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.