Destructoid Interview: Aion Community Manager Lani Blazier

Aion, a new MMO being developed by NCsoft, is a title that’s recently caught my eye. Having given up on World of Warcraft over a year ago, I’ve been looking for a new MMO to occupy my time. So far, Aion is looking pretty promising to me, especially with all this talk of aerial combat. 

I recently had the chance to ask Lani Blazer, Aion‘s community manager, a few questions about the game. NCsoft was also kind enough to send over a couple new screens of the game as well. Hit the jump for the interview, and check out the gallery for some new screenshots.

Destructoid: Many avid MMORPG players feel like they’ve seen it all. What makes Aion special, and what sets it apart from all the other MMORPGs out there?

Lani: Once you take to the skies and battle in the Abyss it will leave you wondering, “Where have wings been all my life?!”  Aion builds on a classic fantasy MMO foundation with a visually stunning and unique world. Genuine flight, aerial combat and deep character customization are a fraction of the total features that make Aion so fun to play.

Destructoid: What more can you tell us about aerial combat?  Can you get knocked off your mount?  What level will you have to be to start using the flying mount?  Will aerial gameplay make up most of the end-game, or will there still be a fair amount of ground-based combat/quests to do?

Lani: Aerial combat is 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 all aspects of gameplay, from combat to harvesting and gathering to exploration.  You won’t always need to fly, and there is still plenty of ground-based combat and questing, but flight will be a fun and frequent part of Aion’s gameplay.

It is important to realize that flight in Aion must be used strategically.  Once you have your wings you won’t be able to fly 24/7; there will be right times to fly and wrong times to fly.  Everyone has a flight timer that starts with a base of one minute.  This can be enhanced with potions, gear or buffs, but it is still a finite amount of time.  In addition, there are both PvP and PvE skills that affect flight duration and speed, and some skills will even knock you out of the sky to the ground. This all means that players will have to balance when and why they are in the air.  Do you want to fly into combat, or save more of your flight for a hasty retreat?  Do you want to try to harvest something very valuable but also dangerously high in the skies?  Do you want to explore an area way up on the side of a perilous mountain?  These choices add a whole new dynamic to MMORPGs, and are a lot of fun to play.

Destructoid: What is the level cap planned to be, and how long do you expect it to take to reach it?  Why did you choose that level/length of time?

Lani: We plan on launching with the level cap at 50. We recognize players will accelerate through the levels at different rates, and with that in mind, we expect advancement to be on par with other western MMORPGs.

Destructoid: When balancing the game and the classes, did you lean more towards balancing for PvE, where each class has a specific role, or more towards PvP, where each class has a close to even chance to being able to kill any other class?  Do you consider the primary focus of the game to be PvE or PvP?

Lani: Well, let me start by stating that we think saying a game has to focus on either PvP or PvE is a false choice.  It’s like asking if a developer is focused on graphics or gameplay. Great games do both.  MMO gamers like to do a wide variety of things, and virtual worlds are large places supporting all types of gameplay. Certain gamers want to play predominantly PvE, and Aion has great PvE with over 1,500 story-driven quests and missions.  Other players love PvP, and again Aion has a great PvP experience on its own, and adds an innovative twist with its dynamic PvPvE system.  Many gamers like a combination of both, and Aion is a great experience for those gamers as well.

For the designers, this means they’ve had to balance  both situations at the same time.  This is obviously a very difficult task, and one that will evolve continuously throughout the life of the product.  We want each and every class to have an equally important role in PvPvE and throughout the Aion game world.

Destructoid: I’ve seen some screenshots from the Korean version of the game that show that crafting will be present.  Can you tell us more about the crafting system?  What are the different types of crafting skills that will be in the game?  How complicated/simple will they be to use?  Will there be a limit on the amount of crafting skills you can learn, or will everyone be able to create everything as long as they have the right items?

Lani: Players will have the opportunity to learn all six professions (Armorsmithing, Weaponsmithing, Tailoring, Alchemy, Handiworking and Cooking), however they can only achieve the expert level in one of them. Players can purchase, quest and hunt for recipes allowing them to create new and useful items. We haven’t released much information on our crafting system yet, but we will do so in the near future. Stay tuned!

Destructoid: What previous games have the developers worked on and/or regularly played, and what lessons/ideas are they taking from these past games and applying to (or shying away from!) in Aion?

Lani: We have many veteran MMO players on the design staff.  Our lead designer spent a great deal of time in EverQuest, but was also a world champion Virtual Fighter competitor.  Many on the staff also enjoyed Ultima Online and some of the other NC products such as Lineage and City of Heroes.

Destructoid: Thanks for your time!