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GDC09: Mission Architect in-depth, part 2


Massively: How long did Mission Architect take to develop?

Joe Morrissey: I was actually curious about this. it started as a development tool I made -- I checked e-mails and I started making it in Visual Basic and Excel in May of last year. That was before we even thought of opening this up. About a month after that I started doing mock-ups in Photoshop where I made this whole walk-through of picking a story and doing everything else. Then we became wholly owned by NCsoft and they asked what we wanted to do. "What about this?" So in August we seriously started moving on this. Eight months, which is unbelievable in my opinion.

How many players are you seeing using it right now?
Right now our concurrency rates are in the low thousands in open beta. We're actually hitting the cap for our test servers.

Will people be able to take their mission data from the test servers and use it on the live servers?
It will be pretty easy. The trick is your beta is installed in one folder and your actual game is installed in another folder. But in that beta folder there's a folder called "missions." You can copy that to the game folder and you have all of your content. Now, all of the ratings won't persist. That all gets reset. We are looking at carrying over some of the Developer's Choice missions -- or at least contacting the author and asking them to let us know when it's online. We want good content right from the beginning of live. So we'll probably bring over a bunch of the dev choice content.

How are you currently picking out your Developer's Choice content?
I had to send out an e-mail about how to do dev choice. Not how to get in, but who's allowed to dev choice and who's not. A few of us go through, mostly in the mornings. Our lead engineer, C.W., has actually dev choiced about 85% of the content. I've flagged a couple of things, Matt's flagged a couple of things. We generally look for stuff that's gotten a couple of votes, that's done pretty well, and then go in and play it.

I really wanted to look for what I called the "Slumdog factor" -- I wanted to find content that no one else had already found. Players are going to find the Hall of Fame content, that's one path. And dev choice is a different path. If it's something that really stands out, and the designer did stuff that we didn't actually think you could pull off in the system, and they did it well, that's what dev choice is for us.

What percentage of total content is being picked by dev choice?
We're trying for around 1%. I think we're at roughly 4000 stories (made up of one to five missions) that have been put up... of those trying to get 1% flagged as dev choice is a daunting task. Certain people are really good at doing this. It's almost like cheating to play through new stories from those players -- and sure enough, it's a dev choice. So we have to go and look for new people as well.

"If anything, it's going to make us have to work harder. "

Do you see players making their own missions playing into future game development?
If anything, it's going to make us have to work harder. We threw down the gauntlet and said, "Fine, you guys do it!" And the players said, "Okay!" And they're doing it very well.

So we have to make really cool stuff that they can't do yet. That's good because the biggest problem in any MMO is that you run out of stuff to do. And we've solved that problem. There is always something to do. Now the question is whether that stuff is as fun and enjoyable as it can be. That's the problem we're now working on.

Is Mission Architect something you'll build on over time, giving players more options?
It depends on how successful the feature is. We're kind of on a high right now, it's doing really well, better than we expected. Even my expectations, which were very high, since it's kind of been my baby -- and I'm still looking at it and saying "Whoa, this is big." I need to come up with new ways of thinking about how big of a system this could become for our game and MMOs. So if Mission Architect does as well as we hope it will we'll continue to build on it.

If on some bizarre twist, no one ever uses it and it dies a horrible death then we might look at just maintaining where it's at. I have a document that I've kept that we've all added to on Mission Architect version 2. Which is just the wish list during development of "Hey, wouldn't it be cool if we did this?" "Wouldn't it be cool if we did that?" And that document is 25 pages right now. Even though there's so many other things to do with our game, I would love to continue to work on Mission Architect for the next five years. Because imagine what that tool would look like. That would be huge.

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