2011-12-02: Michael ”Phoenix” Moore, Designer II
Stratics QA5 from 2011-12-02: Michael ”Phoenix” Moore, Designer II
This interview was conducted by Lady Tia.
For those of us who don’t know, what has your “career track” been with the gaming industry?
I am what is known as a game systems designer. That means I am primarily concerned with game mechanics and not game content.
I don’t normally write quests or populate dungeons with monsters or lay out game maps. I occasionally do those things, but mostly I work with things like combat balance, monster AI, monster and player abilities, crafting, trading, and other such features. My job requires a broad skillset that includes software engineering, spreadsheets, databases, technical and creative writing, and user interface design. I often implement the designs I create.
I’ve been doing this for ten years now. 6.5 of those years have been spent working on Ultima Online, and the remainder of it was spent on Richard Garriott’s Tabula Rasa
What project that you were involved in are you the proudest of?
I had a hand in bringing customizable housing to UO with Age of Shadows. The idea was one that the team often talked about but largely considered a pipe dream.
What I did, the thing I am proud of, was to build a prototype. It was a proof-of-concept that took about four days to construct. That prototype wasn’t very much like the final product at all, and was scrapped after use. But what it did was to show the possibilities in a way that people could interact with. Rapidly prototyping gameplay is the thing I love most about my job. I did later work closely with client and server engineers to bring the final custom housing to fruition.
Another thing I’m really happy about is my recent work with the itemization system released in conjunction with the revamp of Dungeon Shame.
I have long felt that UO’s random loot drops had one particularly bad problem: the randomness was dialed up to 11. Now, I love randomness in game systems up to a point. I just don’t think that finding a needle in a haystack is enjoyable gameplay. So I got the chance to address that issue, along with a number of other important problems with UO’s random item generation. I think the result is a huge improvement and will significantly change UO for the better.
I think most of us understand and respect Dev’s having to remain tight lipped about upcoming content etc.
However, when it comes to past content only, what was the hardest thing for you to personally remain tight lipped about?
**kind of like, you saw a bunch of negative/griping posts on Stratics and you were sitting back thinking “dang if y’all only knew” or something along those lines**
I pretty much have no desire to “spill the beans”. I prefer to play my cards close to my chest, as it were.
They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, this is true of game systems: A working alpha is worth a thousand forum posts. A simple prototype can show off a game system in ways that words can’t. Using mere words creates a layer of abstraction. You can’t teach a pilot to fly with just an instruction manual; at some point they have to take the stick and feel it. Similarly, you can theory-craft a game design on paper all you want, but you just won’t really know if it’s really good until you can actually play it.
When it comes to the current team, who is the practical joker of the bunch and have they gotten you? OR What was your best retaliatory strike against “the joker”?
Hmm. The current UO team is pretty tame. They could take some lessons from those who came before.
When I was working on Tabula Rasa, one of the producers broke the build over an important weekend, when a pre-alpha version of the game was to be demonstrated live. This is one of the reasons why producers generally don’t get to touch the engineers’ shiny dials. But anyway, when he returned the following week, the bosses had literally erased his office door. They removed the door and the door frame, covered it with drywall, painted it to match the corridor, and removed his nameplate. Eventually they let him bust in with a hatchet.
Then there was the time they tinfoiled the lead designer’s office. They went so far as to remove aspirin from a bottle, individually wrap them in foil, and put them back in the bottle (after, of course, tinfoiling the bottle). Every surface and every object in the office was wrapped in aluminum.
When you are not chained to the desk working, what do you enjoy doing?
I enjoy spending time with my wife of 15 years. We game together, watch movies and TV. We enjoy good food. Currently, we are fostering kittens with an animal rescue organization.