WildStar preview: MMO problem-solver

WildStar is an ambitious project that holds a lot of promise. Maybe Carbine won't make "the next great MMO," but given all the talent and intelligent ideas behind WildStar, it should at least be a fun one.

Carbine Studios doesn't mince words when talking about their mission statement. It's right there on their website: "We're Carbine Studios--a developer formed by a bunch of gamers looking to make the Next Great MMO." It's a studio out to fix seemingly every niggling problem the MMO genre has had since the beginning of time. They want to fix the lack of interactivity; the endgame problems that plague seemingly every MMO, and the way the content is actually delivered. Their first project, WildStar, is one big clearinghouse for ideas from people who have worked on everything from Ultima Online to Dark Age of Camelot to World of Warcraft. It's an MMO that wants to be all things to all people, crazy as that sounds. Like World of Warcraft, Carbine wants to have massive 40-man raids and huge dungeons; like Dark Age of Camelot, they want great PVP, and like Star Wars Galaxies, they want to cater to crafters, settlers, and explorers. So much is going on that it feels as if the whole idea could end up simply shaking apart; or worse, feeling boring and under-developed. All of those elements, however, are part of a broader mission to craft an MMO that has tons to do, but also doesn't force a player down any one path. Content director Mike Donatelli, who has worked on Dark Age of Camelot and Warhammer Online, describes it like this: "I'll play another MMO, do the story, finish up, have some fun, and look back on it as a discreet chunk of time. Here it's like you'll be in an area and doing a quest, then you'll be doing a challenge, then you kind of run off into a tangent, but that tangent also dovetails into what you're doing." He continues: "It all feels very 'gamey,' but we embrace the hell out of gamey. We love gameplay. Gameplay is king. It's just fun, right? We should just keep making games that are fun and not focusing on what we're going to force people into doing." That approach--the freedom to explore and do what you want--is coded into the story itself. WildStar is set on a wild, unexplored planet that is just being settled by competing factions. Essentially, players are being plopped down on the frontier and told to have at it. It's pretty much a complete 180 from Star Wars: The Old Republic, where everything is subordinate to the story. In fact, up until the endgame, WildStar doesn't figure to focus much on story at all. "We only start the story at cap," Donatelli says. "You will get little bits and pieces. But only when you hit cap do you get the full story. It was deliberate. We want something to look forward to." In the meantime, you will find yourself completing a variety of quest chains that are built to be completed in around two hours. Donatelli likens it to an episode of the A-Team: "At the end of this playthrough, I rescued a town, saved someone, and now I'm done. It keeps people from being confused when logging in." For those who don't mind exploring a little bit though, there's much more. Wander to another part of the map, and you're apt to trigger another quest chain if you're at the right level. If you're an Explorer, one of several sub-specialties, you can uncover hidden caves or climb to the top of a mountain and plant a flag. If you're a Soldier, you can just hang out and kill monsters. That's where the promise of being 'all things to all players' starts to come into focus. One of the direct results of this approach is that WildStar is almost constantly peppering you with content. Wander around for a bit, and you might find a skull that can be plopped on a pile for a zone-wide buff. Wander around a bit more, and you might randomly be asked to shoot down a hovercopter with a bazooka. Quests come in seemingly every few seconds, and they can be completed just as quickly. The long travel times and gaps between quests that sometimes plague other MMOs are so far virtually non-existent in WildStar. Above all, Donatelli wants players to feel like they're free to do whatever they want: "Some MMOs are built around the idea that you have to play X-number of hours. We've locked you into a path. We've measured it, and tested it, and you can't go faster than this. We took the barriers out, because we'd be foolish to turn around and say that it's going to take anyone 300 hours to get through this game. You can never count on what a player will do. Players are smart. They're going to work around your artificial blocks." And for those who do work around those blocks? Donatelli says the idea is to reward players who hit the level cap with new gameplay modes--think large-scale PVP--and a substantial storyline. Carbine also plans regular monthly events, many of which are being developed right now, and weekly content drops. Of course, every MMORPG developer promises an endless amount of content, but it feels like there's a special urgency over at Carbine to make sure that people don't run out of things to do in WildStar. They make comparisons to China, where free-to-play MMORPGs are king, and content updates have to be almost constant in order to satisfy voracious fans. They know that as soon as people run out of things to do, they will be gone, never to return. Crazy as it seems to try and reach out and appeal to every single type of MMO fan (Carbine even hits the furry demographic with the bunny-like Aurins), it feels almost necessary given the scope of the content that WildStar is trying to deliver. A narrower focus risks narrowing the content too, and potentially boring a subset of players who don't want to go on raids, but definitely want to collect things and build houses. And to its credit, Carbine is making it easy on itself by building a platform early on that will allow them to modify their world almost on the fly, which should allow them to get new content to the masses almost on the fly. All told, it's an ambitious project that holds a lot of promise. Maybe Carbine won't make "the next great MMO," but given all the talent and intelligent ideas behind WildStar, it should at least be a fun one. It is expected to launch sometime this year.

Click for all new WildStar images

From The Chatty
  • reply
    February 6, 2013 6:00 AM

    Kat Bailey posted a new article, WildStar preview: MMO problem-solver.

    WildStar is an ambitious project that holds a lot of promise. Maybe Carbine won't make "the next great MMO," but given all the talent and intelligent ideas behind WildStar, it should at least be a fun one.

    • reply
      February 6, 2013 8:17 AM

      Not sure about you other MMO fans, but this looks interesting. Tim Cain (now at Obsidian) used to work at Carbine and was on the ground floor of getting this started. He gave a fascinating talk at GDC Austin in 2010 about creating story in MMOs.

      • reply
        February 6, 2013 8:25 AM

        It's just really hard to be optimistic about MMOs when so many have failed in the past few years.

        • reply
          February 6, 2013 8:29 AM


          An ambitious new MMO from a new developer which is so exciting because they've got people from previous companies that worked on popular MMOs!

          I just can't shake the feeling that this, like every other recent MMO, will receive reasonable success at best, settle at a population level that can sustain it, and nothing more...or will just fail outright.

          I have a hard time caring these days when MMOs try to tell me all the things I can *do* in their game. Instead, tell me how anything I do in the game will actually be fun, then we can figure out whether or not being able to do those things actually excites me.

          • reply
            February 6, 2013 8:30 AM

            Can anything kill Warcraft?

            • reply
              February 6, 2013 5:02 PM

              I don't think anything needs to. MMOs just have to make something different but still good and they should be successful. Eve appeals to a completely different audience and does fine. It's never going to hit WoW size numbers but it doesn't need to.

              I think the next Everquest could do very well if it's actually like they're describing it, difficult and lots of player interaction with the world.

              • reply
                February 6, 2013 10:36 PM

                i think this is what devs need to realise, there's more room for mmos, they just have to be different enough (and still good) that people don't see a reason to play it instead of WOW

      • reply
        February 6, 2013 11:50 AM

        After watching a couple of their videos I'm more excited than I expected. Hopefully they can "reuse" some of the GW2 code for a few of their features.

    • reply
      February 6, 2013 8:32 AM

      i wonder if NCsoft will ever publish a non-MMO. haven't heard anything about Lineage Eternal in quite some time

      • reply
        February 6, 2013 5:18 PM

        Nope, because they're going to die in a fire.

        • reply
          February 6, 2013 10:43 PM

          you'll cool off eventually. you have to go through the stages of grief

          • reply
            February 7, 2013 4:16 AM

            I forget, which stage is the one where I cackle victoriously over their smoldering corpses?

    • reply
      February 6, 2013 11:16 AM

      why do the big strong characters always have to be idiots?... seems like they are conforming to the norm there.

    • reply
      February 6, 2013 4:08 PM

      Its very simple, to think about the future, we have to look into the past. The origin of all MMMs? They came from MUDs. The successors, in pandering to the masses have destroyed the basics of why therewere so many MUDs that were super successful even after a decade, and technically had no "end game".

      Think about it.. you could spend a year or even two playing _hardcore_ and yet probably wouldn't be at the highest level "cap" of the game. If you did, you were rewarded by being able to become a "Wizard" or Demi-God and then start helping on making the game/MUD even better, by starting your own events, adding your own areas.. it made for a rich, powerful and surprising experience. You could logon one night with your level 29 character (out of 30) or level 765 character out of 10,000 and depending on the clan politics or God politics you could usually count on something interesting and new going on. There were rarely updates or patches, but there were always new areas, new quests, new player-driven things going on.

      Lastly, the reason why you could play for years and never reach the highest level... character death actually meant something. Every iteration of MMOs since the Graphical MUDs got popular, every advancement, every evolution has just led to making death less and less of an inconvenience and this is fundamentally breaking the system in ways that make it difficult for a gamer to understand unless they've come to enjoy the fruits of a system that is done correctly. Some games if you fell into a lavapit for example, you also lost all your shit you were carrying... lost that awesome wand of immolation? Well, now you have to travel back to the Tower of Sorcery with a large group and hope you can get that drop again at the top. Sure, you would get pissed, swear, maybe even cry... but did that EVER stop you from playing? No... it made you play harder, longer, better, (usually, [hopefully] safer)

      Better Death systems give us so much more into the experience its hard for new or young gamers to grasp. The effects of the terrible death systems we have in place leave their mark everywhere, subtly ruining the game experience. Just one tiny example being ridiculous TIME SINKS (usually centered around the monetary system of current-gen MMOs)

Hello, Meet Lola