Despite one of my goals with The Long Shot to maintain an open-ended topical blog, there is one element that either slips in tangentially or outright kicks in the door, and that’s
i’ve waxed nostalgic about being introduced to D&D by my brother (also the keeper of the comic book milk crates of my adolescence). Scoffed with incredulity at my first dungeon delve circa third grade wherein the Dungeon Master – a friend and classmate – had a white dragon spring out of a treasure chest. Braved a green dragon and bested a lich as a bard equipped only with a magical cloak and a violin. Plodded through AD&D 2E class creation to hash out a whip master (the co-creator of which is currently self-employed…as a whip master). Made the pilgrimage to Gen Con and, for the last 8 years now, held a foothold in what is the definitive D&D video game Dungeons & Dragons Online.
The discovery of DDO came about right around Christmas 2006. First thing i did was call my friend and Long Shot writer Brett and excitedly told him. He then excused himself from the family get-together to drive home and start the download (he went right back). We were hooked, and i’m proud to say i’m still questing on my VIP subscription today.
Well, not today today. Not yet anyway. Gotta tap-tap-tap this out first. Then it’s off to meet guildies for some raid action.
So, yeah. i’m a D&D nerd for sure, though i did not make it to Gen Con again this year, which is a bummer because 2014 is the 40th anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons!
i’m not gonna lie, i sat here for a lengthy spell conjuring memories of gaming past, as well as the vast and deep influence D&D has had in my life. But you know, in terms of raw time spent playing the game, i’ve invested more time in DDO. While that iteration of the game might not hold the same splendor as the pencil-and-paper, dice rolling version, it does contain the spirit of it’s inspiration. Not so much in the epic battles with the Big Bad Evil Guy (BBEG) or pulling that sweet piece of raid loot after grinding out 20 runs though. Moreso through things like the DM narration, familiar skills and stats, and the classic monsters you both dreaded and secretly hoped to encounter.
DDO offers the opportunity for a dungeon crawl at the time of your leisure, and all inflated hit points and damage rolls aside, without PRR and spell power, both the quests and the NPCs in the public zones support the three pillars of adventure. Exploration, social interaction and combat – i’m not saying it’s better than the real thing. But if those are the garlic, onion and love of a good tomato sauce then the jarred stuff DDO is serving up isn’t that bad, and it sure as hell saves a lot of time.
Yes, i’m saying that DDO is the Prego to the rich, homemade sauce of D&D.
Which all brings it roundabout to my little contribution to D&D’s birthday celebration. A few of the people from the DDO development team graciously took the time to give some insights into life behind the scenes of the award-winning MMO Dungeons & Dragons Online.
Cordovan, DDO’s community manager, added blogger relations to his haberdashery of tasks by facilitating this email interview.
“I work as a conduit between the community and the developers, lead community efforts including all social networks, livestreaming, YouTube, and the forums, including publishing, information gathering, information distribution, and the DDO Player’s Council, among other things,” Cordovan described his role with the DDO team. “I wear many hats!”
Working as community manager is the best job ever, without question, for Cordovan, who got involved with DDO as a player shortly after its Feb. 2006 release. He created the DDOcast podcast in 2007 and Turbine hired him in 2010. Since then he’s also worked on other games like Lord of the Rings Online and Batman: Arkham City.
“If I could go back in time and tell my 10-year-old self that one day I’d be working on a D&D video game, I’d have been very happy,” he said.
Often cited as DDO’s best feature, the deep character creation and combat systems are Cordovan’s favorite aspects.
“The possibilities are limitless,” he said of the character options, which i’m sure the playerbase would agree with, and added a few other things he enjoys. “I like the Rusty Nail. It’s always felt like home. I also like the animals in the Forgotten Realms.”
The most exciting innovations in DDO that he’s part of though, are the times he’s able to help the team by representing the community. Outside of actual gameplay, he said the gatherings at Gen Con and Pax East are really fun. It’s easy to tell from Cordovan’s enthusiasm that he takes his job seriously and works hard to be a bridge between the development team and the community.
In-game, Cordovan shares what i am willing to bet is a whole lot of players’ best DDO memory.
“Facing off against Velah for the first time,” he said, and i concur – it’s such an iconic D&D moment to face off against a powerful red dragon. Heck, my guild leader Wolfie said a while back that he feels the same rush as his first time whenever he’s taking first timers through the Vault of Night. It’s those kinds of takeaways that Cordovan most hopes that players earn from their time with DDO.
“A sense that the D&D and MMO gaming communities are a great and interesting group, and that working together as a team can lead to incredible experiences,” he said.
For sheer geek pleasure though, i have to say Cordovan’s opportunity to write some of the explorer journals and attend the Ed Greenwood‘s recording for the extended version of the Haunted Halls of Eveningstar left me wishing i was in his shoes. The guy is a D&D legend who created the Forgotten Realms!
A happy accident brought Arakiel, lead engineer, to the DDO team. What that accident is remains a mystery, but working with a beloved and longstanding tradition like D&D is a dream job. These days he doesn’t do as much programming as he once did.
“I have peeps for that,” he says with a smile describing a typical day at the office as “typing, talking, more typing, some writing, a lot more talking.”
A family man, Arakiel’s favorite DDO experience is playing any of the content with his wife and kids.
“Every time I play with them it’s a good time,” as he puts it.
Since Update 10: Reign of Madness (one of my favorites), Vargouille has filled the position of senior systems designer. This entails helping design character advancement like classes and races, enhancements, iconic heroes, epic destinies and items. Systems like veteran status and reincarnation are a few of the related things he’s worked on as well. As he said, these sorts of innovations shook up the possibilities and allowed new, interesting builds. [editor's note: if Vargouille is reading this, how about some psionics already?!]
“First and foremost I hope players enjoy playing,” he said. “It’s icing on the cake if some players learn some things, maybe step up their math or literary skills, or maybe meet someone and fall in love – I know all of these have happened and they’re all great.”
Prior to joining the DDO team, Vargouille worked on Dungeon Siege: Legends of Aranna, the online CCG Sanctum and several other projects including some tabletop games. Although ultimately, his position with the DDO team is just a job, his involvement with a beloved and longstanding tradition like D&D is accomplished with enthusiasm.
“It’s awesome,” he says of his work with the team. “It’s fun, it’s a privilege and responsibility, and one of the geekiest jobs I can imagine having, and proud to have it.”
Not surprisingly, the most rewarding part of his job is getting feedback that players enjoyed something he worked on, whether that comes through reading forums or playing in PUGs. The challenge of his job is keeping in perspective what they can accomplish.
“There’s so much we want to do,” he said. “And we want to do it all right now. But we’re going to have to wait sometimes, at least until the time machine project is done.”
The Update 19 enhancement pass is something he’s most proud of as a whole. Although he admits it is not perfect due to some constraints and the sheer volume of goals they hoped to achieve, he’s pretty happy with the way it turned out. As a player myself, i’m pretty happy too!
“I’m also happy to have added a bit of fun chaos to the world with Double Rainbow,” he added. “That’s perhaps less a point of pride and more of a gleeful, cackling of a mad scientist.”
Like Vargouille, franchise director Vyvyanne has been working in the game industry for many years. Before joining the team as project manager when she moved to the Boston area, she worked on City of Heroes and Guild Wars to name just a couple of titles.
“It is nice to be working on something that it takes less than five minutes to describe to someone outside of work,” she says of her work with such a well-known and loved property like D&D.
A day at the office for her involves meetings, email and more meetings, along with balancing budgets and schedules with the desires of players and designers alike.
But at the end of the day, she hopes that DDO players take away “a sense of playing the hero that they want to be.”
“Seeing a fresh update on the servers and hearing players say they like it,” is the most rewarding part of her job, she said.
One thing that all four members of the DDO development team shared, which to me shines through in the game itself, is a love for the source material.
Like most D&Ders i imagine, these folks don’t definitively put any single edition of the game – which just released the newest 5th edition – above the others. Instead, they enjoy any opportunity to engage in the seminal RPG.
Cordovan, for instance, said he is a big fan of all the D&D editions, while Arakiel trades his tabletop enjoyment for it’s digital counterpart because he is able to enjoy it with his family, who don’t play the pencil-and-paper version. Vyvyanne loves tabletop D&D, while Vargouille is a bit more specific, citing D&D’s 1st, 3rd, 4th and 5th editions along with some other RPGs and other D&D video games as well, including Planescape: Torment which he said is awesome (what’s the matter, Vargouille – you don’t like 2nd edition’s THAC0?!). For my part, i am remiss in never having played that particular one despite all the great things i’ve read about it over the years. Oddly enough, i’ve probably played every other D&D video game except that one.
As a lifelong fan of D&D, and DDO since almost launch (really wish i had a Founder’s Helm…) it was quite a treat for me to get a little peek at the people behind this great game. A frequent forum visitor myself, i’ve noticed two recurring trends that get talked about fairly regularly there – that DDO is doooooomed!, and that it’s strayed too far from it’s D&D roots. To both of these, i say pish posh. DDO appears to be alive and quite well, with the newest Update 23 close to release with oodles of intriguing new stuff that i recently Tweeted would bring about a sea change for the already great game. And as far as straying too far from PnP i ask, how? On any given day, i can get together with friends to explore fantastic vistas and battle deadly iconic monsters straight out of the Monster Manual. And eat pizza.
Will DDO (or any video game) ever truly replicate or replace the experience of playing the real thing? No. But at the same time, the spirit of Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson’s beloved game shines through clearly to me.