Global Agenda Six Months Later – An Interview with Executive Producer Todd Harris

Posted by on August 4, 2010 - 8 Comments »

It’s hard to believe the way I discovered Global Agenda.  As I was stomping through PAX 2009 (that’d be PAX “Prime”) I heard a man shouting something about “No elves.”  Mildly interested, I turned to see a booth lined with computers, which people were huddled around playing a game I had never seen.  Turns out, I knew exactly what the game was.  This was the game responsible for shooting an elven mage in the head while he was casting.

I sat down, played a few rounds, and found myself very interested.  I continued to follow the game, eventually worming my way into the alpha/beta process.  I was my usual, vocal self, calling for various changes and updates, but mostly, I begged for further polish of the MMOG features.  The game, like all games, had its flaws.  What made the difference, and what ultimately made me an early adopter, was how Hi-Rez reacted.  The company essentially admitted the game wasn’t as ready as it would have liked and put subscription fees on hold.  A sweeping PR victory.

Now, here we are six months after Global Agenda launched.  The game is subscription free and pushing itself as an expansion-based title (a model popularized by Guild Wars). Two thirds of the first “expansion” have been released for free to wild praise,  and just about every facet of the game has been tweaked.

To celebrate the six-month accomplishments of Global Agenda I decided to harass Hi-Rez with a few questions.  Executive Producer Todd Harris was kind enough to indulge me. The answers are only a click away. First and foremost, congratulations on making it to a healthy six months.  Not many games manage to get this far with the community and hype still behind them.

Todd Harris: Thanks!  Our dev team is thrilled to see Global Agenda thriving and growing, and we definitely see the community as a big reason for this.

Hi-Rez Studios had some pretty clear cut ideas for the Global Agenda when it launched.  The title was positioned to be its own beast, not an iteration from staple MMOG features.  Yet, the community begged for some of these, of which the open world was one of them.  Was its introduction a difficult design decision to recapitulate on?  Were many meetings and discussions held surrounding its decision?  Any fistfights?

Certainly there were a few “spirited” discussions along the way!

Upon Global Agenda’s launch, it isn’t that we were necessarily against Open Zones.  But it is true that we were passionately FOR fun, shooter-based gameplay and wanted to keep our relatively small team focused on that above all else.  For us, the foundation of the game was, and still is, the combat system.  We felt that if we kept that our top priority and nailed it, we would be uniquely positioned within the MMOG landscape.  Then we could work with the community to identify additional features and content types.  Our entire art team is now thrilled to be able to deliver more immersion and story and sense of place thru Open Zones.  At the same time, they realize that we needed to launch with addictive and fun and different combat or we probably wouldn’t have made it this far.

Hi-Rez Studios has listened and implemented numerous community requests, from open-questing to combat jetpacks to rainbow dyes.  What are some of the community requests that are being evaluated now?

Additional crafting options and items, high-end PvE Raid content, new Mercenary PvP maps – the community is never short on ideas.

Various mechanics have been changed each patch.  What do the developers see as the most important changes to the game itself?

Sandstorm Phase I was important because it introduced more loot/gear variation into the game, while still maintaining the core PvP balance – at least IMO.

Sandstorm Phase II was important because the technology behind that first OpenZone enables future content expansions – some zones for higher level characters, some that combine PvE and PvP, and all with larger maps and larger player counts.

What single feature, tweak or mechanic has seen the most development time?

Before launch – I would say our melee system.  It is relatively simple but resulted from a lot of iteration and playtesting.  Post-launch, AvA has undergone the most change.

A couple of members of TGCI commented that they have been hit by lag that precipitated to connection issues.  Is that a result of Phase II of Sandstorm?

Potentially.  Specific to the OpenZone, we have profiled different player caps so we can deliver the best performance.

Global Agenda started off with more than four classes.  Some of the discarded classes were rolled into other classes, such as the infamous poison medic.  Any chance that we’ll see these specializations break off into their own class in the future?

Very unlikely.

We’d be looking at completely new classes instead?

We’re more likely to extend our current class roles but [it’s] still under discussion.

Will classes be earning skill points past level 30 in the next expansion?  Will players see deeper, more inventive specialization trees in the near future?

We will look at skill-tree adjustments within the next expansion, but too early to reveal any details on that.

Any regrets, missteps or judgment errors from the past six months the team would like to address?

Our team is definitely aware and sympathetic to the churn we’ve put our AvA players thru.  The folks playing AvA are our most dedicated and accomplished players, and we’ve changed the rules on them a LOT!  I know that has led to some player burnout or frustration.

The reality is that our vision of a persistent, player-driven, competitive PvP end-game is ambitious, and many of the emergent aspects are not possible to test in-house.  Many important lessons result by seeing it play out with real people over a real season.  So, I can’t say I regret it because we’ve learned from the process, very actively solicited player feedback along the way, and have been transparent with our latest thoughts and reasoning.  That said I still see AvA as a work in progress – still evolving based on player feedback and actions.

And lastly, the question we all knew was coming: Phase III date?

The original Phase III scope was outlined to include a Quest/Mission System, PvE OpenZone, Defense Missions, and WarZones.  We actually accelerated three out of those four major items, along with the additional enhancement of Consumables/Salvage and delivered all those within the Sandstorm version that is now live.

So, the remaining big ticket roadmap items per Erez’ ‘Phase Plan’ include:  Player Achievements – which we will deliver in late summer/early fall, and PvP WarZones which we are deferring until the next paid Expansion.