Monday, May 13, 2013


I meant to write more about Defiance long ago, but actually working on Defiance kept me so busy that I just didn't have time!  So what's this game I've been working on?

Defiance launched on schedule on 2nd April.  That date was non-movable due to the tie-in with the TV show launch, so yes, there were definitely some late nights coming up to launch. At least 6 months of them. Yep, it would have been nice to push the date back, but we hit the deadline and the game is live.  It was an amazing experience to watch how much and how well the game improved and grew to completion over that time! As the first game on which I've worked as a producer (they hired me as an associate, but soon promoted me to producer of the design team) it was one heck of a learning experience, without doubt.  One I value highly.

I'm going to assume anyone reading this blog is somewhat familiar with the Defiance story, but in a nutshell: set a few decades in the future. Group of alien races in ark ships flee a dying star system and arrive at earth intending to colonize it, only to discover -- oops -- it's already occupied.  Years of negotiations ensue, earth not being at all happy to welcome intergalactic immigrants onto an already-crowded planet.  Some settlement starts but also some fighting, and at some point a disaster occurs: the ark ships parked in orbit (still containing most of the aliens and their colonization equipment) explode.  Accident or sabotage? Human or alien doing? Nobody knows, but the damage from the destruction of the fleet, the ensuing war, and the not-as-occasional-as-one-would-hope alien terraforming equipment falling to earth and running amok result in a very changed planet.  After years of war, remnants of both human and alien armies band together and defy orders that would result in massive civilian deaths, and the "defiance" movement begins to spread peace (albeit a highly-armed and rather jumpy type of peace).  

Set in the area once known as San Francisco, the game allows players to take the character of "ark hunters", highly skilled types who make their living from recovering ark tech and similar valuables.  Meanwhile in what was formerly called Saint Louis, the TV show follow the town of Defiance and its new mayor as they try to rebuild their city and protect themselves from outside dangers, of which there are no shortage.

The main characters from the show actually started off in the game, offering a series of missions that allowed game players to interact with the characters Nolan and Irisa.  At the end of the mission line, the two depart, taking with them a crystalline bit of ark technology that later plays an important role in the pilot episode of the show.  

Screenshot of Irisa, Nolan, and my character retrieving the ark tech in the game:

...And two weeks later, in the TV show pilot episode, Nolan and Irisa using the same tech to help the town of Defiance.

Here's the Defiance launch trailer and one with a little more back story:

And also, the live-action trailer and digital comic Ark Hunter chronicles that led up to the game's release:

Defiance is a strange beast, one from which nobody quite seems to know what to expect. It launched on three platforms: PC, Xbox, and PS3, which I believe is the first time any MMO has ever done that (and, having seen what was involved in getting that to happen, I fully understand why).  It is an MMO, but not what you'd call an MMORPG. And in the gaming world of today where pretty much everyone hears "RPG" at the end of "MMO", that's definitely unexpected.  It's a shooter, but third person, and massively multiplayer. It ties in with a TV show but is not dependent on it nor dictated to by it.  As executive producer Nathan Richardsson described it, Defiance is an "MOTSCTPOWS": Massively-Online-TV-Show-Connected-Third-Person-Open-World-Shooter.  I think Defiance's refusal to fit neatly into any existing game category is illustrated very well by the extremely polarized reviews on sites like Metacritic:

User reviews have totally polarized into "love it" or "hate it" with almost nobody in between, while critic reviews do the exact reverse. My interpretation of this madness (also based on reading comments) is that players who had a particular expectation ("it'll be an MMO like WoW!" "it'll be just like Call of Duty!") are strongly disappointed when it is not, but those who didn't have a strong expectation just play it with no expectations and have a ton of fun.  Meanwhile the critics really have no idea what pigeonhole to fit it into, so they judge it on every possible category that a MMO or shooter might be judged on, which of course ends up right on the fence, since Defiance does some MMO things well and doesn't do others; and some shooter things well and doesn't do others.

I quite liked the review from TotalBiscuit which I think does a fair job summing up the things Defiance does well and still needs to improve on, and why a shooter MMO has to do some things in slightly different ways.  Defiance is definitely an odd beast, but I'm very proud of all the design team did in the year up to launch.  There are some amazing talents on the team and it's been impressive watching them at work.  If you picked up, or will pick up, Defiance then I hope you enjoy it!  It's not my normal type of game but I find myself enjoying playing, and it's great to have an MMO game where you can hop in and have fun for an hour without feeling you need to set aside your whole evening. Having played through the entire game post-launch I definitely had a lot of fun, while also seeing places there's room for future improvement.  But of course, that's always the case with MMOs, the development is never really over.  Looking forward to seeing what future DLCs and expansions will bring, and hopefully many other players are also!  Since apparently over a million players have registered for Defiance so far, seems there are a lot of other people looking forward to it also. 

Above: Nolan talking to my character, while Irisa waits.  
Below: a little accident I had in San Quentin. Did I do that?  Er, well, yes I did. Fun times...

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Blast from the past: an interview with me from 2006!

While googling for something else entirely, I discovered this TenTonHammer interview with me from back in February 2006.  "Adeste" is the name of the main EverQuest II character I played at the time, primarily a carpenter.  I didn't even remember that this interview existed.

To put this into perspective, in February 2006 I was still working as an IT manager in Australia. EQ2 was about a year and a half old, had launched its first expansion about 6 months prior to the interview, and was looking forward to the second expansion Kingdom of Sky.  I had no idea at this time that I would be hired by SOE to fix the very tradeskill system I was complaining about in this interview; that didn't happen till April 2007. (Coincidentally my interviewer, Tony Jones, also later ended up working for SOE!) Carpentry (and tradeskills in general) back then were in a very sad and neglected state, and I was just a passionate forum poster trying to highlight ways they could be improved.  The dev team didn't have anybody who really understood what the players in this niche wanted, and they were actually starting to debate whether to change tradeskills to require adventuring, like many MMOs do these days, instead of continuing to support the ability for tradeskillers to be independent of adventuring.  And of all the tradeskill classes, carpentry was the least understood because it had absolutely nothing to do with adventuring at all. Housing was basic but also sadly neglected.  But I believed in its potential!

It's fascinating to read now what I wrote back then and see how much of it I actually did fix once I was hired.  Most of the statements I made back then are beliefs I still hold true, and which I spent almost 5 years on the EQ2 team working to support and improve.  The tradeskill system in EQ2 is now unique among MMOs in providing a broad, robust, and adventuring-level-independent playstyle.  The housing system in EQ2 is the best housing system in any MMO (though Rift's new dimension system and EQ1's new housing have done a good job too, albeit both by mirroring EQ2's extremely closely and both of which I was asked for advice on).  Prestige houses, which I'd been championing since 2007, finally came into existence and are extremely popular. Furniture items went from a neglected "here are 30 types of barrels and 20 tables" which none of the designers understood what to do with, to highly desirable rewards that are now both given out by quests and sold for real $ on the marketplace, as well as being a mainstay of carpenters.  I'm very proud of the part I played in transforming tradeskills and housing, and really believe it had a fundamental impact on the continued longevity of the game. And huge gratitude is due as always to Scott Hartsman, who took a chance and hired me to replace Beghn, changing the EQ2 tradeskilling/housing game forever, for better or for worse (the former I hope)!

Anyway, I was tickled pink to find this interview just now, so I'm reposting it below to preserve it for posterity.

[Also: editing the original post to add, as a friend pointed out on Facebook, it's pretty hard core to give an interview about a job that you won't be hired to do for another ~year and a half. I should be a time traveler!]

Crafting with the Carpenters

An Interview with One of EverQuest 2's Premier Carpenters

by: Tony "RadarX" Jones

Ask anyone who knows me if I craft. Go ahead. You'll probably get "Radar? Ha!" or "Radar? Who is that? Oh, that Templar who keeps getting us killed?" I claim to know just enough about crafting to be destructive and hazardous. Crafting in my mind, is taking a rare harvest to the crafter, and waiting very impatiently for my Adept III spell.

Over the course of a few months, I've read post after post about Carpenter issues. Statements like, "Where are the Tier 6 recipes?", and "Why don't we get cooler furniture?", etc... I'll admit I was quick to judge them as complaints, but even recently I've still been in the dark about what was going on. Adeste was gracious and kind enough to enlighten me on what it's like to be a Carpenter, and what a few of their issues are.

Adeste, thanks again for answering a few questions about this. First, tell us a little bit about your MMO experience. What have you played?
I was first introduced to graphical MMO's when I started playing the original EverQuest back in 2001, around the time of the Kunark expansion. Prior to that I'd dabbled a bit in multiplayer text games via local BBS systems, but the graphics of EverQuest brought a whole new dimension to MMO's for me and I played it until EverQuest 2 was released.  I took a brief look at Star Wars Galaxies and some others, but I work full time and don't have time to play more than one MMO at once, so I've remained pretty loyal to the EverQuest genre.  I have City of Villains sitting on my desk waiting to be installed though - at the moment I'm enjoying EverQuest 2 too much to try it out, but if my interest wanes, that will be the next in line.
EQ2's crafting system takes a special type of patience according to most people. What is your motivation to craft?
I get a lot of enjoyment out of other people's enjoyment, if that makes sense. It's something I have noticed since the original EverQuest - although so many people like to say it's "just a computer game", it isn't. The people on the other end of the pixels are real people, and you can really touch their lives with your actions. A week from now, you won't remember who you grouped with; a month from now, you won't remember the item you just looted from that named monster; and a year from now, whatever money you've saved up so far will seem completely trivial, if you remember at all. But years after the fact, you'll still remember a kind turn done for you by a complete stranger and the pleasure that you got from someone doing something nice for you. More than two years after the fact (and over a year since I've even logged into the first EverQuest) I've had a player that I thought was a total stranger, find out the name of one of my EQ1 characters and suddenly start gushing in vivid detail about how I met her young EQ1 druid in PoK one day and gave her some help and some equipment. I have no memory at all of the event, but I was floored what a huge impact it apparently had on the player. This is the real reward from the game that we'll take away years from now, not the number of heritage quests or the amount of platinum we have, but the real people's lives we've touched, and the real people we've made smile.

So what's this got to do with my motivation to craft? I craft because it's a way of helping other people and improving their game experience. As a carpenter, I give away a lot of furniture for prizes in roleplay events, and I donate furniture to houses set up as roleplay taverns, to encourage the community on my server. I give away beds to newbies arriving in my home village, to welcome them to the village and sometimes to the game. Playing my jeweller, I always keep a few items I've made in my bags when I go out hunting, and if I get in a pickup group, my groupmates get any upgrades they need. Crafting just to make a profit is as mindlessly dull to me as farming a named monster over and over. Boring! But crafting with the goal of helping someone or doing something creative with the result is much more interesting, as you keep your mind on the final outcome and know that it will be making someone else's day, not just your own.
What drew you to this class? Why Carpentry over some of the more popular classes like Sage?
What drew me to carpentry is the tangible outcome of my work. In all the other tradeskill classes, you don't end up with something you can place and see and touch and admire. Nothing else results in a physical object added to the world. Classes that make consumables - like spells, poisons, and food - seem very ephemeral to me. Even classes that make equipment for others, such as weapons and armour, aren't as satisfying. An adventurer will wear the item for 10 levels, then sell it to a vendor, and it'll be gone as if it never existed. But furniture is forever, and can be enjoyed by everyone who sees it, not just the wearer. 
EverQuest 2 does seem to have some interesting furniture. Do you think tradeskilling is done more for the money or the creative aspect?
I think it depends entirely on the player. Tradeskilling CAN certainly be done to make money, as can adventuring. Tradeskilling can also be done for fun, as can adventuring. There does seem to be a perception out there among adventurers that you make tons of money by tradeskilling, and maybe even that you NEED to tradeskill to make money. That's rubbish. Nobody who actually tradeskills to any extent would agree with that. You can make money by tradeskilling; you can make money by adventuring. You can make money by doing neither, and playing the market. If you want to make money, you will, and you don't need to tradeskill to do it. Personally, I earn very little money from tradeskilling and support my habit of giving furniture away with my non- tradeskill income. I tradeskill for the creative and social aspect. But that's a decision that's different for every player.
Carpenters have the unusual distinction of being the only crafting class that doesn't affect adventuring. What niche do you feel your tradeskill fits?
What I like most about carpentry is that it is the one and only class that can actually affect the physical environment of Norrath. And that's pretty cool. Carpenters, in our small way, actually add content to the game. Perhaps it's the aspiring game designer in me, but I find it very enjoyable to start with an empty "zone" - ie, a bare room - and create content. Through furniture items I can entirely change the look of the room, I can create a cheerful or a dark or a scary atmosphere, I can even add "mobs" to my "zone" with the use of house pets and arena champions. And whatever I create, others can enter and appreciate, and be influenced by it. I think that's an amazing ability for any class to have, tradeskill or adventurer. And there's nothing like decorating someone's room while they're out, then watching them enter for the first time and just stand there stunned, saying "holy $#!%!" That's something no other class can do, ever.

So no, carpentry doesn't affect adventuring directly, but it has the potential to affect everybody, adventurer or not. I feel carpentry has the potential to enhance the immersion of the game, and to enhance the roleplay aspect of the game also. And that even goes as far as to help keep people in the game, when they might otherwise have left. There are some people whose rooms I've decorated who barely play any more, but they still log in every now and then and go pay their rent, just to spend some time in their rooms! It's remarkable what the perception of having a "home" means to people, and how it enhances their enjoyment of the game and keeps them coming back. It may seem odd to those who aren't carpenters, but there is something very compelling about having a little corner of Norrath that is yours alone, and customized to your tastes. It's the difference between EQ2 being "a game", and being "a home". Even the least roleplay-interested players can be utterly blown away by a nice home decoration and completely converted to being house-proud. It's very hard to quantify the value carpentry adds to the game environment, but I think it is very important, and very underestimated.
What is the biggest outstanding issue you feel the Carpenters have right now?
Missing furniture. Months and months ago - nearly a year now - NPC vendors sold furniture. There are still furniture stores in North Qeynos and East Freeport, though they no longer sell much. Many of their items looked identical to carpenter-made items but were much cheaper than we could make those items, so of course carpenters protested and asked that the identical items be removed. What actually happened though was that EVERY item they sold was removed, whether or not carpenters could make it. Some of those items were then given to carpenters, but although it was Frizznik's intention to give us all the recipes, many of the very nicest items were never added to our books. These items are now unavailable in game, neither from NPCs nor from carpenters. They include items like bookcases with books on them, wardrobes, stoves, urns, beds, and counters. As a carpenter, the three most-requested items that people ask from me are: ornate counters, bookcases with books, and chess boards. And there is nothing at all I can give them for any of these. Carpenters have been begging for these recipes for longer than I care to remember, with no response. It's very disheartening.

A more recent peeve, and a big one, is the fact that it's nearly half a year since tier 6 was added and carpenters still don't have advanced crafting books. If it were any other crafting or adventuring class overlooked in this way, all hell would have broken loose long ago. Carpenters are a pretty mature and realistic bunch, and realized that there were a lot of other more pressing issues after the DoF release that needed fixing before advanced furniture recipes. However, half a year is definitely too long to keep any class waiting for a fix, and the discontent levels in the carpentry forum are rapidly rising. 
I have a compiled list of outstanding bugs and wish lists related to the class here.
How pleased are the Carpenters, in your opinion, with the craftable items in the game now before Kingdom of Sky?
I'd say it's a very mixed situation. As mentioned above, the three items we're asked for most, we can't make, so that's pretty discouraging. We do have many very nice items though, the rough linen rug and the halasian bearskin rug being two of my favorites. We have odd gaps in some areas though that really need filling -- for example, there are no non-rare large dining tables that have a nice polished surface, and no wardrobes at all. Tier 6 furniture was a mix of very nice items and really awful items, but didn't give us any new tables or chairs at all, and most of it is too large to put in a 1-room home. There is an excellent post in the carpentry forum ( here) providing screenshots and suggested recipes for many items that we would love to see in game. I'm really hoping that someone is listening and that many of these will show up in tier 7, and be added retrospectively to some of the lower tier books too. But at present, we're in an odd situation where about 70% of our items we will almost never make, and only 30% are actually desirable to most players. So ... not very happy, is the answer. We're getting by, but there's a LOT of room for improvement.
What type of items are you hoping to see the Kingdom of Sky bring?
Ornate counters. Bookcases with nice colourful books and objects built in. Wardrobes. Nice non-rare tables with a professional, polished wood look texture, not the horrible crude rough greys of lower tiers. Those sconces from Stormhold that look like a flaming sword. More carpets, preferably with more intricate texture than the tier 6 ones (more like the tier 5 rough linen). Wall hangings. Chess boards. Smaller items than the gigantic tier 6 ones -- items that will reasonably fit in a 1-room home. Room divider screens, like the ones in Maj'dul. Nicer beds, like the ones in Poets Palace and Deathfist Citadel. Display cases and counters. Pool tables, like the ones in Nektropos Castle. And, tier 6 rare recipes. Basically, everything in this thread: here.
Beghn has been on the job with revamping Tradeskills for only a few months. Has he made progress? Do you think SOE is heading in the right direction?
It's hard for me to say that, because I don't have visibility of everything that he has been working on. I know he's been very busy fixing a number of the bugs that were introduced with tier 6 tradeskills, and I know that people in the affected tradeskills have been happy with his solutions, so that's good work. From a carpenter point of view, I have to say there hasn't been much sign of progress in our craft, but Beghn is only one man covering a huge area -- what I would really like to see is a whole team of tradeskill devs, not just one. It would be completely unrealistic to have just one dev handle all the adventuring development -- I feel it's equally unrealistic to have just one dev handling all the tradeskill development. SOE will be heading in the right direction when they hire more tradeskill devs to help Beghn, make some clear vision statements clarifying where they want to see crafting going over the next few years, and interact more with the crafting community for feedback into that process.
I couldn't speak to the popularity of Adventuring versus Tradeskilling, but I can see your point. If you could be guaranteed a fix on one Carpenter bug what would you choose and why?
Does missing furniture count as a bug? If so, I want my missing furniture! It's really challenging to decorate a room without access to some of the nicest items in game, and it's really painful to see the few remaining leftovers from the NPCs being sold on the broker for 10p and more because of their rarity.

If you mean an actual technical bug, I'd want to see the furniture placement issues fixed. Many of our bookcases are bugged so you can't actually place any books in them. The briarwood bookcase is the worst offender here, but most of the bookcases have the same issue at least to some extent. Given that we still haven't been given the recipe for bookcases with books in them, it's rather adding insult to injury that they haven't even fixed the empty bookcases we do make so you can place quested books in them!
If you could change something about the Tradeskill system as a whole, what would you change?
I would change the way that experience is earned across the crafting levels. It doesn't make sense for crafters to level up so fast through teir 1 that they can't even make half the items in their recipe books, yet have to make piles of finished product to get through the upper levels. There is a chronic shortage of crafted stuff in tier 1-3, and a vast glut on the market in upper tiers, because crafters have to make more and more of the products as they rise in level. Yet, when you look at the actual player market, there should logically be the same number of tier 2 players that need a sword as there are tier 5 players -- if anything, there are more in tier 2. It benefits no-one that the crafters are forced to make hundreds of unwanted tier 5 swords just to gain experience, when all the demand is in a lower tier. I'd like to see crafters level up slower in the lower tiers, and faster in the upper tiers, than currently happens. I'd also like to see higher level crafters still get some kind of benefit from making the lower tier items - perhaps not full experience, but why not the same type of experience as an adventurer would get by mentoring? Both of these changes would result in more items available in lower tiers, and less of a market overload in the upper tiers.
The server merges cometh! How do you think the they will affect tradeskilling and the market?
A higher population on merged servers will mean both more crafters and more customers. It will probably put more life back into the crafting communities on those servers, and give the economy a general boost overall. The economy of a well-populated server such as Antonia Bayle can probably be used as a rough model for what other server economies will develop into, if they reach the same population level.
Is there anything you'd like to add or say to SOE?
Carpenters are some of your most mature, understanding, and loyal customers, and we also help keep people interested in the game and enhance the experience for many players. Please help us to do this, give us the missing recipes, and add those recipes we are asking for!
Thanks so much again for your time and happy crafting. I hope the Carpenters can get some love.