Exclusive Carbine Studios Game Update Interview with Eric DeMilt

While it may not always be public knowledge, there are dozens of MMOs in development around the world. However, most of these titles are still in their “quiet” stages, with development teams...
While it may not always be public knowledge, there are dozens of MMOs in development around the world. However, most of these titles are still in their “quiet” stages, with development teams putting together the game without much fanfare or public attention. One of these companies happens to be NCsoft West’s Carbine Studios, a development team that has been working on a “WoW-sized” MMO for the last several years.

Recently, Ten Ton Hammer’s Cody Bye had a chat with producer Eric DeMilt on his role in the Carbine Studios’ project and where everything stands with the upcoming triple-A MMO. Eric talks in-depth about his previous work at Interplay, how working on an MMO compares to single player titles, and Carbine’s focus on quality. Enjoy!


The Carbine Studios Logo

Ten Ton Hammer: What’s your responsibility as the producer of the Carbine Studios MMO?

Eric DeMilt: Overall, I manage the day-to-day operations of the studio. The nice thing about the way we’re set up here is that we’re purely a dev studio. All of Carbine Studios works on just this one game, a lot of the normal operation stuff is handled by our parent organization, NCsoft West so most of what I focus on is the day-to-day management of the project.  Things like; making sure that all the department heads have the resources that they need, ensuring that people are talking, dealing with the small minutiae that people need covered, keeping the content pipeline flowing, relaying the latest build information to the right people to make sure its tested and people are getting the feedback they need.  All of that is my responsibility.

It’s very hands-on, which I like a lot.

Ten Ton Hammer: You’ve been working on games a long time, and you were at Interplay when they were putting out games like Baldur’s Gate, Fallout, Stonekeep, and other notable titles. How does working at Carbine compare to your previous work at Interplay?

Eric: Working on an MMO is way bigger than anything I’ve ever done before. The scope of the project, the resources we’re being given, the size and caliber of the team; everything is just much, much larger than anything I worked on over at Interplay.

The problems that we ran into while working on a single player RPG were big. Fallout 2 was definitely a really big project, and we had to worry about getting people through a test run of the entire game by a certain date so you can get it off to manufacturing and things like that. It was still orders of magnitude smaller than an MMO.

In an MMO, you’re going to find people that are playing solo, grouped, in their guilds, as tradeskillers….there’s just a zillion games inside of one MMO. On the other hand, it is still similar to single player games. There are just things that are the basic tenets of an MMORPG that aren’t any different than making quests for games like Fallout or Stonekeep. These are things that engage the player and develop the player over time. I mean, the reward systems and that sort of thing are exactly the same. It’s kind of weirdly different and similar at the same time.

We have a really powerful scripting system on this game, and it reminds me a lot of when I first worked on the original Stonekeep. We had a bunch of junior programmers that were the content guys and could do CRAZY stuff that we never imagined. I mean we had one guy in Stonekeep scale down a couple orcs so you had one normal orc come out then three mini orcs come out and stand on the heads of the others. It was a really funny thing that no one ever expected.

Now we’ve got the same sort of thing, except it’s in an MMO. Our scripters are doing crazy stuff that you wouldn’t even expect. There’s a lot of power there.

Ten Ton Hammer: What drew you to Carbine Studios? What initially drew you to the project?

Many of the original Carbine team members worked on World of Warcraft.

Eric: I’ve been with Carbine since a few months after the studio was set up, which was June of 2005. What originally drew me here was the fact that some of the guys that had founded Carbine had worked with me before they went on to work at Blizzard. I was contacted by the team when they started looking for a producer and I was just blown away by the set-up. It is an incredibly talented team of people, some of whom I worked with before.

On top of that, I was definitely impressed with the success of WoW. The chance to work on a project with a similar focus really drew me. There are so many elegant little things about WoW… it’s just an incredible game. The quality is fantastic. They nailed so many little things and then choose the right problems not to fix, like character collision. It seems brain dead in hindsight, but I’ve worked on games where we had characters getting stuck in doorways and had to deal with that for months.

So the chance to work with a team that had made such a high quality product and learn from those guys was incredibly exciting. Doing it for a company like NCsoft that’s committed to this as a business is interesting too. When WoW was as successful as it was, a lot of companies thought it’d be good to try building an MMO, and they had no clue what it would take. NCsoft had been doing it for years before WoW came out, so that’s definitely a positive thing. I mean, they were generating huge numbers in Asia before WoW came in and showed that it could be done in North America too.

Ten Ton Hammer: I mean, Lineage had an ungodly amount of concurrent users in Korea on the original Lineage.

Eric: Exactly! I remember being at Interplay when we were working on games like Baldur’s Gate, Stonekeep 2 and Fallout when UO came out. We were all saying, this is as good as Baldur’s Gate! But it was way beyond the scope of anything we were doing.  I mean you were online all the time and you could get killed!

Ten Ton Hammer: I don’t know if it was as good as the original Baldur’s Gate

Eric: Baldur’s Gate was a great game, but UO was light years ahead of anything we were even thinking at Black Isle. It floored us, y’know.

But then it was repeated by the EverQuest guys, and you heard stories of them digging up landlines because they were sucking up as much bandwidth as the whole San Diego metro area. It was just a crazy, crazy time.

Also, it has just been a great experience working on an MMO title with a group like Carbine, and it feels great to be back in the PC market after working on consoles for a few years.

Ten Ton Hammer: What’s your major focus in the development process at this point?

Eric: We’re creating and iterating the early content of the game.  Once we have processes and our content bar set where we want it and feel like we have the ability to spread that knowledge across multiple content teams, we will do our final staffing and move into full production.  It’s getting close!

Ten Ton Hammer: Are you getting close to revealing the project?

The Carbine developers are waiting for just the right time to formally announce their project, much like what BioWare did with SWTOR.

Eric: We’re waiting on the timing of it, really. One of the things that Blizzard, Bioware and Valve have always done brilliantly – and one of the things we’re set up to do at Carbine – is showing the game when it’s ready. So the timing for releasing information and the friends and family and that sort of thing; we want to do all that when we can talk openly about the title and show you hours of gameplay that stands up to the promises that I’m making.

It’s more a matter of proving to ourselves, that we can do all the stuff that we say we can do, and that’s when we can take it to the next level and announce the game.

Ten Ton Hammer: How can your game – and other MMOs in development – find a space in the market to succeed?

Eric: I think there will always be room for successful products. I think if we deliver a successful product and bust our butts and stick to the things that are important to consumers – a pile of high quality content – I think we’re going to be successful.

Ten Ton Hammer: Do you think timing plays a factor in the success of a game?

Eric: Timing is a component, but it’s a minor component. I really think if you have a great game, you’re always going to be better off than if you have a partial game or a sub-standard game that released at the right time. It’s really all about the great game.

Ten Ton Hammer: Final question: Since the game is still really early in development, how can gamers and fans really get involved with the team and the title at this point?

Eric: At this point, the best thing is to keep track of us in the news and by checking out our site, www.carbinestudios.com. Ultimately, it will be our fans that make the game successful or not, so we’re eager to have their feedback. Since we don’t have a lot to say about the product just yet, we haven’t put up any forums or message boards that people can participate in.

However, once we do start actively soliciting feedback from the community, we hope that everyone takes part in that. That’s what our forums are there for. Participate in friends and family and alpha and things like that. We want honest, unedited feedback.

Ten Ton Hammer: How does a person know to hit that button in the first place?

Eric: Exactly! Just like anyone else, you get close to something for long enough, and you lose track of what’s easy or difficult for the average gamer. We’ve hired Troy Hewitt on as our community lead (formerly of Pirates of the Burning Sea) and he’s going to do a great job gathering that valuable feedback from the gamers. We want people to be honest and open with us on their thoughts about the game. When we go live, there will definitely be lots of ways for players to get in touch with us.

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