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Interview with Stephanie Shaver.

Richard Cox Posted:
Interviews 0

I recently had the chance to chat with Stephanie Shaver at Simutronics and ask her a few questions about their upcoming MMORPG "Hero's Journey". We also asked her many questions that we submitted by our great community members. The interview appears below:

MMORPG.com: First of all I’d like to thank you for taking time out of your extremely busy schedule to answer a couple questions for our fine members. Before we get started if you could please take some time to tell us about yourself; what you’ve worked on before, what you do on the project now, etc.

Nice to meet you! I'm Stephanie Shaver, and I've worked for Simutronics since 1995. My job title has changed over the years, but right now it's resting comfortably somewhere between Webmaster and Designer for Hero's Journey.

I haven't worked for any other game companies, but I did work for McDonald's for a year when I was in high school, and I did massive amounts of data entry in college for a small press magazine. I like working on games better.

I also have the dubious honor of being a published writer of fantasy fiction. That comes in handy when we're designing the world or naming locations, but otherwise you can't really build a 3-D level with your l33t grammar skillz. Lucky for me, I also function as a competent scripter.

MMORPG.com: [From Harelin] Will Hero’s Journey introduce any features never before seen in previous MMORPGs? In other words will you be taking the road most traveled or the road least traveled so to speak? Or maybe a middle road between the two; not really looking for specific features or anything here, just a general idea of the intentions you have with the game.

Our intentions are to make the best game ever, but that's a given.

We definitely intend to innovate, but not so far off the map that you won't be able to identify the game as massively multiplayer roleplaying fantasy. I don't think there's anyone on development that doesn't play an MMORPG of some sort and isn't passionate about what makes those games fun.

We want to instill a sense of wonder and fun into the game, and we know that you can't get there by rehashing what everyone else has done in the past. We know what we like, and we definitely intend to bring in the cool stuff and our accumulated years of experience as game designers.

We also intend to winnow out the not-so-cool stuff that we feel bogs down our experience in other games. I can't disclose exactly what we're doing or how, but these are concerns we have taken into account when we design.

MMORPG.com: [From Harelin] Simutronics has a rich history of supplying a level of content not often seen in other games. What will set the standards for content in Hero's Journey and why is it unique in this sense?

In short, Hero's Journey's uniqueness comes from its GameMasters. They are the closest you can get to player-created content without unbalancing the game. And because all of our GameMasters were once players, they have a good understanding of what's fun. It's an ongoing effort on the part of the St. Louis office to empower the GameMaster staff with the tools they need to give our players that whiz-bang-pow sense of an original, amazing experience that makes online games fun.

Hero's Journey's designers are looking for immersion and a satisfying experience. You can't get this with cookie cutter missions that essentially boil down to "click on the flashing box" or "kill all the monsters" or "collect 5 foozles". We want to deliver quests to our players that are unlike anything they've seen before. We want choices that matter. It may take longer and it may require more effort, but it's ultimately worth it.

As for standards -- those are set by our excellent producer, Melissa Meyer. I think her experience as the producer of GemStone III and IV speaks for itself.

MMORPG.com: [From Darquenblade] From what I understand, Hero's Journey has been in development for quite some time now. Given this, what stage is it currently in? Is there a ballpark release date being targeted?
Stephanie: Our current announced release date is sometime in 2005, but we don't intend to release the game until it's ready.
MMORPG.com: [From Darquenblade] Would you say this game is targeted more to Roleplayers than non-roleplayers (considering your past games have been heavy on the RP side)?

We're working to accommodate a wide variety of play styles. Our history as a company known for its roleplay is not going to be lost just because we're making the jump to 3D. We fully intend to offer a rich roleplay experience to the people who enjoy such.

Certain play styles will very likely be determined by which server you choose to play on. Roleplay servers for roleplayers, PVP servers for PVPers, and so on.

MMORPG.com: What's going to make Hero's Journey different than all the other fantasy MMORPGs out there?
Stephanie: Let's see...character customization (both appearance and tweaking how the character performs in battle), unique professions, engrossing quests, and a strong grasp of what a good roleplaying experience should be.
MMORPG.com: As far as system requirements go, the official FAQ on the site doesn’t really give a lot of info, could you fill us in a little on what you’ll be aiming for in that department? From the screenshots available the graphics look really nice, so are you going to be aiming more at the high-end systems much like EQ2 did or the more low-med end systems such as WoW? Or will it be a more scalable system somewhere between the two?

This is one of those questions that can't really be answered until the game is nearing the end of its development cycle. We'll be fine-tuning the game in the final months for the lower end machines. Once we get to that stage, we'll know the minimum requirements and we'll be sure to notify the public.

That said, Hero's Journey is a gorgeous game taking advantage of the many advances in 3D technology. Those with high-end machines will definitely have a feast for the eyes.

MMORPG.com: As stated above you are well known for your RP heavy games, however, the current trend of MMORPGers doesn’t seem that heavily into the RP aspect of the games they’re playing. Even on so-called “RP-Only” servers for some games you find little to no roleplaying. What can you do or are you going to do to help keep HJ as RP heavy as your previous games?
Stephanie: Reward roleplay and support the people who like it. Discourage out of character actions on roleplay servers. Design a game that keeps roleplay in mind from the beginning. We want to build something that allows you to play the character you have in mind -- not the one we have in mind. One of our guiding principles in Hero's Journey game design has been that the characters are heroes (or anti-heroes). They should look the part. The game we're building reflects that.
MMORPG.com: It seems that GM run events are going to be very integral to the storyline progression and immersion factors of the game. Can you give us a little more detail on how they’ll work and/or maybe a little example of one?

We like quests. We like interesting quests. Many of us are tabletop DungeonMasters or players. While there's nothing wrong with occasionally heading out and killing twenty orcs for their Underoos, a game that builds all its quests on that same premise gets stale fast.

How about instead of storming a keep you wind up defending it? How about instead of you finding the farmer whose daughter got abducted, he runs up to you? It's possible in Hero's Journey.

Like any good MMORPG, Hero's Journey will be constantly changing and evolving. New areas, new quests, new creatures, new abilities, and so on created by our GameMasters and onsite staff. We also intend to have live events in Hero's Journey run by our GameMasters. Invasions? Check. Special quest NPCs? Yup. Seasonal roleplay events? Oh yeah. GameMaster-run NPC festivals? Yes.

MMORPG.com: Once again I’d like to thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer a couple questions for us; is there anything you’d like to add in closing about Hero’s Journey that may not have been covered in the questions or anything else?

I'm pleased as punch to be on the design team for Hero's Journey, and I hope you guys end up enjoying the game as much (if not more) than I've enjoyed working on it.

I'd also like to mention that if you're interested in being on our GameMaster staff, we're now hiring. You can find the application on the Hero's Journey site here: http://www.play.net/hj/info/apply/

Thanks for the questions!


Richard Cox