Developer Chat Live from GenCon '99'
The following is an edited excerpt of the live Zone chat held with Asheron's Call game developers on August 6, 1999. The developers attended the chat from Microsoft's booth at the GenCon game fair, the largest hobby gaming convention in North America.
+MrQuazarr@Zone> Welcome, everyone, and thank you for attending the Asheron's Call chat from GenCon. We have three very special guests with us today to give an update on the status of Asheron's Call, a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game developed by Turbine Entertainment and produced by Microsoft. We have Chris Pierson, AC_GenCon, who is a game designer at Turbine working on Asheron's Call. Also joining us is Toby Ragaini, auberon@turbine, who is the design director and the lead designer on Asheron's Call. And finally the Program Manager for Asheron's Call, Matthew Ford, stucco@zone.
+MrQuazarr@Zone> Each will give a brief update on the status of Asheron's Call and talk about the new and exciting features and updates in the recent Beta 2 release. Following their presentation, you will be able to ask questions of each. We may not be able to get answers to all questions, as the game is still in development. If you have questions about your potential status in the beta or access to the beta, these three will not be able to help you, unfortunately. You will need to write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
+MrQuazarr@Zone> With that said, let me first introduce Chris Pierson, who is live at GenCon right now.
AC_GenCon> Hi. We're on our second day now, and the booth is pretty much packed with people. They seem pretty impressed with the game. We were mentioned in the local paper, which seems to have made people give us an extra-careful look.
+MrQuazarr@Zone> Thanks, Chris! Next, Toby Ragaini. Toby, what is new on your front of Asheron's Call?
auberon@Turbine> Hi, everyone. We've been very busy here, and beta 2 seems to be shaping up nicely. We've already got allegiances consisting of several hundred players, and many people are playing over six hours a day! Overall I'm very excited about the way the game is shaping up, and I hope I can answer your questions tonight.
+MrQuazarr@Zone> Thanks, Toby! Finally, Matthew Ford, the program manager for Asheron's Call.
Stucco@Zone> Thanks... Hi, everyone! We are now entering a major new phase of beta. We have let all our existing beta players in on the "beta 2" code and content. It's awesome. People are loving it. The game looks and plays better than ever, which is saying a lot. We now have about 300 online at once, BUT...
Stucco@Zone> I'm pleased to make a big announcement! We have just sent out email to thousands more of the beta testers who are on the waiting list. They will soon be getting all the info they need to install and play the game. We will be aggressively letting in more people all the time... If you are on the official beta list (and you know who you are), keep an eye on the inbox for the next couple weeks!
Stucco@Zone> We are looking forward to seeing the game flourish with new blood...so to speak. Heh heh.
+MrQuazarr@Zone> Thank you, all three! Sounds like Asheron's Call is really shaping up to be one of the top Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games. I would like to open the floor up to questions now. Please keep a few things in mind when you are asking questions. Please keep the questions appropriate to Asheron's Call and keep in mind the Zone Code of Conduct.
Evaksrathi> What, if any, sort of innovations does AC have to offer to gamers over other games of the same genre? And how do you plan to incorporate the advancement of technology? Will AC be up-to-speed when 300-600mhz cpus and 16-32meg 3d cards become the "norm" within the next two years? It seems that computer technology is getting better, faster, and cheaper at quite an astounding pace.
Stucco@Zone> I'll answer the technological question. AC has an amazing detail-on-the-fly system. It detects your frame rate. And as your rate gets better, it pours more polys onto the screen. So if you have older hardware, it's very playable. But if you have a screamer of a machine, it scales up nicely
auberon@Turbine> That's true. Also, we can update the artwork with a newer higher-polygon model to effectively keep up with the improvements in tech. I'd also like to address the feature-comparison question. AC was designed to support thousands of gamers in some interesting ways. One of these is the emphasis on social systems. Some of you might be familiar with the allegiance system, which allows characters to recruit other players, and gain experience and rank for doing this. In beta, we are seeing some very cool player interaction which is derived from people roleplaying in their allegiances.
Bob_Bowrest> I've been playing beta since April, and so far I see three major roles emerging: Archer, Mage, and Swordsman. While it is fun to go around killing things and becoming better at killing things, I was wondering if some other roles would be opening up, such as craftsmen or scouts. In particular, I was hoping that one day I would be able to craft fine weapons or armor.
AC_GenCon> Actually, yes, now that you mention it. We're currently phasing in some craft skills for the beta: Cooking, Fletching, and Alchemy. So you'll be able to create some stuff, and make some items to help other craftspeople do their jobs even better.
Oewyn000> Are there going to be houses that players can buy, placed or not? And (I'm not in the beta) do spells require components to cast?
AC_GenCon> Second question first -- yes, spells do require components. We have a fairly complex language of components. Each component can have one or more meanings, some of which vary from one spellcaster to another. Also, spells will consume components (as will spell research).
Stucco@Zone> As for houses, right now Dereth is a frontier world; everyone has just arrived. It's a bunch of small towns in a wilderness. And the lifestyle is nomadic. We have the capability of letting people buy or quest for houses. But frankly we are planning for the long term here. And we want to avoid "gentrification" at the moment. Don't worry -- the world will evolve. And you'll see Dereth grow into cities. But for now we want to keep people wandering the wilderness, finding their home.
__YAG> Hello, I have been reading the AC page and I have a question. What types of monsters will there be and how will hit points be decided?
auberon@Turbine> Well, at the moment there are over 40 different types of monsters, and each of those types can have a lot of variety. You might find a tumerok warrior, or if you're really unlucky, a tumerok high priest. These monsters of course vary widely in their ability, so wise players will assess monsters before attacking them.
Adory> As primarily a noncombatant -- what assurances would I have that I am welcome in this world? What social structures will encourage trade/craft/socialization? What type of gold and money sinks will regulate the world economics? Or will this be called a world and merely be a very pretty Quake, a la EQ?
auberon@Turbine> First of all, you don't have to be a combatant in the game world, and as Mr. Pierson mentioned, we will continue to introduce the trade skills so that we will have a complex array of different items to make. As for the money sink question... to become a truly powerful player in the game, you need to be a monarch with hundreds of players in your allegiance. Managing this allegiance requires a steady stream of time, money, and equipment if you want to stay on top.
MDK_Linus_1> What inspirations from other games are influencing Asheron's Call?
auberon@Turbine> We were inspired by a lot of sources actually. Of course pen-and-paper RPGs are near and dear to the development team, and also the old text-based MUDs.
TSC_SgtBernard> Hail, GenCon, I am currently in the beta and have been since Beta 0. I want to know when they will implement some sort of Banking System?
AC_GenCon> Effectively, that's what trade notes are. Give a shopkeeper money, and he'll give you a note saying he owes you gold. With that in there, a bank would really be redundant.
DarkCouncil> Can we expect to see player-focused quests, giving US roles in the game? Quest Items that give the general populace incentive to either praise people, or oppose them? Quests with enough potency that they influence happenings in Dereth?
auberon@Turbine> Yes, part of what AC has in its arsenal is some technology that allows us to create new quests and seamlessly integrate them into the game. What I want to do is create quests that pit allegiances against one another, and get some really interesting competition going on.
dadown> The latest beta introduced cooking, fletching, and alchemy skills, all of which I've tried and found interesting; however, with current pricing they don't seem useful, as it costs more to make things that they can be sold for. Did I miss something?
auberon@Turbine> Well, we admit that we won't get everything perfect the first time... Fortunately, that's why we have a beta. Ideally, players should be able to profit from their hard work, but not so much that the trade skills become a "press to get money" button.
ULTRABob> Will there be a fee after buying the game?
Stucco@Zone> We have not officially released the pricing plan. However, you can get some inkling when you see what the other online RPGs are doing and that the other Premium games on the Zone charge a monthly fee. Rest assured that we will be competitive, and we will give you plenty for your money.
Spartan1> Will there be any new requirement base for weapons and armor? It's a bit too easy to get good equipment now.
AC_GenCon> Now that we've done a fair bit of testing on magic items, we're going to be upping restrictions, making them more skill-based. That sword of mondo strength will require a lot of skill to wield.
TSC_MacGyvar> Hey, just a comment... Thanks, I think AC is GREAT. I've been in since beta 0, and I love it. I hope it will be around a long time in the running and ya'll keep up the awesome work =)
auberon@Turbine> Hey, thanks a lot.
Xx_AzBoy_xX> I am an avid game enthusiast and professional programmer. With the apparent success of AC, are you hiring/recruiting Game Developers/Programmers or Game Administrators? If so, what is the process to apply?
Auberon@Turbine> Yes, we are hiring for a lot of different positions. Please visit Turbine's website for info. If you don't see a position that describes what you do, send your resume anyway.
kalgen> As the final release of Asheron's Call approaches, what kind of on-going support and maintenance will the game have to keep it entertaining for the next 2+ (?) years? Can you share any information on the design of any sequels or spin-offs?
auberon@Turbine> We will have a full-time team at Turbine dedicated to supporting the game post-release. While I can't speak about spin-offs, my hope is that AC will be around in some form for many years.
RUZie> How are events going to be handled? Are you just going to do things like have big-scale wars or are you going to have "major" things like the new race war servers for Everquest. Or both?
auberon@Turbine> We want to introduce many categories of events, from small, player-run to huge events that radically change the shape and story of the game, and because we can easily, and seamlessly, add new content to the game, we plan to deliver.
LL_Mystic> Has any thought been given to players who wish to have their own guilds similar and yet different from the allegiance system? IE -- will there be guild affiliations or a main town structure that could allow you to teleport to a guild room/house?
Stucco@Zone> One thing coming on the Zone is a system where players can form their own teams and associations, with their own "dossier" with info such as web page contacts, a leader who can permit/reject applicants, and such. This system can dovetail into AC nicely. For now we will let the allegiance system do its magic, but having AC pick up the Zone's system of player groups or clans will not be difficult. [Editor's Note: See info after this chat transcript.]
Xinua> Sorry to bring up this again. But I'd like to have a straightforward answer, please. Will there be some sort of player-owned houses by the time of release? (If not, will you have paying customers paying for the testing when it is introduced?)
Stucco@Zone> I can clarify. We will not have an automatic system for players to buy houses on the day we release. As for paying-customers doing testing, this kind of game is always adding features. We will NOT release to the paying public something that is buggy. When we roll it out, it will be of high quality. We plan to keep a running background beta of volunteers even after ship, testing more advanced features.
Grummash> How well suited is the game to players who wish to interact with others without becoming bonded to them through recruitment or guilds? I am wondering how well a "Loner" will fare in-game.
auberon@Turbine> While it's true that I think AC's emphasis is on the social potential of online gaming, as a solo player myself, I think it's perfectly possible to make a great character without being aligned to any person or group. I know this because I've been doing just that.
Khaele> What kind of support can player-run quest organizations expect from the developers and staff? I have plans to run such an organization (Call to Adventure) when AC goes commercial.
auberon@Turbine> Well, the Zone will support player-run events using a special calendar utility that lets certain players pencil in their event. If, say, a certain player event became popular enough, the dev team would be happy to create content appropriate to supporting that event.