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 third and final part, with the first part here and the second part here!
CG: Your competition, or similar games, are going to be Diablo 3, Torchlight 2, and games like that. How do you view, if you view yourself in competition with them, your atmosphere and what differentiates you from the, we’ll say, the more house hold recognition games out there?
CW: I think one of the things that comes to mind in regards to what differentiates us is… we have a lot of scope in our game that a player who really cares about the numbers and designing a character that can be effective there’s a lot of room there for them to achieve something that they may not be able to achieve in games that have a more restrictive depth. And there are valid reasons for games having a slightly more shallow design, it makes it more accessible to new players for example but we pride ourselves on the fact that we have a lot of synergy for players to discover when building characters and it can be very rewarding in path of exile to discover a certain build that immediately makes you very effective, so good that other players idolize you and want to copy what you’re doing.
CG: The skill tree, like I said, it’s ridiculous, how many skills total are in it?
CW: I think there’s 1500, maybe just under 1500 at the moment.
CG: How did you come up with the idea for that, it seems, from the little programming knowledge I have, it’s too much work for me as it is, and then to do something like this it just seems overwhelming, what drove you to doing that.
CW: We looked at a variety of skill trees in other games to try to see what we felt they did right and wrong and one of the first things was to pull out all of the active skills into a separate system and just look at the passive skills as kind of a fingerprint of the DNA of the character. It’s what’s behind the scenes of the character increasing various aspects of its performance. For example, a melee character wouldn’t care about increasing spell damage, unless they had something weird going on which may be part of their build. There are a lot of different parameters that can be played with when designing a skill tree like that. There’s questions, like do you have each skill allow you to put multiple points in it, or just one point. Do you have it that it’s a maze or that it’s somewhat more linear. Do you have the liked things grouped together or that their basically entirely random and the players have to find a path through a bunch of chaos. And we’ve tried so many different variations of each of these parameters trying to get to the current system and we feel with the current one that it allows players to explore the tree, hopefully, without having to think too far ahead. Sure, some players definitely want to plan out their entire build before they pour any points but we’re trying to design it so you can get a good idea that I’m going in this direction because there is cast speed and fire damage down there and that’s where I want to be, without them needing to sit down with a pencil and paper to work out their entire build.
CG: How long did it take, in general, to come up with all the different skills in there? When did you start with what the skill tree is now?
CW: This iteration here was one that was designed for, I think it was 0.93, I could be wrong, one of the patches around there, where we basically said we were going to introduce the concept of attribute highways into the skill tree. Where that’s attributes that you can put into that are different than any other passive skills, they are laid out in an arrangement that allows you to travel around the tree slightly more quickly to reach certain areas that you want. This is a very specific thing that we changed here, but it did cause us to have to redo most of the tree. In answer to your question to how long that took, I think it took about 15-20 man days of just laying out and arranging the icons into the arrangement you see now. But since then there have been a ton of tweaks to make sure that it’s relatively fair for all the different classes that are using it.
CG: For your future, you guys have shown that you have a very, very good command of what makes a game fun. If I had to say anything about it – it’s just fun. Do you guys have plans to work on new titles once this is launched or are there concepts going on for something new for your future?
CW: I can say with complete honesty at the moment that this is the only title we have discussed making. I see this as a positive thing because that means we aren’t going to just ship this and work on something else. The players can expect that we are going to continue to pour our heart and soul into making this the best possible game we can, which will continue after its official release with plenty of expansions. Sure there may be a future that our company has grown enough that it can work on future projects but it’s very likely that the core path of exile team will continue with path of exile and the other guys are basically just a spin off. I’m pretty sure this is going to be the main think we are focusing on for quite a lot of years.
CG: I’m guessing, at least you have to say you are a fan of all 5 classes for now, or all 6 since you’ve seen the other, is there a particular class that you prefer? Do you have a favorite class?
CW: That’s a good question. I try to force myself to have a favorite class with each major patch that I’m working on. Generally picking the least popular one from the previous patch. For example, back in .91 I remember thinking you know I’m going to play a lot of marauder for a while so I played a lot of marauder for a while and that class became a lot more fun to play because our developers were making sure that any concerns that were found with it were fixed. I’m pretty happy with at least half of the classes because of that. As to which class is next, I’m not quite sure, but it will probably be the unannounced one in preparation for its release.
CG: Is it going to release with open beta or closed beta?
CW: Ideally with the closed beta.
CG: In an interview previously, you stated there was going to be interaction between your website and the game. Already there’s some, can you explain a little more of what the plans are for that?
CW: There are several different areas that we’re going to allow interaction there. Some of this is stuff we haven’t discussed in a lot of detail publicly, so I don’t know how much I can go into it here necessarily. We do intend to have a trading system that of course has website and game integration. We do intend there to be various character related tools such as passive skill planners that will enable you to work on planning your character out while you aren’t necessarily in the client. Our end dream here is that a lot of the games enjoyment can be derived while you aren’t actually running the game. For example, while you are at work, you can still plan out characters and trade for items and stuff while not actually being able to enter the game and kill monsters.
CG: So that implies that there’s going to be an interface for trading directly with someone. Are we going to have an AH type market or anything coming up?
CW: We can’t discuss the exact details of what that entity is, but there reason why there is no in game obvious trading interface at the moment is because whatever we do will be integrated with the website and so it will just be temporary for us to add some kind of internal in game trading thing and we’d rather just deploy the entire system.
CG: I think that’s all the questions I have for you. Is there any additional information you would like to share with all the readers here?
CW: Thank you very much for being readers and for being fans of the game, we have a big patch coming on Tuesday [02/07] so there’s some information on the forums about that and were quite happy to answer questions on what’s in it. After that, we have another major patch planned for late February, and this will, according to our list of bullet points we expect to get into it will hopefully address quite a lot of big issues that people have reported with the game. So we’re really excited about both of the upcoming patches.
CG: Thank you so much for everything you guys are doing with the game. After a hard day at work, or hard day of whatever you’re doing, it’s nice to sit down and just slash through stuff with a well polished game that’s completely unique from anything else. You guys are doing amazing work on it and I really appreciate your time.
CW: Okay, thank you very much for the interview.
CG: Thank you!
CW: Not a problem!