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, Eric sits in the hot seat. Read on!
Please introduce yourself and give readers a bit of your background in game development and with Asheron's Call.
Greetings everyone, my name is Eric Deans, or 'Kintani', and I am one of the Designers on Asheron's Call.
My background in game development is pretty simple, as I started as a member of QA on Asheron's Call, and transferred into Game Design about 6 months after I started here at Turbine. So, I learned everything I know about designing MMOs here at Turbine, and by playing a TON of games.
How long have you worked at Turbine and on AC?
I've been both working at Turbine and working on AC for nearly 5 years. Before that, I was an Advocate on AC for over a year, until the program ended.
What is the best part about working at Turbine generally and on AC specifically?
Turbine is a great environment to work in. I worked in the Dot Com industry for years, and I worked at MIT for a while, and neither can compare to the atmosphere here at Turbine.
As for working on AC specifically, I'd have to say the best part is owning the IP directly. It's an open world. When someone else owns and developed the world you're working in, there's always a level where you're restricted in what you can do, in order to maintain their creation. When you create your own world, however, the opportunities are endless.
What is your favorite AC race? Why?
For a race, I like the Aluvians, mostly because of the fact that I'm a big fan of both Arthurian Legend and of Celtic history. Sho are a close second, though, because everyone needs to love Samurai and Ninjas.
As to a favorite class, not that 'classes' per se, exist in AC, I'm a Sword Fighter. I can't help it, I'm a Melee Traditionalist. Not to say that I don't have casters as well, I just prefer melees.
What is your favorite in-game area? Why?
At present, I'd have to go with the Graveyard. It has a beautiful theme, it's a well written, contained environment and story, and it's just got a lot of different things to do.
How would you compare AC now as compared to release? More specifically, what have been the most significant changes over the years?
I think the game has evolved a great deal over the years. Quests got easier to find, the stories grew more complex, some systems got streamlined, and Severlin added a Journal, so I could finally transfer all of my quest info out of the 30+ tomes I had muled, and free up space.
What type of computer did you begin using when you started on AC?
I believe it was a HP i386 running Windows 3.1, and running AC in software mode.
Do you play AC outside of work? How is that possible to do without getting tired of it?
I do play AC. I've played AC since it released back in 1999. As to how I play AC without getting tired of it, that's pretty simple. I play to hang out with my allegiance, to help people out when they need an extra weapon to throw at a problem, and to actually get to enjoy the things I've spend small eternities on to get into the game.
It's one thing to make a quest or a story, test it, and release it out into the world, and quite another to join with a pile of people who've never seen it before, and to see what they do with it. You get a great opportunity to learn from their responses to what you made, and you gain new eyes to appreciate what you did for the game.
What is the best thing you've personally worked on and have had implemented in game?
That's a loaded question. I've had my fingers in so much over the last 5 years. If I had to pick something, I guess I'd have to go with adding in the Gear Knights, even if you are just seeing the beginnings of it. I really just wanted to get something completely different in to the game, and pulling in a fun creature from AC2 let me do that, as well as pay some homage to all of the great work the other team did on that game.
What have been the biggest changes in AC and Turbine over the years you've worked there?
When I first started doing design work on AC, the main focus for the team was to add to the monthly storyline, and that was all. More recently, we've shifted to adding in updated systems, tools, and such, on top of the storyline. It opens up a great deal of opportunity, when you can progress the game through more than just story and quest.
What have been your most satisfying experiences working on AC?
Learning new systems. I like understanding how all aspects of the game I work on function. Learning the art process, tech art, some of the code and database functionality, on top of the tools used as a Designer. I personally believe that the better you understand a thing, the better you can utilize it, and the better you can utilize it, the better what you create becomes.
What have been your biggest challenges working on AC?
Learning new systems. ;-)
Do you find that player expectations entering AC are different now than they used to be?
Yes and no. Everyone's biggest expectation when buying a game is to be entertained by the game. That expectation is as old as gaming, if not far older, and has been, in my experience, a constant. That being said, the biggest thing to focus on as a Designer is whether or not something is fun.
That being said, as the MMO industry grows and evolves, the expectations people have about their MMOs have also grown and evolved. Every game someone enjoys refines how they define what is enjoyable about their style of gaming. For an example, when AC started, a loosely defined set of rumors to find quests added to the fun, because finding the quest became an accomplishment. Now, the expectation is that quests be more accessible and easy to find, so that people can get there faster, in order to enjoy the quest itself.
How do you keep a fan base excited and interested in an 'aging' game?
Keep the game growing and evolving. Adding new and interesting things to a game, be it quests, skills, brand new things to do, etc. gives people who have 'done it all' somewhere else to experiment, play and have fun. I think the only thing that kills an 'aging' game, as you put it, is running out of things to do.
What advice do you give 'n00bs' when they come on board the Turbine/AC development team?
"Buckle your seatbelts, you're in for a wild ride!" And, when they don't believe me, I show them what it takes to release monthly updates to a game.
Has World of Warcraft affected how you design AC's updates?
Of course it has. Every popular MMO changes or refines people's expectations of MMOs in general. I personally play as many of them as I can, just to get other views on how things can be done, and to see what people do and don't like about games. Does this mean I deliberately try to emulate WoW? No, not really. I'd personally rather learn the conceptual lesson from what I see, and then apply it to AC, not try to pick out specific things and wholesale copy them.
AC isn't WoW, nor should it be. But to turn a blind eye to another successful MMO would be silly. In general, as the industry changes over time, not understanding how it changed would be bad for a game. You need to know what makes your active players happy, but you also need to know what makes your potential players happy, if you ever hope to bring in new blood.
Where do the monthly event ideas come from?
Hordes of caffeine and sleepless nights.
More seriously, we sit down, look at what has been done in AC, brainstorm about what would be good and entertaining to add, and then use that info to plot out a roadmap for where we want our stories to go. Once we know where we want a story to go, we break that down further into monthly segments, so we can use those segments to design the content for a monthly update.
Now that DDOU has successfully gone "free to play", has any consideration been given to having AC do the same?
Have we considered it? Sure, we like to consider every possible option when it comes to AC. You'd probably be horrified, amused, or both to hear some of the things we consider behind closed doors. As to whether or not we will do something along those lines, I honestly couldn't answer that. I'm not the Producer.
What awesome franchise that isn't yet an MMO would you love to work on?
While there is great beauty and opportunity in many different story/movie/etc. franchises out there, I actually prefer to work on a game that creates its own world. If I had to move off of AC and work on a new game, I'd much rather create an interesting world from scratch than to tag onto an existing franchise and translate it into a game.
What is going to define the next generation MMO?
I think, immersion. Games have gotten very refined when it comes to gameplay and questing, systems and skills. I think the next big evolutionary step for MMOs is to find a way to increase the immersion of the player into the game.
Is the future of MMOs a "WOW Killer" or is it something we can't even imagine?
I do not think this is a single question. MMOs will evolve as the tech and the expectations evolve. The future of MMOs could honestly go anywhere. I'd honestly like to see it branch out a bit more, genre-wise, but it's getting there.
As for the elusive and much debated "WoW Killer", I think that WoW is popular because Blizzard set out to make a great, polished, fun game, and succeeded to a remarkable degree. WoW will die when either gaming evolves past MMOs as we know them, likely to be replaced by WoW 2.0, or some other game which matches the evlution of the industry better than WoW could be converted to do so, or when Blizzard chooses to let it die. I do not believe that some other MMO mirroring WoW's success would "kill" WoW. There's plenty of room in the Gaming world for more games to be that successful.
Please add any other comments.
It's been a very interesting and entertaining career, working on AC, and MMO design in general. I can't say that I ever planned to make a living making games, but I'm happy I took the chance and gave it a shot when the opportunity arose.
I'd also like to say 'Thank You' to everyone who does play or did play Asheron's Call. You all had your part in making the last 5-10 years of my life as entertaining as it has been. To those still playing, I'll see you in the world. To those that have left, we'll be there, waiting for you to re-answer the Call.
Stay tuned for our final interview on Friday, April 16th with Robert Ciccolini!