Gaarawarr Gabs with Josh Drescher – Part 1
So in the US Tour post where I talked about being able to visit the Mythic Studios, I made it known that I was given the chance to sit down and ask questions with quite the cross-section of people that work at Mythic on Warhammer Online. One of those people was Warhammer Online Producer Josh Drescher. It was really great to be able to sit down with Josh because not only was he generous in answering the questions I had about WAR, he also liked to go off on these tangential stories about Mythic’s past and Paul Barnett.
This usually resulted in uncontrollable fits of laughter on my part and an inability to remember what questions I wanted to ask, which then led into more stories, which led to more laughter, and so on and so forth. I’m really surprised I actually got any questions in at all, all things considered.
Luckily, I was able to get some actual WAR questions in and he actually answered all of them, more or less. 🙂
So when the arrangements were being made for me to be able to tour the Mythic Studios, I was given the homework assignment of preparing questions for a lot of different things from Crafting to RvR but the list ended with: Mystery Guest. My first reaction as I read that was : How the heck do you prepare questions for someone when you have no idea what they do? lol. I’m not one for cheesy, generic questions as I like information, so that was definitely the most daunting task set out for me.
If you haven’t guessed yet, the Mystery Guest was Josh Drescher. He was actually one of the last people I talked to that day and when he showed up in the conference room, the first thing he did was start jumping from chair to chair curiously until finally finding the one he was looking for and directing me to sit in it. Once I had, he told me to say something. Oddly, it sounded as if I was speaking in stereo surround-sound. It seems that due to one wall of the conference room being curved, there are some strange sound effects. One is the surround-sound effect in that seat and another is that in one chair, it sounds like someone that is sitting to your left is actually speaking from your right. I didn’t try that one out as the rest of the group returned just then, but that’s got to be eerie.
So we all sat down and start chatting about the interviews and the tour and somehow Paul Barnett got brought up in the conversation. Josh then went into the story of why Paul had been delayed in his travels.
Josh: So people tend not to believe us when we talk about how grueling and terrible it is to travel. “Ohhh, we get to see the world!” We get to see the inside of hotels. I get to see the inside of planes and airports. So I can tell you what the best airports in Europe are, but I can’t tell you what side of things the sun sets on because I’ve never seen any of that. So any time Paul or Jeff or I travel, for some reason, terrible things happen. And so Paul is off going to the developers conference in Brighton, I think. He is either talking yesterday or today, it really doesn’t matter. None of us knows what he is talking about, but we’ll hear from the press after he’s done it.
We’re all chuckling at this point because, well, it’s Paul. 😉
Josh: But we get a phone call from him. He was going to visit one of the other EA studios that’s in Germany and he was going to take, I think, a train to Frankfurt or something. Something like that. And he can’t get out of London. He’s trying to find a way out of London and he can’t get out of London. Apparently one of the leftover things that you get when you’re knighted, you get all sorts of bizarre archaic rights that are just given to you for life, and one of them is you are allowed to drive sheep across the London bridge because, you know, that’s how you bring them to market. No one ever makes use of this, except for once a year when they decide that all the knights that still own sheep can either escort other people’s sheep or bring their sheep and they just drive them across the bridge into London. And so London fills with sheep. It’s the same day that a marathon is being run through another part of London and then they’re doing maintenance on half of the tube tracks.
As a result, Paul is just trapped in the center of town. There’s sheep on one side and marathon runners on the other and the trains just don’t function in the other parts of town and he can’t get out. And he’s calling like we could stop the sheep or something. He’s like “Who’s bigger than a knight? Can the Queen stop the sheep?” We don’t know! And so it’s always good to know that even when we are not around, he is still suffering…
Of course, we’re all laughing at this point. Sheep? Tube? Marathon? What!?!?
Josh (in an announcer’s voice): “Marathon sheep tubing has kept Paul Barnett in London!”
Not even the Queen can stop this!
Josh: So that is one of the many reasons why Paul is not home yet. He was delayed a couple of days due to a sheep infestation in the best city in the world.
Andy: So you know pretty much what Josh does? Your official title is Senior Producer?
Josh: I’m a Producer. Colin Hicks is the Senior Producer. I call him Señor Producer. Colin Hicks has worked for Mythic for like 15 years, something like that, and there used to be a forest all around this building and it’s no silly high rise office buildings. But Colin worked here so long ago that he worked at the crazy Store-All facility that used to be halfway through the forest behind this building.
When we first started the studio, we were actually in Old Town Fairfax which is kind of Victorian-era, red brick, Thomas Jefferson houses. We worked in two non-adjacent condominiums, so you would have to leave the one condo, go across the street and up into another condo to talk to the other half of the development team. Our first internet connection, we could only afford to have the high-speed run to one of the two condos. We had a… I don’t even know, it was like a radio relay thing that gave connectivity to the other half of the studio and if anyone parked between the two buildings, we would lose internet in the other half of the studio.
Not important to the Colin Hicks story, but when we moved to this building there were a bunch of, we called it Hobopolis Prime, a camp of homeless guys that lived in the forest right behind this building. They lived there for years until they knocked down all the rest of the trees. And so at night, (and we were often here late into the night), especially during the winter, you could look out the windows and you would just see fires in trash cans in the forest from the different warring factions of the hobos that occupied the Hobo Forest.
Andy: That’s the next MMO – Hobo’s Online.
GG: And there could be an RvR aspect with different factions.
Josh: And Colin– HvH. Hobo vs. Hobo. No, actually, it would be Hobos vs. Vagabonds, which partially takes place on the train. Colin was always really grumpy, we thought…
GG: Are tramps the third faction?
Josh: …we thought it was funny. Actually, the third faction is the Verizon guys that would come in with police when they were trying to run new lines into buildings. They would have to come in with a police escort and run all the hobos out of the forest. But they were kind of like our mascots down there. And so we would get excited when we saw them moving around down there in the forest and Colin always got grumpy.
And so finally we confront him on it and go “Colin, why don’t you think that this is awesome that we have a small village of homeless people behind us?” and he’s like “<sigh> I used to be the night manager at the Store-All facility between this building and the back side of the forest and the hobos would come in and find the empty facilities, the empty stalls… They’d s#&@ in the empty stalls. So my job every morning was to go and find the empty stalls the hobos had broken into overnight and clean hobo s#&@ out of them. I never forgave them.” That’s our Senior Producer’s connection to the local area.
As you can imagine, at this point, we’re all laughing really hard.
Josh: So if anyone ever asks you “How do you get in the video game industry?”, Job 1 is shovel hobo s#&@ for a while and some day, somehow, you will connect the dots between that and Senior Producer in a major EA studio.
GG: So question #1, “Where did you come up with the idea for Marauders?” has been answered: From Hobos.
Josh: We actually, at one point when we were first doing the Podcast, it was originally a thing that I just decided to do on my own and I would just throw video at marketing and every once in a while they would take a thing that I did and go “We will use that” and put it in the newsletter. There’s actually a 35 minute Hobopolis Prime documentary that tracks an entire year of life in the hobo camp. I thought it was great and they thought it was potentially offensive to do a documentary on the homeless people outside.
Maybe just a little bit…
Josh: But my point is that it was loving…
GG: So it was a fan film…
Josh: You know, we gave them cigarettes. They would come over when our guys would hang outside smoking and our guys would give them cigarettes and they would hang out and talk. On Thanksgiving, we would always take food from our Thanksgiving, cuz we have a Thanksgiving thing in the studio each year, and we would bring food down to them. One year, they weren’t in their camp and one of our guys decided to go into the camp and just deposit food all around for them. I thought it was a loving sort of thing, but they thought it was going to get us all sued by whatever organized lobby defends hobos.
Again, we’re all laughing. I mean, where do you go from there? lol
GG: So Josh doesn’t do Podcasts now…
Josh: I used to, but now the people that are actually in the office do them. From time to time I’ll do the podcast.
Andy: Josh does gallivant quite a bit.
GG: I’m just trying to get over the whole hobo thing, but I can’t…
Josh: They’re gone. They’ve been driven to, like, the, I think it’s the basin between the 50 and the 66.
GG: You hunted them down and tracked them? (laughing)
Josh: No, no. They’re like old friends.
GG: When they were sleeping, he went and tagged them behind their ears.
Josh: I would like to say, I have never tagged, for scientific purposes, a human being. For entertainment purposes, I’ve done all sorts of things…
GG: Their clothing maybe, but not the human being… (laughing) He’s like the Crocodile Hunter… The Hobo Hunter with Josh Drescher. “And here we see them in their natural habitat. Crikey, I wonder if it will get angry if I poke it with a stick…”
Josh: In his cloacae…(laughing)…hobos don’t have cloacae… Look it up kids! No, just ask your Mom “What is a cloacae?”
Needless to say, we were all laughing yet again at this point. We tried to get a bit more serious at this point though…
GG: So are there any plans in the future to bring… Oh, that stuff’s good.
Josh: He was offering me salt-water taffy. If I have to answer a question, I don’t need to have taffy in my mouth. If I reach for the taffy, it’s a question I don’t want to answer. That will be our sign.
GG: So there are always rumors, but are there any plans for future races implemented within WAR?
Josh: Obviously, when we launched, we did not use all the armies. Certainly one of the things that we would potentially be looking to do in the future would be adding more. The thing you have to be careful of, and this is just a lesson we’ve learned from making these types of games for 15 years, is you can get to the point where you’ve potentially added way too many and you wind up watering things down. At the moment, our focus is definitively on improving the stuff that is currently within the game, so you want to fix things before you add additional things. That’s a bit of a dodge, but absolutely one of the things that’s on the table though would be adding new races.
And I want to say, from a personal standpoint, is that I would love Skaven but that has always been shot down any time I’ve begged to somehow be able to play a Skaven. Which is why I was so happy with the Skaven cloak because at least it lets me pretend to run around with a Skaven from time to time. So if Josh rules the world, you’ll know, because the entire game will switch over to a Skaven theme. Oooo! Or Lizardmen! ~whisper~ I love Lizardmen.
GG: I don’t even want to know… So there are four archetypes for each race. Is that going to stay true or may we see a fifth added, like one that has some kind of different, crazy mechanic?
Josh: It’s always possible, but…
GG: Cuz I would love Dwarf Pirates. 🙂
Josh: In terms of something like that, that’s almost not an archetype so much as a costume or even some sort of secondary skillset. In terms of the four main career types, those are sort of the archetypal functions that we feel are necessary for the game to be sort of executed efficiently. What you would be more likely to see would be an adjustment of some of the battlefield roles for the existing archetypes; trying to push them in one direction or another based off of player feedback.
At the moment, one of the discussions we are having, obviously based strongly off of player feedback, is “What is the appropriate role of Crowd Control?” I’m sure you have talked to Nate (Levy, C&C Strike Team Lead) and his guys about this at great length, but those are legitimate questions and we’re obviously not happy with where the game is in terms of that now. You know some of those things are fixing actual bugs that are causing things to behave incorrectly. But then there are also fundamental philosophical questions and discussions that need to be had about whether or not we currently have things set up in the right way in terms of how we expect those different archetypes to behave on the battlefield.
Over the next 6 to 9 months, you are going to see a lot of that type of internal soul-searching going on trying to really ego-check a lot of decisions we have made. Because it is very easy to look back on something that you know in your gut is wrong and try to construct a defense around it. That is almost never the right answer. The right answer is almost always to go “It doesn’t matter why we chose to do this thing, but that it turned out not to work the way we would like it to.” The only thing that matters is that we have the clarity of vision and the sort of fortitude necessary to look straight at it and go “OK, we need to make some changes.” And that is where we are right now with a lot of things.
What Jeff (Hickman) was talking about over the last couple of months in his Producer’s Letters has been an effort to be as open as we ever can be about those types of things. I realize that there is always a level of frustration because people want there to be some sort of Frost/Nixon moment where Jeff just lays bare all of the internal workings of the studio and explains in great detail exactly when certain changes are coming and so forth. We can never be that detailed because it’s always in flux. It’s always a fluid sort of process.
But we’ve been trying to send a message though, over the last 3 or 4 months, that we really are in a position now where we, as a studio, feel confident that we can look with a critical eye at a lot of the choices that were made over the development of the game and that we are supported on all sides. From above, from below, from all around…EA is with us. BioWare is with us. Our own internal leadership is with us saying “The right thing to do is to make the best possible choices for improving the game.” So that does not limit us in some sort of way.
We have, at this point, the opportunity to do whatever we feel is necessary and appropriate. So that could be something like a fundamental change in how an archetype behaves, that could be like the types of things that Jeff (Hickman) has been listing off now…the tough look we are giving to the 4th Tier of content and primarily the RvR campaign. You know, he used the example of the Fortresses as something where we look at them and we understand that they have great promise. We understand in our head what we thought they were going to be like and if we can’t get them there, it’s better to just sort of cut that off than it would be to allow it to sustain itself in a bad way.
And, you know, these are tough choices, but I hope that people look at that type of dialog that Jeff (Hickman) has been having with the community and they see that in a positive light and they go “OK, we have moved past Cloud Kookoo Land where we are all just waiting for the fairy-dust solution to come and magically improve everything and they are making the types of decisions you make, sort of, in a surgical way. You know…what is the best thing for the patient. So that’s a long, convoluted answer to your archetype question. So, no, you can’t have a pirate just yet.
GG: I like that there is a “just yet” on there, buddy. 🙂
Josh: Well, as long as Jeff Hickman is involved in anything, there is always a 50% chance of pirates.
No, that’s not the entire interview. There’s still quite a bit to go with lots more information about WAR and Mythic as well as at least one more humorous story. Stay tuned for the second part of the interview which I should be able to get posted later this week. Until then…