2002-10-09: Tales of a Traveller: Interview of Ongoing Content Lead Designer Ignatz

Tales of a Traveller: Interview of Ongoing Content Lead Designer Ignatz

Videric How did you get involved in UO, and what is your experience/background as a role-player?
Ignatz My introduction to UO was back before the game was initially released. I was hired to work with the UO Quality Assurance team (QA). At the time, I had little experience with either UO specifically or online gaming in general, though I did know the Ultima series having played many of those games.
Ignatz From QA, I moved on to being a Game Master during UO's first 6 months, and after that became an Interest Game Master. About two years ago, I changed to my current position as a designer on the UO Live Team.
Ignatz As for role-playing, my experience there goes back to my early high school years when I was introduced to AD&D. From those pen and paper roots, I later added computer and console RPGs and then MMORPGs, and I still dabble in all aspects of those to the present.
Videric As the new Scenario Team lead, how do you plan to go ahead? What is your secret formula of making scenarios?
Ignatz Secret formula: Chalk (as many diverse colors as you can find), string or twine, some sort of putty, different kinds of grit, track lights, large rolls of cloth - preferably canvas, a gas-powered generator, linseed oil, 15 - 20 thin metal pipes (minimum 3ft. in length), and an assortment of paint brushes.
Ignatz Going ahead, I plan to increase our usage of linseed oil.
Videric How important do you see the fiction for the new content? Which comes first: the needs of the content or the story?
Ignatz I believe that fiction and content are both important for a game like UO. New content adds things for players to do and things with which they can interact. Fiction adds depth to content by giving it a context or establishing its place within the game world. Fiction helps answer the questions, "Why?" "Why is this event happening?" and "Why does this item work in this manner?"
Ignatz Not all players care about those questions - they just want to play the game, and that's great. But I think that even those players derive some satisfaction from the idea of their game world having a fictional context even though they aren't going to go out of their way to seek it out.
Ignatz One nice aspect of the Temple of Knowledge in Ilshenar is that you can enter almost any room in that dungeon and get a sense of what that room's original purpose was through visual clues. They aren't just random spaces thrown together and stocked with monsters - there is a sense of history there, even though it's subtle. At the same time, you can also adventure or explore either of those areas without needing to know anything about their fictional past.
Ignatz As far as which comes first, and I'm taking that as asking which is developed first, we usually have at least a brief sketch of the primary storyline, and from there we come up with content to support it. There's usually one or more features that may not have been derived from the storyline, but we wanted to include them and so they get built into the fiction. For the rest of the scenario development cycle, content and fiction are advanced more or less together, though content tends to drive fiction from this point.
Videric Ultima originated using moral dilemmas and forcing people to make tough choices between options that were not obviously good or evil. Ultima Online's current storyline does quite clearly underline "good & evil," but presents no choice for players to support. Any thoughts on this?
Ignatz We are constantly looking for ways to let players side with the 'bad guys" or with one of the opposing sides. This was fairly successful in the Savage Empire scenario, but we're looking for ways to improve on that. I'd love to see some players able to side with Blackthorn and Exodus while others side with Dawn, and then they compete to see which side will win. We have yet to find a good, efficient way to achieve this in a manner that doesn't interfere with factions, guilds, the party system, etc. (modes of player interaction in UO) while at the same time being easy to use and accessible enough for any and all players to get involved if they so desire.
Videric How do you feel about role of IGMs and GMs who have been doing quests lately? Wouldn't these resources be brilliant to use with Scenarios? I could imagine them playing the parts of major villains and characters, as scripted NPCs are quite boring to interact with.
Ignatz We've discussed ways of using the GM quests as a supplement to what's happening in the Scenarios. It's not something we currently have plans for in the short term, but we continue to look at this or something similar (mostly) for use with future scenarios.
Videric Gromm's stories are certainly excellent, but have you ever thought about illustrations or sketches with the weekly stories, just like in old Ultima manuals? Have you considered other approaches to tell the story?
Ignatz Yes, I have personally suggested we add illustrations, sketches, or at least screenshots for use with scenario stories. The biggest obstacle there is time, but I would still like to see something like this added to future stories.
Ignatz As for considering other approaches to tell scenario stories, yes definitely. We have a number of different ideas along those lines. I'd love to see more of the story take place in-game as players discover aspects of it. That desire, though, often ends up competing with the goal of getting more players involved in each scenario. A recent poll on the UO website suggested over 40% of the UO playerbase either had never heard of the scenarios or didn't know how to get involved. This means that as we investigate better ways to tell these stories, we will try to consider ways of making them more immersive, ways to increase suspense and a sense of discovery, and ways to provide easier access to the scenarios themselves. It's a balancing act on which we're still working.
Videric Are you planning to have any real conclusions to the stories? The Zog Cabal and Minax stories really didn't have any kind of ending. I am thinking in scale of Britannia defeating Blackthorn and burning his castle, and altering the world to be ready for another epic perhaps.
Ignatz Yes, but I don't plan on giving anything away at this time **grins**.
Videric Do the scenario or development teams have any new plans to make Britannia more alive? Haven (your project, I understand) is a good example of a deeply individual place and stands out from older, perhaps more generic towns. The landscape and the lore of the land are quite poorly explained in-game. I bet most people do not know that the Lost Lands are actually underground. There is no way to know this with in-game info.
Ignatz Our desire is to have all the lands of UO be as well-designed as Haven (**laughs wildly**).
Ignatz Well, okay… seriously… we naturally want to inject as much new life into the lands as possible. As often as possible, we try to re-invigorate the current map, but a full facelift isn't in the cards any time soon. Even the relatively small number of changes we've already made add up to almost 5 Megs when patched from scratch, so something on too great a scale would probably be a prohibitively large patch.
Ignatz There are no current plans to add back-story for the original UO maps. That might change at any given time, but for now (for good or bad) we are focusing on moving forward. We try to add meaning to areas of the map during scenarios. Why is part of Yew now a swamp? Well, you see there was this plague that resulted from a spell that went horribly wrong. And so on. There's a story behind what happened. Hopefully we can continue to do that for more and more of the land…and not just when parts of the map are drastically transformed.
Videric Can someone, some day, explain Trammel and Felucca fiction? Was the facet empty? Why doesn't Felucca nature recover?
Ignatz Felucca and Trammel are different facets of a shard from the Gem of Immortality. When the existence of other facets was discovered, Nystul opened the way to Trammel at Lord British's request. Since then, Ilshenar has also been discovered. There are tales of the facet ruined and abandoned by Minax during her invasion of Felucca (during the Renaissance fiction). Other rumors speak of a facet as yet undiscovered that is cloaked in shadow.
Ignatz The facets of Trammel and Felucca are close in form, which is believed to be why the lands within them have developed in such a similar manner. On the other hand, the facet of Ilshenar was badly deformed causing radical changes in the lay of the land. Other mysteries have yet to be solved, such as why nature hasn't recovered in Felucca.
Videric What are the Champions anyway? Are they like immortal pagan titans like Pyros and Lithos?
Ignatz The Champions are not pagan titans like the ones from Ultima 8. The pagan titans each had connections to specific elements - earth, fire, water, etc. More is on the way on who the champions are. Look for some stories relating to them to appear on the UO website.
Videric Why aren't scenario-related people taking part of any RP discussion outside scenarios anymore? Basically the role-playing board is never visited.
Ignatz As I understand it, posters on the role-playing board felt that the increased traffic of scenario posts disrupted the flow of role-play posts, and begged for the boards to be separated. UO's OCR department made note of this request, and thus scenario discussions now take place on the UO scenario boards.
Videric I heard rumours of houses that are not houses (from last UO Faire). This included house designs that looked like arenas, temples, etc., instead of normal houses. Is this still being considered, and wouldn't it be a perfect RP tool that scenarios could introduce? (ed. note Questions were submitted before AoS was revealed)
Ignatz The House Design tool that is being considered as part of the Age of Shadows expansion will allow players to do all kinds of creative things with their "houses." This could potentially mean anything that the owner has the imagination to build. The exact limitations of this tool have not yet been determined, but it should be possible to build things like a temple-style building, an arena-like space, or even an open-air theatre for dramatic performances or weddings. It could definitely be a great tool that could be used to enhance role-play if so desired.
Ignatz Remember, though, that the House Design tool will more than likely undergo many changes between now and whatever point in the future it finally sees the light of day, so it would be best to hold off any expectations until more of the specific details are revealed.
Videric Player races - Gromm shared his thoughts about the subject last year. What do you and the scenario team currently think about player races in UO?
Ignatz The subject of player races comes up now and then in our discussions. We think that player races could be a good thing for a game like UO, but we have no plans for them at this point in time.
Videric What is involved in creating monsters and personalities in Britannia? How does the cooperation between artists and scenario team happen and how long of a process is it? Does this process vary when you have outside help with expansions, like the great freelancer artist, Denis Loubet (and Ultima artist since Akalabeth), or the Todd McFarlane studios?"
Ignatz There are generally two basic ways a monster or fictional character is developed for a scenario in UO. One is when we develop a storyline and develop characters and creatures to support it. The other is to use pre-existing creatures and characters and fit them into our story or build the story around them.
Ignatz For example, the new orcs and the savages used in the first scenario were completely designed to support that scenario. They didn't exist until a need for them was created. On the other hand, two sets of creatures were developed with the help of Todd McFarlane and his production studio. The first set was developed for a different project (Ultima Worlds Online: Origin), while the other set was developed specifically for UO scenarios. In this case, many of the creatures came first, and the story was built or modified to work around them.
Ignatz The process of working with artists to create a creature is multifaceted. First we give them text descriptions of the creatures (occasionally including very loose drawings). From these, the artists produce concept drawings showing as much detail as possible - usually just grayscale line sketches to begin with and followed by more elaborate full color drawings. These are reviewed and changes are made. Once a monster's look is more or less finalized, an artist begins work on a 3d model of it. More progress reviews. More changes. Animations are added. Yet more reviews. The monster is examined in-game. Adjustments are made. And so on. It can be a long process, but the important aspect is good communication between the artists and the scenario team.
Ignatz This process changes in some ways when we use outside help. The biggest change is that all communication tends to be funneled through a single person who acts as a liaison between the freelance artists and us. This liaison person is generally one of our own artists.
Videric The traditional question we at the Tales of a Traveller ask all: What have been your most remarkable moments in UO as a player and as an IGM/designer?
Ignatz Ah, tough question - I've been involved in a lot of memorable moments in UO --from accompanying Lord British when he was visiting a shard, to helping a Seer run a quest, to aiding various player-run establishments. I've enjoyed watching UO history unfold as players took part in various events, watching as the fountain in PaxLair (on Chesapeake) was cleansed of its corruption, watching as chests throughout the land were guarded so that members of the FoA could not get to them, watching as players sacrificed themselves to enter the Ethereal Void to speak to a ghost, watching as players melted a building made of ice, and many other moments of the kind - some unique to a single shard, others shared across many shards, but each playing out in vastly different ways.