ZAM speaks to Carbine's Lead Narrative Designer
Many of us at ZAM have been quite flagrant in our anticipation for WildStar. One of the things that makes the game stand out is how it bristles with unabashed personality; an identity quite unlike any other AAA MMO on the market.
One of the biggest driving forces behind the humor and identity of the game is Chad “Pappy” Moore, Lead Narrative Designer and therefore caretaker of all things story in WildStar. It was my distinct pleasure to chat with Chad about the importance of the various forces that will define the game for players from the first moment and throughout their play experience.
In this, the first part of our conversation, I will cover Chad’s insights into WildStar’s story, The Dominion in general and specifically the Cassians.
Initially, Chad talked about the concept behind honing the stories and identities for the races and factions of WildStar.
“When we developed our factions it was very important that they had a really unique personality, not only the factions themselves but the individual races within each faction. I think as you watch our videos on The Exiles and The Dominion, it should be obvious that we focused on that we want our players to really connect with their faction and one of the ways to do that is how they speak and how we represent them visually. But not only that, but in their individual stories; why does each race care about their faction? Why does each of them care about planet Nexus? What is their opinion of the other faction? We wanted those personalities and stories to be polarizing so if you believe in The Exiles you believe in them 100% so you probably don’t like what The Dominion does. We want that to be important to the players and, more importantly, be reflected by your experience as you play the game.”
With Chad’s mention of the intentional polarizing of factions, that word itself connotes two sides to the story. With a move toward three sided conflicts in a number of MMOs, I asked why the team had decided on two opposing factions for WildStar.
“The origins of that choice are more heavily grounded in the design systems, but I don’t really do that for a living so I would feel horrible trying to explain the specific reasons behind that. I would say personally, from a story standpoint, I enjoy having a simpler conflict. It’s nice to only have to deal with two perspectives, at least at the beginning. As the game progresses I have no idea what changes we will make, but at least for me, to begin with, it’s great that there’re two sides; pledge your allegiance, figure out which side you want then we will bring you some really interesting stories that will bring those things to light.”
With two opposing sides, one of the aspects of the game that naturally arises is whether Exiles and Dominion players will be able to communicate with each other. I asked Chad if he could shed any light on the subject.
“That isn’t something we’ve spoken about specifically, but what I can say is that as much as possible, from a story standpoint, I do not encourage any kind of cooperation, any hand holding or alliances of convenience, because for me I’ve tried to push as much as possible that this side doesn’t like that side, their philosophical and cultural differences are irreconcilable. As soon as you pledge your allegiance to The Dominion it immediately makes you an enemy of The Exiles no matter what your personal story happens to be.
I feel that intense and visceral conflict is one of the things that people enjoy about choosing a faction. As much as possible, I don’t want that to be diluted through content. The specific ways that’s done through our system that we’re talking about, philosophically that’s definitely the direction that we’re coming from.
I feel the less impactful that decision [choosing a faction] is, the less it means. So if it’s just a wrapper we put on at the beginning then if, by the end, you’re all doing the same things and doing them together it dilutes the idea of picking a side, we try to keep the purity of that conflict in place as much as we can.”
To understand how WildStar delivers the stories that make up such a vicious rivalry, I asked Chad about his views on questing and the way that it delivered narrative and identity to the game.
“When it comes to storytelling, we really adhere to environmental storytelling. We have quests, we have quest text, but because of the nature of how players generally play through content in MMOs, we wanted to develop story delivery mechanisms that did not require you to spend an inordinate amount of time speaking to people, going through dialogue trees and so on. That’s perfectly fine for some people but for us we wanted to spend a lot of time on things like voice over, every time you talk to someone you’ll hear a snippet of v/o. It gives you an idea of the personality and the things that they care about.
Our artists are some of the most talented in the industry and they have created an unbelievable world, telling you the story of Nexus. There’re these ancient, monolithic machines left behind by the Eldan. How are these things important to the overall story? We are constantly telling you the story of the game through the visuals and the environment.
There are a lot of other systems, that I would consider “opt-in” systems, such as the Galactic Archive which is our version of Wikipedia in the game which is being updated constantly. As you’re playing through the game, you’re getting new archive entries. That kind of storytelling is the kind where you can choose to do that at your own time, at your own pace. We’re not going to tell you “Hey, now is the time you have to sit here and read this,” you can do that whenever you like and choose not to do that. But for people to get into that; it is a deep, complex and robust system that will allow you to learn lots about planet Nexus and our races and our factions. For the people that really want to do that, you are going to have that ability in WildStar.
Philosophically, we’re trying as much as we can to tell the story of our game through the lens of how people generally play MMOs, so the player is always in control of the way that is being revealed to them.”
As Moore mentioned the use of voice over, I asked him to confirm that it was in widespread use through the game.
“We have a really robust generic v/o system. Every NPC that you speak to will say something and the things that they’re saying will be contextually accurate to what they’re having you do. He may not be saying exactly what’s being printed on the screen but he is saying something that gives you the idea of “This is what he’s doing; this is what he cares about.” If you decline quests or come back to him before they’re complete, his responses will be very different from the first time you go talk to him and he gives you things.
It’s another way so that if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like to read quest text you’re still getting the general sense that “This guy wants me to go out and wants me to kill something, oh he’s happy, he’s given me a reward” and the best part of that is that it’s in the individual voices that we’ve developed for each one of the [Player] races and the NPC races.
It’s a very cool system and I think it enhances your experience as you play through.”
From his explanation of the way quests delivered, I said to Chad that it was apparent quest text was something being kept to a minimum.
“Yes. The quest text itself we describe as it's “Twitter-length,” they can be longer than that but we try and target that character length. We’ve done a lot of testing and there are some people who are literally going to never read anything and that’s fine. But if we can draw in people who will sit down and read it if it’s not too long, it makes for a much smoother experience.
It can be challenging. I have a really great team here who often curse me as we’ve set such low limits who are like “How am I supposed to get across personality and story?” but to sing their praises they’ve done a really great job.
Though my job is in the universe of words, we’ve tried to lean on our talented art team to carry a bunch of that load and it’s really worked out.”