You asked him questions and he answered! Here are the answers to the questions you and your fellow players posted to Assistant Lead Game Designer Alan "Way back in my day we did it like this grumble grumble" VanCouvering.


Jalee_x wrote:

So was it worth the leaving the boring government job for?  Also, great introduction. I enjoyed it. It makes you more human for those of us who haven't been to Fan Faire.

Absor responded:

There were a lot of benefits to working for the government.  I was only allowed to work eight hours a day.  Short of committing murder or something similar, I was never going to be fired.  While I worked there I was able to spend a lot of time working on my hobbies (after work -  there was plenty of work to do at work).  I would get home and the sun was still up, so I could do my shopping and whatnot and still have several hours in the evening to work on games to run as a GM, paint miniatures, write, read, play games... whatever I wanted.

These days I'm lucky to get home before the sun comes up the next day.  Of course at the same time I get to fulfill my creative needs and get paid for it.  That's just great.  It has, however, severely restricted my ability and even desire to be creative at home.  I've got a large number of unpainted figures, unwritten game ideas, unplayed video games, unopened packs of Magic The:Gathering...

I wouldn't go back.  When things go well here I get to go home happy and fulfilled.  When things went well at the old job I... well, I just went home. 

Yaddab wrote:

Tis a troubling time.

It was a hard battle, but we finally destroyed that hoofed beast. Unfortunately, I could not dodge all of her spears.

I lay here wondering if the rest will make it through.

We lost Zajeer at the entrance to the magical wards, if only he had listened to the warning of Sesnil, instead his unwavering paladin ways got him killed.

To you who may find this last writing, take heed of the warnings. Take heed.



Expand and contrast !

Absor responded:

The only thing I want to say about this is... I didn't write that.  In fact, I didn't even know that I was going to be included in that quest.  Most importantly, I lived longer than Zajeer. 

Wildone wrote:

Question: Did you actually have hair back then?

Absor responded:

Nope.  The great part about those old comics is that Woody and I never managed to meet until many of them had been drawn.  He based most of those drawing off of some random picture of me from Fan Faire or something we posted someplace.  No, I haven't had all my hair since I was in my twenties.

Oh, and Woody is also responsible for making my avatar picture.  Great guy.


Where did Absor Smash! originate from?

Absor responded:

You know what... I'm not sure anymore.  I'm sure it was a response to something snide I said on the forums eight or ten years ago, but I really don't remember who said it.  I wish I did.

Cinexa wrote:

Dear Absor,

I hope all is well with you and you are laughing still =)  Excellent piece - it was a great read and you are still my hero.

Looking forward to many more fun times with and because of your thought & skill.


ps...yes I will

Absor responded:


Voodoman_BB wrote:

  • I built the Mechamatic Guardian event.

I hate you.

Absor responded:

Just to contrast the post from Cinexa...

Lots of people hate me.  Most of them have never met me.  That's probably the single weirdest part about this job.  I accept your hatred.  I really do.  I've made mistakes and I accept that people don't like me for it.  All I can do is try to be better next time.

And of course folks can only hate something I've done in the game if they play and enjoy the game as a whole, so even hate is something I can appreciate.

Connn wrote:

Do you have a wife?

Absor responded:

Is that an offer?  No, I don't.  There just isn't anyone awesome enough and willing enough.  Besides, I can't afford to lose my Hermit's Club card.

Zanderon wrote:

Or less human!

What class do you think is most interesting (not necessarily your favorite)?

ETA:  And speaking of GU (Love your work, Woody!), this comic reminds me of my question hahahhahahha

Absor responded:

Bard and enchanter.  I like a challenge. I censored at it, but I like to do things that are hard, and those classes proved the most challenging.  When I need a break, I like playing a mage.  Telling people what to do is fun for me, and even if the groups I play with won't listen, at least my pet will.

Those tend to be the types of classes I like to play in most RPGs.  I'm well known in my play group as the guy that plays a crappy class (D&D bard!) and complains about how crappy he is.

Maurasi wrote:

I have a few questions but this one's key.

Is this type of content [the Mechamatic Guardian event] harder to justify in design meetings, given the success of "extremely accessible" (read: easy/faceroll difficulty) content? It seems to be a philosophy that is deeply at odds with today's marketplace. Though I would imagine it's easier to make something too hard and scale it back then too easy and jack up the difficulty (at least from a PR perspective).

How difficult was it when you took over the CM position? If I remember right, you took over for Gordon "Abashi" Wrinn, who was widely despised by the community. What challenges did you experience at that stage of your career that helped you later on (especially during the period where you were largely despised by the community. i.e. after the whole "classes are balanced" thing).

What are the chances of you taking a zone revamp assignment (ala John Capozzi with Chardok, etc)? Or are those strictly off limits nowadays?

You mention you did the Druid & Ranger 1.5 & 2.0 quests. I've done the Druid ones and, well, the story behind it didn't really measure up to a lot of the other classes. Are there things you would do differently, given how things turned out? I'm assuming you didn't see what the designers of the other class epics were doing until they were pretty much finished. I mean, even a decade ago, some of the most well received/regarded epic quests weren't necessarily the most difficult (i.e. Ragebringer) but their stories fit their classes (pickpocketing the notes, sneaking through Hate for the book, etc).

Did you get to work on any of the other titles (like I believe Merloc helped out with FreeRealms when it was being developed, etc)? I'm thinking the Zatanna encounter in DCUO fits your signature. 

Absor responded:

Lots of questions here...  I'll save the first one for last, because it could result in an article all by itself.

How difficult was it for me to take over the CM job from Gordon?  That seems like such a long time ago, almost a different lifetime.  I remember being completely overwhelmed when I got here.  I knew a lot about the game, but I didn't know squat about the game industry.  Gordon had a very difficult job.  It was a bit easier for me since I had someone to teach me a bit about the job.  I don't want to get into a lot of detail, both for brevity and sanity.  I have regrets, and were I to become a CM again (like, you know, under threat of death...) I would be much more comfortable and would be far more assertive with my opinions.  I am extremely assertive with my opinions these days, that's for sure.

You have to understand that Gordon was one of the very first people to be a CM on a game like this.  Console and standard PC games are rather fire and forget compared to an MMO.  Nobody understood how to manage expectations for players back then, especially when their suggestions could actually be implemented.  Heh, we knew even less about how to manage expectations from developers back then.  Seriously, what does a lowly CM do when a rockstar dev gets out of control?

That was the real issue.  We were only CMs and they were real gaming rockstars on the old EQ team.  The industry has gotten smarter about that and we understand the value that a good CM can bring to a team.  When you find a CM that isn't a rockstar, you might have found a good one.

It's generous of you to mention how little people liked Abashi and leave me out of that comment, but I understand how little people liked me as well.  I think we've all learned a lot since then.  I constantly remind Piestro about how easy it is these days.  When I was CM, I took most of the screen shots for all advertising, strat guides and all that.  I practically wrote some of those strat guides...  I managed the betas.  I moderated the forums (and only had one assistant for a total of about four months during my four or so years).  No helpful volunteer moderators.  It was up hill to and from school, it snowed constantly and we had no shoes.

I have done some zone revamps, though they were the ones that just replaced the art, no content changes.  I did Commonlands and Innothule.  I'm impressed that you remember Kendrik/Capozzi.  You have been around a while.  John is a good guy.  We shared a lot of views about how an MMO should feel.  As for revamps being off limits, they are not.  There just isn't a lot of motivation to do them.  It's more work to revamp an old zone, keeping important quests, than to just make a new one.  And new zones are usually better gain for the effort.

There are probably a million things I would have done differently if I did those epics today.  I was a newb designer when I did those, so I'm just pleased that they mostly worked.  We talked a bit about what we were doing, but there certainly wasn't enough time to compare all of them to each other.  We had guidelines about time required for players to complete them, difficulty, number of "raids" required and all that.  As a newb, I tried my best to meet those requirements.  Others might not have been so concerned.

Lore-wise, my excuse is pretty bad.  I was spending all my efforts just making stuff work and frankly, even though I was working until well after midnight every evening, I didn't have time to put toward worrying about adding in the lore that the quest deserved.  If I were to do it now, all the stuff I struggled with would be easy and all I would be worried about would be the lore.

I have been on EQ for my entire time here at SOE.  I've been very tempted to join other teams as they've started up in the company.  DCUO seemed like a lot of fun.  As you might imagine, I've always been a comic book fan.  But ultimately I've remained on EQ, the game that got me interested in the industry.  When I was younger I had two dreams.  One was to work at JPL.  I didn't care what I would do, I just wanted to work on sending stuff into space.  The other thing I wanted to do was make game modules for Pen and Paper games, eventually making a system of my own.  Working as a video game designer is pretty close. 

As for the first question...

Justifying stuff in design meetings is always interesting.  First, you have to understand that not everything gets reviewed by the entire team.  There isn't enough time in the day to have everyone involved in the creation of every event, quest or mission.  In this case, we did have some discussions about the difficulty of the event, mostly in regard to the speed at which we would be giving out the loot.  Realistically this is most of what people refer to when they talk about difficulty.

We decided that it would be cool to have an event that would reoccur every year that people would be eager to see again because they hadn't managed to get the item(s) they wanted from it last year.  Yes, this is pretty divergent from the norm of late, and that was part of the appeal.  We were hoping to have people be excited to see that the Guardian event was back.

We didn't really account for the effect of putting that event in an open zone, or how absolutely feral people can be when they want something.  Obviously I should have known better.  I don't think the event was too hard in any way. There wasn't anything there that an average guild couldn't deal with rather easily.  It wasn't the content that was hard, it was the competition.

By making the reward rare we gave the feeling that the content was hard. The "risk" in the Risk versus Reward equation in EQ is time.  A very bad day might mean a few deaths, maybe even without a rez.  That's a time penalty, not really a risk.  The equation these days should be discussed, at least for EQ, in terms of Time versus Reward.  And that's pretty much how we look at it internally.

So when people say it was too hard, they really seem to mean that it took too long to get the reward (or perhaps that the reward wasn't worth the time).

Obviously that event should not have been in an open zone.  But if I had instanced it, I would have done it in such a way that you might do the event every day (or every 3 days) and not get more than a few rewards before the event ended.  After all, that was the design goal.

Do I think that was a good goal?  Not for EQ, not anymore at least.  Eight years ago, I would say yes.  This is why I have to keep reminding myself what year it is when I'm building content. 

Morituus wrote:

In a no-holds-barred Battle Royale (to the death) between all the EQ devs, would you be the most likely one to emerge victorious?

(And if not you, then who should I put my money on?)

Absor responded:

Not me, unless weapons are allowed (just for me, not for everyone).  I'd probably put my money on nobody surviving.  Well, nobody but Justin, who would pop out of his dev cave where we all forgot about him.  At the end of the day he would just stand on all the corpses and declare himself winner.

And yes, Nolrog, I would have picked Nodyin as well.  That's why he had to go! 

WyreWintermute wrote:

Being that you've been with EQ since.. well since forever...  what is your take on players vs developers when it comes to content ideas/opinions?  I don't mean as in an argumentative way, but you started out on one side of the fence and transitioned to the other.

Personally, I find it difficult to transcend the gap sometimes.  Player to dev because I don't have code access.. and dev to player because I can't explain the volumes of code to someone just to clarify a mechanic. 

(Though I did determine an entire method used in VG via trial and error to send in feedback on how to change the code to reduce petitions to CS.)

Absor responded:

I don't think you have to know anything about the code or the stuff we have to do on our side to have good input for content.  In fact, knowing what we can do is often a creative limiter.  Sometimes when I look at the blank page and start writing up some sort of event, I get stuck in a rut.  A rut carved out by what we can do.  It's important for designers to be willing to ignore that rut and go wherever the fun is.

The difficult part in transitioning from player to developer for most people is changing views from me/my to us/we.  As players we are mostly concerned about what I like, what MY character can do, what is fun for ME.  As designers we have to make something fun for a majority.  It took me a while to come to grips with the idea that I am not the majority.  What I like might not be (usually isn't) what most EQ players like.

As for communications between players and developers, that all depends on what you're discussing.  If you're arguing over class balance (because that is never just a discussion), then it often comes down to some sort of problem with how it works.  This requires specific information that may not be available to players and might be hard to express as a designer. It's hard to get past that gap, as you mentioned.  But for content we can talk using regular words.  Too hard?  Why?  What part is too hard?  Not fun?  What would make it more fun?  So long as we're not talking about DPS or attributable DPS, and all that junk, then there isn't much of a gap at all.

Imrahil Donnergroll wrote:

Anyway, I have a question for you, cause I see you have played MTG: will you give me one or two of the old Beta Magic Cards as a gift? One of them is called "Black Lotus", the other "Ancestral Recall"   

I need them to complete my set (slightly changed from the famous "Can I have that? I need it for a quest" when it came to one of the first epic 2.0 drops in CoA).

Joking aside: I hope you will try to keep raids hard(er) - note: annoying != hard -, as EQ takes pride in its "hardcore heritage" and no doubt you have played your part in that.

Absor responded:

No, you can't has my power nine.  I still need some to complete my alpha set, but I actually have a complete beta set.  My brother and I collected sets from very early on.  As a piece of trivia about my time playing Magic, I have a 4-digit DCI number...

It is a fine line between annoying and hard.  Anything that is too hard, legitimately hard, is going to be annoying.  But feel safe in my understanding that I am not the only one here that holds to the old school beliefs.  Some folks here understand what you mean.  As for the newb designers, I beat that into them from the moment they arrive. 

Timber Bristlebane wrote:

Are there any quests pre-PoP that still haven't been solved?

Where do you see EQ's future lying?

Absor responded:

I have no idea.  Pre-PoP quests were made in the ooooold system.  There are some sketchy ways to tell what hasn't been done, like looking to see if supposed quest rewards have been found.  Unfortunately that method doesn't tell us if the quest even CAN be done.  So, really, nobody knows with any precision how many pre-PoP quests remain unsolved.

Where will EQ be in the future?  That's a tough question.  Every time I guess, I'm wrong.  So all I can say is that I'm sure that it will be here in the future.  With any luck we'll still be innovating (though EQII seems to be stealing our ideas, dastardly folks that they are) and we can keep teaching the new games how it ought to be done!

Elidroth wrote:

Ironically, when Zajeer played another MMO with several of us on the dev team, he did much the same thing, and got himself killed.. a lot.

Absor responded;

Despite the fact that we had a high level rouge (yes, rouge) played by Prat, Zaj was our best trap finder.  Boom baby!

Piestro wrote:

Associate Lead Game Designer Alan "Absor" VanCouvering

Absor responded:

            I didn't know you were so good at making up titles...

Thanks for all the questions.  I have to get back to breaking bards and SMASHing things.

Alan "I think I'm so funny" VanCouvering

ASSISTANT Lead Game Designer - EverQuest

Thanks Alan!