Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Making of a Soul










Meet Chris “Keyens” Meyer, System Designer for RIFT. He works tirelessly on callings and souls. Let’s learn more about his craft!



Chris “Keyens” Meyer is a video game industry veteran with six years of experience in MMORPGs. He loves skateboarding, great food, and of course, playing games. We sat down and asked him a few questions about what goes into the making of souls in RIFT. Enjoy!
Q: What is your inspiration for creating new souls?
A: It depends on each soul, but I devour media so that I have a constant stream of different depictions of various power sets. Once we decide we are doing new souls one of my first steps is finding anything I can that might contain even a small amount of inspiration for their development.
Q: Do you ever over-analyze classes in other games?
A: All the time. I actually quite enjoy playing every new class or character that comes out in a game and looking at them as part of the design of their game as a whole. It’s incredibly informative, and I believe it is critical to finding more and more interesting design spaces to work in.
Q: How do you get into the mind set of creating souls for RIFT?
A: I generally start by getting a rough image of what kind of power fantasies we haven’t served for a particular calling, or otherwise investigating interesting twists on archetypes that appear in various media.


Q: What is the process you use to map out the creation of a new soul?
A: Once I have a clear mental image of what the soul feels like, I open a blank text pad and begin jotting down ideas and mechanics. This phase is mostly stream of consciousness, and generally leaves me with walls of text in varying states of design cohesion and completeness. Once this is complete, I break down the various ideas until something starts to resonate with the image I have in my head of the new soul. Once I find that mechanic or ability or whatever text it was that caused that resonance, I begin to flesh out additional ideas until a soul starts to form. Once that happens, the process gets a little more formal by constructing a document that shows the actual root and talent tree, with levels at which everything can be obtained. This document is then used for the approval process. After that, assembly of the soul begins.
Q: How do you work with internal and player feedback?
A: Internal and player feedback are handled slightly differently, although this is largely owing to the methods in which they can be given and where in the timeline they go. Early on many souls have crazy ideas or gameplay and we don’t know if they will work. Once a prototype is assembled and generally ready (this might mean it only has some abilities, or doesn’t have a talent tree yet, etc.) it goes out for internal playtesting. This is the period where gameplay feel and how well it serves the power fantasy are tested and iterated on. This generally leads to adding or removing abilities, or otherwise tearing out and rebuilding large chunks of functionality to iterate and update it. Player feedback, on the other hand, is much more focused on balance and the intricacies of the rotation. This is the period where the bulk of tuning happens and small focused changes are made to update the rotation and gameplay to remove unintended friction or stress that don’t add to the soul.


Q: How do you consider balance when creating new souls?
A: During the initial design process, certain balance considerations are made, although it is largely about getting the mental image of the soul translated into the game. The main concerns during the design process are accessibility of certain abilities low in the tree (and the risk of runaway hybrids), as well as making sure no single ability seems to be designed to subvert some of the core combat rules in the game. This is a more nebulous thought that tends to come up more frequently during iterative testing, rather than during the design process. Once we are out of that initial time however, balance comes to the forefront. One of the largest difficulties of this phase of design is making sure that the soul is accessible to most players and provides satisfying gameplay, while still having some level of depth that lets experts show mastery by extracting effectiveness out of more complex interactions.
Q: What goes into revamping a soul?
A: As it turns out, soul revamps generally follow the same process as a new soul. Often we won’t use everything that comes out of such a redesign, but we try to keep the process similar.

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