Asherons Call: An Interview with Mirin of Turbine!

Mirin (formerly known as Payson) hails from sunny Phoenix, Arizona. She received her bachelor’s degree from Rice University in Houston, then traveled abroad to teach English in Vietnam for two years. She returned to work on her Master’s Degree in Anthropology at Arizona State University, which went swimmingly until late one night a friend of hers introduced her to massively multiplayer games. Much to her chagrin and the detriment of her master’s thesis, most of her projects and papers suddenly veered off in a new direction as she started to explore the delightful complexities of online communities. Once she saw the job listing for Content Designer at Turbine, it was all over.

In the past three years, Mirin has held several positions within the Asheron’s Call Franchise. She started as a Content Designer for Asheron’s Call: Dark Majesty (ACDM), where she helped build the island of Marae Lassel, built a large number of its dungeons and towns, and designed a number of quests. Once ACDM shipped, she became the Lead Designer for the Asheron’s Call Live Team, where she implemented a number of well known quests such as the new Training Academy, Elysa’s Favor, and Portal Space. A year after she arrived at Turbine, she was asked to join the Asheron’s Call 2 Team as Lead Designer. In addition to managing a larger team, she continued to design and build monthly quests such as the Mounts Quest, the Soulbound Weapons, and the Catacombs of Artefon. She also coordinated the overall design and implementation of the game’s newest continent, Arramora. Six months ago, she returned to Asheron’s Call as Lead Designer, where she has been working closely with Srand and the rest of the team to realize the game’s content and story arc vision and plan its monthly updates for the upcoming year. She has been the designer behind several recent content revisions such as the updates to Linvak Tukal.

As Producer, Mirin will be taking on a much more administrative role. In addition to coordinating and scheduling Asheron’s Call’s overall vision with the Lead Designer (Orion) and Lead Engineer, she will be coordinating with Ibn to ensure that that vision is communicated and shared with the players. Although a great deal of her time will be spent managing the team’s implementation process as it moves through its monthly development cycle, Mirin is also the point of contact between the Asheron’s Call live team and other departments at Turbine, most notably the Envoy team and Operations.

1. To date, you haven’t been very visible in the game community. As producer (and the first producer with an Envoy and Operations team to work with), do you feel this will change?

Of course. Over the past few years I’ve learned that early communication with the players is extremely important. Part of my job will be to work with Ibn to perfect our communication process and make sure that the community is kept up to date on our projects.

2. What did you learn from working with AC2 that has helped you when coming back to AC:DM?

AC2 and ACDM are such different games that it’s very difficult to compare the two. One of the most important things that I learned was that early and prompt communication about upcoming changes and features is incredibly important. About five months after AC2 shipped, we started the 3-step notification program, which included the In Concept, In Development, and Coming Soon sections. This worked extremely well in bringing players into the development process early on, so there were no surprises when we came to ship each monthly event. For example, presenting an early roadmap for the ongoing Skills Rebalancing early gave us the opportunity to gather and incorporate player feedback into what ultimately resulted in AC2’s Hero System. I strongly believe that having a more collaborative relationship with our players will definitely help us deliver the type of gameplay experience that our players want.

3. As part of the moving force behind keeping the players informed before changes, asking for feedback, etc, have you been satisfied with the process and results? Or do you have other plans not yet in place?

We recently started using the 3-step notification program in AC:DM with the March event. Overall, I’ve been very happy with the early results, and I think that even in this short time we’ve proven that we are very willing to incorporate feedback from our players into our design decisions. However, this is going to be a learning process for us over the next few months, so if we find that we need to modify our process we’ll certainly do so.

4. How will you work with the Los Angeles team on the new expansion? Or will you have minimal contact?

Orion, Srand, and I have already been working on the high-level concepts for the expansion pack for the last several months. Although Srand will be the only one from the Live Team leaving for the West Coast Studio in Santa Monica, the rest of us will be very involved in writing high-level specs, training the expansion pack team, and ensuring that there will be continuity between the monthly event content and the content delivered through the expansion pack.

3. You come from a completely different background than srand. How do you feel this will make you a different producer?

Well, Srand is much less likely to use a whiffle-ball bat as a management tool. ^_^

4. What personal plans do you have for the game over the next 3 months? 6 months?

I’ll still be wearing my content designer hat when I’m not attending to my more administrative tasks. Over the past few months I’ve been focusing more on quest and town revisions. One of the great things about coming back to this project is that I’ve been able to revisit quests that I designed years ago and re-implement them to resolve any lingering issues or imbalances. I revised the Portal Space quest in March, and the Living Weapons suite is up for revision for May. I’ve also been implementing the town updates. These include the updates to individual towns and their surrounding content and quests as well as the major, across-the-board updates such as the vendor buy/sell rate changes and the Allegiance Bindstones. These updates will take me well into the end of this year, although I may also take a month off from these to do a cool new quest or two.

5. What do you enjoy most about playing AC?

I’ve always loved AC’s quirky sense of humor. AC has an incredibly rich lore and history all its own, but what other games also have bunny slippers, dapper suits, and Paul Bunyan and Babe?

6. What do you do when you’re not designing or playing AC (other than whiffle ball)?

I spend a lot of nights arguing with my husband over who gets the consoles. He’s recently picked up Battlefield Vietnam, so I’ve had the chance to blaze through a pile of games that I’d been saving up for my free time. Games that I’ve been going back to recently are Frequency, Xenosaga, Suikoden III, and Knights of the Old Republic.

7. If you could design a quest around your favorite movie, what movie would it be and what would be the basics of the quest?

Ooh ooh! Bride of Chucky! Killer pack dolls! Woo!

8. What was your first memorable experience with Warcry’s Crossroads of Dereth?

A few months after I joined the AC Live team and had shipped a couple of quests, Keth al-Sheth, who was then working for WCoD as a board moderator, put up a poll asking “How cool is Payson of Turbine?” I came into work a few days later and found that someone found a terrible close-up of me making a hideous grimace, superimposed the poll on top of it, and then plastered copies of it all over the AC1 pit! It was weeks before I lived that down. ^_^

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