Monday, April 4, 2011

April newsletter

My dear Wizards,

So the cat’s out of the bag! Our next release will include a new area called Wintertusk, a place that completes the story begun in Grizzleheim. You knew there had to be more coming, right? We can’t just leave things on a cliffhanger like that. There will be wolves, ravens, and bears, as you'd expect, but your character will encounter some other epic bad guys too. You won’t be alone, though: in Wintertusk your Wizard will finally meet Grandmother Raven. She should be a great aid to you as your character encounters mysteries and challenges across the Spiral.

That’s not all though! We’re also proud to announce that we’re going to be releasing something hugely requested by the Wizard101 community: high level quest pets! You may have wondered why we asked about pets on Feedback Friday a while ago... that’s the reason! We’re fired up for Wizards to discover new companions to aid you in your journeys throughout the Spiral. They won’t be easy to obtain… but the spoils will be worth the effort!

Another exciting new feature is new and upgraded spells. With Celestia, we gave you some visually super cool epic spells, and now we’re adding more toys for your arsenal. With our new content, we allow your Wizard's other spells to gain in power as well. Your Wizard will be able to “upgrade” one existing spell and will get something new. Your Wizard must be level 58 to get these quests. It won’t be as easy as walking up to a trainer, but you should find that your time obtaining them has been well spent.

With many of the new additions to the game this update, we want to make sure Wizards already at Legendary status have a meaningful way to increase their powers. Each school will have their own, but here are some examples. Balance Wizards, we found some ancient and powerful magic to provide you a new, shiny, and more powerful healing over time spell! Storm Wizards, you’ll find some awesome damage at your disposal, but with great capability comes great danger. Speaking of such things, you’ll also find a new area with the toughest combat yet, but the spoils will most certainly befit the difficulty. These challenges will be presented to our most powerful Wizards. If you fall into that category, let me just say… I hope you’re up for the challenge!

Have you wondered what became of Crab Alley? What happened after the Crab folk went on tour with Selena Gomez? You won’t have to wait too long to find out, get ready to explore our newly expanded Crab Alley! It will be right up your alley if your Wizard is around level 10-15.

There is so much more I just can’t talk about yet! We have a huge list of changes coming out with this next release, and there’s a lot more to come out in the months to come. My next letter should be full of juicy gossip! I’m burning with excitement about the features in this update, and since a lot of the features are hot topics on the message boards, I think you'll feel the heat of excitement as well!

Last producer's letter, we did Part 1 of a Q&A, and now we're proud to present Part 2!

What did you take in school to get you into being a video game producer and what schools did you attend?
I graduated with a Bachelors of Arts in Psychology and a minor in Theatre. While I’ve not made use of either course of study in an official capacity, both have immensely helped me on a daily basis throughout my professional career.

What other titles have you worked on?
I’ve tended to work on one game for a LONG time rather than many games. I’ve been involved with Wizard101 and WizardBlox (the iPhone game) since before Wizard101 went into alpha-testing back in 2007. Before that, I worked on EverQuest Online Adventures, and before that, I worked on many of the first-gen PS2 online games (Socom, Twisted Metal, Frequency) as QA, and worked on the startup disc that accompanied the PS2.

What other positions were you in before you became a producer?

Quality Assurance Tester
This is how I got my start in the industry right out of college. Basically, you ran through every nook and cranny of a game, looking for issues and reported them to the development teams. While it sounds awesome to play a game all day and get paid, generally, you end up having to do the tedious stuff more than the fun stuff. For example, you may have to run into every wall in a certain level. If you fall through, you have to replicate that ten times, and then provide the development team a consistent way to get it to happen. If the development team got a report that says “I crash when I put equip my weapon”, if it doesn’t happen every time you equip a weapon, QA has to figure out what weapons make the game crash and under what conditions. There are a lot of conditions! This job typically requires serious organizational skills, attention to detail, and willingness to work long hours before a project’s completion. Also, invariably, you are going to be one of the most knowledgeable folks in the company about the game as a whole.

Customer Service
The game I worked on previously shipped, and I wanted to stay involved with it, so I moved to being a Game Master (which meant providing customer service to the fine folks playing the game). This entailed everything from assisting customers with account and billing issues, sifting through harassment reports, replacing lost items, collecting information and helping people if any game issues happened, and settling disputes over popular content. Very occasionally, I got to jump in game and duel people or run events, but only when things were slow! This job took a lot of patience, compassion, and organization, but didn’t typically require the long hours QA did.

Working closely with the same title, I found I really loved the stories and experiences it offered, so wanted to help write more. I started as an Apprentice, learning the ropes by working after my normal shift in Customer Service. As I got more experienced, I moved to working as a designer full time, and I did everything from writing and implementing quests, working on spells and combat, class balancing, making cool and unique boss fights, making items and rewards, fixing bugs, and revamping old content. After a while, I began coming up with plans for each update, and divvying up the work among the team, overseeing that the changes were made with a spirit of fun, balance, and excitement. This job took a lot of creativity, logic, stubbornness, and an awareness of the game community -- as well as being familiar with the games industry as a whole.

Associate Producer
While I was a designer, I found that I actually had a lot of interest and passion for the planning and scheduling part of the job, so I gave this position a try and it stuck. Though I held a lot of different responsibilities as an associate producer, the most important duties were the day-to-day task of keeping tabs on the schedule and the team. This involved a lot of work creating and maintaining project documents, keeping on top of what everyone’s current and next tasks are, and generally hunting down and solving the hundred different types of minor problems that can spring up. This job took a lot of organization, logic, problem solving, and again, a healthy dose of sheer stubbornness.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone who wanted to be a video game producer?

I could definitely talk someone’s ear off here, but if I could only give one piece of advice, it would be to learn everything you can about the industry, game communities, and the jobs of the various disciplines that will one day you will manage. I’d definitely encourage working other positions you’re interested in, as you may get your foot in the door by taking one of those jobs. (However, it’s rare to start as a producer without prior industry experience.) It’s important to learn how a team works together. Examine your favorite supervisors or managers and figure out what makes them tick. Anything you can do to learn about making good games will benefit you somewhere down the road.

See you in the Spiral,
Leah “Professor Falmea” Ruben

So there you have it. The April newsletter with awesome news and pictures. I love the gaint skull picture the most. It looks like it might eat you. Crab alley and some thought about some new spells. Powering your own asernal to greater damage. Some Wintertusk news! And last but not least some challenges for us legendarys. I am very excited!!! :) :) :)
Happy pet collecting
~The Cool Theurgist

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