The second annual SMITE World Championships took place in Atlanta, GA this past weekend and MMOBomb was there. Amid all the excitement of the tournament we managed to snag some time with a few members of the Hi-Rez team — SMITE Executive Producer Chris Larson, Paladins Lead Designer Rory ‘Drybear’ Newbrough, and Hi-Rez COO and Co-Founder Todd Harris — and talk to them about everything from SMITE eSports to the long awaited Tribes update. Over the next few days we’ll be posting interviews with each of these developers — beginning with Chris, who I spoke with about SMITE Season 3 and the launch of the Japanese pantheon.
It should be noted that this particular interview was originally intended to be handled by another writer, however that writer was unable to attend the event. Luckily for us, Chris was nice enough to wing the entire thing with me. Since Hi-Rez kicked off SWC with the announcement of Season 3 and the official reveal of the Japanese goddess of the sun, Amaterasu, and I have been waiting for some time for the Japanese pantheon to be introduced to the game, I started by asking about the introduction of the new pantheon and the design of Amaterasu.
MMOBomb:For a long time I’ve been looking at the SMITE pantheons and wondering where the Japenese gods were, so I’m pretty excited about this new addition.
Chris Larson: I think it’s gonna be awesome. There’s just so much that we can grab from the mythology of Japan. They have all these creatures and spirits, so it’s not just like Zeus and Thor and the mainline gods. Japan just has this whole breadth of subject area that we can grab stuff from.
So I’m really excited about that… and the gods are just really cool.
MMOB:They are. Obviously they’re a little different because in the Shinto system they’re not technically gods, they’re spirits.
CL: Right, that’s true, but Bakasura… Not really a god, but we put him in the game anyway. Even Guan Yu, you can say — from the Chinese… Well, he was a warrior, then they started to worship him as a god. That’s fair game as far as we’re concerned.
MMOB: I did notice that you’re playing up the really strong aspects of Amaterasu but there’s also an aspect in her lore that highlights her vanity and it’s something I’ve always seen as a major part of her character. While I’m guessing it would be difficult to do, did you consider bringing that in?
CL: I’m not a designer, so I’m only going to speak from third perspective, but they really wanted to personify her as a warrior, strong woman — one that was very reminiscent of a Samurai warrior. So, you’ll see in her animation that the moves she does are very authentic to that style.
So the next Japanese god we do — which is going to be the next god coming up this year… Totally different. It’s not going to be anything like Amaterasu.
MMOB: Now, you went a completely different direction with the aesthetics of the skins, going with the more anime kind of designs. Where Amatarasu’s is very authentic, these are all cute or mecha.
CL: Yeah. Even her face is beautifully done.
Oh! And she has my favorite ability in the game. Back before we started working with a Chinese company called TenCent, we had Guan Yu in the game. Well, they did not like the way we presented Guan Yu; they didn’t like his model, they didn’t like his abilities. So they basically made us redo everything.
We had to redo his model, and my favorite ult of the game was on his old kit. All the US players loved it. Basically, it was this ult that you would start and do three hits, you’d jump up, do a hit, turn, do another hit, and then do another hit. The first hit was a damage, the second a silence, and then the third one was a stun. It was really fun, and it felt really good in the kit, but we had to switch it up and make him ride a horse instead.
So we decided that Amaterasu is getting Guan Yu’s ult, because it was everyone’s favorite.
MMOB: I know a lot of games have to make some weird adjustments for anything they do working with China such as depictions of skeletons…
CL:Oh yeah… All kinds. We had to remove skeletons from the game. We had to limit blood — although we can have some blood. There can be certain skulls but they have to be a certain style.
Khali had a decapitated head in her hand and we had to change that. In her victory defeat, she’d throw the head up in the environment. China just didn’t like that.
MMOB: Do you run into those kinds of issues with other countries? I know China’s probably the most drastic.
CL:Yeah. They are the most drastic.
We had to do a few things for Latin America. They have really strong regulations against gambling. So we had to change how our treasure chests would run. We wanted them to be a more casino, slot machine type presentation and they said, “No”.
MMOB: Your character representations are the same across the board, correct? For instance, I know with WoW if they have skeletons or something in the NA version of the game that needs to be different elsewhere, they’ll just make two versions of the models.
CL: That’s a good question. Hades use to have a model specific to China and then we just adopted the Chinese model as the US. We just swapped it out and made his old default model a skin available in the US but not available in China. It was really difficult for us to not have the same models in the deployment of the product.
MMOB: I guess with the eSports aspect and Chinese players coming over to play with us…
CL: You want it to be very consistent, especially the silouhette. One of the things with a MOBA like SMITE, from a distance you need to be able to tell who that character is. So if they’re coming in from a lane, from the jungle; they have a certain presentation. Even if you don’t really see the details you can see the shape and tell who it is. So if you had models that were drastically different for Chinese players and American players, it could be a problem.
MMOB: So even barring the cultural differences, when you bring Chinese players over to play with us it can be a game-affecting difference as well for not being able to recognize the models.
CL: Yeah, even now the Chinese players are at a slight disadvantage because they don’t have all the gods we have right now in their live environment. So they practice on the US servers for the gods they don’t have yet. So at least if they encounter those gods in competition they wouldn’t be so thrown off.
MMOB: That sounds kind of rough actually.
CL: So rough.
MMOB: Is there anything that you’re looking at to fix that?
CL:China will be pretty much at parity with us this year, 2016. They might be weeks apart but they won’t be months apart.
MMOB: So, I noticed that with today’s games. China was definitely not faring as well any of the western countries.
CL: Some of that is because their eSports for SMITE is just at its very beginning. They’re going to be at a disadvantage. American teams cannibalize on each other and the best players get sucked to other teams and that team gets stronger because it gets the best. With China, they have some teams, but they just don’t have the pool of players that they have in America and Europe.
This year we’ll be going live in China. Right now it’s still in Beta, Closed Beta, but we’ll be releasing around mid-year probably.
MMOB: So the hope is that by next year they’ll be more caught up.
CL: I think so, yeah. They have a lot more people than we have here, so their pool of players should be way, way beyond us.
If you look at what they’re doing in League of Legends and other games, they have the talent over there to do it.
At this point we got a little sidetracked discussing eSports and comparing them to regular sports — as is bound to happen at an eSports event — and Chris having to explain what’s happening in SMITE to a family member that normally has to explain football to him. During this segue, Chris brought an important difference between regular sports and eSports having to do with time-related accessibility:
CL: Anything that takes three hours to play… forget it.
MMOB: That is one of the benefits of eSports.
CL: Thirty minutes… DONE!
Of course, this being an eSports event, I did have to ask the important question… Who was Chris rooting for?
CL: Probably Fnatic. I love Cloud 9, but they won last year. I’d love to see someone from Latin America or Australia, one of the outliers…
Among Hi-Rez staff — and even a lot of the fans — this wasn’t an uncommon sentiment. We all had our favorites we wanted to win, but we wanted to see some of the new-comers step it up and cause an upset… which is kind of what happened.
From there we had to say goodbye, as our time was up and there were games that needed watching.
MMOBomb would like to thank Chris for giving us his time, and I’d like to thank him for agreeing to wing the interview like he did. It was quite a bit of fun. If you don’t follow Chris on Twitter — and you should — you can do so at @hirezchris.
In the meantime, stay tuned for our interviews with Rory Newbrough and Todd Harris next week.