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Wizard101 (W101)
KingsIsle Entertainment | Play Now
MMORPG | Genre:Fantasy | Status:Final  (rel 09/02/08)  | Pub:KingsIsle Entertainment
PVP:Yes | Distribution:Download | Retail Price:n/a | Pay Type:Free | Monthly Fee:$09.95
System Req: PC Mac | ESRB:E10+Out of date info? Let us know!

Wizard101 Interviews: J. Todd Coleman Interview

By Gabe Pursel on July 06, 2009

Gabe Pursel:

What is your name?

J. Todd Coleman:

J. Todd Coleman, but on the forums I also post under the title "Headmaster Ambrose", a character from the game.

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Gabe Pursel:

How long have you been working with KingsIsle?

J. Todd Coleman:

Just over 4-years. I was actually one of the first people brought on board. The company was incorporated in January of '04, and I started on the first day of February. I suppose that makes me employee number two behind David Nichols, our President (or maybe number three if you include Elie, our CEO and founder. I'm not sure if the owner is technically an "employee.")

Gabe Pursel:

What exactly do you do with Wizard101?

J. Todd Coleman:

Well, I sort of made it up... the initial idea, that is. The concept for Wizard101 came out of a series of conversations between myself and Josef Hall (our Director of Technology.) Technically, I am the "Director" of Wizard101, which means that I own the creative vision, and the management of both the development team and game service.

Over the last few years, I have been involved in just about every aspect of the game's development: high concept, game design, engineering (scheduling, that is - I'm not a programmer), customer support, marketing, pricing, operations, etc. At the end of the day, my job was to build a strong team, manage the creation of the game, and take it to market successfully. (That said, step one is the real trick. If you hire amazing people, everything else is easy.)

Oh yeah, and I also get to make up cool monsters, like Ninja Pigs and Humongofrogs.


Screenshot

Gabe Pursel:

What is Wizard101?

J. Todd Coleman:

Wizard101 is a light-hearted fantasy MMO with a tongue-in-cheek flavor. Players become students at a the Ravenwood School of Magical Arts, where they learn magical spells that allow them to beat opponents in a cinematic, turn-based combat system that uses a collectible card game as its core mechanic. Yeah, it's a mouthful. I know.

The game is much more story driven than your typical MMO, and relies heavily on exploration; the school is threatened, and in order to defend it the player will travel to a lot of odd, crazy worlds... like an Egyptian-themed world filled with crocodile sorcerer kings, or Marleybone, an industrialized London filled with canine gentlemen and dapper frogs.

As an MMO, the feature set is expansive: while saving the world(s), players can learn hundreds of spells, mix and match fantastic outfits, explore distant worlds, dye their clothing, collect and display exotic pets, play mini games, or participate in the PvP Arena to fight other players. Wizard101 also features a cast of good, bad and frequently silly characters. The overall feel is that of a light, incredibly polished online experience.

Gabe Pursel:

How did you guys come up with the Idea of Wizard101? Specifically the choices of combat system, schools, places, etc.

J. Todd Coleman:

The game is a mixture of elements taken from old-school RPGs and traditional fantasy. The core dueling mechanic was designed to have the look (and feel) of an animated television show, with the depth and (at the high levels) strategic complexity of a collectible card game. We put a lot of effort into the spell cinematics, so when you cast an Ice Wyvern spell, a giant serpent will literally appear and bury your opponent in ice. Thematically, we constantly walk the line between "cool and powerful" (the Frost Giant smashes you with his ice hammer) and "silly and fun" (the Ninja Pigs hits you with a pork chop.)

The combat is reminiscent of the old Final Fantasy games, the character design is actually closer to the old Shining Force series... and the worlds, monsters and NPCs are pulled from a wide array of influences in both pop culture and mythology. You'll find elements of Zelazney, George R.R. Martin, C.S. Lewis, Robert Asprin, and a host of other great writers.

With the simple grind of games these days, does Wizard101 differ in how players level up? Well, the game is much more narrative - we still have a level curve, of course, and hundreds of hours of gameplay - but 90% of your experience is gained through questing. Combat is still the core experience of the game, but we try to make it happen within a context; rarely will a player simple enter an area just to fight random creatures.


Screenshot

Gabe Pursel:

In these days, the age group you went for seems a little out of place. Why was that path followed instead of the generic "gore 'n' more" games?

J. Todd Coleman:

Well, I sort of had my fill of gore on Shadowbane, and was interested in doing something more light-hearted. And I noticed there was a pretty big gap in the market: there are virtual worlds made for younger players (Club Penguin, ToonTown) and of course there are offerings for older players (WOW, Warhammer). But once a player outgrows the "kiddie offerings", where do they go? It seemed like a good idea to aim for something in between.

Gabe Pursel:

In your personal opinion, what is the best aspect of Wizard101 at the moment?

J. Todd Coleman:

Our combat system is really unique and looks fantastic. Even if people aren't interested in title, I would recommend jumping into the free trial for 10 minutes just to check it out. It's innovative and engaging, we took a big risk on it and it paid off. I'm proud of that, especially when most of the "blockbuster" MMOs keep copying the same combat model from EverQuest.

I'm also very proud of the fact that our audience is so broad - kids, parents, grandparents, and even hardcore gamers are giving us high marks. The most common reaction I hear is, "wow, this game is really polished!" For the hardcore set, it seems like we satisfy a different need... a relaxing, casual break from the pressure of guild raids and grinding to keep up.


Screenshot

Gabe Pursel:

To be fair, what is the worst in your opinion?

J. Todd Coleman:

Keeping up with the demand for content! That's always the challenge for an ongoing service. We are pushing ourselves hard to give our players more worlds, more game systems, more pets, new spells... At the same time, our user numbers are growing exponentially, so we're also having to scale up our production environment at the same time. Demand has been absolutely staggering, and we've been trying to keep up with it as well as possible.

If you had the magical ability to fix that worst aspect in a single button press would you? If not why? that is kind of silly if i do say so myself.(If so ignore that question).

Of course! I'd love to have a magical content machine, so that we could release new worlds with the push of a button. Unfortunately, new content takes time. To produce one spell requires a pipeline of half a dozen people and over a man month of effort... there is a reason why most MMOs take four to five years to come to market.

Gabe Pursel:

Would you consider this a great way for people that want an excuse to wave a wand around to do just that?

J. Todd Coleman:

Ha, well, sure - if wand waving is what you're after, Ravenwood School is a great place to get started. The idea of being an apprentice at a Wizard's Academy actually goes back a ways... before Harry Potter came around, authors like Terry Pratchett, Weis and Hickman, and Ursula Le Guin and built a lot of great stories around the idea of Wizard's School, and it's been a fascination for many of us since we were kids.


Screenshot

Gabe Pursel:

Are there any closing remarks you want to say or get off your chest?

J. Todd Coleman:

Wizard101 has a free trial that is not limited by time and actually gives you access to some cool things like Arena Dueling (PvP), mini game play, and multiple adventure areas. Try it out, you might find yourself in the position of several of our reviewers that are still playing now - several months later.

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