35 Minute Interview with Jeff Skalski, Ultima Franchise Producer

Stratics has posted a 35 minute interview with Jeff Skalski, Ultima Franchise Producer.

I haven’t watched the whole thing yet, but I noted one error in the interview – Jeff mentioned upgraded from an Intellivision to an Atari as a kid. That is actually a downgrade. Intellivision was clearly superior to Atari.

Thanks to Airmid for keeping me informed about this.

I Would Like to Help With UO

I’ve been a little negative lately, because I am not seeing simple things getting done, things that should take an afternoon at most rather than something like 6 months or more, and that in fact were supposed to happen last year. Some of these problems are over a year old, some of them were introduced with the Account migration. With that in mind, rather than being negative, I want to help by pointing out some simple things that could be done quickly, but that would help quite a bit. We’ve heard multiple times that the UO team values potential new players and returning players alike, since both help grow UO’s population.

The first thing that many potential and returning players are going to do is visit UO.com. The second thing that will happen is that they will be redirected to UOHerald.com. Hopefully that will change later this year, but for now, you work with what you have available. Once they get to UO Herald, there are far too many things that could start them off with a negative impression.

There are broken links, confusing information, missing information, etc. on UOHerald, and those links and bad information could be easily removed or corrected in an hour or two. If you have to get approval from some EA executive to remove a broken link or point to the proper EA website, may the spirit of Lord British keep you from bashing your head on your desk so hard that you require a trip to the hospital.

All of these should require no more than a few minutes at the most for each individual item.

Broken or Missing Links on UOHerald.com Community Section
Fansites – Remove These, They are Broken
– The Thieves Den
– Spellweave (guide was placed on Stratics, domain is empty)
– UO Ledger
– UO Modders Exchange
– Full Moon

Fansites – Move these to the proper language section
– Play UO

Fansites – Add These
UOGuilds.com – Seriously, help returning players find guilds quickly
Ultima Aiera
UO Journal (who am I kidding, I’ve probably pissed off too many people)

UO Herald Support Guide
– Fix the Knowledge Base link
– Fix the Avoid Scams link
– Fix the Maintenance Time link
– Fix the UO Approved Apps link

UO Herald Update Center
– Remove the “Ask the Devs” link since it takes you nowhere

UO Herald MyUO Area
– Remove the “temporary” crap, it’s been down for a long time and there is no indication it will ever be added back.

UO Herald Stores area
– Change the wording to properly reflect that UO Game Codes store does not exist any longer and explain that it will take you to the Origin store.

Somewhere in a Sidebar
– Link to EM websites
– Mention UOGuide.com prominently
– Mention the Ultima: The Ultimate Collector’s Guide: 2012 Edition
– Mention UltimaForever.com
– Mention that old Ultima games can be purchased through GOG.com

Other changes
– Mention Pinco’s UI prominently on the Enhanced Client section of the Playguide– players who are new to UO, but not new to MMOs, are used to customizable UIs, and I do not recommend that they play the stock EC. Pinco’s UI will make it much more enjoyable for them.

Bigger things that could still be done in a day
– Set aside an area of UO Herald and have all of the individual EM websites linked from there. Better yet, since the EM websites are running WordPress and spitting out RSS feeds, get a Drupal module installed on UOHerald.com that reprints RSS feeds from those EM websites so that new and returning players can easily find events happening where they will meet a bunch of people and hang out together. You spend money on EMs, but unlike UltimaOnline.jp, you don’t bother to advertise the fact that you have EM Events. REALLY?

This last one, it was promised by Cal, and then Jeff said on Twitter he would look into it, but it didn’t happen. It’s probably because it’s a separate part of EA, but given that it would save EA support costs, somebody should make it happen. At the very least, it could frustrate players who are trying to give you money.

You have an Account Tutorial on UO Herald.com – http://www.uoherald.com/node/452 – LINK TO IT from the Accounts.EAMythic.com website and mention the _uo bit where necessary so that returning players don’t get frustrated talking to EA support, and so that you save them their time (it is valuable, you know), and so that they don’t start their return off by a crappy customer support experience.

Apology to Mesanna, I Read Fan (Hate) Mail, Furries, and a Correction on my Critique of the Producer’s Letter

A Correction on my Critique of the Producer’s Letter
In my Thoughts on the Producer’s Letter: The Top Secret Edition, I said there were only three new things or ideas that we learned about UO from Jeff Skalski in his January 2012 producer’s letter:
#1 Increasing champ spawn difficulty
#2 Adding value back to plate armor
#3 Addition of reincarnation tokens.

I’m not wrong in saying that all three of those could be accomplished in one or two publishes and don’t tell us anything about UO’s future. But I was wrong in stating that two of those are new, and somebody I know in-game and somewhat out of game pointed out my mistake. It’s really bad since I had written articles that covered both of those things.

#1 Increasing champ spawn difficulty: this was mentioned back in the May 2011 Developers Video, that mobs/spawns would be updated.

#2 Adding value back to plate armor: This was an idea also discussed back in the May 2011 Developer’s Video. No firm plans at the times, but they wanted to do something in the future. There were also references to ideas revolving around changing the mobs/spawn difficulties and wearables in other developer discussions both prior to and after May of 2011.

So that leaves us with really only one new idea out of Jeff’s entire producer’s letter – the reincarnation tokens.

Apology to Mesanna
Also in my thoughts about the producer’s letter, I made a comment about how everything UO producers do seems to have to go through Mesanna and that she has the power to silence her bosses. There was a bit of humor intended in that, which is why I left it out of the summary of things we learned from the producer’s letter. Producers and Associate Producers do have to work pretty close and let’s face it, you don’t want an associate producer who agrees 100% with you, aka a “yes man” or “yes woman” as it were, otherwise you could find something yourself in a bad situation that would have been avoidable if you weren’t surrounded by people who agree with you. Steve Jobs was famous for surrounding himself with people who would argue with him, and it seemed to have worked out okay for him.

However, I did phrase it rather tartly. I have no problem with Mesanna, she is critical to the team, because she’s one of a very small group of people who have a decade or nearly a decade of working with UO, and I believe that is very important. If you lose those people, you end up with a lot of people who have no attachment to UO lore and history. I like Mesanna a lot in fact.

Anyways, Mesanna, I apologize for giving people the impression that you pull the strings.

Non-Apology to Furries
I really pissed off more than a few people over my comments about how Blizzard should be ashamed of adding pandas to World of Warcraft. I never knew that there were so many WOW fans who read UO Journal, and I never knew how many of you have unhealthy attitudes about relationships with animals. Hey, if your friends on Facebook encourage you to think about such relationships with animals, or in this case moving images on a computer display since we aren’t even talking about real pandas, you should just delete your Facebook account, get rid of your computer, and move to Australia. At least in Australia, most of the animals can not only fight off your advances, but probably do you the kind of harm that would seriously discourage your views on human/animal relationships in the future. I’m just going to leave it at that.

On to the fan/hate mail. The three that I’m answering, I just picked a few highlights because either they were as long-winded as I am, very explicit, or were just better off being paraphrased.

Email #1: “Jeff is new and still finding his way around UO”
He’s been around long enough to push out the same fluffy producer’s letters that are chock-full of vagueness that have been a staple of Mythic producers for many years now. Now in Jeff’s defense, he hasn’t played UO continuously since the early days and so maybe he doesn’t realize how many broken dreams and promises and vague comments that have been thrown at us to make us shut up and stop demanding more, but he’s been a part of other Mythic MMOs for several years prior to his stint at UO. On some level he has to know how the players feel.

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12 Topics That Would Make a Proper Producer’s Letter

In no particular order, the following is a list of questions I’d like to see the UO/Ultima Franchise Producer answer. To me, the following questions would provide an excellent producer’s letter, not the watered down producer’s letters that we get in reality. You know, the ones that pass through layers of bureacracy and only reveal a handful of new things that could be handled in one, and at most, two publishes.

Answers to them would provide us more of an insight to the future of UO than what we currently get.

You maybe surprised, but I’m not going to get into in-game mechanics or other aspects related directly to the game, although some of the topics below certainly tie into it. I’m trying to look at the bigger picture, and not what’s in the next publish or two.

I’m not even going to mention the high resolution artwork update. Well, I just did, but I believe it’s happening and I believe Jeff Skalski when he says it’s important to UO’s future, so I don’t have much to say, other than it sounds like they need more artists/developers to help.

#1 Community Relations
If you can request a half a dozen Event Moderators from the UO community to put in 20 hours a month, why can’t you request half a dozen UO players to put in 20 hours a month putting together stories for the UO Herald/UO.com?

If you can ask for people to run in-game events, you can ask for people to contribute to the Herald/UO.com. I would shut down this website or give it to somebody else, and gladly work on the Herald/UO.com, highlighting player resources, community news, fixing broken links, etc., and I know I’m not the only one.

Boosting community relations is one of the cheapest and most effective things a company can do for a game. Twitter, Facebook, these are tools to supplement, not replace, community relations. Third party websites are things that supplement, not replace, official community relations as well. Like it or not, it’s also a sign of how well a game is supported. Right now, UO’s community relations and website would not instill much confidence in new or returning players.

#2 BioWare’s Public Dedication to UO (or lack thereof)
If BioWare is as dedicated to UO as they claim, why haven’t we seen a new hire or two or why don’t we see more public support from BioWare for UO? It’s quite clear from where I sit that UO could use more resources. You would barely know UO exists from looking at BioWare.com. An Electronic Arts Vice President, the man who is over BioWAre and other EA labels, claimed that UO was “widely profitable”. The man who runs BioWare Mythic claims that he’s proud to be head of the studio that runs UO.

These people are in a position to do something to help UO out. If UO is “widely profitable” and if the head of BioWare Mythic is so proud of UO, then why don’t things reflect that? Why aren’t the profits being plugged back into UO to make it a better game and bring in more players? Why is UO barely even mentioned on BioWare.com?

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Thoughts on the Producer’s Letter, the Top Secret Edition

So we have the January 2012 Producer’s Letter. Producer’s letters are the kinds of things that can give us insight into how a corporation or a studio views a game, and for quite a while, UO’s outlook was pretty bleak, because the producer’s letters were quite generic and full of buzzwords and a certain type of vagueness. Very odd when compared to the producer’s letters of other games, where the producers would get into very detailed specifics and were willing to talk about future plans.

With so much secrecy around UO’s future plans, you’d think they were adding goddamned panda bears to UO. World of Warcraft is adding pandas, and not only are they not ashamed of it, they seem quite proud of it and want to tell you about it every chance they get. I guess when you bring in so much money, crazy shit like adding pandas as a playable race starts to sound good.

But UO? Far more simple things than a new continent or giving the furries what they have apparently been wanting for years is shrouded in secrecy. There have been too many times where things were kept secret, and when they were finally revealed, we were like “You kept this a secret from us? And here we were worried you were going to add fucking panda bears.

I went on a rant a few days ago about things that need to be addressed, such as UO and its community as well as UO and its future and what I wanted to see in the producer’s letter.

Sadly, not much has changed over producer’s letters from previous years. Things we already know about from the November 2011 producer’s letter or other posts on UO Herald, or past UO producer’s letters have now been repeated in the latest version of the producer’s letter.

Things that didn’t need to be said again, but were repeated anyways:

#1 2012 is UO’s 15th Anniversary and there are events planned.
#2 Pub 73 and 74 have been released and pub 75 is in development.
#3 The dungeons are being revamped, one at a time.
#4 UO devlopers, artists, players, etc. are great and deserve pats on the back.
#5 The Origin store needs work.
#6 They want to deal with hackers (do you mean cheaters/exploiters?)

Things that we already know about, and that are useless to tell us about anyways without specific examples:

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