UO Stratics was recently able to talk with Lady Lu, the Associate Producer and Team Lead for Ultima Online: Samurai Empire, on a number of issues regarding everything from her own personal background to aspects of the Samurai Empire expansion itself. The following are the highlights of that discussion:
What can you tell us about your own personal gaming experiences? For example what games do you play yourself?
I grew up with games around me, particularly in the early 80s. I have two older brothers who surrounded me with Atari, Commodore 64, Sega, and an Intellivision. I have fond memories of Pong, Pitfall and Baseball of all games.
Most currently, I am trying out Tiger Woods and a few games from The Adventure Company (Aura and Missing.) Right now, I need a game I can pick up and play without too much of an intense experience or consequence. Since I am so involved with making Samurai Empire I like the escapism more than the need to think through my every move.

What life events brought you to the world of online gaming?
You know how they say timing is everything? Well, between having a good fitting skill set for Maxis and knowing the right people at the right time, the opportunity presented itself quite nicely.

One of the biggest concerns for many of our players is the fear that they aren't being heard. As the "new kid on the block" so to speak what will you do to help assure the players that they aren't being ignored or forgotten?
I value the players feedback and experiences. I completely recognize that the players are the most important variable when making a game. We do all we can to participate in chats, posts, and in person at events.
It takes a lot of energy and time to post as much as the community does. It takes the same kind of energy and time for developers to read and react to the boards. Sometimes, while in development as is the case for the Samurai Empire team, we have to settle to just read the boards and not post.

What do you feel is the most valuable contribution that you bring to the UO development team?
I have a strong production nature and professional background- i.e. I know how to get things done and how to get them done well! A good game is defined by many things like gameplay, graphics, fx, playability, etc… Well, in order to attain those qualifications a game has to be m-a-d-e. This takes a lot of planning, communication, reviewing and follow-through.

And how will you utilize that contribution in the coming months?
I hope that Samurai Empire is more than you expected and ships on time!

Changing games from the modern world of the Sims to the fantasy world of Ultima has to be a real culture shock for you. What are some of the things you will miss about the Sims, and what are some of the things you are looking forward to working with in Ultima?
I miss the absolute one-of-a-kind game that TSO is. Will Wright and Chris Trottier have such wonderful vision. And The Sims Franchise is unbelievably successful to such a wide range of gamers. Ultima is a fabulous MMORPG. I have already learned so much about world building, the pro's/con's of the 2D & 3D clients, and many stories of where to get the best Texas barbeque.

[Note: Question just meant for fun] Many players have seen your photo on the discussion boards and one of the burning questions is are you single? (LOL) Seriously what does your family think of your career choice?
You know, there are days when I pretty sure my parents don't have a clue about what I do. My brothers get it; my husband (!) gets it (he's a game developer, too); and some of my friends understand what I do at work. The people who don't understand MMORPGs or the concept that one can make a living making games are starting to become more educated on the topic by the sheer popularity of today's games.

Did you play UO prior to working on the Dev Team? If so, what type of template did you enjoy.
I played UO for the first time about three years ago. I chose the warrior template. I killed lots of bunnies and stuff.

How long have you been with EA? Have you worked with other gaming companies?
Three years, only EA headquarters and the Maxis studio.

Is this your first time heading up an expansion?
Yep! And it's a pretty darn cool experience.

Will you be on the boards answering questions or will you mostly be in the background?
Honestly, I will mostly be in the background. I do read the boards pretty regularly, but I am not going to post a lot. The other devs do such a fine job! I do go to as many player events as possible.

What is her favorite color?
Some may think black because that is mostly what I wear, but I do have a special affinity for the darkest shades of purple.

What is her favorite MMORPG (excluding UO) and why?
I wish I played City of Heroes because right now that seems to be super fun. Unfortunately, I don't have the time right now to stick with an MMORPG other than UO.

What is your online gaming background? What games have you worked on and in what roles?
Before I got into games I worked at an online edu-tainment network, where I was a program Producer. (We made Hollywood quality interactive courses streamed over broadband.) For games specifically, I've worked on The Sims Online. I began at Maxis as an Assistant Producer II, promoted to Assistant Producer III, then Associate Producer I, and currently I am Associate Producer II. Next stop, full blown Producer!

You are one of a few women in game development. Us UO women are thrilled to have you on board! Has there been any challenges to you in developing your career.
Challenges? Sure, but no more than expected. I'm pretty outspoken (some say tenacious), free-thinking (some say opinionated), tough (some say control freak) - all fine qualities of a producer. This independent attitude I take does intimidate some people, but we all have the same goal: make a great game! Keeping this goal in mind gets me through most challenges.

As a woman, are there any differences you believe you can contribute to our game?
Being a woman in a male dominant field, with a male dominant audience is a unique job experience. (And imagining the reverse cracks me up!) Having a diverse set of contributions and opinions is hugely beneficial when creating anything. I think my biggest contribution is surfacing areas that make the game more playable for new players and veterans, alike. I hope to have a lot more opportunities to do this.

What has been your major adjustment challenges from moving from Sims to UO?
OMG it's like learning a new native language! Trying to catch up with what is going on with the game itself while being in crunch mode development can be painful. Thank goodness I am surrounded by UO experts. This helps my learning curve immensely.

What do you feel are your Sims experiences that could add to UO?
I am thinking you mean my experiences from being on The Sims Online team. I learned a lot about: developing MMORPGs while working with some of the most knowledgeable people on the topic; launching them successfully (technically speaking), and understanding what it means to maintain a live service.

Now speaking about similar experiences about TSO and UO - What scares people most about this topic is when I say how much these games share various elements. Don't go bonkers on me - hear me out: There is chatting, buying, selling, homes, decorating, levels (way more intense in UO), rares, clothes and a desire to achieve. These elements can be more turned up or down depending on the game. I think UO has some room to crank it up on a few of these elements, as Sims has, in particular.

What do you believe is the future direction of UO?
UO needs an update, that's a given. It's a great game; don't get me wrong, but it needs a facelift and some of the game play issues sorted out. I'd love to see some of the not-so-small details get the attention they deserve. I have all kinds of interest to perfect this game!!

What are your responsibilities in UO now? What area would you like to do in the future?
As the Team Lead and Associate Producer I am responsible for everything. Even if I didn't touch the code or create art (which I didn't!) I am responsible for the game's entirety. I spend my time scheduling, talking, surfacing issues, finding solutions, reviewing, and having heaps of fun in the meanwhile.

Can you reveal some secrets from the upcoming expansion?
Let's see: you've heard that we're adding creatures, close to 20 was my last count. There will be player housing on each of the Tokuno Islands; we think it is well balanced and not like track-housing in suburbia. We are adding Japanese decorations and craftables that you will get a kick out of (sushi!) and enjoy (rock gardens!). The variety of new roof tiles are looking really good, too. And my favorite are the professions. I've always wanted to be a ninja - now I can stealth around, sneak attack and trick you!

Can we fly while riding the new dragon?
Nope, players can only ride the Hiryu. (Flying doesn't work while riding - trust me.)

Can anyone ride it or only tamers?
There are actually two Hiryu's. The Hiryu and the Lesser Hiryu. Tamers can ride the Hiryu, while Tamers and Bushido Masters will be able to ride the Lesser Hiryu. As Niobe has pointed out, "Only those with enough practice in their professions will be able to ride it."

What are some of the new guild enhancements we might see?
We have updated all the UI and really given a lot more power to the players and guilds. You're going to get so much more from the guild system - just wait and see!