The Breach leagues are currently in full swing and we're glad to see that so many players are continuing to enjoy this league! We sat down with Nick, one of our game designers who came up with the initial concept for the Breach League to get his insights into his inspirations for game design, unique item design and how the concept of the Breach leagues evolved.

Hi Nick! Thanks for taking part in the interview! Could you please introduce yourself and let us know a little bit about your history with gaming and design and what lead you to work at Grinding Gear Games?

I met Chris, Jonathan and Erik back in 2010 when I was working as a game critic at a major gaming website. You know the one. The game seriously impressed me, even ignoring the fact that it was developed on a shoestring budget by a tiny team from sleepy little New Zealand. They were doing gutsy, inventive things.

About a year and half later I left that job to pursue a career in game development as a game designer. This isn't too uncommon, since some of the skills that make a good critic translate to game design. As a critic I had to be able to explain what I liked or didn't like about a game and why and be able to extrapolate 30 minute demos into much longer experiences. My job was specifically covering MMOs and sometimes I'd have to be able to say why the 30 minute demo of a game you're meant to spend months playing was good or bad, or what the red flags were. Game designers need to be able to look at a game mechanic and understand what the implications of that mechanic will be at various levels of play. They need to do a lot of other things too, but quickly knowing what will or won't work within a system is a biggie.

I moved to Australia with the goal of joining the burgeoning indie game scene there, only to find that while there were plenty of developers, there wasn't a lot of money. A developer I'd stayed vaguely in touch with from my critic days suggested I contact GGG, since they'd just successfully launched Path of Exile. I sent an email, not really expecting much, and not long after I was sent a game design test. Not long after that I flew to New Zealand to work at this delightful studio and live in a share house with an actual crazy person!

Could you please tell us about your current role at Grinding Gear Games and what an average work day is like for you?

I'm a game designer, which means I work on a lot of different things, but I've mostly worked on unique items, divination cards, leagues, and narrative stuff. Like a lot of the people who work here, the daily duties vary pretty greatly depending on what part of the development cycle we're in. Just after a league launches (like right now!) I may spend the day concepting new features or items. Later, I may be designing monsters and their AI, or coordinating mod creation and art for items. Closer to an expansion launch I may be fixing bugs in monster behaviour or damage, or fine tuning and polishing literally anything that needs it.

You were involved in the initial design of the current Breach League. Could you give us some insight into how that came about and how the idea evolved from there?

Take yourself back to August 2016. Back then, there was no such thing as an iPhone 7. We had to make do with our iPhone 6 Pluses. The current league was Prophecy, and Gene Wilder was still alive. It was a simpler time.

A show called Stranger Things had just launched on Netflix, and everyone on my Facebook feed was proclaiming it as the greatest thing ever (it wasn't -- that title goes to pizza -- but it was still excellent). Around the same time, we were trying to come up with some league concepts, and there had been a desire both internally and from our players to return to Beyond. I pitched a Beyond-themed league where the players enter the Beyond world -- a parallel universe akin to the one in Stranger Things. A place where the monsters could peer into our world, but we couldn't peer into theirs.

The idea revolved around activating a 'spire' that would send you into the parallel universe, where all the monsters in your area would still be visible, but they'd be frozen in time and untouchable, and the colours would be washed out -- an effect very similar to what we used when you first encounter the Shaper. You'd want to 'hunt' a unique monster hidden somewhere in this parallel universe, and in order to stay there longer you'd have to kill swarms of other monsters, since in Beyond the portals are powered by blood. People liked the idea, and I promptly went on vacation to Disney World, because that's just how I do.

While I was gone, it became apparent that there were a lot of technical hurdles behind the time-freeze mechanic, especially in party-play, and after implementing a few versions of the mechanic, the team landed on what eventually became Breach. They did an absolutely fantastic job making my bad Stranger Things fan-fiction into one of the most exhilarating leagues we've ever had in Path of Exile.

Part of your role involves the creation of unique items. Can you give us an overview of this process?

Sometimes unique item development is a quick, straightforward process. Abberath's Hooves is an example of a time that it wasn't. During the development of Perandus I wanted a pair of boots that shook the ground and knocked enemies back as you walked. Programmer Rian put that mechanic together quite quickly, but combining character movement with a knockback mechanic was causing a lot of bad bugs, so we shelved it.

For Breach we wanted a set of uniques unrelated to the league (but related to...something else…) that would be punchy and flavourful, and Omnitect Erik suggested some boots with a ground-stomping mechanic. So I dug out the ol' Perandus boots, removed the knockback mechanic entirely, and Programmer Mark1 suggested tying the damaging moment to the footprint event, rather than have it trigger every set duration, and programmer Alex made it happen. I loved that idea, and thought it of course also needed some footprints, so effects artist Nat made some burning hoofprints. Meanwhile 2D artist George was making the item art, and 2D artist Ash was making art for the skill icon.

Then Designer Rory balanced the skill, changed the damage type to fire to better suit the other item mods, and put it on the most appropriate base-type ever (goathide!). All of this needed to be checked by the QA team to ensure it wouldn't blow up the game. Many others checked the item in its final form, with very minor tweaks here and there. In total there were probably about 15 (maybe more!) different people who in some way contributed to the item over the course of just under a year. This is one of the more extreme collaborative examples, but it just goes to show how many people care about the details, and how much work goes into every facet of Path of Exile.

As the main developer who writes flavour text for the game, do you have any favourite snippets? Is there anything you have to keep in mind while writing these?

At the risk of tooting my own horn, I really enjoyed writing the flavour for the Breach uniques. Breach and Beyond both thrive story-wise on what is left unsaid, so I wanted to try to give each Breachlord and its followers a distinct sense of culture through the names and flavour of the monsters and items without giving away the sense of lovecraftian mystery and eldritch horror it leans upon.

I'm also a fan of irony in flavour text (like The Brass Dome's), so if an item has contrasting ideas in its flavour, it's pretty likely I worked on it.

I'm not a strong poet (for that we luckily have Rhys) but I try to make sure the flavour has a good rhythm to it. Razor of the Seventh Sun's flavour, for example, is a haiku!

Are there any games, past or present that inspire your game design philosophies?

I think it's kind of impossible to work as a game designer and not have your work influenced by the great work other game designers do. Nintendo does an incredible job in their Mario games of introducing and teaching new mechanics without you even realising it. Even mobile games have a lot they can teach about maintaining a player's interest or providing interesting session-based experiences.

Sometimes inspiration comes from unusual places -- I love watching Survivor because they use game mechanics to influence how people interact socially. They contrast 'open' information (who has won immunity) with 'hidden' information (who has found a hidden immunity idol) to great effect, and it turns what could be a dull experience of watching people on a beach into an intensely psychological game.

Are there any aspects of game design that you find interesting but may be seldom thought of by others?

Names! Names in games are so important, and are so easy to get wrong. Erik has a very keen eye for making sure item names don't sound like passive skill names or active skill names. We only have so many words we can use, so we have to be careful with how we use them.

Names can also completely colour the way you view a mechanic or enemy or league. A warband's faction should be identifiable on name alone, even if you're only looking at one of the leaders (Musky "Two-Eyes" Grenn vs Uruk Baleh vs Jeinei Yuushu). They can inspire fear (Abaxoth, The End of All That Is), or can tell you a surprising amount about a character's backstory or culture. If the naming is cohesive and done with worldbuilding or giving the player certain information in mind it can make a huge difference. But I think it's also one of those things where you probably don't really notice it until you see where it's done badly.

Are you working on any other game-related projects outside of Grinding Gear Games?

I have a podcast that I host with two other developers -- Saveun and Blake. It's called Front Seat Gamer. They do all the hard work of organizing and editing and answering questions and stuff. I just sit in a chair and talk. We publish a new episode every two weeks and if you're interested you can listen to it at

Do you have any advice for aspiring game designers?

Pay very close attention to what you like and what you don't like, or what keeps drawing you in, and figure out why. Knowing what elicits an emotional or physical response is a huge part of game design. It's a cliche, but there are lessons to be learned in all sorts of things. Bad games can teach you what doesn't work.

Also, it's probably good to learn a skill -- art, programming, writing, business, etc. These can help inform your game design decisions and playing to your strengths is never a bad idea.

What can we look forward to in the future?

Honestly, there is so much to look forward to that I don't really even know where to start. Mostly because I can't talk about any of it yet! We are working on the coolest content we've ever done. Our artists are making some beautifully messed-up monsters, and our designers are creating some elegant but suitably epic boss fights to go along with them. I will say that there are already a few hints of what's in store in Path of Exile right now.
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Alpha Member
Omg! Thank you Nick and Carl!
Last edited by Sitnave on Jan 2, 2017, 3:19:24 PM
Nice one :D
Whisprex wrote:
Nice one :D

Sitnave wrote:
Omg! Thank you Nick and Carl!

hype trolls :)
🅰🅻🅸🅽 ::: ! ♥ PoE ツ 👌 :::
Last edited by 4lin on Jan 2, 2017, 3:30:58 PM
Cool, first time on the first page. :D
Please reply to your whispers for items... Even if you are mapping, in a rotation, in uber lab, or if its sold. Thank you. :D
Last edited by mattislouie on Jan 2, 2017, 3:31:34 PM
u make a great job !
it's always nice too have a look on the design process!

keep it up GGG :)

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