Dungeons & Dragons On-line interview: Reflecting on 15 years of journey

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Fifteen years seems like an eternity within the recreation business. Trying again at February 2006, we had been on the finish of the PlayStation 2/Xbox period, Steam wasn’t a PC gaming juggernaut but, and World of Warcraft was the most important beast on the block.

That’s additionally when Turbine launched Dungeons & Dragons On-line, the tabletop franchise’s first trendy MMORPG (of us, don’t neglect that Neverwinter Nights was the primary on-line role-playing recreation to have graphics, manner again in 1991).

Dungeons & Dragons On-line (or DDO because it’s recognized to the group) turned 15 this yr. Over that point, it’s seen Dungeons & Dragons writer Wizards of the Coast go from 3.5 Version to fifth Version. It’s gone from a subscription mannequin to free-to-play. Writer rights have moved from first Atari to Codemasters to Warner Bros. to, lastly, Dawn Video games. And growth moved as properly, when Turbine went below and folk from the DDO and Lord of the Rings On-line dev groups fashioned Standing Stone Video games, the sport’s present studio.

However via that point, DDO and its gamers have adventured via 60 content material updates. It’s had 513 “Screenshot of the Week” posts from the gamers. It nonetheless has a vibrant group (Standing Stone didn’t share what number of lively gamers DDO nonetheless has).

Standing Stone studio head Rob Ciccolini has been engaged on DDO for nearly 9 years. In that point, he’s seen the sport go to dread domains of Ravenloft and discover the towers of the spectacular metropolis of Sharn, visiting a few of D&D‘s most beloved module settings alongside the way in which. He’s seen new participant races and courses are available in.

And he’s witnessed the gamers’ continued love of D&D, one thing he shares with them.

That is an edited transcript of our interview.

Journey awaits

Above: DDO, because it lives now (left) vs. the way it regarded over 15 years in the past.

Picture Credit score: Standing Stone Video games

GamesBeat: How has this recreation survived for 15 years, in your opinion?

Rob Ciccolini: Properly, there are a variety of issues. It’s a well-designed recreation. It has deep character choices. When somebody is available in, there’s actually loads for them to work with and discover. It has a framework that means that you can do group issues, however you may as well solo if you’d like. Every dungeon is hand made, so you may get a variety of experiences relying on what you need. All of these result in a really compelling expertise. Plus, I imply, Dungeons & Dragons is a superb recreation. It’s a nostalgic recreation. It leads the trail by way of how folks have a look at it, how folks deal with gaming. Being hooked up to that’s actually one thing that we love, that place and that growth is nice.

GamesBeat: What makes it so well-designed? What are the mechanics that soar out and say, that is good? What are some issues that Standing Stone has added to make it higher?

Ciccolini: One factor I like about it’s you get the meat of the journey and the fascinating stuff quickly. A lot as I really like among the different MMOs which have robust landscapes, like Lord of the Rings On-line, the place you’ve gotten the massive benefit of being in Center-Earth, for D&D once you log in, when your group logs in, you’re within the dungeon searching for traps and discovering monsters and determining puzzles in a short time. There’s not a 20- or 30-minute lead-in time. The expertise from night time to nighttime is extraordinarily diverse. There are some nights the place I’ll log in to different video games, and I do know just about precisely what I’ll do. I’ll be repeating content material over and over. It boils right down to click on or kill.

However for D&D On-line, the entire dungeons are custom-made. You’ll be able to run dungeons which might be centered on fight, however if you’d like one thing completely different, you’ll be able to run dungeons with puzzles. You’ll be able to run dungeons the place you must work with traps. You must work as a staff on quite a lot of issues. You must navigate mazes and discover levers. There’s all kinds of experiences.

One other good factor about D&D On-line is there’s a lot content material now. As you degree, there’s an enormous, vast number of issues to do. There’s a brand new expertise each time you attempt a brand new character. And there are many new characters to check out. One factor I really like in regards to the recreation is you’ll be able to’t go off into the wilderness and seize somebody’s construct and simply blindly copy it. There’s a lot to the synergy together with your group, what you’re making an attempt to unravel for. There are loads of construct choices, which ends up in virtually limitless customization to your character. There’s loads there. Particularly with cross-class, the place you’ve gotten quite a lot of highly effective courses and you’ll mix them in lots of or 1000’s of the way.

GamesBeat: While you say the dungeons are hand-crafted, do you imply that the studio crafts them, or are there additionally parts to the place a participant could be a DM and take a dungeon and do their very own factor with it?

Ciccolini: We don’t have dungeon masters. We offer the dungeons. Which is form of a superb factor as a result of fairly frankly, if I might have extra dungeon masters, I’d in all probability recreation extra usually myself. Typically it’s laborious to discover a dungeon grasp, and the great factor about D&D On-line is there’s loads of emotional and artistic power that goes into operating a superb journey. That’s not one thing a typical particular person can do a number of occasions every week. D&D On-line offers a DM for you, so somebody doesn’t have to do this.

Now, don’t get me flawed. Some folks love being DMs. However even they want a break often. Logging on together with your entire group and having the D&D expertise with out requiring all that setup is nice typically.

GamesBeat: From what I keep in mind of the three.5 Version days, it had loads of status courses, loads of methods to mix-and-match courses. Does the way in which you do this adapt that system?

Ciccolini: There’s a base D&D system, after which we construct further customization on prime of it. The best way we do status courses, every class has a tree that represents other ways you could get there. For 3.5 it was status courses, however in 5.0 you may consider the completely different paths gamers can take at sure ranges. Fighter has three timber. Rogue has three timber. All of these can carry them — a thief-acrobat below rogue performs very otherwise than an murderer.

The opposite factor we have now is common timber. These are timber that may mix with any of the courses. They’re not class-specific. That provides you good mixtures. If you wish to have a cool fowl of prey, you’ll be able to comply with falconry and incorporate that into your journey. Inquisitors can use their mental abilities. They’re useful with crossbows. These are the kinds of common timber to present much more depth to the sorts of characters you’ll be able to play.

GamesBeat: Did I hear you say thief-acrobat?

Ciccolini: You probably did.

GamesBeat: That’s from the first Version of D&D, isn’t it?

Ciccolini: Sure, it’s. You’ll be able to tumble via traps. The thief-acrobat can use a employees, which isn’t one thing you see in most video games. That’s a really completely different feeling than an murderer utilizing daggers, perhaps utilizing the Vistani preventing tree and sneaking up and taking out key enemies.

GamesBeat: Is it bizarre or unusual to be engaged on a recreation the place the foundations come from 3.5 when D&D is properly into fifth version?

Ciccolini: Probably not? Quite a lot of the character choices come from a strong set of techniques that stay above the foundations. Sooner or later I feel we wish to carry our fundamental guidelines to one thing extra trendy, perhaps revamp them. There are some issues in regards to the present guidelines I’d like to repair. It’s pretty straightforward for a brand new participant to make use of multiclassing and do it in an order that isn’t 100% environment friendly. I’d like to wash up a few of that, actually. We run into these issues, and people are holdbacks from the version we’re engaged on. However I really like each editions, so I’m a nasty particular person to ask. I’ll gladly play 3.5 or 5.0 tabletop, both manner. I’m not a kind of individuals who advocate for a selected algorithm very strongly.

Legend lore

DDO Gnome

Above: By no means belief a gnome with a fireplace grenade.

Picture Credit score: Standing Stone Video games

GamesBeat: There’s been appreciable lore adjustments within the editions as properly. Eberron has modified. How do you incorporate adjustments to lore? Or is your recreation simply nonetheless rooted on this time, and people adjustments don’t matter?

Ciccolini: Conceptually, as you degree, we are likely to attempt to make any passage of time appear pure. However as a result of we provide loads of content material at two completely different factors, that’s not all the time attainable. The opposite factor we do is, there’s a bunch referred to as the Gatekeepers that guard gates into the planes. One of many issues that’s occurred is the Handbook of the Planes, the previous D&D artifact, has been inflicting loads of issues, and so they’ve been making an attempt to maintain issues tamped down. But it surely permits the gamers the chance to go to completely different locations that won’t even be essentially within the two worlds that we work with, in neither the Forgotten Realms or Eberron, as a result of the Handbook of the Planes is inflicting passages to open up. The Gatekeepers find yourself sending you to quite a lot of locations to cope with issues attributable to that. That provides us the chance to concentrate on basic packs, reproducing that nostalgic expertise of previous dungeons as they existed for individuals who need that, bringing to life a few of these modules that we keep in mind, after which giving them a full remedy and letting you be standing in them.

It’s an actual deal with, being in these landscapes. Carry on the Borderlands, remembering taking part in or studying via that module. We’re engaged on the Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, a collection of previous dungeons, and with the ability to stand in that. Taking part in via experiences in the identical method as once you performed them the primary time, whether or not that was 20 years in the past or two months in the past. Now we have Ravenloft. You’ll be able to transfer via Sharn, which wasn’t basic, however handled the massive sea of Eberron. There are a variety of issues which might be only a pleasure to work with.

GamesBeat: I used to be going via among the information posts out of your chronicle, and there was a reference to White Plume Mountain.

Ciccolini: Everybody loves these weapons. I don’t know anybody who didn’t learn via White Plume Mountain that didn’t wish to go in and find yourself in possession of one of many three. Doing that and bringing these weapons to the brand new system on the time, the place the weapons can speak to you and having clever weapons which have sentience, with the ability to improve these, that was actually enjoyable.

GamesBeat: Do you additionally incorporate any of the storylines from D&D fifth version, like Rage of Demons or Elemental Evil?

Ciccolini: Often we go towards — Saltmarsh simply got here out as a brand new space. We are likely to work on the basic packs, bringing these to life. Typically we do. Our Ravenloft remedy may be very a lot nearer to the newer version than the previous module. The newer version was a standout. It is determined by what we predict will translate higher to our recreation and techniques. Among the new experiences are — the narrative is one thing that’s tougher, or not fairly as enjoyable in an MMO. There’s loads of issues the place convincing a personality of one thing is a superb expertise when you’ve gotten a superb DM, however not a lot in an MMO. We’ll travel and see — what do we predict will trigger essentially the most participant pleasure on this? Will we wish to do the nostalgic old-school, or will we wish to go together with a more recent remedy? It varies relying on the kind of stuff that will get added.

White Plume Mountain is a favorite among DDO players ... and old D&D salts like me.

Above: White Plume Mountain is a favourite amongst DDO gamers … and previous D&D salts like me.

Picture Credit score: Standing Stone Video games

GamesBeat: Saltmarsh could be the older remedy, not the Ghosts of the Saltmarsh guide from 2018?

Ciccolini: That’s right. Plus, we’re including some bits. There will likely be some additional dungeons round that theme and space that you are able to do that may not have been within the authentic variations.

Attracing new gamers to an previous recreation

GamesBeat: How do you get new gamers in? Are you getting new gamers frequently?

Ciccolini: Positive. When we have now an anniversary, when we have now an enlargement, when we have now regular updates. We all the time are going to attempt to get new gamers in. The good factor about D&D is it has an incredible new participant base. They’re all the time searching for new D&D experiences. As we undergo and create content material, we all the time have folks which might be like, oh, I do not forget that once I was youthful, let me go test it out.

GamesBeat: Do you imply in your recreation or in D&D basically?

Ciccolini: Simply in D&D basically. There are a variety of older modules that even newer gamers are going again and discovering once more. Proper now the persons are understanding how highly effective that social expertise is, that it exists outdoors the sport, and it’s good to have — I like MMOs and different group video games which might be cooperative as a result of I really feel that it promotes that very same sense of group. Now, don’t get me flawed. There are aggressive video games I like as properly, shooters and stuff, however I actually benefit from the cooperative features of video games the place the entire social gathering is getting collectively and dealing towards the identical objective. That’s the place my coronary heart is in gaming. That is precisely the form of recreation I like. Clearly, Lord of the Rings On-line does that as properly, once you’re exploring the world. There’s loads of group exercise there. These are the sorts of video games I like. It’s a pleasure for me to work on them.

GamesBeat: Do you get that ordinary wave of … each time you’ve gotten an enlargement you get loads of lapsed gamers coming again and sticking with the sport?

Ciccolini: In fact. All people desires to come back see the brand new hotness. You have got a brand new enlargement and folks get all excited. However we get that for our regular content material updates too. You by no means know. Perhaps White Plume Mountain was your jam again within the day and also you wish to go verify that out. There’s all kinds of the way folks come again. Additionally, we will’t underestimate the natural skill so that you can speak to your folks about D&D. You discover out their group performs as soon as every week in DDO. Out of the blue anyone new will are available in as a result of their pals play. The assist of the group has been nice. They’re one of the simplest ways to get gamers, once you discover out another person is taking part in and you’ll are available in and play with them. That’s simply implausible.

DDO Sharn 1

Above: Sharn is the Metropolis of Towers, and it stands as a beacon of journey and intrigue.

Picture Credit score: Standing Stone Video games

GamesBeat: How has your participant base modified over time? Or has it modified in any respect?

Ciccolini: Quite a lot of our teams now are teams that play recurrently collectively, somewhat than the flood of individuals coming in and making an attempt to place collectively teams. But it surely is determined by the night time. Additionally, the way in which gamers play is determined by the form of content material. We see a giant distinction in how the gamers play if we simply launched a raid. All of them get into teams and determine what to do. Additionally, as a result of the sport ranges in problem a lot, you actually can customise how tough you need it to be to get all kinds of play types and individuals who wish to go into Reaper, the place the digital DM is actually making an attempt to kill you. Some folks say, properly, that’s a bit a lot for me. I wish to expertise the story and get some good loot, however perhaps not at that degree. There’s all kinds of the way folks play.

DDO’s legacy … and future

GamesBeat: Do you’ve gotten any moments from engaged on the sport the place you assume, wow, that is one thing I’ll all the time keep in mind?

Ciccolini: There are a variety of them. One factor I missed, and I want I labored on the sport throughout that point, was once we had a giant occasion the place we blew up the primary space of Stormreach. No person knew what to anticipate. No person anticipated that space to vary so dramatically earlier than their eyes. That was nice. When folks first go in and begin to expertise the creepiness of Ravenloft, that was one of many iconic moments as properly. One factor I feel gamers ought to wish to take a look at, our model new raid is all based mostly on music, one thing we haven’t carried out earlier than. I actually assume gamers ought to verify that out. It’s a implausible raid design. However one of many causes I like that is that — everyone has completely different moments as a result of everybody has completely different experiences rising up on D&D or coming to it extra not too long ago. For me, going via White Plume Mountain is like, oh wow. The primary time I noticed a manticore within the recreation, that’s in all probability extra resonant for me particularly than loads of different gamers who could be like, wow, Ravenloft was wonderful. They’ve performed via Curse of Strahd and there are loads of components we mirrored there.

DDO Keep On The Borderlands

Above: Carry on the Borderlands holds a particular place within the hearts of D&D gamers of a sure age.

Picture Credit score: Standing Stone Video games

GamesBeat: One factor that blew my thoughts was the truth that you’ve gotten over 500 screenshots of the week talked about within the chronicle. Do you ever sit and assume this recreation would virtually be sufficiently old to drive?

Ciccolini: Properly, I feel you’re describing the expertise of us getting extra expertise in something we do, to a lesser diploma. However yeah, it’s additionally come a great distance. The screenshots extra not too long ago have the gamers on mounts, or folks shifting via Carry on the Borderlands and Ravenloft. They appear so completely different. Additionally we have now loads of new races. Dragonborn look so completely different than the older courses, or aasimar and tieflings. These modified the entire feel and look of the sport by way of how the gamers work round them. There’s been loads of adjustments, and you’ll see that in how the screenshots over time have, for my part, gotten higher. However I additionally assume the gamers — the screenshots are simply indicative of how passionate the gamers are proper now.

GamesBeat: It looks as if previous MMOs don’t die anymore. They proceed so long as gamers wish to play them. How a lot life do you assume DDO has left in it?

Ciccolini: We’re higher than once we began with SSG, so if we go one other 20 years, I’ll be completely psyched. I’ll fortunately proceed doing this. We’re robust. The gamers just like the experiences that we offer. The sport is continually altering, so that they have a superb motive to maintain investing in it. One of many issues that occurs is there’s a sure form of participant the place, once you make investments your time into an ongoing lengthy storyline recreation like this, you are feeling as if your time is properly spent as a result of that new content material rolls out and these characters supply issues you’ll be able to expertise over and over. Whereas if you happen to play a one and carried out recreation, when you’ve explored the boundaries of that recreation, you could have DLC, however it’s a restricted scope. These video games present a way more huge panorama of experiences.

The opposite factor that I feel helps these video games is you’re taking part in your individual character. You have got loads of character choices. The character is your individual. You’re not adopting a persona that another person thinks is cool. You’re discovering a method to make your individual character cool. I really like the Witcher as a lot as the subsequent particular person, however you’re taking part in another person’s conception of a personality. One motive gamers like taking part in video games like that is they really feel an possession over their character, and a way of company. They make selections about how the character interacts.

GamesBeat: It looks as if there’s additionally a way of accountability that comes with making this recreation as a result of folks have been taking part in for 15 years in some circumstances. Do you ever really feel that?

Ciccolini: On daily basis. On daily basis. There’s an enormous accountability for the video games we do as a result of this can be a legacy that I wish to be true to. It’s a legacy for the kind of recreation it’s. It’s not solely a legacy for the sport itself. It’s a legacy for D&D. It’s a legacy for Standing Stone Video games. It’s a legacy for the entire fantastic devs who’ve labored on the sport prior to now. That’s a giant accountability. I wish to present as a lot participant pleasure as I can. Doing that’s one thing that I take into consideration day by day. That’s a part of my job, to each present participant pleasure, to make sensible selections so these video games will go on for many years and gamers who love these video games can play them, and in addition so gamers who love these video games, their youngsters can play. That’s the form of breadth of expertise that we would like.

Households play this recreation. Dad and mom will play with their youngsters. We get letters from individuals who assume that they’ve developed their household time and so they really feel nearer as a result of they’re working along with a whole household. I actually like listening to that persons are sharing these experiences. I actually like listening to that persons are sharing experiences like, hey, I haven’t seen this particular person since highschool, however we reconnected as a result of though we’re in numerous areas, we will play collectively now a few times or many occasions every week within the recreation. That is the accountability, I feel, that every one the devs really feel of their hearts once they work on the sport. Typically, it may be difficult to stay as much as these expectations, these reminiscences, that legacy.

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