What exactly is WildStar, you ask? This is the first MMO by Carbine Studios, a developer made up of ex-WoW employees. We got the chance to sit down with the studio's lead content designer Michael Donatelli to find out more about its upcoming game, from secret plotlines to expansions and PvP.
Q: Could you explain how this MMO differs from others?
Michael Donatelli: We're kind of going for a Firefly wrapped up with Indiana Jones kind of feel. We have this kind of sci-fi, fantasy western kind of thing.
Our goal was to create what we call the Momentum System. Pretty much any system by itself is fine, a lot of MMOs have zone content that tie in with quests and stuff. That works for some people but there's not a lot of depth to that so we've added other content. So we have these challenges that are in the game. In straight up normal combat players will stand and target someone until they die, everybody does their attacks. And it works fine for some people, or for the casual gamer who can just jump in and play, but if I want something more complex as well.
We talk about letting players play how they want to play and it's not just some bullshit buzzword. It's literally saying hey, if you just want to stand there and shoot then you can. But if you want to attack you can look at all these different threat meters around, you can evade attacks and become more lethal and you can attack in a more efficient manner, you can get XP that gives a bonus for evades.
So a regular player might quest to kill ten monsters, they'll just go down the hill and kill ten monsters, the same old path, and 200 XP and it's all over. But the player who wants to dig a little deeper can chain things together, kill two monsters and get in-game advancements. It's called momentum so you gain momentum and you're moving faster and doing more damage. So in a quest to kill 10 monsters, you've chained [your attacks] together and you've come out with 500 XP.
Q: Can you talk about the plotline?
MD: You play Exiles. There are two factions, the Exiles and the Dominion. The Exiles have all these reasons to join together. The Exiles come here looking for a new home and the Dominion have come here hoping to exploit this planet, the planet that was home to the most advance alien creatures in the galaxy, who have disappeared, so everybody is kind of coming here, sort of 1800s gold rush style - but all the stuff [of the original inhabitants] is still here. Through the story, through the game we'll let you uncover bits and pieces but the twist is we're not even really going to start telling the real story until the end of the game. That will be through patches and episodic content.
Q: So you're already thinking of expansions?
MD: Well, we don't look at it as expansions. We just look at it as in-game content. One of the things we've followed all along is that the design of stories needs to be supported way past the max level.
Q: Do you have a team testing the possibility of bringing it to console yet? Does the idea of console MMOs have legs overall?
MD: Well, I personally think [console MMOs] should be concentrated on. I don't know if we're going to go cross-platform though. Although I've seen a couple people try it and they're successful to a degree but an MMO at its base is meant to be played on a large scale with lots of people so communication [on console] is difficult.
Q: The art is very stylised. Can you describe why you went for this look?
MD: We've worked on MMOs in the past that were ultra realistic and it worked great. It was really pretty or a really nice look, but it quickly dates. You can look at it and think "yeah, that's three years old". So if you see a stylised thing it stands the test of time. And it allows us to put more humour into it, it can be serious, this kind of stuff can be very dramatic but also it can have a lot of comedy in it.
Q: The guys of Guild Wars, they have very ambitious plans and have said they want to take the number one spot in the genre. Do you have the same ambitions?
MD: We're all on the same team! But our plan is to also make the deepest, most layered, richest world out there.
Q: What does that mean exactly?
MD: Well again it's all about the layers. We look at all these great MMOs in the genre and they have this great base. And then add layers and layers and layers. We did a lot of focus testing and certain players gravitate towards certain styles of play, some players just want to kill things and don't want to hear about the story. Some players love the story and want to go deeper. So we've come up with "paths" that can be just icing on the cake, extra layers.
You can be a SpellSlinger which is kind of a magician/wizard with machine guns, he has bullets with the guns but can enchant with magic. And that's your class with all these great abilities and it defines your character, but then there are other qualities to explore. He can be a SpellSlinger explorer, who goes out and finds every corner of the map and because he's explored he'll be able to see the world differently, and see things in the world differently. It's really kind of a flavour. We have content of exploration for all classes but [the specific explorer class] makes you feel special in your preferred style of gameplay and different from everybody else.
Q: Will there be a PvP element?
MD: Well, what I can say is we'll be a fully featured MMO! I can say this, over 50 per cent or more of the people in my company are rabid PvP players!
Q: How difficult is it to bring in an entirely new IP to the MMO sphere?
MD: I was nervous about that myself. I started working here a few years ago and they had a lot of the game, and I got to look at it and I was like no one is doing this! It's very cool, it has a very interesting twist, it's sci-fi and it has a steampunk vibe to it. It still seemed a little daunting but I think [coming to Gamescom], we've been vindicated.