Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces

Posts Tagged ‘One shot interview’

One shot: an interview with James Maliszewski

Posted by Randolph Carter on March 11, 2011

James Maliszewski is the prolific author of the “little-known” blog, Grognardia, which just happens to be a wonderful tribute to the RPG hobby. Here we discuss his blog, his humble gaming origins, his preference for knives, and what’s going on in his gaming world these days.

*   *   *

Would you mind explaining what Grognardia happens to be about?

Grognardia is about “the history and traditions of the hobby of roleplaying,” as it says on its masthead, but that’s just a fancy way of saying that it’s about old school RPGs, with “old school” in this case generally meaning games written, published, and played before about 1984 or so, as well as some later games that were written based on similar principles as those earlier games.

How did you get started on this project?

Like most gamers my age, I entered the hobby playing D&D, which I played more or less continuously from 1979 till sometime in the early 90s, when I finally decided that I’d had enough and moved on to other games. For me, the 1990s were an awful time for D&D, when the game had strayed very far away from being what first attracted me to the hobby in the first place. So I spent much of that decade casting about for other RPGs that I hoped might bring me the same pleasure that D&D and older games had previously. Along the way, I found several I enjoyed for a time, but none of them “stuck,” if you know what I mean and I soon found myself more an observer of the hobby than an actual participant in it.

Had it not been for the release of the third edition of Dungeons & Dragons in 2000, I might have continued on in that way, or perhaps even drifted away from the hobby entirely. But 3e reignited my love affair with D&D and I played it quite intensely for about six years. It was at that time that I began to find WotC’s revision of the game increasingly at odds with my interests. 3e is a solid design but a very complex and rules-heavy one, as well as one more concerned with mechanical “balance” than matters to me. So, by 2006, I once again started to cast about for an alternative, eventually coming across various online old school communities, such as Dragonsfoot, the Knights & Knaves Alehouse, and, especially, Finarvyn’s Original D&D Discussion forums.

Connecting with the gamers in those communities reminded me of how much fun I’d had with the games I’d first played way back when. Rather than searching for a new game that might give me as much enjoyment as those older games had, why not just play the older games? It seems like an obvious thing in retrospect, but, believe me, it seemed like a radical concept at the time. Before long, I found that, contrary to conventional wisdom, you can go home again and I was spending far too much time thinking about and creating material for OD&D and other old school games. It was then that I decided to take the plunge and start up a blog where I could share the fruits of my newfound creativity.

That’s more or less how Grognardia was born.

I’m sure you get this a lot, but would you care to explain where the name Grognardia comes from?

“Grognard” is a French word meaning roughly “grumbler” and was reputedly an affectionate name given by Napoleon Bonaparte to his Old Guard, who were extremely loyal to him but also complained a lot about their living conditions. Back in the early 70s, John Young, who was the editor of Strategy & Tactics, a wargames magazine published by SPI, started referring to older wargamers as grognards, because, like the Old Guard, they’d been around a long time and they complained a lot, especially about some of the newer wargames coming out at the time. Perhaps because roleplaying grew out of wargaming, in time the term also came to be used to describe old school roleplayers as well, particularly those who dislike later editions of any game they played. The term is generally not used affectionately, but I still thought it’d be amusing to name my blog about old school gaming Grognardia.

So, if I met you at a cocktail party and started gushing on and on about how much I loved 4th edition D&D, would you stick a fork in me?

No — I favor knives for dealing with fans of 4th Edition.

More seriously, my answer is still no. I don’t have any love for 4th Edition, for a variety of reasons, but, if someone gets enjoyment out of the game, more power to him. We all have our preferences when it comes to our entertainments and there’s rarely any purpose in trying to argue that someone else’s preferences are wrong or somehow mistaken, even if they’re not ones you personally enjoy. Life’s too short to pick fights over roleplaying games.

Best I can tell, you are approaching 2,000 posts now with your blog and that’s in under 3 years. How have you managed to keep this pace up?

Assuming I keep up my current pace, yes, I should reach 2,000 posts very soon. Keeping up the pace is, frankly, pretty easy. I’ve been involved in the hobby for over 30 years, so I have literally a lifetime of experiences to mine for ideas. Then there are my regular features, such as the Pulp Fantasy Library and retrospectives on old school gaming products, as well as interviews, reviews, session reports from my ongoing OD&D campaign, and more. So, I’m rarely at a loss for topics, which helps me immeasurably in maintaining a regular schedule of posting. Plus, I just love what I’m writing about; it’s amazing how little effort it takes to write when you’re passionate about the subject matter.

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

It’s mostly a hobby. And, while I am the co-owner of a small RPG company called Rogue Games, through which I’ve published my sci-fi RPG, Thousand Suns, and an old school fantasy adventure, The Cursed Chateau, I try very hard not to use Grognardia as a platform for making money beyond the small change I occasionally get from my tip button (which I then use to buy old school products I really like). Lots of people mistakenly think I intend the blog to be a stepping stone to something more, but it’s not; it’s just a place where I can write everyday and share my thoughts on some topics near and dear to my heart. Now, it’s true, I’ve often attracted a fair bit of attention from outside roleplaying circles because of Grognardia, such as mentions in the L.A. Times and National Review Online, among others, and I do appreciate the kudos. However, that’s never been the driving force behind my blogging. I do this because I enjoy and I’ll continue so long as it continues to be fun.

Would you care to share a particularly enjoyable experience related to your blog?

Truthfully, there are too many to mention. I get a lot of emails from people who used to game and then, like many, fell away from the hobby as they entered adulthood. Then they stumbled on Grognardia and found their interest in roleplaying rekindled by some post or other that I wrote. I’ve heard from parents who were inspired to introduce their kids to RPGs and teachers who’ve done the same with their students, as well as from game designers who thanked me for speaking so highly of something they’d done in the past. Grognardia has really brought me a lot of satisfaction over the last three years and has brought me into contact with many, many people who share my love for older RPGs and the culture that surrounds them. It’s been a terrific experience.

How about one you’d care to forget?

Of course, but, fortunately, I’ve forgotten them.

Going back a bit, how were you introduced to the hobby and what was that experience like?

As I mentioned earlier, I was introduced to the hobby in late 1979. In August of that year, James Dallas Egbert III disappeared and early speculation suggested that his love of Dungeons & Dragons had something to do with it, though that later proved to be untrue. My father read a lot of newspaper articles about the disappearance and he was always talking about this “weird game.” So, my mother, thinking my father would like to see a copy of the game, bought one for him — the “Blue Book” version edited by Dr. J. Eric Holmes. As it turned out, my father had no interest in the game itself and so the boxed set sat in my upstairs linen closet for several months.

That Christmas, a friend of mine received a boardgame called Dungeon! as a present. It was a very simple game about dungeon exploration and everyone in our gang of friends simply adored it, especially the creatures it included as adversaries, like black puddings and green slimes. Playing it reminded me of that “weird game” my mother had bought for my father in the summer and so I went home and opened it up, immersing myself in the 48-page rulebook it contained. I couldn’t make heads or tails of it, because there was no board or pieces inside the box. There weren’t even any dice, since this was one of the sets that included laminated chits!

Still, I was incredibly intrigued by this game and my friends and I tried to play it as best we could. That’s when one of my friends’ older brother saw us and started laughing at us, since we were “doing it wrong.” He then took it upon himself to teach us “the right way” to play and we were grateful. After all, my friend’s brother spent a lot of his time yelling at us and generally behaving like a surly teenager toward us. That he was actually teaching us how to play this game he and his high school buddies played made it feel like we were being initiated into a secret society, which, in a way, we were. Back then, D&D — and roleplaying in general — was still a new and unusual thing and, while RPGs were rapdily entering public consciousness as a fad, they weren’t quite there yet in early 1980 and so we took some pride in being early adopters.

That experience was a powerful one for me and my friends. You have to remember that, in the late 70s and early 80s, personal computers and the Internet were still far in the future for most people. Our communal entertainments were mostly boardgames, sports, and various kinds of “make believe” activities. So, when we first encountered roleplaying games, it was like a revelation to us, especially when we found out that adults played this game too. My D&D boxed set even included the words “the original adult fantasy role-playing game” on its cover, which had a profound impact on us. D&D taught us that it was OK to hold on to your childhood fantasies as we grew older, a lesson hit home even more strongly when a friend’s father would act as Dungeon Master for us on occasion. I can’t stress enough how positive my early experiences of the hobby were, which probably explains why I’m still roleplaying three decades later.

After a friend’s older brother introduced me to D&D the summer after 7th grade, I fell in love with the game and played with a static group of  friends through most of high school. At some point girls and trying to act cool entered the picture and unfortunately my D&D days were numbered. I still look back on those days with great fondness. I’ve even tried to pick up the dice again on occasion, but it’s just not the same anymore.  The magic eludes me. How have you managed this and continue playing RPGs to this day? What’s the secret?

I’m not sure I have a “secret” other than simply playing and doing so as regularly as possible. I’m lucky, I guess, in that I have a corps of regular players whom I’ve known for a long time and a very tolerant family who lets us get together in our dining room to play. Even when I was most disenchanted with the hobby back in the 90s, I never completely fell away from it. Roleplaying has been a part of my life for so long that it’s hard to imagine not doing it. I’ve never felt any pressure to distance myself from the hobby, even when most of my friends were no longer interested in it, so that’s likely to have been a big factor in my ability to keep playing after all these years. If I didn’t have a steady crew of gamer friends with whom to play, I suspect I might well have abandoned it at some point too.

Would you say your passion for the hobby has had its ups and downs over the years?

Absolutely! As I mentioned previously, the 1990s were a low point in my passion for and involvement in the hobby. A combination of my getting older, being busy with graduate school, and, from my perspective anyway, a noticeable decline in the quality of the games I most enjoyed, all had a negative effect on me. Ironically, this largely coincides with the time during which I was most professionally involved as a writer of RPG materials. I worked as a freelance writer for a lot of different companies throughout the 90s and, while I’m still proud of a lot of what I wrote, I note with some embarrassment that very little of it was informed by actual play of the games involved. I still write, as I mentioned earlier, but it’s much more strongly connected to actual play, which I think makes for better, more useful gaming materials.

So, yes, the 1990s were a decidedly low point for me in terms of my interest in the hobby as an actual player, especially when compared to the 1980s. The turn of the century, though, and the reinvigoration of Dungeons & Dragons under Wizards of the Coast proved to be the perfect antidote to my gaming doldrums. My current gaming group started together in early 2000, when I was able to get an advance copy of Third Edition, which we played more or less non-stop through 2006 or thereabouts. Eventually, we all grew rather tired of Third Edition and found its complexities increasingly not to our taste. We might well have abandoned D&D entirely if it hadn’t been for my rediscovery of the versions I played as a younger man. That’s the great thing about tabletop roleplaying: these games never go out of date. That’s why my friends and I can enjoy ourselves with a game published in 1974

Has this passion rubbed off at all on any of your family?

Yes and no. My wife and my 11 year-old daughter have dabbled in roleplaying games after being introduced to them through me. They both have terrific imaginations and a keen interest in fantasy. but I don’t think either of them has yet found the “perfect” game that complements their personalities and interests. My daughter was briefly involved in my OD&D campaign, playing a young magic-user. She eventually stopped playing, though, because she found the danger-filled, swords-and-sorcery inspired nature of the sessions a bit too tense for her. My wife has played in a handful of brief, character-focused campaigns but hasn’t actively roleplayed in some time. So, I’d say they’re both very open to the idea of gaming.

My 8 year-old son, on the other hand, hasn’t shown a great deal of interest in the hobby. He likes looking at and playing with my miniatures and dungeon tiles, but that’s largely the extent of his interest. Of course, he was a very enthusiastic player in the Pokemon Jr. Adventure Game that I ran for the family a couple of years ago, so, again, I think he’s open to the idea of gaming. I try not to push my hobby on others, including my family. My feeling is that, if they’re interested in what they see me do at the dining room table with my friends, they’ll come and ask me more about it. And if they don’t, that’s fine by me too.

When and where do you find time to game these days?

These days I play in a theoretically weekly OD&D campaign at my home. I say “theoretically” because, real life being what it is — my regular players are all adults — we sometimes don’t meet every week. On average it’s been about once every other week, but we try to meet as often as possible.

As blasphemous as it may sound, I manage to scratch what roleplaying itches I get these days by immersing myself in MMORPGs. From what I understand, you’re not exactly a stranger to the genre. Would you care to talk a bit about your experience with World of Warcraft and how for someone who is known for championing “old school” RPGs, that might not have been the easiest thing to admit on your blog?

I don’t fully understand why so many tabletop roleplayers have an animus against computer games and MMORPGs in particular. Perhaps it’s because they feel that these entertainments have “stolen” their audience and reduced their hobby to a shadow of its former size in terms of popularity. For myself, I see computer gaming generally and MMOs in particular as a totally different, though clearly related, hobby to tabletop gaming. That’s why it baffles me a bit when it’s suggested, as you do, that there’s something odd about a fan of one hobby also enjoying the other. From my perspective, my enjoyment of World of Warcraft is no different than a bibliophile’s enjoyment of movies; there’s no reason I can’t like both.

Now, that said, I think it’s important to note, in my experience anyway, there’s not a heck of a lot of roleplaying going on in computer “RPGs” or MMORPGs. Certainly, these games can be extremely immersive and they often present extremely well-crafted stories that are quite diverting. However, they can’t compare to even a mediocre tabletop gaming session when it comes to interactivity and improvisation, two elements of what I most enjoy about tabletop roleplaying. Consequently, despite their popularity, I honestly don’t think there’s a lot that tabletop RPG design can learn from computer games or MMOs. The media are, in my view, too different from one another. What makes a good computer game or MMO will not make a good tabletop RPG and vice versa.

So, while I can understand why tabletop designers might be envious of, say, World of Warcraft’s immense worldwide subscriber base — and the profits that go with it — I think it’s a mistake to see reproducing them in analog form as a pathway to success. To my mind, what tabletop RPG companies need to do is twofold. First, they need to accept that the 80s are long gone and, barring some totally unpredictable shift in popular culture, the days of a tabletop RPG selling as well as they did back then are never coming back. Second, they need to play to the strengths of the tabletop medium rather than aping those of computer games and MMOs. Tabletop games are open-ended, flexible, and player-driven, things that no computer can reproduce. As much as I enjoy computer games with some degree of player choice, like, say, Mass Effect, they offer only a fraction of what a tabletop RPGs offer me, which is why I’d never abandon tabletop for a purely virtual experience.

Outside the realm of RPGs are there any other kinds of games you enjoy playing and would feel safe mentioning here?

James Maliszewski. He says he’s a knife man, but I’m getting some mixed signals here.

Besides MMOs and other video games — I especially enjoy playing shooters with my friends — I enjoy boardgames, some of which I play with my children. Labyrinth, Blokus, and the LEGO-based Pirate Code are all favorites of ours. I’m very fond of Risk and Risk 2210 A.D. and Diplomacy is a game I dearly love, though I haven’t played in quite some time, unfortunately. I wish I could say I’m a “real” wargamer, but I’m not and never have been. This applies to miniatures wargaming as well.

What advice would you give someone who was interested in playing an RPG but had never been exposed to them before?

Therein lies a big problem for the hobby: if you haven’t been exposed to RPGs before, chances are you never will be. Gone are the days when tabletop gaming was a big fad and it was possible to go into any book or toy store and pick up a copy of a wide variety of roleplaying games. Fortunately, all you really need is someone else who’s already roleplaying, which is not much different than it was in the glory days of the hobby. In fact, I remain convinced that the best way to get into roleplaying is to be introduced to it by someone who already plays it.

I differ from a lot of people in that I don’t think what the hobby really needs is a good introductory roleplaying game available in every book and toy store, though that’d certainly be great. Rather, I think what we need are more gamers who are willing to share their hobby with interested newcomers. So, if you’re someone with little experience of RPGs who wants to learn more, I can’t think of a better way to do so than to seek out people still actively involved in the hobby. Rulebooks and intro sets and websites can only get you so far; what’s really needed is face-to-face interaction with people actively involved in the hobby.

And last but certainly not least, when was the last time you rolled a 20-sided die? I’m guessing it’s been a while, so if you need some time to think about that, go right ahead.

A while? Hardly. Given that I’ve had a regular OD&D campaign going since January 2009, odds are good I’ve rolled more than a few D20s in any given week.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

One shot: an interview with Alberos

Posted by Randolph Carter on February 11, 2011

Alberos, or Eric for short, is responsible for the excellent Lord of the Rings Online podcast, LOTROCast.  Here he discusses his background in gaming, what he enjoys about podcasting and the LotRO community, and a personal tragedy that recently struck his family.

*   *   *

For those who don’t know, would you mind explaining what LOTROCast is, how you happened to get involved with it, and what you’re now trying to achieve with it?

LOTROCast is a Lord of the Rings Online themed podcast. I typically cover LOTRO and LOTR themed news, talk about what I’ve done in game and then focus on one or two LOTRO themed topics. I try to put out an episode every 2 weeks. In between episodes I write a blog which, while hosted on the my.lotro website, tends to be about MMO topics in general. As part of LOTROCast I will do the occasional LORECast which focuses on the history and lore behind the game. I’m currently working on a series of LORECasts about the races of Middle-earth.

So, what is it about Lord of the Rings Online (LotRO) that sets it apart from the countless other MMOs out there and has you blogging and podcasting quite enthusiastically about it?

I think what really excites me about LOTRO is the storyline and the graphics. The gameplay (controls, combat, skill systems) really isn’t much different from what you see in games like WoW or City of Heroes or others. However the storyline, and how Turbine has written around the established story, is really captivating. Unlike some of the Playstation or Xbox games that came out when the LOTR movies were first released, in LOTRO you don’t play as a member of the Fellowship. You play as a member of the Free Peoples (Freeps for short) and your questing takes you to places only alluded to in Tolkien’s writing. You will occasionally cross paths with the Fellowship, especially once you reach Rivendell, but you are really living your own part of the story.

In addition, the game is very visually appealing. The Shire, where the Hobbits live, is stunning and looks like it was pulled right out of the movies. The designers really spent a lot of time giving each zone its own look and feel. I don’t think any other game I’ve played inspires the kind of enthusiasm or dislike for specific areas that LOTRO does.

Was LotRO your first MMO? If not, what was and what was that experience like?

LOTRO was not my first MMO. I started my MMO experience with World of Warcraft. I’ve always been a gamer, both paper and electronically, but WoW and later LOTRO really redefined the experience for me. It was amazing to be wandering this virtual world full of real people who were pursuing their own quests and story lines. I think we’ve all at one point or another had the thought that our real world would be some much more exciting with magic or space ships or whatever….MMOs have made that wish come true
in a way.

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

I think there were two distinct moments that stick out in my mind. The first was the first time I leveled in WoW. I had rolled a Dwarf Paladin and was in the Dwarf starting area killing mobs when suddenly this light explodes around my toon and the level sound went off…I was hooked.

I think the other “wow” moment was a PvP experience I had in WoW. I was in Strangle Thorn Vale with my elven hunter when I stumbled across a Horde Druid named Naturelord. He and I spent probably an hour killing each other. Sometimes I’d get the drop on him and the next time he’d get me. It was incredibly fun and really brought the excitement of facing off against a real person.

What happens to be your gaming background?

Alberos in real life

Like I said I am a long time gamer. Like most I started with D&D and then branched out to other pen & paper games like Star Trek, Shadow Run, Amber, Heroes Unlimited. I also played some Magic: The Gathering, but wasn’t really that into it. I also played a lot of Risk and Warhammer. My gaming then jumped into computers. I really enjoyed some of the original D&D games like Pool of Radiance and the Ice Wind Dale Trilogy.

Right before I started playing WoW and LOTRO, I was playing the Never Winter Nights series and Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. I really liked that first person perspective and that sparked my interest in trying MMOs.

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

Yes, on the PC I am a big Total War fan. I really enjoy playing Rome Total War and Medieval Total War. I also played the Battle for Middle Earth games.

I also like First Person Shooters on the X-Box. Currently I am playing Halo Reach and Modern Warfare 2.

What games are you currently playing?

For MMOs I’m splitting time between LOTRO, WoW and City of Heroes. LOTROs my main game, but I’ve got friends on WoW and COH so I have a night where that’s what I’m playing.

In short bursts, I play Halo Reach and Modern Warfare 2 on the X-Box. I’ll also admit I’m currently playing Star Wars Legos. It’s a cute game and doesn’t require a whole lot of brain power.

Would you mind sharing a particularly enjoyable gaming experience from your past?

That’s a hard one. I’ve had lots of great experiences. I think what I’ve enjoyed the most is the camaraderie that you get with games like LOTRO and WoW as well as pen and paper games. I remember many nights getting together to play D&D and ended up just hanging out with friends, drinking beer and goofing around. Similarly when playing some of the MMOs with my real life friends, well get on and run an instance, but we’ll have more fun talking about what we’re drinking, complaining about work and making “That’s what she said” jokes.

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

Right now its just a hobby. I really enjoy LOTRO and the world of MMOs in general.  I think the communities that develop around the games are really interesting and I like being an active member of the community. Plus, as you can probably tell from my lengthy answers, I like sharing my experiences and thoughts on stuff.

What do you find particularly pleasurable about blogging and podcasting?

I think it’s the connection to the community. There are a lot of LOTRO podcasters and bloggers and we’re all supportive of one another. Merric and Goldenstar at Casual Stroll to Mordor gave me some great advice when I took LOTROCast over from Moormur.  Lunna the Burg was in the Amistad Del Otro kinship on Arkenstone and I’ll post links to her videos on the blog so others can see her great work. It’s a really good environment.

Are you pleased with what you’ve achieved so far with LOTROCast?

Esteldin is lovely in the spring

For the most part. I think the format of the show is solid and I think people enjoy it.  I’d like to do a better job of polishing the show. I need to work on bumpers between segments and slowing down how fast I talk. I’d also like to keep the website fresh with a redesign every 3-4 months, but that gets hard with all the things going on in real life.

I’d also like to get more listener interaction. Either with more show note comments or better yet, recorded segments. I’d love to have a Crafting segment or a PvMP segment or something like that. Maybe a tip of the week type thing.

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

I probably would have taken a more active role in the community earlier. I’ve been playing MMOs for over four years but only podcasting and blogging for the last year and a half.

I can certainly understand you not wanting to talk about this, but on a recent podcast you mentioned a personal tragedy your family experienced this past summer.  Would you care to talk about it here?

Sure. My wife of 13 years passed away from Lung Cancer this past summer. My wife battled this terrible disease for 3 and a half years before she died. She wasn’t a smoker and she didn’t grow up around smokers, so the diagnosis was a complete surprise. We went through multiple rounds of chemo and radiation, but Lung Cancer is one of the most aggressive and lethal types. She passed away peacefully at the hospital surrounded by family.

The LOTRO community, as well as all my real life friends and family, were very supportive following her death. Many of my listeners and those in the community wanted to help so I have links to the American Lung Association on the website so they could donate to fight this terrible disease.

Again, I’m very sorry to hear this.  You have my condolences.

Is there anything else you’d like to leave us with? Now’s your chance.

First, thank you for the interview. It was a lot of fun looking back over my gaming history. I’d also like to thank my listeners and the LOTRO community for being so supportive.

For those who’d like to start listening you can find LOTROCast on iTunes, the Zune Market Place or at www.cyberears.com. You can also visit the show website at www.lotrocast.com and follow me on twitter @lotrocast. You can send me emails at thelotrocast@gmail.com .

Thank you, Alberos.  Best of luck with the podcast and other future endeavors.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

One shot: an interview with Az(aroth)

Posted by Randolph Carter on January 7, 2011

Azaroth, or Az as he tends to go by these days, is what you might call a champion of Ultima Online.  Playing the game since launch, he eventually became disenchanted with the state of the game and decided to do something about it–mainly to create his own independent rules server, In Por Ylem, and make a go of that. Here he discusses a bit about his gaming background, his thoughts on UO, and what he’s strived to accomplish with In Por Ylem.

*   *   *

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

Ultima Online, Ultima Online and only Ultima Online. I think people get angry when I talk about anything else. I’ve attempted to talk about sports, politics, even just other MMOs. They don’t like that.

Perhaps I’d try to describe it as “game design”, which I feel is much more respectable than just “UO greyshards and why I feel they’re really neat.”

Would you mind talking a little bit about your gaming background?

I started with the old consoles. Atari and NES, Sega Gensis, Super Nintendo and so on. During the early console wars I sided squarely with Nintendo until they betrayed me with the N64.

I played a lot of PC games as well. Specifically I remember my true introduction to RPGs on the PC as the early King’s Quest series. My first LAN party shooter experience was Duke Nukem 3D – also very awesome.

Is this too much detail?

Not at all.

We haven’t even gotten to my years playing AD&D yet, or my foray into Warhammer that was extremely expensive but never really took.

Though I did find quite a bit of enjoyment in painting the miniatures.

…. and I just realized I’m a massive nerd.

I’d say then you’re in pretty good company here.  What happened to be your introduction to MMOs and what was that experience like?

If we’re talking specifically about MMOs and not just “online games”, it’d have to be Ultima Online.

After waiting a short six to eight weeks for my box to arrive, plus about forty five minutes to get past the “Verifying Account…” screen, then another few seconds between each step (which I had no cause to think was anything but completely normal)… I was greeted by a more experienced player who gave me two pieces of magical leather armour. Unsure of what these did exactly, but quite certain they made me something near (if not totally) invincible – I trotted out of town and was promptly attacked by a naked fellow wielding a dagger and sporting a fashionable bone helm and cape combination.

Luckily, I killed him. Unluckily this only served to further the notion that I was quite likely one of the strongest players in the game. I was later slain by a deer.

Since those first unexplainably magical (and unimaginably laggy) first few steps into Ultima Online, I’ve been in love for well over a decade now.

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

There’s no doubt it was the simple fact that the other dudes running around my screen in this online world were all real people. It was 1997 and, believe it or not, that was very impressive at the time by itself.

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

At the moment – rarely. I try to find a little time for PC and console gaming, but tabletop gaming is unfortunately a thing of the past for me.

When I’m busy with something, I typically can’t rationalize too much gaming. I’m very likely to try out the new Star Wars MMO when it launches, however.

Of course I said that about Star Trek Online and never followed through. So who knows.

Ultima Online is a game I would imagine the majority of current MMO players have probably never heard of, let alone experienced. What are they missing out on? And perhaps, what are current MMOs not providing that UO once did?

Is this my chance to sell Ultima Online to people? Yikes, that’s a big job.

I couldn’t possibly gush enough over what UO is in a paragraph or two.

I think a lot of people get stuck on its age. I’d say to them that age isn’t really relevant in MMORPGs … especially not right now. When I did IPY, UO was as old as World of Warcraft is today, and people thought UO was a fossil.

I don’t see 10+ million people being too concerned about how dusty and awful WoW is just because of its age, or even because the graphics are a bit dated. If it’s good, if it’s fun, then age can very easily be disregarded in this genre.

Ultima Online is also 2D, sure, but so are many popular web and Facebook games with millions of users. I’d argue that UO’s 2D graphics are incredibly classic and far more enjoyable and carefully crafted than those of most 2D games nowadays.

So yeah, it’s a fantastic game and while there are some things that could be done to bring it into the present, good MMOs are good MMOs. In fact, I think a 3D game will probably always age worse than a quality 2D one.

As far as what UO is?

It was always more about an experience in a virtual world than it was about hacking and slashing foozles. Sure, it had that… but it certainly wasn’t what made the game special.

UO was designed as a place that everyone could find a home. The great part of UO became the community, because it was a melting pot of players and play styles. You could bash monsters, you could PvP, build a house, sail the ocean, search for treasure sunken or buried, collect rare items, learn to cook, blacksmith, be a carpenter, a thief that steals from other players. You can walk into a dungeon, tame a dragon, and walk out using it to slay your enemies. Set up your own shop in your own house on a road outside of town, or… whatever.

The possibilities presented are nearly endless, and that’s the special part. You’re aren’t locked in to a specific path of advancement through the game that millions have followed almost exactly before you. Out of the massive list of skills presented, you can build your character how you want, progress how you want, and play however you want, and really leave a mark on a world that’s truly open and endlessly enjoyable.

Even now, but most especially when MMORPGs were brand new… UO was fertile ground for fun and whacky adventures of any kind. With so much freedom, the content is the world and the players – not just the quest line and the scripted raid boss.

Really, the game is just fun if you’re into online RPGs and you want something a little different. It provides meaningful, unique experiences in a living, breathing world. And that’s what it provides that other MMORPGs don’t.

You’ve provided your thoughts on the final days of UO and your own project In Por Ylem, but it appears there is a new IPY project in the works. Would you mind talking a little bit about that and your own blog, Azaroth?

In Por Ylem was a free UO server I ran back in 2003/2004. The goal was to recreate the “good old days” of UO, and I’d say that we succeeded. We were by several leaps and bounds the largest free UO shard in history. We even got featured in real, honest to goodness print magazines.

The server was as large and as active as any EA shard at the time, and probably larger and more active than any of them these days.

… and really, it was created only with spare time, a disregard for profit, and a love of the game. This was small, amateur operation that simply made a few changes to modernize the classic ruleset a bit, and succeeded wildly because of the love that exists in the gaming community for oldschool UO.

Of course online games must evolve – even though they typically go down paths that aren’t going to please everyone. UO was a game for everyone (I always say that the design of the game was absolute genius for the time period – truly the only time period in MMO gaming that your players WERE the MMO market, no matter what type of player they were – it was broad, and it appealed a little bit to everyone), so people are understandably extremely divided by the changes that have been made in the last ten years.

Change is always necessary though. Classic UO, as fantastic as it is or was, needs to be brought into the present somehow if it is to be revived. As much as everyone loves UO circa 1997-2000 or so, if nothing had changed in all this time, EA would have a population of about fifteen or sixteen paying customers.

Even the most hardcore of classic ruleset advocates would have likely stopped playing out of boredom by now. As fantastic as any online game is, it always needs to move forward or people will drift away out of boredom. What we’re trying to do is move forward with IPY in a way that fixes the big problems, adds some fun where the game lacks it, and in the end create a sustainable version of the classic ruleset.

While running the first incarnation of IPY, you can imagine I learned quite a few things about why and where a classic UO ruleset fails. The main problem is that it does… and in today’s environment, somewhat spectacularly.

Obviously I’m not a huge fan of the changes made to EA’s version of the game. That’s probably clear. So while player killing and griefing were very large problems on IPY (probably bigger problems than they ever were in the early days of UO), our solution isn’t a PK switch or Trammel or any of that nonsense. What we’re doing is putting the power to police the game world in the hands of the players.

Yes, that rascally old “Player Justice” that nobody ever seemed to get right. You might of course laugh at this – but we’re of the opinion that if you take the power to police player killing and concentrate it in the hands of a minority of power users, providing incentives for them to focus on hunting down evil doers and good tools to do the job, it really just might work.

Ultima Online

So what we’d like to do with this new version of IPY is fix those problems to the best of our abilities so as to prevent classic UO from kerploding (as it tends to do) while also keeping the oldschool experience intact. The world, the gameplay, the skills, the spells… everything is the same. But we’ve added an expansion pack worth of new game systems that address old problems without being in your face or intruding on your experience with classic UO, which is of course the main draw and main feature.

My blog is a good place to read about the new features, and if you want the quick, flashy version there’s a slideshow up on the IPY website.
~
And so, where does the name “Azaroth” come from? That name sounds sort of familiar. It reminds me of…oh never mind.
~
Ahem. Yes, well. Believe it or not, I thought the name to be quite original and clever when I came up with it well over a decade ago. Now I really just go by “Az” online. I’ve been muscled out.
~
Thank you Az, and best of luck with the next incarnation of In Por Ylem.
~

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

One shot: an interview with Rubi Bayer

Posted by Randolph Carter on September 2, 2010

Rubi Bayer is a staff writer for Massively.com as well as the co-host for the podcasts Massively Speaking and GuildCast. Here Rubi discusses her job at Massively, her podcasting endeavors, being a parent of online gamers and what in particular she’s most looking forward to with Guild Wars 2.

*   *   *

Could you explain what you do at Massively.com and how you came to be working there?

I am the lead writer and columnist for Guild Wars/Guild Wars 2 and Dungeons and Dragons Online. I write about a huge range of games every day — whatever comes up that’s newsworthy, but my main focus is there. I also join Shawn on the Massively Speaking podcast most weeks.

Ooh, how I came to work there. That’s a story that is probably only exciting to me! In short, I waited until there was an open call for new writers on the site, and I applied, along with the rest of the free world. It felt like an endless process — due in large part to my impatience — but eventually I made it to the short list and had an interview with Shawn and Elizabeth Harper (who at the time was Editor-in-Chief of Massively). We covered a wide range of topics and questions, including “Here is a press release. Write up a news post about it including links. You have 20 minutes, we’ll wait. Go.”

Then they both thanked me nicely and said they’d be in touch. I held my breath for a few weeks, and on September 17, 2009, Shawn made the job offer. It was easily one of the most exciting things to happen to me in recent years. (Thanks, Liz and Shawn, for giving me the chance!)

Are you pleased with how your contributions there have been received?

I really am. There is the standard daily ration of internet anger, and some days some of it rebounds onto me, but in the end, I’m writing about something that I love and that is communicated to Massively’s readers.

Horror stories abound about working for Shawn “Satan” Schuster. Is working for this slave driver as horrible as it sounds?

I imagine he’ll read this, so I have to tread carefully. He hasn’t fed the attack dogs for three days now. No, seriously, he’s pretty good to work for. The guy has no patience with all of that standard office BS of blowing smoke and dancing around issues, so you never have any doubt about where you stand. If there’s an issue he pretty much will let you know immediately and work with you to fix it. So while it’s not always sunshine and rainbows, it’s honest and it’s made me a better writer. This of course, is on the rare occasion when there IS a problem. Most of the time he’s in there messing around and laughing with all of us, and it makes for a pretty good work environment, virtually speaking.

Plus, he’s very passionate about this job, and really encourages us to go for well-written, interesting pieces rather than “What will boost our numbers the most?” So you won’t find us posting pictures of a young woman in Pikachu underpants and pretending it’s news about cosplay, but you’ll find actual MMO news. Crazy, huh? He’s got a great vision for the site.

In anticipation of Guild Wars 2, the venerable GuildCast has been resurrected, and you’re now the co-host. How did this all come about?

It was an interesting process. I’d known for a while that Shawn was planning to resurrect GuildCast, but he originally had a different co-host in mind. With his schedule, finding time to edit and publish yet another podcast wasn’t in the cards, and I have exactly zero editing capabilities. He’s got a friend who does have those capabilities, and had planned to co-host it with that guy, with me as a guest on the show sometimes. That fell through due to the other guy’s lack of time, and I stepped in. I still can’t edit, so Shawn wound up doing it. :-( I think it’s not so bad, though. Hopefully.

How do you like podcasting?

Oh, it’s fun. It’s just an hour or two a week of sitting around chatting with a friend about something we’re both interested in, so it comes easily.

I take it this is not exactly new to you?

Well not any more, no. ;-) About a year and a half ago, Shawn asked me to be a guest on Massively Speaking. I was completely terrified, but it was all about Guild Wars/Guild Wars 2, so how could I refuse? That was my first podcasting experience (We do not count the wretched voice work I did once back on the old GuildCast.) I also do a very very infrequent podcast with my darling husband Kev — we keep trying to find the time to sit down together and do it more often — so I settled into podcasting in baby steps over the past two years.

What was your first MMO and what was that experience like?

Does Legend of the Red Dragon count? Because that was FUN. I played my one-hour limit every single day, and eventually went to a meetup of local players. If it does not count, then it was Guild Wars. I was a Sims player for years, and Kev heard about GW on GuildCast, so he bought Prophecies for something to play while I was playing Sims. (Hey, don’t knock Sims, those are awesome games.) I actually still remember lying on the couch reading a book, and glancing over at Kev to see this beautiful scene on his screen. That was Pre-Searing. I asked him if I could give it a try and I never looked back.

Would you mind sharing a particularly enjoyable gaming experience?

Yes, I would. Oh, wait, no. Honestly, I’m pretty social, so the height of gaming fun for me isn’t one specific thing. Rather, it’s when I’ve got a full group of guild mates, and we’re tearing through content, laughing and having fun on Vent. If you want a specific example, last night I was playing Guild Wars with five guild mates, including a married couple I’ve known since my early GW days. We were working through the three primary War in Kryta bounties, but six of us wanted to participate, and none of us were healers. Six people in this area of the game is a full party. No more room.

We were doing this in hard mode. With no healers. We did not even care. One of the elementalists went monk secondary and filled her bar with heals, and off we went. About halfway through I remembered (the hard way) that the character I was using did not have infused armor. We were almost crying with laughter on Vent, dying right and left, but we got the job done. It’s all about the journey, and the company you take with you.

You’ve mentioned before that your family happen to be gamers. From a parent’s standpoint, how do you monitor your children’s game play?

The computers in our home are pretty much designed for a complete lack of privacy. Except for my work computer, they’re all in the main room of our house and Kev and I can see what they’re up to at a glance. My 13-year-old got a laptop of her own for Christmas last year, so we’re a little more vigilant. I’m less worried about the parenting psychobabble of giving her some space and allowing her to find herself and blah blah blah than I am about her getting into a bad situation, so I snoop. I keep a close eye on who she’s talking to, who she’s playing with, what they’re doing, and so on.

I guess that’s not a gameplay-specific thing. Guild Wars and Free Realms are their games of choice. In Guild Wars, the rule is they play in offline mode and they only group with family members. The 13 year old has been playing for several years now, and she’s older, so we’ve changed that rule for her in the past year or so to allow her to group with people we know, if one of us is also in the group. In Free Realms, the three of them have formed a guild together, and while they interact with the other players to a limited extent, they mostly keep to themselves.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to try their hand at game journalism?

Grow a thick skin. Seriously. If you take to heart all the stuff that readers say to and about you, you’re doomed. It’s easier said than done, because some of what shows up in my inbox still stings, but you’ve got to keep the source in mind. Much of the time, a little bit of digging will reveal that the worse the comment or email is, the more consistently bitter and trollish the person is. It’s usually a reflection of his or her own general anger or disappointment, and the sooner you realize that and learn to throw it off, the better off you’ll be.

Now. On the other hand, if you screw up and get called on it by these people, that does not apply. Take it graciously, acknowledge your mistake, thank them for setting you right, fix it, and learn from it going forward. (And you’re gonna screw up at some point. It just happens. You’re only human. Don’t beat yourself up.)

How about podcasting?

Find a subject you truly care about and are knowledgeable about. If I podcasted about… uh, I don’t know, the paper-making industry, it would suck. I don’t care about the paper-making industry and I know nothing about it, except that I’ve heard that paper mills smell bad. You’re only going to be good if you are passionate about your subject and you know what you’re talking about.

If you’re podcasting with a co-host or two, ideally you want to find someone you click with and are comfortable with. I hope I’m not giving away some sort of uber hush-hush trade secret when I say that Shawn and I have no script when we do Massively Speaking and GuildCast, nothing. We go over our subjects literally the same morning. We get a list of things we want to talk about (in the case of Massively Speaking Shawn pulls together the top news stories from the previous weeks), read through them, and go. It works because we’re not awkward with one another, and because we’re not thinking too hard about “Okay, now at 14:37 you need to mention TERA’s business model, and at 14:52 I will ask you a question about it…” Just have fun with it while being informative.

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

I’d take my own advice more often. I learned fast because I was pretty much greeted at Massively from day one by angry readers, and to this day, my worst bouts of job burnout happen when I allow the negativity in my inbox to get to me. I have the all-too-human tendency to focus on the negativity. A hundred people could rant and rave in one day about how much they love my work, and one person could write a diatribe about how much they loathe me. I have to force myself not to focus on that one.

Ruby Bear...oh wait...

Otherwise, I don’t know. I’m extremely happy with the past year, and feel like I’ve done well. I’d maybe pull back a little bit. For a while there I was working 7 days a week, from 5AM until 11PM, racing back and forth between the computer and the family/household, and… man I was tired. It was too much. I still work a LOT, but it’s a better balance these days.

And last but certainly not least, what has got you most excited about Guild Wars 2?

The world of Tyria. More than classes, more than combat, more than anything, I want to explore every nook and cranny and see how this virtual world that I love so much has changed. Back in March I wrote an edition of Flameseeker Chronicles (my GW/GW2 column on Massively) speculating all about the world we’d see in Ghosts of Ascalon, and I had so much fun with that.

The developers recently mentioned “legacy” areas, and I was incredibly excited about that. The ruins of the Temple of the Ages and places like that will absolutely be my favorites.

Posted in Podcaster, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

One shot: Drew Clowery interview

Posted by Randolph Carter on January 6, 2010

Current lead game designer for Flying Lab Software, Drew Clowery talks about his professional background in the gaming industry, his current hobbies and favorite pastimes, including sleeping on couches, and what advice he has for those hoping to get into the video game industry.

*   *   *

If it’s not too much trouble, would you mind discussing your background in the game industry?

Sure, I got started in the computer game industry in December of 2001 when I was hired as a Customer Service Representative at Mythic Entertainment for the MMORPG Dark Age of Camelot. At the time I was just looking for a full time job, and as an avid MMO player, the thought of turning one of my hobbies into full time employment sounded great, but not nearly as good as the regular paycheck and medical benefits that came with it (Mythic treated their Customer Service people very well at the time, I don’t know if this is still the case).

In the year I worked at Mythic I learned a lot, but I think the most valuable lesson I learned was that the guys who made this game were nothing special. I mean they were smart, talented people, but they weren’t magic. I was a smart, talented guy, I could do what they did. I also learned that I needed to know a whole lot more about the technical side of software development, and so in January of 2003, I left to go back to school.

I spent about a year in community college before heading off to Full Sail in Orlando Florida. Full Sail is a private, for profit college, accredited as a technical school. There are people who have really strong feelings about whether or not for profit colleges are valid institutions of learning, and whether or not Full Sail in particular is a good school. You could write a book on the topic, or at least a long blog post, but I’ll tell you my take away: I learned a ton at Full Sail, because I applied myself and worked hard. It was the right school for me, for where I was in my life, but I wouldn’t recommend it to kids coming right out of high school.

After Full Sail I moved home and slept on my parents couch for 8 months before I landed a job at Flying Lab Software. Once here I spent almost two years as a Game Systems Designer on Pirates of the Burning Sea, before moving on to be Lead Designer of Upper Deck U.

How did you get on with Flying Lab Software?

It was fall of 2006, I was living in Virginia, sleeping on my parents couch, and unemployed. I’d been looking for a job for 8 months without success, and I’d come to the conclusion that no one was going to hire me from across the country for an entry level job. I’d spoken to a hiring rep for Blizzard at GDC and he’d strongly implied that if I lived in L.A. I’d have an interview for a Game Master job at Blizzard immediately. They needed experienced GMs badly, and I had experience as a GM.

I’d made the decision to move out to L.A. and start looking for a job, hopefully something in Game Design, but with a willingness to fall back to being a Game Master if it got me into the industry. I had called a buddy from college who lived in L.A. and he agreed to let me stay on his couch for a couple of weeks. I cashed in the last of my savings, said my goodbyes and started packing.

The week I was supposed to leave I saw a job posting on the Flying Lab website for an entry level Game Designer come open. I decided there and then that I was going to make a detour on my way to L.A. I put together a cover letter and resume and sent it in. I told them I was leaving for Seattle tomorrow, and asked them to please interview me when I got there. When I told my World of Warcraft guild about the change in plans a couple of my guildmates, who I had never met in real life, piped up and insisted I stay with them when I got to Seattle. The next morning I left for Seattle.

I stopped to visit family in Chicago over the weekend, then continued on to Seattle the next week. In Wyoming I got an e-mail from Flying Lab with a written design test, I spent an extra day at the motel there to write the test, proof read it, and send it back. I arrived in Seattle that Friday night, spent the weekend with my guildmates (I would end up sleeping on their couch for three weeks before I found my own place, talk about kind hearted people). Monday I got an e-mail scheduling an interview for Tuesday afternoon, I interviewed Tuesday, and got an offer letter Wednesday night. I started the following Monday.

What has been your involvement with Pirates of the Burning Sea?

I was a Game Systems Designer on Pirates of the Burning Sea for about 2 years. Shortly after I was brought on board I was given the Avatar Combat system. When I was given the Avatar Combat system I was still extremely junior, far too junior in fact. What I couldn’t see at the time was that the system was not, despite what I was being told, fully implemented. Further, the design I had taken over was not a complete system, but rather a system that was built as a living argument for features that had already been cut. Obviously this put me in a pretty tough situation.

When I stepped in to Avatar Combat I was told “the system’s done, you just need to make the skills,” which aside from being factually untrue is like saying “we’re done with WoW’s combat system, you just need to make all the spells, combat abilities, and talents. You have a month.” I death marched from December 2006 through March of 2007 trying to get the Avatar Combat system into something resembling a working order. Unfortunately I ran into the problem that what we really needed to do was finish implementing the system. I attempted to do this through clever use of data driven scripts, but the results were not good.

I would continue to focus primarily on the Avatar Combat system until after Pirates shipped, when I briefly worked on the Skirmish system (writing the first draft of the spec), before moving on to the Upper Deck project. I worked on a lot of other, smaller projects on Pirates, but my time was dominated by Avatar Combat. The system was wholly ripped out and replaced less than a year after launch (something that should have been done long before launch).

Would you be able to talk a little bit about the game you are currently working on for Flying Lab?

I can’t talk about the game I’m currently working on, but I can talk about the game I was recently working, Upper Deck U. Upper Deck U is a casual kids MMO, targeted at 8 to 12 year old boys. It was conceived primarily as a marketing device for the sports trading cards of the Upper Deck company. A complete post mortem on the Upper Deck project is a task for another space (and something I hope to make the subject of a conference talk) but the short version is: the project did not have enough grounding in reality and we suffered severe communications issues with our client.

How would you say this game differs from other MMOs targeting younger players like Free Realms?

Well size and scope to begin with. Free Realms is a huge triple A title, Upper Deck U was a small casual ad game. Polish for another, Free Realms is a highly polished game, Upper Deck U, not so much. But the one place where we win, hands down, is this: no client download. There are certain magical phrases that will allow you to get the attention of MMO executives, and these phrases change over time. Right now, one of those phrases is “no client download.” Upper Deck U was a game with no client download, and that’s pretty huge.

Would you mind taking a minute and talking a little bit about your own gaming background (board games, pen & paper RPGs, console & computer games, etc.)?

Sure, I’m a giant gaming nerd. I learned to read in order to play D&D. I had some older friends (they were in 3rd grade, quite the old men to a six year old), who promised they would let me play with them if I could read the rulebook by myself. I went straight from “see spot run” to red box D&D, with a whole lot of bothering my mother about what words meant in between. I played Chess, Shogun, Axis and Allies, Risk, and Strat-o-matic Baseball with my father and god father.

When I was a teenager I practically lived in a Games Workshop store, until Magic: the Gathering came out, when I moved to practically living in the card shop. At that store I learned Settlers of Catan, Nuclear War, Twilight Imperium, Titan, and about a dozen others I only half remember. Plus every weekend we played some role playing game or another, Rifts when we were younger, then Vampire and the rest of the World of Darkness when we were angst ridden teens.

On the electronic side I got a Nintendo when I was 8, but I was never a super heavy console player. My sister and I used to drive each other nuts playing Mario Kart on the Super Nintendo, and my buddies and I would often play console games waiting for the weekly RPG to start, or after it had wrapped up, but outside of that, I was mostly a PC gamer. On the PC my games of choice were always strategy: Civilization II, Alpha Centauri, Master of Magic.

Not long after Everquest came out I had a friend who got me hooked and ever since I’ve been an MMO addict. I’ve played Everquest, Everquest II, Dark Age of Camelot, and World of Warcraft extensively, but I’ve dabbled in City of Heroes, Horizons, Warhammer, Vanguard, and probably a half dozen other freebies I can’t recall off the top of my head.

Assuming you’re still a gaming enthusiast, what are you playing these days?

Work has been really busy the last couple of months, so my play time has been limited, so these days my game time is restricted to my bi-weekly pen and paper group (currently playing Shadowrun 4th edition), my weekly poker night, and a little bit of Magic the Gathering: online here and there. I’ve really found I enjoy Magic: Online quite a bit, especially the draft formats. They take out the “buy your way to victory” aspect of magic I’ve always disliked, and I have a lot of fun playing them.

I’ve gotten pretty serious out playing poker, my weekly game isn’t exactly nosebleed stakes, but it’s not nickel and dime either. The guys there are all very serious about their poker, and it’s a very competitive environment. We play every week, and one to two weekends a month, so that’s a pretty serious game outlet for me. I also occasionally do a trip out to a casino or a Magic tournament with some of those guys (the crossover, both in players and skill set, between Magic and Poker is astounding).

I also play an occasional bout of Counter Strike or Team Fortress 2 if I feel like a little ultra violence, and I fire up a round of Civilization IV about once a quarter. I’ve honestly been missing MMO gaming recently, but I just haven’t had the time to spend on one. I’ve been thinking about trying out WoW’s new group matchmaking system, but I haven’t taken the plunge.

Would you say working on games has in some ways lessoned your enthusiasm for playing video games?

Well, I wouldn’t say that working on games has, but sitting in front of a computer 40+ hours a week I frequently have the experience of looking for hobbies that allow me to not be in front of a computer. It’s definitely driven me to spend more time on pen and paper, board, and miniature games. It’s not that I never want to play video games, but my tolerance for sitting in front of a computer is definitely lower when I’m working 40 hours a week. It goes down significantly if I’m working more than 40 hours a week.

I will say, when I worked in customer service and spent all day in game in Dark Age of Camelot, it was very hard to play Dark Age for fun. It very much felt like being at work whenever I was logged in.

Would you care to share a particularly memorable experience from your game design days?

When I interviewed at Flying Lab they had me interview with several different members of the team, which is fairly typical of most company’s interview process. During one of the early interviews I had mentioned that I was a big fan of the pen and paper RPG Unknown Armies, which had been co-authored by John Tynes, who was the Producer at Flying Lab. So later on John is one of the people interviewing me, we’re introduced, I tell him I’m a big fan of his work, he’s very gracious, we sit down and start the interview.

Throughout the whole interview he blinks one eye at a time, in sequence. Blink right eye, blink left eye. In one smooth motion. Unknown Armies, if you don’t know, is a game of high weirdness, so through the whole interview I’m trying to figure out if he’s fucking with me, if there’s something wrong with his eye, or if this is just how he blinks. I just go through the whole interview acting like it’s not there, but I spend the next day until I get the job freaking out in my head about what the hell that was about.

A year and a half later, John is leaving the company for greener pastures, and I finally ask him what was up: bad contacts. I spent a year and a half wondering about contacts.

What advice would you have for someone wanting to get into the field?

When it comes to entry level hires there are four things that employers look for, in this order: Skills, Availability, Passion, and Fit. You have to have the skills to do the job For Programmers this is the number one requirement, and the toughest one to crack. Availability means that no one is flying you across the country to interview for an entry level position. If the economy does a sudden about face (unlikely), and you’re a programmer from a well known school this *might* happen, otherwise you have to be local, or close enough to drive to the interview. It also means you have to be ready to work on the day the job starts, not graduating in 6 months. Passion means you’re going to work too many hours for not enough pay. The game industry is an exploitative employer, and they know the only way that works is if people are taking jobs not for a paycheck but because they love what they do. This is the hardest thing for designers to demonstrate, and the biggest stumbling block I find in designer resumes. Finally Fit is just a matter of how well your personality fits with the team. It’s a matter of being not a douche bag. If you need specific advice on this, it’s beyond the scope of my reply.

If you’re going into the game industry you need to understand that you are not going to get rich. People in the game industry universally make less money than their equivalent counterparts in other industries. If you’re serious about working in the game industry start by getting a strong technical background. If you want to be a designer, learn how to program. You don’t need to be a great programmer to be a designer, but you need to know how a programmer thinks, and what software can and can’t do. You need to be able to read someone else’s code, and talk to a programmer in his language. If you want to be an artist don’t just learn how to use your tools, learn how to support your tools. The artists who can use Maya are valuable. The artists who can build Maya scripts are invaluable. If you want to be a programmer, you need to be a great one. Game programming is one of the most challenging programming disciplines, so you better be on top of your game.

Next, start making games. With the advent of flash, it’s really easy to make games on your own, but the quality of those games may not be great. If you don’t want to take on a project yourself join a mod team. Mod teams are a great way to get some experience while working as part of a bigger team. Alternately you can make a level for an existing game (Neverwinter nights was the classic candidate, but I’m guessing Dragon Age is about to supplant that), or a simple UI mod for your favorite MMO. The important thing here is get out and do something game related that your future employer can download, install, and play.

Drew Clowery

Finally start applying to jobs that are local to you. If you’re outside of one of the few major industry hubs (Montreal, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles/San Diego), you may have to face moving in order to apply for jobs. Keep trying. I applied to something like 50 jobs before I got one, and that was before the economy went to hell. That’s not unusual. This is about the worst possible time to be looking for a job in the game design industry. People with years of experience are out of work and have been for some time. Until the economy recovers, something I’m extremely pessimistic about, it’s going to be hard to find a job anywhere, let alone the game industry.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

One shot: Redshift’s Elendil and Sylon interview

Posted by Randolph Carter on November 18, 2009

I recently purchased an iPhone and much like a child with a new toy I began downloading applications for it with abandon. Looking through the RPG offerings that are out there I settled upon a few that looked promising. Dungeon Hunter was the first one I actually bought, and although it’s  an impressive looking game with enjoyable combat, I felt it lacked depth and didn’t hold my interest for long.

Eventually I discovered The Quest, a rather unassuming title from Redshift. I haven’t downloaded an application since. I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to do the game justice, but luckily, others already have.

TouchMyApps reviewVideo review from Classic Game Room

Here is an interview I did with Redshift’s Elendil and Sylon, the two behind The Quest.  It’s Elendil that does the talking and supplies the answers for Sylon where necessary.  These guys hail from Hungary and their love of classic RPGs comes through loud and clear.

*   *   *

Redshift’s website:

http://www.redshift.hu/

Am I correct in understanding that Redshift is a company with only two employees?

Yes, we are just two guys. “Employees” is not the right word. We have a small company and we both are the owner of half of it. We don’t have employees.  Sometimes we get help from others in fields of making music, writing correct English and things like that, but basically Redshift’s games always were the creation of two people.

Right now we are Elendil (programmer and all around technical/business/public relations guy) and Sylon (graphic artist, story crafter, level designer and the like).

I (Elendil) am a long time friend of Sylon, however he started Redshift quite a while ago with Stewe, another programmer. I joined in when we started creating The Quest (initally for Palm and PocketPC). Stewe had no experience with graphics programming, one of my favorites, so I created everything relating to graphics in the Quest, especially the custom 3D engine, but Stewe programmed everything else.

After the sales of The Quest dried up on Palm and PocketPC (they were not that good to begin with), Stewe left for a stable job with regular income, but me and Sylon decided to try and continue. First we created Dungeoned for the PocketPC, but it was a miserable failure. We hope that was because the PocketPC market died and not because the game isn’t good.  Soon we’ll find out when we finish porting it to the iPhone.  After that I ported The Quest to the iPhone, we released it and it was worth it. We certainly haven’t gotten rich at all, but we pulled in enough money to pay the bills and continue developing games.

How did you guys meet and how did the company get started?

We met on the net and we keep in touch the same way. We live quite far apart in different cities.

Redshift started back in 2001 with developing Dragonfire, a small fun Diablo-like fantasy action game for the Nokia 9200 phone. Quickly we realized that we should move on to the palm/pocket pc market because the Nokia was too small to keep a game developer group alive. In 2003 (after the unsuccessful development and negotiations about Civilization’s mobile version) we made Legacy, an oldschool role playing game for the palm/ppc market. It was a big success and won numerous awards including the ‘game of the year’ in its genre.

If it’s not too much trouble, would you mind discussing your backgrounds in making games?

Nothing serious. Before all these games we worked alone on our personal projects – like drawing, writing, programming just for fun.  Sylon painted fantasy book covers for Hungarian publishers, while I just wrote 3D routines and did programming experimentations for myself.

So you’ve developed games for other platforms in the past. How does making games for the iPhone compare to those?

From a technical point of view, it’s not much different. I program in C++ on every platform, so it’s just downloading the Software Development Kit and learning what options are available. Even on the iPhone the Quest is 99% C++, with only a little Objective-C “glue”. Of course for the iPhone I had to buy a MacBook (I’ve never used a Mac before that) and learn to use XCode, instead of Visual Studio on Windows, but it’s not that different, really.

Dealing with Apple was a bit strange.  They demanded official identifications that we are a company when we applied for developer status, for example.

The App Store approval process is problematic too, just recently we had to remove The Quest from the App Store, because of a crash bug. If not for the long approval process, we could have released a fixed version within hours, but we had to wait nearly a month instead. It was very frustrating.

The Quest is a surprisingly deep and satisfying RPG experience. I keep telling myself as I punch around on the screen and get drawn further and further into the game, that I’m playing this on a phone. This shouldn’t be happening, right?

I think we approach development differently than most developers who create programs for mobile devices.

We like to create games which we would like to play, which are mostly RPGs. It doesn’t really matter for us that the game will run on a phone and not on a PC. And the richness of the experience doesn’t really depend on the capabilities of the device, it only depends on the amount of work we put into it.

Do you see a lot of unrealized potential for the iPhone in regards to the future of gaming?

I can certainly imagine that people will continue to create innovative and interesting games for the iPhone, which will use the features of the device to great effect.

However, personally I’m not really interested in those.  I’d like to create great RPGs (and maybe other kinds of games) which will not really depend on any iPhone specific features. For me the iPhone is a computer with a screen for output and with multitouch for input and that’s enough. I’d rather have my games playable on other platforms than adapt the gameplay to be iPhone specific. We are interested in creating really fun games, but not games which only work on a touch screen for example.

Speaking of The Quest, what  influences—games, literature, what have you–went into making the game?  I’m guessing Might & Magic  would have been one.

Sylon is a big fan of old school RPGs like Black Crypt, Eye of The Beholder and Dungeon Master. I don’t think he ever played the Might & Magic RPGs.  However, he played Heroes of Might & Magic III a lot.

Stewe (who apart from programming, helped a lot with the story and game mechanics too) really liked Morrowind, I think the influences are obvious.

Of course the Quest is the successor of Legacy, so that’s a big influence too.

As for literature, Sylon can’t name anything specific, but he certainly is a big reader of fantasy.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been in a town and get asked by friendly ladies on the street if I’d like to dip my wick. So far I haven’t come across any wax or other candle making supplies where this would be beneficial. Am I missing something here?

Hmm… You are joking, right? :)

As for the many “mature” allusions in the game, Sylon likes the “dark, gritty and realistic” kind of fantasy and it shows in his writing.  The game was more or less intended for mature audiences. What you see is actually what’s left after a lot of cutting and toning down.

Which of the games you’ve worked on are you the most pleased with?

It’s definitely The Quest. During its development we thought we can’t make it better, but of course now we know we can make an even better RPG, and we will.

Would you mind taking a minute and talking a little bit about your own gaming backgrounds (board games, pen & paper RPGs, console & computer games, etc.)?

I played a bit of D&D and other systems (Vampire the Masqureade comes to mind) at the table, but not much.

However I really like computer games, the very first one was Boulder Dash on the Commodore 64, which I played on a Black&White TV at my mother’s workplace. I don’t remember how old I was, I think around 10.

After that for a long while I was an “omnivore” of computer games, I played everything I could get my hands on, initally on C64 than later on PC. Later it become clear that what I really like is RPGs.  My favorite ones are the Baldur’s Gate series and the two Ultima Underworlds, but I’ve played a lot. Except console RPGs, I’ve never owned any game console. However I’ve played all the Final Fantasies up to ten, but I’m not really impressed. They have certain qualities, but overall they are very childish and repetitive and what I’ve seen from other console RPGs, they are not much different.

This doesn’t mean that in the future I might not create a more “console-ish” RPG, to reach a wider audience, but I certainly won’t try to imitate their idiotic storylines.

I also like some FPS games like the Doom, Quake and Half-Life series, but only some.

I’m sure it’s not all work at Redshift headquarters. So, what games are you guys playing these days?

Sylon plays with almost nothing. Back in the beginning of the 90s he loved the Amiga and games like Eye of the Beholder, Black Crypt and Ishar on that machine. On the PC, he mostly loved only two series: Doom/Quake (for action) and Heroes of Might and Magic (for strategy). That’s all – even if he wants to play a little nowadays he goes back to these games. But most of the time making games is totally satisfying for him.

Currently I play my older games, because I want to buy a new computer for the new games, but right now my family largely lives on my income, so I’d rather not spend it on less important things.

So I play the Tomb Raider series (I really like the old ones, up to the fourth. One interesting tidbit: Although I like girls, Lara Croft is completely uninteresting to me.  Actually I find most males apparent infatuation with big boobed fantasy girls rather baffling. I just like the exploration and puzzle solving.) And I play Diablo (going through with a Necromancer at last), and Starcraft, and Settlers 3 and Battle Isle (the first one).  Of course I don’t play all of them everyday or even once in a week. Just when I have some time I play with one of them.

What I don’t play is online games. I never played them and most likely never will. I don’t find playing with other people online interesting at all.  It’s not that I’d find the concept inherently unappealing, it’s just that I haven’t found anything worthy of my time. And finding people to play with is even harder than finding a good program. Much, much harder.

Are you working on any current projects you’d care to talk about?

Yes – we are working hard on the iPhone version of Dungeoned. Then we’ll make a fantasy card game. After that we’ll develop our following ‘big’ title – the next step in our way of making RPGs. It has no title and no exact concept yet so we can’t tell you too much about it, but one thing is for sure: it will be bigger, better, more beautiful and deeper than The Quest.

What advice would you have for someone who wanted to try their hand at developing games for the iPhone?

Honest advice? Don’t do it. We don’t need the competition. :D

But more seriously, it seems to me that the iPhone nowadays is not the indie developer’s “dream” any more. The App Store is very crowded and is getting more crowded continuously. The App prices are way too low for normal sized games and it’s extremely hard to be seen.

So I see two ways. The first is to build something which appeals to a lot of people, don’t spend too much time or money on it (but make it high quality of course) and hope that it will become popular.

Or create a very good game, try to make it known to as many people as you can and hope that it will become popular.  And of course don’t expect much money.

We are actually shooting for the second scenario. We keep our spending as low as we can (we don’t pay any employees).  We don’t spend much, so we hope we can live from the money we get from the App Store.

The point is, don’t expect much from the iPhone. More than likely you will not make enough money from it to even to cover your expenses.

But if you don’t expect to quit your day job, it can be fun to create games for the iPhone.

You wake up to a world where you are the head of a company (of more than two employees, that is) developing a game for the iPhone. You have unlimited funds and resources available to you. Please describe the kind of game you would make.

It would definitely be the best RPG ever created. :)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

One shot: Roger Travis

Posted by Randolph Carter on October 4, 2009

An interview with Roger Travis, associate professor of classics and Mediterranean studies at the University of Connecticut and Living Epic: Video Games in the Ancient World blogger.

*  *  *

Roger TravisMMO community connection:

Living Epic: Video Games in the Ancient World

What do you do professionally?

I’m an associate professor of classics and ancient mediterranean studies at the University of Connecticut.

Would you mind taking a minute and talking a little bit about your gaming background (board games, pen & paper RPGs, console & computer games, etc.)?

I’ve gamed since I was very small; played D&D starting at age 10 and videogames since pong. I played NES in college but stopped in grad school and came back to gaming first with Age of Empires on the PC and then with Halo on the XBox. My favorite games these days are Lord of the Rings Online and the Bethesda and Bioware RPG’s.

Have you ever ventured into online worlds–more specifically MMOs? If so, please explain what that experience has been like.

LOTRO is for me a way of living the fantasy worlds I loved so much as a child, and of reawakening in myself the ancient world I study. I’m pleased to have brought a great many friends into the game, and so playing is a wonderful social experience as well.  We have a weekly fellowship of Latin teachers, for example!

Would you mind talking a little bit about the Video Games and Human Values Initiative and what you hope to accomplish with it?

The idea of the initiative is to start talking about video games in a way that assumes from the start that they are ancient and valuable, and to go from there to measure and strengthen their vast potential to affect culture in a positive way.

How would you say videogames have influenced you as a teacher?

This semester it’s becoming clear that they’ve changed me forever. My experience in games has shown me that learning, which is always an adventure already, can be a completely transformative and imaginative adventure as well.

You are currently using something known as Operation KTHMA in one of your classes. Would you mind explaining what this is?

I believe that Operation KTHMA is the first course ever taught completely as a role-playing game. My students play as college students sent back by an all-powerful Demiurge (me) to 431 BCE, a crucial year for the birth of history and indeed for the birth of civilization as we know it. Their mission is to save Western Civilization by interpreting Herodotus and Thucydides correctly. That goal follows from an insight I had over the summer that instructional design and game design share certain absolutly crucial elements: both are about learning, and both are about putting that learning to use, whether in the real world or in the imagination. The goals and objectives of the game of Operation KTHMA are exactly the same as the goals and objectives of the course CAMS 3212, as which it is “disguised.”

Okay, now wait a minute. You’re a college professor who actually supports gaming and is even trying to find ways of integrating them into the classroom. I had a professor like you once…but then my alarm clock went off. I’m curious to know though what kind of opposition and/or criticism your vision has met with. Would you mind discussing that a bit?

Not at all. :D I’m very lucky to work in a small section of a big foreign languages department. That means that I get to decide what to work on and how to teach. Truthfully, the field of classics is actually always looking for new ways to bring itself alive—or at least there are always certain classicists like that. The old-fashioned ones tend to ignore us, perhaps in the hope that we’ll go away.

Speaking of dreams, what could you envision as being the ideal MMO for use in a teaching environment?

It would be an engine, I think, with a toolbox full of things like hoplite armor. Or, if we’re defining it down into something I could command someone to build, I think I’d have them build an MMO whose world was the Greek islands around 800BCE, with session-play instances a la LOTRO that transported you into various heroic epic stories. I have to say I’ve got a million of ‘em, though!

Who would you chose to be your GM for an epic RPG campaign?

A) Homer

B) Herodotus

C) Virgil

If Homer were a real guy, I’d choose him! Herodotus and Virgil are too focused on their own agendas for my tastes, so let me say the “Homer” (that is, the bard) of the Odyssey would be my choice.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with this gamer audience?

Start demanding that your courses be taught as games. We need a revolution.

And last but not least, when was the last time you rolled a 20-sided dice?

I’ve been using d6’s for KTHMA, but I actually just ordered a big bag of every kind of dice so I’ll roll a d20 again soon. The real answer to the question, though, is probably 1989.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

One shot: Adam Martin

Posted by Randolph Carter on September 30, 2009

Community connection:

T=Machine

You’ve mentioned that you’ll be speaking at GDC next year. Do you know of any topics you plan to speak on?

I’ve submitted a proposal for using Entity / Component Systems in MMO development / game-engines. This could also be called “using functional programming to write your game engine”.

There was a prediction made at the LOGIN conference you attended back in May that the iPhone would become the dominant gaming platform within the next five years. What would be your take on this?

Yep, that was my prediction :)   I still believe in it wholeheartedly.  I’ve noticed over the past 6 months that more and more game developers seem to be “getting it” and at least dipping their toes in the waters (my impression is that it took much longer than this for people to commit to Wii development, by contrast – but note this is a very unscientific claim: there is a huge amount of selection bias in the people whose activities I’m aware of!)

Do you see the iPhone becoming a viable platform for MMO development?

Yes, I’m working on a multiplayer realtime dungeon-exploration game at the moment. It’s just a test project at the moment (although I intend to launch it on the App Store soon), and as much as anything it’s a chance for me to re-create (and then re-play!) the bits I liked from classic FPS RPGs (Dungeon Master, Eye of the Beholder, Moraff’s World, etc).

The main difficulty is the GUI / interface, which is fundamentally different from everything learned about RPG interfaces on PC for the past 10 years.

Once that’s done, and launched, it’ll be a good point to start considering larger, more challengine iPhone MMOs…

Do you have a particular genre of game you prefer to develop?

Casual, because I like creating new gameplay, testing it, tweaking it, showing it to 10 people (and watching them play) all in one day.

Online, because … well, why would you ever want to work on a NON online game in this day and age?

Given unlimited funds and resources, what kind of game would you most like to make?

I’d make a large number of smaller games. I think spending a lot of money on a single game is self-evidently foolish, unless you know you’ll only ever be able to / allowed to make one game in your life. There are valid arguments around spending a lot of money on sequels, but even there it’s not without great risk. Of course, it works for some people, and they’re welcome to it – but I’d rather make lots of profit, or make a great game, neither of which tend to come out of huge budgets.

There are big companies whose stated policy is to only ever make the most expensive MMOs possible. I’ve tried working that way, seen the arguments from the inside, and it left me convinced that it’s not the right way for me personally.

In your infinite spare time you also appear to blog. What is your blog about?

Good question. I don’t really know yet. But I’d probably guess something like:

“Trying to be better – on a meta-level – at creating games, using technology, and building businesses. Preferably all three at once.”

The “meta-level” part is critical; most of the things I write about are more aimed at helping you to find better processes that make a wide range of things you’re doing all individually better. I try to steer clear of too many precise detailed things (except for bug fixes, workarounds, and documentation for projects that lack it – those things are worth doing in detail!). I prefer to try and find a few large underlying issues that we can solve or improve to get disproportionately large benefits.

In an ideal world, I’d like my blog to be the kind of thing that Tech Directors and CTO’s in the games industry found particularly useful.  The people who have to think a little bit more generically, a little bit more strategically, and a little bit more long-term than pure programmers.

Also … these are people who are still fundamentally involved in creating and delivering product. They haven’t become pure managers (yet). So … the nature of that product, and the practicalities of delivering it, still resurface for them on a frequent basis.

Why do you blog?

Because there’s so much good stuff I learn from others, or invent, or discover, or know … and I don’t have time to go around the world finding all the people who’d benefit from the individual bits and giving it to them personally. Blogging is the source/faucet of a distributed info-dissemination system that routes your valuable info to people who benefit from it.

Also … it’s sometimes *really helpful* to me to be able to join a company and see some old issue come up that I’ve already blogged.  Instead of starting meetings and writing explanations, and phoning people … I can just send around a link to the original blog post.  *Then* we can start the meetings, and conf calls, etc – but at least this way some of the people will have self-educated a bit on the topic, and I won’t have to repeat myself. OR … they’ll point out what a raving idiot I am, and I get the benefit of their superior knowledge and/or experience teaching me a valuable lesson ;).

(useful to myself too, sometimes, when I forget the finer details of something I previously researched in detail – it’s like a live, online, mind-dump)

Finally … and perhaps most valuable to me personally (as opposed to readers), is the fact that what I blog is constantly under peer-review. When I say something stupid, people line up to tell me so, and explain why. When I omit something important, ditto. This is great. Sometimes it’s a slip-up my end, but often it’s that I simply was unaware, ignorant, or ill-informed. All those commenters refine the content and help me better understand the things I thought I knew (like a mini version of Wikipedia, in some ways).

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

Absolutely a hobby. I can’t see a way in which it would ever become something more.

But also … in some ways a lot more important than “hobby” implies; I think it’s an essential part of your personal professionaldevelopment.

e.g. I get annoyed when startup founders stop blogging because they’re “too busy to blog”; IMHO that’s one of the best times to blog. You need the benefit of other people’s perspectives telling you if you’re smoking crack (people outside your own team). You also are living in a hyper-fast bubble, and will be learning 10 times as much as ordinary people every day … so that would be a damn good time to be sharing some of it.

Stepping back a bit, what was your introduction to MMOs and what was that experience like?

I was one of the longer-term members of the MUD-DEV mailing list in the late 1990’s, where a large proportion of the designers, researchers, and developers of MUDs and MMO’s hung out. 

The list was extremely heavily moderated, and extremely high signal-to-noise ratio. When the list died in the mid 2000’s, everyone exploded off into the blogosphere, but a lot was lost never to be regained.

In game terms, I started playing MUD’s with Avalon, one of the oldest commercial MUDs, based in London.

I started playing MMO’s with Ultima 7, which played like a high-quality 2008-era MMO in solo mode, with no raiding.

I guess what you really want is my first “real” MMO that I played “too much”. I tried to get into beta UO, but my UK net connection was too poor. I saw EQ ruin people, so I played it casually for a while, but not for long. In the end, by coincidence (I went to the same University as the author) it was Runescape, back when it was about 5,000 players. I’d played it even earlier, but didn’t like it much. It was attempt 2 that hooked me.

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

Never really had one, although luring griefers to their death via social engineering tricks (pretending to hate them, then gradually caving in, and offering bribes, and getting all whiny and apologetic, while leading them into a very-high-level zone, and standing and laughing while they learn the meaning of corpse retrieval) … probably comes close.

I don’t really see anything about MMO’s today to make you go “wow”, not once you’ve played games like Ultima 7, GTA IV, and Oblivion, and have developed a raging thirst for a “true” wide open world – which no MMO has come even vaguely close to so far.

Those are all “oh wow” games. I’ve not yet played an MMO that was (and I’ve played a lot of them).

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

MMO gaming is a small fraction of my gaming. I have *extensively* played thousands of different games – nearly all of which I could describe to you the core game design, and compare and contrast to at least 5 other games, all off the top of my head.

I find this helps a lot when working on and evaluating games.  Especially at an early stage, when you have to see the potential, and especially at a late stage, when you’re looking for extra ways to add polish.

It also helps vastly when you’re working in a publisher, seeing incoming pitches, and you can ask really difficult questions to test how thought-out the project is. If they’re (accidentally – or maliciously!) reproducing an existing game you’ve played, you can quickly ask the questions they SHOULD have thought of, but might not have. Although that’s a really niche usefulness!

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

Does playtesting your own games count? I’m running at probably 1-5 hours a week right now. For what’s it worth, I (deliberately) don’t own a TV, so the time that other people spend watching TV I’m either playing games or doing something more active. I’ve got nothing against TV – I grew up with it – but it’s just a lot less rewarding to me than interactive things, stuff where you learn, and/or spending time with other people.

Normally (I’ve got two dayjobs right now) I’d be running at 5-15 hours a week, not including any games I was forced to play for my job (market research and/or internal playtesting).

At peak, I’ve probably played 50+ hours in a single week. But then, I’m under the age of 35, which means I’ve had the luxury of playing while at school and university. I used to play some games, like the original Civilization (from 1990-something), and the original Shogun: Total War (about ten years later), all night, and see the dawn in. Ditto we used to play Micro Machines v2 all night, 4 player mulitplayer, on many occasions.

(its a crying shame that Codemasters let that IP rot and die. Its awesomeness is still strong…)

What advice would you give someone who is wanted to get into game development?

  1. Only apply for the job you actually want to do. DONT YOU FRICKIN DARE apply for a QA job because you really want to be a programmer or designer but dont think you’re good enough. If you’re not good enough DONT join the industry. (if you dont understand why this is a big issue, I’ve covered it on my blog a couple of times ;))
  2. Make more games. If a game is NOT shipped it’s worth exactly zero.  Even the world’s biggest turd – IF you ship it – is worth something more than zero.
  3. Read my blog, find the links on the right hand side, and click on the bits about “recruitment” and game-design/programming – I cover different aspects of this often.
  4. If you can find one, get a bachelor’s degree in a “traditional” subject (one that existed before 1990) relevant to your discipline.  i.e. Programmers: get a Computer Science degree (everything else is worthless), Artists: get a Fine Arts degree (everything else is NOT worthless, but is worth less), Designers: get a Literature or History or Psychology or Philosophy degree (Lit and Hist probably best), Producers: … get a degree in something scientific, like Physics or Biology or Chemistry or Maths … something that proves you’ve got an extremely precise, well-organized, empirical mind.

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

One or two, but nothing that’s going to help anyone else :), at least not without the long rambling explanation of “why” that would go with them…

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

One shot: Ivy

Posted by Randolph Carter on September 28, 2009

MMO community connection:

The Road Goes Ever On

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

The Road Goes Ever On is a visual blog that follows the story of The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien using screenshots from the MMO “Lord of the Rings Online”. I discuss similarities and differences between the way locations are described in the text and the way they are implemented in the game world.

How did you come up with the idea for this?

When I started playing LOTRO, I was really impressed with the faithfulness of the game’s interpretation of the text, so I thought it would be interesting to have a blog that showed the evidence of that. I thought it would appeal to LOTRO players familiar with the book, but also to LOTRO players unfamiliar with the book and maybe even Tolkien fans unfamiliar with the game. I’m sure there are also plenty of LOTRO players who came to the game because they are fans of the Peter Jackson movies specifically. In any case, if TRGEO inspires a few people to read The Lord of the Rings, I’d consider that a great thing.

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

LOTRO was my introduction to MMOs and I actually haven’t tried any others yet. I’ve really enjoyed the experience so far, particularly when I finally figured out how the dynamics of group play work.

Can you recall that first “wow!” moment in game?

As mentioned, discovering the concepts of group play — that each class has a unique role to play in group content — really heightened my enjoyment of the game. Obviously that’s something that’s integral to the MMO experience that might not necessarily be apparent to new players used to single-player games. At least it wasn’t immediately obvious to me!

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

At my peak, probably 2-3 hours each day on weekdays and longer on weekends were I had some free time. These days, I play less often partly due to time pressure, partly due to being at level cap, and partly due to burnout.

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

In the past I have been a fan of RPG-style single player PC games. I would love to be involved in some tabletop gaming (long-time D&D fan) but it’s a huge time commitment.

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

I started TRGEO in early 2009 and have been working it since.

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

For me, this is just an enjoyable hobby.

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

In the early months of the blog I attempted to make a new post each week, but I soon realized that at that pace I would quickly run out of content. I’ve slowed down the pace of my posting because of that.

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

There is some grind involved. To write something engaging, I think the author has to be feeling inspired about the subject matter. I think with MMOs “burnout” is a well-known phenomenon and can strike from time to time. When I’m feeling burnt out, I take some time away from the game. I eventually feel inspired to come back after a break. Other times working on alts is enough to do the trick.

By contrast, what do you find pleasurable about blogging?

I think what I find most enjoyable is creating a finished product. Because of the style of my blog, which is more an essay format that something more conversational, I feel a sense of accomplishment with each new post.

Would you care to share a particularly memorable moment from your blogging past?

It was exciting when Turbine (developer of LOTRO) featured TRGEO on their website and on their Facebook page and Twitter feed.

Have you ever considered branching into podcasting?

No, I don’t think it would fit with the subject matter of TRGEO.

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

Yes, I think the response has been positive and I have had a number of really kind comments and encouraging messages left on the blog.

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

I’m really happy with the direction of TRGEO. If I had all the time in the world, I would probably attempt to do more in-depth research and analysis in each of the posts.

You’ve mentioned that at some point in the not too distant future you will run out of content for your blog. Do you have plans to expand your blog beyond its current scope?

No. A couple of months ago, I did add a secondary feature to the content of the blog, which is a discussion of characters from the book that also appear in-game. This was done to “space out” the primary content — following the main plot of the text. For now, my plan is to just let the pace be what it needs to be so that the game content stays ahead of the blog content.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

One shot: Bootae

Posted by Randolph Carter on September 15, 2009

MMO community connection:

Bootae’s Bloody Blog

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

Mainly it’s all about Warhammer Online, though I do go on the odd tangent. I guess in theory it’s not a WAR blog, it’s a blog for whatever games I’m playing right now, it’s just that my main gaming passion at present is WAR, so that has the limelight. In the future you may see the odd post about the likes of Mechwarrior 5, Silenthunter 5 and perhaps the other MMOs, but for now it’s all about the WAAAGH!

I post about my experiences in (and around) the game and try to be as fair as possible, if it sucks I’ll say so, but also give credit where it’s due. For me it’s important to avoid jumping on the “I got beaten by class X nerf them!” bandwagon and as such I try to stay as objective as possible. I’m not a fan of the forum based over-reacting troll culture.

Amongst things, I regularly ramble on with thoughts about how WAR could be improved (third faction posts are common…) and I try to give people a heads up on decent Developer comments and other info coming out of Mythic.

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

Ultima Online in I think 1997… I bought it on a whim; at the time I had no idea what I was getting myself in to. I’d been doing a lot of online gaming, but it was things like X-wing and Quake. Ultima was a revelation. This was back in the days when it was full PvP everywhere, the game wasn’t all about epics, there were no quests, there wasn’t much in the way of add ons and the in-game player community was hugely important. It dumped you in a massive, very wild world and let you find your own adventure. I was lucky enough to join an amazing guild (Eternal Knights of the Circle) and thanks to them and the rest of the Europa server I had classic adventures every night. I loved it and have never encountered it’s like again. Alas, whilst UO is still running, epics and the foul influence of carebear games have killed it.

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

When I joined EKC in Ultima Online and was taken to their player built city. It was incredible! The guild had control over a huge amount of land to the east of a place known as Wrong Mountain. They had their own pub, blacksmith, a huge tower where their King and Queen lived and loads of houses. There were even knights from the guild patrolling the city, defending the locals from PKs (Player Killers). Bare in mind the whole persistent world was new then, so this was just mind blowing.

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

At my peak in the UO days it was probably over 30 hours a week. These days I have to balance gaming with a wife, daughter and watching as much football as humanly possible, so somewhere between 10 and 15 hours a week at a guess. I have a couple of “gaming nights” agreed with the missus, but I sneak an hour or so in most nights.

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

Like half of the known world I’ve got a Nintendo Wii sitting there not doing much. Having seen the heavenly PC light it’s rare that a console game can hold my attention. PC gaming wise I like strategy games, simulators and things with a bit more realism. I play Arma 2 quite a lot, awesome co-op on that. Oh and anything Warhammer. Which right now is the new Bloodbowl game. Great stuff, I’m in an online league for that.

I’m an old Warhammer geek, I love the background of both the 40,000 and fantasy universes. Whilst I actually still have a room at home full of little soldiers, I don’t really play the games anymore, other than Battlefleet Gothic. I’d say that’s probably the best game that Gamesworkshop have ever made, easy to play but hard to master.

This of course means my wife thinks I’m a mentalist.

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

It was January this year; I saw the Age of Blogging promotion and figured I’d give it a try. To be honest I didn’t really think too much about it, just thought I’d do it for a crack and fully expected to get bored and quit after a week or two. Then I realised people were actually reading and so I started putting a bit more thought into it.

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

Oh it’s a hobby totally. I was asked recently to write for something else, which was a pleasant shock, but I turned it down. I’ve already got a decent job and I’m not sure the time and effort of a second writing job would be worth the reward. When you’re writing for yourself it’s no hassle, you can have a break whenever you feel like it. I’m not sure I fancy having to work with someone else’s deadlines. Of course, never say never.

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

A lot of the ideas for posts come from discussion with friends about WAR. I then either start writing a post or note down the idea for later. This way I’ve built up a list of potential topics and it’s really helped with those writers’ block moments. Most of the actual writing I do on lunch breaks at work, then just tidy things up a little from home and post away.

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

The day it becomes a grind is the day I quit.

By contrast, what do you find pleasurable about blogging?

I get to vent frustrations and record my oh so brilliant ideas and then people actually read them! I mean come on… that’s gotta be good for your ego. That and there’s always the vain hope that someone from Mythic/whoever will one day read one of your posts and actually respond.

Would you care to share a particularly memorable moment from your blogging past?

I have a real life friend and guild member that is always using his photoshop skills to make amusing images. I got to post up his version of female Orc in a provocative pose. Puking and laughing at the same time is a fascinating experience.

Have you ever considered branching into podcasting?

The way I write tends to reflect how folks round my way talk, which can involve a bit of crudeness. Obviously this interview isn’t for my site, hence me not saying bollocks at all… Doh… I’m not sure that combined with my London drawl is right for podcasting, they always seem a bit prim and proper.

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

Pleased? I’m bloody amazed! I’m too lazy to really advertise my blog, it’s just there, so I was expecting to get a handful of hits a day and then have to wind it up due to lack of interest from anyone else. Instead I’ve somehow ended up with regular readers, people commenting and others linking to me. It’s hugely flattering and was a total surprise. Lately I’ve started getting people messaging me in game just wanting to say hi, which has been very trippy.

I really have to say thank you to my readers and particularly to everyone that has been promoting my blog.

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

I would have started blogging years ago.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to try their hand at blogging?

If you’re writing something and it’s not feeling right, then review it and don’t be afraid to delete and write something different.

Likewise don’t worry about your posts being the next Name of the Rose. It’s a blog not an exhibition in literary excellence.

As I mentioned before, if you have multiple ideas note them down. Before you know it you’ll have a little warehouse of potential posts.

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

No. I’ve got the bug…

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.

Oooh I like this one :D Ok you asked for it :P

I’m going to make Warhammer Online 2, but it would be a very different kettle of fish to the existing game. The core concept is a melding of Dark Age of Camelot and Ultima Online set in the Warhammer Fantasy universe. At launch there would be the following playable races: Bretonnians, Empire, Dwarfs, Orcs & Goblins, Chaos Mortals, Skaven, High Elves and Dark Elves. They would be independent and not grouped into factions. Language would work as in the lore, with most races able to communicate through a common tongue, as well as set chat to talk in their own languages. As a player you would be restricted to one race per server. Guilds from different races could form alliances, as long as they were within certain restrictions, i.e. no Chaos and High Elf alliances.

There are not flight masters everywhere and no zone loading screens; it’s one giant world. There will be some fast transport, but limited. To reach some remote areas you will need to go on proper expedition. No flying to just outside the enemy zone, you need to travel and prepare. And when I said a giant world, I meant it. Really, bloody huge! This is the Warhammer world in all its glory. Exploration will be back on the menu. I want a game where a year down the line there’s still new things to see.

Everywhere is PvP enabled, you are attackable by other races at all times. Your own race is un-attackable, this is going to be a bloody harsh world and your own race will need to work together. Each race would have their multiple major cities from Warhammer lore as relatively safe zones, with NPC guards protecting them. These would attack their races natural enemies on sight, but not instantly launch at those with more cordial relations (say Dwarfs and Humans). Cities can be attacked, torched and temporarily destroyed (it would slowly rebuild itself).

Away from the cities would be smaller NPC and player populated towns, guilds would be able to buy or capture property in existing towns, or even build their own in a selection of designated areas. All of which would be attackable, meaning enemies can attack and conquer these towns. NPC guards and defences could be purchased, so when you’re offline your property can’t be ninjaed unless by large-scale assaults. Thankfully because of the size of the world, attacks on enemy towns will not happen every day, but should you capture one then you have a potential stronghold in enemy territory.

Character levels are gone. Being hit by a sword hurts, it doesn’t matter what level you are it could still kill you. I want a skill based system, but one where you have to actually hit things to gain skill points. Want to get good with a sword? Go stick it in some Orcs! Skill points can be spent on unlocking abilities. But crucially it means you’re not useless when you get started, this time you can join in with your mates straight away. It just means your character lacks the finesse of one that has unlocked lots of abilities. I’m sticking with the lock target & toolbar system we’re all used to, just changing how we get those abilities.

Not wanting to neglect PvE, there are hundreds of dungeons of varying scale and none of them are instanced. Instancing has made us soft.

Or if I can’t have that lot, then I’ll just settle for an exact copy of Ultima Online before the 2nd age, but with proper modern graphics. At the end of the day that’s all I want from a new MMO, just someone to make one as good as UO used to be.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.