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Interview with Dentin, Creator of Alter Aeon (Pt. 2)

This is the second of a four part interview with Dentin. This series of questions deals with class balance, the changes in game culture, developments with the Dclient, and some advice about the change log.

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Q1. Necromancer has taken several years to balance as a class, and may not yet be fully in line with the other four classes in terms of game balance. Was integrating necromancer harder or easier than you expected? How much more difficult was it integrating a fifth class into an existing game versus developing and balancing the other classes? How balanced do you see the remaining four classes? Since you are considering moving large chunks of those classes to druid when it comes out, do you see that creating new game balance issues, or rectifying older problems-or more probably-both?

I would say integrating necromancer was very different than I expected. The bulk of the balance issues were, in my mind, worked out within the first six to nine months. There have been constant tweaks since then, but not materially more than for other classes.

The most surprising thing for me was the sheer power and balance issues associated with minions. They really do reduce death rate due to having a protective screen around you at all times, and they make gameplay surprisingly more interesting and complex.

In fact, minions were the core factor behind the initial power imbalance. Even with the changes we've made, minions are still very powerful, and in the long run this has been very good for the game. A lot of work went into the warrior class to improve it and make it more competitive, minions have been added to other classes, and druid will bring in even more minions. I see minions as a core gameplay feature going forward, and there's good reason to make them work well. Even thieves have something, in the form of shadow decoy, which provides that key escape aspect that saves so many necromancers. Giving warriors foot soldiers or something similar may also be a viable option in the future.

As for balancing the fifth class against the others, I think it's time someone said that the previous classes really weren't very balanced at all. The reason they seemed to be balanced is because anyone who cared had their lowest level above 20, and at that point most of the critical things you needed were unlocked anyway. The addition of necromancer didn't so much unbalance things, as provide a way to show existing imbalances.

I expect druid to do the same thing, though hopefully on a reduced scale. Now that I've had time to understand how necromancer affected things, I think I can more easily handle it when adding druid. It will also help tremendously that minions are so much better understood than they were prior to necromancer.

On the topic of moving existing spells and skills to new classes, of course we're going to be doing it - but I don't know that I would say current plans include 'large chunks' of those classes. Both mage and cleric have vastly more stuff in them than they need in terms of raw practice counts and number of available spells, and both classes could honestly use a bit of pruning. There are many things in those classes which really just don't make sense, which were added because they were useful mechanics or because we didn't have another place to put them. In my mind, it only makes sense that they should be put somewhere appropriate, once we have that appropriate place.

Cleric will definitely be the hardest hit, but at the same time, most of the stuff that is moving out of cleric really just isn't very important. Of the 15 cleric spells and skills on my list:

- Faerie fire and sense life are definitely the most highly used. They are both also low level, and most players should be able to get them within the first dozen druid levels if not sooner. Only faerie fire scales with level, but is still effective at low levels.

- Animal lore only has a lot of usage because it's used automatically when you look at creatures.

- The damage spells, earthquake, ice fog, entangling roots, and blizzard, are next in terms of usage. These really didn't belong in cleric in the first place, but we added them anyway because we didn't know any better at the time. Cleric was never intended to be a damage class, but I think it's clear that I'll need to replace these with something when they're moved.

- Sunstorm, famine, create food, sunlight, create water, and control weather are all that remain, and none of these are particularly important or useful in their current incarnation.

My overall point is that while other classes may be hit, there's good reason to do so, and I do intend to do either replacements or grandfathering where it's particularly critical. It's also important to remember that the quality of what's moved matters - at least half of the cleric set is niche or nearly useless, but as part of druid they may become very powerful indeed. Players with grandfathered spells may even find themselves in substantially better condition than before.

Q2. At the risk of repeating information on the A.A. forums, now that we've added necromancer, and eventually druid, are there other classes that you see coming later?

I don't currently have any planned. Between filling out the warrior class with stuff I had intended for paladin, and using up all my mental entropy designing druid, I'm not sure there's even enough material for a seventh class to make sense.

The only possible exception to this would be some sort of long range less-melee physical attacker class, say with thrown items, arrows, or ranged weapons. There's probably not nearly enough material to make a class out of this though, so it will probably get folded in to other classes instead.

Q3. Of the most recent changes to the game itself, what are you the most happy with? What new changes have presented the biggest problems?

I am the most happy with the change in player culture and player attitudes. I do not miss the negative nancies, naysayers, and general assholes.

The biggest problems with new changes are simply code and class maintenance. Finding ways to add new features and content that don't break the game, and staying on top of the various little bugs can be arbitrarily time consuming.

Q4. A number of players have been wildly ecstatic about the custom Dclient and really enjoy the added facility and versatility it gives them. What are your plans for the Dclient from here? Are you planning on improving it further? Any new features you'd like to add?

At this point, I really need to get another DClient release out to fix bugs and unbreak some of the failing WxWidgets libraries. A lot of the Stellar Aeon work I've been doing has been to merge together the AA, DClient, and other codebases into a common tree I can build out of, and even just doing a new release from the new build system would probably help.

Highest priority is definitely a bugfix release, and native Linux versions.

One specific feature I do want to add is encryption. I think it's crap that we have unencrypted telnet connections all over the place, and I'd really like to roll out a strongly secured version of the dclient.

Q5. Often players have a hard time interpreting the change log correctly or understanding the reasoning behind the change. Given that the change log is essentially a telegraph more to let players know that a change happened an a brief reason for it or complications expected from it, is there a strategy you might suggest for players to adopt to better understand the change log, or to minimize miscommunication or misunderstanding through it?

This is one of my pet peeves and I will not pull any punches.

My advice for players is to learn to read. Reading is a skill, not something you're born with, and you can, in fact, actually be bad at it. Any idiot can scan over words and any idiot can blaze through a page of text while pretending to understand. But if you actually want to learn something, you have to pay attention and put forth effort.

So if you read the changelog and it doesn't make sense, I advise you to read it again, slowly this time, then take your hands off the keyboard and think about it for five minutes. If you still don't understand it after five minutes of actually thinking about it, then ask a question on bovine about it. I'll happily update the changelog if there's an actual problem with the entry being confusing.

While you're thinking about it, do not jump to conclusions, and do not assume that the writer of the change log is an idiot. Those words were chosen because they're precise, accurate, short, and generally convey what I wanted to say. Don't read meaning into them that isn't there, and don't make assumptions about what isn't stated.

If this is too much for you, then don't read the changelog.

And just to be clear, remember that the changelog is something I do to be polite and be a good admin. If it becomes too much effort for me to make the changelog clear and obvious, I will simply stop putting things into it that people might get confused about.

Thank you, Dentin, for answering these questions. I hope that these help to clarify questions that many people have shared with me. As always, we thank you too for our mutual addiction. Alter Aeon owes much of its staying power and unique character to your guidance.

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