Q&A: Warhammer Online dev on Aussie servers

Warhammer Online dev on why they're setting up an Aussie server, expanding the closed beta, the significance of drop bears, and much more.

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Australian MMO fans will no doubt be pleased to hear that the upcoming Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning will not only debut down under at the same time as the US and Europe, but also that local servers will be set up to ensure a better playing experience. We chatted with EA Mythic associate producer Josh Drescher about the decision to set up an Aussie server, what's next for the game's closed beta, and more.

For the full interview transcript, in which Drescher talks about the intricacies of realm-versus-realm combat, the public quest system, and much more, check out the full transcript of this interview on GameSpot AU's Spot On! blog here.

GameSpot AU: You've decided to set up an Australian server for Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, is that right?

Josh Drescher: This is something that we've wanted to do basically from the beginning of the project. We wanted to make sure that, in terms of localisation and offering support for players around the world, that we try and give as many people as possible home-turf servers to use. And the Australian fans were actually extremely vocal early on in the process. It's been something we've wanted to do for quite some time, and when we were bought by EA it became something that was a lot more viable for us, so we're very excited to get some dedicated servers over there.

GS AU: So it will be locally hosted?

JD: I don't know the exact location, but we'll be hosting the server somewhere in East Asia, so it will be in the correct time zone. At the moment we are targeting it squarely at Australia and New Zealand. Once you get outside of those two territories you run into linguistic problems, which will need independent servers elsewhere.

GS AU: Why did you decide to do this when other MMOs haven't?

JD: From the very beginning, the Australian fans were very vocal. One of the first strange packages that we got in the mail a couple of years ago was from an Australian fan who sent us a bunch of drop bear stuffed animals, and he attached fangs to them and there was blood all over their faces--and was basically threatening [producer] Jeff Hickman and letting him know that if there weren't Oceanic servers, that he would send a drop bear invasion to attack the developers physically.

Australians have just been a group of fans that have been very vocal in our communities, in fan sites, and in terms of beta applications and so forth. It's clear to us that it's a completely viable new market that hasn't got the attention it deserves. So we're really excited to be out in the front of the market there, saying "Yes, they deserve their own server equipment and so forth."

GS AU: Did you keep the drop bears?

JD: Actually, yes. Jeff Hickman has it on his desk, along with the letter the guy wrote.

GS AU: Warhammer Online has had a long gestation. After all the delays, are you convinced now that you've got enough to please the hardcore Warhammer fans?

JD: Pleasing the hardcore fans was something we've actually been pretty confident about all along. When we first started the project, one of the directives that Mark Jacobs--the GM of the studio--gave us was that we had to keep the Warhammer faithful happy, and feel like we've respected their hobby. One of the first things we did as soon as the game was playable--and this was about two years ago--we just started taking a version of the game to games day festivals all over the world, and just putting it in front of the true faithful and getting a sense from them about what they thought of what we were doing, whether or not they were happy with direction we were taking the game. And they were overwhelmingly positive.

GS AU: What about those not so familiar with the Warhammer universe?

JD: That's another thing you have to be careful about when you're working with any IP. While you want to respect the people that have been fans of it in the past, you want to make sure you're developing something accessible for the more standard player.

So our game has all the things that your typical MMO has--it has the quests, it has exciting adventure in perilous locations, and things of that sort. But we're really hanging our hats on what's making us different from other games, and primarily that's our realm-versus-realm (RvR) system. It offers a dynamic, large-scale competition that you can't get in any other game, where you're working with thousands of other allied players, fighting against thousands of enemy players for true control of the world. That's a message that's really appealing to people on a core, human level--it appeals to that competitive focus that people have.

GS AU: Only a few months to go now before release. What's the focus now?

JD: At this point we're deep in the throes of closed beta, and so we're focusing on finding bugs, finding systems that need additional polish. The vast majority of design and content development is in the past at this point. We're really focusing on spending a lot of time making sure that things are polished, stable, all the systems play correctly, that the major functions of the game are there, and that they make sense. We're doing a lot of overhauling right now of things like the UI, trying to make sure that the interface [that] players have looks really great but also makes sense, is intuitive, and has everything a player needs.

This is very interactive with our beta community. We regard them as part of the development process--they're not just their for stress testing and to look for bugs. We look to them for critical feedback. We need the testers to be offering us more than just praise and more than just bug testing--we need that constructive criticism to make sure we're headed in the right direction.

GS AU: Will there be an open beta?

JD: We will not be having an open beta in the sense that anyone who wants to can join the beta. Because we regard beta testing as part of the production process--it's not intended to be some sort of free trial experience--we will be letting on a lot more people late in the stages of beta prior to the point where we launch the game. So that will be orders of magnitude more players, but we will never have a point where we just let in everybody who wants to join willy-nilly.

When we say open beta, what we're generally referring to there is that the nondisclosure agreement is lifted, and players who are in the beta test at that point are free to discuss it with the outside world and share their experience publicly.

GS AU: Do you have a date for the expansion of the closed beta?

JD: Unfortunately we're not publicly announcing that yet.

GS AU: Josh Drescher, thanks for your time.

Check out the full transcript of this interview on GameSpot AU's Spot On! blog here for the full interview.

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