Asheron’s Call was one of the three games that helped kick start the graphical online RPG genre and now as it hits its 8th anniversary, we talk to Turbine’s Community Manager for the game, Andy Cataldo. He updates us on the game’s status and future.
Answers by Andy Cataldo (AC CM)
Questions by Robert Hackett
WarCry: Turbine just celebrated its 8th year with Asheron’s Call. What would you consider the best incident in the past 8 years?
Andy Cataldo: I would have to say the defense of the Shard of Herald on Thistledown is still one of my favorite moments from the history of the game. Seeing players doing something that unexpected, and seeing how the team at the time reacted to it, was great.
WarCry: If you had a ‘do-over’, what would you re-do from the last 8 years?
Andy Cataldo: Housing. Not that I think housing is bad, but in hindsight there are a lot of things that I would have done differently to allow us more freedom with housing now.
WarCry: Some of the often-requested to be added features include things like a quest panel, land control, and pets. Since some of these work fairly well in other Turbine games, are there any plans to incorporate this type of functionality? Or is the technology AC is founded on just too old?
Andy Cataldo: We absolutely have some ideas around all of these things. Pets, while still in their early stages, still have some great potential. A quest panel is a bit tougher. To make something like that work we have to go through every line of every quest ever put in to the game over the past 8 years…no small task. As far as Land Control goes, all I will say is we have some ideas.
WarCry: PvPers are an often vocal section of any online community. In AC, there’s an entire server dedicated to PvPing. Are there any plans to create more PvP incentives, such as trophies or perhaps simply titles?
Andy Cataldo: Definitely! We understand that PvP and Darktide are an important part of Asheron’s Call. The one thing we have to be careful of is that nearly everything we do can have some sort of effect on PvP. We also want to make sure we get things right when we make any additions or changes to PvP. We would much rather take our time making the changes and get them right, rather than rushing out and making changes without any foresight.
WarCry: What do you think makes a game ‘innovative’ (MMO or otherwise)?
Andy Cataldo: For me it’s all about originality. Doing something that no one else has done. It may not even work, but making the attempt rather than just doing what has already been done is something that goes a long way with me.
WarCry: What was the most difficult task on AC that you’ve had to do this year?
Andy Cataldo: I guess it would be making sure that we continue get our content out every month. Most people have no idea how much time and effort it takes to write, implement, test, test again, and patch new content on a month to month basis. Most of the team has given up on the concept of sleeping at this point.
WarCry: What is a project you’re looking forward to working on this year for AC?
Andy Cataldo: If I told you I would have to kill you, but let’s just say we think that everyone who is a fan of Asheron’s Call will be pleased with what we have planned for 2008.
WarCry: Advertising is a popular forum topic these days, especially with other games getting celebrity endorsements on national television. Is Turbine working on an enhanced marketing plan?
Andy Cataldo: Yes we are. I of course cannot get into any details yet as the plans are still being finalized, but I think I can say with confidence that Turbine as a whole is dedicated to spreading the word about all of our franchises to as many people as possible.
WarCry: Multi-game passes are another often wished for option. Is this on the docket for Turbine?
Andy Cataldo: We are always looking for ways to improve our customer experience. Being that we work with our partners to operate games in various territories around the world, it’s not as simple as making a single pass for all games. Whatever programs we put in place need to work for our customers regardless of where they choose to play our games.
WarCry: A lot of current and former players refer to the “Fourth Sending of Darkness” or “Elements of Revenge” as the greatest of the AC story arcs. The current story arc started in 09/06, and seems to be coming to a head with Aerbax and his (its) experiments. How would you compare the current arc to the fan favorites?
Andy Cataldo: Generally I do not like to compare what we are doing now to what was done in the past. When you create content for a world that has been around as long as AC, there are too many aspects of each arc that are different that make comparing them very difficult. The one constant over the past 8 years is our player’s passion for engaging in the adventures we create for them.
WarCry: One of AC’s unique qualities is that it’s a skill based game, in a world of class based games. Why do you think that skill based games never really caught on?
Andy Cataldo: In my opinion, skill based games require more effort and dedication. I remember back in my early days of playing Asheron’s Call I had a giant binder that I kept next to my computer at all times. It literally had (still does, though I don’t use it as much now) hundreds and hundreds of pages with everything from different templates I was messing with to the different spell formulas we needed to try. Remember the personal taper? You just don’t see that in class based games. Everything nowadays is about instant gratification rather than having to take the time to figure things out. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not necessarily saying that’s a bad thing, I just have a preference for doing things myself and having my hand held every step of the way.
WarCry: One of AC’s unique qualities is its on-going story-line, with monthly updates. How do you manage to put out monthly updates so regularly?
Andy Cataldo: Black Magic and Voodoo dolls! All kidding aside, the AC team is one of the hardest working groups I have ever had the pleasure of working with. These guys come in first thing in the morning and on many nights are here till long after everyone else has left. The amount of effort it takes to get out content every month is amazing to me. Before I came here I was one of those people who would say “how hard can it be to make a quest? You guys must just goof off all day!” Now I will be the first one to admit how wrong I was. The team amazes me every month with what they product with the time they have.
WarCry: Another thing a lot of players keep asking for is a reworking of AC with updated graphics. Some of us remember Sandra’s post about how that really wouldn’t work. Has the game changed enough to allow for ‘prettier’ graphics in some future expansion/upgrade?
Andy Cataldo: In this job I have learned that I cannot rule out anything, or say we will never be able to do something. What I will say is that it would take an absolutely amazing effort to do something like that.