Interview with Thom Terrazas, Producer!

We recently had an opportunity to chat with Thom Terrazas about the state of Vanguard, the improvements made, and still being made, and his own personal view of how things are going...

Allakhazam : Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for us! To start off, would you please give us your name, position on the Vanguard team, and some background information?

Thom:
My name is Thom Terrazas, Producer on the Vanguard team. For SOE, I began working as a Project Manager (PM) and functioning as a liaison between SOE and Sigil Games from October 2006 to May 2007. After the launch of Vanguard in January 2007, I continued on as the PM for SOE and joined the team full time in May 2007 when SOE acquired the assets of Sigil Games Online and more importantly, Vanguard and the awesome team working on the game. In October of 2007, I took over as Producer and continue to manage both Vanguard and PlanetSide.

Allakhazam: Looking back at Vanguard, there were undeniably some issues at launch. What would you say was the greatest issue facing this title, and where does that issue stand today?

Thom: Performance; Optimization; High System Requirements. Everyone may have a different name for it but at the end of the day, optimization challenges were the biggest hurdle faced at launch. We lost too many customers at launch due to the inability to run the game smoothly and we have been making huge improvements in this area in every update since. I can speak to this first hand actually: When I started playing at launch, I experienced some horrible “hitching” while moving from one area to another on what I consider an average gamers’ computer. When I began to play more extensively a couple months later, I noticed some considerable improvements to my frame rate. Today, it is night and day superior than it was at launch. Optimizing the game has been one of our top priorities and in the last six months, we have made some considerable strides in improving the player’s experience. If you haven’t logged in recently or if you gave us a look in the beginning and haven’t been back since, check it out now - I’ll even flag your account for free for a period of time if you want to go in and prove me wrong.

Allakhazam: SOE has made some progress within Vanguard in terms of bringing it back to a standard more in line with what your company is known to deliver to its community. Is there any one specific achievement you see that has had the largest impact on the player community so far?

Thom: No, not really. Honestly, we’ve made so many improvements that it wouldn’t be accurate to name just one thing. It’s all over the board but if we had to name one thing, I would say appointing Julie Burness, AKA "Ellyra" as our Community Representative.

Allakhazam: If you had to give a new player a piece of advice to make their experience the best possible in Vanguard, what would it be?

Thom: Join a Guild! When you get in game, look at the guild recruiting and filter through the subjects that interest you the most. I think I tried 3 or 4 guilds before I settled in on the right one. Guilds are probably taboo for the casual player that isn’t used to the MMO world, but they make all the difference in the game. You could be having the worst day in the world in real life and when you log in to talk to your guild mates, most times you can share your troubles and get a nice pick-me-up from one of your guildies. Often, someone is having a crappier day than you – that can make your troubles seem so trivial. It’s just a nice break from reality to come into Vanguard and hang out with your friends while slaying the dragon.

Allakhazam: Considering that most MMOs today are "time sinks" (to quote an old friend of mine), do you think players will need to commit hours and hours of gameplay in this title in order to be competitive? Is it possible for the casual player to succeed... or even the solo player?

Thom: I think it depends on the person playing the game. If you are a competitive person by nature and you are striving to be the very best, you’ll get out what you put into it. Obviously, if you want to be the best Warrior in the game (and best is pretty subjective IMO) you’re going to have to play with the big boys and girls. That’s not going to happen by playing a level 3 Warrior. Now, you could be the best level 3 Warrior in the game and if you’re happy with that, then all the power to you. Let’s be practical though. Most people playing the game are looking for depth, storyline and something that appeals to their gameplay style. Vanguard offers all of this in the ways of adventuring, crafting, harvesting, diplomacy etc… You don’t have to fight all the time if you would rather be the best Blacksmith in your game or in your guild. Social interaction, experiencing a world outside of real life, personal enjoyment, slaying the dragon or whatever your interests are can be found in Vanguard and it doesn’t require you to be competitive. The world of Telon is massive and offers a chance to find that niche for any player - competitive or Casual.

Allakhazam: With the controversial demise of the Inquisitor class, are there any plans to release new classes or races in the future, and can you give us any information?

Thom: I would love to!! …but unfortunately we do not plan on putting out any new classes in the foreseeable future. We have a full plate of work ahead of us to chew on first before we bring in a new class.

Allakhazam: What would you say is the greatest challenge facing Vanguard today?

Thom: Keeping our players happy. I think we have made some small mistakes along the way with our victories and we are learning from them, but a good rule of thumb is to listen and engage our community frequently. Constantly creating deep, vast content for our existing players as well as winning back customers we lost early on will be challenging enough on its own.

Allakhazam: Assuming that you are also a player, if there was one thing you could add to Vanguard - even if, as a developer, you do not see it as being feasible? And why that one thing?

Thom: This one I had to think about for a while. It seems like almost anything is possible to create inside games these days, but I think it would be very cool to put in more “side” games. It probably makes more sense to do this within your guild house or just your house that you can do with your buddies. Games like checkers, chess, cards, poker, etc… Being able to pass the time away, playing cards and drinking your favorite brew with the people you spend hours with every week sounds like a nice getaway when you’re not being chased by lions, tigers and… ok, I won’t say it, but you get the picture.

Allakhazam: How large is the current development team, and do you feel that is enough? Why or why not? If it's not large enough, are there plans to increase it in the future?

Thom: There will never be enough members on the team and there probably never has been enough. Every single person on the team has at least one pet project that they want to work on or improve upon, and with our player’s input, we’ll always have too many things we want to add to the game. Unfortunately, the real world doesn’t allow us to have as many people as we’d like. It’s just not viable if we want to stay in business. As far as the size, we don’t usually disclose the size of the team. Let’s just say I have a plethora of developers.

Allakhazam: And last but not least... ninjas or pirates?

Thom: It’s gotta be Pirates. At the end of the day, who’s having the most fun? Ninjas with their disciplined lifestyle or Pirates, living outside the boundary lines…. Save yourself from hiding, Be a Pirate!

Allakhazam: Thanks, Thom!  We look forward to watching Vanguard grow and succeed under your watch!


Maggie "AutumnKiss" Olsen
Senior Editor, ZAM Network

Comments

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Impressions from a returning veteran...
# May 22 2008 at 6:39 AM Rating: Decent
1 post
Background:

I was not a launch-adopter of Vanguard, but I began playing in March / April of 2007, leveled my Bloodmage to 50, accumulated 12 Platinum crafting, and quit shortly after APW went live (after Christmas). In May of 2008, I purchased a one-month subscription to see what has changed.

Impressions:

1. The same die-hard people playing when I left are the same die hard people playing now. Most new characters are "alts". Optimizations will keep die-hard fans appeased a little longer; however, it is not a selling point for returning or new players.

2. On a gaming machine with an Intel Core 2 Duo 2.4ghz, 2Gb of RAM, nVidia 8800 GTS, and RAID-0 drive array, I still get poor frame rates at high-quality settings. To Vanguard's credit, some of the notoriously bad areas (Khal) have improved immensly.

3. APW raiding is still laggy when two parties supported by bards are in the same pseudo-instance, even with video / geometry setting adjustments.

Further Comments:

1. Bugs and poor performance were not the "main" reasons I left the game. While portions of the game are addictive, the largest portion of the game is simply not fun. Grinding endless faction prior to the level cap (50) is simply not fun. For instance, grinding 20,000 faction for Wardship of the Sleeping Moon around lvl 35, two points at a time, for epic weapons just plain sucks.

2. Although some things have simplified recently, the game is generally too complex for casual players, such as wives-of-geeks-who-are-not-geeks themselves. There were so many details for my wife to contend with in the game that she did not enjoy it and we couldn't effectively play together. Vanguard created more stress-related-details than her day job -- it was not relaxing or fun for her at all.

3. Gold farmers and gold-exploiters make crafting professions a greater-than-necessary agonizing endeavor; and, there is very little incentive to grind through the crafting levels.

4. Crafting and Diplomacy should either be directly linked to adventuring level through intermediate caps (ie: you can't advance to level 40 aventuring until you are a lvl 30 diplomat); or, those professions should unlock highly-desirable class-specific abilities. For instance, there should be unique weapons that ONLY lvl 50 blacksmiths can wield. There are certain class-specific spells that ONLY a lvl 50 diplomat has access to. City-wide buffs and swamp armor upgrades are only the beginning.

5. There should be value in having a boat that can move between continents. Teleporters should cost A LOT more money; and, you should not be able to mail items to people on another continent. The only way to move items from one continent to another should be through shipping it with someone who owns a boat who can sell shipping and escrow services.

6. The Exchange should transition to Auctions w/ time-limited listings. Items listed should have high deposits that are surrendered if it does not sell within the time allotted.

I was excited to hear that permanent flying mounts were available, but did not even attempt the questline. I'm hoping it requires skills learned through adventuring, crafting, harvesting, and diplomacy.
Why I left Vanguard, and while I'd try it again
# May 22 2008 at 3:39 AM Rating: Decent
It's funny, but a lot of the issues he refers to are exactly why I left Vanguard in the first place. I played my bard and my Blood Mage for a while but I can only handle so many in game issues before I give up. I've since switched to DDO but I guess I would try Vanguard again, if what he says is true.
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