Interview with Grinding Gear Games on Path of Exile

We recently previewed Path of Exile, an online diablo style action game with huge potential. The preview piqued the interest of many readers and in this interview with Grinding Gear Games we investigate the game, and the people behind it, in much more depth.

We always start with an easy question. Could you tell us a little about your company, Grinding Gear Games? Who are you Guys?

We’re a bunch of hardcore gamers mostly from New Zealand who love Action RPGs. Some members of our team are based internationally and represent a variety of countries. We’ve been working on this project since late 2006, and intend to continue to support it as our primary project for a long while after release.

How did you get into game design? What other games have the members in your team worked on?

I was personally always interested in games programming from a young age. It seemed only natural to me that it would be the career path that I would eventually take.

Several of our developers do have shipped titles under their belt, for companies such as Sidhe, Mere Mortals and Altar Games.

For most members of our team, this is their first commercial game. The game development industry in New Zealand is in its infancy, with most interested candidates moving overseas to have more job options.

Because of this, we generally hire talented hobbyists who have worked on their own private game projects and show a lot of potential.

How did you come up with the concept of your first game, Path of Exile?

Most of the founding members of our team have spent many years of their life playing a variety of popular action RPGs such as the Diablo series, Titan Quest, Dungeon Siege and Sacred. We created this company and game because we felt that we could improve on the genre and make an action RPG that would be a lot of fun to play for both our players and ourselves. The phrase “made by gamers, for gamers” is pretty true here.

What are the three features of Path of Exile that you are most proud of? Things which really set it apart from other games in the genre?

The feature we’ve been getting the most positive feedback for so far is our skills system. Our skills are itemised in gems which can be found in the wilderness and level up with you as you receive experience. Core skills are given to you periodically for completing quests, but players are encouraged to discover and trade for the rarer ones. The skill gems grant active skills to the player once they are socketed in equipped items. Linked sockets allow players to place a “support” gem adjacent to a skill gem. The support gems augment the properties of an active skill by modifying it in some specific way.

For example, placing “Multiple Projectiles” next to “Elemental Hit” in linked sockets lets you fire several elemental arrows per shot.

Supporting “Fireball” or “Ice Nova” with “Entrap” causes those skills to act as traps rather than simple attacks. There are dozens of unique skills and supports, creating a large number of combinations that players can use.

The second key feature is that Path of Exile is played exclusively on our persistent online servers. Most action RPGs just have single player or non-secure multiplayer available. Although those games are still great fun to play with friends, they lack the secure economy that purely online games are able to provide. An important part of finding an amazing item is being able to show it off to strangers and have them know that you actually found it.

World areas in Path of Exile are randomly generated as the player enters them. Both our indoors and outdoors level generators are extremely powerful and we feel that our random level generation is among the best in the industry. Monsters have randomly generated mods, and our item system is as diverse as the best in the action RPG genre.

By having the game experience substantially different each time an area is played, we hope to achieve much long-term replayability.

If someone following your project with anticipation has a great idea, or would like to contribute – what is the best way to go about this?

We’ve got a suggestions forum on our site, www.pathofexile.com. We do read all posts, so feel free to suggest ideas there. In terms of people contributing, they should send us email to [email protected] and let us know what they have in mind.

Path of Exile will be free to play, based on micro transactions. Do you feel this is a sustainable model long-term? Do you have a “plan-b” to fall back on if it doesn’t work out financially?

Yes, ethical microtransactions are a proven model in several other games. Many companies are making decent money by just selling aesthetic items to their customers. Part of the appeal of this method is that it doesn’t turn off customers who would get angry about “selling power” in the game. We can make sure the game is a level playing field for competitive tournaments, because customers can only purchase items of cosmetic utility.

Also, many people think to themselves that they’d never spend money on microtransactions, therefore the game is doomed to fail. Only a portion of the player base needs to spend money for the game to be viable, and it’s shown in many other games that this rate may be as high as 10% of players. It’s completely okay for people to play our game for free and not make any donations or purchase cosmetic items.

The art that has so far been released for Path of Exile is impressive – our compliments to the designers. Where did you find those guys? What is the biggest inspiration for the art direction?

Thanks, they appreciate the compliments. Our lead artist, Erik Olofsson, is from Sweden and moved to New Zealand to head our art team. Most of the other artists are very talented New Zealanders who we have hired over the years. The local “Media Design School” in Auckland is a very good source for skilled artists and has been a great asset for us when finding new talent.

How do players sign up for the upcoming beta in early 2011?

All accounts created on our website (www.pathofexile.com) are game accounts, and are automatically entered into the lottery for beta access once it is available. If you want to sign up for the beta, merely make an account on our site. That account can also be used to discuss the game in the forums, where we’re building a community.

Is there anything you would like to mention about your company, or Path of Exile which we have not yet covered and you feel our readers must absolutely know?

Although Path of Exile is an online game, it’s completely possible to play the game alone if you wish. Players are put into randomly generated instances with their party members while they are in the wilderness. Towns have substantially larger player caps and allow players to show off their items, trade for new ones, party up with other players, or just chat in safety. Players who don’t like to play online games with strangers can treat Path of Exile as a single player game, but one that takes place in a secure online economy so that they can still show off their finds to other players.

For more information about Path of Exile, or to sign up for a beta account, please visit www.pathofexile.com. We look forward to welcoming you to our community!

the author

Managing Editor of ManaPool, Peter lives in York, UK and is a great fan and master of turn-based strategy games. If he isn't playing one of those, you'll probably find him in a role-playing game instead. He's definitely not afraid to provide a straight up opinion on any game and has a strong like for indie developers. We all start small, after all.