At the Smite World Championships, we got the chance to sit down with several members of the Hi-Rez team. Last week, we posted an interview with SMITE Executive Producer Chris Larson, today we’re sharing our conversation with Paladins Lead Designer Rory Newbrough. Some of you eSports fans might know him better as ‘Drybear.’
We took the opportunity to ask Rory about the future of Paladins, the game’s design philosophy, and what Hi-Rez’s intentions are regarding eSports possibilities for the game.
MMOBomb: When I attended SWC last year, I spoke with some of the Hi-Rez staff about Overwatch, and I did get some funny looks. So I have to know. I’m guessing you guys were already working on Paladins. How long has it actually been in production?
Rory Newbrough: About a year and a half.
MMOB: If I remember correctly, you were still casting at that point, weren’t you?
RN: That was actually the last thing I did as talent and then shortly after I went straight into Paladins.
MMOB: So, with Overwatch, Blizzard came out and said that they liked where they were at with the number of characters available (21) and it seems like they plan to stick with that. Do you think you’re going to have a cap for the amount of characters in Paladins or will you keep adding characters like you do with SMITE?
RN: That’s something we’re still deciding on right now. We’re leaning more towards continual release of champions over the lifetime of the game. Our first goal is to get about fifteen as soon as possible. Obviously, it works mathematically, as far as 5 on 5, you want to have at least around 15. That way we don’t see the same characters every game, and there’s a lot of options for different playstyles and strategies. So fifteen’s our first goal. After that we’ll probably want to keep pushing out champions.
MMOB: Can you tell us about the decision to go with a system that locks the characters once someone’s selected them versus allowing anyone to play whatever they want when they feel like playing it.
RN: Yeah, Paladins is more like a MOBA that way. It’s mostly because we have the progression system with the cards. If you have a no progression system it’s easier to swap around but with the cards it’s awkward… you change your character then swap your cards, that sort of thing.
MMOB: Now, you mentioned it being more like a MOBA and that’s something I noticed with our own community, they refer to Paladins as a MOBA rather than a shooter. Do you consider it more of a MOBA than a shooter or more of a shooter than a MOBA?
RN: It’s kind of a slider, right? You have MOBA and shooter and right now we’re probably closer to MOBA on that side. The slider’s kinda moving around as we change the design philosophy and figure out exactly; should it be more MOBA, should it be more shooter? What elements should we mix in there?
And something that no one has really figured out yet, we’re still trying to figure out exactly where we want Paladins to sit. There’s different options in map level design, as well as the character design and where the cards fit in. And how it all meshes together is something we’re still working on.
MMOB: One thing about Paladins that makes it read as less of a MOBA is the map. There’s not the standard lanes, jungle, etc.
MMOB: So, you’re already planning a tournament in the Spring, what are you looking for as far as the viability of Paladins being eSports heavy with the tournaments and everything. I do know that’s pretty much what Hi-Rez does at this point. It was even mentioned as a possibility for Jetpack Fighter.
RN:We know eSports very well. We’ve been working on it a long time…online competitive action games, that’s our claim to fame. We know eSports well and because we’ve been doing eSports for long enough, we’ve realized that we can’t force a game to become an eSport. You can try, but a lot of the time it comes down to whether there’s an appetite [among players] to play it competitively or not.
So obviously we never force any of our games to become eSports. We think that they might be, so we lay the groundwork for the players to make it an eSport, but we wait and see what the community wants.
So, like with SMITE, we have the season ticket, spectator system, all those different competitive items that we can port over and plug in should the need arise.
Right now, the Founders Tournament itself is more about consulting, where it’s just getting all the competitive players around the world to come in, look at Paladins very seriously and give us feedback on what the game could be like at the high level. This will help us balance the game, shape the game, and get systems in place. Once we have that, then if there’s a [competitive] appetite that’s growing, we can support that very quickly.
MMOB: So, I think that with it being a shooter, most shooters people kinda lean towards eSports to at least a certain extent, like CS:GO and similar games. But I feel like there’s a bit of a viewer audience barrier for games like that due to color schemes and how the information of what’s going on is displayed.
RN: The one thing we do know, particularly from SMITE, is that the spectator experience is one thing we worry about. We have the map style, and the info… they’re very basic, solid shapes and very fantastical. So, the characters pop out. It makes it easier to see where the characters are and what they’re doing. We also team color the effects so you know what team shot it. So it’s very clear.
We want to make sure that any changes to the UI, or the effects, or character detail are clear, so that when you’re watching it you know what’s going on.
MMOB: When you do have tournaments for Paladins can we expect a spectator overlay similar to SMITE’s will be available?
RN: We’re experimenting with different options. Right now, with the card system vs the shooter aspect, we need to figure out how to present that and make sure it works the right way. We’ll be experimenting a lot with it.
MMOB: So, there are already quite a few cards in the game, is there going to be a cap for the amount of cards per character, or are you just going to keep going and retire some later on?
RN:We’re still working on if we want to have a few champions with a lot of cards or a lot of champions with few cards. Right now we’re kind of leaning toward having a lot of varied champions with fewer cards, but I think — naturally — we’ll probably never have a card cap limit, but there probably will be a natural saturation point where, “these feel like enough cards for that character.”
And then like you see in SMITE where there’s an update, or we’ll add new items to the game, or a new skin for a character. We’ll keep them all rolling together and if we have a new idea for a new Grok card next year we’ll still add the card ‘cause cool and interesting. But at a certain point we’ll have enough new cards to make it interesting, and then we’ll just focus on new champions and their cards. But it doesn’t mean all champions won’t get new cards throughout the lifetime of the game.
MMOB: Is there anything in particular that you feel people should know about Paladins? Something that maybe players haven’t necessarily picked up on?
RN: The main points are the cards and the mounts. I don’t think anyone has tried to work mounts into a shooter of this style. It’s something that players really enjoy because it really brings a different element into the shooting experience. Standard shooters tend to be more quarter based — tight space, tight quarters — but we had to have more space for the mounts themselves. So it gives you the opportunity to flank someone in a new way you’d never be able to in a normal shooter, because you actually hop on a mount and ride around and then sneak up on them.
So, it’s just these different aspects that work well.
The cards are obviously a big part. I think, most people, when they see the cards at first they think, “Oh, they’re just modifications,” without realizing you can do some pretty varied things. You’re building a deck that is representative of your playstyle. You can really play a champion in multiple different ways, and you can craft your own style from those cards.
MMOB: So… Speaking of mounts… The team was talking about monitization of the game and what you planned on selling. One thing that was not mentioned was mounts, which is a really huge money maker for pretty much any other game that deals in microtransactions. Are we going to have a pretty good selection of mounts?
RN:It’s likely that they’ll be less common than general cosmetic skins but there will be a wide plethora of mounts of different styles with different intricacies that will be available for purchase.
We have a whacky, silly game where a robot’s riding a robot, riding a horse, we could do silly things like a corgi mount or whatever else… Something crazy and whacky.
Writer’s note: Okay, so I really asked that last question for me. I’m kinda a sucker for mounts.
It was about this time that the press area got really busy — one of the matches had let out so everyone was filing in to get some work done before the next one — so I thanked Rory for sitting down with me and got back to work.
MMOBomb would like to thank Rory for giving us his time and talking to us about Paladins. If you don’t follow Rory on Twitter you can do so at @hirezdrybear.