Asheron's Call is one of the grand old games in the MMO universe, having been entertaining folks for upwards of ten years and as part of their anniversary celebration, WarCry is pleased to feature a quadruple interview with Brian Cottle, Jared, Eric Deans and Robert Ciccolini. Today, Brian sits in the hot seat. Read on!
1. Please introduce yourself and give readers a bit of your background in game development and with Asheron's Call.
I'm Brian "Django" Cottle. I've been worked on Asheron's Call as a Designer and in Quality Assurance.
2. How long have you worked at Turbine and on AC?
I've been at Turbine for just over 4 years now. Three and change of those years I've worked on Asheron's Call.
3. What is the best part about working at Turbine generally and on AC specifically?
What I enjoy the most about working at Turbine is the community. I work with a lot of great people and have really love the time I've been able to spend with them. The best part about working on Asheron's Call in specific has to be the chances we get to work in all aspects of design and art. On Asheron's Call in any one month I can add content and features that would cross over the roles of three different design positions and several art positions on other games.
4. What is your favorite AC class and race? Why?
Class? Asheron's Call doesn't have classes! My favorite skills to use are Creature Enchantment and War Magic. My favorite crafting skill is Alchemy. And when I need to deliver a bruising I'd prefer to use a Cestus. If I'm sharpshooting the Crossbow is my friend.
- Creature Enchantment is the most flexible of the magics. Simply possessing this magic can make all your other skills stronger and your opponents ability to evade or resist your attacks lower.
- War Magic allows things to die at my feet in piles. Here Olthoi, Olthoi.
- Alchemy has come a long way in the last few years. Making potions to refill your stats and chemicals to apply to your arrow heads. Now with the ability to make creatures more vulnerable with phials Alchemy has a more direct offensive capability.
- Unarmed Combat... need I say more? What's more satisfying that smacking an Olthoi in those scrawny chitinous ankles until he topples over no longer able to fight?
- The Crossbow simply has a weight to it and is capable of delivering massive damage in a single shot. It may be slower than other weapons but looking at the numbers on a Crippling Blow really makes me smile.
5. What is your favorite in-game area? Why?
My favorite hunting location is Dark Isle. I enjoy fighting creatures that make use of magic in combat (so I can avoid it and laugh at them). My favorite Point of Interest/Town is Neydisa Castle. This was the first castle structure I found when I started playing Asheron's Call over ten years ago. I used to run up to Neydisa Castle from Holtburg every day to camp the Mage Academy chest when it could be lock picked.
6. How would you compare AC now as compared to release? More specifically, what have been the most significant changes over the years?
Since release a lot has changed in the world of Dereth and Asheron's Call in general. The addition of creatures using elemental weapons and attacks made me start caring about protective magic. The ability to tinker items made it more important to locate good loot items and get them upgraded; the later addition of Rending significantly increased damage for players who were not vulning. Cantrips made finding the right spells on your armor a lot more rewarding. The addition of cantrips on jewelry and clothing made it a lot simpler to have all the spells you wanted. The transition of allegiance experience pass up systems significantly increased the amount of experience patrons receive. The increase in experience on creatures allowed faster leveling and the increase of experience on quests allowed questing for experience instead of just for items and fun. The level cap changed character builds significantly, the biggest change for me was seeing melee defense become a staple skill for mages. It's been 10 years a lot has changed; too much to fit in the space of a single answer.
7. What type of computer did you begin using when you started on AC?
I had just purchased a Gateway computer with a VooDoo video card, 13 gigs of memory and 512 RAM. It was pretty significant back then, cost me the majority of a summer working to pay for it.
8. Do you play AC outside of work? How is that possible to do without getting tired of it?
My Asheron's Call characters are mostly in the 150-225 level range; there are 8 in that range in total across my three accounts. It's never been a goal of mine to hit the max level in Asheron's Call, I like to fight creatures and take their loot as well as running the occasional quest. I don't believe there's anyone on the team who can say they get to play Asheron's Call as much as they would like to but that's mostly because we can't add hours to the day.
9. What is the best thing you've personally worked on and have had implemented in game?
I really enjoyed adding Gearcrafting for the 10th anniversary update. It's also been very rewarding to add items to the new loot tier as well as bringing the new loot tier to monsters. Quest wise I enjoyed creating the Assassin's Roost and have really enjoyed reading YouNeedADoctor's posts about it on our forums recently.
10. What have been the biggest changes in AC and Turbine over the years you've worked there?
The biggest change in Turbine since I started has to be the size of the company; I have a lot more peers in the building today than when I started. The biggest changes to Asheron's Call, well it's been four years, 100th Update, 10th Anniversary around 50 updates, need I say more?
11. What have been your most satisfying experiences working on AC?
I already talked about this a bit but I've really enjoyed being able to handle most of the loot changes made after the 100th Update. The loot system in Asheron's Call is massive and can be time consuming to work with but the number of variations of items and hours of game play that encourages is even greater. Most recently introducing the new starter hub has been very rewarding simply because of the response it has received. That really made up for days of trudging through old quests and getting my butt kicked by monsters that were stronger than they should be. Guardian of the Helm cast level 4 war magic, that does enough damage to one shot almost any player in the right level range. After getting one shot killed by him three times I took revenge on him by reducing the level of spells he can cast!
12. What have been your biggest challenges working on AC?
The biggest challenge working on Asheron's Call is trying to figure out how to do the things you want with our archaic tools and systems. Sev has done an amazing job giving us new abilities but having worked on Dungeons & Dragons: Online also I can say we can't do complex sequences nearly as easily as other newer games can. Simple things like checking for pack space on players before giving them a reward and then taking the item from the player's pack can nearly double the scripting on a simple NPC let alone trying to create a complex drama sequence or have an effect applied to a target through interactions.
13. Do you find that player expectations entering AC are different now than they used to be?
I think players have largely the same expectations as they've always had but what those expectations mean for how they play the game have changed. Players want to interact with the world on a meaningful level and have other players they consider peers and friends. When Asheron's Call launched you could do that at level 1. It was easy to find players in your level range exploring the world and interact with them. Over the years players have obtained higher levels, more loot and learned a lot more about playing the game. Players coming back to Asheron's Call or coming into Asheron's Call fresh are going to have to gain more levels and progress their loot a greater amount faster in order to achieve the level of connection with the game world and its players that was once possible at level 1.
14. How do you keep a fan base excited and interested in an 'aging' game?
Asheron's Call has always done a good job about keeping the fans excited, we add new content every month! Nobody else in the MMO market delivers on this like we do.
15. What advice do you give 'n00bs' when they come on board the Turbine/AC development team?
It's really impossible to trim this down into one answer. Having played Asheron's Call for over 10 years myself and worked on it for 3 there's just so much to say. The most important single thing I could say is that if you really are passionate about doing something you can find a way to make it happen.
16. Has World of Warcraft affected how you design AC's updates?
I can honestly say I've never played World of Warcraft, not even for a single minute. I have played just about every other major MMO on the market though. Asheron's Call is a very unique game and it's that uniqueness that gives it strength. We try to focus on what Asheron's Call is and what we can add to it to keep it interesting. We've never approached a design from the perspective of how to make Asheron's Call more like another game.
17. Where do the monthly event ideas come from?
About twice a year we'll all get together in an office and put story line ideas up on a white board. This is the big picture stuff, who's the bad guy, what are they trying to do, etc. After we've hashed that out we get a basic story progression. Once that's set we'll meet back up every month to talk about how we're going to progress the story and what it is that each of us wants to do. One of the greatest parts about working on Asheron's Call is you really get to choose what you want to do.
18. Now that DDOU has successfully gone "free to play", has any consideration been given to having AC do the same?
The structure of Asheron's Call was not created with the intention of supporting a fully free to play game. That doesn't mean Asheron's Call can't or won't be free to play it really means that we'll have to decide that it's right decision for the game or not and if so how that would happen without damaging the game.
19. What awesome franchise that isn't yet an MMO would you love to work on?
Personally I've always loved MMOs that are made by people with great ideas. Asheron's Call for example, there was no Asheron's Call book or game or movie before it came out just a bunch of folks who had some great ideas and really wanted to make them happen. I'd love to work with those people and make something real happen.
20. What is going to define the next generation MMO?
It's very tough to say what developers are going to do to define the next generation of games. We learn from our mistakes and refine our designs. Many games have refined their designs in the same direction recently and there are a lot of MMOs on the markets with very similar features and game play. Personally I think the next generation of MMO games will be defined by creating games that exist outside the current paradigm. Games focused on delivering story, quests, game play, social interactions, politics, etc. in new and interesting ways. The only way to figure out if something will work or not is to give it a shot.
21. Is the future of MMOs a "WOW Killer" or is it something we can't even imagine?
The concept of a WoW Killer isn't very plausible. WoW has a massive community and this creates a level of social stickiness that's impossible to overcome with any single product. You're not going to get every player in a game to leave that game at the same time, they have experience and investment in all facets of their current game. Many players will eventually want to try something new but not all of them at the same time. This in no way means that World of Warcraft will forever have the largest North American MMO population, it just means that no single product is going to "kill WoW." MMO designers will continue to introduce new games and ideas, new graphics and systems and players will continue to look for whatever game fits them best.
22. Please add any other comments.
Do I have to? It's time to get back to work.
Wednesday: Jared, Thursday: Eric Deans, Friday: Robert Ciccolini