Guest Interview Part 2: Talking Embers Adrift With Stormhaven Studios

Editor’s Note: This is Part 2 of an interview with Stormhaven Studios with our friends over at The MMOZG team is currently affected by the ongoing invasion of Russian aggression against Ukraine, so we are proud to host the interview here on MMORPG. Be sure to check out Part 1 of the interview we posted yesterday. All credit goes to our brave friends and colleagues over at MMOZG. – Joseph Bradford, Managing Editor

Rigeborod: Are Embers Adrift players eternal dungeon crawlers, or will they have their own home in this world?

John Gust: Do you mean player housing or a safe place like Newhaven City?

Rigeborod: Mostly housing, but if you think some safe places can be treated by players as their home, it is also something I would like to hear about.

John Gust: We have a long term goal to introduce housing, but we will not start with it. However, Newhaven, and its people (the npcs) are particularly welcoming of the “Drifters” (as they refer to the players) who they see as a part of the community and as bringing hope to their dwindling population. Newhaven is struggling to survive and struggling to unlock the secrets of Ember to help them thrive. They welcome the players as those who can help them stay safe and offer them a place in their home of Newhaven.

Rigeborod: As it’s a long term and it was not well thought out yet, let’s make it abstract: what housing mechanics should unlock in case of gameplay in MMO? Why do you want it in your game? I’m asking this question because in most MMOs housing is boring and is used by players only as an exhibition of their achievements and loot.

John Gust: Housing really is a bit like you describe; I think there are players who enjoy it. The main purpose is to show off your exploits, to enjoy some customization, and extra storage. If our goals become a reality, no promises here, but players may get a room at an inn or a house, in which case they may get more storage space and a place to call their own that they can customize to their liking. If it happens it won’t be until after launch. 

Rigeborod: Wow! That is a huge amount of disclaimers. They are indeed needed these days, as players tend to interpret any ideas and thoughts as promises. Another question: is there a conflict between PvE, as the main occupation that should bring trophies, and crafting which also brings valuable stuff?

John Gust: Adventuring is the core of Embers Adrift, we want crafting to feed into more adventuring not replace it. Crafted items will be better than most loot you’d find in general adventuring. However, group-focused adventuring, rare targets, and questing will produce better items than most crafted items. For solo players, crafted items will be the way to go. With such an in depth crafting system I think players who focus on that will find a lot of satisfaction, but the design is aimed towards social adventuring.

Rigeborod: Wait a minute. So you are basically telling me, that if I love crafting the most, I won’t be needed for my friends as a crafter at some point, cause they will be able to get gear from bosses?

John Gust: Not at all, the highest end adventuring items are relatively rare. Players will need to work much harder for them. If players want access to great gear while they work towards their goals, a large portion of that gear may come from crafters. Also, crafting provides other things that rare drops won’t provide, such as the best consumables in the game.

Rigeborod: Hmm. These relatively rare items will be available via trading. And as no gear in the game ages or brakes (or is it?), there will be more and more drop items, so they will be gradually replacing crafted ones. Am I wrong?

John Gust: Our goal is to create a balanced economy. I think the difficulty of obtaining rare items will make them hard to part with and their high cost will make crafted items much more appealing as they are something that can be obtained much more easily. However, I see your point – the economy will be something we will have to monitor. At the end of the day, we’re going to have to adjust our plans as player behaviors emerge.

Rigeborod: Just as an idea: bosses drop not the gear, but special rare items needed for some top tier crafting recipes. That will still tie these items to PVE activities, but without leaving crafters out.

John Gust: I’m sorry, you’re quite right. This is planned as well. I should have mentioned that. There will be many complex recipes requiring rare materials.

Rigeborod: Just to confirm. Will there be item transfer between players available in your game (trade, transfer of trophies within the guild, gifts)?

John Gust: Yes absolutely, player trading is already a part of the experience.

Rigeborod: Why are you planning to give full items as a drop from mobs at all then? Isn’t this symbiosis between craft (produces gear for PvE) and PvE (provides materials (including very rare ones from bosses)) perfect and should not be broken? 

John Gust: Honestly, not everyone will enjoy crafting or be a crafter. Rare materials might feel completely meaningless to those players, which would be especially disappointing after overcoming difficult fights with rare mobs. The feeling of looting a rare upgrade for your character after defeating a challenging mob is very much something we want to deliver to our players.

Rigeborod: Your MMO will fundamentally not have any PvP. What do you see as the main advantage of this approach? And are there any obvious disadvantages in such a choice for you?

John Gust: We want to build a game that focuses on bringing people together; that is the main advantage we are leveraging. In our opinion, while PvP is a relatively inexpensive source of content, it comes with behaviors that can be detrimental to the community as a whole. All of our design and game balancing is focused on PvE so that everything revolves around cooperative gameplay which strengthens the community. If we implement duels or arenas eventually (and it’s a big if) it will simply be for fun and will not be balanced. A PvE game attracts a certain type of community and it’s not for everyone; we’ve always said that our game is a niche MMORPG. I guess from a business standpoint, not including PvP could be considered a disadvantage as we aren’t targeting as big of a market, but that isn’t why we’re building Embers Adrift.

Rigeborod: Why do you think adding PvP to a game will target a bigger market? While it will attract some new players, others may leave.

John Gust: I think it wholly depends on how the PvP is implemented.  On a surface level you can “split” the community into 3 categories: PvE, PvP, and PvE & PvP, so on paper including PVP would give us a bigger audience. We could go back and forth on that, but that is not really the point. At Stormhaven we are interested in making a community driven world and we think that avoiding PvP is a good way to do that. We believe it’s what our niche wants and it’s what we like too.

Rigeborod: In the original concept of Saga of Lucimia quests were fundamentally not giving any experience. Is this still the case?

John Gust: Yes, so far it is, because it relates to our design philosophy of making it about the journey and not the destination. There will be other rewards for questing, likely several along the way in fact, but we don’t want to encourage people to quest simply as an end to leveling. Questing is meant to be a journey, or a sort of tabletop campaign, where you gain experience from the things you do along the way.

Rigeborod: So it’s a way to tell a story, guide players from one place to another, something like that?

John Gust: Essentially yes, whether that story unravels a mystery, leads players to new locations, uncovers hidden lore from the past, helps Newhaven folk, or advances the mission of one of the factions in Newhaven; quests are a way to tell a story directly to the player.

Rigeborod: Could an MMO ever be ready to launch? Or is it necessary to release it when there is a minimum set of game functionality implemented?

John Gust: I wouldn’t say it’s necessary to launch when a minimum set of game functionality is present, but an MMO is never “finished,” they are a live service, there will always be updates, more content added, and maintenance to perform. The question to ask for launch is, “Are the features present that your intended players expect and does it give them the fun experience they are hoping for?” If the right experience is there more content can always be added. Delaying launch due to feature creep can cause a loss of confidence in a project and unnecessarily keep people from enjoying the game. No one likes to see a game stuck in development hell.

Rigeborod: And what are the main features that you need to have in order for the game to become launch ready?

John Gust: I think we’re getting close. Embers Adrift is about having adventures with friends and there are a few different spheres of gameplay we want to provide to support that. There is the adventuring sphere, the crafting sphere, and the social sphere. The adventuring sphere includes roles & specializations, player progression, exploration, group-based and solo combat, quests, mysterious art features and lore, rewards, and a big beautiful world filled with things to sufficiently challenge players; we have long-term and short-term content across the over world and under world which are filled with various creatures. 

The social sphere arguably includes the economy which is there to support adventures with loot, consumables, and trade between players, as well as the social systems like chat channels, and social tools like friends and “LFG” to support player interaction and grouping. The crafting sphere adds a layer of goals for players to engage with through harvesting materials and crafting tradable items. The crafting system itself is quite in-depth and offers a lot of engagement for players. There are a few features we’re still working on implementing within these spheres, for example – fishing, which we would like to have before launch as well, but we are closing in on a “launchable” feature set and have shifted to implementing more content like the Dryfoot Fallows zone and more dungeons which are coming soon along with other content mentioned in the adventuring sphere above. Hopefully that answers your question.

Embers Adrift

Rigeborod: Mostly, yes. I would like to hear more about trade, LFG and fishing. Let’s start with trading. There are several ways to trade: direct trade between 2 players; players’ owned shops (or something similar); local trade posts/auctions; global trade posts/auctions. And with trade posts you can either have an ability to place a buy order or not. So I have 2 questions: what will eventually make it into the game? And what will be there on day 0?

John Gust: We will have player to player trading at launch. I think this is the method that encourages the kind of player to player interaction we want to promote. We will monitor how that develops and decide if we need more going forward – what that looks like depends entirely on what we see as needs coming out of how trading develops within our player base.

Rigeborod: There will be players from different time zones who cannot trade at all between each other (cause they are never online at the same time), also there will be time zones where there are not that many players at all. But I agree, player trading is a good start.

So, World of Warcraft’s example clearly demonstrated that LFG is not an instrument for socialization. Actually it’s the other way around: it is actually used there to avoid socialization. Why do you think it will be different with Embers Adrift?

John Gust: We are simply trying to facilitate players to form their own groups in our LFG tool. Our LFG tool just makes it easier to see who is looking for a group, it doesn’t automatically place you in a group like a group-finder does, nor does it teleport you anywhere. You still have to send messages and invites.

Rigeborod: Will it (the list with players looking for a group) be visible worldwide or only locally?

John Gust: It will be visible worldwide. Players may have to do some traveling to get to their group mates.

Rigeborod: Ok! Why do you think fishing is so important it should be in the initial release?

Elloa: You can’t have a relaxing game with beautiful landscapes and NOT have fishing in it! It would be sacrilege. Lol! (not official answer here. Just mine.)

John Gust: Our community keeps asking for it, lol. I should ask them that.

Rigeborod: That’s still a valid answer. There are a lot of different implementations for ingame fishing. From totally AFK “activity” to almost “fishing simulator”. Where is your fishing implementation going to be on this scale?

John Gust: We have an implementation in mind, but this isn’t something we’re ready to go into detail on at the moment. It will likely be simple at first and evolve in complexity as time goes on.

Rigeborod: How do you plan to counter a possible initial influx of players?

John Gust: Great question. We’re still formulating a strategy for handling player load at launch.  The “World-Breaker” stress test event in April will give us the necessary information to help us finalize future plans.

Rigeborod: I understand your stress test will help to determine how many players can be simultaneously online, where the limit is. But it won’t answer any questions regarding required steps if there’s still more players eager to join. So can you at least tell us what measures you are considering? Not  necessary technical ones. For example you can try to avoid hype by limiting press coverage or making it invite only and so on. Or it can be multiple mirrors at start. Or AFK kicks. Or something else. So if you’re not ready to talk about your plans on the matter, I hope you’ll be able to walk us through some possibilities you’re thinking about.

John Gust: The possibilities aren’t limited to these, but are a few of the things we’ve been considering without enough data to actually make a decision. Possibilities are, queues coupled with AFK kicks, having multiple world servers either cloud or racked, separating each zone out to its own server box whether cloud or racked, etc. Honestly there are a lot of options and we have decided not to commit until we have more data.

Rigeborod: Right… Then the last question! Describe a player’s typical day in your MMO as you imagine it? 

John Gust: I’d imagine the typical day for a player would start with them checking their supplies, doing some crafting, and marking themselves “LFG” in our social tool. After that they dive into the wilderness or explore the town, talking to NPCs who might have interesting lore information or even a quest for them. Then, a little soloing to gather some crafting materials or ability reagents, or perhaps just diving right into a group. Either way they will be challenged by the world if they aren’t careful with their pulls. There may be rare spawns they want to hunt or rare dungeons to explore. The world is meant to always be engaging and challenging no matter what point they’re at whether that’s the beginning, middle, or end game. 

The game loop is focused around going out on adventures with an emphasis on groups. So, players go out into the world to quest, explore interesting areas, gather materials, experience, and etc. They will encounter combat, gain loot and experience, and get combat wounds. Players visit the ember ring to heal up and sell/craft/bank what they’ve found, or even visit town or NPCs to update quests, get rewards, and discover more lore info. This is how their character progresses in order for them to be able to go out and seek even more daring adventures. 

Embers Adrift offers the atmosphere and music, the slower pace of gameplay, and a significant change from day to night, all in a spacious world that makes for an immersive experience and an escape from our real life troubles and worries for a bit. It’s an ideal place for MMO gamers to hang out, make friends and memories, and hopefully, for them to call home.

Rigeborod: Thank you very much for your time and interesting answers! And congratulations on transitioning into the beta phase. 

John Gust: Thank you. It went very well and we even had some streamers streaming since the NDA dropped. I will say this has been an awesome experience for the team and everyone is contributing to these answers. I hope there is a way you can convey that to your readers. This is really a team effort and I for one had a lot of fun. Guest Interview Part 2: Talking Embers Adrift With Stormhaven Studios

Fry Electronics Team

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