Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
 
Interview with Paul Barnett

Paul Barnett, creative director at Mythic Entertainment for the upcoming Warhammer: Age of Reckoning, gracefully agreed to be interviewed by me via e-mail. I sent him questions, and he replied to them, so the back and forth interactivity of a face-to-face interview is missing, my apologies. But it's an interesting exchange nevertheless, and I'm quite looking forward to playing WAR. Paul is a great guy to listen to, intelligent, and full of enthusiasm for the game.

Tobold: Paul, you are creative director and lead designer for Mythic Entertainment's upcoming Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning (WAR). Is there any feature in WAR where you'd say, "this is mine, my idea, I thought of this"? Or is your job limited to having an influence on the ideas of other people?

Paul: The first bit is easy as Mark Jacobs is the lead designer. After that you have a raft of dead clever people all dedicated to making a great game. These people are so clever that the need for additional core creativity from me is almost zero. So my job is to act as a true magnetic north for Mark's design. And that's a tricky, because so much of design at the start of a game is concept rather than mechanics.

I guess on reflection there are 3 parts to my job. Firstly, at the start of a project I have to be boundless in energy and enthusiasm for the game. I have to see the connections and concepts from the page rather than from the build of the game. So little code is finished, so few art assets are created and no real game mechanics are in place that I live most of the game in my imagination.

Add to that, good, hard working souls who are pouring energy into a targeted part of the game. These people are committed to a singular task, be it getting a render engine working, creating initial databases or making concept art. They don't have time to look sideways, to drink in all the other areas that are starting to spring forth.

So my second job is to be boundless in talking up the project and warming people to the idea that they are part of something larger. It's much like the alienation concept that Marx talked about. I mean Marx also talked some rubbish but the basic gist that a worker works better when they can see how they are contributing to the end is valid and one that my role is supposed to support.

Lastly, I like to see my role as acting as one who can confirm and give comfort to the ideas our teams come up with. I am not smart enough to have many ideas, but I am just about smart enough to spot a good one.

As for my contribution...

I would say that I added about 1% to the game. And that's a ton, a ton more than I thought I would be able to when we first started. My additions are, on the whole, small and curious. Most ideas sprang from the original design and the way that that design was birthed into the game we have today.


Tobold: At the LIFT08 conference you compared MMORPGs to movies. A century ago movies went from just showing moving pictures that fascinated because of this being a new technology to a medium that tells stories. Are MMORPGs heading the same way? Is WAR telling stories, and how does it do that better than the competition?

Paul: Hmm I think MMO's are hobbies, I don't think that the film point is valid. I used the history of film to put forth that the challenges film has faced where potentially industry breaking and yet film survived. I was attempting, a little ham fistedly, to make the connection that the online space faces industry-changing moments, but unlike film faces them faster and more aggressively. Where as film had five big challenges in fifty years we get about fifty big challenges every five.

On the topic of telling stories, I am with the people who see comics as a medium for telling stories and while you could say comics are like film, I mean they both tell stories they are radically different, a comic can not be made into a film, it just can't. You can take the basic ideas, some of the images and pervert them for film but you can't just transpose a comic to film. If you did you would get a static movie with no sound. That might be great for a comic, its lousy for a movie. So MMO's tell stories, player stories in much the same way as comics and films. It is the same desire driven by a different engine and rules.

As for progress in story telling, I am not sure I understand the question. I have seen some fantastic ideas and concepts from games. But most of the concepts and ideas appear in my head, in my imagination. Those emotions, those feelings are not really a shared experience, nor are they owned by the creator of the art. I find it odd when people want to review a movie, because while some of the review can be technical in nature on the whole it is the emotional understanding of the movie that matters and that is a singular experience and, I would hope, different for everyone. So I don't know if story telling will move on. I do know that while MGS4 is curious, I am not sure it's using the medium of a computer game to tell its story, it strikes me more of a passive wrapping up of an idea. I am not convinced that Bio-shock is telling a story with a computer game either. It's more like using a strong art style to fire your imagination. I got a lot of mileage from Lords of Midnight (a very old Spectrum game with basic graphics); have I ever played a game that told me a better story? No I don't think so, and that's not because of the technological limits. Game play is forever, tech is as deep as plastic.

I am not sure how you judge if we do it better than anyone else. I guess if the measure is monetary success then we are up against it. If it's critical response I guess we are in the lap of the reviewers and if it's a personal experience, I guess almost any game can do a good job of that. I fear your question confuses me, which is not that hard to do. We can play in the kitchen of design of a while but at some point we have to kill it, cook it and eat it.


Tobold: In other MMORPGs gameplay changes dramatically when you reach the level cap, will that be the same in WAR? How do you manage the design conflict of having to cater for those players who'd rather spend a long time in leveling-up mode, and those who want to reach the level cap as quickly as possible?

Paul: Er, you don't. Some people just finish things, heck people like finishing things; it's why jigsaws are popular with analogue people. It's why books have a last page; it's why we go on journeys in our car. I like the idea of the journey being as important as the destination, sometimes more so. But some people just don't see it like that. They want completion as fast as possible. So we just don't worry about them. That type of player is not really a core hobbyist. They just like to complete games, most have played a lot of MMO's, a lot, a heck of a lot. They are not true fanatics of the Warhammer game. It's like saying that a man who has a lot of one-night stands is a romantic. But our game caters for them and gives them a great game, but the real game is found in the journey, found in the people who are looking for a warm, challenging and fun game world. A place gripped with the three core drivers of a good hobby, which are skill, commitment and imagination.


Tobold: You described WAR as being Led Zeppelin to WoW's Beatles, with the difference being RvR, or as you call it, "beating the living snot out of other people". Now there are people, including me, who either don't enjoy PvP much, or who feel they can't compete with pimply 12-year olds ganking other players all day. How are you going to sell WAR to us?

Paul: Not sure it's a sales job. We basically took two types of play. I want to kill other people all the time, forever. That's one type and boy have we got a game for you. And the other type I never want to fight another player I want to build a history and enjoy myself against the environment. You can do those two extremes. And there is a third way, where you play as much or as little of each type as you want.

If a player never wants to fight another player, then they can PVE, wait for the cities to fall and enter those for additional PVE content. Attack the bright wizard college, take on the King of the city, wander in the sewers and dungeons, and so forth. There is a ton of game for the PVE lovers of the world.

And you know what, we have a bunch of people who profess not to love PVP and at some point they will give it a go, quite a lot after dipping in their toe find that its not as bad or horrific as they imagined. So you may find you like it, if not, no worries there is oodles of game for you.


Tobold: Thanks for the interview, Paul. Any final message you want to convey to my readers?

Paul: Sign up for beta, come on in and test it out! Give us feedback and enjoy yourself!
Comments:
WAR beta disappoints me so far.
 
Lords of midnight...impressed :)
 
Good job that man :)

Looking forward to the release, and the NDA coming down so I can talk freely about closed BETA with my guild mates :) :)
 
great reading, good job.

Too many peeps have only WoW in their minds and can't imagine different approaches to a game mechanic like pvp - or stealth ;-).

If WAR RvR is similar to DAOC, I will love it - and I hate WoW pvp.

Llana / Kay
 
Signed up for the beta ages ago and never heard anything, and now he says come one, sign on for the beta O_o.

TBH I am done with quest / level based games, and I doubt WAR would change my pov atm, but I wouldn't mind trying it out ;).
 
Thanks for the interview. Boy, you can learn how to twist words in english from Paul Barnett. That guy could earn millions by rhetoric / PR training. Amazing.
 
>> Paul: Sign up for beta, come on in and test it out! Give us feedback and enjoy yourself!

Oh, I wish I wish it were that simple..
 
"So my second job is to be boundless in talking up the project and warming people to the idea that they are part of something larger."

Definition: I am one weird looking Cheerleader!
 
Here is my problem with the comment regarding "core hobbyist" vs "completionist". It's not a correct argument. The biggest problem with MMO's is when a friend of mine just starts to play, and I'm at the level cap...we can't play together for MONTHS (if casual). Unless I powerlevel him or roll an alt and experience the leveling content for the @#$@## time.

Take WoW - if all toons started at lvl 55 (ala death knight) and the level cap is 70, that works. The new player has enough time to learn how to play the basics, and we can still roughly play together because he's not far away.
 
I have been enjoying the WAR beta. AoC has the graphics but the gameplay either sucks or is borked. WAR has the gameplay, people just have to realize that graphics don't make for a great game.
 
I've been signed up for the beta for a year and a half, and I know plenty of people who have been signed up significantly longer and haven't gotten in. Heck, I pre-ordered the collectors edition specifically to make sure I could get into the "open" beta since it seems pretty obvious I won't be getting in to the closed beta any time soon.
 
Unless I powerlevel him or roll an alt and experience the leveling content for the @#$@## time.

You are presuming that early game content is exactly the same as the first time you experienced it. However, in a PvP game where you can actually earn levels through PvP, the experience and outcomes can vary quite wildly. That’s the biggest difference between PvE and PvP.

In PvE game, if you have seen it once, you’ve seen it a dozen times. In a PvP game, the other players are the content, so as long as people are willing to compete – the experience remains interesting and exciting. This is what Paul is talking about when he says people should enjoy the journey.

In WoW, we don’t enjoy the journey, we endure the grind to get our rewards. That’s just wrong. The journey should be the reward. The journey should be the fun part. Perhaps the "completionist" only sees value in the reward, since that’s what proves they completed it. If that’s the case, then I applaud Paul for not catering to that player type. Personally, I think it’s ludicrous that the most fun moments of the game are the few seconds after looting the boss and not the 45 minutes leading up to it.

There is perhaps no better indictment of this grind vs. journey scenario than WoW Battlegrounds. How many times have we heard people comment about the AV grind? Why is it a grind? Because people feel forced to do it for the reward. Competing in Alterac Valley should be fun for the sake of competition, not because of the amount of Honor you receive. Players are actually penalized in AV if a match takes too long because it nets them less Honor than quicker matches. That’s a horrible game design. A long hard fought win should be just as rewarding as a quick 9 minute win, but it’s not.

I’ll be really interested to see how Blizzard’s Achievement system compares to Mythic’s Tome of Knowledge. The Blizzard system certainly speaks very strongly to the "completionist" players. I wonder how or if the Tome of Knowledge will apply more to the “core hobbyist”.
 
"There is a ton of game for the PVE lovers of the world."

A ton? Paul's you're being a bit disingenous. Looking at the videos etc. PVE content about 20% of the game at the higher levels.

Knock of the city PvE since it will be rarely available.
Then you have to repeatable group quest things we're you kill a bunch of x and then knock down a wall and pray you get a good reward.

So the PvE folks get 2 craft skill and what 10% of the content. That's a trickle, not a ton.
 
Any time I have seen this dude talk about the game, there has been zero information communicated, and that hasn't changed with this interview. I remember a year or more ago, seeing a video of him talking about the game - all he talked about were the motivations of the different races, and the flavor of BEATING THINGS TO A PULP etc.

On the one hand, it may be useful for the people who are actually making a game to talk to someone who has a clear, enthusiastic vision of the universe. On the other hand, I can't imagine him being any help at all in designing an actual computer game with gameplay mechanics.

Person Actually Working on WAR: "Say, Paul, what are your thoughts on whether dwarven warriors can dual-wield? If they do, should we handicap some of the damage, or hit chances?"

Paul Barnett: "Let me tell you - that dwarf wants to RECLAIM HIS ANCESTRAL HOME from the EVIL DARK DWARVES! He's got DECADES of pent-up hostility that he can't WAIT to unleash upon his enemies! He is going to SMASH the ever-loving JUNK out of them until there's nothing left but RED STAINS!"

Person Actually Working on WAR: "Um...thanks, Paul."

Fedaykin98
 
It’s less important for a leader to understand all the inner workings of every single item than it is to make sure that everyone is following the same cohesive direction and plan. You don’t micromanage big projects, you provide a clear vision and steer everyone towards the same unified goal. The people at the bottom are the most well versed on the problems and the ones who need to be empowered to tell the people at the top what needs to be improved. The people at the top need to be able to sift through the bullshit and keep things from going sideways because the worker bees don’t see the broader implications. To be honest, most creative types are completely incapable of walking a straight line without some form of guidance which is why so many software projects are delayed.
 
You are presuming that early game content is exactly the same as the first time you experienced it. However, in a PvP game where you can actually earn levels through PvP, the experience and outcomes can vary quite wildly. That’s the biggest difference between PvE and PvP.

That still leaves the original guy with the problem of having to restart or powerlevel somehow just ot play with a friend.

In general, though, it makes sense to make "the journey" as much a fun part as the end point.

His answer to the level cap question seemed a bit iffy, though perhaps that was because he went into marketspeak anjd i glazed over the actual information. If warhammer's gameplay changes a lot at the level cap though, that seems like a possible problem (if class balance changes, or if someone just wants to try something new, and mainly enjoys level cap playing, they're out of luck for awhile)
 
@ generolas: are you actually able to say that considering the NDA or are you just being a badass?

Paul never, and when I say never i mean NEVER! talks about the game in depth. He was a freelancer before he joined Mythic (go check out his interviews at Rock, Paper, Shotgun.com) he was recruited simply because he was English and generally had an idea about Warhammer. SOOO his job is to basically whip people (psychologically, with his hyperbole and tounge-lashings of ye olde English) into a frenzy, both in and out the office.
Yet to those who says Paul is a good for nothing in the office, then I will have to disagree, coz if you dont have someone crazy like him all you get is Korean MMO's, where generic, is given a whole new meaning; everyone has anime hair, and chicks have big tits hanging out of skimpy outfits...
And in all fairness to Paul, a compass would be f***ed without a true magnetic north... It would just be a 'Pirates of the Carribean' prop.
So i take this chance to blame him for getting me psyched about the 'spirit' of the game, despite a +/-2 year delay that has born fruit to 4 char cuts and 4 city cuts... FTL! whats the point of invading Ulthuan when your just gonna pillage Altdorf???
 
So the PvE folks get 2 craft skill and what 10% of the content. That's a trickle, not a ton.

If that's the case, then sure. Thing is unless you're in the beta you wouldn't know, and if you're in the beta you aren't supposed to say. :)

Most games don't have a ton of endgame in place at launch. All we can really do is wait and see what's there, and decide on a case by case basis if it's enough to keep us interested until additional content comes out.

My current plan is to take at least 3 characters to max level - one for each racial pairing. Assuming everything's fun, then I'll start worrying about what to do, and hopefully it'll take awhile...
 
"Paul: Sign up for beta, come on in and test it out! Give us feedback and enjoy yourself!"

I did, a year ago, so let me in already!!
 
"They want completion as fast as possible. So we just don't worry about them"

This sentence alone is the death of that MMOG.

Why do people don't understand end game gameplay? ITs the thing why people return to WoW all the time.
 
Why do people don't understand end game gameplay? ITs the thing why people return to WoW all the time.

Only if you define "people" as "people like me". Many others enjoy the leveling game more than the end game. I think overall WoW would have been better served if the devs had put less effort in the end game, and more effort into the part that is accessible to everyone.

Furthermore the WoW raiding end game is incompatible with RvR, because you don't want a few people with too much time on their hands beating up everyone else just because they wear shiny purple epics they got from endless raiding. Dark Age of Camelot went downhill when Mythic tried that with Trials of Atlantis, and I'm happy to hear they learned their lesson.
 
"So the PvE folks get 2 craft skill and what 10% of the content. That's a trickle, not a ton."

You're wrong. There's a ton of PvE content. Not much more I can say on that fron at the moment...stupid NDA.

"On the other hand, I can't imagine him being any help at all in designing an actual computer game with gameplay mechanics."

Which is why Paul is the Creative Director and not a Lead Designer. He deals with the vision rather than the mechanics.

And also, he seems to be an actual genius in the workplace itself. He's come up with a load of features which have made the game more fun as a whole- the rolling PQ vegas-style loot system, the hidden lairs, the plungers of the world, makings sure the college of magic is in the game. He has a great head for making things fun.

I just want the NDA to drop so I can share goodies with the outside world.
 
I have a friend playing and he said while you can level up by PvPing very few will because it is a lot lot slower than PvEing

Was about 2 months ago I last spoke to him and I hope they have changed that by now
 
I am currently having my best MMO experience out of many,many MMO experiences. I wonder if I am in the WAR Beta?
 
Well done Tobold :)

best wishes Kanthor of ORC
 
Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link



<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

  Powered by Blogger   Free Page Rank Tool