2001-11-17: UO Stratics Interview with Stellerex, Senior Producer

UO Stratics Interview with Stellerex, Senior Producer

UO Stratics was recently able to touch bases with Rick "Stellerex" Hall, the Senior Producer for Ultima Online, on a number of issues regarding UO in general, on the soon-to-be-released update of Lord Blackthorn's Revenge, and even about his personal background. The following are the highlights of that discussion.

Stratics: Many of the UO Vets feel the game has been curbed more towards newer, less experienced players. While that will help people starting you feel it will help increase sales and keep people playing longer?

Stellerex: I don’t know if an improved newbie experience will help sales, but it will absolutely make the game simpler to learn. In the long run, we think this will help keep people playing longer. UO is really a game about socialization and community. Helping people to get into the game faster allows them to meet new people and make new friends faster, and it’s establishing those bonds that keeps people in the game longer. I think it’s important to note that this also adds value for the veterans. Keeping a strong, diverse community helps to keep the world interesting and alive.

Stratics: What incentive will there be for current 3D players now that Ilshenar will be 2D compatible as well?

Stellerex: The 3D client is still more easily updateable, has better spell effects, better animations, a zoom feature, etc. There are reasons why some players like 3D, just as there are reasons why some like 2D. Allowing players to access Ilshenar from the 2D client won’t change the things that some players really like about Third Dawn.

Stratics: Now that the 2D client will be allowed in the not-so-new lands of Ilshenar, are there any plans to make a Felucca facet of it as well, or will it keep the Trammel-only rule set?

Stellerex: At present, we have no plans to make a Felucca version of Ilshenar. Ilshenar is a facet unto itself. We chose the Trammel rule set for it, because that is the rule set that is currently most popular among the players.

Stratics: Before the closure of the volunteer program, rewards in the form of unique items for completing quests were stopped due to certain less reputable players pretending to be Seers and taking advantage of other players. Since the Seer program no longer exists, will unique quest rewards be reinstituted?

Stellerex: No, but the ongoing content team will continue to add new items to the game.

Stratics: Are scenarios completely replacing quests, if so, why?

Stellerex: Oh, Calandryll could probably write a whole book in answer to this question. Scenarios are very different from quests in that they require far less direct development interaction, and yet can affect far more players than most quests. They can also have greater-reaching and more permanent and meaningful results in the world of Sosaria.

Stratics: After the crafting overhaul is implemented, will crafting skills continue to be developed and expanded?

Stellerex: This is highly likely. The dev team has traditionally tried to improve and enhance the game over the years. As you’ve seen, we’ve made numerous changes to nearly every skill, in the attempt to achieve better balance, respond to player requests, and just plain optimize our engine. I see no reason to believe that this pattern won’t be continued.

Stratics: Are there any plans to implement new skills, such as Masonry and Glassblowing?

Stellerex: Possibly. That’s not a question we can answer with any accuracy at this point.

Stratics: Will Ilshenar remain no recall/mark/gate when it is converted to 2D? (please say yes, oh please oh please...)

Stellerex: This is still being discussed, so I can’t answer the question just yet.

Stratics: What costumes did the Staff wear for Halloween? Is it true that Calandryll really dressed up like a Pixie?

Stellerex: Interestingly, we did have quite a number of staff members dress up as pimps, for some inexplicable reason. We had the expected number of cloak wearing mages, axe-weilding psychos, and even one person dressed as a Federal Express package. And no, Cal did not dress as a pixie.

Stratics: Will gifts ever be given out on real and UO holidays again?

Stellerex: This is very likely. Just don’t ask me when.

Stratics: Will current subscribers get a discount on upgrading second/third/etc accounts to UO:LBR?

Stellerex: No. That issue was pretty well explained in the FAQ on the web site.

Stratics: Are there any plans to make new housing areas available?

Stellerex: This is under discussion right now. There are a number of technical hurdles that would have to be overcome in order to accomplish it, so we have to determine the technical feasibility before committing to a plan.

Stratics: Will there ever be any in game aid for those who wish to roleplay evil? For instance, Calandryll is planning a full Virtue System for the Good Guys, but leaves nothing for those who like to delve into the darker side of things. For instance, have you ever considered adding Pagan Magic into the game?

Stellerex: We don’t have any plans for that at this time. Giving rewards for evil acts is a rather difficult design challenge. How can you differentiate between a role-played evil act and a random grief tactic (with the sole purpose of, say, simply wanting to destroy your gaming experience)?

Stratics: With the addition of NPC context-sensitive menus, will players still be able to use speech to interact with NPCs? For instance, for use in a Quest System?

Stellerex: We’re not disabling any of the old methods of interacting with NPCs. All of that will still function as it always has. Context-sensitive menus will be an added way of interacting with NPCs. Players who prefer speech triggers for their immersion value will still have that option.

Stratics: Will archery be re-balanced or extended (e.g., new bows, bolt types, etc)?

Stellerex: It’s always possible that we could add something for archers as part of a scenario.

Stratics: Have all the virtues got rough ideas for their implementation?

Stellerex: Yes. However, we are releasing them a few at a time so we can focus on player feedback and evaluate each one carefully before the designs are set in stone.

Stratics: Do you think the scenarios are proving popular, and why?

Stellerex: Yes, I do. Have you seen any of the screen shots and fansite sections specifically devoted to the scenarios?

Stratics: Any plans on getting Felucca repopulated?

Stellerex: We have a couple of experiments underway to try to give players more incentive to visit Felucca. However, in the end players must always have the right to choose where and how they want to play.

Stratics: Will North America or Europe be getting any new shards?

Stellerex: Obviously, that’s a question of subscriptions. I can say with certainty that if the subscriber numbers warrant a new shard anywhere, then a new shard will be installed. For example, recently the subscriber numbers in Japan have increased to the point that it was necessary to install the Mugen shard there. Shards are fairly expensive to put in place, so they need to be justified financially.

Stratics: Where you an Ultima fan before you got the job at OSI? Did you play Ultima Online before joining the team or do you now?

Stellerex: I was only playing UO for about a month before coming to OSI. Since then, however, I have gotten into the game and I have characters on Lake Superior, Napa, and Catskills.

Stratics: What type of characters in RPG’s do you enjoy playing most?

Stellerex: It must be some after-effect from all of my days playing AD&D when I was younger, but I always prefer to play mages.

Stratics: What did you go to school for?

Stellerex: I got my degree in Electronic Engineering from Penn State in 1986, with a minor in computer programming.

Stratics: What did you do before being hired at OSI? Where did you previously work?

Stellerex: Directly out of college I was involved in circuit board design for automated test equipment with the Navy. We were building equipment to test avionics and weapons systems on F-14s. I did that for about 4 years before getting into the gaming industry in 1990. I worked for a little independent developer called Paragon software, which was eventually bought up by an investor from New York and became Take 2 Interactive Software. I started off as a programmer, the later moved into game design, and finally became a producer.

Stratics: Tell us how you got hired on at OSI? How did you make it into this position?

Stellerex: I went through a game recruiter. With about 9 years of experience in the industry on several different platforms and numerous different game genres, I guess they liked my qualifications.

Stratics: How interactive is a Senior Producer in the daily designs and programming of the game?

Stellerex: I think different people handle this sort of position in different ways. While I really enjoy contributing creatively, I don’t want to smother my team. I think it’s extremely important for them to feel like they have some ownership over the game systems they work on. What I try to do is provide overall direction and focus. And while I enjoy discussing system concepts with both the programmers and the designers, I try to let the do their jobs without feeling micro-managed.

Stratics: How in touch are you with the players and their wants and needs for the game?

Stellerex: I think we at OSI make a very substantial effort to stay ‘tuned in’ to what the players are talking about. We really do listen. I make a point to read the message boards and chat individually with a number of different players on a daily basis. While we aren’t in a position to implement every one of the thousands of suggestions that are made, we try hard to listen to them all and evaluate them objectively.