Sunday, August 1, 2010

Waiting for Rifts: Planes of Telara

While reading all the kerfuffle surrounding SOE's announcement of the EverQuest 2 Extended F2P service I ran across mention of a game called Rifts: Planes of Telara.  Doing a little research into the game made me realize how appropriate mentioning this game in connection with EQ2 is since the Executive Producer for Rifts is Scott Hartsman, who served in the same role with EQ2.  That news led Zubon over at Kill Ten Rats to put the game on the watch list.  I was a bit intrigued myself so I did a little research.

The first thing I read was a quick overview of the game that published back in JuneDynamic content?  An intricate and involved class system?  Scott did an interview with Gamervision published in June in which he touched on what may distinguish Rifts from other MMOs.
Jonathan Cooper (Gamervision): While we’re on that subject: what is the game doing to set itself apart in terms of gameplay?

Scott Hartsman: For starters, the style and the IP was chosen to give us lots of cool opportunities to let us do unique and unexpected things the entire way through. Before I get into some of the unique stuff, the one thing I need to point out to folks is that all the things I’m talking about next all sits atop a world that has all of the major MMO elements that triple-A MMOs have had, and, that bluntly, players depend on. Once you have a world like that, you say, “Ok, how can we make this more interesting? What is the next level for this?”

And to us, the next level is layers of active content that are woven into the entire experience. Interesting things of all sizes that are occurring. The one example I love to use a lot is the merchant that wanders the globe and has her own wants and desires. She wants to go from point A to point B, she gets bored if nobody shops with her, she goes home and restocks, you know, those sort of things. On the other end, we have larger events, all the way up to massive planar invasions that offer really cool social gameplay. I don’t mean social in the “happy, huggy” sense, I mean social in the “kicking ass with a whole lot of friends together” kind of sense. And then some other, even more drastic events that we’ll be talking about over time.

Beyond that, we have our own unique class system. Right now, since we’re pre-alpha, I get to say, “It’s really cool, and I can’t wait to show you and explain more later.” We’re about 95% of the way there, so it won’t be too much longer. We have a class system that we think players will enjoy. We’re returning some class customization into primary gameplay in a way that’s fun and unique, and gives people a whole lot of ability to customize their characters. Then we have the general feature set that we’ll roll out as they get fully baked, and we have really cool visuals to show off as well as words. To us, though, if I had to sum up the entire effort, is to make sure that the things we do ship is AAA across the board. Our goal is not “different for the sake of different.” There are a lot of games that have done that, lots of them are sitting by the wayside. Big MMOs fail because they overreach. Players don’t want “different for the sake of different,” either, they want quality.  To us, it’s figuring out where the important places to innovate are. For example, I guarantee you, right now, that we don’t have the most innovative in-game mail system in the history of in-game mail systems. It doesn’t need to be. It’s a utility function, that’s fine. We’re trying to double-down on the places that players are going to care about and get a lot of play out of.
I found a second Massively article and I think the class system may harken back to the days of EQ2 when you didn't reach your final class until you completed a quest line at level 20.  I started playing EQ2 a bit too late to experience that, but I really wish I had that experience.  The class system is intriguing enough that I went and found a version of the Massively video explaining the mechanics that I could post.

Ten Ton Hammer did an interview with Scott Hartsman about the class system in July and it sounds like players, at least for now, will be allowed to maintain multiple talent specs from day 1.
Ten Ton Hammer: So with all of these choices at hand, let's talk a little bit about the inevitable - revising your choices with a respec. Could you describe the respec options you're planning to make available to players?

Scott Hartsman:
What we're going for is, I think, pretty ambitious for a launch feature set, but this is one area that there was no way in hell that we were going to skimp on. What we are doing from the outset is, yes, you absolutely can from the outset go to a trainer and pay (with in-game currency) to reset your souls. You can then re-invest those points any way you choose.

Characters will also have multiple attunements - multiple specs - from the get-go, so you do have the ability to buy multiple specs immediately in the game. All of those have hotbars saved with all of your loadouts, and once you have those multiple loadouts, you can switch between them in the field.

For example, my current character has a high-end DPSing plate-wearer. He's got his 'I am ├╝bertank' spec, which is mostly invested in a single tank soul. He also has a hybrid soul where he's 50-50 with a DPS soul to really plow through soloing, questing, that kind of stuff. I can switch back and forth between those two anytime I want, and later on I'll go buy a third spec. And maybe later on when I find a different role for myself - PvP perhaps - I'll buy a fourth spec. The idea is to give players the ability to come up with loadouts that they like and be able to switch them at will.
If everything works out as planned, Rifts should be a very good looking game by using high definition graphics.  In April, The Escapist described the game this way...
One area that might just help Rift: Planes of Telara stick out from the crowd at first, though, is the strength of its graphics. While it might not be the first "truly HD MMORPG" as Trion is claiming, Rift is a visually stunning game - even a year (or more) away from release, they already have over 10,000 character and NPC animations with more created every day, said [Design Director Simon] Ffinch. The lighting effects are phenomenal in particular, and it arguably looks better (if not quite as stylized) as NCSoft's eye-candy-tastic Aion
Not only does the world look cool, but your character should look cool too: We saw a bit of the character creator, and it's clear that Trion has taken great pains to ensure that your character will look like an actual person instead of a freak of nature no matter how you position the little slidy-bars. "It's very hard to make something ugly in the game," said Ffinch.
In an interview with WarCry in May, Scott commented on the graphics...

WarCry: Why high definition graphics?

Scott Hartsman:  It's time. Traditionally with MMO graphics, you end up with roughly the following:
1) High Detail, 2) Acceptable Performance, 3) Amazing Visuals. Pick two.
We're at a point with PC and display technology where we're starting to see all three become possible.
You can play it on a standard monitor and it looks great, you can play it on a 50"+ HDTV and it still looks phenomenal. If you can do that while not requiring a supercomputer to run it, you've got something really special. That's our goal. 
Before getting to the system specs required to play the game, I need to make a couple of comments about the lore developed so far.  Rifts: Planes of Telara is a new intellectual property (IP), so the developers need to come up with the lore at the same time developing the game.  From the little I've seen so far, players of the original EverQuest may feel right at home with worlds called "planes" that players will travel to.  While I don't see a "Plane of Fear", the game's web site currently has a description of the Plane of Death and placeholders for the Planes of Life, Fire, Earth, Air and Water.

What type of system will a player need?  According to Scott, as of now, "You do need a graphics card that supports Shader Model 2.0b, and ideally you'd have a dual core system with a healthy amount of RAM.  We're aiming for reasonable system requirements that are comparable to the MMOs that have been released in the last couple years."

What I've seen so far warrants keeping an eye on this title as it moves closer to a 2011 launch date.  I'm not going to become a fanboi without playing the game, but with the problems EQ2 is having combined with the fact that WoW isn't a game that I'm interested in participating in end game raiding, I'll be looking for a second game to go along with Eve Online.  Because sometimes you just need a break from the serious business of internet spaceships.

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