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First, Hate Everything

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Developer Journals 0

The Producer doesn't like MMOs and explains why that's a good thing

Now that I’m the producer for our pirate MMO project, it’s time to tell you a little something: I don’t like MMOs. I really don’t. They offer grotesque amounts of tedium, inflict generous dollops of active punishment for trying to play them, suck money out of your pocket every four weeks, and frequently demonstrate the shockingly low standards for software engineering in this segment of the industry.

I’m a Mac user and a console gamer. Let me translate this for you: MMOs are just not my thing.

As it turns out, this is a great job qualification. I have absolutely no desire for us to implement something that could be described as, “Just like (some successful MMO), but at sea!” because odds are that I think (some successful MMO) is awful and would not play it on a train, on a boat, in a house, or with a mouse. Instead, I want us to implement an MMO so good even I would play it.

I would like to like MMOs. They’re a great idea. I love the thought of a bustling, virtual place full of people doing fascinating things, as long as those things involve words like fun and game and don’t involve words like tedium and grind. I think paying money every month so that a game I love keeps getting bigger and better is terrific. When I finished Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, I would have gladly handed over my credit card right there on the spot if it meant I could have kept that experience going. (Yes, even the part where the stowaway kid endlessly jabbered at me with that Goopa boopa thonga thonga voiceover dialogue that sounded like the noise the Three Stooges made when you hit them with monkeys.)

The good news is I do like to play our game. It’s fun. After three and a half years of tactical naval combat, I’m nowhere near worn out. The AIs in our game still routinely hand me my ass on a platter – let alone our gleeful beta testers, who serve it up with a side dish of impunity. We’ve developed a form of online game combat that is endlessly entertaining, varied, and challenging.

Want a taste? Mark your calendars for the Penny Arcade Expo August 25th - 27th. We’ll be there with playable stations on the show floor so you can try it firsthand. I know you’re gonna love it just as much as I do.

Meanwhile, don’t accept the grind. Reject the tedium. If you aren’t loving your MMO, it’s time to kick it out of the house. Summer’s starting! Fire up the grill, boot up Geometry Wars, and do something fun for a change.

Here at Flying Lab, we’re having a lot of fun these days. Our offices are located atop Queen Anne Hill overlooking downtown Seattle – we’re just about eye to eye with the Space Needle. A few months back we expanded down a floor, occupying part of the second story of this building, and that’s where our sprawling team of artists works. We’re now about to take over even more of that floor in order to move our content team down there as well – the people who write and implement our missions as well as building out the towns, characters, and lore for our game world. We call them ConCo (“Content Corral”), and until I got kicked upstairs to be the producer that was my team.

Why is ConCo moving? Well, our QA team needs to grow and there isn’t room in their area. So they’re taking over ConCo’s space in preparation for expansion. And then – this is my favorite part – we’re turning QA’s office into a second conference room. With only one room for meetings, and 40+ staffers, we have a hard time scheduling team sessions, brainstorming events, and hosting visitors. Gaining a second meeting room is a small thing, but we’re all breathing a sigh of relief.

Speaking of ConCo, they’ve just hired a new writer. Cory Herndon comes to us from Guild Wars, where he worked for ConCo lead Jess Lebow. He previously wrote for Xbox.com and has also published several novels through Wizards of the Coast.

Our developers are busy, too. Justin Miller joined us recently and has been working hard on the Encounter Objectives feature, which is an on-screen UI to help players track the goals of their current mission. This week we hired yet another programmer who starts in a month or so, and we’re on the hunt for a lead animator, QA people, and a mission designer.

The busiest we’ve been, though, is definitely E3. For three days, Russell 'Rusty' Williams, Heidi Gaertner, Bruce 'Bsharp' Sharp, Troy 'Aether' Hewitt, Kevin 'Isildur' Maginn, and I stood there demoing the game to tons of people. The reaction was great! Press, foreign licensees, and developers from other studios checked us out and loved what they saw. We had a blast, but oh our feet were tired . . .

The best thing we did during E3, though, was open up the beta servers to run all day long for our testers. We played with them from the show floor and it was a blast to log in and duel a tester from Paris in PvP in the middle of a demo. We’ve added dozens of new testers this month and will continue adding more every couple weeks as we gradually ramp up the beta. I’m playing in the beta myself here at the office, as my many victories (and a few disgraceful defeats!) will attest. It’s so great to be playing the game with real players, hearing their feedback, and then seeing their excitement when we release a new build. After three and a half years, it’s the enthusiasm of the players themselves that is now the best part of this job.

(That and hating other MMOs. Bah, humbug!)

- John Scott Tynes, Producer

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