The Paragon Beta has been running for a few week so we thought it was time to pin down Epic’s Paragon Creative Director Steve Superville to find out how it’s been going. There’s been quite a few changes to the game since we last spoke to Steve and it sounds like there’s still a long way to go as they continue to refine the MOBA.
You can listen to our chat with Steve or read the interview below.[powerpress]
PC Invasion: We’re here with Epic Games’ Steve Superville, talking about Paragon again. This is our second interview with Steve – hi Steve.
Steve Superville: Hello!
PCI: It’s been a few weeks since beta launched, so I want to ask you: how’s that been going?
SS: It’s been great. Removing the barrier to entry means a lot more people can get in, and they can bring their friends which is kind of what Paragon’s all about. So we’ve got a fresh round of feedback from players and we’re going to march forward with new patches every week.
PCI: Based on what’s been happening with the beta – as you say there’s been a huge influx of players – have you had to alter any plans or development timelines, based on the beta and feedback you’ve been getting?
SS: No, a lot of the feedback we’ve been getting is in-line with the people who were in before we went open. Some of the stuff is kind of business as usual. Other things focus on match length; that we’re valuing people’s time, and they can make a decision about whether they can get in a game or two of Paragon. That’s important, and that’s been highlighted more and more as we’ve had an increase in our player-base.
PCI: When the open beta started the match-making was appalling. Things have improved somewhat, so what have you been doing to change and improve that?
SS: We’ve done some tweaks to our match-making algorithm. What we’ve been able to do is not actually as much as we’d like to do. Something we highlighted early on in Early Access is that our first pass at a match-making server was based off technology that wasn’t really doing what we wanted. So in July we started an initiative to totally rework our match-making system with a centralised match-making server. That’s been progressing along, it hasn’t rolled out yet.
That will allow us to do a lot of things, like include player profile level in match-making, include player’s card libraries and how many cards they’ve accrued. Not just MMR [match-making ranking]. We’ll be able to expand a lot of our heuristics to include things that are outside of what we currently do. So I’m excited to see that come online. I know the guys are getting to a spot where they’re ready to start testing it soon, internally. And then we’ll have to work through bugs and stuff like that. But the changes that have been happening live are ones that we have more fine control over, and they’re a bit safer, so we don’t totally blow up the match-making.
PCI: When I see people complaining about the game it’s usually due to terrible team composition or a combination of bad match-making. Have you got any further plans to educate players on a good hero mix to get a good game?
SS: Right now we’re really relying on the community to help us tackle it. The Reddit group has been releasing huge numbers of hero guides, YouTube videos are continuing to pop up with how to play each hero. Especially as we do a new balance patch every three weeks or so, people go through and add new videos. And internally we’re working on other things to help with education, but those are going to be slower rolling than what the community can do using YouTube.
PCI: On to the hot topic of AFK, because that is still happening. It’s less of a problem now, I’ve noticed in the last week or so; but are you considering a harsher punishment for AFK players? What do you think about a surrender option to tackle this, where the whole team can opt out after a short period of time?
SS: Yeah. And being so close to open beta the two things you just mentioned are kind of hand in hand. It’s the … people come in without knowing exactly what to expect of the game but they saw something that intrigued them. If it’s something they really enjoy right off the bat, they stay. If not, they can dodge out and that impacts everybody.
One of the things we are actively working on is an ‘invalid match’ feature, which would allow people to … you know, if someone goes AFK within a certain time at the start of the match, with some criteria so you can’t game the system, then the entire team would be able to say “this is an invalid match”. You’d just be able to abandon, safely, without penalty, and be able to roll into the next match.
PCI: Do you have any idea when that would roll out?
SS: As soon as we can get it done and tested, and verify that we won’t introduce other match-making issues by doing it.
PCI: Over the weekend you reduced the buff spawn times, and a few other bits and pieces. Is this purely to tackle match times, to get match times down?
SS: Yes, yeah. That’s what we’re working towards, getting match times down.
PCI: With the reduction in match times – and I know this has come up quite a lot – people are asking about the card experience. How are you going to change the distribution of card points with shorter matches?
SS: The goal is to have matches end before people get to maximum power. When I say people, I mean everybody in the match. Because when both teams get to maximum power it’s basically perfectly balanced, outside of team composition disparities, and you end up in a situation where you stalemate. The forces are just beating their heads against each other.
So the goal is going to be to drive matches to completion before everybody gets to max power. We’ll make some adjustments to the economy, but I’ve read and seen videos where it’s thought that if we get people to max card power faster that’ll help. We don’t believe that’s the case. A lot of the length of our matches right now seems to be in the spot where … you get to the 40 minute mark, somewhere around there, and both teams have max card power. And then the second half of the match starts. That’s the really frustrating part, you can’t make progress because there’s no disparity in power.
PCI: I’m on the other side, I quite like getting to max card points because then it becomes a game of strategy. So I don’t see the problem with that, but I guess not everybody is the same!
SS: Well, it becomes a game of strategy, but that strategy boils down to pure execution in the moment, rather than you taking advantage of having played better for the first 30 minutes of the match. Because they’ve caught up, and now it really is just execution.
PCI: Would that not mean that it would be better to speed the game up in the first 15-20 minutes, where it’s pretty slow-paced?
SS: That’s the type of thing we’re considering, yeah.
PCI: With that in mind, you’ve got some pretty high-level cards. If you’re not wanting people to max out, are those cards becoming null and void?
SS: No, those cards will find their place as people decide whether to use them. For example there’s a card that gives you temporary life-steal, a whole lot of life-steal and a little bit of health. If I’m building a deck for somebody and I don’t want to make it a life-steal deck but I want the option just in case, then I can throw that in to give me a whole lot of life-steal points without having to use a bunch of upgrade cards to achieve the same number of points. They’re meant to introduce flexibility in deck-building at the cost of flexibility in game time, because they all have upgrade slots.
PCI: I’m going to bring up the topic of travel mode. Where are we with it, can you give me an answer? What’s happening?
SS: We are not in a spot where we’ve locked down on a final solution internally. We’re not really ready to talk about it. One of the things we did was say how much we want to get rid of it, and what we were going to experiment with. That experiment did not work, and so we’re going to get a little further along in our solution for it before we start talking too much more about it.
PCI: And that was the teleport you tried, wasn’t it?
SS: Mmhm, yes.
PCI: So that’s definitely off the cards then, completely?
SS: Yeah, so, as an example we tried it internally and what ended up happening was as you got further along in the match, because you could only teleport to structures, you ran out of things to teleport to. Because towers get destroyed, the longer the match went the less mobility you had. That didn’t help match times, and it didn’t help players feel strategic and clever further on in the match. There should be a progression from … of increasing choices, not decreasing choices. So we nixed that one and we’re trying a couple of other things.
PCI: I know you don’t want to say what it is, but have you whittled it down to literally a couple of things, or is it ten things you want to try to do, or … ?
SS: Ahh … we’ve narrowed the field, but not as much as I would like.
PCI: You’re not going to answer my question, are you Steve?
SS: Sorry. I want to.
PCI: Fair enough, I tried. Okay; player ranking and people trying to figure out their skill level and where they sit in comparison with other players. Right now people are using third-party sites to work out their Elo and this kind of stuff. What are Epic’s plans for this. Are we going to see something from Epic themselves?
SS: Yeah, eventually. We’ve been saying for a while now we’re looking to make a highly competitive game. We’re not focusing on the eSports ranked part right now because we feel like the instability in the meta means that players can often be surprised by changes that are happening, there are a lot of adjustments they have to make. So we don’t know how meaningful an actual ranking system would be right now.
MOBAs are about team composition, and right now you can have mirror matches where Murdock is in lots of games, or Grux or Chimera are in lots of games. And one of the first things we want to get to is the ability to have enough heroes that we can turn off mirror matches and get real, meaningful choices. As we get closer to a mark where we feel like players have this flexibility and the roster can support the competitive side, we’ll start working towards exposing things like MMR and rankings to people.
PCI: So your message to people playing would really be don’t pay any attention to what’s out there right now?
SS: I mean people want to chase a number, and I appreciate that. I won’t say I’m not one of those people who check the other sites. However, it will become apparent what we intend to have for players when we get further along. We will definitely be supporting things like ranked play in the future.
PCI: You’ve said you were tossing around ideas for the travel mode and things like that. Are you guys considering putting up public test realms for this?
SS: Yeah, we’ve talked quite a bit about public test realms. The challenge with them is the adoption rate of players who want to participate, because it’s not … test realms are not a mandatory thing. And the match-making restrictions of a MOBA are very demanding on a population. It’s not just the number who have the client open, but the number who are actively match-making at a particular time.
Some of things we’ve discussed are having a public test realm that we run like an online test that we ran back in the January time-frame. Where they’re up and active a certain number of hours during a week, or weekend. And then they come down, so we can have a healthy match-making population. We aren’t quite there yet, but it’s certainly something we’ve been entertaining.
PCI: Returning to competitive team composition, when I’m playing I see a lot of players deathmatching the game. That obviously isn’t ideal. Have you thought about just removing the kill count from the score sheets?
SS: We have. It’s lower on the priorities list considering all the things the UI team could be working on, but we have talked a lot about what the game is telling players. And what we’d like to do to adjust. We’ve done some mock-ups, but we yet haven’t dedicated time for it.
PCI: Since you’ve got a new hero dropping today, I wanted to ask about the process of introducing new heroes. Have you pretty much got the order of how they’re introduced to the game set in stone, or is something changing based on what players are looking for and the feedback you’re getting?
SS: Our pipeline for heroes is long, because the fidelity on characters is significantly higher than some other games. Because of that, the plans for which heroes we’ve been working on is kind of set and has been rolling for a number of months now. That doesn’t mean that there’s no fluctuation in the order we intend to release them, however we’re not able to say “hey, the community wants this hero – let’s whip them up in a week or two and toss them in”. That’s just not how the art pipeline works.
The nice thing is we are in such a spot that any type of hero we add to the roster starts to fill in holes in the matrix that we have. Whether that’s burst damage or crowd control or auras or stuff like that. The things that we are missing are pretty obvious, and the pipeline has been designed to fill in those holes anyway.
PCI: Tell us a little bit about tomorrow’s [13 September] new hero.
SS: Sure. Belica is a caster who has a lot to do with mana manipulation. One of her abilities drains the mana of people who use abilities within an area that she has claimed as her own, using one of her bots. Her Ultimate does damage based on the percentage of missing mana. So she’s really impactful in team plays. If the enemy team clumps up, she can deter them from using their abilities too frequently during that fight, or force them to move away from that location. She has a lot of area control because of that.
PCI: I’m looking forward to that.
SS: I’m looking forward to her too, she’s really fun.
PCI: I know we’re short on time, so I’ll just ask what now for Paragon? When do you think you’ll be satisfied that this will be able to come out of beta?
SS: We’re really determined not to come out of beta before we feel the game is ready and the community agrees with us. It’s always been meant as a real beta, not a marketing beta. So we’re going to continue to look at our goals for the game, adjust based on community feedback, and continue the rapid pace of change. I don’t have a date. Not because we’ve picked one and I don’t want to tell you, but because we’ll know when we know that the game is ready to come out of beta.