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Dev Profile: Ryan Seabury

Dana Massey Posted:
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NetDevil's Design Director Talks About His History, His Job, Auto Assault and Jumpgate!

Ryan Seabury is the Design Director for Auto Assault, the second MMORPG from NetDevil who were also responsible for Jumpgate. Now published by NCSoft, NetDevil faces some tall challenges on their second title and have entrusted the direction of their title to this man. We use this chance to see who he is and where he is going.

MMORPG.com: Can you tell us a bit about what you currently do, and the day-to-day responsibilities of that job?
Ryan Seabury: Although I'm a programmer at heart, I'm currently the design director on Auto Assault, a post-apocalyptic vehicular combat MMO in development at NetDevil. Day to day, I manage a team of content, map and system designers that create the missions, scenarios, environments and game systems that make up the Auto Assault fictional universe. My job is to make sure no one's going too far away from the original vision we had for Auto Assault, while ensuring unique and memorable experiences and stories are created for each of our three player races.

Additionally, I help coordinate efforts with other departments such as Art and Tech, and a number of groups at our publisher, NCsoft, such as PR, Marketing & Sales, Community Management, QA, etc. Mostly, this all consists of a lot of emails and phone calls and meetings where we debate pros and cons of doing things one way versus another, followed by a lot of playing the game and critiquing and reviewing content to make it totally kick ass.

MMORPG.com: Breaking into the gaming industry is the dream of many. How did you arrive at your current company? Can you run us through what brought you to this company and into the industry in general?
Ryan Seabury:

I knew as a kid I wanted to do one of 2 things: A) Become an Astronaut or B) Create my own universe. Option A didn't work out for a variety of reasons, mostly due to my own laziness (I mentioned I'm a programmer at heart right?) Although I have not yet achieved omnipotence, I've had a ridiculous obsession for video games since before I could even remember, and so building massively multiplayer persistent worlds are about as close as I can get to Option B.

I ended up at NetDevil after spending countless after-work-hours of Quake 1&2 CTF competing with Scott Brown and Peter Grundy at a former company during the wonderful Dot-Com days, where we'd spend all our free time talking about games and ideas for games. The company was bought out, providing Scott & Peter the opportunity to start NetDevil officially in the mid-late 1990s. I actually went on to another company, and then started my own web dev company in the meantime.

The opportunity to join NetDevil presented itself in 1999. Despite my other company's success at the time, I risked it all and jumped headfirst into the games industry where my life's passion had always pointed me. We shipped Jumpgate soon after that with just 5 people, and several years later are up to over 45 full time staff and on the verge of shipping Auto Assault.

MMORPG.com: What to you is the most challenging part of your current job?
Ryan Seabury:

Herding cats and time management. Maintaining a singular focus with over 40 developers who often have conflicting ideas about what is "fun" is not stress-free. There is a lot of compromise and tough decisions to make due to shifting targets and tech and time, and the ever unpredictable "people factor." Throw in aggressive deadlines and business concerns as a small business owner and independent developer, it complicates everything another degree. Just finding the time to play the game we're making becomes hard when you have literally hundreds of emails to get through with each new day.

Due to the insane time demands, it's also very hard on family and personal life. Luckily for me, my loved ones understand my passion and obsession and have been very supportive through the many years of late nights and weekends at the office.

MMORPG.com: You have what many would consider a dream job. What is your favorite part of your job?
Ryan Seabury:

The games themselves are hands-down my favorite part. The fact that although, yes, you have meetings all day, you are discussing, for example, that Pike Bandits with rocket launchers are doing way too much damage. That when you discuss mission statements, they are things like "Destroy the Biomek base." That when you discuss new verticals, it's actually hang time of driving off a cliff in an armored vehicle.

Probably the coolest thing, though, is watching what started as a one-line description and 2 concept images become a fully realized, functioning persistent world with thousands of people playing together in it. It's really amazing to be a part of.

MMORPG.com: One of the catch phrases often thrown about the industry is that many bemoan a lack of innovation in MMORPGs. Auto Assault and Jumpgate have both strayed from the beaten path. How do you see the industry breaking out of its current rut of class based fantasy RPGs? Or do you?
Ryan Seabury:

I certainly see differentiation happening at some point, it's inevitable. Look at traditional "offline" games, how many are fantasy-based versus other settings? Clearly, there is a large demand for other settings and game types. Yet for some reason, 80%+ of existing MMO offerings are in a fairly routine fantasy environment.

I think one obvious vector of change in the near future is the adaptation of more and more popular licenses from movies and books to MMO settings, we're already starting to see a few pop up here and there. Offering a longtime fan of a license the chance to live out alternate lives in the worlds they already cherish in an interactive setting is just too easy to not do.

Beyond that, there are endless original genres and settings and mechanics to explore in MMO worlds as well, something that NetDevil intends to point out with every one of our games.

MMORPG.com: Auto Assault is obviously the focus right now. Can you give us a brief update on the progress of the game?
Ryan Seabury:

We've been working very hard on Auto Assault for several years now. We're currently in closed beta, and focusing largely on balance, optimizations, stability and polish at this point. The core game mechanics are really, really fun, the launch content is almost all implemented, and so most of the focus is on removing frustrations and improving accessibility from here on out.

MMORPG.com: Meanwhile, many forget that you guys also did Jumpgate. For fans of that title, can you give us a brief update on where it is right now?
Ryan Seabury:

For a game developed with so few people you could count us on one hand and having relatively little funding, and when many other higher-profile competitors have come and gone, Jumpgate is still running today more than 4 years later.

We are very proud of our first baby. While it may lack the polish of a multi-million dollar project, it still provides a pretty great hangout and lots of depth for folks looking for a solid combat and trading space-sim in a persistent online world. You can check out the latest news and download a free trial at the Jumpgate Operating System SHell, or http://www.jossh.com.

Thank you to Ryan and NetDevil for their time!

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Dana Massey