GenCon Indy Part 2 – Interview with Lead Animator Jeremy DaleAugust 25, 2008
At GenCon Indy, I was able to grab a bit of face time with Jeremy Dale, who works on animation for WAR. Here is the transcript of that fateful meeting.
WAAAGH!: Okay, I’m here with Jeremy Dale – Jeremy, what’s your role with Mythic?
JEREMY: I’m Lead Animator for Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning.
W: How long have you been with Mythic?
J: Since late 2003, since the Catacombs/Frontiers expansion for Dark Age of Camelot. We worked on the animation for it, and then the animation for WAR.
W: So what kind of animation do you work on? The idle animation? Combat?
J: We have a team of 4-5 guys for the animation, with a new guy starting on Monday. A lot of my time is working on a spreadsheet integration and other stuff, like quality control and prototyping. This final phase is the lead director coming in and doing quality control passes while I just make sure everything’s working.
W: So how do you feel going into launch – are you ready or do you have a lot more to do?
J: We’re going to be patching a lot of animations, but fortunately a lot of them can get patched down pretty well. We’re focusing on bug fixes – people in beta would be reporting problems with a lot of the animations, like when two animations had to be blended together, and we’d drop the first one out of memory and they’d just “pop” back together. A lot of that, a lot of heavy rework because some of the combat wasn’t coming back correctly, but ultimately it was polish work so that the classes would feel a lot tighter. We’ve had a lot of good comments.
W: I’ve heard that, like how in some MMOs animations get slammed because the characters don’t look like they’re running correctly. Not really here. I’ve been testing through the emotes, although some still seem missing.
J: We’re working on that, as patches cost time and money, but we’ll be putting more emotes in. After E3 there was a proposition on one of the forum boards about the Chosen video, where he was just standing around. The guy was like, “I like how his cloak was shiny, how the lighting had just come in.” So people were seeing what people in beta were seeing, which was good. But this guy was like, “Did you see how he was holding his two-handed axe? WITH TWO HANDS?”
But that was good, because that’s one of the things I mentioned in one of my early developer diaries is that one of my pet peeves: usually if you have a character with a two-handed weapon, he’s just standing there with it sticking out in front of them, and while he might swing it correctly in combat, I wanted to make sure he was handling it properly like the way people would in actual war. Like it was part of their body, they were very familiar with it – when they’re flinching or ducking, they don’t let go of it. We got a LOT of animations in the game. It’s not necessarily a subtle thing or a high priority thing, but it’s nice to be appreciated on that.
W: In some other MMO games, the combat animations with certain weapons would be the same two swings or moves, over and over again. How is this in WAR, and are you guys planning on adding more combat animations later on?
J: Oh man, right now every career/fighting style has two auto-attack animations, and then you have a slew of other motions that come from the skills. Just in swings, at the very least, you have 8 animations per weapon type – broad axe, sword and shield, etc. We also have to tie them together with certain careers, like the Maurader or Witch Elf. Then you have the animations for special abilities. Honestly, at launch, you shouldn’t see the same swing more than three times across all of your abilities, not including brandishing (for some skills). Lots and lots of motions.
W: What classes are you enjoying playing the most?
J: I go for pet classes, hybrid DPS classes. On beta, my highest guy is a White Lion, which you can train him up for all sorts of things. The Engineer.
W: The Magus?
J: I did the initial pass on that, I have some affinity for it. The Magus was such a pain, he was very complicated. His disc sort of works like a mount – when he’s moving around, he has about seven animations that are layered on top of each other. Like a surfboard. When you die, you fall down onto the disc, and it hovers there with your dead body on it.
W: So how do you bury a Magus?
J: I don’t think you would. The disc would just eat him. Biodegradable. I’m really pleased with how he turned out. One of the things we tried to do with the Magus is to have a lot of swirls and stirs, weapon trails on his casting. Like he’s trying to stir the wind.
W: Like the Shaman, I like that on them too. In terms of your office team, are you guys ordered to play a lot of the game or encouraged to do it on your own time apart from developing it?
J: There’s a lot of stuff right now we’re working on, a lot of small things. We’re probably not going to be able to go on vacations until November. It has a lot to do with feedback on things. A lot of the teams are buried right now, and working on stuff for after launch, and keeping up with icons for abilities, as there’s not a lot of reuse on most icons.
W: What’s the attitude in the office for launch? Scared to death? Excited?
J: Basically, we’ve done this before. The whole team is working very hard making sure all the systems are up. Right now we have the account center up, for authentication that we’re going to use for launch. We’re not going to get buried by everyone trying to create accounts all at once. Lot of pick-up stuff that teams are doing for patches, bugs. I hope I’m conscious for it.
W: Are you expecting to get any sleep on launch day?
J: I hope so. For the Camelot launch, people would just stay in the office, sleep there, to handle problems as they came up. We’re working hard on problems in beta to make sure they won’t be happening on day one.
W: What’s the office environment like? Do you guys have fun?
J: We have a lot of gamers on staff, and you’ll find teams of people playing Team Fortress during lunch, or various games like D&D lying around for the evening. A lot of Warhammer 40,000.
W: I’d get crucified if I didn’t ask you this: /dance?
J: It used to lead you to /cool, which is now /special. We had one where a dwarf would smoke a pipe, but we didn’t want to give kids the impression that smoking was cool. But, y’know, dismemberment? I’m not sure if the /katadance will survive to launch or not, but it’s something that like /special it has multimotions that you could do forever.
W: What’s up with the goblin /special, where his head turns red, he falls down and runs in circles?
J: Too much waaagh! There’s some we’re working on to put in, like the Black Orc punching a snotling, shaking him and chomping on him. I’m going to go on record and say that I’m sorry the male High Elf is doing the female High Elf /special. People have actually sent me notes over this: “I’m not playing the High Elf any more!”
W: What do you think about the community? Supportive? Frustrating?
J: One of my roles is to educate the community about various questions, like, “The animation on this house is broken, since the fire on the roof isn’t moving.” That’s… that’s not my team. Different teams handle different aspects. People have noticed improvements, things are getting better. If people don’t notice it, they don’t talk about it, but most animations go unnoticed when they’re done correctly.
W: You guys are being seen as the strong underdog to World of Warcraft. What do you think about the Lich King, are you trying to put it out of your head?
J: Again, we’re not out to beat WoW, nobody’s going to beat WoW. We love WoW – because of it, four billion people in the world are playing MMOs right now. The thing is, we did Dark Age of Camelot, and we’re not doing much different now than we did then. I assume it’s the same thing at Blizzard. It’s all part of the evolution of making MMOs better. WoW introduced a lot of people to the genre. Blizzard was good, and I think EA is awesome. We were at the point where we had a launch date [for WAR] because that’s when we were going to run out of DAOC money, but with industry timing, EA came along and allowed us to extend that and make it all better, add a lot more to it. I think our timing is very good, we’re coming out right between Age of Conan and Wrath of the Lich King, that’s about the best timing we could have.
The show’s been awesome, the feedback’s been almost universally awesome. People love playing it, they love the RvR.
W: Thanks for talking with me!