Recently I had a chance to speak with Lani Blazier, the Community Mnger for NC Soft’s pending MMORPG, Aion. I want to thank Lani and Halcyone for setting up the interview for us.
OCMS: What is the background and setting of the game?
LB: The games takes place in Atreia – a once peaceful world created by the God Aion. Centuries ago, during the great Millennium War with the evil Balaur, Atreia was literally ripped in half. The world was then split into two halves, each side separated from the other. Over time, the inhabitants of each side evolved physically and socially to adapt to their environments. The lower half of the world is lush, vibrant and bathed in light—which is where the Elyos reside. The other half is dark with deep rich colors — this is home to the Asmodians. Each half blames the other for the destruction of the sacred Tower of Eternity and for ending the peace that their beautiful world once had.
Recently, portals began to appear in the areas where fragments of the destroyed Tower reside. Both factions came to call this area the Abyss. Through these portals the Asmodians and Elyos are able to wage war against one another. However, within this Abyss zone, both sides have learned that the once-vanquished Balaur have returned, and that their ties run stronger and deeper to the destruction of the Tower of Eternity than either race ever imaged.
OCMS: How will players gain experience and level and how will you address level grinding problems?
LB: Aion is level-based advancement, but the main focus is on character development. We want to provide players multiple ways of growing their character such as crafting, item collection, Stigma collection, vanity items, title collection, and PvPvE rankings. The curve for getting to the max level is on par with most Western MMOGs.
OCMS: What sort of missions will players face? What enemies will players encounter?
LB: Players will face a wide array of Campaign and Standard quests. The Campaign quests are the main storyline plot for entire zones (and the overarching story for the game) so they will be much more intense and will have players morphing into other creatures to spy and gather information, hunt creatures, destroy items valuable to the enemy, etc. There will always be surprises and the unique aspects to these Campaign quests are very cool. Standard quests are smaller in nature and deal with minor story lines for specific areas. These could include hunting creatures, returning items to NPCs that players find, exploring, etc. There is a huge array of quests that will constantly keep players excited for the next adventure.
OCMS: What are some of the character classes and the strengths and weaknesses they have?
LB: There are actually eight different classes in Aion players can choose from, but players will begin by picking one of the 4 main class archetypes. We feel this is important because we want players to be comfortable with how their selected main class plays, and to become familiar with the game mechanics before making an important decision such as a class specialization. Once players learn the ropes of Aion and their selected class, at level ten they will be able to select from one of the class specializations and really get to focus and learn their chosen profession. As with any game, each class has pluses and minuses, which are dependant on your play style. No one class is truly helpless, and likewise no one class is overpowering. There is a fine balance to the classes and each class can solo play effectively, but as always can function better when they are in a group of different classes and their skills will compliment others in the group.
OCMS: How is player vs. player going to be handled?
LB: In addition to the 1500 PvE quests, Aion does have robust PvP gameplay. The main focus of PvP in Aion will be in the Abyss, and area in which both Asmodian and Elyos have a vested interest, and each side will be fighting for control of this shared zone. In addition, there will be portals which open at random time intervals and in random locations that will allow small parties to travel directly from their own zone to that of their enemies.
PvPvE is how we describe the dynamic interaction between the two player controlled Elyos and Asmodian races and the AI-controlled Balaur faction. The Balaur were thought to be long extinct, but when the Elyos and Asmodian began exploring the newly discovered Abyss zone, they found the Balaur firmly entrenched there. The PvPvE comes into play because of the unique AI controlling the Balaur. Depending on several factors, one minute the Balaur could be fighting alongside you, the next they could be fighting against you. You could also find yourself fighting alongside your enemy against the Balaur. PvPvE adds a new dynamic to PvP which we feel makes it much more engaging.
OCMS: How are guilds/clans setup and what socialization features will the game offer?
LB: In Aion we refer to guilds/clans as legions (after the military like nature of each race). From the founding of a legion, members will enjoy a legion-only warehouse, legion cloak, and other common benefits. As the level and reputation of the legion rises, they can increase their ranks and gain access to very valuable benefits.
OCMS: As a follow up, how will guilds/clans be able to raid one another?
LB: Legions will be able to capture opposing faction fortresses as well as engage other Legions during PVE raids. You will be restricted to fighting the other two opposing factions.
OCMS: How will player Deaths be handled in the game?
LB: When players die they have the option to resurrect at their last bind point, or wait for a fellow player to resurrect them where they fell. Players will also notice a loss of experience when they die, but fear not! A large portion of the lost experience can be purchased back using Kinah (in game currency) at a Soul Healer. Soul Healers are located next to the obelisks that players can bind their soul to in the event that die. Often, there will also be a resurrection sickness that players will have upon resurrecting. This will go away either with time (dependant on how often they die within a certain time frame) or can be cured by speaking with a Soul Healer.
OCMS: How will missions and tasks be assigned and will the game contain areas that are level specific?
LB: There are NPCs throughout the game that will offer opportunities to complete campaign and standard quests. For the majority of these quests you will need to be a certain level before they are unlocked. That being said, there are certainly no shortage of quests per level.
OCMS: The scope of the game sounds amazing, what are some of the biggest obstacles you see in creating the game, and what are your biggest goals for the game?
LB: Creating a game that appeals to a global audience was a huge challenge but as we started to move forward we realized that many ideals that hold true in the West were popular in the East and vice-versa. We created a world in which the player makes their own choices in how they want to interact. The player can take part in the epic story spanning over 1500 quests, explore the deep crafting system, engage in high end PVE raids, or challenge the opposing faction in PVP.
OCMS: How is currency earned and used in the game?
LB: Kinah, Aion’s in game currency, can be earned in a wide variety of ways. Hunting creatures who drop Kinah directly, selling items found and earned to merchants and other players, and through quest rewards are just a couple of the ways players can earn money in game. It is also used for a similarly wide range of economic activities such as purchasing items from merchants, other players, etc.
OCMS: How is leveling and new powers dealt with in game?
LB: Leveling is accomplished by players earning experience points from questing, hunting creatures, etc. At specific levels, players will be able to purchase new skills which are dependant on their class. In addition to purchasing and learning new skills, previously learned skills will level up and become more powerful as the player’s character levels up.
OCMS: How is combat handled in the game and how does the ability to grapple and throw enemies work?
LB: Combat in Aion is a familiar system that incorporates a few creative twists that we feel really take MMO combat to the next level. Your character will have access to certain weapon types and skills based on their class. From there, you will simply go and engage creatures and enemies in combat by targeting and attacking. The fun, however, starts when you begin to use the chain combo system. By using the beginning skill in a chain combo set, you can trigger the next skill in the chain which will give you either access to more offensive or defensive power. In addition, if you complete a chain skill combo set, you may end up knocking your target down or stunning them, in which case if you’re grouped, a fellow player may have a reactive skill that they can use on a target in that state. It really is an exciting system to use and to see in action. In addition to that, we also have a directional based combat system where your combat statistics will change depending on the direction your character is moving while in combat. It is systems like these that we feel really add another element to traditional MMO combat and make it more immersive and fun.
OCMS: What can you tell the readers about the air combat and how that will work?
LB: Aerial combat can be a vital part of combat in the Abyss and many other locations in Aion. Starting at level ten, you will “ascend to divinity” and earn your wings. Your wings are an integral part of your character at this point, so we don’t consider them a ‘mount’ in the traditional sense. From that point forward, flight will be a key part of many aspects of gameplay, from combat to harvesting and gathering to exploration. It is important to note, though, that you won’t always need to fly, and there is still plenty of ground-based combat and questing, but we expect that flight will be a fun part of Aion’s gameplay.