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Turbine PUG Anatomy

Posted On: April 21st, 2010

Posted By: Tolero

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So every week we have a “play night” with the staff. It’s an important activity on several levels. It helps us to understand the game, it’s good for team building, and it can even help us catch tricky bugs at times! Party  members often keep a doc handy to write down notes from the evening’s session in case we run across things that need added to the “to do” list. Some nights it feels like it’s a “pug” because even though it’s all co-workers, you don’t necessarily run with the same co-workers each time. The funny thing is, after a while I can tell which kind of employee I’m grouped with before I even know their name. How they interact with the game and what they “notice first” or talk about the most is a tell tale sign of who I’m playing with. I thought it might be fun to talk about what team members do and what they’re like when they’re questing!

The “Content Dev”

The content devs are the quest makers. They build your dungeons, they manage the lore and story of quests, and they even handle all that landscaping in the public spaces or the adventure areas. They write all the speech that the NPCs say that you click past when you’re starting your quest. They’re the keepers (no pun intended) of Xen’drik and Stormreach.

I find that content devs are very prone to comment on the quest itself while playing. They get irked by the placement of objects, or the way lighting is playing on the environment. They question the flow of a particular part of the story. They scrutinize the DM text or the way that drama plays out in the fight, in a tone surprisingly similar to this awesome blog entry. They’re also the first to enlist party members as lab rats and say “hey come stand over here and do X for me real quick. Ok again. Again. Again.” Playing with a content dev is a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that they tend to like to run quests on the hardest difficulty you can open, and if something goes wrong they often can see why. The curse is that they are prone to get distracted in a fight analyzing the behavior of a monster or drama trigger. We have a house-rule about not talking “shop” on play  nights (I mean we’ve been at work all day who wants to talk more work right?), but content devs just can’t help themselves sometimes.

The “Systems Dev”

These guys are the guts of game play - as evident by how many questions we get to Ask the Devs that relate to “systems” topics. Sometimes it’s hard to not make the AtD the “all Eladrin and Genasi show!” But this is understandable in our game since the systems folks take care of your character’s abilities, spells, etc. They also take care of things like monster’s abilities, loot, and anything that has a “progression” in game play - like crafting, guild features, new races, etc. Since DDO has such a customizable character building experience, it’s only natural that players have a TON of questions around systems topics. I’d venture to say that players sometimes have questions about a game feature and they don’t even realize that it’s the systems team who works on it.

Systems devs reflect their work in their game play handily. They pay more attention to your chest pulls than you do! They’re the first to ask you what your character’s “build” is. A multitude of their comments while questing relate to particular spells, feats, or enhancements and what/who they are good/bad for. They’re also hyper aware while questing of what they’ll get at next level…or even what you’ll get at next level if they know your build. Sometimes the systems devs and content devs have to interact if a quest chain needs a system (like special loot or a particularly tricky game mechanic) so there is a lot of cross over talk between systems and content devs on play nights, such as a drop rate being too low or monster behavior that needs improvements. Grouping with systems devs is a night of number crunching, builds, and chest combing - especially since they like running content on tough difficulties for more of that sweet sweet loot.

The “Engineering Dev”

It’s sometimes easy to confuse engineers with the systems folks. If you think about it like a salad… systems devs take the lettuce, tomato, carrots, etc and figure out how to cut it up and present it as a salad. Engineers grow the veggies so systems people can even worry about making salads. They deal with the game on the coding level, and their work often helps the other team members to build the delicious salads they need for the DDO menu. (ok sorry, was writing this during my lunch)

They are perhaps the most “normal” people to PUG with. Perhaps it’s because they see the game in code so much that the visual and interactive elements are a welcome change of pace? I find them to be very easy going party members who react to the game exactly like a player in any other PUG … other than joining in the shop talk discussion. I also find they are the most likely to take a moment to admire a part of the game. Maybe it’s because all that coding just isn’t the same as seeing the fruits of your labor in action (mmm…fruit salad).

The “Art Dev”

They handle everything from textures to UI elements and even icons. They also help out the other teams with material for their quests and systems (like requesting a special look on a monster or a special object to fit the story). Sometimes they also help pitch in with environmental things like lighting placement/color, decorations, and offer second opinions on  how a dungeon “looks” as a whole composition.

Art devs naturally notice all things visual. They are quick to point out if the way a room is lit makes it too tough to tell where to walk next, or if a certain texture needs some tweaking. If you happen to have a team member in the party who built the quest you’re running, art devs are quick to compliment the visual strengths of the dungeon, or politely point out the weaknesses. Then the all time hilarious thing about art devs is when they notice some visual annoyance in the game and swear vengeance on it, like the way a piece of armor looks or a lack of a certain asset. If it’s something about a character or creature that quickly passed by them when they’re in the middle of something, it’s like watching Captain Ahab spotting the white whale.

The “Producer Dev”

These devs are your mid to top-level folks. They take several forms. Sometimes they’re the one beating the drum for the rowers, so to speak, making sure that all the OTHER devs have what they need to get their work done or tracking progress on dev work. They help to prioritize work and try to keep devs safe from feature creep. When devs get creative ideas for strange new things, they’re there to make sure we can pull it off and when - or to tether the dev so they don’t float away into the stratosphere. They also parlay between several other departments, including the “big bosses,” and handle franchisy type things on the business level.

The things a producer dev will notice in a dungeon centers around “big pictures” usually. They reflect on how a situation might affect a beginning player, or how a content pack performs on various difficulties. They’re prone to play experimental builds, or to try something because it is a “hot topic” just to experience it firsthand. Interestingly enough, they’re sort of 50/50 on whether or not they like being the group leader or just one of the party.

The “QA Dev”

Play time is particularly important to these team members. We have a lot of “cheaty” tools to help expedite testing, but it’s just not the same as running through content like a “regular” person. They test a multitude of things about the game - everything from how the game interacts with websites or the Store to playing a dungeon, or even putting on every kind of hair style on every race just to make sure they “work”. It’s a lot of ground to cover! They also coordinate with other teams to sort which patch/update bugs can be fixed in, and cull the player submitted bugs looking for extra information to help the team resolve bugs or smooth out rough spots in content.

It’s no surprise that a QA dev will point out bugs while you play, or take a moment to repro something for the team mid quest. If you just want to “play” for the night, the worst thing ever is to have a combination in your party of a content dev, a systems dev, and a QA dev. Left to their own devices, they won’t play and will instead get so absorbed in talking shop that you’ll never finish your quest! On the bright side, they take lots of notes together and escalate issues.

The “PR Dev”

So that’s folks like Tarrant and I. We aggregate feedback, garden the websites, speak with the public/press, and more.

We tend to be very “social” during play nights. It’s difficult to go a night grouping with us without hearing a response from us of “yes, players have been talking about that.” We tend to watch general chat and user chat channels in addition to our party chat while we play. We also play with experimental builds, and particularly focus on playing with things that players bemoan to help us gather extra insight into player feedback on why they don’t like something or why something is so important to a sect of players.

So beyond the more “traditional” roles that are franchise specific, there are also some extra categories of employee player:

The “Old Timer”

These employees have been playing DDO since it first breathed life. Grouping with them is hilarious because they will frequently show their “age” in their comments. “Back in my day, if the Kobolds destroyed the crate in Cartamon’s Shipping Warehouse, you failed the quest AND on top of that two flesh renders jumped out to kill you!” They will tell you tidbits of DDO history that even founders don’t know.

The “Newbie”

Brand new devs are great to quest with because everything to them is so new and shiny. It’s all the joys of grouping with a newbie, but it’s also a newbie who insists on trying to “learn” everything rather than being dragged through by the ear. They are determined to “figure things out,” and it’s fun to watch them try and work puzzles, or ask advice on builds, stumble into a trap, etc. You can tell that they’re doing their best to learn everything they can as quickly as possible.

The “Cross Departmental”

So some departments of the company are multi-franchise, because the work they do is needed across the board. This includes things like the NetOps team, CS, audio/visual,  and even Marketing. The best thing about playing with a cross departmental team member is they look to those of us who are more DDO specific as great sages. It’s a little different than a “Newbie” because they don’t have that same sense of “must learn everything NOW”. You could almost mistake them for an Engineer, except they ask too many questions to be an Engineer.

The “Significant Other”

Sometimes we bring our spouses along for quest night. There, they’re always inquisitive about what type of work other party members do so they can better understand what their spouse does for a living. For those of us with significant others who don’t fully understand gaming or D&D, we’re an opportunity for them to try and better understand what this whole thing is all about. You can tell these folks right away because they always come in pairs. You invite one person, and that is quickly followed up with “do you have room for 1 more [insert class type/level here]?”

Playing with co-workers is a huge amount of fun because it allows us to see each other outside our standard work environment. You learn more about each other, and it helps grow strong bonds across departments, and between employees. I would honestly recommend playing with co-workers as a team building exercise for any place, not just gaming companies! And at the very least, at least you can chuckle to yourself if your boss runs face first into a fire trap.


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