Interview: Ashes of Creation on Building Their Virtual World

Note: the following article originally appeared on

Intrepid Studios’ upcoming sandbox MMORPG Ashes of Creation is rapidly ascending my personal list of most anticipated titles. With a fairly unique design scheme promising persistent consequence at the very core of the game’s world design, Ashes of Creation is poised to scratch exactly the itch that got me into the genre in the first place.

I was lucky enough to have the chance to talk about the game with studio founder and Creative Directive Steven Sharif back in January when I first encountered the game. Now, with a few more months of development behind us, Steven is back with a lot more details on how exactly Ashes of Creation is building a world of consequence.

In a recent blog post, you guys talked about how Ashes of Creation will be taking place in “a world of consequence”. Falling rocks, pits in dungeons, and more were mentioned as ways in which the world itself will be combative. Typically these types of traps are surprising exactly one time, so I’m curious – are you planning anything special to make sure that these dangers stay fresh?

Like most things in this game, we’re going to have different levels of environmental dangers. Some of them will be things that can be expected based on the layout of the dungeon (like the pit trap in our gameplay video). While they won’t necessarily be surprising every time, they’ll be bigger dangers that will be part of the game space and will require some skill to navigate unscathed. Think of them in terms of a boss, where you know it’s on it’s way, and you have to prepare your group to tackle it. Depending on the makeup of your group, you might have to use different strategies to conquer the environment each time you encounter it. It’s more about the play in these cases than the surprise.

At the other level are more traditional D&D style traps, which we can populate more dynamically. They’re less environmentally dependent, so they won’t be as ‘big’ as the previous category of environmental dangers, but they’ll be a hidden complication that will hopefully capture the surprise part of the equation (and because they’re more dynamic, we might be able to get NPCs to use them too).

The same section talked about players “slowly walking through dark places” in response to the danger of world. Admittedly this could have been meant purely thematically, but the idea of players walking slowly through anything feels like a bit of a departure from where the genre has gone in recent years. Is Ashes of Creation planning a return to the slower paced, more thoughtful dungeon playstyle where stopping, communicating, and planning play a larger role than simply chain-pulling?

It’s all about what’s fun, right? Whenever gameplay becomes monotonous, it stops being fun, and when it stops being fun, it starts to feel like work. Good stories, good music, and good film all depend on proper pacing. Games are no different, and we want to hit the proper notes at the right time. This means that yes, there will be some places where you really do want to slow down and consider the best path forward, to be careful where your next step falls. These moments will have counterpoints of frenetic, fast paced action. Both have a place in this world, and they work together to complement one another to keep things fresh.

I actually seized on the world “dark” in the quote above, as well, though I’m definitely over-analyzing this. Any plans for a lighting mechanic where night and dungeons are almost prohibitively dark if the players don’t bring a light source with them?

Yep, this is actually something we’ve discussed quite a bit. Unreal does lighting so well, it’d almost be a sin to not use it like this. Darkness also functions as a really interesting environmental obstacle, and we’ve had some happy accidents in the office to move us in this direction. How deeply we take this though is really going to come down to how much fun it actually is, which we’re still in the process of discovering. As long as we can nail some interesting mechanics, and it’s not more frustrating than fun, make sure you bring your torch.

It was mentioned that resources like lumber won’t simply respawn minutes after being destroyed. In context, I took this to apply more to if players decide to clear cut an area than every day harvesting, though I could be wrong. What does your resource loop look like for every day harvesting, and what happens if players do remove all the resources from an area? How will those resources return to the world?

I don’t think we’re quite ready to discuss the resource system in detail yet, there’s a lot of moving parts to it, and I don’t want to give your readers/watchers a breakdown of it just to have it change. I can tell you a story that describes how we want it to work in broad strokes though.

Players discover a really good mithril vein and begin work mining it. A nearby node at the Town level is where most of this mithril ends up at. Crafters there create some quality mithril goods, and the market becomes saturated with mithril equipment and raw materials. Word gets out across the world, and players begin travelling to this town to acquire said equipment. Because the market is saturated, some of the gathers and crafters get together and launch a caravan to a far away metropolis. This metropolis doesn’t have any mithril veins near it, making it a perfect place to sell their wares. These crafters and gatherers get rich off their haul. More people travel to this Town with the hopes of striking it big, which provides more activity to the Node, eventually leveling it up to a City. The mithril vein runs out though, and the economy of the City contracts. Some gatherers have seen this coming, and have been out surveying the local areas for the next big thing, hoping to stake their claim on something profitable and to keep it secret for as long as they can before the next gold rush comes.

We really want resources to be persistent and non-renewable. If there’s a mithril vein, that mithril vein will be there until it runs out. The server will manage these amounts on its own, and will repopulate things where and when it desires. You might find another mithril vein in that location sometime later, or somewhere nearby, or maybe never again!

You recently revealed that quest lines in Ashes of Creation will become a part of the world’s lore. Whether or not players succeed at killing a raid boss at the end of quest or wipe and fail was specifically mentioned as something that will go on to become a part of that server’s history. I’ve got so many questions on this one. Are all quests going to be included in the world’s lore like this? If quests are going to be feeding into the world canon, are these types of quests only going to be able to be completed by one player or one group of players?

So keep in mind that when talking about quests, there are three main types – Narratives, Events, and Tasks. We want as many people as possible to experience the main server Narrative. These will branch at different scales, but largely at the personal level. Where things change is at the Node level – different parts of the story will be unlocked based on where and when Nodes grow. Unlocking a part of the story in a certain way locks out progression of the story in a different way – you’ll see different antagonists, different NPCs, and different calls to action depending on what’s happening with the server at that time. There’s more to unpack here, but that’s basically where we’re going with the Narrative part of this.

Events are more what we were referring to with the history statement. These can be local, regional or global, and consist of boons or banes. They’re triggered based on a lot of different variables, and some may be one-off Events that occur once, and never again. If an Event is handled successfully, then something good happens to the local, regional, or global area. If it fails, then something bad befalls the local, regional or global area.  They’ll relate to the overall Narrative, but don’t fall into its overall structure (for the most part). These are the things that will be written into history, and we imagine that as time grows, each server’s history will diverge more and more.

You guys released a fantastic video getting into the basics of the node system, which is really a must watch for anyone that’s curious about the game. The video talks early about conflict between players as they vie to develop different nodes competing to grow into the same area. We know sieges will eventually come into play here, but on a more day-to-day level, how will competition between nodes play out?

There’s so many different ways this can go, but they’ll likely fall into political and economic struggles. Each group will be trying to attract more activity to their respective Node to get the experience it needs to grow, and will be trying to undermine the activity in the opposing Node. Cooperation is the primary engine of Node growth, so I imagine savvy players attempting to disrupt cooperation amongst rival Nodes. A Node’s economy is also a means of staving off Node atrophy, which makes it a good target to attack – Caravans are an obvious weak point here, but so are resource locations.

Of course, the players of the Nodes could also decide to work together for the betterment of both their peoples, but that’ll be more and more difficult as their territories grow. Eventually one Node could become subservient to the other, and will their citizens love their new leader?

Node development, while reliant on the actions of players to happen, is something that’s still largely done by NPCs. Will players have some part to play in deciding what a node develops into, or is that pretty much determined from the outset?

Players will certainly have some agency here, and that’s what the political system will enable. There will be decisions to be made about what services and infrastructure to build, and how to manage the resource costs of these things. The bigger and richer the Node, the more choices politicians will have to make, and the better services they can unlock for their citizens.

The video briefly touches on trade becoming possible between neighboring nodes when the area between them develops. I know the trade system will be a rabbit hole to go down on its own, but at a very high level – what type of role will trade between nodes play in Ashes of Creation. Will players be transporting real goods with a purpose in the nodes’ localized economies (ala EVE online), or are we looking at something more like ArcheAge, where they transport packs to NPCs that don’t really serve a game purpose beyond being transported and fought over?

Players will be transporting real goods. These goods will go directly to the Node’s coffers if it’s a trade route, giving politicians options with regard to their tax rate. If they’re player run Caravans, the goods are likely being sold in some fashion, or being transported to benefit from crafting related bonuses that Node has. Caravans and trade will also be a primary mechanic in developing nodes and castles.

There are going to be major events that occur when a node develops into the higher stages. The example was given of a dragon world boss that spawns, posing a threat to the node’s continued existence. How often are you imagining these types of events will take place? Are we talking about a weeks long campaign against the dragon, or will he just pop up and be defeated within a few hours?

I kind of touched on this in an earlier question, but these Events happen on several different scales, and aren’t just limited to Node growth (although that is certainly one of the triggers). The duration of these Events will be pretty variable – the larger scale the event, the longer the duration. The rate of these Events will also be variable. Global Events won’t happen too often, but local Events we see happening pretty regularly depending on what’s going on in the world. Regional Events will split the difference. Think of local Events as being somewhat more consequential Public Quests, and you’re on the right track as far as scale and rate go.

It’s occurred to me that the node system could be leading to a thematically odd situation, where the most developed portions of Ashes of Creation – its largest and most established cities – are also going to be its most dangerous areas, while the undeveloped wilds fill in more as what you’d expect from a starter experience. Am I understanding this correctly? What does the progression structure through Ashes’ world look like?

You’re basically correct, but keep in mind that our populations are mixed. We don’t have a strictly level 25 zone. Instead, that zone might have some level 10 creatures near the road, some level 20 creatures deep in the forest, and some level 30 creatures up the mountain. These ratios will change based on the Nodes that inform them, becoming generally more dangerous as the Node grows. All this civilization attracts the attention of Things-That-Should-Not-Be. This does not mean that wilderness areas are safe, by any means. Some may be safe-er, but all will have dangers that even the most experienced traveler needs to watch out for. We’re also playing with the idea of Nodes having relationships with Nodes that haven’t reached level 1 (a sort of anti-Node relationship), but we’ll talk about that sometime down the road.

The progression structure is really up to the players. We’re going to have starting areas that are relatively static compared to the rest of the world, in order for new players to get their feet wet and get used to our systems, but after that, we see players going in any number of directions. The bravest will pioneer the wilds and bring back stories of what they’ve seen. Some will build, some will kill, some will put down roots and raise animals. There are a number of paths to progress, and something for every type of player.

That’s all I’ve got for now – thanks for taking the time to share with me and I’m really looking forward to continuing to watch Ashes of Creation grow.


One thought on “Interview: Ashes of Creation on Building Their Virtual World

  1. Pingback: Hobo Gamer: Ashes of Creation | The Errant Penman

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s