The Future of Scenarios

UO has a great thing going with scenarios. The stories have been enthralling and well written. The new items, creatures, and areas are exciting. We'd like to ask you a few questions about your role in scenario development, challenges and the future of these great adventures:

What is your responsibility with scenario development?

I am one of the scenario designers, which means I help design and code scenario systems and features. Though, to be honest, most of the next scenario (Scenario 4) was already underway and nearing completion by the time I joined the scenario team. I've been able to offer some ideas and input here and there, but mostly I've been working to help coordinate with QA and with gathering the new client content that this scenario will need.

That leads into my second set of responsibilities... basically just coordinating all of the various components that go into a scenario. There are a lot of moving parts that all need to stay on track- scenario development documents, server code and data, client code and data, server and client testing, bug fixing, setting up each separate week of the scenario, and so on. Keeping an eye on all of these things is a bit new to me, and I have more to learn, but it's all good.

How does OSI come up with the scenario ideas?

I wasn't involved in the creation stage of Scenario 4, but we've already been kicking around ideas for the next few scenarios. The inspiration for those ideas can come from anywhere: previous UO or Ultima events/scenarios; player suggestions; other games; movies and books; that strange, coiled wire sticking out of the wall over there; a bizarre joke someone told; sleep deprivation -- pretty much anywhere.

Previous scenarios often provide a starting point. Maybe something that happened in the last scenario, or even a couple scenarios back, could end up being the launching point for the future. Or maybe something that seemed trivial or unimportant in one scenario is revealed to be essential in the next scenario, or perhaps it becomes the source of a horrible curse.

When it comes time to put it all together, we talk about the ideas we have and hammer out a framework for what we want the scenario to be. Some ideas are set aside for later, others get distilled or changed, and some are thrown out completely. And finally, a scenario pops into being. We call it the Little Bang. Well, I call it that. Called it that. Just that one time. I promise to never do so again.

How far in advance do you plan (even just a concept) for the scenario story line?

We already have basic ideas for well into the future... like for the next 3 or 4 scenarios. Nothing set in stone and nothing more than concept for those furthest away, but we do have general ideas so that we can plan for future events and content, and maybe drop the occasional hint or bit of foreshadowing.

What special challenges are there in developing scenarios? (technical and human)

The biggest challenge is introducing new content and fiction in ways that are dynamic and engaging. As game players, we want to explore new lands and find new stuff. We want to be heroes, and we do not want to win silver medals. Nothing new there. Those are the same basic problems that arise when developing any game. Of course, in a massive online game, the problem becomes one of making hundreds of thousands of people the hero, dealing with having solutions posted on every available virtual surface, letting everyone make their mark on the world, providing a sense of discovery to an enormous community of players, and making it all truly fun. It's an engaging challenge.

Technically, the biggest challenge is getting everything implemented and tested in a reasonable amount of time.

What parameters do you try to follow when developing scenarios (i.e. No modern day vehicles).

Yeah, no modern day vehicles... that's a good one. **Writes that down**

We try to keep everything within the expected realm of possibilities for a world of magic and swordplay. No lasers. No starships. And minimal in-game advertising.

How do you know if a scenario is successful? What measures of success do you use?

You throw the scenario against a wall. If it sticks, it was successful.

Some players would enjoy a city attack. Other players don't want their city life interrupted. How you do feel about city invasions in scenarios?

I think it's a necessary evil. I understand the connections that UO players can have with certain cities, and not everyone likes being caught in a war zone. But I also think that city invasions and other events of that kind can help make Britannia feel more like a living world. They can help create excitement and a glimpse of the world changing.

City attacks are just one way to bring excitement to UO. And not all events that transpire within a city need to be attacks or of an evil nature. Even something like the changes to Haven can provide a spark. Despite the fact that those changes were done without any significant fiction or events, Haven has become a place of interest... at least for the moment.

Will players have the chance to play evil in a scenario?

If you mean siding with the "villain"-- that's an interesting possibility. But we have no plans for that in the current scenario.

How important do you feel that it is to keep to original Ultima Prime fiction when writing your scenarios?

Lots of Ultima Prime lore is ripe for use in UO scenarios, but I do not think that it is important for UO to mirror events that transpired in those games. On the contrary, I think it's important for us to pave our own path through Ultima history... and as much as possible, for each shard to do the same.

Is it true that you force Gromm to dress up like Shakespeare at work as he writes content for the future scenarios?

Only if "force" means "trying to talk out of."

How important do you feel it is to differentiate every shard from each other through the use of Scenarios? For instance, having Cove be destroyed on some shards, while saved on others. Any examples you could give that you feel would be ideal for this?

I think the scenarios could be an excellent way for players to get an opportunity to differentiate their shard from others. It's important for those differences to be determined by the actions of players on each shard. It's meaningless if something is built into a scenario that forces shard differences.

I don't think the importance lies with giving each shard a way to be different from one another. The important aspect, in my opinion, is to create fiction and scenarios that have different possible outcomes or results based on what is done by those taking part in them. Different results on different shards would be a possible result, but would come about because different players responded to the given challenges in different ways, not because something was set up to make Sonoma different from Chesapeake.

Meer versus Juka. Which is cooler?

Mongbats, duh.

Tell us about how you first got hired at OSI, what were you doing career-wise before then?

Pretty mundane stuff, actually. Origin had something in the Austin newspaper about hiring testers for an online game (this was before UO's initial release). I applied for the position and was hired. I had played many of the previous Ultima games and knew what OSI was, so the idea of working there was awesome.

Before getting the job at OSI, I graduated from the University of Texas and then spent a summer traveling around, including about 6 weeks in Italy studying the history and art there. After that, I was waiting tables at a great Austin restaurant while looking to start a career somewhere.

Before you joined the Development team you were an IGM (Interest Game Master). What was your favorite cross-shard plot that you worked on and why?

There were aspects of the Followers of Armageddon plot that were good. Especially the idea of having three persistent plot characters in-game all the time (Martoo Saul, Junin Pince, and Zendella Kxriss). Seers played these characters, and they were given goals to fulfill, but limited resources to draw upon. The seers playing these roles were also given certain general parameters to follow, but mostly had a lot of freedom to role-play as they chose. No one knew who they were at first, though word quickly started to spread about the FoA. Some players aided them while others hunted and captured them.

I really liked having persistent event-characters like this. Not everything went smoothly, and there were parts that bogged down quite a bit, but when things clicked, it made for some great UO moments. I think that a lot of players who were involved really felt that they were all playing a true role in shaping their world. The whole sequence of seeking to capture the FoA members or protect and aid them had great potential and had some of the most dynamic event sequences that UO has seen... at least on this scale anyway. All of the FoA members could be captured, or any combination of the three, or even none of them. There was also a chance to rescue a captured FoA member during one event. Much that happened with this plot was totally in the hands of the players on each shard.

As far as other types of plots, non-major plots, there were too many good ones to detail them all. I remember a building of ice being melted, an ivory serpent terrorizing the seas, a fountain corrupted and then renewed after many adventurers and with an unexpected final twist, a singing sword, a farmyard full of apples enchanted to look like horses, an ethereal elemental and staves of the elements, frozen shrines and a frozen chicken, a secret mountaintop hideout, yellow trees that turned red at the end, weapon and armor caravans from Minoc to Yew, a great white hart, and many, many more. Most of these were seer events or plots, and there were many others that were also good ones.

During the FoA (Followers of Armageddon) plot, there were a lot of really great articles on BNN (then known as the Town Cryer) by Jasper McCarrin. Being the author, how much fun did you have in writing these reports that everyone looked forward to? Do you have plans in your current position to bring that magic back to BNN?

Well, I don't know how much anyone actually looked forward to them, but I enjoyed writing them. Jasper was a fun character. I brought him in-game to interact with other people any chance I got, and it was always fun talking to players as Jasper. I also enjoyed being able to use Jasper's writing to add depth to what was happening in-game. Things he would mention could always be seen in-game exactly as described. His stories helped to tie up loose ends and to provide hints for what to do next, but since most of the elements used were also present on each shard, it was not absolutely necessary to read an out-of-game newspaper to be involved. Hopefully, though, Jasper's stories did add something to what was going on for those who read them.

One story with an interesting twist was the one with Branson One-Thumb. I had been told to write a newspaper article that explained that the former "Zog Cabal" would now be known as the "Followers of Armageddon" (*sigh*). The catch was that I was specifically told not to use the words "Zog" or "Cabal" anywhere in the story. Poor Branson gave his life to that tragic cause.

As for bringing that magic back to BNN, I'd have to say that Gromm's fiction so far has well surpassed anything Jasper ever had to say. I might be able to write a thing or two along the way, and Jasper could possibly make an appearance as well, but Gromm already has the BNN magic flowing with his excellent writing.

As an IGM you were very interactive with the Seers in the volunteer program, how did you feel about things when the program was cut?

I had heard about what was coming before it had happened, but it was still a sad occasion for me. We were fortunate to have some very creative people come through the UO Seer and Interest program -- they were a pleasure to work with. I thoroughly enjoy what I'm now doing as a UO Live designer, but I often think back and miss running events with them.

The UO Interest program had its share of problems, but it also had an amazing amount of untapped potential. My biggest disappointment was not being able to find a way to truly make the seer program everything that it should have been.

Most people probably don't realize, but you were the IGM directly responsible for many of the well-known decorated player venues on the shards, such as the Golden Brew on Baja, Cove's Merchant Guild on GL, SCT and the Atlantic Mage Tower on Atlantic. Which was your favorite venue that you decorated and just how much fun was this part of your job?

Hmm... it would be impossible to pick a favorite venue. I had the good fortune of getting to work with many great player-run establishments during my time as an IGM. The fun part was being able to actually do something to help UO players who were trying to add to their world and their shard.

How about a memorable moment? Kazola's tavern on Great Lakes was the second player venue that was ever helped. tOAD and I decided to role-play the whole thing. We played the part of two brothers who owned a carpentry business (my character was JohnnyJonJon, but I forget the character name tOAD used). We argued about how much to charge for this and that and had carpentry sound effects going as we pretended to build things. It was fun, but it was also the last time we'd go to that extreme; it took way, way too long, and time was never something we ever had enough of.

The worst part, by the way, was not having enough time or enough IGMs to really make as much of a difference as I wish we could have. For every place we helped, there were dozens more that were just as deserving, but that didn't get anything. I think that a lot of the player venues we helped have had amazing success (and many still do), but I also think that this part of the Interest program essentially failed. It couldn't do otherwise without being able to provide for every player venue out there that deserved an equal chance. But I'm glad we at least made the attempt.