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Neverwinter

Developer Spotlight - Terramak

By Julia (nitocris83)
Wed 04 Apr 2018 02:14:38 PM PDT

Welcome to the first entry in the Developer Spotlight Series! Our first tribute guest is Producer Vincent "Terramak" Malley, who took the time to answer the majority of player questions! Questions have been edited only for clarity and spelling purposes. Answers are meant to reflect the opinions of the individual. 

 

What is a typical day like at work for you? What all responsibilities does your job entail?

There's rarely a "typical" day for me - to use a cliché, the only constant is change. That being said, the structure can be pretty similar!

In the morning at 9:30 AM, the Production team gets together for a quick sync-up on various topics, depending on the day of the week. After that, I'll usually grab some coffee or green tea, and some cereal for breakfast.

Then the day pretty much opens up in possibility from there. I'll give an example of my usual Monday: I'll contribute slides to a Neverwinter team sync-up meeting, then go to that meeting, knock out one or two tasks, grab lunch, prep for a meeting where we discuss live game issues, then knock out some more tasks on my to-do list. Those tasks can include things like making a build, scheduling the next maintenance, or importing the latest drop from our localization team.

Basically, as a Producer, I help (figuratively) grease the engine of game development. In my specific role, I tend to do that in a different way from most; instead of focusing more on scheduling people's work, finding and exposing dependencies, and eliminating roadblocks in that regard, I'm focused more on finding and addressing issues with our infrastructure.

(There's stuff I do that isn't reflected up there. A lot of my work is "remember that random obscure thing that needs to get done once every month or two.")


Accurate depiction of one of the many roles taken on by Terramak

 

What is the most stressful situation you have encountered while working on Neverwinter?

I haven't built much skill at remembering anecdotes for a good narrative on this, but thankfully, our team has generally been relatively positive and good at working together.

The most memorable stress to me was built up long-term, as we got closer to Neverwinter's beta. There's so much that we still had to do in a limited period of time, and as that pressure built, it made each interaction more difficult. It mainly just lent to a less relaxed vibe than we try to maintain.

For some reason, I don't consider various near-disasters to be nearly as stressful. We have had at least one occasion where, less than 24 hours before a module release, we find out about a game-breaking exploit. We have to get a fix, make a build, and convince someone in QA to help test it once it's complete, all in the remaining time.

Somehow, I consider that fun in a strange sort of way. Though it's definitely not worth the extra pressure and stress on the team.

 

How do you feel about all bugs plaguing the game and complaints filed by the players?

This is a pretty tough one. Ultimately, just like any other MMO of this scale, there will always be bugs. My job is to make sure we know about (and can knock down) the ones that significantly impact the play experience, and once those are addressed, hit the ones that are non-impactful but noticeable. The "death by a thousand papercuts" type of bugs, like typos.

As far as how I feel about said bugs: Dread and determination. There will always be bugs, and I don't like that they exist, but I'm still determined to help stem the tide. The challenge is balancing that with new content and features to help keep players engaged.

 

Do your coworkers get mad at you for spending so much time on the Tatsumaki bot?

Shhhh, don't tell them! 

 

What Neverwinter content do you most enjoy playing?

I think my favorite module overall was Module 2: Shadowmantle, when we introduced the Dread Ring, revamped the Refinement system for the first time, and introduced the Collections system. Combined with my personal investment (I was the producer on some of those features), I also generally prefer faster daily gameplay loops. I was playing the most during the M2-M3 period, and during the M7-M9 period.

Nowadays, I tend to enjoy looping through my professions, doing a normal Random Dungeon & Skirmish, and getting some AD for my alt. When I have a larger chunk of time, I do a bit more Chult content.

 

Do you fear a meeting with Edward with the scissorhands?

I fear no scissors, for I am empowered by rock. (Well, rock-inspired video game music, that is.) Just as long as they don't touch my hair.

 

If there was one thing you could change/fix/improve about the development workflow behind the scenes, what would it be and how do you believe it would affect the game?

Oof… Everything I can think of has tradeoffs galore. The thing I'd personally try to improve is the process from "Player reports bug -> It gets investigated -> It gets written up internally," so that it's easier to verify the status. The problem with that, though, is the streamlining I'm envisioning results in someone else's job becoming more monotonous and expecting them to work like machines. The human factor is super important to consider in process changes.

The potential impact of the change would be improved visibility into the scale of issues reported weekly or tied to a module release. I don't know if it'd result in an increased number of bug fixes, but it might help focus our efforts more steadily on impactful issues.

 

Which apocalyptic dystopia do you think is most likely?

The kind where you fast-forward about 200-300 years and, though there's been some technological regression, cityscapes have turned into jungles and forests with massive ivy growth up skyscrapers and all that.

Okay, I dunno how likely that is, but it's such a neat visual.

 

If we can only know the universe through what we experience via our five sense, then how can we know whether our sense experiences accurately represent the external world or even whether there is a world beyond our senses?

Not knowing is part of the fun of it all. Though knowing is half the battle… Anyway, I can't answer your question fully, because I don't have any ideas of what kinds of experiments would help answer it.

That being said, we can observe the universe's extrasensory workings by measuring its side effects with the senses we do have. Take magnetism for example - We can't necessarily see or feel magnetic forces directly, but we can sure as heck see iron filaments move seemingly on their own toward a nearby magnet, and we can feel the extra pressure when we try to pull a magnet off the fridge.

So, uh… that. That's technically an answer to your question, but I haven't watched shadowboxing in caves with any ancient Greek philosophers / wrestlers recently.

 

What upcoming projects that you are going to be working on are you most excited about?

An upcoming module, the one where [REDACTED] and [REDACTED] with the [REDACTED].

 

Are there things that the forum community could be doing differently to foster a more productive relationship with the developers?

I'd say a very large portion of the community already does the things that'd foster a productive relationship with the developers. Our community is full of intelligent, compassionate people who have insightful feedback. In general, I personally could use more concise, tone-neutral feedback because it helps me more easily interpret it, but it's always a balance.

Just keep treating each other with respect, and keep remembering that devs are human too.

 

When things get *hot* on the forums towards the 'devs', does it affect you or your immediate workplace? Think morale, pride, initiative (not the kind you roll for).

When the forums get heated, devs are less likely to participate in them, precisely to avoid the hit to morale. So yeah, it can hurt morale, though generally the effects around the office are minimal because we can insulate ourselves if needed. Personally, my pride in my work is sometimes hit, but I've got enough going on outside the Neverwinter sphere that I can usually recover just fine.

Lowering forum participation, though, also opens up the chance for a downward spiral; players see that the devs don't appear to be paying attention, general forum morale goes down and toxicity goes up, and it grows increasingly more difficult to recover from as the cycle continues.

Shout-out to Julia for being an awesome community manager and helping us with that balance, and being an amazing ambassador when those times do roll around.

 

Are you a cat person? Dog person? Or other animals?

Rabbits are cute but I wouldn't want one as a pet. My roommate has a cat that I jokingly dislike. Dogs are friendly but I don't have the energy to put into keeping one healthy and happy. So, uh… lizard?

 

Non-exploits of course, but what sort of tricks of the trade do you use when playing Neverwinter, when you are a normal player?

As a Trickster Rogue, hitting Stealth in the middle of a Wicked Reminder activation, so I pop Shadow of Demise while still getting the stealth bonus for Lashing Blade. (Tho I really should swap to Dazing Strike from Wicked Reminder anyway, sooo…)

Also, corner collision hopping for exploring to new heights. "Environment artists HATE him! Terramak has one WEIRD trick to annoy your coworkers."

And auto-run then Alt-Tab when running from point A to point B when I want to send a quick message to a friend on a chat program.

 

How did you discover Neverwinter?

I joined Cryptic while the project was still being spun up, so I discovered it as "Oh, this isn't greenlit yet and you can't talk about it, but we're also working on a Neverwinter project." I was stoked.

 

What prompted your decision to have long hair?

I've had long hair off and on since elementary school; I just think I look better with long hair than with short, and I never really bought into the whole gendered expectation for hair length thing. The current length is mainly due to going two and a half years without scheduling an appointment with my stylist (yes I have a stylist); I usually chill at a little past shoulder length.

CM Note: Short-haired Malley.

 

What is the Neverwinter brand strategy for upcoming year, what are the long term plans for the game?

Brand strategy is way out of my wheelhouse, to be honest; I let the marketing team at Perfect World handle that, and I'm perfectly happy having it not take up space in my brain. Long-term plans, as far as I can say publicly, is to continue supporting the game as we have for the foreseeable future.

 

What are your thoughts on Design Thinking as a methodology for innovative product design? What form of Agile development do you and the team use? To what extent does user-centered design feature in your work routine?

I admittedly had to look up the terms "Design Thinking" and "user-centered design." If the Wikipedia page for design thinking matches your definition, I personally like the methodology, particularly with the "define, research, ideate, prototype, choose, implement, and learn" stages. As far as I'm aware, we don't use this term around the office, but it's possible that it planted the seeds for the stuff we do. Same deal for user-centered design; while most of us don't consciously use it as a process, it does function as a lens through which one can view our workflow.

For Agile, we tried out a Scrum process, but ended up tweaking it enough to be not recognizable as standard Scrum. We still use some pieces of the process; some teams have stand-ups, and we have planning meetings and sprints.

 

If you happen to become a superhero what super powers would you like to have and who would you choose as your sidekick?

I'd love teleportation as a super power, though I'm not sure I'd have the motivation to fight crime or do anything beneficial to society with it. I might get some ideas once I got used to the power. I don't really have an idea for who I'd want to be my sidekick; probably anyone with the power to reverse the stupid things I'd do with my newfound powers.

 

If you were to give any advice to somebody working on a MMO that's about a year until it releases, what would it be?

Lots of random advice, but you've probably heard it all before!

  • Drink water, eat enough, and get sleep.
  • Don't crunch if you can avoid it; crunch is a symptom of poor planning or insufficient protection against feature creep.
    • If you can't avoid it, keep it to two weeks or less; there are significant adverse effects on physical and mental health when you go past that, and you lose any excess productivity granted by the extra time.
  • Say "do we really need this at ship?" to new features.
  • Keep your designs simple.
  • Keep your content creation process streamlined, if at all possible, because even though it may feel cut-and-paste, you'll have way lower iteration time and bug fixing as a result.
  • Please use templates where you can.
  • If you can plan for the future, do so, but sometimes you'll have to make some tough decisions to get the game out the door.

A lot of these aren't hard-and-set rules; they're important things to consider, but there's always a balance between "speed up production" and "make a game that succeeds." They're not necessarily mutually exclusive, but they can sometimes conflict.

If you can't affect some of these (for example, if you're not in management and you're dealing with crunch), depending on the culture of your team, you may be able to bring up the problems of crunch culture with your lead, though they may not be able to affect it either.


Terramak's stash of "this is tea, really!"

 

D&D aside, what's the fantasy world/universe, (being any media book, movie, manga, hq) do you like more?

I'm enamored with the JoJo's Bizarre Adventure series (despite some extremely problematic elements) and like speculating about how Stands work (I've just finished pt. 4), but I think Brandon Sanderson's Cosmere universe takes the cake for fun systems that have a great underlying logic and a LOT of room for speculation. So the Cosmere, probably.

 

After a piece of game or feature you worked on is released, how do you go back and evaluate how it's performing? In other words, are there objectives / measures that you decide beforehand that you follow and adjust? Are there standard measures for player engagement that are predominantly used? Is it mostly hands off unless issues bubble up?

It really depends on the feature. While measurable goals and feedback are super useful, they don't always apply. Most of the time, we set a goal using a metric we want to improve and then we design something to reach that goal. "Success" is mostly comparative, whether judging by benchmarks, or subjectively, "how it feels when played."

There are some standard measures for player engagement that we use to help measure the overall health of the game, but because each module release and each build has so many variables, it's difficult to accurately gauge the effect of a single feature.

We iterate on features before they go live, and if there's reason to feel they aren't achieving their goals, we'll iterate and fix them after they go live, too.

 

When do you think Spanish language can be introduced? waiting for years, second most talking language in the world...

As far as I'm aware, we have no current plans to release Spanish localization. This could change in the future, but I can't promise anything. Sorry :(

 

Have there ever been times you have made a change (or wrote patch notes for a change) where you have dreaded the incoming player responses, or felt a lot of hate would come without a justifiable reason? Can you give an example if so.

The historic change known as "Coalgate" comes to mind. It was a necessary change, but it was also justifiable for players to be unhappy about it.

As for predicting hate for a non-justifiable reason, I have the unfortunate ability to rationalize a lot of things, so I'm not certain I have any good examples. If I can predict a negative response enough to dread it, I've probably already justified that response, at least a little, in my head.

 

If you have a fridge at work, has anybody ever nicked something and what is the most interesting thing you found in there?

There have been a couple snack thefts in the past, but as far as I'm aware none recently. There are definitely fridges at work though. I don't remember anything particularly memorable being in there, which I'm simultaneously disappointed by and relieved about.

 

Does it happen that you disagree with a design choice and how do you overcome that?

All the time! That's just a fact of life about game development on a team, and it makes for better games; respectful conflict is the forge in which good design is made. (Not saying you should go about disagreeing with everything just to add conflict, but the right good-faith questions about design can help hone it into what it needs to be.)

When I disagree with a design choice, I generally just give feedback about it; I'm comfortable enough with the members of the dev team to say, "Hey there! I might be wrong, but I think <thing> might cause <specific case I think is not great>. Was that potential case considered?"

That opens up conversation, and chances are they had a good reason for the decision they made. And if I still don't agree, I'll elaborate on my case in writing ('cause I organize my thoughts better that way). Still disagree after that? I usually just let it go at that point; if it's really a problem, it'll probably shake out in test.

Basically, differences in opinion--especially on design choices--are just a natural part of game development. As long as you show respect for the people you work with, these disagreements can make the game stronger, and even build trust and improve your working relationship.

 

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