WildStar: Donatelli Talks CBT3

We interview Carbine's Content Director about everything new in the Closed Beta

With cross-faction PvP now available to testers, WildStar has reached a special point in closed beta. The gloves have come off and players can proudly wear their Dominion or Exile loyalties on the field of battle. Meanwhile, somewhere in Orange County, Carbine Studios will be observing the carnage and taking notes.

But Closed Beta Test 3 isn’t just about PvP. With the Skullcano dungeon, the lunar zone of Farside, and Tradeskill talents, there’s a huge amount of content for all types of player to dig into. To help make sense of the patch notes, I interviewed content director Mike Donatelli about the huge range of additions and changes arriving this week.

Gareth Harmer: Is it fair to call this the PvP patch?

Mike Donatelli: I would say that we spent more time fussing around with the PvP for CBT3 than we’ve done before, for sure. And the fact that we’ve now deliberately opened it up to both sides--that took a little bit of a leap of faith.

From CBT2 we got a bunch of people who ran around--it’s what we want people to do--they get in, they break things.  They found a way to get into the enemy zone and started to break things really badly. And then we said ‘You know, we should probably let everybody loose in a big enough area where they can easily get to each other’s content and just see where it falls apart.’

Are you glad to get to the moment where we’ll have two factions facing off against each other?

I think so. We had some PvP in the last [phase of beta]; we’ve actually opened it up this time, not only just open world where you can get in there and if you wanted to fight somebody you could. We brought in a lot of the PvP stuff we’ve been itching to test, like rated battlegrounds and what not.

So I would say yes, we’ve been waiting quite a long time to do this. I’m just super interested to see how it pans out.

Are you worried that you’re going to get gankers and griefers trawling all over Whitevale?

[laughs] It’s beta, so take it with a grain of salt, but I think we have a pretty grown up beta crew. Like the people who have been in our beta so far--because I’ve been playing a lot--they’ve been really, really good about giving us feedback. It’s been a lot less tea-bagging and more quantitative feedback, so I’m willing to trust them.

It sounds awesome, but what is Skullcano?

Skullcano is a mid-level dungeon. It’s one of my more favorite dungeons--it’s got a whole crazy pirate space thing to it--it’s a lot of fun. We’ve spent a lot of time tweaking it based on core player feedback--we have the beta people and we have core people as well--so we’ve been having the core people beat the hell out of it. It’s definitely in a better state where people can hopefully pile in and tell us what they think about it.

What’s the theme of the dungeon?

It’s an enormous volcano that was at one time the center of some terraforming work done by the Eldan, so there’s an old terraformer there. There’s these crazy space pirates that have figured out how to make it turn lava into gold. Then they proceeded to ransack the island all around for its innocent inhabitants, and have been dipping them into gold and turning them into statues to sell.

There’s a lot of vignettes, there’s a lot of really interesting gameplay. There’s even some player choice into what direction you want to go through the dungeon. It’s a first really good look, I think, at the way we’re going to handle raiding--if you get in there and you extrapolate it. If you saw Stormtalon’s lair, it had a lot of really good, strong mechanics in it, but if you extrapolate it out and you look at Skullcano, it’s the evolution of the process. You can see after playing Skullcano where this could go for our 20 and 40 man raids.

As soon as we get something done, and we that feel the players can get out there and give us some actual feedback, we’re putting it out.  It’s not finished, but it’s pretty close.

We managed to get a lot from the patch notes about Halls of the Bloodsworn, but what’s the actual theme of the battleground?

It doesn’t have anything to do with the races per se, but it is a battleground that’s built on Osun super low-tech, the Osun being a race of giants that the Eldan enslaved and were pretty much doing their bidding for a large part of the time. The Eldan disappeared and the Osun were left to go feral. They have this vibe--a lot of underground spaces, a lot of forges. They forge the Exonite material that we have in the game into crazy armor and weapons that they use against you.

How do you feel about potentially having 40 minute match times? I can see some really liking the American Football style, but others might think it’s a bit long.

We discussed it. It’s the nature of how we do these things. There was some discussion on the time length, and then we decided that the best course of action, because we really couldn’t be sure--like you said, some of us like it, some of us aren’t big fans of it--was to get out there and actually get the players’ feedback. Because ultimately they’re the true arbiters of style as far as this is concerned.

But yeah, I’m very interested to find out if this is going to hold water. Is twenty minutes [per side] better? The best thing in my opinion is to get it in front of the players as fast as possible and get their feedback.

We saw a lot of class updates in the patch notes. What’s keeping your designers busy: is it responding to feedback from players, or continuing to roll out and generate new content?

I would say a large majority of the actual mechanics and the rollout of abilities are pretty much solid. What we’re doing now, and the intention is from now until ship, is pretty much 90% iteration at this point in time.

All of the changes you see in these patch notes--the core value of it is based on player feedback. As a matter of fact, the interesting thing about reading these patch notes is that we’re already working on the next beta, so I’ve already seen large changes to the next [build], further refining the abilities and the classes themselves. So this has a lot of good changes but the next one is going to be even better.

So are you expecting to see feedback and go “Yeah, we’ve already covered that”?

It’s the nature of the beast, because we’re only getting one CBT’s feedback. We’re about one behind --we’re operating on CBT1 feedback when CBT2 is in business. We try to pay a lot of attention to the forums; the team’s pretty much required on a daily basis to be pouring through the forums and finding the nitty gritty. We have meeting after meeting to discuss subjective criticism versus objective feedback.

Iteration, for us, is no joke. I think we’re going to have a lot of that. I think that we were able to look at what people were saying and go ‘you know what, they’re saying this. If we take it two steps further we think it’ll play even better.’ And that’s pretty much where we’re at right now. I’m hoping that it’ll catch up, but right now we’re definitely trying to get ahead of where the feedback is.

But it does hold water; it does go in a certain direction, so you can see the way people are talking about it. If they’re talking about, say, shorter battleground times, we can do tests here internally. If 40 is not cutting it, is 30 or 20? How about 15 or even 10? We can start testing that internally with core testers, or even with focus test groups, to see what they’re like before we even get to the next CBT. And that’s just an example.

Have there been any surprise highlights of the beta so far?

I’ll give you one right off the top of my head. We’re working on it now, but it’s going to happen. If you look in the patch notes there’ll be something about challenges and how we lowered their cooldown to 30 minutes. It used to be every 24 hours for most of them, but people liked them and people were playing them; they were like ‘Hey, we want to do this more.’

We put it down to 30 minutes, people were saying that they felt like they were wasting their time because there wasn’t a tied in reward--we moved XP, money and stuff off of it. In this CBT we’ve already decided to pull the 30 minutes down to nothing, so you can just restart them over and over again, and then make a much simpler reward structure so you have way better odds to get the better rewards when you spin the wheel. And that’s coming directly off the forums, which is why it’s ahead of where we are with the patch notes, because we’re three weeks behind as far as that’s concerned.

People liked challenges, but they wanted a better chance of getting loot. Some of the stuff was group oriented and we didn’t message it very well, we took that feedback and we’re redesigning the way it’s presented so people know that those challenges take groups.

It’s one of my favorite systems and I’ve kind of been pushing it from the word go. That’s been a pretty big change from what I thought people would get into, but it’s about the player. If it’s not jiving with the player--I’m not some kind of design genius that knows better than other people that play MMOs. I love MMOs, and I like to play them. I try to do my best with it but, if it makes more sense to do these changes, we’re doing them.

Next Up: Farside, Tradeskill Talents and Rivals on Page 2 ->

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