Anarchy Online Dev Journal Farewell Address: A New Door

By Nina “Aythem” Sund, Content Designer/Writer, Anarchy Online
By Nina “Aythem” Sund, Content Designer/Writer, Anarchy Online

You know how it is when you read a really good book, a so-called page turner? You can’t put it down because you’re so engrossed in the story and the storytelling, and at the same time, you don’t want to read too fast, cause then you’ll soon be out of chapters to read?

If Anarchy Online was a book, it would be one that I have spent 6.5 years reading and re-reading and loved every letter and every word. And for each page I turned, there would be another waiting for me. Knowing that even if you put down the book, the story still goes on is an encouraging thought. That’s the beauty of working with an MMO...the book never ends because the game development doesn’t stop.

Nina will be moving from Anarchy Online to Funcom's next MMOG project, The Secret World.

This will be my final journal on Ten Ton Hammer, at least as a designer on Anarchy Online. In a few short weeks, I’m transferring to another team to work on Funcom’s upcoming MMO, The Secret World. The years I have played and worked with AO have taught me more than I thought I would. I have no official training and no degree in this thing, but thanks to the guidance and knowledge of those around me, I have learnt how to design. I’m not done learning, though. In my eyes, you can always discover and understand more.

Leaving the AO team to work in another was not an easy decision. I have a very emotional and passionate relationship to AO, and that in itself won’t change. I was, and still am, a player of the game, and I will still have strong opinions about the different aspects in it. Knowing that the people who work on the game are very competent and love AO as well is a great comfort when I now have to put the book down for the night. But the good thing is, new people are already hired and ready to step into the role I’m now leaving and that means I get to pick up the book again tomorrow and read on in its never-ending story.

Now, to make sure this last journal has some content other than my teary-eyed farewell, I have prepared a few tips to those of you who aspire to become game designers. I’m not an omniscient book of solutions and my word is certainly not law, but these are some of the lessons I have learnt so far.

How in the world do you become a content designer?

The first and most important thing you should decide on is what part of the creation process you want to work with. Think it through thoroughly and do your homework on your chosen career. Be sure that you really do understand what game design is and isn’t and that you are able to express this to a possible employer. Learn about what separates MMOs and other computer games. Study and read articles, either online or in magazines. Know that there is no all-knowing entity that sets some sort of rule on How Things Work™. This industry changes all the time, it morphs and evolves along with the market.

Try to think about design both from a player’s point of view and a developer’s. Players will care a lot about what’s fun, entertaining, immersive, and makes them feel like they play an important part in the game world. A player wants to feel special and wants to feel accomplished when they have worked very hard to reap the rewards. These are the things you should remember when you set out to create game play. Not all ideas work very well in a game design point of view, but with a little tweaking, almost everything can be made into a fun and thrilling experience. Realize that you can’t always have it all, but that what you do have, you should give your utmost dedication.

Here's a piece of concept art from The Secret World.

Developers care about the fun factor as well, of course, but there are also other things to think about. You have to be able to create game play from the scratch, using the same tools and features you have used a thousands times before, but with new and exciting twists. There are several ways to make a “kill target” type quest work in an interesting way, without simply telling the player to go and get rid of this or that person/creature for the umpteenth time. Think about the value of what you’re creating and what role it plays in the game, and understand what each section of game design means to the final product.

Try your hand at designing different game content. Create a quest, including all the interaction the player will have with related NPCs. Come up with a story for a new element or area in the game, and explain it in ways that players will understand. Try to create an idea for a small dungeon, complete with what kind of game play, monsters, quests and items it should have. Let someone look through it to see if they understand your intentions. A big part of the job is to write designs that correctly convey what your idea is. Do it several times and for different content. Practice makes master.

Finally, make some work samples and prepare to send them off along with your application and CV. Be confident in yourself and believe that you have some purpose in the game industry. Don’t give up if you don’t land the hook, line and sinker the first time. Take all feedback to heart and use it constructively to improve. It took me several tries to get a foot inside, but once I did, I never looked back. that I’m concluding this last, and longest, AO journal I’ve written here on Ten Ton Hammer, I would like to thank all those who asked questions about content design and Anarchy Online in general. I would also like to give a shout out to the incredible player community our game has been blessed with, along with the dedicated ARKs who tirelessly work to enhance the game experience for all our new and existing players.

As we approach Anarchy Online’s 7th birthday (on June 27th), I realize that I truly love this game, and that won’t change even if there is a changing of the guards.

Editor's Note: If you're interested in reading the rest of Nina's developer journals, you can find a list of them right here!

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