Asheron’s Call is one of the grand old games in the MMO universe, having been entertaining folks for upwards of ten years and as part of their anniversary celebration, WarCry is pleased to feature a quadruple interview with Brian Cottle, Jared, Eric Deans and Robert Ciccolini. Today, Jared sits in the hot seat. Read on!

1. Please introduce yourself and give readers a bit of your background in game development and with Asheron’s Call.

Hello I am NoWorries, aka Jared, and I am the lead QA for AC. I also create content and art.

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2. How long have you worked at Turbine and on AC?

2 years

3. What is the best part about working at Turbine generally and on AC specifically?

The best part about working on AC is the fact it was one of my first MMOs, and the MMO I spent the most time in. Now I get to try and give that experience to someone else. I’ve had several completely different jobs in my life and this one has to be the favorite.

4. What is your favorite AC race? Why?

I don’t have any particular favorite race, although I was always a fan of Shoushi as a starter spot. I generally play a sword user (but have not added a single sword reward to the game), but I do enjoy mixing it up and playing different types of character including war magic focused. Two handed is obviously new and fun, but too recent to be able to be a favorite yet.

5. What is your favorite in-game area? Why?

Always tough to just pick one area, I like the Fiun Outpost/Sanamar/Linvak Tukal for the art. I enjoy the Graveyard because I like skeletons and undead, and it can be a challenge surviving out there. I like checking out player houses to see how badly some players decorate.

6. How would you compare AC now as compared to release? More specifically, what have been the most significant changes over the years?

The biggest change was obviously the level cap increase. It changed the difficulty along with changing the templates people were used to playing. Throne of Destiny changed the game more than any other point in time, especially when it came to xp per hour.

Overall the game is more fast paced now, a shorter trip to the top. But much of the original experience remains. Your character starts slow and weak and progresses into a being that can run at high speeds and jump higher then buildings. It may be different then it started out as but it is still a fun world to explore and level in.

7. What type of computer did you begin using when you started on AC?

It was actually the first time I had my own computer. I think my parents wanted the family computer back since I was heavy into gaming at the time. It was only middle of the road performance wise but I can’t remember what processor it had.

8. Do you play AC outside of work? How is that possible to do without getting tired of it?

I do but not as much as I’d like. I actually spend a decent amount of time outside of work hiding in the game world and seeing what players are up to. Finding out where they like to spend their time and what areas they like and don’t like.

It’s tough to get bored of something you are so passionate about, I could work on AC for 10 hours and then go home and wander around the world for several more without being bored.

9. What is the best thing you’ve personally worked on and have had implemented in game?

My list is smaller having been on the team for only 2 years, and having only produced content for about a year of that. Tactical Defense was the first content I made for the game so it will always hold a special place for me.
The Thug quest line was interesting but was mixed player reaction. I learned a lot during that work. It was also the first time I got to create a new dungeon texture.

I like the Moarsmen City society forts as well just because it’s a bit different of a quest dynamic then you usually see, and I did all the art for it.

But the things that probably had the best affect on the game were hunting down old issues and getting them fixed. Things like spell stacking issues, or quests where a person could get blocked after handing the item to a Town Crier. Anything that removes player frustration always feels good to fix.

10. What have been the biggest changes in AC and Turbine over the years you’ve worked there?

I had the fortune of being around for the new loot tier and the new skills. Those are both big additions seeing how long it had been since the previous changes to those areas.

But I think the biggest changes for AC that I will be a part of are coming up.

11. What have been your most satisfying experiences working on AC?

You are never going to please every player, since every player both enjoys and wants different things out of a game. But hearing that players are enjoying what you designed and built is always a good feeling.

12. What have been your biggest challenges working on AC?

Asheron’s Call is over a decade old at this point. This means that a lot of features that might be easy to work into more modern MMOs might not be possible at all. So coming up with a quest that is fun, and different, but works with the technology the game has can be tricky.
This becomes even more challenging because a lot of players don’t realize this. They think of things that would be fun to have in game, but don’t understand that those features just aren’t possible with our current engine. In turn they think we’re not adding and changing features out of stubbornness, when in actuality we are spending our time trying to see how much we can get out of the engine we have.

This must be even harder on Severlin since we all constantly approach him with things we’d think would allow us to do many more things in the game world, and ask him if he can squeeze it onto his long list of improvements that he is working into the engine.

13. Do you find that player expectations entering AC are different now than they used to be?

I think the long term players have very specific expectations. At this point they view it more as their own game. So any changes, big or small, are going to resonate deeply with them. Sometimes you just know a change or addition is going to have certain types of players angry at the idea, but many more types of players will enjoy it and overall it won’t ruin the game for anyone.
For me the first time I directly ran into this was when I created the Spell Component and Rare Exchangers. There were players insisting I just killed AC. But as time passed it became clear that the effect either of these had on the game was small.

14. How do you keep a fan base excited and interested in an ‘aging’ game?

Having monthly updates is one good feature. It helps to have new content to explore on a regular basis. Also expanding on features, like adding new skills, gives players who have been with us for years something new and different to play with.

I also think listening to the players helps. They know what will keep them interested. Clearly we can’t do all of the ideas, and any ideas we do implement have to be done so with balance and the overall effect of the game in mind. But we do listen to the community and direct what will come next with them in mind.

15. What advice do you give ‘n00bs’ when they come on board the Turbine/AC development team?

Have thick skin. Our players will quickly say something is fun, or that they would like a change. But they will even more quickly tell you otherwise if they don’t like a change.

Also to know that the Air Conditioning in the building breaks a lot so be ready to be stuck in a building that is 90 degrees.

And for some reason the soda machine runs out of Diet Mountain Dew every 2 days.

16. Has World of Warcraft affected how you design AC’s updates?

No not at all. World of Warcraft is a highly successful game, but they have their audience. Asheron’s Call has a much different audience and designing based off something World of Warcraft did would actually hurt us.

I think a lot of companies breaking into the market don’t realize this, you see a lot of new games that have too much in common with WoW. A lot of people want to play WoW, but just as many want to play something different.

17. Where do the monthly event ideas come from?

We do it Mad Libs style. We just shout out random things and make a paragraph about it. Unfortunately Frelorn keeps shouting out inappropriate words so we can’t use most of the results.

We sit down in a meeting and talk about ideas we have for plots. Then we pick one and work with it for a while. Finally we decide how that idea will flow over the course of several months.

18. Now that DDOU has successfully gone “free to play”, has any consideration been given to having AC do the same?

I can’t tell you what the higher ups have in their minds or what they might approach us with.

But for me I don’t think F2P is where AC’s future lies. F2P is a big focus in the industry right now. And I know some people think every game should go that way. I believe that both need to exist at the same time to fully cover the market, and AC was never designed with micro transactions in mind.

19. What awesome franchise that isn’t yet an MMO would you love to work on?

MechWarrior would make for a fantastic MMO world, and would bring a lot of fresh ideas to the table. It wouldn’t be so much a leveling MMO as it would be a resources MMO. The possibilities are endless with bases, research, mining etc. But I would only want to work on that if for some reason I couldn’t work on AC.

20. What is going to define the next generation MMO?

That is a question that could have hours of time devoted to it. But to list a few things:

  • Fully voiced NPCs that interact on a much deeper level with players then the current here is a quest, here is your reward method.
  • Browser and client interaction. So you can log into your MMO from anywhere through a browser to make changes to the vendors you run and etc.
  • Streaming downloads, so when you decide to try and MMO you are in game within minutes instead of after hours of downloading and updating.
  • MMOs that never have to go offline to fix bugs or add content.
  • Dynamically changing worlds. If people hunt an area too often then the creature population drops. Or, a certain race of mobs which tire of being hunted and fight back against the player towns.

Really MMOs are still in their infancy, programmers are going to come up with some amazing possibilities in the future.

21. Is the future of MMOs a “WOW Killer” or is it something we can’t even imagine?

There will always be the next big thing at some point and time. And MMOs are becoming more common place in society, so the amount of users an MMO can have will only go up as time goes on. No MMO can hold the top forever but someone always has to be there.

I believe there will also be more targeted MMOs in the future too. So instead of everyone making a medieval fantasy MMO that has all the same features as the other MMOS, there will be a wide array to cover different people’s interests. They will probably transform into meeting places of like-minded users covering all types of interests instead of just combat/leveling.

22. Please add any other comments.

We have some fun and exciting plans laid out for this year and beyond, things that Asheron’s Call has never seen or done before. Some of the most exciting times in Asheron’s Call history are bound to be ahead of us instead of behind us.

Check back for the next two interviews! Thursday: Eric Deans, Friday: Robert Ciccolini

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