Massively multiplayer games used to be about creating a single character, repeatedly beating up goblins until you gained an experience level, and then going out to beat up slightly larger goblins in a huge, persistent world. They've grown and changed considerably in the past years. NCsoft's Aion will attempt to take massively multiplayer games straight up--to the sky. This unusual fantasy game will let you create a character from one of two races that, at a certain experience level, can sprout wings and fly. And at an even higher experience level, your character will be ready for the game's high-end competitive player-versus-player (PvP) battles. We sat down with community manager Lani Blazier for the details.
GameSpot: Give us an update on the game's development and localization. What's being worked on at present?
LB: Work on the game is progressing very well. Since Aion's gameplay mechanics were originally developed for a global appeal, we've been able to spend a lot of time focusing on significant localization. And by localization, I don't mean just the text--stories, culture, fables, and even inside cultural jokes all need to be considered and rewritten for the Western audience. It's for that reason we have a team of highly skilled published fantasy writers working on Aion's story. Effectively, they are culturalizing the game. We really want to make sure that Aion is relevant and meaningful to Western players, so it's important to us that we launch this game with localization that is on the same exceedingly high level of quality as the game itself.
GS: We understand that the actual combat system in Aion has been designed to be more engaging by letting characters juggle their opponents in the air, and also by including onscreen icons next to your character to initiate chain attacks (rather than requiring players to stop, look down at their keyboards, and hunt down another keyboard shortcut). What are some of the other changes that Aion makes to the kind of standard turn-based combat we expect from games like this? What do you hope the overall combat experience will be like?
LB: Certainly flight adds an entirely new dynamic to our combat system. For one thing, it isn't just a way to travel; it is very much a strategic and integral part of gameplay. You can also fight while flying, keeping in mind that there are a few factors that players will have to be very much aware of: flight time, speed, and the environment around you. There are both PvP and PvE skills that affect flight duration and speed--some skills will even knock you down from the sky.
We also wanted to reward those players that move around during combat, which is why we created the "positional combat system." If players move forward, points are added to their attack stats; backward [movement] adds to [their blocking ability], and moving from side to side adds to players' dodge points.
Flight and our positional combat system are just two examples of the mechanics we have in place to make combat a really fun and exciting part of the game.
GS: To what extent is the game being rebalanced and retuned for a North American launch? The original version of the game was released to an audience that might be more used to a steep experience-level curve where players need to sink many hours into the game to get ahead. How is the game being returned? Are fights shorter? Gentler level curve? Lower level requirements?
LB: The core gameplay itself has not been rebalanced for the Western audience, mainly because there was no need to. From the drawing board, Aion was designed to appeal to a global audience--the development team looked closely at games from all across the world and did extensive research on what worked and what didn't. What they decided to do was combine the epic beauty and intricate details of Asian games with the deep storytelling, quest-based systems familiar to Western MMOs. So to answer your question, the leveling curve is very similar to what Western audiences are familiar with.
GS:How has the focus of high-end player-versus-player been shifted? Will the extremely high-end content, like Abyss battles, be more accessible to average players, and if so, how, if at all, is this high-end content being tweaked for the higher traffic?
LB: The Abyss will be accessible to players level 25 and above. While it will involve a lot of end-game content, such as fortress sieges, raids, and epic Abyss battles, the fact that players level 25 and above will have access to it will ensure that there will be a wide range of levels roaming about.
The Abyss is essentially the heart of player-versus-player-versus-environment (PvPvE). We didn't want players to pick a path in our game by choosing a route between PvP and PvE; as a result, both styles have been intertwined in order to encourage players to participate in both and be rewarded for both. Players will need to prepare for both PvE and PvP when laying siege to fortresses, fighting for artifacts, and for general exploration and hunting. The Balaur (the PvE faction) will act on its own accord and provide a challenging and often surprising adversary in a PvP engagement. Or a legion can take on just the Balaur in a giant PvE raid.
Players will also be able to earn Abyss points (the core reward behind PvPvE) from participating in both PvP and PvE. The points a player earns can be spent on gear and consumables, but some points can also be lost when you die. The continuous gain and loss of Abyss points will keep players participating and not just sitting on rank or gear once they reach the top.
We really believe that PvPvE creates a new dynamic in the genre and that players are going to find a wide variety of exciting things to do.
GS: We understand that although players can start with a basic character class, they can eventually move on to one of two more-specialized professions. What are the primary roles that these professions can play? What characters are needed to put together a well-balanced war party?
LB: There are a wide variety of roles that these professions can play. Players can choose to use them in more traditional roles, such as a gladiator as a main damage dealer or tank, and a priest as a typical healer. When you use these together, you can form a very traditional group of damage dealers (melee), ranged attackers (scouts and mages), and support members (healers and buffers). However, with Aion's "stigma stone" system, players can also choose to break those traditional roles and customize their character for whatever the group needs are. If you have a group of players with no healer, then a player can locate and equip a group heal stigma stone. If you have a group of melee characters and need a ranged attacker, you can have one of the characters equip a ranged magic stigma stone. With the stigma stone system, we allow players to adapt to whatever situation they are in, and they can choose for themselves what role their characters play in a group--traditional or otherwise.
GS: We understand that thousands of quests are being added to the game to provide a deeper player-versus-environment experience. Tell us about these quests and what's being done to make them interesting.
LB: There are two types of quests in the game: campaign and standard quests. Campaign quests are tied in with the main storyline, whereas standard quests are more specific to a certain region and are used to complement the main story arc.
The developers have worked incredibly hard to make Aion a deep, quest-friendly game--which is why we are launching with more than 1,500 quests, all of which have plenty of solo content. Some quests will obviously be more challenging than others, and grouping could help accomplish it more easily, but there is plenty of action for both solo and grouped players.
GS: Finally, is there anything else you'd like to add about Aion?
LB: We'd like to encourage those who are interested in Aion to keep checking our Web site for updates. Our community is growing every day, and we have a lot planned for the months leading up to launch! Stay tuned!