Dungeons & Dragons Online interview: Reflecting on 15 years of adventure

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Fifteen years feels like an eternity in the game sector. Looking back at February 2006, we have been at the finish of the PlayStation 2/Xbox era, Steam wasn’t a Computer gaming juggernaut however, and World of Warcraft was the most significant beast on the block.

That’s also when Turbine launched Dungeons &amp Dragons Online, the tabletop franchise’s initial contemporary MMORPG (people, do not neglect that Neverwinter Nights was the initial on line function-playing game to have graphics, way back in 1991).

Dungeons &amp Dragons Online (or DDO as it is identified to the neighborhood) turned 15 this year. Over that time, it is seen Dungeons &amp Dragons publisher Wizards of the Coast go from 3.5 Edition to 5th Edition. It’s gone from a subscription model to free of charge-to-play. Publisher rights have moved from initial Atari to Codemasters to Warner Bros. to, ultimately, Daybreak Games. And development moved as properly, when Turbine went beneath and people from the DDO and Lord of the Rings Online dev teams formed Standing Stone Games, the game’s existing studio.

But by means of that time, DDO and its players have adventured by means of 60 content updates. It’s had 513 “Screenshot of the Week” posts from the players. It nonetheless has a vibrant neighborhood (Standing Stone didn’t share how lots of active players DDO nonetheless has).

Standing Stone studio head Rob Ciccolini has been working on DDO for virtually nine years. In that time, he’s seen the game go to dread domains of Ravenloft and discover the towers of the spectacular city of Sharn, going to some of D&ampD‘s most beloved module settings along the way. He’s seen new player races and classes come in.

And he’s witnessed the players’ continued like of D&ampD, some thing he shares with them.

This is an edited transcript of our interview.

Adventure awaits

Image Credit: Standing Stone Games

GamesBeat: How has this game survived for 15 years, in your opinion?

Rob Ciccolini: Well, there are a quantity of points. It’s a properly-made game. It has deep character choices. When somebody comes in, there’s absolutely a lot for them to work with and discover. It has a framework that enables you to do group points, but you can also solo if you want. Each dungeon is handcrafted, so you can get a wide variety of experiences based on what you want. All of these lead to a extremely compelling practical experience. Plus, I imply, Dungeons &amp Dragons is a good game. It’s a nostalgic game. It leads the path in terms of how folks look at it, how folks treat gaming. Being attached to that is absolutely some thing that we like, that position and that development is good.

GamesBeat: What tends to make it so properly-made? What are the mechanics that jump out and say, this is very good? What are some points that Standing Stone has added to make it superior?

Ciccolini: One point I like about it is you get the meat of the adventure and the exciting stuff quickly. Much as I like some of the other MMOs that have sturdy landscapes, like Lord of the Rings Online, exactly where you have the huge benefit of becoming in Middle-Earth, for D&ampD when you log in, when your group logs in, you are in the dungeon seeking for traps and locating monsters and figuring out puzzles extremely speedily. There’s not a 20- or 30-minute lead-in time. The practical experience from evening to evening is really varied. There are some nights exactly where I’ll log in to other games, and I know quite a great deal precisely what I’ll do. I’ll be repeating content more than and more than once more. It boils down to click or kill.

But for D&ampD Online, all of the dungeons are custom-made. You can run dungeons that are focused on combat, but if you want some thing distinct, you can run dungeons with puzzles. You can run dungeons exactly where you have to work with traps. You have to work as a group on a quantity of points. You have to navigate mazes and locate levers. There’s a wide selection of experiences.

Another good point about D&ampD Online is there’s so a great deal content now. As you level, there’s a large, wide selection of points to do. There’s a new practical experience just about every time you attempt a new character. And there are lots of new characters to attempt out. One point I like about the game is you can not go off into the wilderness and grab someone’s create and just blindly copy it. There’s so a great deal to the synergy with your group, what you are attempting to resolve for. There are a lot of create choices, which leads to virtually limitless customization for your character. There’s a lot there. Especially with cross-class, exactly where you have a quantity of strong classes and you can combine them in hundreds or thousands of strategies.

GamesBeat: When you say the dungeons are hand-crafted, do you imply that the studio crafts them, or are there also elements to exactly where a player can be a DM and take a dungeon and do their personal point with it?

Ciccolini: We do not have dungeon masters. We provide the dungeons. Which is sort of a very good point due to the fact very frankly, if I could have more dungeon masters, I’d likely game more frequently myself. Sometimes it is difficult to locate a dungeon master, and the good point about D&ampD Online is there’s a lot of emotional and inventive power that goes into operating a very good adventure. That’s not some thing a common particular person can do many instances a week. D&ampD Online supplies a DM for you, so somebody does not have to do that.

Now, do not get me incorrect. Some folks like becoming DMs. But even they will need a break sometimes. Logging on with your entire group and possessing the D&ampD practical experience without having requiring all that setup is good from time to time.

GamesBeat: From what I try to remember of the 3.5 Edition days, it had a lot of prestige classes, a lot of strategies to mix-and-match classes. Does the way you do that adapt that technique?

Ciccolini: There’s a base D&ampD technique, and then we create added customization on best of it. The way we do prestige classes, each and every class has a tree that represents distinct strategies that you can get there. For 3.5 it was prestige classes, but in 5. you may possibly believe of the distinct paths players can take at particular levels. Fighter has 3 trees. Rogue has 3 trees. All of these can bring them — a thief-acrobat beneath rogue plays extremely differently than an assassin.

The other point we have is universal trees. These are trees that can combine with any of the classes. They’re not class-distinct. That offers you good combinations. If you want to have a cool bird of prey, you can adhere to falconry and incorporate that into your adventure. Inquisitors can use their intellectual capabilities. They’re handy with crossbows. Those are the varieties of universal trees to give even more depth to the sorts of characters you can play.

GamesBeat: Did I hear you say thief-acrobat?

Ciccolini: You did.

GamesBeat: That’s from the 1st Edition of D&ampD, is not it?

Ciccolini: Yes, it is. You can tumble by means of traps. The thief-acrobat can use a employees, which is not some thing you see in most games. That’s a extremely distinct feeling than an assassin working with daggers, possibly working with the Vistani fighting tree and sneaking up and taking out crucial enemies.

GamesBeat: Is it weird or strange to be working on a game exactly where the guidelines come from 3.5 when D&ampD is properly into 5th edition?

Ciccolini: Not truly? A lot of the character choices come from a robust set of systems that live above the guidelines. At some point I believe we want to bring our fundamental guidelines to some thing more contemporary, possibly revamp them. There are some points about the existing guidelines I’d like to repair. It’s relatively straightforward for a new player to use multiclassing and do it in an order that is not one hundred % effective. I’d like to clean up some of that, absolutely. We run into these challenges, and these are holdbacks from the edition we’re working on. But I like each editions, so I’m a negative particular person to ask. I’ll gladly play 3.5 or 5. tabletop, either way. I’m not one of these folks who advocate for a distinct set of guidelines extremely strongly.

Legend lore

Image Credit: Standing Stone Games

GamesBeat: There’s been considerable lore alterations in the editions as properly. Eberron has changed. How do you incorporate alterations to lore? Or is your game just nonetheless rooted in this time, and these alterations do not matter?

Ciccolini: Conceptually, as you level, we have a tendency to attempt to make any passage of time look organic. But due to the fact we offer you a lot of content at two distinct points, that is not normally achievable. The other point we do is, there’s a group named the Gatekeepers that guard gates into the planes. One of the points that is occurred is the Manual of the Planes, the old D&ampD artifact, has been causing a lot of challenges, and they’ve been attempting to maintain points tamped down. But it enables the players the chance to go to distinct locations that could not even be necessarily in the two worlds that we work with, in neither the Forgotten Realms or Eberron, due to the fact the Manual of the Planes is causing passages to open up. The Gatekeepers finish up sending you to a quantity of locations to deal with challenges brought on by that. That offers us the chance to focus on classic packs, reproducing that nostalgic practical experience of old dungeons as they existed for folks who want that, bringing to life some of these modules that we try to remember, and then providing them a complete remedy and letting you be standing in them.

It’s a true treat, becoming in these landscapes. Keep on the Borderlands, remembering playing or reading by means of that module. We’re working on the Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, a series of old dungeons, and becoming in a position to stand in that. Playing by means of experiences in the exact same manner as when you played them the initial time, no matter whether that was 20 years ago or two months ago. We have Ravenloft. You can move by means of Sharn, which wasn’t classic, but dealt with the huge sea of Eberron. There are a quantity of points that are just a joy to work with.

GamesBeat: I was going by means of some of the news posts from your chronicle, and there was a reference to White Plume Mountain.

Ciccolini: Everyone loves these weapons. I do not know any one who didn’t study by means of White Plume Mountain that didn’t want to go in and finish up in possession of one of the 3. Doing that and bringing these weapons to the new technique at the time, exactly where the weapons can speak to you and possessing intelligent weapons that have sentience, becoming in a position to upgrade these, that was truly entertaining.

GamesBeat: Do you also incorporate any of the storylines from D&ampD 5th edition, like Rage of Demons or Elemental Evil?

Ciccolini: Usually we go toward — Saltmarsh just came out as a new location. We have a tendency to work on the classic packs, bringing these to life. Sometimes we do. Our Ravenloft remedy is extremely a great deal closer to the newer edition than the old module. The newer edition was a standout. It depends on what we believe will translate superior to our game and systems. Some of the new experiences are — the narrative is some thing that is more tricky, or not very as entertaining in an MMO. There’s a lot of points exactly where convincing a character of some thing is a good practical experience when you have a very good DM, but not so a great deal in an MMO. We’ll go back and forth and see — what do we believe will bring about the most player joy in this? Do we want to do the nostalgic old-college, or do we want to go with a newer remedy? It varies based on the kind of stuff that gets added.

White Plume Mountain is a favorite among DDO players ... and old D&D salts like me.

Image Credit: Standing Stone Games

GamesBeat: Saltmarsh would be the older remedy, not the Ghosts of the Saltmarsh book from 2018?

Ciccolini: That’s appropriate. Plus, we’re adding some bits. There will be some further dungeons about that theme and location that you can do that may possibly not have been in the original versions.

Attracing new players to an old game

GamesBeat: How do you get new players in? Are you finding new players on a frequent basis?

Ciccolini: Sure. When we have an anniversary, when we have an expansion, when we have regular updates. We normally are going to attempt to get new players in. The good point about D&ampD is it has a tremendous new player base. They’re normally seeking for new D&ampD experiences. As we go by means of and produce content, we normally have folks that are like, oh, I try to remember that when I was younger, let me go verify it out.

GamesBeat: Do you imply in your game or in D&ampD in basic?

Ciccolini: Just in D&ampD in basic. There are a quantity of older modules that even newer players are going back and locating once more. Right now the folks are understanding how strong that social practical experience is, that it exists outdoors the game, and it is good to have — I like MMOs and other group games that are cooperative due to the fact I really feel that it promotes that exact same sense of neighborhood. Now, do not get me incorrect. There are competitive games I like as properly, shooters and stuff, but I truly get pleasure from the cooperative elements of games exactly where the entire party is finding collectively and working toward the exact same target. That’s exactly where my heart is in gaming. This is precisely the sort of game I like. Obviously, Lord of the Rings Online does that as properly, when you are exploring the world. There’s a lot of group activity there. Those are the sorts of games I like. It’s a pleasure for me to work on them.

GamesBeat: Do you get that regular wave of … just about every time you have an expansion you get a lot of lapsed players coming back and sticking with the game?

Ciccolini: Of course. Everybody desires to come see the new hotness. You have a new expansion and folks get all excited. But we get that for our regular content updates also. You in no way know. Maybe White Plume Mountain was your jam back in the day and you want to go verify that out. There’s a wide selection of strategies folks come back. Also, we can not underestimate the organic capability for you to speak to your mates about D&ampD. You locate out their group plays as soon as a week in DDO. Suddenly somebody new will come in due to the fact their mates play. The assistance of the neighborhood has been good. They’re the finest way to get players, when you locate out somebody else is playing and you can come in and play with them. That’s just superb.

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Image Credit: Standing Stone Games

GamesBeat: How has your player base changed more than the years? Or has it changed at all?

Ciccolini: A lot of our groups now are groups that play consistently collectively, rather than the flood of folks coming in and attempting to place collectively groups. But it depends on the evening. Also, the way players play depends on the sort of content. We see a huge distinction in how the players play if we just released a raid. They all get into groups and make a decision what to do. Also, due to the fact the game ranges in difficulty so a great deal, you truly can customize how tricky you want it to be to get a wide selection of play types and folks who want to go into Reaper, exactly where the virtual DM is truly attempting to kill you. Some folks say, properly, that is a bit a great deal for me. I want to practical experience the story and get some very good loot, but possibly not at that level. There’s a wide selection of strategies folks play.

DDO’s legacy … and future

GamesBeat: Do you have any moments from working on the game exactly where you believe, wow, this is some thing I’ll normally try to remember?

Ciccolini: There are a quantity of them. One point I missed, and I want I worked on the game throughout that time, was when we had a huge occasion exactly where we blew up the major location of Stormreach. Nobody knew what to anticipate. Nobody anticipated that location to modify so significantly just before their eyes. That was good. When folks initial go in and start out to practical experience the creepiness of Ravenloft, that was one of the iconic moments as properly. One point I believe players ought to want to check out, our brand new raid is all based on music, some thing we haven’t carried out just before. I truly believe players ought to verify that out. It’s a superb raid design and style. But one of the factors I like this is that — everyone has distinct moments due to the fact absolutely everyone has distinct experiences expanding up on D&ampD or coming to it more not too long ago. For me, going by means of White Plume Mountain is like, oh wow. The initial time I saw a manticore in the game, that is likely more resonant for me especially than a lot of other players who may possibly be like, wow, Ravenloft was wonderful. They’ve played by means of Curse of Strahd and there are a lot of components we reflected there.

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Image Credit: Standing Stone Games

GamesBeat: One point that blew my thoughts was the truth that you have more than 500 screenshots of the week described in the chronicle. Do you ever sit and believe this game would virtually be old sufficient to drive?

Ciccolini: Well, I believe you are describing the practical experience of us finding more practical experience in something we do, to a lesser degree. But yeah, it is also come a extended way. The screenshots more not too long ago have the players on mounts, or folks moving by means of Keep on the Borderlands and Ravenloft. They look so distinct. Also we have a lot of new races. Dragonborn look so distinct than the older classes, or aasimar and tieflings. These changed the entire look and really feel of the game in terms of how the players work about them. There’s been a lot of alterations, and you can see that in how the screenshots more than time have, in my opinion, gotten superior. But I also believe the players — the screenshots are just indicative of how passionate the players are suitable now.

GamesBeat: It appears like old MMOs do not die any longer. They continue as extended as players want to play them. How a great deal life do you believe DDO has left in it?

Ciccolini: We’re superior than when we began with SSG, so if we go one more two decades, I’ll be completely psyched. I’ll happily continue carrying out this. We’re sturdy. The players like the experiences that we provide. The game is continually altering, so they have a very good purpose to maintain investing in it. One of the points that occurs is there’s a particular sort of player exactly where, when you invest your time into an ongoing extended storyline game like this, you really feel as even though your time is properly spent due to the fact that new content rolls out and these characters offer you points you can practical experience more than and more than once more. Whereas if you play a one and carried out game, as soon as you have explored the limits of that game, you could have DLC, but it is a restricted scope. These games provide a a great deal more vast landscape of experiences.

The other point that I believe aids these games is you are playing your personal character. You have a lot of character choices. The character is your personal. You’re not adopting a persona that somebody else thinks is cool. You’re locating a way to make your personal character cool. I like the Witcher as a great deal as the next particular person, but you are playing somebody else’s conception of a character. One purpose players like playing games like this is they really feel an ownership more than their character, and a sense of agency. They make choices about how the character interacts.

GamesBeat: It appears like there’s also a sense of duty that comes with generating this game due to the fact folks have been playing for 15 years in some instances. Do you ever really feel that?

Ciccolini: Every day. Every day. There’s a large duty for the games we do due to the fact this is a legacy that I want to be correct to. It’s a legacy for the kind of game it is. It’s not only a legacy for the game itself. It’s a legacy for D&ampD. It’s a legacy for Standing Stone Games. It’s a legacy for all of the superb devs who have worked on the game in the previous. That’s a huge duty. I want to provide as a great deal player joy as I can. Doing that is some thing that I believe about just about every day. That’s element of my job, to each provide player joy, to make wise choices so these games will go on for decades and players who like these games can play them, and also so players who like these games, their children can play. That’s the sort of breadth of practical experience that we want.

Families play this game. Parents will play with their children. We get letters from folks who believe that they have evolved their family time and they really feel closer due to the fact they’re working collectively with an complete family. I truly like hearing that folks are sharing these experiences. I truly like hearing that folks are sharing experiences like, hey, I haven’t seen this particular person considering that higher college, but we reconnected due to the fact even even though we’re in distinct places, we can play collectively now as soon as or twice or lots of instances a week in the game. This is the duty, I believe, that all the devs really feel in their hearts when they work on the game. Sometimes, it can be difficult to live up to these expectations, these memories, that legacy.

Originally appeared on: TheSpuzz