The men and women behind the development of EA Mythic's Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning are just like the rest of us except for the "having the coolest job ever" thing. What are these people like, how did they get into the industry, and what do they do in their spare time? Chris Behrens, Content Designer, shares a little more about himself with this Meet the Development Team.
1. Do you have any unofficial title?
My official title would be Content Designer. Unofficial titles include The Scientist and Twitchy, mainly because I worry a lot.
2. What is it you do on a daily basis?
At this stage of the game, I'm working on the Itemization team, which is presently endeavoring to ensure that the players get all the glorious loot they will need to beat each other to a bloody pulp. From time to time, I am also called upon to help my teammates on the GvD (Greenskin vs. Dwarf) Focus Team, addressing needs relating to my previous role as a content developer on the World Content team.
3. What is your background? College? Has it helped with the job? 1st job out of school? 1st game industry job? How long have you been with Mythic?
This is my first job in the industry, though I've worked at a variety of places from big financial companies to small startup corporations before coming to Mythic.
I have a Bachelor's degree in Geological Sciences. I went to school to be a dinosaur vertebrate paleontologist & evolutionary scientist, which isn't the most direct route into the games industry. However, that background gave me training which I used quite a lot when I started a fansite for Anarchy Online named Faunlore, a bestiary in which I made ecological reconstructions for Rubi-Ka and the Shadowlands. That bestiary became pretty popular, and one thing led to another. A short 4 years later and here I am. I've been with Mythic for just over a year.
That scientific background has continued to prove helpful on the job as well! Whether it be filling in details on little bits of content or helping me keep up with our great terrain artists as they work their magic or using my mathematical background needed for the work I'm doing on itemization, I use a bit of that scientific background everyday.
4. What was your "welcome to the game industry" moment when it hit you that you were really making games for a living?
The first real "welcome to the game industry" moment came when I was working closely with one of our terrain artists to bring one of the Content team's PQs into the world. Explaining the story and drawing bits on the board, we were going back and forth thinking up ways to bring home the PQ's theme visually. During that discussion, I realized that we were creating something that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people would someday be playing in.
5. What excites you about the Warhammer property? What makes it perfect for an MMO? What cool things in the Warhammer universe do you hope to bring to life?
The simple answer? Witch Elves and Cold Ones!
More specifically, however, Warhammer is one of the more colorful properties out there. Its unique take on the fantasy genre manages to mix numerous culturally distinct societies in a brutal, violent world, eternally rocked by conflict, and does so while still maintaining a dark sense of humor. It is a rich world that practically screams to be experienced in the visceral, living way that only MMOs can achieve.
6. Do you collect Warhammer figures? What army do you play? Does your spouse let you display them when friends come over for dinner?
If I had more time, I would be playing Warhammer, but I'd be very much a newbie. I would play Tyranids in 40K or Lizardmen in Fantasy. I know my wife would let me display them pretty much wherever I wanted, though I'd not do it unless they were painted.
7. What are your hopes/goals for the game?
My hope is that players truly get into Warhammer, not just as players, but as someone who is participating in a battle that will determine the fate of the world. I also hope that when players log on, they're looking forward to bashin' dem stunties or crushing the last of their ancient kin, immersing themselves in the world we have created and enjoying every minute of it.
8. What are your key influences when making the game? Anything besides Warhammer?
Probably the most significant influence would be other games, especially other MMOs, with Anarchy Online, City of Heroes/Villains, and World of Warcraft being the ones I have spent the most time playing. Beyond those, I'm typically influenced by anything with great, sweeping stories, ranging from books like The Lord of the Rings or Time and Again, to television shows like Lost or The Sopranos, from movies like The Matrix to games like Deus Ex.
9. What is the biggest problem with current MMO's you hope to fix with WAR?
The "immersivity" of online game worlds is my greatest focus. Does the game world look "alive," with a natural, organic feel? Does it make sense, whether by the laws of our universe or its own internal laws? Does the world feel game-y or contrived?
While there's always an element of contrivance in online worlds, many MMORPGs do not do an effective job of making their world feel alive. When a player logs in to join your world, he or she expects to enjoy the experience of that world on the terms it has set, and anything that snaps the player out of that experience can be jarring.
WAR has endeavored to improve this aspect of online games. An example of this is the PQ system, which places changing battlefields and conditions within the content areas and ties them integrally into the player character's story, immersing the player in a world where they are vital participants in a violent, bloody war to utterly destroy their enemies.
10. What are your favorite video/computer games of all time? What games are you playing right now?
My favorite game of all time is Deus Ex. Others include Knights of the Old Republic, Final Fantasy IV, VIII and X, Rise of Nations, Unreal, No One Lives Forever, Starcraft and, MMO-wise, Anarchy Online. I'll stop the list there before it starts running too long. As for what I'm playing right now, World of Warcraft, Age of Conan, City of Villains, GTA IV, Rock Band, Mass Effect, and Sins of a Solar Empire.
11. Is there a recent movie you've seen or book/comic you read that you'd recommend to others?
Guns, Germs and Steel or Collapse by Jared Diamond; Both are a good read. If there's any popular works out there that captures the basics for a much needed analysis of civilization as an evolutionary phenomenon, it's those. Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut is another excellent read for a more fantastic and biting commentary on the nature of civilization. I've read all three (again) pretty recently. More to the game design side, Designing Virtual Worlds by Richard Bartle is one of the deepest and most informative books I've read.
12. Anything else you want to add?
Making games for a living really is the most fun job in the world, and I'd not be here were it not for the support I've had through the years. From my family, who never in 25 years of gaming tried to tell me that my gaming was a waste of time and always supported my choices, to my friends, both real world and online, who have been invaluable for their friendship and advice, I have many people to thank. But, most of all, I would like to thank my wife. It's been a wild ride to get here, and her love, understanding and support have been an ever-present blessing.
"Sometimes I think the surest sign intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." -- Calvin and Hobbes.
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