The Game Archaeologist's chat with Andy Cataldo

Justin Olivetti
J. Olivetti|10.19.10

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The Game Archaeologist's chat with Andy Cataldo
There are only a handful of people in the world who can boast that they're working on an MMO that dates back to the '90s. As community lead for Asheron's Call, Turbine's Andy Cataldo is a member of that exclusive club, going from an avid player of the game to part of the AC crew. Don't tell him that his game is old in the joints and unstable going down stairs; to Andy, Asheron's Call is still one of the most exciting MMOs on the market, and he is not shy in sharing his passion for it.

In our third week of looking back at the esteemed history of Asheron's Call, the Game Archaeologist got in touch with Mr. Cataldo to ask him why AC has yet to go the free-to-play route, what the team is planning for AC's 11th anniversary, how the graphics update is coming along, and whether it's still possible to party like it's 1999. Let us clasp our hands together attentively and read!

The Game Archaeologist: Please introduce yourself, your role on the team, and how long you've been working on Asheron's Call.

Andy Cataldo: My name is Andy Cataldo. I am currently the Community Lead for the Asheron's Call franchise. My focus is helping communicate between the players and various teams here in Turbine, and vice versa. I also do most of the website and launcher updates, as well as any community events. I have been working on Asheron's Call now for over six years.
Massively: How many people are currently part of the AC team?

Andy: We generally don't give out team size numbers. I will say that everyone here has had a hand in helping AC continue to be the great game that it is today. The team gets support from all of the different departments here at Turbine. The core team is an amazing group of people who work exceptionally hard and put everything they have into making the game as good as it can be.

Looking way, waaay back to the late '90s, can you tell us what inspired the creation of AC, what the creation process was like, and whether any of the team members were looking to other MMOs for inspiration?

That is a tough one for me to answer considering I was only a player and a fan back then. AC is one of the original MMOs and was inspired by the desire to create a persistent online world filled with adventure that you could experience with your friends. This was a huge concept back in the early '90s when Turbine was founded. With regards to our process, from what I am told, it was not much different from what it is now. The team gets together each month and brainstorms what they want in the game and what players are responding to and then the work is assigned and the team gets it done. That, of course, is a simplified answer, but as a basic outline that is pretty close to how our process works.

Seeing as how AC is due for its 11th anniversary next month, why do you think the game's lasted so long?

I think there are many reasons for the longevity of the game. We have compelling stories, innovative features, unique design concepts, and everyone who has worked on the game from launch till now is truly passionate about what they are doing. I think our monthly update schedule is a big help too. No other game out there puts out content every month and has done so nearly every month for 11 years. That adds up to a massive amount that gets added to the game every year. The biggest reason, I think though, is our players. In all my years I have never seen a more passionate or dedicated community. They make sure we are always honest and always on our toes, and we love that about them.

What special plans do you have in store for the 11th anniversary?

We have a ton of new content and features planned for the 11th anniversary update. One of the new features we are really excited about is Olthoi Play. As you may or may not know, the Olthoi are the creatures that started it all in Dereth; they are the creatures that took over and helped start the story. Well, with this new feature, players will be able to login to the game as a high-level Olthoi and instantly jump into the PvP action. We will have more details about this feature as we get closer to launching the November event, but for those who like instant PvP action, this will be a fantastic new option.

So if that isn't enough to entice players, how about an entirely new school of magic? For as long as AC has been around there have only been four schools of magic: War, Creature, Life, and Item. Well, this year the team decided to shake things up and add another choice for our players: Void Magic! Void Magic focuses on the dark magics of the world and relies on damage-over-time spells and weakening enemies during the battle. This is truly a new option that will make players old and new have to plan more carefully in battle.

Still not enough? OK, how about another new playable race: the Empyreans! The Empyreans, once the rulers of Dereth, were driven into portal space by Asheron to protect them when the Olthoi invasion began. For as long as we have been here, they have been trapped in portal space with what seems like no way out. All that will change in November when some of them will finally be free and be able to be a playable race. The Empyreans are very knowledgeable when it comes to the arcane arts, and they will be a powerful race in Dereth upon their return. This will be the fourth new playable race added to the game this year, and the team is very proud and excited to continue to offer our players more choices. And if I were to guess, I would say we are not done yet with adding more races to play.

These are just some of the things we have planned for the big event... new hunting areas, new quests, a new Hero XP system that will allow those level-capped players a way to progress again, and a few surprises along the way. We will, of course, have all the information about the update on our November Event page that will go live shortly before the event in mid-November.

What do you feel is Asheron's Call's legacy to the MMO genre?

Choices. Instead of locking players into cookie-cutter classes, AC gave the players a choice. You are never locked into a single playstyle in Asheron's Call. You do what you want, when you want, how you want. We also took a chance when making a new world with completely original creatures. The team showed that you don't have to use traditional fantasy elements to be a successful fantasy game.

What lessons did Turbine take from AC in creating its subsequent games?

I think there have been many lessons learned or gained from being one of the most experienced development studios in the industry. From how to design content to be more adaptable, to how to make the game servers run better, to how to engage and work with communities better. I think we as a company continue to get better as we move forward.

What's the most memorable experience you've had or witnessed while on the AC team?

There are so many to choose from, so picking one is going to be difficult. We had a player who was a great contributor to the game as a whole. He was always helpful to veterans and new players alike, was always there when you needed him, and was a genuinely nice person. This was the type of player that, even if you did not play on his server, you probably had heard of.

One day I was contacted by one of his guildmates letting me know he was sick, and he was wondering if there was anything we could do to help cheer him up. As the main point of contact I have received many emails about things like this, but this was different. I was told that his chances of making it through what he had were not good, and it would mean a lot if we could do something. After a bit of verifying via emails and whatnot, I confirmed all the information given to us and brought what I knew to the team for their opinions. Immediately they offered up suggestions as to what we could do, including naming an item after the player. We have done things like this before for those who have had a great impact on the community as a whole. So we went ahead with our plans for adding an item into the game.

Shortly before our plans were going to go live, I received another email from the original person saying that things had taken a turn for the worse and the player was in the hospital and the prognosis was not good. We decided to step up our plans and do whatever we could. With the help of his friends we made sure he had access to a computer, and they set a time to have an appreciation night for him on the world he was part of.

We knew that he was a big fan of our lore so as he was standing there thanking everyone for being there, I logged into the game as Asheron, completely in roleplay mode, and thanked him for all he had done for the world and presented him with the items the team had named after his character. It was a truly emotional moment for all of us involved and from what we were told , it was a real lift to the spirits of the person involved. Sadly a few months later we learned that the player did pass away. Knowing what this team did for him, and knowing that if even for a little while we helped him to forget about what he was going through, was one of the best things I have ever taken part in. Players and devs alike were there and made it something I will never forget.

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