Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces

One shot: Ferrel

Posted by Randolph Carter on August 19, 2009

MMO community connection:

Epic Slant

Where does the name “Ferrel” come from?

The most common misconception is that the name Ferrel is a play on the word feral. That was never my intention. When we picked up EverQuest the second time (more on that later), I wanted to play a cleric. Back then the High Elf cleric had the most starting Wisdom by a good margin and I was a min/max kind of guy. I rolled a female (my first real female character) and had to make up a name for one. I had a few names I used for male characters but I had never created one for a woman. In the character creator I just played with names. Ultimately I came up with Ferr’El which would be pronounced Fair El. EQ did not allow ‘ in the primary character name so I just typed out Ferrel and it has stuck for a long, long time. I am southern, however, so when I say it pretty much comes out Ferrall.

Please take a minute and describe what your blog is about.

Epic Slant is a blog that focuses on MMO design, guild leadership and my thoughts on the game I am currently playing. I’ve had a lot of experience in guild management and I originally wanted to share that. I go quite a bit into theory and psychology and sometimes it can be a little dry but the lessons are actually quite useful to would-be guild leaders and officers. My MMO design commentary is more of a passion for me. I like to advocate for things that I and my guild enjoy. As I said previously: I am a lobbyist of sorts.

What was your introduction to MMOs and what was that experience like?

I started playing MMOs back in the MUD days. Way back then, I played paper and pencil RPGs with a good group of guys but we couldn’t always get together. When I wasn’t with them, I did a lot of role-playing on AOL’s chat rooms. I wanted something a little more fleshed out, however. Someone in our group pointed out MUDs to me and it was a natural fit. For a while I was even a builder and lead administrator on one. My first graphical MMO was Ultima Online, though.

Can you recall that first MMO “wow!” moment?

EverQuest 1 simply blew me away the first time I saw it. I was in a local hobby shop with a good friend and we were talking about UO. The clerk heard us and started explaining this amazing new game that was 3D and far more like AD&D than UO. What he described (a first person game online) sounded far fetched to us but we went out and bought it. The first time I logged in I simply couldn’t believe it. The world felt so massive and it was a total mystery. That is when I was truly hooked.

If possible, list all the MMOs you’ve played extensively.

I figured you might ask that and I still was not prepared. I’ll do my best with this list but it really is outrageously long. I’m only going to include the high points since I’m not sure what you mean by extensively. Most of the games I touch I at least get to max level.

MUDs, UO, EQ1, DAoC, EQ1 again (four years, this is when I first joined an “uber” guild), EQ2 (two+ years), World of Warcraft, Age of Conan, Warhammer Online, Eve Online, and currently LotRO.

At your peak, how much time per week would you say you spent playing? How about now?

At my peak I was putting in insane hours. In EQ2 I put in somewhere in the nature of 60 to 70 hours a week. Roughly 40 to 50 of those were in game and playing. The rest was spent dealing with the administration of Iniquity. It was, without a doubt, a full time job plus.

At one point you were heavy into the competitive raiding scene. Would you care to share an amusing and/or interesting anecdote from these days?

In EQ2 Classic there was a group of weapons called “Prismatics.” They were peerless at the time. To get one you had to complete an incredibly long quest and defeat multiple raid targets. The last of which was a dragon called Darathar. In those days, not a lot of guilds had defeated him and he was horribly bugged. In some fights he would simply heal to full when his script went badly. He was changed numerous times but Darathar 1.0 was the most difficult encounter out there at the time. Iniquity had worked all the way to him and for a week straight, hours a day, I threw us at that dragon. I could not count how many times we lost. It got so bad and we got so low that Khallid and Durrel, who at the time were playing at my house, looked over at me and said outside of Ventrilo, “Dude, we need more gear. Lets call it and farm a bit longer and we’ll get him. We’re close.” I had heard rumblings that they were going to tone Darathar down a bit and I did not want to miss beating the hard version. That is the thought that went through my head. Not “I want my epic now.” Not “We want his loot.” It was “I don’t want to beat 2.0 when only an elite few beat 1.0.” In the hardest moment of my life I looked at some of my best friends in the world and told them we weren’t leaving and they needed to just suck it up and win. They were understandably frustrated with me. I pushed and pushed and pushed, though, and that very night we won. We beat Darathar 1.0. That is a story that has always stuck with me. It was one of the most challenging and rewarding moments in my “career” as a leader.

Do you still find time to raid?

I do still have time to raid, yes. We are now what I call microcore professional raiders. We only look to raid one or two days a week but when we do so we don’t fool around. We’re there to get in, execute our strategy effectively and win. Currently we’re maxing out in LotRO so we can enjoy the content there.

Do you tend to supplement your MMO gaming with other PC, console, or tabletop games?

MMOs make up the lion’s share of my hobby time. I do dabble in table top miniature games and the occasional PC game. I seem incapable of playing consoles. If it doesn’t have a keyboard and mouse I’m lost. Beyond that I do web design for fun. I hand crafted Epic Slant’s theme. It isn’t the most amazing thing on the planet but I did it myself and that means a lot to me.

When did you first start blogging? Would you mind taking us up to present with all of your projects?

I “grew up” in the tradition of uber guilds putting editorials on their website. Each day I religiously looked at the FoH, Afterlife and Township Rebellion websites and read what they had to say. Silent Redemption (my EQ1 guild) also did similar writing but we were never a “big name” outside of our server. We were certainly up there world wide but we were more of a second tier uber guild. We held our server completely but we couldn’t get a “game first.” Occasionally I was allowed to do a new story. It was usually a comedy bit but it did earn me a spot on the writing staff for the defunct MOG Magazine.

It was only natural that when I found myself in the leadership position in EQ2 that I equally editorialize. Iniquity held the Oasis server completely during the classic era. We were so far ahead it was laughable. Our website received copious amounts of traffic and I wrote. My fellow senior officer, Thax, did comics and also wrote. It was our moment in the sun. I was asked to do some guest articles for Caster’s Realm and did so. That went over well. Eventually I retired and moved from Iniquity’s front page to a site I devised known as MMOlogy, more or less the “science” of MMORPGs. I did some good work there but I did a poor job of getting the message out. My only readers were the guild members of Iniquity who retired with me. After about a year of doing that I decided to rebrand and make a better effort. That is where Epic Slant was born.

Do you see blogging as just a hobby or perhaps something more?

Blogging can indeed be a hobby and it does serve as one of my creative outlets but that is not my primary motivation in doing it. I see my role as less of a hobbyist and more of a lobbyist for players like me. Due to this presumed responsibility I take some of my writing quite seriously. This is also why you won’t find any rants on Epic Slant when it comes to a specific game or mechanic. It is my goal to ensure that anything that I write will be profanity free, respectful, and will never include overly negative comments without some sort of suggestion for improvement. I do give a lot of constructive criticism but only because I am passionate about the games I am playing and want them to improve. It is my hopes that the articles and discussions about them are useful to community managers and developers. I want them to feel like they use my site to see where they need improvement. If they feel like I’m just there to shout at them then I’ve failed as a lobbyist and give my demographic a bad name. I hope to avoid that at all costs.

Do you have a schedule or some sort of routine you try and follow when blogging?

I pretty much ensure that Epic Slant has a new article appear each Monday and Friday. Frequently I write a week in advance so that this is possible. Of those two I try to ensure at least one is MMO design related. On Wednesday I allow myself a broader topic range but do try to keep it in the same general genre so I don’t lose the message. I’m not a big “reactive” guy. Rarely do I just “write from the hip.” I’m simply not as good at it as I want to be yet.

Would you say there is some grind involved in blogging? If so, what is it and how do you tend to cope with it?

Blogging is most certainly a grind when you’re not inspired. Sometimes I have ten topics I am dying to cover. Sometimes nothing comes to my mind and I’m terrified of just rehashing something without adding to the discussion. Occasionally I have guest writers so they can fill in blanks for me. Thankfully since I write things in advance I usually have a week or two to slack. I have since decided, however, that it is better to post nothing or a “sorry I didn’t get an article out today” post than to put up inferior quality work that I did out of desperation.

By contrast, what do you find pleasurable about blogging?

I absolutely love discussion. The most rewarding thing for me is when other players, bloggers and industry people post comments. I like any sort of constructive comment. If you completely disagree with me I welcome you as long as you’re constructive, don’t use profanity and offer alternatives. I have yet to disapprove any comment on Epic Slant. I’m a big boy and I do not fear disagreement. I thrive on it. Just be ready for my rebuttal is all!

Are you pleased with how your blog has been received in the blogosphere?

I am thrilled with how Epic Slant has done so far. It has grown from just Sodality guild members reading it to a multi-hundred hit a day website. I’m currently sitting at about 2/10 on the Google page rank which is better than it sounds. Most sites like mine register at a wonderful zero. To be a two in a year without offering some sort of viral product or hilarious video is great. I want to branch out, though, and get more readership. I’m probably going to start leveraging some of my industry contacts for interviews. My ultimate goal is to involve professional members of our industry more directly with players. In my eyes that is what we need more of. For too long have we lived in an us vs them situation. The truth is that we’re all gamers and people. If we talked with less levels of red tape between us we could all do better. I want gamers to be more accepting of faults when it comes to MMOs. At the same time I want the industry to be more concerned with customer service. We’re a young industry and we have an opportunity to change it for the better.

If you had a chance to do it all over again, would you do anything different?

I am not a big fan of regrets. The only thing I would do over again is to have had my branding consistent sooner. The original URL for Epic Slant was ferrel.me. I built traffic with it and then changed to epicslant.com. In doing so I did damage to my web ranking. In the long run it is better but I should have just went with epicslant.com to start with.

Can you picture a future where you will hang up your keyboard and no longer blog?

Absolutely not. For me to stop blogging I would have to stop playing MMOs. No matter how much I’ve heard we grow out of things, I can’t seem to. I don’t enjoy other games. I don’t like the idea of being separated from my guild mates. Some people view guild mates as just “online people” who are only somewhat real. I do not view them as any different from the friend I have lunch with here at home. I know my guild mates. I’ve met many of them. We’ve shared stories, talked about relationships and children. We’ve been together so long it would be like divorcing an entire friend group. No, I’m in this for life, probably.

You wake up to a world where you are the head of a company developing an MMO. You have unlimited funds and resources available to you. Please describe the kind of game you would make.

I’ve often thought about this as any player does. We all assume that we can do a better job than the guys that are already industry. The truth is most of us can’t. We have great ideas but ideas aren’t enough. That said, I also think our industry is too inbred. Veteran designers go from game to game and “breaking in” is ridiculously difficult. There isn’t enough new blood coming in. Sometimes you need someone who will sit in a meeting and when the established group says, “We can’t let players do this” they will jump up and say, “Why not? Why CAN’T we? Why is everything so permissive now?” Most of the time the answer is “Buh?” or “Because we’ve always stopped them…” MMOs have too many rules now and we need to start beating them back. Too many shops don’t do things because EQ did them and “EQ is bad!”

If I was a studio head with the resources and time I would grab a lot of the best veterans in the industry (much like 38 Studios did). They would form my solid core that I would count on. I would then give a lot of young and independent developers a shot. Most importantly, though, I would hire a group of players to sit in and ask “why” all the time. If the answer is ever “buh” or “because” then we have to reengineer and rethink.

I realize that isn’t really the question you asked but I felt it would add insight into what I would do. A quick summation of what I would design though would be…

-Fantasy / Steam Punk setting based on the IP I’ve been writing a while.

-Extreme PvE focus with PvP server(s) being play at your own risk.

-The game would be designed around healthy, positive competition between guilds.

-About eight classes with clearly defined roles before they ever release that actually match. If a rogue is easy to kill and does the most single target damage over time the description will say that and no matter what players complain about, it will do that. PvP will NEVER factor into balance. It is nearly impossible to balance one set of classes across two systems.

-You will be able to solo to max. It will not be more effective or efficient than grouping. Grouping will always reward you better. Most group content would be “small group.”

-Non-instanced dungeons will exist that are far more rewarding than instanced dungeons.

-Named mobs will drop treasures like they did in EQ. They will not, however, inhabit small spots. They will have very large areas where they can spawn to reduce camping.

-Raiding will be a focus but not a niche. There will be three extremely clear raid tiers. “Easy” for basically anyone to do. “Medium” which will offer a reasonable challenge but a good portion of the player base will be able to do it. “Hard” which is for the hardcore and professional raider.

-Contested mobs will return. They will be difficult and they will drop rewards the likes of which can never be found in an instanced raid.

-Crafting will exist but only in “useful” fashions. I loathe the arguments between which gear should be better, crafting or drops. Crafts will provide useful additional items. Potions, weapon and armor enhancements, ability enhancements, fluff items and cosmetic things. The best items in the game will be made from crafting components dropped off raid mobs.

-Bind on pick up will be extremely rare. I’ve never seen a good argument for it that amounted to anything more than “we don’t want people who didn’t do the encounter to have the reward.” Items will be tradable at least once. If the guild that won it wants to sell it to competitors, more power to them.

-There will be some form of alternate advancement that will allow players to specialize.

-Guilds will have insanely amazing tools at their disposal. I believe guilds keep players in games and I would have a team working on the guild UI before anything else. Guild masters would have every tool imaginable to make their life easier and keep them in game.

-The game itself will track the progress of the guilds server wide and game wide. At any given time, without any doubt, players will know who is “in the lead.”

-Exploiters and cheaters will be banned. If your guild gets caught exploiting a raid mob more than twice all of your officers in attendance will be banned. Every member there will be suspended. In a game that focuses on this kind of competition ensuring a fair game is more important than a few accounts.

Now, I recognize that any industry person who reads my list will roll their eyes. I am an admitted idealist. I recognize that in the real world what I want to do couldn’t happen unless I had many hundred million dollars and additional investors who were willing to let me do whatever I want. The question did say I had unlimited resources though so I shot for the stars!

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3 Responses to “One shot: Ferrel”

  1. [...] you’re interested in learning a bit more about me and what I’m about you can check out the entire interview on Grinding to Valhalla. I must warn you though and say I was long [...]

  2. [...] of the things I do. In the end I was more than happy with the results! It has been a while since that interview was done and I still reference it when someone asks me a similar question about MMOs or Epic Slant. [...]

  3. [...] Ferrel [...]

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