ourselves.
CG: As the game goes, the current cap is level 100; do you expect there is going to be a level cap increase?
CW: This is something we have discussed quite a lot internally as we talk about the transition to open beta, the question of how you add additional content to the middle of a game. I would like it if there was no level cap increase so that the work that the players have put in, grinding out those last few difficult levels and optimizing their items, I would like it if that work wasn’t wasted by them and I would be unhappy with a solution where we said to everyone, “Hey guys, it’s now 10 levels higher and the last year you spent playing is being reduced to nothing.” I would prefer it if we had a solution that meant this wasn’t the case. We’ll definitely look to try to find it so we can add additional content without having to slowly creep the level cap overtime invalidating peoples work.
CG: Some other action RPGs have pet systems or hireling systems and things like that so that you can explore some of the more difficult content even if you’re not one of these top tier or well spec’d characters you could bring a mercenary or computer controlled character with you to fight. Any chance we would see that in here?
CW: There are plans for a system like that, but they’re not publicly discussed at this stage.
CG: General chat, it’s pretty open, people can talk all they want about whatever they want. Is there any plan to have some kind of policing for, especially with a free game, you’re going to get some people who are just not going to respect the other players that are playing and they’re going to say offensive stuff, is there any plan to do something to keep that under control?
CW: Yeah, at the point that we enter open beta our expectation is that we are going to have someone in chat that can help people with the problems that their having and ensure we have some degree of moderation in there. I understand, at the moment, that there are occasional people that say offensive things that we only catch later when going through the logs and reports and it’s a shame that they get the opportunity to say some quite horrible stuff in front of our users. We issue warnings and bannings as necessary, but in the future once we have a full time support staff, which will pretty much be necessary in open beta then hopefully we’ll be able to catch things as they happen and make sure the punishments are appropriate.
CG: Back to PVP real quick. Is there any chance of having guild on guild battles or having 2 PVP teams that go into their own PVP room to fight it out?
CW: Definitely, I see it working basically exactly like that.
(Return tomorrow for part 2 of the interview)