Path of Exile literally exploded on to the web since it went open beta on January 23 this year. The online action-rpg had managed to evade my radar last year and it was only now that a couple of friends referred me to some of its gameplay videos. Suffice to say it caught my attention instantly.
What’s not to love about Path of Exile? The free-to-play title dwells in a dark fantasy world of Wraeclast, “a remote continent that serves as a colony for criminals and other unwanted individuals.”
Developer Grinding Gear Games has done well in creating an atmosphere which feeds on fear and despair; and the statistics speak for themselves.
As of now the game has reached two million registered players in just the first two months of its open beta.
Last week we contacted the producer of the game Brian Weissman, and fired a long list of questions at him. Thankfully he took enough time out of his busy scheduled to provide us with the answers.
Fans would be happy to know that there is indeed an Act 4 in the making, as is more content for the present Act 3. The game itself is currently eying a release later this year around September.
I find it fascinating that GGG started off with such humble beginnings and went on to create something so amazing. Can you tell our readers how your studio has progressed in these past six years? Has the team expanded over this time or does it comprise of the same members?
Brian Weissman: As they say, sometimes the greatest things have very small beginnings. The studio has progressed tremendously since our early days in Chris’ garage. It’s pretty funny too, because there is a cliche about companies starting in people’s garages, but in our case, it’s completely true!
We started with just a few people and a lot of ambition, kind of the same way that many companies begin. Things moved along pretty slowly, we had a million ideas, but we needed to first build the foundations for the game.
Once we had some basic things in place, we steadily increased our personnel to their current levels. Grinding Gear Games now employs over 20 developers plus a large customer support team, all based in Auckland, New Zealand.
One of the most defining features of Path of Exile is its immense skill tree. That said, many are currently opting to go full HP, which ultimately destroys the concept of versatility. Do you plan on changing this trend? If so then how are you going to incorporate the new changes in the skill tree?
Brian Weissman: This trend is much more common in Hardcore, where it makes perfect sense. In Hardcore, your #1 priority is survival, which guides not only your choice of passive skills, but your gear choices as well. A player might opt to go spinning around with Cyclone using a big powerful 2-handed weapon in Default, but in Hardcore, that same player would likely prefer a 1-handed weapon and a shield.
Life nodes are meant to be plentiful, and obviously super attractive to Hardcore players. Believe it or not, the game went through a long period where people eschewed life nodes almost entirely, partly because Energy Shield was too strong, and partly because monsters just weren’t dangerous enough. We adjusted the difficulty and damage of the game because of this, which accomplished the goal of making life nodes very tempting.
We have no immediate plans to devalue life nodes. We want players to have to make the choice between higher damage and higher survivability. That’s a quandary that has always existed in ARPGs. True, there may be more build diversity in Default, but that’s pretty much intentional. We want players to experiment with wacky, esoteric builds. Hardcore just isn’t the place for that sort of thing, it’s about survival.
Instead of making life nodes worse or less attractive, what we’d ultimately like is to have a wide enough range of skills in the game that people feel there are other ways to survive hard content. That’s the ultimate goal. We’re also looking into ways that we can improve the Armour and Evasion systems.
Last year you mentioned in an interview that GGG has no plans to release their game on Steam. Don’t you think doing so would grant you a wider audience?
Brian Weissman: We’ve always stated we do intend to, but that it’s not a priority. While we agree that releasing PoE on Steam would grant a wider audience, there are numerous logistical hurdles we’d have to tackle first. For the time being, we’re pretty happy with the size of our player base, it matches our ambitions pretty closely. Expanding onto Steam would be a major undertaking that takes valuable development time away from the core game at this crucial stage.
Unlocking the Scepter of God seemed promising but the game just ended too suddenly after that. I take it there is going to be additional content for Act 3 or perhaps maybe a new Act 4. Can you tell if and when that’s due?
Brian Weissman: Your assumption is correct, we’ve said as much a number of times. Act 3 will complete with a big boss battle high atop the Sceptre of God. We went to Open Beta in our current state because we felt the Piety fight was a good final challenge. However, Act 3 is not complete. We’re actually working on the content right now that will comprise “Act 3x”. It’s expected in approximately September. Work for Act 4 has already begun.
The game currently seems to not bode well with anyone tinkering with the video settings, specially if they are using AMD cards. There was a post last month on reddit by one of your admins that said you would be improving graphical support after March. Don’t you believe that ensuring a smoother gameplay experience is of the utmost importance and should be looked at right away?
Brian Weissman: Of course we want everyone to have a smooth gameplay experience. However, we’re a pretty small team, so there is a hierarchy of stuff that always needs attention. Following the transition to Open Beta, there were a number of highly urgent things that required our immediate attention.
We needed to address issues like account security and overall server stability first, as those things had the greatest impact on the greatest number of people. As we move further into Open Beta, we’re able to dedicate time and manpower to other things, including the issues with desync, video cards, melee vs. ranged balance and so on. There is always a give and take at a small studio, you simply can’t be working on everything at once.
At this stage we do not know of any AMD-specific issues with the game, other than the fact that many AMD users have changed settings in their overall AMD control panel that negatively affect Path of Exile. We can’t control those settings easily, and have posted on the forums about what types of settings they should not make system-wide changes to.
There have been rumors of a new class inbound around the time Path of Exile officially releases. Any truth to that?
Brian Weissman: Sadly, these are just mere rumors. We have six classes in the game for a reason: there are six permutations of the three core attributes. It’s more likely that we’d work on alternate sex models for each class than we’d make a brand new one.
Trading at the moment is a bit too annoying than it should be. Any chance of an actual auction house or a separate platform which can help players purchase and sell equipment more easily? That said I know I would love a mailbox delivery system.
Brian Weissman: Trading can be a bit tough right now because all of the systems involving trade are still pretty new. We didn’t even have formal player to player trading in the game for most of the Closed Beta period! With that said, there are many big improvements coming.
The biggest aid will be the ability to execute trades through the website. Additionally, players will be able to put items into a public stash, that others players can browse and make offers on.
This should cut down on the amount of spam in the trade channels, while streamlining the entire trading process. We have no intention of ever implementing a formal auction house, because we feel that it runs counter to the fundamental motivations of a loot-based ARPG with no gold-based currency.
Can you provide us with an up-to-date amount of Diamond Supporters so far?
Brian Weissman: I sure can. During the Closed beta, we had 250 Diamond Supporters, which includes a number of people buying more than one package. We stopped selling Diamond support with the end of Closed Beta, but we plan to have something similar for Open Beta. Closed Beta supporters will still keep their exclusive titles, of course.
Could you give us some insight on the custom crafted items. How are the item and player level requirements decided? How much freedom does a Diamond Supporter have in the process?
Brian Weissman: It’s a multi-step process actually. For starters, we email the Diamond supporter to thank them for their purchase, and to let them know that we’re ready to help them get started on designing their unique.
From that point, the process diverges based on the person involved. Some people have a very concrete idea of what they want made, sometimes even down to the exact stats and function. Other people have a more general idea of what they want done, but don’t actually know what base item they want, and how it will wind up in game.
Once the person has submitted their basic idea, Erik creates a concept art piece for the look of the unique, and a number of our designers get to work on the stats. There is sometimes a lengthy refinement process for this, since submitted Uniques often wind up being a bit on the overpowered side. We’re not averse to making Uniques that are without drawbacks, but at the same time, we don’t want them to be overtly more powerful than the best rares.
Once an item is near finalized, it gets critiqued by a bunch of people in our internal design document. At some point the flavor text gets written, though this is often done by the Diamond supporter themselves. Finally, the item gets the go-ahead, and is added to the patching schedule. It’s a process that can take anywhere from a month to several months.
Your recent patch brought new artworks for all Gems. Are there plans to give new artworks to Uniques as well? If so then when can we expect them?
Brian Weissman: Absolutely! Uniques are very special, rare items, so we want them to really feel unique. Part of this is the item appearing differently from other items in the game. Right now, our artists are hard at work updating the art for many unique items, so that they look distinct when you use them. Death’s Harp is one example of how all our unique items will ultimately look.
We don’t have a specific date for when all the artwork will be updated, I suspect that you’ll just see the items added with regular weekly patches.
I like how Path of Exile encourages playing in Public Parties. However, the looting system seems broken. It’s fairly easy to pick up items intended for other players who are not in the vicinity or are currently fighting mobs elsewhere. Does GGG plan to introduce options for a Master Looter or at least a voting feature to kick ninjas?
Brian Weissman: This has been a subject of a great deal of controversy since the move to Open Beta, I’ll try my best to explain our line of thinking. Exiles in Wraeclast have a shady, uncertain past. Some of them were professional assassins in their past lives. Some were the murderers of children. On the whole, they’re not a particularly endearing bunch.
So while people are encouraged to play in groups, and the content is generally easier that way, it’s also designed to feel a bit like “every man for himself”. To this end, we have made looting free-for-all, in an effort to enforce that cutthroat, selfish feeling. There are item allocation timers to compensate for latency and distance.
A lot of people complain about the duration of the loot timers, but for a long portion of Closed Beta, these timers didn’t exist at all. Loot was distributed the same way it was in Diablo 2: fair game the moment it hit the ground, the property of anyone quick enough to grab it.
Ironically, putting people’s names on loot that drops created an unfortunate feeling of entitlement. When a Chaos Orb drops with your character’s name on it, you feel like that item is genuinely yours, and that anyone who picks it up is a ninja. If we didn’t have timers at all, then people wouldn’t feel this way. You never heard complaints from people boss farming in D2 about someone else stealing “their loot”.
We adjusted the rules of the loot timer in the recent 0.10.3c patch and will continue to modify it in the future based on feedback.
Can we expect the game to officially release this year?
Brian Weissman: That’s definitely the goal, yes. Between now and the official release of the game, a tremendous amount of work needs to be done. We plan to add dozens more skills and supports. We have over 200 more Diamond Uniques to add.
We have updates planned for many existing skills, as well as countless improvements to art, animations, textures, sounds, voiceovers, etc. Numerous game systems need implementation and refinement as well. Many of those planned improvements have already been discussed in earlier questions.
We’re aiming to have this all done by around September, but we’re remaining flexible on that. We pushed back Open Beta for a number of months to get things just right, and the public was extremely understanding. We have no reason to believe they wouldn’t react the same way to final release.
How long after release can players expect a new expansion pack and will that be free as well?
Brian Weissman: All expansions will be be free. We’re expecting to release them every 6-9 months, though of course there will be frequent content updates (currently, weekly) during that time.
Just curious as to who does the figure in the middle of the passive tree represent?
Brian Weissman: This is one of the great mysteries of Wraeclast. The figure in the middle of the Passive Tree is working as intended.
Path of Exile may have very well succeeded in creating its own identity. Does it bother you that the game is constantly being compared to Diablo 3?
Brian Weissman: We’re flattered to be compared to such a gigantic AAA production. We’re huge fans of the Diablo series and having our game acknowledged alongside it is amazing for us.
Path of Exile is quite different to Diablo 3 in many ways. Our fans appreciate these differences and enjoy our game as a hardcore experience with extremely meaningful item choices and deep character customization.