When I managed to catch up with Josh Drescher, producer on the upcoming EA MMO Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, he was choking back coughs and wheezing like a broken whistle. His voice was almost totally gone.
For a moment, I thought about letting him off the hook and interviewing him another time when he was feeling better. Then I changed my mind, plonking myself down on a seat next to him as he gave me a tour of the world EA Mythic had been creating these last months.
With an inspiration drawn directly from the Warhammer universe and a dash of the Realm versus Realm mechanics Mythic first created in Dark Age of Camelot, Age of Reckoning is looking like it could (ironically) wow fans of the original tabletop game while still drawing in fans thanks to a deep understanding of MMO worlds.
Here's what Josh had to say (between the coughs) when we interviewed him.
Bit-tech:So, what is your role exactly on Warhammer: Age of Reckoning?
Josh Drescher: I am an associate producer, which means I kind of do everything a little bit.
BT:Producer does seem to be the loosest possible title, doesn’t it? People are producers for the graphics, writing, multiplayer, singleplayer…
JD: Yeah, but basically all it means is that I do a lot of travelling.
BT:And this is the game you’re working on at the moment.
JD: This is a portion, yeah. I was just logging in to fiddle with the maps and so forth.
BT:And it’s all still in beta?
JD: Yep. We’ve actually been in beta for about a year in a bunch of different stages. First we did just an EA-wide beta where we let players from the company in, then a little less than a year ago we launched a closed public beta and we had about 750,000 applicants.
BT:Wow – that’s a big number even by MMO standards.
JD: Yeah, well we didn’t let in 750,000 players. We’re adding new players about once a week though and try to populate the servers more as we scale things up. What we do is... we give players a specific thing to look at and a specific duration to look at it. They really become part of the development team. We really listen to their feedback and try and take the useful parts of it whenever we can.
BT:So what did you learn from the beta? What feedback did you get?
JD: Oh, boy. Well, the first big thing we found out about was about a month in. The first major changes were all about the RvR system – realm versus realm. It’s all about huge armies and kind of similar to what we did in Dark Age of Camelot a few years back. Players really wanted it to feel like there was more combat going on within the cities. They also wanted more instant scenarios, so what we did was go back and reorganise the entire world map.
BT:That must have taken a fair bit o’ time.
JD: Man, you have no idea. Two straight months of nothing other than tinkering with the RvR system to really bring it in line with what players wanted. <cough> – excuse me, I’m terribly dry mouthed.
BT:Voice going already? I’m barely started.
JD: I’ve been doing this for two days and I’m allergic to the smoke these fog machines are giving off. Put that in the interview – Josh was deathly ill! What was I saying anyway?
BT:How you reorganised the Realm versus Realm system...
JD: Oh, yeah. So, two months of nothing but that and that was just one thing. That’s why we have to be careful about the types of players we let in to the beta. The quality of testers is one of the most important things to us – our beta isn’t a stress test and it isn’t a free trial. Good testers are an asset to us and are very valuable. Plus, they get to play the game early and help shape it.