Monday, December 21, 2009

In Excess

Usually, when you eat something really good, you almost feel sorry you're eating the last bite because it was so good you could indulge some more. But sometimes, you'll get something awesome yet as you get closer to the end, and while it's still good as it was when you first started, you just don't enjoy it as much. In fact, you actually start thinking it's good but it needs to end. That's when you know you had too much and as the saying goes, too much of a good thing can definitely be a bad thing.

What got me writing this? The latest game I've been playing: Dragon Age. For any RPG fan, that game is seriously bad ass. I cannot remember the last time I've so thoroughly enjoyed a game. And I mean the "counting the work hours left before I can go back home to resume my game" enjoyable. The story was awesome, the characters were fantastic, the world looked gorgeous, the gameplay, UI, enemy AI, you name it, got a big fat thumbs up from me. Obviously, the game had some flaws, but compared to its successes, they barely qualify as footnotes.

The problem? The game is extremely long. So long in fact that at some point, after completing a main quest segment when another quest chapter opened, I thought "are you serious?" I didn't know whether to be thrilled or annoyed because I was ready for dessert. There were just a few too many courses to that meal and my tummy was rather full at that point. Not only were there many chapters, but most of them were very long as well and had extensive literature.

It's somewhat strange to be complaining that I got too much for my money. But that game clearly displayed to me one of the things I struggle with the most as a designer (and even as a blogger!): moderation. How long should an event be? How many rewards should you give? How much text/journal/dialogs is needed for the players to they really understand what's going on? This is especially challenging with chain quests. I know players don't want to stop every 5 minutes to read a novel. So putting out journals and scrolls that give clues and some of the background story is difficult. It has to give enough but not be so long that players go "argh!" every time they stumble on a new journal.

The same is true with monsters. How many monsters should a player grind through before they reach their destination? If your goal is to simply fight a boss, do you really need to systematically walk through miles and miles of dungeon slaying various levels of mobs to reach him? Reaching a boss should be difficult but there are other ways which do not need to be a grind.

In the end, I much rather get too much than feel ripped off, but just enough is always best! The fact is there is A LOT of journals and books and what not to read in that game. It breaks the rythm, so in that sense I found it annoying and often just skipped right through a lot of it. But after I finished the game, I went back and started reading them and they are honestly worth it.

That said, I've had players complain some of my events were too long (the Death of the Council was one prime example). Yet I thought the length was just perfect and quite a few players felt the same as well. I guess it just goes to show that we don't all have the same appetite!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Exponential Growth

A player messaged me to on the forums to thank me for the recent Thanksgiving event, saying how his wife, guildmates and himself have had the most fun they can remember in a long time with it. He was hoping there would be more of this type of simple, quickly put together event in the future. It made me giggle because this event broke every rule of proper design procedure.

So this started off with Mesanna asking if we were turning the champ spawns into turkeys again for Thanksgiving. To which I replied the turkeys are kinda lame. They're just way too small and are more griefy to see during champ spawns than anything else. So we decided to go bat our eyelashes at the artists and see if we could get them to enlarge the turkeys. When they accepted, being my usual shameless self, I asked if we could also get a cornucopia for the players who don't do champ spawns. And they agreed to squeeze it in their schedule! Since we didn't have much time, the plan was simply to spawn the cornucopias in the players' backpack on log in and do the champ spawn thing.

Then I saw the finished version and I was like "dang Grimmy (GrimmOmen), those be some fine looking turkeys!!" They were just too nice not to allow everyone else to enjoy them. So from there I told Mesanna I would make them just randomly spawn overland in Britannia and strut their stuff.

Famous last words...

So I'm thinking hmmmm they can't just walk around and do nothing else! Let's make them mini-bosses! Now to figure out what their AI will be. When that was nearly done, it was hmmm but what are they going to drop as loot? Lets make them drop the cornucopias!! Then hmmm the cornucopias are kinda lame just as is. They should drop food! Hmmm maybe they should have something special, I mean seriously who cares about a slab of bacon?

So Mesanna asks me if I'm done with the Turkeys and I'm like eerrrr yeah? But she knows from the look on my face that my evil wheels are still turning. She gives me the look of death and says "cut off date is..." to which I interject "yes, yes, I know! It will be done!" (with some more shameless eyelashes batting to which she's completely immune! Wise woman she is!).

But that event is just too short. There should be a little something more to it and not just a random grinding on turkeys. So I get a bug from QA regarding some issue with the Halloween costumes and my mind wanders back to it and to the Hag and "ting!" the light comes on!! My buddy Zeef!! I always thought those little maps were cool so after a bit of tinkering (and lots of running around to choose locations) I put in the nests and maps, but it didn't really make sense for turkeys to give maps. Hell, it didn't really make sense to have giant turkeys to begin with! How do you justify that? (You know some players will go wtf is that?) Well while trying to come up with the turkey's attacks, I had been reading a bit on the Internet about turkeys and stumbled on an article about the father of American ornithology, Alexander Wilson and I suddenly had my quest back story and the moon grass as the fall guy!

But could I leave it alone? No, because I'm hopeless like that. Then came the: a) I need to come up with a "useful" reward for the deco haters (enters harvester's blade), b) bards are going to complain again that they've been neglected (more tweaks to turkey's AI), c) crafters, crafters, crafter, why the heck do they think they should be able to do everything hunters do? gah!!! (fine, lets have map fragments and give stuff to top 20 attackers), d) PETA alert!! (chill people! I got it covered! *adds non-mutant eggs and prevent players from abusing them*).

Now the real fun begins. QA >.<

The problem wasn't so much functionality issues (though there were a few of those). It was mostly things like: if you do 4 back flips with a red ribbon on your right pinky toe while holding your right ear with your left hand you will be able to nuke 10 turkeys in 3 seconds while also looting other people's nests in Trammel.


In the end, a few bugs still managed to slip through the cracks, but overall it was well received. Frankly, I was happily surprised people didn't complain about doing maps. I think they're wonderfully challenging and a good way to get people to explore lands they have neglected for far too long. But this is a bad way of designing. It's too easy to let yourself get carried away and things grow so far out of proportion that it bursts at the seams. In this case, it worked out, but careful planning before implementation saves a lot of headaches and bad surprises.

PS. We made cut off date :)

Friday, November 13, 2009

In Context

It is uncanny how much power people can give simple words and how relentlessly they can latch on to your usage of a specific word to go on a crusade. I'll likely get in trouble for this one but frankly, I don't care because this chick is annoyed! The culprit? A not so very fuzzy "care bear".

What's a care bear? The Urban Dictionary has a lot of very appropriate definitions for it. My own definition of a MMO care bear is a mix of definitions 1, 3 and 6: essentially a player who takes part in all aspects of the game except for those involving PvP. Throughout the industry, this term is also used that way. BUT it's also used in the pejorative way, though usually by the players.

It's all a matter of context.

It is up to you how you interpret one's words. But use common sense. I always felt it was ridiculous every time I make a post referring to PvPers and non-PvPers I spend forever trying to figure out how to word a sentence with the word Trammie, but don't have to think about it twice to use the word Fellie. In fact, I usually use Trammelite instead of Trammie, which I think sound retarded but normally avoids any stirring of the politically correct fanatics. Why is that?

Developer's definition
Trammie: any player that never comes to Felucca. Period.
Fellie: someone who exclusively (or mostly) plays in Felucca and takes part in PvP.
Care Bear: someone who doesn't necessarily live in Trammel, but who doesn't take part in PvP. (Yes, there are people who enjoy Felucca but not PvP)

Players and others definition
Trammie: wuss, whiner, pixel crack hoarder, animal tamer
Fellie: griefer, PK, thief, hacker, duper, cheater, (insert extensive list of faults here) and trash talker. Probably has a small weenie irl and low self-esteem
Care Bear: the most annoying type of Trammie who deserves all the grief they get from Fellies.

People need to lay off the paranoia sauce. It's kinda like when someone says "you're cute". It can simply mean what it says, ie that you're huggable, lovely, cuddly or w/e flattery is implied. Or it can mean you're a smart ass, a dumb ass, an idiot, etc. The context dictates which one it is. A developer addressing a broad audience, including his customers, would obviously not use a term in the derogatory sense. So it's rather mindboggling the way some people have decided to take it the wrong way and just won't let go.

It somewhat reminds me of what guys often complain about regarding their girlfriend or wife. He did or said something she didn't like, whether maliciously or not, and 2 years later they will have an argument and she will dig that one thing back up and throw it in his face even though it has nothing to do with anything! And the poor guy can't help but think: "good Lord, woman, GET THE F... OVER IT!"

Seriously... -_-

Political correctness has always rhymed with BS to me. Good thing I'm not the PR person! For the record, the majority of the Dev Team are Trammies, including our Producer. Hell, he's a Tamer, so what does that make him?! Personally, I've always considered myself a Fellie and a PvPer. However, since I disbanded my guild 2 years ago when I joined the Dev Team, I've rarely PvPed even though I live in Fel, which makes me the team's only Care Bear. And I'm damn proud of it!

Friday, October 30, 2009


Wow, I can't believe my last post was in July. I guess I owe Slickjack another thanks for poking me out of my procrastination!

I was chitchatting with some of the Devs from Warhammer and Dark Age of Camelot after a town hall meeting. We ended up discussing the importance of the "social" factor in MMOs and of building community going from the chat system, crafting and trading, to guilds, alliances, group quests and epic encounters. The whole time, I kept thinking that these are things developers use to facilitate (all to often "force") community. But to me, that is not what community is about.

In most MMOs, the fact that Joe decided to take an extended break, quit, sold his account or passed away in real life isn't likely to make much of a difference. If he was the GM of his guild, it will probably fall apart and everyone will scatter. The folks with the best gear will be picked up by current "flavor of the day" guilds, the rest will PUG their way into their next guild. Some will stick together, but those were often friends before they started playing the game to begin with.

And therein lies a significant part of the issue. When a game is heavily level and gear dependant, it destroys its own community by dictating who gets to play with who, when and where. You cannot build a solid sense of community by being exclusive. Yet exclusion is at the foundation of many class based games. You want to raid with us? Would be nice except you're a tank and we just don't need another one. Better luck next time! Oh that's your best friend? Yeah sorry, his gear sucks too much and his level is too low, he'll pull too much aggro. Tell him to look us up in a few weeks/month when he's up to our level. Auction houses? Awesome! I have no idea who the seller is, and frankly I don't care: I didn't even look at their name, I just checked the lowest price.

Then I remembered a thread that started not too long ago on Stratics about Atlantic's History. And I thought: see, THAT's what community is about. To me, it's not forcing people to group up with other folks they don't know and probably don't even like just so they can partake in some of the better content. It's giving players the chance of being part of something, to leave a lasting mark in the world, to make history.

Community isn't spamming the Looking For Group channel for the first person that can do 3K+ DPS. It's people from all walks of life gathering on a ghost infested beach, year after year, to commemorate the real life passing of a player who made his mark in the world by becoming UO's greatest librarian. It's hanging out at player run establishments like the wild and crazy Odyssey's Club was. It's the RP towns like Paxlair and Sanctus built from the ground up by the players. It's when other players ask for you and your shop by name when they want quality goods. It's the fear, awe, admiration, love and even hatred inspired by the mere mention of the name of a player or a guild. It's when reminiscing about the old days is more about the people come and gone, than about boss mobs and class nerfs.

While it is true that promoting social interactions in games increases player retention, I think most games miss the mark. What kept me playing this game was knowing that my presence made a difference. I had an impact on the world. I had something to call my own. I can quit any other MMO today, go back in a few months or a year, and after a bit of a grind, it will be the same it always was. While I'm gone, not a whole lot of people will miss me as there will be plenty of other DPS, Tanks or Healers to pick up where I left off. As a UO player, if I quit tomorrow, I feel like I have a lot to lose: the house I worked so hard to acquire, the clientele I took so long to establish, the guild or the player town I devoted years to build. And in turn, my absence will affect those who knew me.

In my humble opinion, true Community is when the individual matters and when the only limit to the fame, influence and accomplishments you can achieve are only those you set for yourself.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Enemy Mine

Sorry, I've been neglecting my blog, but we're crunching big time with Beta. Not to mention I pulled a disappearing act and went to Montreal to get majorly pampered by Mom! And while enjoying some much needed R&R, I couldn't help but check out the Beta forums and catch up on various games I hadn't had a chance to play. While reading the boards, there was a post about players PKing during beta which made me go hmmm.

There simply never seems to be any way around the irreconcilable differences between PvMers and PvPers. The hatred and venom between them is mind boggling at times. So while chilling at my parents' house, I stumbled on an old movie I had loved when I was a teenager called Enemy Mine and I couldn't help but draw the parallel. The story is about this human pilot fighting an alien enemy. Both end up crashing on a hostile, abandoned planet and are forced to cooperate in order to survive. Through their hardships, they get to know each other, understand and respect their differences. From mortal enemies they became more than brothers because they learned to view the world through the other one's eyes and realized being different doesn't mean being bad.

PvP isn't for everyone but it's not because you do that you're necessarily a jerk. And it's not because you don't that you're automatically a wimp. Some people are vegetarians, others love meat. They're still people and one isn't better than the other. Trying to walk in the other guy's shoes doesn't mean it will grow on you. Some things aren't meant for everyone, but it could at least help you realize that the other guy is your normal every day Joe, cool friend, good brother, good husband, good neighbor. Just a dude who is different, like that Drac from the movie was.

Being mainly a PvPer myself, every time I see these threads, I systematically have to fight back the "here comes the whine" (+ rolls eyes) reaction. Especially in a game like UO where 75% of the content is exclusively PvP-free. It blows my mind when PvMers begrudge any crumbs tossed the PvPers' way. Of course there should be PvP-exclusive rewards, otherwise where is the gratification? Would a PvMer fight a challenging (though fun) boss mob more than once if there was no reward at the end of the day?

When it comes to PvP, and in the case on the forums, PKing, it's usually up to the designers to provide their players with ways to limit the "inconvenience" to those who do not wish to PvP or to set up a smooth learning curve so the barrier to entry isn't too brutal. Some games succeed at it better than others. And some, by design, not so much. Darkfall is the perfect example.

I want to believe I'm not wimp when it comes to taking a beating (in game!). But when I tried Darkfall, I experienced exactly what PvMers describe feeling when forced into a PvP situation (that they usually lose) when simply trying to PvM. In Darkfall, there are no safe zones even in noob towns, anywhere, period. When you die, you lose absolutely everything (except your noobie weapon that you can't gain skills with). And every time I would step out of town to fight the (much too rare) goblins or trolls to level a bit, one or two PKs would show up and rape 10 noobs in the blink of an eye with us barely doing a scratch to him/them. Some nights, you couldn't even reach the goblins without getting PKed again. It was the most frustrating experience ever. I felt like the sacrificial lamb offered to slaughter for the greater amusement of relentless bullies.

I toughed it out for a while, knowing from the get go I wouldn't renew my subscription. It was shocking to see myself cussing out those PKs. But in truth, what bothered me wasn't getting PKed. It was the fact that I was helpless, the fact that I had no way of honing my skills before I was thrown to the wolves. The fact that these guys knew it and abused the heck out of it. Those PKs were a minority, but their presence was overwhelming. And because Darkfall's UI is so different (quite unique and interesting), it's an extra barrier that made things even harder.

In the end, it just reaffirmed (to me) what I've always believed. When it comes to PvM and PvP it's always about choices. I chose not to be farmed by the PKs in Darkfall and cancelled my subscription. It's both my gain and my loss. Many others have toughed it out and experienced some of the cool other content in the game. To me, it wasn't worth the aggravation and I'm ok with that "loss". Similarly, players in UO and most other MMOs out there, can make the choice to exclusively PvM or to PvP as well. It is your choice whether or not to expose yourself to danger. If you choose not to, then you also choose not to have access to certain rewards (other than buying them where applicable). But be grateful that in those other games you at least have a safe environment where you can learn and grow before you face the beast. Because at the end of the day, the beast is really just another Joe who has been doing it a bit longer than you and has learned a few tricks along the way.

Monday, June 8, 2009


Whenever a new game or expansion is about to be released, fans are always dying with curiosity and anticipation. Will it be as good as we hope or worse than we expect? But one thing people often don't realize is that the Devs are just as excited and anxious, for pretty much the same reasons!

Players complain about being bound by the NDA when they wish they could share what they're testing with their buddies, but imagine designing something for months and having to keep quiet about it? This is when we finally get to show off those (hopefully!) cool features we secretly worked on. It's also when we find out if it was a hit or a miss.

Since we're still frantically working on finishing some of the features, the content is being delivered in stages. I can tell you that there's nothing worse than realizing that one of your features isn't going to make the next publish because of whatever bug. Whether the bug is your fault or someone else's is totally irrelevant. It's just disappointing. You know annoyed you feel when you're waiting for a highly anticipated patch just to be told the Devs delayed by another week? However valid or not the reason for the delay, you still feel cheated. So we're all in the same boat, just for different reasons.

But for our features that do make it, there's a mix of dread and excitement about how it will be received. I won't lie, after the last publish I was all over the forums reading players' comments about their first impression of the latest additions. Did we live up to their expectations? Exceeded or majorly failed?

After that though comes the "time to bang your head on the wall". Silly things such as "we would love to test this but you guys forgot to give us the tool to craft it with". Or better yet, "sure, I'll fight the boss monster if you guys would be so kind to put a doorway in". And we're like: how the heck did we forget that?! Silly stuff that makes you want to kick yourself. We're just as frustrated that you're not able to try some of the stuff. More so even, because our oversight caused it.

I spent the week-end beta testing on my normal player account. There's nothing more enlightening than to be down in the trenches with the rest of the guys, especially when they have no idea who you are. You share their pain on the mobs that are way overpowered or so easy they bore you to death. I've said this before and this week-end reinforced that conviction further: you cannot understand your players' pain unless you experience it first hand. You HAVE to play your own game.

Next week will be crazy. There are a lot of bugs to fix from the previous push. And from my own experience this week-end, a lot of tweaks and balance are needed to get some of the features to go from functional to fun. But there are also more features I want to get in so I better find a way to meet the cut off date somehow! Because I'm a big kid, and I just can't wait to show off the new toys we get to play with! :D

Sunday, May 31, 2009


Design vision and player wishes often seem to clash. Sometimes it's a minor difference in opinion/expectation, sometimes it's fairly significant. And that can be seen in some of the heated posts on game forums. Players wonder why the heck we don't just give them what they want. Some designers will take the "cuz I said so" approach while some will take the "there's a good reason, just trust me" approach.

I personally believe in the honest, open dialog approach. But I understand why so many don't. Frankly, players chew you up regardless so it's reasonable to ask yourself: why bother?

As designers, we have to strive not to fall into the: I'm gonna do this because I can, I got the power and because that's what "I" like. Which is somewhat paradoxical as I also consider designers to be artists and I do not believe an artist should bastardize his art to please others. He should be true to his vision and let others discover its beauty.

But then, we're not truly artists, are we? I guess we're more like scriptwriters on a TV series who have this (hopefully) awesome story to deliver in so many episodes. Sometimes we need to adjust some characters or events based on our audience's response. I remember thinking that when I watched the cast interviews of Battle Star Galactica before the finale. They were saying how Anders (who was only meant to have a small 2-3 episode role) was turned into a main character in reaction to the fans hating him so much for hooking up with Kara (I hated him for it too and ended up loving him by the end of the series!).

Like scriptwriters, we cater to an audience that gives almost instant feedback throughout the creation process. Sometimes our response will go against their wishes and still work out for the best (as in BSG) and sometimes it won't. But invariably, the fans' voices will influence the direction we take, sometimes steering us in a different path than originally intended.

In UO, I've been facing that same dilemma, namely with the gardeners. My vision as a designer, which was also shared by many on the team, isn't shared by quite a few of the gardeners. A bug introduced a way for players to grow some plants in hues we didn't want them because frankly they are an eye sore. While the bug was quickly fixed, we decided not to revert the few "ugly plants" they had obtained during the bug, since we figured that would be the end of it. But turns out players remained with a number of colored seeds that allow them to keep growing those horrors and cross-pollinating them, which makes me cringe beyond words.

So I looked into the code on how to revert all existing ones and neuter the remaining offensive seeds. Once I found the solution, I went to the gardeners forums to make a post telling them the fix for these abominations was on its way! But what I found was a really long thread of excited players sharing their experiments results, building up cross-pollination charts, giving each other tips on how to achieve certain hues and certain breeds. It was like watching a bunch of kids in a toy store. I had this strange mix of major annoyance, amusement and pride at how nice the kids were playing with each other.

And I just didn't have the heart to post... After thinking about it long and hard, I just reverted the "fix". It's still a hard to swallow humble pie but if it doesn't create imbalances and is just a matter of personal preferences, sometimes it's ok to let design vision take the backseat.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Beta Testing

Now that ours is but a few days away, people are getting even antsier and desperately hoping to make it into the beta. I know the feeling all too well. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Everyone and their brother is spamming me for beta code requests. Some I know will rock it, others... not so sure. So the question is: are you truly beta test material?

Beta is a critical phase for us. This is when months and months (sometimes years) of hard work finally get handed over to players for thorough scrutiny. This is when we first find out if this ship will sink or sail, if it has holes and where is the water leaking in from. Water we don't see because we're too busy on the deck. Unless our testers take the time to explore every nook and cranny in the hold, there is a chance we'll only realize we're sinking once we're way far in high seas.

The truth is a lot of people sign up for beta not to test but just to quench their curiosity and for bragging rights. I can't blame them either, because I've done it too. But knowing that the number of codes issued is limited, it is important for people who sign up to understand that as much as we try to account for every silly things players will do during normal gameplay, we can't catch them all. Testing is what allows for the issues from such behavior to be addressed. If new skills or systems are way overpowered or unbalancing, if the UI isn't overly friendly, if some of the content needs some tweaking, beta is the time to bring it up so they can be fixed before the game ships. There's no damage in a closed environment, once it hits production shards, it's a whole different story.

So if you sign up, try stuff and use that feedback form or the in-game bug report feature. Nobody expects you to do as thorough a job as a QA Tester would. We only expect you to play as you normally would and bring up what doesn't work. Nobody knows better than you how you enjoy your specific game style. If you mainly play a crafter, we don't expect PvP feedback from you, but we sure as hell would like to know if the new content works for you. Don't get a code just to let it rot.

Beta testers have tremendous power. There is no other time you will have the Devs as attentive to your every word as during beta. It doesn't mean you will get everything you want (especially if your request would require massive system changes), but now is your best chance of having a real impact. I beta tested a few games myself and often heard people just randomly bitch about this or that but when asked if they submitted a bug they would just say "why bother?", which blew my mind. Or some would say things like "I'm sure someone else already reported it". Do not worry about submitting duplicates. Never assume someone already submitted, and don't just sulk about what you don't like.

Beta isn't about you finding out whether or not you like the new expansion. It isn't about status. It isn't about just hanging out with the Devs and participating in the few events. It's about making sure the expansion will launch as smoothly as possible. So don't take up the place of someone who would truly help polish the game through this critical phase. If you sign up and get a code (for UO or any other game), please log on often, play and use the heck out of the bug report feature.

PS: details and ways to replicate is a Dev's best friend. :)

Sunday, May 10, 2009


So as most of you now, we're currently in the last miles of our next, more than long overdue, UO expansion. I'm not going to discuss the details of that specific expansion here, but I wanted to share my thoughts about expansions in general and my issues with them; namely the fact that they make old content obsolete and raise even higher the barrier to entry for new players.

One of my biggest problem with expansions is that they usually rhyme with new lands and dungeons. How is that bad? Because new expansion doesn't mean new players. While they tend to bring a certain amount of new players, they're usually aimed towards player retention, so your currently bored players have something new to chew on. The influx of new players isn't significant enough to offset the exodus of existing players into the new areas.

In a game like UO, it just means that perfectly good systems are going to waste. The impact on our players is fairly minimal. But in a level-based game like WoW though, it's a different story. Looking at their latest expansion (which had quite a few really good things in it), I couldn't help but sigh. Another skill cap increase, meaning a noobie will have 80 levels to grind through before they can start playing with high level friends. New uber epic gear for level 80s to strive for, meaning once noobie manages level 80, his gear will still be too weaksauce to play with his friends in the cool instances. Even though they reshuffled the points required so that it takes you the same amount of time to reach 80 as it would have taken to reach 70 before the expansion, there are less people around to help you level or do those low level instances because everyone is in the new lands. So noobie is once again SOL.

Then look at resources and crafting materials. All the new cool recipes involve new mats that drop only on the new mobs. Why ever bother with old mobs then, especially since the old recipes using the old mats are trash compared to the new ones? Granted, they have the whole Achievements system put in, which seems to be all the rage these days with every game (I'll make a blog entry specifically about that at some point). But that only makes you go back once then never again.

I took WoW as an example because most people know it or of it and it covers the majority of the issues I find with expansions. But UO has had many of the same issues through its various expansion. I'm not against adding new lands. I just find that generally it's not done in the most efficient way. You shouldn't sabotage your own previous designs by making it useless or obsolete. I don't think the size of the playground matters as much as the quality and the number of the things you can do in it. I don't believe in having perfectly fine game systems just go to waste because we're pushing players towards the new shinies.

If an old system has become a little stale, give it a bit of a face lift. Even if you create new areas, mobs and resources, you should tie them to the old lands. Your new uber recipe should use mats from both worlds. You don't need to create an entire new dungeon with mostly useless critters just to have a new epic encounter. You could simply add cool new features to an existing dungeon that will grant you access to a new boss, and only create a new area in that dungeon for the boss' lair.

Instead of spending months/years building new regions so old ones can be abandoned, I would rather see all that time devoted to making new art assets and new badass creatures. As a player who just bought an expansion, when I receive the new "sword of ultimate pwnage", I want to see a wicked cool sword with awesome effects. Not the same old, rehued rename lame sword I've been using the past 5 years. Having a sexy looking new world populated with the same tired renamed/rehued creatures with a bit more stats is quite the turn off.

I was discussing this with a friend who said he wants new lands with an expansion because he gets tired of seeing the old places. My response to him was that if he's having fun, he won't care whether the land is old or new. Players aren't a grasshoppers swarm that needs to move from region to region once all sustenance has been drained out of it. It is our job as designers to make sure food doesn't run out in any given region. Period.

In my humble opinion, expansions should be about optimizing existing content and adding more content that will enhance player's experience. Not creating new areas to be cannibalized.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Random (Rated M!)

Haven't posted in a while since I was in the middle of moving. Thankfully, this painful process is mostly done. So for my "comeback" post, I figured I would give you a little insight into some of the conversations of your devoted Dev Team. Please be forewarned, as stated in the title, that this is rated M. So if you are easily offended by crude words or nudity, you might want to skip this one altogether!

In order to protect the identity of the (not so) innocent, I will refer to the everyone based on their role on the team, ie Artist, Designer, Worldbuilder, Engineer, QA, Admin (for Producer, MD, and ADM) and DAoC for members of the Camelot team. Having no shame whatsoever, I will not hide my own contribution to the following!

Artsy Pants

1. I go over to the artists to request some new art, knowing my chances are slim.
Me: Hey, I know you guys are busy, but what are the chances you guys could make me a crack tile.
Artist 1: A what?!
Me: You know, like a crack on the ground. We have one already but it's tiny and I need a big one.
Artist 1: You want a big crack?
Me: Yeah, a very big one. You know, a "big ass" crack.
Artist 2: Did she just say she wanted a big... "ass crack".
Me: *blushing furiously* NO!! NO! I'm sorry, I just meant, a big hole!
Artist 1: Oooh you want a big hole? And what you want to do with that hole?
Me: I just want a big hole, crack, fissure, w/e you want to call it for stuff to come out of.
Artist 2: A fissure now is it? So you want a big orifice that has something coming out of it? And you would like us to provide you with that?
Me: I'm not gonna win this one am I?
Artist 1 & 2: Nope.
Me: I hate you all! *walks away*
Artists 1 & 2: ROFL

2. We're commenting about the SA poster were the female gargoyles have boobs bigger than their head and where the male gargoyles frankly don't give us women much eye candy to drool over.

Engineer: Nah, they aren't too big!
Me: Dude, seriously, compare their size to her head!
Engineer: They're not... errr... oh wow!
Me: Told ya!
Engineer: Bah, still looks fine.
Admin and Me: *roll eyes and mumble something like "typical male"*
Artist: LOL
DAoC: Frankly, I don't care about the boob thing, but something else bothers me.
Artist: Oh?
DAoC: If gargoyles are hatched, how come she's got a navel?
All of us: OH SHIT! LOL!

3. We're having our weekly team meeting to update everyone on our current progress, what we've accomplished this weeks, hurdles and other tidbits.

Artist: Gargoyles finally have underwear!
All of us: *cheers and applause*
Me: So now that you're done playing with panties, you can get some real work done?
Admin: REGINE!
Everyone else: LOL!
Me: *with a not so innocent look* What? He said he was fiddling with undies!
Admin: *shakes head*

4. But nope, the underwear fiddling is far from over! I'm passing by the artists' desks when I overhear QA and Artist 1 discussing gargoyle undies issues.

Me: Dang brother, are you seriously still messing around with those undies?
Artist: No ma'am! I've done all the fiddling I could do, and passed them on to the next guy.
QA: And the next guy (*raises hand*) passed it on to the other guy.
Artist: Who is now trying to pass them on to someone else. You interested?
Me: Oh hell no! Them undies have been around too much for my liking. They must have all kinds of bugs by now.
QA: Quite the understatement!
Me: You can keep those to yourself, tyvm!

QA Woes

1. I'm talking with the artists about the new monsters when a QA passing by spots me and calls out my name.

Me: Go away, I don't want to talk to you!
QA: WTF? What did I do?
Me: I hate you! You're always giving me bugs!

*Moment of silence*

QA: You know, that kinda sounded wrong.
Me: Huh? Ohh?! OMG, I didn't mean it like that!!!
Artist: Dang QA, I thought you guys were supposed to help squash bugs. Not pass them around!
QA: I thought that's what I was doing!
Me: You guys suck... -_-

2. QA comes to my desk while I'm discussing with Admin

QA: Hey Reg, you know that word you used for your new system for SA?
Me: Yeah, what about it?
QA: Well you used it as a noun, but it's actually a verb so (suggestions) would fit better.
Me: Really? One of you guys suggested that word!
QA: Maybe, but it's not cuz English is our first language that we all speak it right!
Me: So I see.
QA: So can we bug it?
Me: Yeah, fine.
Admin: Wow, you just got vocabulary bugged!
QA: Bug write up: Designer language skills - FAILED!
Me: Haters! :(

3. Just when you thought it was over, the bugged undies come back with a vengeance. I go over to QA's desk to give him some extra info to help him test my latest contribution to the game. He's in the middle of explaining to Admin some of the undies issue. So I peek in!

QA: Female gargoyle for some reason has see through panties. But the male is just fine
Me: Oh wow!
QA: Yeah, that's pretty bad.
Admin: I don't think that would go down too well for our Teen rating.
Me: No kidding. That's quite the bush!
QA & Admin: LOL!
Admin: You haven't heard what he named her when she was hued all red!
Me: Huh?
QA: *hues the gargoyle red* Meet Ms. Firecrotch!
Admin & Me: ROFL
Me: You guys are so bad. *starts walking away*
Me: I guess we'll have to make craftable razors for Tinkers and shaving cream for Alchies!


1. An engineer drops by my desk to show me the latest improvements to the SA Map. I go to the link he provided me which loads a screenshot of it.

Me: Oh nice! I like this very much. A million times better than the old KR one.
Engineer: Yeah, it's pretty cool. Now lets see if we can get the other features in.
Me: *tries to click the X on the map to close the gump*
Engineer: OMG, did you just try to close a gump on a JPG?
Me: *blushes*
Engineer: LOL, epic fail! *walks off*
Engineer: Guys, guess what Sak just did?
Me: ugh!

2. We're having another weekly meeting

Engineer: So among you non-KR users, how many will start using the SA client when we launch?
Admin: I definitely will to macro.
Everyone: WHAT!? WTF?!
Admin: *blushes furiously* NO!! NO!! I meant, I like how you can set up macros with it. And it's much more user friendly than 2D for crafting!
Everyone: LOL.
Me: mmmmhmmm, you just so outted yourself! *eyes Admin suspiciouly*
Admin: You can all bite me!

Sunday, March 8, 2009


A while back, in a blog entry that would probably better qualify as a rant, I was expressing my rather unflattering views about groupies. So it's a little ironic to be talking about myself today as a fan girl. Though I will say there is a difference!! (At least there is in the twisted little world I evolve in!)

Last Thursday, we were having a design lunch to discuss SA (among other things) but mainly to come up with ways to try and fix the never ending saga of the ghost cams. And it was one of those discussions where you can see the goal, you can almost touch it, but there are so many hurdles in between you and it. You bounce ideas off of each other and they get shut down with very valid arguments, then revived with as valid counter arguments, and so on and so forth.

Halfway through the discussion, I was explaining why one of the proposed solutions wouldn't work because applied one way, it could be circumvented, while applied the other way, it would unfairly punish legit players. And it suddenly dawned on me (again!) that here I was, little Sakkarah from Atlantic, playing with the big boys. I mean to have Leurocian sitting at my right, Draconi and Uriah (Calvin) sitting across the table from me, and Wilki on my left, all of them paying close attention to my words and valuing my input, it was just eerie. And I was like "OMG, I'm still a fan girl!" Sheesh!

I was telling a buddy of mine about it and he said he didn't know how I did it. In my shoes, he would be too intimidated, afraid what he proposed would come across as lame, that he couldn't picture himself arguing against an idea these guys would come up with and that frankly, he didn't think they would give his ideas any real consideration. First off, I pointed out to him that he already argues with them about their ideas on the forums. And he was like, "Dang, you're right!" Of course I am! :P But I also explained to him that there is one thing I've learned over the years, mostly when I worked in the music and movie industry: even the greatest of idols is just another person. And being a yes man or a yes girl (ie a groupie) is the best way to make sure no one will ever care to hear anything you have to say.

It's not because you disagree with them that you have less respect or admiration for them. If you have been put in a position where your opinion or creative input is required, then you shouldn't be embarrassed or apologetic about it. Just be true to yourself and stand by what you believe in without trying to impose it onto others. That's always been my philosophy and I'm just too darn opinionated to act otherwise! I could go on a spiel about "have faith in yourself" and all that jazz, but I won't. Ok, ok, I lie. I had in fact written another four paragraphs which really ended up sounding preachy, self-righteous and holier than thou. So I delete them! (owned!)

Anyways, I just wanted to say that you know how sometimes you put people on a pedestal and once you meet them irl you feel it was a total let down? Well, I thought it was pretty cool realizing that after a year of working closely with those guys, I'm still a fan.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The New FICO

Aside from language, one of the first things that hit me when I first moved to the US is how everything here is ruled by your credit score. To get an apartment, utilities, cellphone and even certain jobs, your credit score is a major factor. So imagine me freshly landed in VA being told that even though the three US companies that monitor credit are exactly the same in Canada, they couldn't use my Canadian credit history in the US. As such, I was a nobody and therefore considered a credit risk. Imagine also that for the first month, I couldn't even get gas or electricity because they won't give it to you unless you have a social security number. Except it takes a little over 4 weeks for a new US resident to get one. This all translated as me having to make big security deposits for absolutely everything, including a $700 deposit just for a stupid cell phone.

So I was browsing the International Game Developers Association discussion group on Linkedin when I stumbled on the Reputation Share thread. Their goal is to provide a type of FICO score not for your credit history, but for your online behavior. I have to say I have extremely mixed feelings about it. Here's an excerpt from their information white paper:

"When someone registers on a site supported by ReputationShare, the service knows at least some of the following:
• This user is unknown. This email has never been used on any site in the participating network
• This user has reputation reports from 37 sites in our network. They have used these sites 5,233 times over the past 32 months without any negative incidents
• This user has 17 complaints against their reputation – 16 for spam, one for bullying...
• This user has made purchases from 73% of the e‐commerce websites they joined in our network. (You may want to greet this user with a discount coupon.)
• This user has bought from e‐commerce websites in our network 13 times, and reported for charge‐back fraud all 13 times.
• This user has been banned from one or more sites in our network for soliciting for sex from a user whose profile is that of a minor."

There is no question that it would be nice to track sexual predators, especially in MMOs. As a former guildmistress, I've had to deal with such situations: one where one of my female guildmember had to get a restraining order against a former guildmate who was stalking her in real life after she put an end to their in game relationship. Another where I found out that the 29 yo female I had just booted from the guild had been having cyber sex and phone sex with a 14 yo kid in the guild. And that makes me think yeah, I definitely would much rather keep such people out of the games I play or work on, and away from children.

Then you're looking at all the scammers, griefers and exploiters and thinking yeah, without such creeps, the game would be so much better! Problem is, people, especially in this last group, do change. My own experience (which is in no way meant to be taken as an official statistics) has been that most of the scammers and griefers are teenagers. Many exploiters also are teens with quite a few in their early 20s, but still fairly young and irresponsible. And I've found them to have really improved their ways as they mature. Problem is, your FICO has a way of sticking to you like white on rice. Repairing it can be extremely difficult.

Some of you will say "Tough luck! They should have thought about it first!" I don't quite disagree. You should be held accountable to a certain extent for your misbehavior. My problem is that FICO type of systems have too much of a "guilty until proven innocent" approach. As with my "coming to America" story, scoring systems punish you right off the bat with all kinds of penalties not because of any wrongdoings on your part, but simply because you haven't yet proven yourself.

I've known people who have always paid all of their bills on time, who owe nothing and who never borrowed because they don't believe in credit or being in debt. You'd think they'd be the ideal candidate for a mortgage right? But no, they can't get a loan because they don't have credit history. They are nobodies... Once rating Internet behavior becomes a standard, how long will it take before you're asked to make hefty security deposits because you are new to the scene or had a few misconducts years ago when you didn't know better? I support the idea behind this service, I just don't think I agree with the service itself.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Last week, a player was complaining on the forums about the range on using a certain ability. Since he had given a very clear, concise yet detailed explanation of the issue, it took me no time at all to verify the issue and turns out he was absolutely right, the range was way too limited. It was an extremely easy problem to fix so I did it right away and replied to the thread acknowledging the problem and informing the player the fix would be in the next publish. Yay? Not quite.

So a few players responded to the thread very pleased about both the fix and the speed at which said fix was put in. But then came the PMs of a few very disgruntled players giving me hell about clearly having no sense of priorities, questioning my IQ and wondering which "talents" I used to get this job since I'm obviously clueless about what players need! I wish I had a camera when I read the nastiest of those PMs just so I could have seen the expression on my own face. I'm sure even I would have had a kick out of seeing my own shocked expression :P

While the wording of those players' question was way out of line, the question itself was quite valid. When it comes to bugs, balancing or wish lists, how is the priority set? It all depends. Obviously, bugs that are game stopping or that could have a significant negative impact on the game in the long run (such as duping) take precedence over everything else. For the rest, the main factors taken into account are:

1. Severity of the inconvenience they represent
2. What other systems/features may be impacted by the fix
3. Amount of time required to fix it
4. Resources available to allocate to it
5. Balancing considerations required
6. The number of people affected by this bug

In this specific instance, the inconvenience wasn't game stopping but significant enough. It didn't impact any other systems and in fact, I had already spent the past month working on the specific system the issue was a part of. I knew specifically which script contained the line of code to be adjusted and it simply involved increasing a number from 90 to 200. Granted, I had to give it a few more minutes reflecting on potential balancing/abuse issues, but they proved to be nil/negligible. So overall, less than 10 minutes to fix something fairly inconveniencing. In terms of bang per buck, I'd say it's worth it.

The question then is why are the most inconveniencing issues not addressed right away? Well they are. But it's not because you are looking into an issue that you can fix it immediately. More importantly, not every fix is a good fix. And when a fix does more damage than good, sometimes it's better to just deal with the bug until a better fix can be found. I do not believe in punishing the majority of legit players just to prevent a minority of cheaters/exploiters. Over the years, I've seen fixes (in various games, not just UO) that have done just that. But then, is doing nothing any better? Definitely not. That's when a temp fix, partial fix or at least some form of a deterrent is put in place until better tools to permanently fix those issues can be developed.

You'll ask but what about the bugs that really wouldn't take a whole lot of time to fix, that wouldn't create notable imbalances and that have been sitting around for years? Well, that's when you start looking at point 6: how many players are impacted by this issue. And unfortunately, the good of the many does outweigh the needs of the few. It's like going to the ER. You've been waiting for 10 hours, the whole time watching people that came long after you go right in long before you do. And you're like WTF?! You are no less important than the next guy. Your pain is no less real. Is it fair for you to suffer much longer than needed just because your injury isn't as critical? Absolutely not. But when push comes to shove, the critically wounded won't survive if made to wait, you will.

If given the choice to fix 10 bugs in 1 day that will benefit 85% of the player base, or fix 1 bug in the same amount of time that will benefit 20% of the player base, which would you take? Would knowing that these 20% have been waiting for a fix for 4 months longer than the 85% influence your decision? What about knowing that the fix for the 20% also has a risk of creating new issues that will impact a yet unknown percentage of the player base but likely in the 50%-70% range?

So in the greater scheme of things, there never is an easy answer. While logic dictates to put the brunt of your effort towards the majority, no one should be made to wait indefinitely. Just like the guy sitting in the ER, don't hate the patient who got rushed in while you're still waiting. The doctors may be fighting a losing battle giving him CPR. Yes, your fractured bone hurts and it sucks having to wait so darn long, but it's nothing a good cast isn't guaranteed to fix.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Playing God

Or at least trying!! The whole team has been cranking up on Stygian Abyss. While my time is mainly taken up by Live Content and bug fixes, I've been contributing quite a bit to the expansion. Lately, it's all been about world building. Except, there's no resting for me on the 7th day because after 6 days, I'm far from being done!

Seriously, world building is the coolest thing ever. I always wanted to dabble into that. Granted, I did a bit of it when I was Level Designer, but it's not quite the same. Back then, I would design the layout, size, shape, main path... Now I get to do all that, but also get to dress it, make it organic and give it life. And man, is that ever time consuming! Any of you who have spent insane amounts of time customizing and decorating your UO house (or for non-UO players, if you have done it in games such as The Sims), try to imagine doing the same but for an entire city!

Why does the whole process take so much time? Well, first you need to decide what kind of environment we're building. In this case, we're on the Gargoyle City so the artists and designers had to come up with a look. I mean, if you were to walk into a Gargish civilization tomorrow morning, what would you expect their architecture to look like? How would that architecture be affected by the world they evolve in? When laying out the city, you have to factor in their type of society and the reality they live in. A nation in peril and under constant threat will likely build its cities like fortresses whereas societies accustomed to peace and abundance are more likely to be very spread out and maybe even nomadic.

Then comes the whole inner streets of the city itself. Government buildings should be easily accessible while fairly well protected. Markets should be laid out in a way to facilitate shopping while avoiding bottlenecks, regrouping similar trades, with the banks not too far away, with all of the above near main roads. How is the interaction between inhabitants affecting that layout (hierarchy, politics, religions...)? Are the roads wide enough? Are the buildings spacious enough? How annoying is it going from point A to point B? If I was living here or visiting this place for the first time, what would be a natural path for me to follow? Would I get hopelessly lost if I landed here tomorrow morning? Does the main path make sense or am I itching to rez-kill the architect?

But the worse part (yet also most fun) is decorating. Yeah, that building is sexy but it needs life. Problem is, it's one thing to decorate your own house, but decorating a world is a whole different ball game. It has to make sense for the target civilization. It must account for their customs, beliefs, politics and economics. But also for the fact that hundreds of players, their pets, spammers and spellcasters will be strutting their stuff alongside the NPCs that populate that world. So yeah, you could go all out making it pretty, but too pretty can also mean too laggy.

Until I started in this industry, I never really paid much attention to how buildings or cities were laid out. Well, except when something was clearly wrong with it or aggravated the heck out of me. If you walk into a castle and the prison is accessed through the king's closet, you would probably raise an eyebrow. You might actually be cussing up a storm because you spent 2 hours looking for the cells in the lower levels of the castle (as traditionally is the case) only to stumble on them by accident when exploring the higher levels while trying to complete a different task. But when a world/city is well planned, because things flow so well, you do not realize how much work was put into making it a seamless experience for you.

I'm not going to break any world building speed record but I sure am having a blast. So far, I've seen what I've made. I won't call it good (you be the judge of that!) but I think it's alright. Though as a wee bit of a disclaimer: once SA launches, if you ever fall through a hole in the floor and your character breaks a leg, don't throw stones at the world builders. It's probably my fault! :P

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Benefits of Failure

Odd title, right? But so accurate. And a shameless rip off of J.K. Rowling's Commencement Address at the Annual Meeting of the Harvard Alumni Association. Tomas Bryce linked me this speech a while back and it's well worth watching. So much of what she said rang true for me, especially this part:

"...the fact that you are graduating from Harvard suggests that you are not very well-acquainted with failure. You might be driven by a fear of failure quite as much as a desire for success. Indeed, your conception of failure might not be too far from the average person’s idea of success..."

The average person's idea of success... That sums it all. I've always had good jobs and respectable pay, which equated to contentment. I wasn't miserable, far from it. But I wasn't happy. Without happiness, is there truly success? The lack of misery kept me to that routine. I sometimes questioned if this is what I was meant to be, but I had already begun my slow death: I was getting "comfortable". I had just bought my 2nd duplex and was already planning an early retirement. The houses would be paid off by the time I'm 50 and the rental income from all 4 apartments, minus maintenance costs, would have me living comfortably. Great plan until disaster struck.

Out of pure stupidity, I had bought that second house without proper inspection, because I "trusted" the owner/seller who had also sold me the first house a few years before. I ended up with major emergency repairs to pay for. To make matters worse, a tenant in each of the duplex decided they weren't going to pay their rent anymore. With the Quebec Rental Board being extremely protective of tenants, it took nearly 5 months before I was rid of the first tenant, and 6 for the 2nd. Aside from that huge income loss from those 2 unpaid rents for half a year, I also had even more repairs to do in the 2nd tenant's apartment. He completely wrecked it then fled the premises a week before the judge finally granted me the eviction warrant. It was 1 week before Christmas.

Icing on the cake? I was working as a soundwoman in movie dubbing at the time. The industry entered a downward phase. Since we were unionized, layoffs were based on seniority. With only 2 guys hired after me, I was the third to go. Nobody moves in the winter in Montreal. So it was a few more months before I could find new tenants. By then, I was this close to losing both my houses.

It was a long uphill battle, but one I was determined to win. Movie dubbing was picking up again. The studio called me back but it wasn't the same. I already knew then that this wasn't it. I left them not too many months later for a better paying job. One day, looking for a 2nd part-time job to help get back to the "comfort" zone I once had, I stumbled on a job opening as QA Tester for Ubisoft. The schedule didn't fit mine but it got me browsing their site. And that is how I discovered they had just opened a campus in Montreal. The enrollment period for next year's students was ending in 2 or 3 weeks.

At the time, my head really wasn't into putting together a portfolio, but I knew I had to. Thank God for the events I had organized as a player in UO or I wouldn't have known what to send them to try to convince them I had "the right stuff" to be a designer. It was many months before classes started but the timing was perfect, just when I got my finances back under control.

What I got from this ordeal is: 1) it's ok to fail as long as your learn from it (namely don't ever trust a Realtor, spend that extra $500-$1000 and get a proper inspection!); 2) don't let failure defeat you but rather consider it as an opportunity to reassess yourself, your goals and explore ways to reach them. If not for all that mess, I probably would have remained in movie dubbing for a long time, and never truly been happy; 3)Never give up. I never lost hope (though I confess it wavered a lot) and it paid off as didn't lose my houses. Last but not least, 4) it was the trigger that sent me on the path to achieve the dream I had as a little girl of becoming a designer. If not for this, who knows how many more years may have passed before I realized there was finally a game design program in Montreal? By then, I might have considered myself too old to go back to school. God knows I wasn't the youngest at the campus! Yet if not for graduating from the program and working in the field in Montreal, I never would have qualified for the immigration requirements to work in the US.

Pain can sometimes be a much needed wake up call and a blessing in disguise.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Survivor's Guilt

This week was a pretty darn rough one. As someone was very quick to post on Stratics, we've just been through a substantial round of layoffs. Not just at the Mythic studio, but throughout EA. It's one thing when you hear the statistics, see some random dude bawling his eyes out on the news after getting laid off, but when it happens right in front of you to people you know and care about, it's a whole different ball game.

There's a number of things that go through your mind while what feels almost like apocalypse comes crashing down. At first, it's the panic: OMG, what will I do if it's me? Where will I go? How will I meet my obligations? Then it's the denial/rationalization: nah, it won't be me because (insert reason here)... Then the ugly finger pointing: if any one needs to be let go, it should be (insert name here) because (insert argument here). And then the list of casualties starts popping out, and each time you see one of the bosses walking towards you, your heart skips a beat and you pray that they will keep walking. Please let it be someone else... And when it turns out to be someone else, you struggle with relief, sorrow, sympathy and guilt.

When all has been said and done, the victims aren't just the ones who got laid off. The ones left behind are too, especially in a more family-type studio where a lot of people have been together for years and many actually are married couples or relatives/siblings. Not only did many of use lose long time friends but a lot of us also feel guilty that we were "spared" because we have less obligations, don't have families to support, don't have as much seniority, etc.

But life goes on. You resume your daily routine but the absence of those who left is felt even more strongly. It's not just the loss of the camaraderie, but also their contribution, that extra weight they used to carry that you now have to shoulder. All those things you always took for granted and now you're like errr... And it gives you a renewed appreciation for them. Too bad it's when they're gone.

I take the party to count my blessings. I still have a job I love, with an amazing team. I've seen how devastated our leaders were going through this painful process and how determined they are to make sure this doesn't happen again. A lot of studios shutdown but we weathered that storm. Way I see it, it's up to us to make sure our buddies will a home to come back to when the sky clears in a hopefully not too distant future.

Monday, February 2, 2009


I had to write this little rant because frankly, I don't get some people. With the current state of the US economy, you'd think people would have learned not to repeat one of the mistakes that led to the situation we're in, but nuh uh!

So I've been looking for a new crib because Fairfax is everything but cheap when it comes to housing. Before I moved to the US, I had to check out apartments online and only had 1 day in VA to visit them. I ended up taking the one that was the cleanest and the closest to work. That translated in a hefty $1600/m nothing included which was a little over 3x what I was paying in Montreal. Add to this another $200 for utilities, cable/internet, that made me cry every month :P

Almost a year later, I'm looking for something more reasonably priced for a single person and was even considering a roomy. So I see this ad about a fancy pants mansion where the lady wanted to lease a room or private suite to a single person with prices ranging from $800-$1100 everything included. So even with the suite, I'd still be saving $700 a month which is nothing to sneeze at.

I go check out the place. The house is honestly badass. Beautiful hardwood floor on the first floor. The kitchen & dining room area alone are as big as the entire condo I currently live in. Six bedrooms, wine cellar, wine tasting room, at least 3 fireplaces, the works! Except turns out her so-called suite is a set of 2 bedrooms and the prices have jumped from $800-$1100 to $1200-$1600. She also omitted to mention that she was planning on renting 4 of the 6 bedrooms in sets of 2, the 5th bedroom individually, keep the 6th one for herself, the wine cellar , the wine tasting room and the basement living area each as 3 individual room. So altogether, there would be 7 roommates sharing the house.

I'm like wtf?! So me, miss reluctant to have a roomy to now be living with 6 strangers? errrrr....

At that point, I already know this isn't for me, but the lady (who happens to be very charming btw), is very talkative and gives me and Sue (another lady who was visiting the place at the same time I was) a full spiel about the situation. So this $1.x million dollar mansion was for sale. She just bought it and is signing tomorrow. But since she can't afford it on her own, she's trying fill it up with tenants to cover the mortgage, taxes, insurance and utilities. She also doesn't quite have the down payment so she needs us to commit today, sign the papers and give the security deposit so she can have everything on hand the next day when she meets with the other folks for the closing.

I'm just speechless and trying not to slap her unconscious to try to knock some sense into her. She even had the nerve to complain that the lenders would not allow her to rent all 6 rooms individually or she would have had 9 people altogether (including herself) and made more money to cover her expenses. After I left, I went to check another place. By the time I got home, she had called my place 3 times in 1 hour and sent me 2 emails to see if I was ready to commit and remind me that she needed the deposit right away.

Now I don't begrudge the woman trying to get some help meeting her obligations by renting out part of her house. Everyone is doing it these days in Fairfax. But let's be real. Why the hell would you try to buy a house you KNOW you can't afford on your own? Why put yourself at the mercy of total strangers who can walk out on you any day and default on payment every other month? Tenants don't give a hoot if you lose your house. Why set yourself up for failure? Doing such an investment with family or long time trusted friends is one thing, but this is sheer stupidity.

I initially planned on buying too instead of renting a new place. Seen many I can afford, my favorite though would require me to stretch myself a little thin. But in the current economy, I made the choice to wait few more months, lower my expenses (especially rent) and build myself a safety net. Maybe I'm being too careful, but I don't care as long as I'm not yet another statistics.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Name Game

When Publish 57 notes came out, I got a few flames over the names of some of the new stealable items. Which frankly I accept because to be honest, I wasn't fond of some of the names either. So why didn't I change them? Well, I couldn't come up with something better. Yup, it's that simple!

Naming things or characters is probably one of the worse design challenges for me. First of all, I will think about a totally cool name in French but that sounds unbelievably cheesy in English. I also like the names to actually mean something and be relevant to the item/character they will be attached to. This translates as a lot of time spent searching name databases or trying to make up names that sound badass.

What actually got me posting this was watching our new flock of EMs going through the pain of trying to name their EM and RP characters. Some of them were ICQing me, banging their heads on the wall saying how they had spent hours/days just trying to come up with "the right name". And I could totally relate to that pain because every time I write a new quest or create a new item/reward, I go through that same headache.

Added to this is the fact that many players have a Ph D in nitpicking and will eat you alive for naming things the wrong way. I wish I could remember the details of a case a few years back where a certain resource used for crafting was the source of major flaming. Turns out the Dev had named it the wrong part of whatever the resource came from and players gave him hell saying this is not what is used to make this. This other part is! I thought it was silly to fuss over that, but that stayed in the back of my head.

While I don't believe in allowing ourselves to be bullied into basing content on fear of flames, I do believe that gaming can have educational value. People memorize the names of their "cool" items in game and it's well worth putting a little extra effort in appropriately naming stuff.

And so when I added the resource to the cocoa tree, I ended up spending quite a bit of time reading up on chocolate fabrication and cocoa trees to find an appropriate name for the resource and what it would look like. Same for the appearance of the tree itself. Ditto with the spider webs from the Halloween event. I didn't want to just plop a web deed as loot, that seemed a little lame. But paying a visit to my best friend wikipedia, I learned about gossamer and spinnerets and the rest is history.

Sometimes though, the names have hidden meanings, are meant to give people a smirk or are little winks winks. In UO, you will from time to time run into known characters such as the famous Barton who became legendary thanks to a very bratty Atlantic player. Many of you also ran into slimes named "a j wilson" after a game critic that had given UO bad reviews. Some are a bit more subtle, such as the Warren, the upset ghost (specter) of Ultima Underworld (Stygian Abyss) which was a wink wink to producer Warren Spector.

The problem is how much time spent picking names is justifiable? If you're half as picky as I am, an hour can have gone by and you're still nowhere near having found a suitable name, especially for characters. I shudder at the thought of ever trying to come up with a name for a baby! So sometime, when you see a lame name in any game, know that there are 3 probable reasons: a) the author has bad taste, b) the author gave up trying to come up with something l337, c) you have bad taste :P

Sunday, January 18, 2009


When programming, one of the things teachers always tell their students is the importance of commenting what you are doing. Some people would get utterly pissed for losing points for not commenting enough a script that was otherwise perfectly functional. As I only had a few scripting classes as part of the game design curriculum, I didn't realized the importance of those couple lines until now.

Designing in UO is very different than other games I've been on. Here we're jacks of all trades. We do world building, designing, decorating, storytelling and a heck of a lot of scripting. In fact close to 3/4 of our work is writing code. Problem is, this isn't like a console game where you normally have the engineers assigned to handle all the coding on specific levels and where once the game ships, that's it nobody messes with the code anymore (aside from a possible patch or two). In a MMO, and especially UO, it's not because you worked on this code today that someone else won't be using it next week or in 5 months from now. And as new content gets added or modified, properly commenting scripts takes a whole new meaning.

Ten months ago (dang has it really been that long?!) when I started on the UO team, I didn't have a whole lot of scripting experience. So this has definitely been quite a learning process. As such, I relied heavily on the work of my predecessors not only as inspiration but also as an educational tool. It's not just about how they did it, but often why they did it this way instead of that way.

What would really make me cry is opening a script with 1500 lines of code, not a single comment, funky variable names that mean nothing and function names that are even more meaningless. I will have to leave my opinion about naming conventions to another post, because I have quite a bit to say about that!

Luckily for me, there were also quite a few scripts that were little gems of comments. "This function does this". "I've handled it this way instead of that way (which would have seemingly been the logical way) because (insert reason here)". Or simple things like "this script is being attached to (...) by (...) and does (...)". And "I'm returning an integer instead of the object because (...)" or "I've added this block here to deal with an exploit where players (...)". Yes, this last part I've seen in plenty of scripts!!!

You cannot begin to imagine how invaluable those little comments are even for yourself. I go back on some of the earlier scripts I wrote and if not for my own comments I would be asking myself why the heck I did it this way. It saves so much time to not just sit there trying to figure out the logic. It can also spare others the pain you went through trying to figure out how something works next time around. By this I mean you tried to get something to work for days/weeks and finally realized that passing this type of variable will not work because the value is actually assigned elsewhere and totally bypasses what you are doing. Adding a one-liner comment saying: "note that this variable is handled by included script/function (insert name here)" will make you very popular with the next person to fiddle in this script.

On a side note, while you should always be professional in the comments you write in your scripts, some humor in good taste is never a bad idea. I like stumbling on the random comment that will make me smile, smirk or flat out lol. Speedman had a cute one that was more of a John Steinbeck wink, wink in the mace and shield glasses script where the first comment line read "Of Mace and Men". In one the Champ Spawn scripts, rather than giving one of the functions a bland "choose random players to give the scroll to", the comment was along the lines of "now the fun of picking some lucky dogs". In one of the buff scripts, the function where the buff was actually given to the player had "Beef me up, Scotty!" as a comment. Another that made me giggle (because I have a really silly sense of humor) was the "Ph4t L3wT, gImM3!gImM3!" comment where the reward was being generated on a boss monster.

In short, you should always comment your work. It shouldn't be a novel. One or two lines is usually more than plenty for a block of code. But it will do wonders for you and the people who will need to go into stuff you've done, especially if you had to handle something in a non-traditional way. The occasional smart humor is plus. Just remember that moderation is always in good taste!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Troubled Waters

I was having a heated debate with a friend of mine regarding the quality (or lack thereof) of recently released MMOs, upcoming ones, expected expansions and so on. It was interesting seeing how our opinions differ now that I'm on the inside compared to how similar they were when I was on the outside.

The fact is a number of new MMOs have failed despite a strong start and a lot of hype. Some expansions failed to deliver on revenues and player retention while other games have postponed themselves into oblivion. You have to ask yourself why do we always seem to miss our deadlines? Why do we cut corners or deliver stuff (too often) sub par or not to the level of reasonable expectations? Is it bad management? Incompetence? Cluelessness? Carelessness? Some dumb suit/corporate noob making decisions on stuff he doesn't know jack about?

Sometimes, it is indeed a bit of a mix of all of the above. But in truth, most of the time it's just that shit happens. Every time you think you've got a smooth sail ahead, you end up running into a freaking iceberg. If you're lucky, the iceberg just grazed your ship and with some paint you cover the scratches and you're as good as new. But often times, you hit it head on and next thing you know, you're taking water from every side. Fight hard as you may, sometimes there's just not enough escape boats. That's when you hear of games closing and projects being canceled. There was just no saving it. It was taking too much water and you have to make the decision: do we cut our losses and save who/what we can, or do we all go down with the ship?

Some other times, the ship doesn't sink despite a mighty blow. The crew will work around the clock, pull every trick imaginable, do whatever it takes to see that it reaches the shore. It will be banged up, battered and look like crap, but it will have made it. Was it worth saving though? What's the point of a cruise ship that no one will set foot on? I mean, you could take another year and pull the whole fixer upper but are there any funds left to do that? How about the crew? After weathering such a bad storm, a few people will think twice about setting another foot on that deck. And if despite all that you manage to pull through, there is the real possibility that by the time you're finally ready to launch, your potential customers will say "bah, the whole cruise ship deal is so last year!" Too bad you were wallowing neck deep in troubled waters then.

There are never any certainties in game development. Sometimes things simply go your way. You've got wind in your sails and everything is a joy ride. Other times, it's just one squall after the other. As a "sailor" myself, I can empathize with crews who have seen their own ships go down or are struggling to keep it afloat. I know how much blood, sweat and tears gets poured into it.

Whenever you start a journey, you can never know how far it will take you. The (must see!!) miniseries From the Earth to the Moon is a fine example of what game development can be like. Obviously, the series isn't about video games, but it shows how many unexpected hurdles you need to overcome during development process. How even the tiniest mathematical error can cause major setbacks. And that at times, only a near catastrophe can give you that much needed second wind.

I'm blessed to be part of an amazing crew, with a captain I respect and a ship I love. She has withstood her fair share of storms and God only how many more await us ahead. But I have good faith that she and we will take each other home safely.