The new MMORPG from World of Warcraft designer Greg Street and Fantastic Pixel Games, codenamed Ghost, is set to keep defined alts with each of your characters tied to their class. However, in a community AMA, the team says it is taking lessons from other leading games such as FFXIV and wants to ensure that Ghost is a game that “fits into your life” and respects your time, rather than enforcing a heavy grind on multiple characters.
Revealed just last week, Ghost is the running codename for the debut project from Street’s new studio, which features many names who have worked on some of the best MMORPGs over the years. Among the fourteen-person studio are several notable Blizzard and Riot veterans, and a group of them sat down to discuss some of their early thoughts and design processes with the community in a live AMA (ask me anything).
One of the most popular questions from the community is how Ghost will handle alts. The concept of having multiple characters, each tied to the class they start as, will be very familiar to many MMO players, including those of us who have spent time with World of Warcraft. Conversely, one of the biggest MMORPGs right now, Square Enix’s Final Fantasy 14, diverges from the norm by allowing you to switch between every class on a single character.
“One of the biggest challenges that we’re going to try and figure out is that we want the game to fit into your lives,” says VP of product Kristina Swanenburg, a former executive producer at Riot Games. “We know you have busy lives full of other things to do, but also we respect how meaningful it is when you’ve played a game for thousands of hours, and you want to be able to say, ‘you can see all the love and devotion I’ve put into this game.’”
Playing multiple characters is certainly something a lot of people rather enjoy, but can lead to a feeling in some games that you need to grind out gear or weekly quests on several characters, or that there’s a requirement to play more than one character to ‘feed’ your primary class with the resources it needs. The team at Ghost seems to understand this, and wants to avoid a similar outcome while maintaining the benefits of having distinct characters.
“We believe in RPGs it’s a lot about creating a character, and your class has a lot to do with the identity of that character,” says gameplay design director Brian Holinka, who previously acted as WoW’s lead combat designer. “So we do want characters and the classes to be tied together.
“But we also want to have this ability to progress your alts, or play a lot of alts, and so your progression will probably be more about you the player than your individual characters. It’s a tricky problem,” Holinka muses. “How much do you make the time investment worthwhile so it feels like you’ve made this character more powerful, but at the same time is not a hindrance to you making multiple characters?”
Content design director Candace Thomas, a former senior game designer on WoW, brings up FFXIV as a comparison point: “We have talked about this a lot; one of the things we really like about the Final Fantasy model is how easy it is to swap back and forth your classes and how much sense it makes.
“There are things that we could do in that vein, but ultimately the thing we like most, and the reason we chose this direction, was that we like embodying the entire fantasy of the character,” Thomas continues. “We want to give you the full breadth of that fantasy, and I think the best way to deliver on that is to let you play a lot of different races – play a lot of different fantasies to explore.”
Street, himself a former lead systems designer on World of Warcraft, adds his own thoughts on time investment. “Peeling back the curtain a little bit here, the historical business model for a lot of MMOs was to keep players playing as much as possible, because that’s where the revenue comes from. We don’t think that’s aged super well.
“When Baldur’s Gate 3 came out, I wanted to just play a lot of Baldur’s Gate 3,” Street smiles. “If I had been raiding or something at the time, that might have been an issue for my guild. We are really trying to design Ghost to fit into your life. Because we’re releasing the story in chapters, if you feel like you’ve seen the end and you want to take a break for a little while, that’s fine – we’re not going to get mad at that, and we’re going to try to make sure all the systems in the game can support that.”
If you’re curious, the full video is well worth a watch. The team talks about whether it’s considering allowing UI mods and the ensuing ‘arms race’ seen in games like WoW, why it wants to avoid traditional fantasy tropes and just importing ‘Tolkien elves and dwarves’ into its lore, and its hope for cross-server play and worldwide updates. You’ll also learn all about the Ratcatcher class, and the team’s running in-jokes around it.
The concept of starting to develop a brand new MMO in 2023 is certain to raise some eyebrows; but between the wealth of talent already involved at Fantastic Pixel Castle and the thoughtfulness shown here is actually starting to make me believe they could be onto something. Learning lessons from the best of the rest is a great start, and, in the team’s own words, “If you hate it, then we’ll change it.”
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