When Roger isn't working, he can be found playing other story-based games or perhaps driving and driving and driving...for a cup of coffee. For last year's E3 he spent 2500 miles on the road in 8 days, nearly 3 of which were at the conference - just to drive. His dreams include getting his pilot's license and base jumping. And, should they ever develop an immunization for ferret allergies, getting his pets back.
GI.n: What was your very first video game experience (not necessarily the first game you played) and why do you think that has "stuck in your head" to this day?
Roger Hantz: I have different memories of growing up and playing all kinds of different games on various game systems. ColecoVision, Atari, even some off-the-wall type of console that only came with one of those light-guns a la Duck Hunt. But, the memory that sticks out most in my head was playing Legend of Zelda on NES, and finding the hidden stairwell within the first dungeon. In my naivetй, I remember saying out loud, "Wow! Maybe this leads to Ganon!" That feeling of accomplishment and wonder and excitement (and some self-proclaimed cleverness, too) is something I think every gamer likes to feel, and I guess I've been chasing that same type of feeling over and over all these years I've spent as a gamer.
GI.n: Did you grow up wanting to work in the gaming, not necessarily electronic, industry? Or were your goals different? And if so, what were they?
Roger Hantz: I knew off the bat I wanted to be involved with video games from really early. I remember sending letters to Nintendo Power Magazine telling them I wanted to "write stories for video games." I still have the reply letters they sent back to me stashed away in a box somewhere. I hung on to them for so long because they weren't just a form letter thanking me for writing in. They were actual replies that answered the questions I asked, and had commented on the things I wrote to them. They reassured me that such a position truly did exist, and gave me some information on how to contact DigiPen, one of the first video game schools in North America. They were actually willing to take me seriously and spend the time to encourage me as a seven year old kid (or however old I was, I don't remember exactly). That was important to me as a young kid. I think if I had gotten simple manufactured responses back from them, I might have lost a lot of interest, and figured that I was just wishing for some make-believe job or something.
GI.n: Tell me about your "professional" life before Horizons. What experience do you have? And what are you most proud of?
Roger Hantz: Ha! It consisted of working in various positions in the Tech industry, riding the Dot.Com wave, and crashing pretty hard. Rinse, repeat. I was actually working one job where I was, literally, pulling my hair out and didn't even notice until a co-worker pointed it out to me. I quit then, and decided to make a career change and find a way into the gaming industry.
GI.n: What was the process that brought you to working on the Horizons team?
Roger Hantz: I followed the game for years, and was chomping at the bit for it to come out. I started playing at launch, and played right up until the time I got hired here (and yes, I still do play my character whenever I can spare some time). After harassing the team in the IRC channel for a couple of months, I stopped by their office for a visit, and started talking shop. After getting to know the team a bit, I let them know that I'd be willing to work for/with them. After that, a position with the company just sort of happened.
GI.n: Outside of work, what are your passions and hobbies? What would you be doing RIGHT NOW if you could get up from the keyboard and go do it?
Roger Hantz: When I'm not making games, I'm playing them, and when I'm not playing them, I'm making them. For the most part, I'm also a big music fan though, and I go out to clubs to check out my favorite DJs when they come to town. I'm also pretty notorious for spur of the moment road trips. I'm not daunted by a 1000 mile weekend. I've also got a thing about cliff diving out at the lake. One of these days, I really want to go BASE Jumping. It's on my list right next to getting my pilot's license.
GI.n: What's the last book you read that had an effect on your life and why? And if you don't read books, what's the last movie?
Roger Hantz: There's a book I'm still trying to get all the way through by an author named Douglas R. Hofstadter. It's called Godel, Escher, Bach: The Eternal Golden Braid. So far for me, it's a real challenge, but it's fascinating. It really challenges me (and I think a lot of other people who read/have read it) and makes you think about, well, the way you think. Another book I really enjoyed was The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions and the search for the Ultimate Theory, by Brian Greene. It sounds supremely nerdy, and maybe even a little intimidating, but it's not really. It explained things like Special and General Relativity and Thermodynamics in ways that made me wonder why I wasn't taught this stuff in 5th grade. And of course, like loads of other people I'm hooked on George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series. If the 4th book gets pushed back any more, I think I might snap. =)
GI.n: Cats or Dogs? Hamburgers or Hot Dogs? Or....something I didn't mention?
Roger Hantz: Cats AND Dogs. Hamburgers definitely, though steak is aces. As for something you didn't mention: ferrets. They can get a bit smelly if you don't bath them often, but man, those little guys are nonstop entertainment. For fun, put two or more on a hardwood floor. More fun than a slinky on an escalator.
GI.n: What are your ferret's names?
Roger Hantz: Oh, I wish I still had them! I haven't had any ferrets in years, as I eventually developed a really bad allergy to them. I've tried living with some again at various times over the years, but the allergy just got too bad for me to be able to deal with. = ( When I had the ones I was growing up with, I had gotten them from someone else, so they were already named. I had one male named Mongo, and one female named Minka. If I'm ever able to get past the allergy again, I'll definitely adopt a few more. They're *way* too clever for their own good, literally. They'll get themselves into things without considering how to get themselves out of it again. They're such a riot!
GI.n: Your job description is a little nebulous. Can you give a clearer picture using an example of something recent you just accomplished?
Roger Hantz: I'm given a list of things to work on by Manga, our Lead Designer. I'll then come up with some sort of proposal, which is essentially just a summary, on how I'd like to see those tasks get accomplished and put into the game. If the proposal is approved, then I'll fill in the rest of the details during some design work, and then enter it into our database with a lot of data entry. Finally, I'll test the changes internally, then push it to Blight and continue following up with the testers there to make sure it all works properly.
There are really three main parts to what I do, and they all overlap with each other. I do a lot of conceptual design work, data entry (implementation and documentation) and collaboration with other people if they're working on Design stuff. On the conceptual side, I'll do story writing, NPC dialogue, quest creation, etc. The data entry is just that really - data entry. Everything that starts out in my head has to get into the database somehow, and that's where the data entry comes in. Once it's in the database, it also has to be documented, so lots of spreadsheet creation and document writing. The collaboration part is pretty fun too.
Everyone in the office wears several hats, and no one person works on just one thing, but I've collaborated with Manga (of course), Amon and Amadan mostly. Everything from just bouncing ideas off one another, to sending preliminary write-ups on things to each other for refinement and suggested changes, etc. Amon and I spend a lot of time both at the office and outside the office discussing a lot of things in-depth, everything from lore, to mechanics, to quest flow, to NPC personalities (yes a few of them DO have personalities! It's a slow process, but every NPC we work with, we try to make them something more than just a "signpost.") to player suggestions and forum postings, and so forth.
GI.n: Do you get to do any design yourself? And if so, what have you done that you're proud of?
Roger Hantz: I do get to design some things personally, but exactly which things I get to work on are generally assigned by Manga. Depending on his schedule, and what needs to get done, what priorities we have and so on.
My most recent and visible project has been the Burning Archer Epic quest. We already had the art assets for the spell, (and some players had already gotten a chance to see what some of the Epic spells looked like), but other than that, we didn't have anything to work with regarding the Burning Archer. All the dialogue, lore, quest steps, etc were all created by me from scratch. It was a little daunting at first, as it was not only my first Epic Quest, but also the first quest I got to work on from start to finish! I had fixed or modified existing quests previous to this, but never actually created one from nothing.
I learned a LOT about how that process works. I'm really grateful that I got to work on something like that, because it really allowed me to get creative and have fun with it. I really hope the players enjoy going through it, and they have a good time with it.
GI.n: What do you think is the biggest misconception players have about the ongoing development of MMOs?
Roger Hantz: I think there are a lot of misconceptions, but many of them are understandable. Most of the time, players don't know what sort of tools are being used to develop, what the capabilities are of those tools, and how those tools relate to each other. Often times things that seem logical and easy to add and implement really aren't, but then are times too when something that seems completely unrelated and difficult is very simple to add. Some players will ask why developers devoted time to doing this unrelated thing rather than working on something else, when in reality, it was a much easier task than they think. Also, another really big one is the balance between what's good for the game Right Now, and what's good for the game Long Term. These things aren't always mutually exclusive, but a lot of times they can be. I can't be so bold as to say that none of the players understand this, because I'd be lying if I said that. Many of them actually do know this. But, a nerf here, or a nerf there doesn't always mean that a developer is targeting that particular thing specifically. It may just be part of a larger whole.
A visualization that just came to mind (and I really haven't thought this through yet, so, bear with me), is that you can think of an MMO as a tree I guess. Trees always grow upwards (well, usually they do). If the tree is originally intended to take up a certain space, but the trunk starts to grow too much to one side, then it needs to be brought back in line somehow. If it isn't brought back in line, then it will eventually tears itself out by its roots, simply by doing exactly what a tree is supposed to do: grow. MMOs are supposed to grow too. Everything that gets added to an MMO is added onto something that already exists in the gameworld. If that "something" that serves as an attach point is even slightly out of whack, then everything that gets added on later is just going to compound the problem and make it worse. If a small change gets made to something now, it saves a much, much larger headache further down the road.
So as a player, when you can't see the entire picture of things, it's sometimes difficult to understand why certain adjustments are made. If you don't know what "line" something is being brought back into, then how can you tell if it is a good thing or a bad thing?
GI.n: What do you feel is the most important lesson you've learned that you could pass on to someone new to the business from your time on the team?
Roger Hantz: Regarding the industry in general, it's important to keep in mind that it's your job to put fun and entertainment into a box. Most likely you wanted to work in the industry in order to make a great, fun game. Don't lose sight of that. There are an abundance of game companies out there, and once you get a little bit of experience working in the industry, you can always search around and find one that suits your work (and play) style very comfortably. Now as far as a lesson I've learned here at Tulga - there's never any shortage of work to be done and ideally, there never will be a shortage of work to be done. An MMO is never "finished." But also remember, this is your life. Don't forget to go outside and see the sun once in awhile.
My children both play games so I often play them first, getting to know exactly how something may effect my sensitive and easily stimulated older child vs. my stoic and imperturbable younger.
I like games for games; for the pure enjoyment of them and believe that no game is wholly bad, though some are real stinkers.
I also have the dexterity of a camel in mittens so find playing FPSs difficult (and I also don't like the gore) and RTSs at times can stump me. I just can't seem to move quickly enough to keep up with them. Some of my favorite games are arcade games and I'll spend 3-5 years on the same 5-6 levels because I just never get any better. But, I have fun.