When Asheron's Call launched in November of 1999, the development team at Turbine had an ambitious plan in mind: every month, they would update the game, not just to add content but to further the game's story. Their vision for Asheron's Call was a constantly evolving game world that they would regularly add to.
Month after month, they kept to that vision. With the game's ninth anniversary right around the corner, the AC team hit another huge milestone: August's update was the game's 100th.
I sat down with Producer Dave Javier and Community Manager Andy Cataldo to chat about the evolving world of Dereth and both their favorite memories from the path as well as what they were looking forward to in the future of Asheron's Call.
They'd just returned from Gen Con in Indianapolis, and told me how quite a few con-goers passing by the AC booth had expressed fond memories of the game - for many, back in 1999, it had been their first MMORPG, "their first love." To Dave Javier and Andy Cataldo, this was the very essence of Turbine's development: to create compelling worlds to draw people in and update frequently to keep them there!
Like the attendees at Gen Con, Javier had started with AC - his story, though, was that of a developer. His first job immediately after graduating college had been with the Live Team for the first game, and his career had grown with it. Over the years, he'd gone from being on the Live Team to being the game's Lead Designer, behind much of the game's 2005 expansion pack, Throne of Destiny.
WarCry: 105 months of AC, and your 100th update. So just over one update a month? That's dedication. How many people working on the monthly updates have been there all 9 years?
Dave Javier: Shawn Dickinson, one of content designers, he's been on it all 9 years. For about half of his tenure he was in QA, but a few years ago he moved to a creative role. He's kind of an envelope pusher. The Coliseum was an idea we'd kicked around for years, but couldn't figure out how to implement it. Sean butted his head against it and eventually figured out how to do it. Kind of hard with a monthly schedule to keep from burning out, but the passion is still there. The whole team is collaborative and creative enough that if one guy doesn't feel like being the "creative guy" for a bit, others can pick up the slack.
WC: What about new players - if someone starts playing today, they're dropped into the middle of the story? How do they catch up?
DJ: That is a good question. There is so much content in the game that it can be a little daunting for a new player. Traditionally, if this was a progressing storyline in the truest sense, then you wouldn't be able to play through the content from 8 years ago. We leave it in the game. With that, though, it might contribute to being a "drift" in time for an uneducated, newer player. We count on the allegiance system - where players owe power to more powerful, older players. Because of that, we can count on them to guide new players through the world and allow them to form bonds.
In-game, we do constantly update the history - there are history books for players to read. Also, there's a slideshow playing through scenes from the major story arcs in the game that players can hang up in their house.