We have visited Carbine Studios and chatted with pleasant folks. The build we saw was a few milestones old, most of what was said was already covered in their recent info dump, and things said after a few drinks are under NDA, so I am mostly going to be working from links here. They have started releasing their “personality videos” (trailers/previews), and I am hoping they release some of the “making of” footage they have, because it’s fun; we saw the voice actor mugging through the Dominion video and met the winsome lass who acted out the Exiles video for the animators.
The surprise hit of the event? The prop room. That is the shared office space for the artists working on “everything that doesn’t breathe or move,” all the items and buildings. There was great enthusiasm from and about the half-dozen artists who came in to show their stuff. When meeting zone designers, there was at least as much oohing and ahing about their (proprietary) design software as the zones being worked on.
Over the weekend, two of our favorite sites independently cited some major challenges for WildStar, so I will give them the floor. Keen recommends finding your niche because competing head-on with WoW, Rift, EQ(s), FF(s), GW2, LotRO, SW:TOR, and all the smaller games already in that design space is very red ocean thinking. A game would do well to have 1% of WoW’s peak playerbase, but there is a big fight for that scrap, and are you budgeted for that? It is a crowded design space, and so far the big selling point for WildStar is “layering,” which you could somewhat cynically cash out as “stack as many systems and implementations as you can and bank on emergent gameplay.” New combinations of existing elements is in a strict sense what we are all doing, but it may not be the strongest selling point. Spinks calls it a smorgasbord approach, give the players everything and let them pick their own paths. She specifically cites the oddity that WildStar has a game design element explicitly called “paths” but restricts characters to picking one of four, so not all the layers are always available (although you could group to share in path content).
My summary view of their challenge in designing and selling the game is “don’t be ‘Rift in space,’” especially if you multiply the relative subscription numbers of WoW:Rift and WoW:WoW with lightsabers. The available details do not put a lot of daylight between them and the competition unless that layering leads to some awesome emergent gameplay. We did see a bit of that, the build we saw was months old, and what they were allowed to hint at has some prospects, so this has promise. Surprisingly, given my preferences, the combat and PvP panel was the one I found most interesting, informative, and innovative. They have found new areas in both design spaces (warplots have already been mentioned, and you get a combat hint in the “demolition” section of the Soldier video).
They are taking a more recent version of what we saw to PAX East, so attendees can preview it there.