An Exclusive Interview with Lead Content Designer Jason "Dymus" Roberts
By: Tony "Radar X" Jones
A well built MMO, is only as strong as it's content. Content development is a complex process requiring the talent of many developers, and spanning multiple departments. It takes a special type of individual to oversee this work, and make sure SOE's vision for EverQuest 2 is fulfilled. SOE's own Lead Content Designer, Jason "Dymus" Roberts, fits the bill. What does a Lead Content Designer actually do, and how does the entire process work? I went all Solid Snake and snuck inside the SOE headquarters to track down Mr. Dymus. After I was thrown out of the building by an elderly security guard, I decided to go the normal way of getting an interview.
RadarX: Thank you for taking the time to do this. Can you tell us how you got into the gaming industry?
Jason Roberts - Lead Content Designer: It all started about 8 years ago when a good friend told me about a lead testing position for a small game company he was working for named VR-1 Entertainment. I've always been an avid role-playing gamer but up until then I hadn't considered that you could actually make a living working on games. I had been doing hardware and firmware testing at Cyrix for a little over a year and the opportunity to work on something I loved playing (and get paid for it) sounded like a golden opportunity, so I applied. The games industry is interestingly different and took some getting used to, though my experiences have been anything but boring and I've truly enjoyed it. In an odd twist of fate, that good friend I mentioned is Travis "Rashere" McGeathy, the current lead designer of EverQuest.
RadarX: Wow, so you're very familiar with EverQuest. What would you say your job description is at SOE, or can you give us an idea of what you do on a daily basis?
Jason Roberts - Lead Content Designer: That is a difficult question to answer as it changes depending on what projects are currently in production and where they are in the development cycle. Early in a project a lot of my time is spent working with lore, content, and mechanics designers on new features and content. At this time I'm also answering a lot of questions from Art, Engineering, Audio, and Marketing about new designs and upcoming changes or features to the game. During the middle of a project I'm often reviewing designs and near-completed work to make sure everything fits together and is following the direction it should. Late in a project cycle ( i.e. Crunch time) I try to pick up bug fixes or tasks which other designers may not have the time to get to right away and help where I can. Then everything starts all over again.
RadarX: So basically you're the glue that holds all this together. Bug fixes? Are you the one who changed the tint of my pink pants, because THAT was a bug. Can you walk us through the process of how a zone gets into the game?
Jason Roberts - Lead Content Designer: First the concept for the zone is planned with details about how it fits in the overall lore and world of Norrath. Then the 2D map and designs are created by a content designer assigned to the zone. This part includes the landmarks, basic storylines, bestiary, level range and other details.
This information is then handed over to the Art department who make concept drawings of areas, buildings, objects, landmarks, and whatever else might need some visual elements in order for a zone artist to create the zone. After Art has created the zone, textured it, added special effects then Audio gets their chance at it. Audio adds the zone sound effects and music regions around specific areas.
Once that is done, design typically gets to start populating the zone. The stories are solidified and base population goes in to support those stories. Events and named mobs / encounters go in next, then itemization. Quests come in at the end but they were planned for with the original storylines of the zone, they are just the way to clearly explain what the zone is all about and what's going on inside. After all that, the zone is play tested, polished, and released.
RadarX: I can imagine balancing the happiness of soloers, groupers, and raiders is near impossible. Can we expect to see more "Old Norrath" resurface, and are you looking for a balance of the new and the old?
Jason Roberts - Lead Content Designer: There is a lot to draw upon from "Old Norrath" and several stories that were never told, and a lot can happen in 500 years. So to answer the first part of the question, yes, you will certainly see more of the familiar Norrath resurface, though likely with some notable changes. The new zones, or new looks at old zones, give us something that is uniquely EverQuest 2 and a mix of the two seems to work well for us. It's fun to surprise players with something initially recognizable but slightly twisted over time to now be what it is.
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