ZAM talks to Carbine's Hugh Shelton and Chris Lynch
Today Carbine released the latest dev speak video which focuses on the function of aiming in WildStar. To delve deeper into its meaning, I spoke to Hugh Shelton, lead class designer, and Chris Lynch, lead combat designer, on how aiming makes all the difference to WildStar.
To kick off the roundtable, Chris Lynch went into the history of telegraphs and how aiming came to be in WildStar.
Chris: About 2.5 years ago, I’d just inherited the combat team. We had just invented the idea of telegraphs for our game and it was feeling really great on creatures. One of the things we like about telegraphs is it has a simple element, the red decal and it basically says “Hey, the creature is about to hit here, really hard.” It has the same consistent messaging throughout the game. Any time you see a red decal the player learns “I don’t want to be in this,” they learn that very early on.
A couple of months into that, we were working on the classes as well and a couple of the class guys and other members of the combat team came in here and said “We want to try to take telegraphs and put them onto player abilities.” I said, “Sure, let’s try it out.” So they worked over the weekend and came back to me on Monday and showed me a demo. They’d taken the same abilities we have on the Esper and they’d turned all those abilities into telegraphs. It immediately stood out that we could work with this kind of game play, mainly—as the Dev Speaks goes into—because of aiming.
They took Telekenetic Strike [an Esper ability where summoned swords are launched in a straight line] and it used to be a single target ability. They converted that into a line ability, a telegraph. We started to call the system “free-form targeting” and it sent the same spell, the same swords down the line but it damaged everything along the line.
It really changed the dynamic of the spell, before I would fight one creature at a time and I’d just be focused on that one, but as soon as you changed it to an AOE spell with a decal of a line, it instantly changed my behavior as a player.
I would start trying to line up multiple yetis. With a line spell I would start moving my player to exploit it as best as possible, I’d want to get all three of those yetis in a line.
Chris explained how that interaction between enemy telegraphs and player aiming made fluid combat game play that was incredibly intuitive, which anyone who has played a WildStar demo will have experienced.
Hugh explained how things have changed for the class team with the advent of player telegraphs.
We’ve just been pushing the envelope on what player telegraphs look like. We have certain abilities where you’ll deal more damage in different sections of your spell. We’ll have abilities where it hits someone who is closer to you or goes all the way to the end of the line and does damage at the end of the line. We have a lot of flexibility in what our system allows us to do with player telegraphs.
As Chris added, it makes playing the game easy to understand within the game space itself, rather than being reliant on tackling the UI for everything.
The duo then opened up the floor for questions and they were asked if there was any hand-holding for MMO players who weren’t proficient at twitch game play. Chris explained that the current option available to players was “Auto Face Target On Cast,”—when casting a spell, your character turns to face the targeted opponent. Though this is still being tested, and not necessarily going to still be in-game at launch, it is seen as an equivalent to bumpers at a bowling alley: it would point you in the right direction but the better, more accurate shots would come from the free-form aiming system.
They stated that most players turn that option off, due to its limitations, particularly in PvP where the travel time of the spell would often mean that a player would essentially be aiming at where the opponent used to be.
I asked how the role of healing would be affected by aiming. In many MMOs, healing is not the preferred game play style of the majority of players—yes, I’m talking to you, DPS nuts.
WildStar’s heal abilities often have an aiming component—and, by extension, a positioning and movement element. How were the developers balancing making healing a more interesting, interactive role to play while making sure that it wasn’t so challenging that fewer players would want to heal—and cause queue time problems for groups?
Hugh: It’s a fine line to walk. We do have certain targeted abilities still in the game and most of them are on the heal side. It varies on a class-by-class basis. Some of our classes are more focused on the free-form target aspect, so that’s going to mean they’re going to have a bit of a higher skill cap, in that you are moving around, avoiding enemy telegraphs and lining up your own skill shots. So we have different places for players of different skill levels to fit into.
In theory, aiming your heals within the game world at fellow group members makes healing much more exciting and fun. Which, let’s face it, is something that DPS classes have often had the monopoly on. In WildStar, the fun of combat is being combined with the response time and responsibility of healing to make something very interesting. Perhaps even DPS players might consider trying healing.
The concept of MOBA-style skill shots was mentioned in the discussion and the dev duo confirmed that many members of the Carbine team were hardcore League of Legends players, so that kind of game style had certainly been an influence on them.
With so much talk of telegraphs I asked if players could expect abilities that didn’t warn the opposition that they were about to go off. Such as trap-style spells.
Chris: We do have certain abilities, like Stealth Mines, where players of other factions won’t be able to see them because they are stealthed.
Regarding how abilities were dealt with in the game space, it was explained that each telegraph had a set parameter to ensure consistency. Each telegraph would have a set height within which the target would still be hit, to avoid issues with clipping etc.
Chris and Hugh went on to elucidate the way that each ability was balanced through its budget, with factors such as whether players were slowed as it was used, whether it is a ranged or melee ability etc. All abilities are based on that budget; therefore, if ranged abilities are seen as too powerful, it is a straightforward process to adjust their budget.