"WildStar's design intent seems to be to appeal to as wide an audience as possible."
Jeremy Gaffney of Carbine Studios can't be accused of setting his sights low.
"We've been working on our own proprietary engine, tools, an original IP, really all with the 100% goal of making the MMO that is going to take the industry to the next level."
Mr. Gaffney was not but a few minutes into his NCSoft presser for gathered media at E3 2013 before uttering these very words.
"Carbine Studios was founded originally by about 20 senior members of the World of Warcraft team," Gaffney said. "Since then our company has had a mission: we want to go make the biggest MMO out there.
"Lots of people have this goal, so we'll see, but we really love our game. We're in closed beta right now with a couple thousand people having a great time, and we're going to make that bigger and bigger and better."
What Wildstar is attempting to do is extremely ambitious. The sci-fi but cartoony MMO has an art style reminiscent of not just World of Warcraft, but certain Pixar and Dreamworks films. The combat system has the player running around in an environment where both space and time matter. The environments themselves are sometimes out to kill you, with hot zones appearing where the player is standing indicating that a meteor or a stray laser is about to strike. It's all fast paced, whimsical, and undeniably visually appealing.
"What we're trying to do is something big," Gaffney said. "We're trying to combine the accessibility and action of console combat into a deep rich world of an MMO."
These are words we've heard from MMO developers before. But there are actual design decisions and systems that suggest Carbine at least has a different approach to reach that elusive goal.
One of those systems is the path system. Gaffney spent a great deal of time explaining the design philosophy behind this system: in addition to a traditional class, the player chooses a "path" that has to do with the style of game they like to play.
"Your path is all about how you love to play games," Gaffney elaborated. The paths include the Scientist, Explorer, Settler, and Soldier, with different quest options being available based on one's path. Scientists, for example, get points for studying different creatures and fauna. Explorers are encouraged to, er, explore. Soldiers get extra fighting goals.
"People are very strongly opinionated about something in a system they've never seen before in a game," Gaffney said, talking about the path system. "When you do that kind of thing, it means you've tapped into something fundamental that has not been met by the market. It's those kind of things that excite us the most."
The Settler was particularly unique and interesting, and Gaffney spent a good portion of his time talking about and demonstrating the Settler. "Our engine allows us to modify the terrain at runtime, and settlers actually get to do that — they actually get to build up the towns in the games themselves." Settlers can build vendors, quest givers, and other helpful things for other players.
"We love settlers as fans," said Gaffney. "Why? Because they are socializers. Everything they do helps everybody else in the area. They get rewards by helping other players. The more settlers in an area, the more they can build up a town and get higher tiers of things to add."
You don't have to be a settler, though, to take advantage of the runtime terrain modification. The housing system is clearly an area where Wildstar is looking to distinguish itself. "We provide housing for everybody so you get your own piece of the world to modify," Gaffney explained. "Those things devs have to change terrain — we let you do that in your house.
"You can decorate the outside of your house, you can put things on the house, on the ground. And inside, you can place things wherever you want. In your house, you can add your own style of wallpaper, floors, the trim — place whatever types of things you want here."
It's not just cosmetic either. "The better you decorate, the more XP you get in the game," Gaffney added. "Decorating is fun, but it's even more fun when it's part of the progression of your character. It's not just what's inside, it's what's outside. You can modify the terrain, you can have a mine, a farm — we really want you to have a piece of the world.
"This is the deepest housing system we can make. We're trying to integrate as many systems as possible all tying it together."
Gaffney went on to explain that decorating doesn't give you actual experience points, but rather affects rest XP, something MMO players are certainly familiar with and have been a staple of more "casual" MMOs.
Carbine was unable to provide a release date or even an open beta date, mentioning that they had targeted a small closed beta where they expected to get about 20,000 signups but have ended up with close to half a million so far.
The light-hearted nature of the game is certainly evident in the media they've provided so far. The trailer they showed at the start of the press conference went so far as to blow up the actual world the game is supposed to take place in, leading to some confused questions about what planet the demo was taking place on from some and chuckles from the rest.
But at its heart, Wildstar's design intent seems to be to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, which is notable in that it is almost the exact opposite approach of most MMO designs that have managed to be profitable in the US and aren't named World of Warcraft.
"What we're trying to do is make a game that lets you play the way you want to play. If you're excited about exploring, a bunch of the game is about exploring for you. If you're excited about combat, great, you're a soldier; now a bunch of the game is about combat for you.
"Guild Wars in particular did great action combat. Tera did very good feeling, strong hitting action combat. What we want to do is take the lessons learned from how to do good action combat and socialize it. How do you do this in a group? How do you do this for PvP? When you're in a raid, it turns out that when you can see what everybody in your raids is doing, strategy erupts out of it.
"It's about letting people play together in a different way."
With no release date and no financial model yet announced, we'll need to wait and see whether Carbine's inclusive vision pays off — for players, and for NCSoft.