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Horizons Developer's Diary

Part 1: A day at work

Paul Peterson, 2002-09-06

Hi! My name is Paul Peterson, and I'm a game designer here at Artifact Entertainment. This diary is a small peek into what a typical day is like at work for me.

10am: I'm a bit tired this morning. My housemate and fellow game designer Shawn Carnes just got the third season of the Sopranos on DvD, and we stayed up late saying "just one more episode." It's nothing a little caffeine can't cure, though.

10:10am: David Bowman (Co-President) stops by the office that I share with Shawn Carnes. We talked for a while about what features we have that will keep players excited about playing Horizons for years after they first pick up the game. I think our best idea for this is our community building. I think players will really be excited about being part of a town on the frontier, watching that town grow, defending it from invasions, and then being able to move on to the next frontier if they want. There is also a lot of value in players being able to build their property up exactly the way they want it, and place the structures they choose on their land where they want them.

10:30am: I'm inputting a bunch of new weapons into the database. Items in the world come from several sources. Usually, we designers create a specific item or group of items for specific purposes. For example, we might create a magical sword for a quest or a special hammer for crafting a unique item. We decide all the game information that applies to the item such as how much damage it does, what requirements it has, whether it grants statistics or special abilities, where it is equipped, etc. We input all of that information into the database. When the artists have created a model or texture for the item, we then associate the item in the database to that model, and then it's ready to go.

11am: One of the designers, Dina Mastbaum, is out of town visiting this week, so I have temporarily taken on her responsibilities in addition to my own. Each designer has certain areas of the game that we are responsible for. We each design the systems for our areas and keep watch over them as they are implemented. We don't do our design work in a vacuum, however. We all have input into each other's mechanics, and seek each other out to discuss details, and to make sure that each piece fits well with all of the other pieces of the game. Right now, I'm heading over to take a look at the special effects for some new spells (Dina's area), to make sure they fit the descriptions.

11:30am: Rick Simmons stops by our office. There is a new build on the test server and he would like for Shawn and I to make sure that it is stable. So we log into the test server and try to crash it. We run around attacking things, casting spells, or whatever might overload the server. Currently, there are four levels of servers for the game. The first is Proto where ideas are formed and first implemented. Those ideas are then moved on to Test, to make sure that they are stable. From there, they go to Production, which is where we see how it all fits together, and where I usually go to test how things are working. The final server is Live, where everything works the way it was intended (we hope).

Lunch! Today we have some errands to run, so we stop at a convenient Mexican restaurant. The food is ok, but not great. We then run to Best Buy to grab a couple things, and I get a couple new games.

1pm: After lunch is more testing of the new server build. I log in as various models and start messing with the scenery. Before long the server crashes. Yay! I was successful! Actually, I'm disappointed to learn that I didn't crash the server, it was just a reset for testing. On a semi-related note, the Live server has been running for over three weeks without a single crash.

1:30pm: Paul Tanganelli and Daqing Yang come by my office to discuss setting permissions for player owned property. Players in Horizons are going to be able to grant and remove permission for people to do various things on their property. Our goal is for players to be able to control who's allowed onto their property, and what those players are allowed to do while they are there. You can keep everyone off your property entirely or only ban specific people. They can let anyone visit the merchant in a store they built, but only allow people in their guild to use the blacksmith anvil. Players can allow friends into their house, or even let them move the furniture around.

2:30pm: Adrian LaVelle stops by to discuss associating animations for special attacks in the next milestone. Characters in Horizons will have a variety of special moves they can do to affect the outcome of the battle, and each one will be associated to an animation. He's finished coding the special attacks into the game, and we need to make sure that the animations are ready to go, so we run over to the artists and ask to see them. As usual, they are pretty amazing. I love a game with cool attack animations. Seeing your character do a spinning kick, or powerful cleave in the middle of combat makes it all look so much more exciting.

3pm: It's time to work some more on the combat formulas. Every time anyone swings at someone else, there's a formula that determines the chance to hit or miss. Then there're formulae to determine if the attack is blocked, or how much damage they do, if any additional effects happen, etc. I'm the lucky guy that gets to make all of that up, and it is a real bear sometimes. Everything has to be balanced so that when you attack someone who's more or less skillful than you, you have an appropriate chance to win the battle. We have to take into account everything that might affect the battle from your skill ranks to your weapon's damage to the amount of extra damage you get from the statistics added by your magical armor.

5pm: Rick Simmons stops by and we talk about some of the aspects of community building. A community is composed not only of the buildings that exist on the plots of land that players own, but also of a variety of general use buildings such as training halls, travel gates, and defensive structures that no one owns, but still need to get built. So we were talking about the different ways that those buildings will be created by the game as players build up the community around them. After Rick leaves, I input all of the things we talked about into the Community document in the database so that the information was available to everyone.

6pm: David stops by the office again. We need to come up with ten new monsters for the artists to model. I love this part of the job. So David and I discuss the kinds of monsters we need right now and decide to make some cool new undead to flesh out (if you'll forgive the pun) their ranks. Then I create a list with short descriptions to give to the artists. I just try to give them a general impression of what we're looking for so they have as much freedom as possible.

8pm: Steve Snow has a hole in his pants. And it's time for me to go home.


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