1999-11-16: Comments from the Firedog

Comments from the Firedog

Nov 16 1999 3:33PM

This was originally posted to Development at [1]

Since this is my first turn on Comments, I guess that I, too, should introduce myself. I'm the guy that some people know as Firedog. The way that this name came about is too long and convoluted to really get into detail, but I'll just say that it came from my favorite reference book (the dictionary) and it describes what I do sometimes (keeping the fire away from the house).

My "real" name (or Witness Protection Program alias -- you decide) is Rob Irving. I'm a seven-year veteran of Origin - in fact, have pretty much grown up with this place -- and I'm currently a member of the design team on Ultima Online. I am also -- in technical terms -- a loudmouth.

I have a lot of other names that have come and gone through the years, none of which are particularly important here. I guess the important idea behind all of the names and identities is that I consider myself a pretty creative person. I was hired by Origin for many jobs, one of them being to have ideas.

Seems like a pretty simple job, huh? And, to be honest, having lots of ideas has never been difficult for me. Because of my status as the resident loudmouth, I also like for everybody to hear my ideas.

The really great thing about ideas is that everybody gets to have them. Some people have more than others, I suppose, but by and large there are plenty to go around.

It seems that a common property of everyone's ideas is that as soon as you have one, you want to share it. Ideas don't seem to be as much fun if other people don't know about them. The great thing about UO's society is that it's a massive idea market. The game draws together a huge population filled with many creative and intelligent people -- and each of those people is toting his or her bag of ideas.

It's impossible -- at least in my experience -- to look at something and not think, "How could I change that and make it better?" Ever since I started on UO about a year ago, I've been looking for ways that I could make it better -- both by adding new ideas and fixing old ones. I've seen many of you come forward, in many different forums, with a huge number of great ideas as well.

The problem with ideas, and something that I've had to learn (repeatedly) over my years here at Origin, is that there are always other considerations than just the idea itself. The bigger the idea, the more likely it is that it will be born into the world looking much different than it first looked in your head -- no matter how strong it might have looked on paper. Even small ideas that should work perfectly have to give way sometimes for other ideas that take precedence over them and, therefore, consume whatever time and resources are available.

One of the ways that our development team has changed over the past year is by revising and improving the process by which ideas become realities in UO. What you see today on the UO site -- the In Concept section all the way through the Latest Game Updates -- is a great, albeit simplified, example of what happens during that process.

So, let's start with In Concept. Say we, or you, or somebody somewhere has a great idea. The first stage of taking that idea and making it into a game component is documenting it and putting it out there where everyone on the team can look at it. Documenting the idea doesn't just mean writing down how it works. It also involves thinking about how it might not work, what its impact is on the rest of the game, figuring out how much time it will take, and identifying how many people will need to be involved in making it happen. Most ideas never make it past this stage. Often, these are reasons that the idea generator just didn't think of on his own. Even if everybody thinks that the idea is a good one at this point, there are still the considerations of schedule and resources. We have to consider whether we have the time and the people to make the concept happen, and whether we have them right now.

So, let's say that the idea makes it past the concept stage. That puts it in In Development. This means that people have been allocated, time has been allotted, and work is being done. So now comes the next stumbling block. What if it just can't be done the way you envisioned it? What if it turns out to take too long, or you find new holes in the concept that you didn't spot before? If these things happen, then it's time to decide whether or not the feature should be trimmed down to fit the requirements of schedule and manpower, put on the back burner until the situation is better suited to the task, or killed outright. Often, it's the second or third choice, and the second choice sometimes turns into the third as priorities change and new issues develop.

If the idea, whether intact or cut down to size a bit, makes it through development, then it can move on into testing (after you've given it a good shakedown yourself). Testing is where we start to see what can or can't make it into the world, because we truly begin to see the idea in operation as a part of the big picture. In Testing doesn't necessarily mean "home free." Still, time and other concerns come into play, and delaying an overall patch just because one piece hasn't come together isn't always, or even occasionally, a good choice.

Finally, after having survived all of these rounds of feedback, revision, and repair, that idea that was born so long ago in your head joins the proud ranks of the Latest Game Updates.

Alchemy is a good example of what happened before this process and what happens now. I've been involved in the alchemy system since I got here, and it's probably the single aspect of the game that I personally have the highest stake in. I've generated pages and pages of documents combining ideas of my own and ideas from all of you other idea-generating people. Trust me. I've been watching. We even tried to put some of the system into the game once, but too quickly and without enough analysis of how it affected the big picture. It turned out to be an idea that just wasn't ready to be a game feature.

The alchemy concept as I envision it is big. Really big. If I want to let the totality of the alchemy ideas come into being, then it's going to take a lot of time to do it right -- which is the only way I want to do it. But there are usually things both big and small that need my attention right now, and many of those things individually take precedence over work that won't be seen in the game for a long time. So a big idea like the complete alchemy system has to be put together little by little over time, while other ideas get their day in the sun. It's not gone. It's not forgotten (I'm a loudmouth, remember?). It's also not finished -- yet. (Did I forget to mention that no idea is ever really finished?) As of right now, alchemy could be considered to be somewhere way out back of In Concept, but some bits and pieces of it could come into play sooner than others. The components that have the best chance right now are those that refine existing game elements, rather than those that introduce new and untested game elements.

So I, like all of you, will keep coming up with ideas. Some of them will never get past the thinking stage. Some of them will make it to paper (or e-mail, or whiteboards) and die flaming deaths in the fires of logic and scheduling and simple reality. Some of them will even make it as far as the game itself. The important thing is not to stop having ideas and not to stop throwing them out there where they might, admittedly, get shot down. They might not. Even if it looks like nobody notices, each idea sticks somewhere in someone's head, where it may eventually spawn another, similar idea. And they keep coming back, being refined and discussed and revised until, with luck, they come to fruition.

We on the UO Live team are part of that loop and are always looking for ideas that can make the world of UO better. We won't get to all of them -- not by a long shot -- but you never can tell.

I'll be there with the rest of the gang, always searching for new ideas, and always,