Vanguard: Nick Parkinson Interview

Vanguard: Saga of Heroes is in Open Beta and on a path to launch at the end of the month. Sigil Online’s Nick Parkinson took the time to answer a few of our questions about the game that people want to know as it marches towards the market.

Vanguard: Saga of Heroes Interview
Answers by Nick Parkinson, Community Manager
Questions by Dana Massey

imageWarCry Network: You’re into the late stages of beta now. How has the process treated you guys and what are some of the changes in the game that came from the beta testers?

Nick Parkinson: The first part of that question might be better answered once we’d had some time to sleep *grin*. That last few months have been a lot of work, but it’s really paying off now. Overall, there’s been things that have worked and things that haven’t. Most things we expected, but there have been a few surprises.

In terms of what the players have affected, their feedback is invaluable for tweaking the difficulty of encounters as well as how each class interacts with each other. There’s always going to be differing viewpoints though, and knowing when to change things and when not to is the real trick.

WarCry Network: Of the issues left to solve, what do you feel is your biggest hurdle between today and the launch of your game?

Nick Parkinson: Performance and server stability are the big ones, as they usually are at this stage in development for any MMO. Some of this stuff you just can’t test properly until you’ve got the kind of numbers that only come with late phases of beta. So there’s still some kinks to be worked out in this area, but we’re not too worried.

imageWarCry Network: You guys have put a lot of effort into the development of non-combat classes. Can you about your diplomacy system as it exists today and what you feel it adds to the game?

Nick Parkinson: diplomacy system in Vanguard allows players to learn the history and legends of the world of Telon, while influencing the game world itself. Political and social changes can be made by groups of determined diplomats, causing benefits for all. An example of this is the ability to make a city a haven for crafters by working to create a number of city buffs that benefit all crafters who work there. Adventurers will gain the advantages of greater hit points, harder hitting spells, and boosts to their run speed through the efforts of players using diplomacy.

As a sphere, diplomacy uses a unique skill system that emphasizes the player’s skill. Through an innovative card game, players will experience the push and pull of a conversation by playing cards such as “Aggressive Statement”, “Truth Be Told”, and even “Cult of Personality.” As your character gains skill in diplomacy, larger rewards await in the form of unique diplomacy gear, upgrades to adventuring gear, and access to some of the places of power on Telon.

imageWarCry Network: How about crafting? What sets you apart from crafting in other MMORPGs?

Nick Parkinson: Crafting in Vanguard is a little different than most MMOs. Crafting recipes are each made up of a different set of actions you have to perform in a particular order. Each of these actions cost and take from a pool that is known as the action pool. The max amount of action points available vary with each recipe. While you are crafting and performing these actions you will have problems arise that can affect many aspects of the process. You can have up to three of these on you at a time and which ones will occur is based on the crafting station you are using, its quality, the recipe and the material you are using. Through experimentation players will be able to discover new recipes and formulas.

As a sphere, crafting will have its own set of classes and levels. Your character will level up and advance within the crafting sphere independent of the other spheres. The combinations of things you can make, even right now, are mind boggling high as well. Literally tens upon tens of thousands of items.

imageYou also don’t have to sit back and make items you can’t even use just to raise your skill any more. We’ve got something called “work orders” which is essentially a crafting quest. You’re given an assignment of things to make, and completion of the work order will yield an additional award.

WarCry Network: There is a small but vocal group of players out there who has been asking for a true thief or rogue class in an MMO for years. What have you done to make your rogue a bit more rogue-like, rather than the traditional MMO stealth-fighter?

Nick Parkinson: Instead of simply being a damage dealer who can also hide and sneak when it suites them, Vanguard rogues rely on their stealth abilities in combat as well. The longer you can manage to stay stealthed in combat the more cool abilities and damage you will be able to do. Striking the right balance between doing damage and remaining unseen isn’t always so simple though and involves a good bit of strategic thinking.

However, for those who like to hearken back to the old days of D&D rogue using things like pickpocket, poisons, magical devices and scribing scrolls should also be a draw.

WarCry Network: You boast highly tactical combat. Can you run us through your combat and what makes it exciting and interesting?

Nick Parkinson: “Easy to learn, hard to master” sums up our concept of combat in Vanguard. .You will have to think about the results you want to achieve in combat, as well as how you’re going to achieve them. You will need to counter and respond to tactics and strategies your opponents might employ.

imageAfter activating your auto attack, you’ve got a bunch of special attacks. Those special attacks can be chained together in different combinations to attain different goals. Some require you to be in a defensive stance, and are primarily concerned with debuffing or maintaining agro, while others require you to be in an offensive stance and are focused with dealing as much damage as possible. If your first couple attacks are successful, you can attempt a finishing move that generally has a more powerful affect.

On top of that there’s the reactionary portion of combat. What the reactions are, for us, is our ability to give players the opportunity to change their tactics while in combat. While I may normally go in to a fight as a cleric and cast my heal a few times and then turn on auto-attack, it’s not that way every time, and in fact no combat will be like that. There are a bunch of things that happen in a normal combat. If you and I were in a group fighting a bunch of undead all sorts of stuff could happen aside from you swinging five times and me swinging six times. NPC do things and we allow you to react to that. The basic reactions are, like I explained earlier – the attack chain, every time you execute an ability that can be chained you’ll be notified – you’ll hear a chain sound and your buttons will indicate which abilities can now go.

A good example of a reaction in work would be for those players who are Warriors. Warriors have a set of reactions called rescues. Rescues allow you to protect your defensive target. We have an offensive target (which is your traditional targeting method of all the other games) and you also have a defensive target. So a Cleric can have the NPC that you’re fighting as the offensive target and your tank as the defensive target. That allows you to get off your heals while still fighting. It also allows the warrior to get reactions for the defensive target. The defensive target for a Warrior is the Cleric. In our group the Cleric is getting beat on by one of the NPCs. If I enough perception (based on intelligence and skill) then I will receive a reaction to that and I can use an ability and take all the damage that my defensive target would have taken allowing me to force the NPC to switch.
As a player you’ll have to decide whether to keep going in the chain you’ve already begun, to act on the reaction or to start a completely new chain. It sounds simple, and it is pretty easy to pick up, but as I said earlier – mastering it isn’t quite as easy.

imageWarCry Network: Deserved or not, Vanguard seems to have developed a reputation as a hardcore MMORPG. Do you think that’s fair and how do you feel you appeal to hardcore, casual and even new players?

Nick Parkinson: I think one of the primary reasons for that thought is because Vanguard is primarily a group centric game. However, that’s not to the complete exclusion of solo play. We do actually have quite a bit of solo content – not as much as group geared content, but enough to make sure there’s something meaningful to do for those who may not have the time or desire to find a group on any given night. That said, the best rewards are always going to be gained through working together with your fellow players in one way or another.

Is the hardcore description fair? Well, we’ve never advertised ourselves as a hardcore game and I’ve had people ask me essentially the same question, only flipped, “why are you such a casual game?” The truth lies somewhere in the middle. “Hardcore” and “Casual” mean so many different things to so many different people. Our target audience is what we call the “core” gamer. It’s the person who plays a few hours a night and maybe a bit longer on weekends.

WarCry Network: In that vein, Vanguard also seems to have a serious reputation. Potential competitors like Warhammer Online have done a good job of showing how they take themselves less than seriously. Are there any laughs to be had in Vanguard?

Nick Parkinson: There’s a common misconception out there that high fantasy automatically equals low personality. That misconception doesn’t just apply to Vanguard, and it’s hard to say where it started but you can rest assured you won’t be walking through Telon all solemn faced all the time. Fortunately, I think anyone who has had occasion to visit our community page or run around any number of areas in the game (Mekalia being my personal favourite) would agree.

imageWarCry Network: What has the transition from Microsoft to SOE as a publisher meant to the development of Vanguard?

Nick Parkinson: It has meant that we are working with a company who is very experienced in MMOs. When we need something, be it something technical or something for marketing they know what we’re talking about and they’re on it. Being able to work with folks who have that experience is invaluable.

Also, for what we need they’re really the best at, plain and simple. As our co-publisher, SOE will be handling distribution, data center operations (hosting the game, etc), technical (not in-game) support and will be helping us a lot with marketing. All areas where SOE really shines.

Not to mention, logistically it makes a lot of things easier as well. They’re just down the road from us here in San Diego and many of us have worked with them before, so we’re already familiar with one another.

WarCry Network: As you come to the verge of launch do you have any predictions for the commercial success of your game?

Nick Parkinson: The market has grown a lot in the last few years, more people are playing online games now than ever before. We’re proud of Vanguard, so we’re pretty optimistic. Number-wise though, I couldn’t say.

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