7/08/20 Jahlon Interview Transcript

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July 8th Jahlon Interview Transcript

– Steven joins Jahlon for his annual interview, covering a vast majority of questions relating to MMORPG development.

Unlike other transcripts which are shortened, we’ve kept the majority of this one ‘as is’ due to it being an interview. However we’d strongly recommend that you watch the interview instead to support the content creator.

J: I just wanna say – it’s great to have you back again after a year, I do appreciate it. I know doing a show with Jahlon might be like taking a little test, like a little worry.
S: No, I think that usually for me there are so many moving parts to an MMO, especially that of Ashes, and part of my job is to make sure I know every moving part. That sometimes can be a little difficult when pulling up parts that maybe have either been already developed, and I have not touched them in a while, or haven’t been spoken about for a considerable amount of time. I noticed that on the last stream I made a couple of mistakes, I am human, I went back to rectify; but usually what that stems from is that I don’t pre-screen questions – they come as they are and I access my databanks in my mind in real time in that regard. So for today I did request last week that you forward the questions so that I can make sure that I, if I need to reference stuff, have that available.

J: Yeah. And I think after that last stream, you had made a couple of mistakes; and you and I spoke right away and you were able to have that light bulb turn over your head and you were able to go like “Wait, what did I do?”. And you’re probably the most down to earth developer, ’cause I’m following all the games in development and you’re here hanging out with a small content creator, talking about stuff. We had that real quick meeting, and it shows that you’re not pre-screening those questions, even though I know you’re beating yourself up about the last time. So we’re not just cherry picking out the easy ones, you’re getting to the batter’s box and you’re taking the hard balls.
S: Yeah, and we’re not the only studio that is this way, I don’t think. There’s a benefit to having someone who’s controlling the company and the project and them also being passionately a gamer. <…> I mean, AoC right now is my life. That is 100% of what I do pretty much every day in and out. So when you’re passionate about something and it’s the only thing you ever do for these past years, it’s no skin off my back to jump on and talk about things. I love talking about Ashes. And with regards to the content creators standpoint, we haven’t really done any marketing for Ashes. Everything that we have cultivated from a community standpoint has really been a result of the community spreading the word; we haven’t entered that marketing phase. We provide regular updates and whatnot and it’s always exciting to get the feedback from the community. Engaging with the smaller content creators now, that I wouldn’t say so much small, I mean you’ve grown overtime in your coverage with Ashes and I think that’s great. It’s wonderful to leverage the community in such a way that you can produce quality content and I’ve seen your content grow to a good quality standpoint, which I think is awesome. But my ideal interaction is to be able to interact with everybody whether they be big, small, or whatever, it doesn’t matter to me. I’m watching everything I possibly can and any content that gets created.

J: And a lot of people don’t know this about you, but you do watch all the content. You’ve found stuff. Like, I know a lot of people from other projects I work with watch the first couple of minutes of my videos and they’re like “Ok, it looks good”, but you have plucked math errors out of minute 18 and I’m like “Wait, what”. So yeah, I want the audience to know that you do watch as much as you can.
S: Yeah, well, usually that type of responsibility for most companies gets delegated to marketing teams, which then are responsible for that. And we have a great marketing team, we have a great community team; <…> my position on what you just described, I think, it’s important to keep the pulse of the community. And the best marketing person is the one that understands its audience; and in order to understand your audience you have to be intimately involved with the opinions and content that they create. That obviously brings up a separate point of not allowing the minority loud voices to dictate the direction we’re taking and that’s not my intent, but rather just to make sure that every possible opinion that’s had, whether it be from smaller communities or larger voices, they have an opportunity to reach my ears and eyes. And then that’s where I get discerning of how to essentially interpret those positions and opinions.

J: So you guys have just put this up this morning your time. The cosmetics have gotten so much better over the years that we have been following them monthly. Margaret had mentioned she has been doing the concept designs for a while, not the art, but the description of the direction…
S: Yeah, I think she’s done a great job. Usually what that process entails is some brainstorming sessions that happen between designers and Margaret and other people. We kind of put ideas for themes on the board for months going forward that kind of adhere to the categories that are established for production. And then Margaret really takes those brainstorm ideas and starts referencing different arts and ideas on the types of creatures or caravans, or buildings that adhere to the theme of that month. And then she goes back and forth between all the artists and I kind of take a final look and approval, and we spit those out. And I think they’ve been doing a great job. I kind of think of it as a TV show. You know the first season in most TV shows are kind of a little interesting and weird. I know this especially with Star Trek, but it’s kind of like a recurring theme for each type of Star Trek series that the first season is funny. I think that’s similar in production and concept where a lot of the artists and ideas, and guidelines are getting kind of established and as it moves forward it continues to get better and better and I think that’s been demonstrated with these concept pieces and the art there.

J: So it’s been 5 long years for you. I’ve watched you kind of get tired, the same way you watch a president get tired, because Intrepid was founded in 2015 and then development on Ashes has really been going full-court press since Kickstarter.
S: Yeah, I would say Kickstarter is when it really started to ramp up. May of 2015 we started the company, but we didn’t hire our first group of people until about December of 2015. So the actual pre-production and planning started at about the first of 2016, and about until up to May of 2017 we got up to 13-14 people just kind of establishing the base stuff. But from Kickstarter days to today, yes, that’s where production really started kicking up like crazy. So about 3 years now of major production stuff. And as we move forward to the next Alphas and Betas, it just continues to ramp up because we haven’t even hit our peak yet.

J: I want to make sure that everybody knows the staff page at intrepidstudios.com used to show everybody and you guys have deliberately chopped that down to just Team Leads and top people.
S: Yeah, I was asked about it a week ago and I gave approval for it. Essentially, <…> It’s a very competitive market out there. Not just for headhunters that try to poach from studios that are doing things, that get on the radar of other studios. I believe Ashes, even though we haven’t entered marketing phases, is pretty well known in the MMORPG space as an anticipated project and we have a lot of eyes on us. So when I take off my community hat and I put on my business hat, we have to take certain safeguards in order to mitigate the potential for larger companies like Amazon or whoever to take notice of what we’re doing and to take interest in our team. That’s the reality of business. There’s concerns on that front, so you don’t really find a lot of studios that post all of their developers, especially of studios of our size and the size we’re moving into. So the decision was made that it’s best to try to mitigate that potential.

J: Yeah, I just wanted to make sure everyone understood that, because I didn’t want anybody to go to the website and say “Omg, they’ve pulled a <…> studio and they’ve just cut down to 11 people”. You still have a robust team. There was a conscious decision there; it’s not a web-page error and it’s not that you’ve shrunk – you’ve just deliberately moved towards maturing a bit as a company.
S: Yeah, I think there are different stages of which companies obviously exist, not just in this industry, but across the board. And as you begin to move to over 50-70 in-house people, you’re starting to enter the middle realm of a company size, especially for game development and projects. Now once we start entering our full goal of having 150 in-house and having another 150 that are outsourced or contracted, that’s when we’re kind of playing with the Big Boys. Intrepid started out as an independent studio and in the sheer sense of terminology, I suppose we’re still an independent studio in that regard, but the product we’re producing is a Triple-A product in budget. That’s going to attract a lot of interest from other teams that have an opportunity to gain insight. Like I’ve always said: a transparent development is a double edged sword – there’s a lot of things that are positive and a lot of things that are negative. One of the negative things is that speed-to-market is a very important aspect of a project and there’s a reason why many games in development do not showcase their active designs and their active staff, and timelines, and a lot of different things. The reason why they don’t do this is because you have to be cognisant of that competitive market. So we try to show as much as we can in order to benefit from the good side of the sword, while trying to also mitigate the bad side.

J: Yeah, unfortunately, intrepid is stocked by lots of people in your community. Last April we had about 60 people in San Diego. When the pandemic eases off and everybody can get into the new Studio, how many people ball-parked do you have ready to report to work in September?
S: I think in the September time-frame we’re probably going to be staffed up to around 70, and that doesn’t include our independent contractors, as well as our contracted companies. But I think in-house, once we have the ability to ramp up the additional hiring phases, as we’ve been promoting on social media. Which by the way, everybody out there who is watching who helps us repost and follows us, all of that helps us recruit, so by all means continue to do so and if you haven’t done thus far, please take an interest in potentially doing that. But the goal is to very quickly ramp up on the production size. I’m not going to give up specific growth numbers, but the aim is in September we’re up to around, maybe a little bit over, 70 in-house.

J: And speaking of that new Studio, last time you were here, you had horrible luck trying to move out of your old Studio and get into your new one. And you finally did it. I felt sad when you posted that video of you talking in that Studio and you could see all the empty desks. How is it for you, as a leader, being the last person out – leaving your first home?
S: It was a surreal moment. You spend 5 years at a place and a lot of memories get made during that time. There were definitely some fun, super late nights; ordering food for the developers, who were staying late; we were there sometimes til 2-3 in the morning. It definitely creates that brotherhood type feeling with your fellow developers and team and the surreal moment comes when that tangible place now is in the past and there’s a future ahead of us. So I think it’s just a nice moment that you pause and reflect on the time that you spent with your team at a certain location. There’s nothing truly unique about the location itself, but it is a place where those memories were made.

J: Have you done your Captain Picard of the enterprise E, your walk around at the new Studio now? Have you soaked in the new Studio like “Wow, my dream is now solid reality”?
S: Not yet, that probably won’t take place until around the middle of August. Our goal, unfortunately, is looking more and more like it’s going to have to be adjusted. The current situation in the US, with the spike with Covid-19, has rolled back some of the re-openings. We’re not an essential business that requires people to be on site, per-se; as a matter of fact, we’ve had some productive uptick in working from home with that regard, regardless of the on-boarding process of the actual development. So, no, I haven’t had the opportunity yet, but I like your reference. It is sort of like Captain Picard, I remember a specific episode in Next Generation from Star Trek, The Best of Both Worlds episode, where before they go into battle he walks around the ship. That was how I kind of felt like at the Studio when I was leaving, even though John and Zim(?) did literally almost all of the moving work and I came in there for the final day, and just did one final walk-through, and went into battle.

J: Moving into the Servers for Alpha 1, you’ve announced there will be EU servers for A1 housed in Germany.
S: Yes, the servers are located in Frankfurt for A1.

J: Some people didn’t believe the NA plan, because those prime-time events are so time sensitive. You played Archeage and being a West coaster, you were doing the prime-time events at 2 o’clock in the afternoon because they were all geared for 5 o’clock East Coast. You originally said NA was going to have multiple regions so that the prime-time window varied. Is that still the case?
S: Yeah. One thing I think is beneficial for server selection is that servers have prime-time descriptions next to the server names. West Coast and East Coast times obviously are significant differentiators between the ability of players to participate in these events. So if we’re able to essentially timestamp servers, as either being primarily West or East Coast for at least US or NA, I think that’s beneficial. And then partition them accordingly. Now people can obviously still choose whatever server they want, but I think that’s beneficial.

J: Yeah, definitely, because you don’t want people pulling an Eve Online, sieging Nodes at 2 o’clock in the morning. You want that to be respectful of prime-time.
S: Yeah. So the mechanics that revolve around player instigated events, those adhere to the server prime-time rules. So when players have an opportunity to initiate a Siege against a Node, which is one of the primary player agency type decisions about timing, there’s a window that’s respective of server time for the region. And players must declare that siege within that window. Now there’s going to be some variable there, it’s not going to be “Hey, you can only declare this Siege and it occurs at 7 o’clock Eastern time” or something, instead, it’s probably going to be between 4 and 9 and they can place any time at that point.

J: Right. A window. But you’re not going to be getting up at 2 o’clock in the morning to defend your Node?
S: Correct.

J: About OCE and SEA. You are cognisant that there’s a big Australian population, you’re just not at the stage where you can make specific statements about that region. You haven’t forgotten them, but you just can’t give them a definitive of where the servers are going to be yet…
S: There are definitely going to be OCE / SEA servers. Now whether or not those servers will be located in Singapore or in Melbourne, that’s a decision that has yet to be made. But the Australian player-base are not going to have to connect to a West Coast server in order to play the game. They will have a SEA or OCE server that they can connect to.

J: Let’s talk about my.com games for a minute. This is probably the one area that people are the most unhappy about, specifically the cosmetic purchases. Now you and I have talked about it, but viewers don’t know this; my.com games people want to know if there is a plan whether they will be able to buy monthly cosmetics. And that’s kind of towards when these cosmetics are on sale on July 15. The NA Intrepid account holders have a month to decide if they want them. If we don’t buy them in that month – they’re gone forever. But how are the EU players gonna ever be able to buy individual cosmetics?
S: So we have a few ideas on how to approach that best. I’m not going to elaborate at this time on those ideas because I don’t want to give false hope if those decisions don’t get approved; we haven’t had a full discussion on how to approach that yet. There is going to be an answer to it, it is something that will be available at some point, <…> it’s just going to take a little bit of patience. It’s a relationship that we’re continuing to cultivate and we are understanding that not everything is going to be perfect at the first go-round, but it has always been our objective to make sure there is an appropriate method or means by which these types of things get solved.

J: Is Intrepid gonna make sure that NA players, Intrepid account holders, can’t port to my.com games, back-purchase old cosmetics and then come back to NA?
S: Any type of solution will incorporate a validation of the accounts eligibility. So that would not be a feasible mechanic.

J: Working with Margaret and Toast, and I’m sure it came past your desk, those first months where the database migrated, you guys did an excellent job of validating. I’ve seen people try to make a purchase from those December 2018 – January 2019 cosmetics, wanting to buy them and then they try later and realize they’re not eligible. You guys successfully did that once, so it’s good to hear you have a plan.
S: Absolutely. Part of establishing the initial infrastructure of the account database in systems is ensuring that all types of metrics that we have available to us in order to service customer service requests or to backdate and fix certain account related issues, that information is available to us and we can always query the database in order to facilitate that approval process. So there is no concern there in that front. It is really more along the lines of a business decision to ensure that we’re fair in our approach on how we accommodate either mishaps or things that need to be accounted for that weren’t developed at the time.

J: Is the Referral System going to be only for NA or my.com, or too early to know how that’s going to work for the EU community, given the EU law?
S: So the Referral System, minus the cash portion of it, will for sure be available through my.com games. The cash I don’t have an answer yet for the EU residents. That’s something that needs to be determined from a legal standpoint. If you’re Intrepid and you have participated in the program then all features will be available, regardless of whether or not you’re an EU citizen, because that’s still Intrepid. We have yet to come to an announceable guideline for the community on my.com games site.

J: The old Referral System gave you a lot more information. It showed what your people were purchasing, how much you were owed. And then you guys re-did your whole back-end on your web-page 3 years in. Switch places with me for a second: you’re selling my dream, you’re out there making content, you’re hustling and you have no idea. I know how much I was owed a couple years ago and I have no idea now. So I know you guys are trying to hire a web developer. When are we going to get a full update?
S: So, first of all, I understand the dilemma of not having as much insight to the metrics that the old system had. From an information standpoint, everything is there. From the ability to continue to use and accrue referrals and track expenditure – that’s all still present. It’s just not displayed currently. Secondly, with regards to development and exposing that type of dashboard functionality and additional information to the referral person, there’s a lot of stuff that is on the plate of the platform from the development standpoint. And, like all companies, we have people that come and go; I’ve had to let people go. That can interrupt a little bit of the schedule, especially on the platform side. So we’re in the process of attempting to continue to hire additional platform team members and that is a very competitive market from a hiring standpoint because those individuals are not game-specific, not gameplay coders. They are platform engineers and they are applicable across the spectrum, whether it be Facebook, Google, Amazon, etc. We’re a very competitive environment in that regard. So it’s a little bit more of a process to onboard and to recruit those individuals, which then delays the functionality and, unfortunately, the referral program takes a significant backseat, as well as even the Exola(? 00:32:30) changes. Those take significant backseats to the game related account services, the CS tool services, the server instances and architectures, and setup of our microservices, the Kubernetes work and the Akka that needs to be completed. All of those things take priority over the community facing stuff; though that’s not because the community takes a backseat, but it’s because the focus has to be on the game development. I try to continue to give updates on that. We’re still trying to work towards that, trying to onboard additional people that can help with those types of backseated tasks, but right now it’s going to require some patience.

J: You played Archeage and you seemed to be very passionate about making a housing system that works.
S: Yeah, I’m very passionate about the housing system. I think it’s a very significant backbone of how not only players get to enjoy their time within a game, AoC, but also is a complimentary piece, a progression to certain economic / crafting oriented systems of a game.

J: When it comes to in-node housing, is there going to be an artificial system driven cap on the real estate or is it just a free-market economy, where you can sell your house for whatever you wanna sell it for?
S: There’s no cap in player originated sales. Those are determined by supply and demand within a game. There’s no artificial barrier to how high that demand can go.

J: The housing that was shown last month was worth the wait and so many people were excited that the in-node houses have gardens. What else can you do in an in-node house? Because at some point you talked about taverns, shops… but they aren’t tied to the in-node housing, are they?
S: No, the taverns and the shops are not tied to in-node housing. There are Freehold related businesses that can be established, but each of the different types of housing have certain benefits that are granted to the owners and additional benefits that get granted to those owners who are citizens of the Node as well. Essentially, as we get further down the road to getting closer to Beta and whatnot, there will be some in-depth blogs that kind of showcase some of that stuff. Obviously, my intent always is not to reveal everything, so we kind of just give a tip of the iceberg tease of some of these systems without spoiling some of the discovery and surprise of what the MMO launch is.

J: That’s hard for my style of content creation. I got so many questions that were so much further in the weeds that I would go and I’ve responded to people “He’s not gonna tell us that”.
S: Think about it like this… you follow a lot of games and I think if you compare just over these 3 short years, that we have been interacting on the community front, and you go and take a look at, lets say, Wikipedia, like the one that Lex has so graciously been a part of creating, there is an absolute shit ton of information. I don’t think we’ve been short in providing design, mechanics and essentially content creator material, but we do have to be cognisant on revealing too much. And going back to that competing market idea as well, outside of just spoiling the surprise and discovery of our fans, I think that many of us have seen recently some games, that need not be mentioned, have taken a loot at our designs and have implemented them.

J: One thing people were upset about was the Node changes. It’s architectural style, based on the race that contributes the most exp. And then there’s a lot of other systems to make sure we don’t end up with 100% Vek-Ork dynamics. You’re already going to be doing the toggle to stop your house from growing when the Node grows; you can keep a cottage, if you buy a cottage, and then the Node goes from stage 3 to stage 4, you can lock in to stay a cottage. You don’t have to upgrade to the next bigger size. People have been asking whether you’ve put any thought into allowing the person to lock their racial style? E.g. If I buy a cottage in a Vek Node and then it goes into dirty Elves, can I lock my architectural style to stay a Vek cottage?
S: No. The reason for that comes from two points. First: from an aesthetic standpoint. We want the cultural identity of Nodes to be fairly consistent from a visual standpoint. And there is such a shift in the visual presentation of one culture vs another, from an architectural standpoint, that it really would present a sore thumb in the overall appearance of the Node. <…> And then additionally, there’s something to be said about our philosophy on game design as risk vs reward. Well, one of the motivating factors for a homeowner to participate in the advancement of that Node and do a significant amount of questing for the Node so they can assist in presenting what they want to, players should have that agency, and as a community you may be outnumbered from a specific race. I think that’s part of the paradigm of what agency has. It has to have a result, it has to have a consequence or reward, based on your perspective.

J: You can’t change the windows and walls in your house, you’re just decorating them, right?
S: Structurally – no. You won’t be able to structurally change the location of those windows or walls. You’ll be decorating the layout that is predetermined by the building itself.

J: Will there be exterior decorations on the exterior walls or garden gnomes, or are you keeping to only interior decoration?
S: Different types of items, decor items have flags on them where the appropriate placement can be. You won’t be able to place a painting on the floor or put a chair on the roof. There will be garden / property / deck / patio related furniture and furnishings that can be placed. You used an example of a garden gnome – absolutely, there are little statues that can be put out in the yard. The property line itself is encompassing not just the actual house, at least if we’re talking about in-node housing. It’s not contained to the house, per se, but there actually is a plot there where the player has the ability to affect the landscape to place down specific items that are flagged for those locations.

J: For the pre-decoration of houses, is that going to be on par for what you’ve shown in the last months video, or are you going to take player feedback on just how much pre-decoration you’re gonna get?
S: One of the things that I would love to see, and I believe this is part of the design of the in-node housing, and the apartments as well, is the different sizes and / or qualities of either the apartment housing or the in-node housing will determine the applicable pre-furnished types of furnishing. You could choose the purchasing of the house to upgrade the furnished set that the house comes with at a cost and then that cost obviously lends itself to the taxes of the town and augments its treasury. 

J: That’s going to make a lot of people happy, because some people were upset at how much furniture you were showing.
S: To be clear, those furnishing are almost entirely visual and aesthetic. The furnishings that grant in-game functionality and / or augment in-game mechanics, those are restricted almost entirely to the carpentry profession that creates these furnishings.

J: Could we get a teaser of what sort of bonuses we could expect from the carpentry profession?
S: One example: let’s say you’re a cook and you’re utilizing a crafting station to create recipes of meals that you want to either sell to other players or use yourself in order to grant you a temporary buff. One of the types of furnishings that might interact with the cooking profession, would be a specific type of graded stove top or a cooking facility. You could take a finished product, like a tenderloin meal, or something you’ve caught in the ocean, and you could eat that for it’s normal buff; but based off the quality and grade of the constructed cooking equipment that you would place in your home, you could take those meals up to a certain amount, based on the quality of the furniture. You can place it to be processed within that piece of furniture and, when you receive the item, there will be a freshness period on that food that if you use it while it is fresh it will give you an augmented benefit that is higher and better. Maybe it gives you additional stats or additional time period, or you can kind of focus on what some of these items will do.

J: Some people are convinced that Freeholds get bigger as they level up. I am pretty certain that the Freehold size is static and that by leveling up, your tavern would grow from a level 1 to a level 2 tavern, not that your Freehold would double in size.
S: The footprint of the land that is granted through the Freeholds system doesn’t change. There has been some thought on the design side about the Guild Hall related Freeholds that guilds can achieve at a certain level; and whether or not those might have expansion related components for ancillary buildings that augment the guild benefits for the Guild Hall. We haven’t decided on that direction, so I wouldn’t say that’s a thing yet. But the personal Freeholds don’t change in their size from a land standpoint. Now, the building development, those footprints are also maintained within the Freehold plot. So you lay down a blueprint, it’s not going to change in size, however, as it upgrades, you’re going to see changes occur to the building to kind of reflect that higher level building. You may see in certain cases the verticality of the building changes a little bit: it may grow taller, add an additional story. The general silhouette of the building will change, but not the footprint of the building on the property.

J: Could you use 100% of your Freehold footprint to build a mansion out in the wild?
S: No, you won’t be able to have a 100% of it to build a mansion. There’s definitely going to be variable sizes of the home building that you’re discussing: from small, to medium, to large, to mansion size; but at most, I believe, the goal there is probably to achieve 50% usage with the mansion of the Freehold size. And then beyond that you’re going to be able to utilize that space for all of the other mechanics.

J: You flipped your position on User Created Images. And you played Archeage with lots of inappropriate stuff. What’s going to happen to your account if you upload something that is vulgar or offensive with your UCC’s?
S: Well, there is that risk. And being on the internet, you’re going to see that kind of stuff happen. The benefit of the direction that I’m taking Intrepid as a company in is that a significant portion of the revenue created by the game goes into not only creating additional content and updates for the game, but also goes into, I think, caretaking, as I like to call it. And that caretaking is multiple things: it’s having active and present GM’s on servers, it’s having an interacting community team that is always present and on call for participating in forum discussions, and streams, and updates and stuff. And with regards to this UCC question, I think if you have an active GM team that you have directed to caretake the product, you’re going to mitigate a lot of that functionality you don’t want to see in this Custom Image system. People who look to “meme the system” are going to be met with the type of enforcement that they’re not going to want to have on their account. And being a subscription based product, and being a risk vs reward, and maybe a bit more of an old-school approach to character development and progression, I think they’re going to take a significant risk in doing things that we don’t want them to do, which will result in a jeopardy in their account. So I think that is not going to deter 100% of things. I don’t think you can ever deter 100% things, unless we go away from Custom Images, but I think that we can achieve some parody of enforcement vs infraction ratio that’s going to be livable for everybody. 

J: What happens if you buy gold?
S: I think that following a standard approach to an escalation system, where certain infractions are immediate, and automatic bans and some infractions provide a path forward where action is taken that might ban the account or strip the account, or provide some chat bans, or the ability to play over a week or so, those types have some pretty standardised escalatory plan which we’re going to incorporate. So if you buy gold, depending on the seriousness of the infraction, you could go anywhere from being stripped, to being banned for a period of time, to being permanently banned. 

J: Divine and Military Node blogs. You kind of left us hanging. What happened there?
S: So I think back when we were doing those blogs, the Divine and Military mechanics were in an active design discussion point where there was a potential for it to go in a few different ways, which it did. They will be released in the future, at some point, but I want to make sure as we release blogs, even though there’s always a subject to change during this period in development, that they’re pretty footed in their application and implementation. 

J: You mentioned on Discord that the Military Node election system kind of changed because you’re not balancing PvP for 1v1, but more for group play. There will be some classes that would struggle to be the mayor of a Military Node if they had to compete as their class, so you talked about a Champion system.
S: On the Military Node front, I believe it was Akil who had brought up the Champion system, and for me, in the games I played with gladiator arenas, there are many different approaches that games have taken to try and curtail the problem of 1v1 balancing, as you just described. They have equalization where your gear doesn’t count, or where you’re categorized only against your fellow class, or a lot of different things there. It was difficult to solve a problem that’s been present since day 1 with those types of systems where a lot of people have already tried, so I really liked the idea of the Champion. That has to go through testing and whatnot, but essentially what that system was, upon citizenship of a Military Node, you gain a Champion and you kit that Champion out, and you gear him out based on progression with certain systems; whether that be quest related, whether it be a combat pet that’s out while you’re leveling. And when the arena system begins your Champion faces other Champions where you control that Champion. That’s the next direction, at least on the electoral method of the Military Node system. That just gives you an example of kind of how designs get changed as they’re further flushed out.

J: Stalls, shops, markets, marketplaces. Do all Nodes have player stalls or a way for players to sell goods?
S: All Nodes do have the ability to spawn player stalls. If you’re not an Economic Node, and you don’t have a market that’s your unique building, then you can construct a marketplace and that marketplace will then come with certain services and a certain number of stalls. The Economic Node has the ability to construct an auction house and it serves through economic means, with the ability to list and sell items. That comes with additional stalls for the players as well.

J: Economic Nodes get the unique building that starts at market. Non-Economic Nodes have a mayoral building called the Marketplace.
S: Correct. The Marketplace comes online at Stage 4. Which is, when you say a mayoral building, the correct term would be a Constructible. These are buildings that the mayor has agency over determining whether or not they should be a constructed project. These Constructible buildings can be selected at open plots that are gained as the Node advances. If they elect to begin construction of one of these types of buildings, one of which is the marketplace, it’ll grant certain trade benefits, as well as some stalls that some citizens may participate in.

J: During Sieges, we know apartments can be targeted and destroyed, does the loot inside become spoils?
S: So essentially, as we know, lootables are raw gatherables and processed goods. Housing has storage capabilities; the storage containers that exist in-node housing or within the apartment buildings do not become lootable unless the city falls. If the city falls, then they are lootable. If the building is destroyed or damaged and the city successfully defends itself, then the service, or the NPC offered through that building, is not available until the repair project is complete. What you’re going to see is: these buildings can be attacked, they have hitpoints, they can be damaged. Once they enter a damage state threshold, which will probably be at around 25% damage taken, and once the Siege is over, there’s going to be a repair project. And in order to reestablish those services, citizens will be required to contribute resources to the building, as they did during the construction phase, in order to repair it. Upon its successful repair the building becomes open again and available.

J: Can in-node housing be targeted during a Siege?
S: Yes. Depending on the building type, an in-node housing will be the least required resource standpoint from a repair standpoint. Depending on the size of the building of its stage, whether it’s leveled up and whatnot, will determine how much resources are required. So, yes, in-node houses can be attacked, but they’ll be very manageable to repair even for a small group of people to do so. It’s not going to require a large community effort to repair a house as it would, let’s say, an alchemist. 

J: During a Node Siege, normally you can’t have two Nodes of the same level next to each other because of the way they block each other out, but if you had a level 5 Node, with a level 4 vassal, and that level 5 Node were to atrophy, can it atrophy to a 4 and violate the two Nodes at the same level next to each other?
S: I can give you some general information about that. Yes, normally the algorithm that’s applied to the Node territorial expansion will prevent significant Nodes from being in close proximity to each other. It’s not impossible, there could be a perfect storm where all of the algorithmic progression of territory leads to having these Nodes being very close to each other, because there’s certain requirements that need to be available to satisfy Node vassal takeovers. It’s possible that two Nodes would never take each other over as vassals and would end up close together, spawning territories spanning to opposite directions; a tale of two cities, kind of thing. So that is a capable thing. <…> With regards to how Nodes progress territorially and how they de-level, atrophy being the only mechanic that allows a Node to de-level, as opposed to be destroyed. The atrophy design needs significant testing. There are intrinsic problems with reducing the Nodes level as opposed to removing the Node. We don’t actually atrophy Nodes to de-level, but rather accrue atrophy points that must be replenished overtime and if not – it begins to disable services and further compound the atrophy problem. At which point, when it reaches a certain atrophy point, then the Node would just disappear. The problem is, when a Node levels up, so many systems start to come online. A lot of connections get made, people own houses. There’s issues with just de-leveling a Node because you have to go back and reverse all of that and that is a difficult idea. From a design standpoint, in my mind, I would love for Nodes to de-level, but from a practical standpoint – it’s a difficult achievement. So instead what we may do, because the siege mechanics require that the Nodes can be destroyed, we may take the atrophy mechanic and we may reduce it to that being the end result, but then expand the atrophy required to actually get there.

J: Do Nodes require materials to start off an atrophy or just experience?
S: So in an indirect way, you can use materials. The way that the indirect method of combating atrophy is: the mayor has at his discretion certain tools to initiate quest driven systems that non-citizens can come to participate in; he can use a portion of the treasury and or goods that the Node has available to him as an incentive for those quests to be completed. So you will be able to interface with the applicable Node that you want out in the world and say “Hey, what’s available at this Node for me to do and what’s the reward?”; and mayors can drive those rewards up within an acceptable window that make it more advantageous for you, as a player, to go there and participate in that. Some of those quests might have material components. And so indirectly – yes, materials could be applied in a way to curtail attrition.

J: Corruption system. <…> Have you thought about, specifically healer love, the flagging system?
S: It’s not just healers. It’s also any type of AoE class. You may be out there dropping a meteor or doing a whirlwind attack, or whatever, and some griefer wants to come up and flag when he anticipates you’re going to do that, in order to get you to flag and then kill you. So to answer this question in a short way – yes, absolutely. There will be an option that, by default, is available by the player, which prevents them from receiving a third party flag. The way that is achieved is: anytime you activate a skill, there are certain calls and checks that get made on the backend that you don’t see and one of those checks “Hey, are there any members that are currently flagged” and if there are and you have that checkbox for flagging with your AoE’s and Heals available, then you will flag; if you do not have that box checked, then on completion of that skill, it will not flag you, because the check was made at the start that there was a flagged party member and they will not receive the beneficial effect as a result, or the damage, if it’s an offensive spell.

J: A couple of years ago you’ve told us that the target was 45 days to reach max level. Is it really 1080 hours to reach max level? Has your 45 day marker shifted or do we keep that?
S: I don’t recall the number of hours that was used in that calculation that I was deriving that answer from. But the 45 day comment was, at least in leveling your adventuring class, to max level at launch, which was 50, that is in particular to a person who is playing a considerable amount of time per day. And I’m not talking 12 hours a day, I’m talking about maybe 4-6 hours a day. Take that with a grain of salt because I don’t recall what the hour figure is, but the idea is not to be a game where somebody can no-life for a week and be max level. The idea is to incorporate some significant chunk of time but still respect the casual player. The way we respect the casual player is… not everything is driven in our game through the progression line. Not everything is driven through your class level, per se. There’s a lot of different progression paths that are available and make you relevant within certain systems and mechanics within a game, and some of those paths are more casual friendly while others are more hardcore friendly. So with regards to the adventuring class, the idea is to make sure that that investment needs to be pretty significant and that the reward is respective to that investment. 

J: You have an adventuring class, but then you have a locked primary arch type. <…> But you also created a game where you’re never going to find your pure dopleganger.
S: Part of my frustration as a player, before starting this project, was that sandbox terminology really wasn’t what it should have been in actuality. A lot of, and this is no bash on any particular developer, but a lot of designer / development use sandbox as an excuse not to curate a lot of content and not to create that complex type of system and support, but rather to fall on “player driven content” that is intrigued, political. That can get really boring if you’re given 8 doors and you’re told “Hey, make a choice and your choice is gonna matter”, but you open the door and there’s nothing behind it from the content perspective. Then what does my choice really matter? I just made a choice about nothing. So the idea behind Ashes is that, yeah, Sandbox is a great game philosophy, if it is accompanied by almost more content than a Theme Park has. We will see how it works out with Ashes, but that’s the way you make a successful sandbox experience, in my opinion. 

J: Some people are asking: if I am lower level because leveling takes a significant chunk of time, am I gonna be relevant in Sieges or mass combat?
S: The answer to that is: Sieges are not a 1 dimensional or 2 dimensional type of experience. It’s not just going to be “Hey, your class vs their class and that’s what’s gonna matter”. There are many different roles that are present in Sieges, whether it be firing the stationary siege weapons, helping to repair the walls or the gate, bringing relevant proximity based buffs from the town center and NPC’s out to where the people on the ramp parts are or out on the field, stealthing into the encampment or HQ’s. A lot of different things that aren’t as reliant on your adventuring classes level, but rather provide a role and opportunity to affect the tide of battle that are specific to certain things players are interested in from a role standpoint. (??? 01:14:00) I wanna scale a wall or use a Siege weapon and drive it around. Those types of things are relevant to the type of battle and they don’t require you to be max level or combat stats.

J: Last thing I wanted to mention is that you don’t call Ashes a Sandbox, you call it a Themebox.
S: Yes. I call it a Themebox or a Sandpark. I’m not the first one to use that term, but I think that we’re probably the first that are actually going to implement it. I don’t want to get into specific other games, but I think we’re the first ones that are targeting that type of combination between the Themepark and Sandbox elements. 

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