While at PAX West 2017, I had the opportunity to speak with the Creative Director for Intrepid studios, and mastermind behind Ashes of Creation, Steven Sharif. Additionally, I was able to get my hands on the PvE demo for Ashes of Creation, which I’ll discuss in a separate article. Read below for the full Ashes of Creation interview.
Thanks for taking the time to meet with me here at PAX West, Steven. While we’ve been closely following the development of Ashes of Creation on MMOGames, can you give a quick overview of the game for anyone who hasn’t been following along?
Well, we’re here literally less than 3 months out from our Kickstarter, center-stage at PAX with two demos that players can experience. Both the Arena as well as a PvE narrated demo. It was really important for us that we were here and able to engage with our community and show them that the work we’re doing is actually progressing. We’re not your average Kickstarter type game; we’re actually getting stuff done and keeping our schedule.
Ashes of Creation is an MMORPG that’s open world, non-faction based. We’re a fantasy driven story and our biggest mechanic that really influences everything in our world is the node system. Our node system is really the mechanism for building up the world and unlocking certain story arcs and overarching narratives. When players first enter the world it is undeveloped and as they move out into the wilderness there are these nodes that collect experience from all of the players as they’re doing normal MMO things: killing monsters, collecting resources, building homes, doing quests and things like that.
When the node collects this influence it propagates real-time assets as it advances in stages. There are six stages to a node: the NPC stage, the camp, village, town, city, and eventually a metropolis. At every stage it is unlocking new content that is relevant and appropriate for its location. So players really have a choice in driving the narrative and it’s actually meaningful because it will change the type of monsters that could spawn, loot tables that could spawn, the end quest monsters that you’ll see, the services and activities available within the nodes themselves.
We don’t have a global auction house or global warehouse. Instead, players have to actually collect resources and the only way to transit goods between regions is through our caravan system, which creates a dependency on people to work together. As these nodes develops, players can declare a citizenship with one of the nodes. That’s where they’re going to build their home, build their infrastructure, get their progression in the artisan class.
Now, if players don’t like the location of certain nodes (because when a node advances it actually stops its neighboring nodes from advancing as well. Your choice is not just an illusion, you’re cutting off certain story arcs based on what nodes advance) and if players wish to they can destroy the cities that have been built paving the way for new construction and unlocking new storylines. We’re not just using the buzzword of ‘player agency and choice,’ but instead this is truly a ‘choose your own adventure’ with a linear history that’s available on the server and every server is going to have a different history based on how those populations build the world.
The concept behind the node progression system sounds amazing, but is the technology actually available to pull this off?
Absolutely. The funny thing is the technology necessary to accomplish our node mechanics has actually been around for a very long time. You’ll see in certain design blueprints that tags can be used to populate new actors or spawners within the world. All you have to do really is set those tags to certain parameters. A tag will spawn when node in Region A is propagated to the next stage and that will then bring those actors. Once those actors get brought into the server then they’re going to unlock accessibility to other player character mods to utilities those systems, mechanics, whatever is going to be there.
The technology is not difficult, actually. One of the comparative games that people say ‘Oh, EverQuest Next kind of tried this.’ Well, the reality is that EverQuest Next had a major technological issue in the sense that they were attempting to create a fully destructible world using a voxel system. That’s not what we’re doing. We don’t need a fully destructible world. That’s not necessary to create the components allowing players to use their own agency to develop the storyline of the world and kind of choose their own path.
We are really not pioneering any new technological endeavors with our MMORPG. Instead, we’re just rearranging the parts that are already existing to form a more compelling story that players can get involved with.
Without a destructible world, how will players be able to destroy cities built on nodes in order to reset their progress?
It is similar to a traditional siege that you’ve seen in games like Lineage II and Aion. There is a specific mechanic. When you want to prepare a siege, you must first achieve a certain questline that grants you an item that allows you to declare and there’s a certain time window that you must declare within. Once you’ve declared the siege, the citizen have a certain time period to prepare for that siege and then it will commence.
There are specific mechanics with how to bring a city down, such as a flag that may be in the center of the city. You must breach the walls, take quarters by killing NPCs like elite guards that might be there. Then after doing that, you’ll have the opportunity to cast on the flag pole and lower it and put your own up.
Many online games in the past have used variations of the Unreal Engine, but there have been issues delivering smooth, large scale battles. With Ashes of Creation using the Unreal Engine 4 do you foresee any issues with optimization and how many players do you expect the servers to support?
I wouldn’t say that a lot of MMO developers have used Unreal 4. There have been some that have used Unreal 3. A good example of Unreal in the past is Lineage II. It had massive battles. They wrapped that engine in their own netcode. The great thing about Unreal is it grants you access to the source code, so that if there’s anything in there that out of the box it can’t accomplish then you can rip it out and put your own in.
We have a very strong core of engineers who are capable of creating our own netcode, which is what we’re going to do with this. We’re basically taking the back end out of Unreal 4 and substituting our own, leaving the components we need in there, in order to accomplish the mega battles that we intend to have in the game. Our server populations will concurrently run around 7,000 to 8,000 players.
The great thing about Unreal 4 is this: as an out of the box engine it has a lot of tools and components for developers to get up to speed quick and develop a presentation of what their game is going to be like. The other great thing about Unreal 4 is Epic has amazing support for their licensed developers. Additionally, you can take any component you don’t like and change it however you wish.
We are implementing a lot of different levers that players can play with in order to reduce render performance. If they need to for certain battles, they can set default player appearances, reduce graphic textures, they can do all those things that dial down the rendering taxation on their systems.
Do you have a timeline for Ashes of Creation Alpha and Beta testing?
We just announced that our Alpha 0 is scheduled for December 15, 2017. That is our raffle only Alpha that will also grant access to some media and influencers. You cannot purchase into that Alpha. Our Alpha testing is scheduled all throughout 2018, and that is going to be for people who participated in our Kickstarter. We hope for our Beta to begin at the end of 2018 or beginning of 2019.
There has been a lot of emphasis on the world building in Ashes of Creation, but what type of endgame PvE content can players expect?
We have some massive raids. We have a 40-person raid group and some bosses at the end will require two raid groups. We don’t really have what I call an ‘endgame.’ Because the storyline can be constantly changing, there are new experience at those higher levels that people get to participate in.
Not only that but player driven content, which I know a lot of sandboxes in the past have used as an excuse for not having to create as much content, but we’re actually going the opposite route of that. We have to create more content than a normal theme park does because our choices have to be meaningful and not just an illusion. When you have 20 different paths to go, there needs to be content for each one.
For endgame, we have massive battles both player-versus-player and PvE oriented. We’re going to have massive world bosses with legendary drops and huge, open-world raids to go through.
Stay tuned for our PAX West 2017 hands-on coverage of Ashes of Creation. Let us know what you think of Ashes of Creation in the comments below and what aspects of the game have you the most, or least, excited!
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