RIFT: Behind the Scenes with Jeff “Red Hawk” Hamilton


With so much interest in the Primalist, we figured it was a great time for Senior Community Manager Eric “Ocho” Cleaver to sit down with Senior Systems Designer Jeff “Red Hawk” Hamilton for a little insight on what goes in to designing a new Calling in RIFT.

OCHO: Tell the players a little about yourself!
JH: My name is Jeff Hamilton. You may know me better as Red Hawk on the forums. I am a Senior Systems Designer, working on RIFT.

OCHO: Tell us about your time at Trion.
JH: I have been here for about a year. I was looking to work on class abilities, which made me a good fit for Trion’s needs at the time. When I interviewed at Trion, I was blown away by the combination of high level skills and down to earth approach. At many companies, people tend to be more mercenary about their job, but everyone here was REALLY into making games. It’s a fusion of what we love to do and what we’re good at doing.
It was refreshing to see the team so into MMOGs and so into playing the games we make.

OCHO: Do you play RIFT yourself?
JH: Yeah! I have a couple of level 65 characters of undisclosed classes. My original character, when RIFT launched, was a Warrior. Since joining the team, I haven’t allowed myself to go back to play the Warrior though – she’s still level 24, in a glass case for now.

OCHO: Tell us about starting work on the first new Calling for RIFT since launch.
JH: It’s been pretty crazy; you start with this big, blank canvas and a bunch of ideas. Maybe we completely shapeshift to animals or maybe we call on giant forces of nature, or maybe we call on animal spirits – then you try this all out and decide what works best. What is the most fun, most responsive, least strain on the game engine? Then you do it again, and dial in on what works best and what’s most fun. It’s a really iterative process.

OCHO: While working on Primalist, you’ve been working on the other Callings as well. Has working on Primalist given you any insights on the other Callings?
JH: It has almost been the other way around. I’ll look at abilities of another soul, and I’ll see that it has 18 different effects that deal with various edge cases. When you look under the hood, you know that someone had a specific intent that caused the various parts to work together in this way, but when you’re making something new, you want to make it as forward thinking and easy to maintain as possible. I really tried to build everything with that in mind.

A lot of times, when I am looking at existing Callings, I have to keep in mind not just “is this better gameplay than before,” but even if it is, how does it differ from how players expect it to be? The differences may cause them to have very strong feelings about it, positive or negative. Primalist is free from this limitation – we get a chance to make something fun with no pre-existing expectations of what it feels like.

OCHO: What was your process for the different Primalist souls, i.e. tank, dps, healer?
JH: As far as DPS souls go, we wanted to design each soul to have its own niche. We have a single-target melee, an AoE melee, a single-target ranged, and an AoE ranged soul. If you’re playing a Primalist and you are trying to pick the best soul for a specific situation, we want it to be obvious, so that you clearly know which soul is the best for that purpose.

As far as theming and getting the identities for each soul down, that came to tying the entire Calling to Planetouched Wilds, and drawing on that primal nature with raging elements. The Primalist is all about unbridled natural fury.

That really contributed to the destructive force of wind, where Dervish is a really fast-moving whirlwind that whips across the land. Titan is not so much destructive as it is a huge, lumbering hulk that will stand between you and everything else. Each of the souls has a similar elemental identity – they play up an aspect of nature.

OCHO: The Soul Trees for Primalist are very different…
JH: Yes! The Primalist Soul Trees have 31 points, where the top talent of a tree takes 21 points, but the root abilities definitely reward filling up the whole tree.

Primalists do not receive a point every level as other callings do; the rationale for this is that the 61 point trees are the product of multiple expansions worth of skills to the foundation of their original trees. They can be daunting for new players to approach and also full of minor talents (like 2% more to single target heal or 2% more to fire damage). Basically, we baked a lot of that sort of passive buff into the baseline abilities for Primalist, so then the talents left can be made into really cool abilities like, “When you cast your dispel on your ally, it casts on you as well.” or “Attacking targets affected by your DoT heals you for 1% of your maximum health.”

So you get mechanics in your Primalist talents, for the most part. There are still a very few passive buffs, mostly in the lowest tiers of the soul tree, for boosts to your side-spec. Those passive boosts are more effective per-point than points in existing callings – so you get talents like “Cunning attacks deal 2.5/5/7.5/10%more damage”, that kind of thing.

OCHO: The 21-point final talent is pretty sweet – how did it play out with hybridisation?
JH: Hybridization tends to come when people make a really potent interaction between different trees, often unanticipated. Sometimes it’s intentional, such as with Nightblade, and Assassin in Rogue – they are meant to be played together. You can be half and half, or go full Nightblade or full Assassin.

Generally when people find really effective hybrid builds, like the recent 40 point Stormcaller build, which is a Harbinger build with more points in Stormcaller than Harbinger, that’s because the deep talents in each soul are maybe not attractive enough. In other words, investing fully into the tree may not be worth what you give up by missing interior talents in another tree.

We do want people to come up with funky, cool stuff and to customize their gameplay with the Soul Trees. They are there so people can play with them, and RIFT players freaking love Soul Trees.

At the same time, with Primalist, we wanted to make sure that if you’re spending so many points in one tree that it’s worth it and get a really cool ability deep in the tree. Whereas previously all talent points were of somewhat equal value, this time around, we’re rewarding investment deeper into the trees.

OCHO: Have you tried any hybrid builds with Primalist?
JH: I’ve seen one, a combination of 17 Dervish and 14 Berserker, with 8 points in something else… that’s cool, that’s fine. Personally, I’ll probably always play something that is 21 points, because I love the giant glowy heads and the really cool abilities. Players ARE creative though; they’ll come up with cool hybrids we didn’t anticipate.

OCHO: Looking back on the last couple of months as players learn more and more about the Primalist and have been giving feedback, what have you learned?
JH: When we were recently at GamesCom, showing this off for the first time, it was great to hear and see player reactions in person, saying “That looks really cool, I really want to play that.” Even at that time, in my head, I was still thinking, “I’ve still got so much stuff to do, so much work to make all the pieces fit and so on…” and I realized that no matter how good it is when it goes out, I am still going to be thinking it should have had this and should have had that… you never really know. It’s going to be interesting.

We’ve gone through a LOT of different designs on it. It was good to fail a lot early; if something isn’t going to work, you want to know about it as soon as possible.

OCHO: How has working with player feedback been, through the different iterations?
JH: It’s been fantastic. We have dedicated players from every other existing Calling in RIFT checking out the Primalist, saying things like, “Oh this talent really doesn’t work yet, but even if it did work, here are my thoughts on it.” So we get this instantaneous feedback and suggestions based on player’s long experience with RIFT.
The upcoming playtests on PTS are going to be great for us. We’re hoping lots of people get in there. What is a Typhoon? What is a Vulcanist? What is this weird bar that goes from red to blue and back again!

OCHO: Thank you, Red Hawk. We’ll see you on the Public Test Server soon with Primalists!