With so many changes in Jess's world, it was a great time to check in with him again and see just what he is up to!
Maggie: Greetings, Jess! So nice of you to take time out of your busy schedule once again. To start off, could you just briefly give us a bit of background for those that aren't as familiar with you?
Jess: Hi, Maggie. It's my pleasure.
My career in the game industry started at Wizards of the Coast, where I guided the story for the Magic: The Gathering novel line. From there I started writing novels myself, and my fifth book, Obsidian Ridge, just came out in April. I moved, as they say, from paper to pixels, when I took a job at ArenaNet, writing the story for Guild Wars and Guild Wars Factions. More recently, I was with Flying Lab Software leading up the content on the Pirates of the Burning Sea MMO, and just within the last couple of months I've moved to southern California to become the Lead Quest Designer for Carbine Studios on an as-yet-unannounced MMO.
Jess: I like having a second creative project going at all times. On an MMO, you have 50 or 100 other people who all have a stake in the finished product. I really enjoy it, but sometimes it's nice to just be able to focus on my own project without so many people being involved. With a novel, it's just me and the editor. I actually find that the two activities compliment each other. I do most of my novel writing in the mornings before I go to the office. Then when I'm at work, I focus solely on the game. It's like doing warm-up writing exercises before I go in. I don't think I could ever give up on either of them. I would go crazy. They're both too much a part of who I am.
Maggie: When looking at a MMO, and working with the content and creative design teams, how much from your novels do you bring to the table, maybe not in terms of actual visual impact but in concept arts and creative thinking? And vice-versa, does your office come home with you to the typewriter? Do you find it difficult to switch gears from one story line to the other?
Jess: I've never had trouble working on two stories at a time. Though I'm certain that my work in one arena influences my work in the other. Not with characters or even plotlines, but in terms of just being open to new ideas or ways of thinking about creative problems. For every good idea I have, there are probably fifty not-so-good ideas that come before. Or sometimes I come across something that wouldn't work in the book I'm writing, but would make a good scene or conflict in the game. So the two sort of aid each other.
But I will say that two projects at a time is my limit. I've tried to juggle three before, and it was too much of headache—too much stress worrying about whether or not I was going to make my deadlines. Two I can handle, three, unless they are very small, is one too many.
Maggie: With your new project at Carbine, what is the one goal you are setting for yourself above all else, and what do you believe is going to be your biggest challenge in achieving that goal?
Jess: Well, I really want to see how far we can push the story in this game. This isn't really a new goal for me. In fact, you could say this is the goal I start out with on any project. Still, there are lots of challenges with telling a cohesive narrative in a persistent MMO world, and I've learned a lot about how to manage those over the years.
Probably the biggest challenge is going to be with delivery. When you're creating a 3D graphic-intensive world, large blocks of text just aren't the best way to entertain and immerse your audience. MMOs are more than just computer-based novels. So finding the right mechanisms and the right balance of storytelling elements will really be the key to being successful.
Maggie: Do you see yourself staying with this new title from now to launch, and beyond? Or, considering your enjoyment of taking a concept to realization, do you think you will then find yourself searching for a new challenge to undertake?
Jess: Certainly I plan to be at Carbine through the launch of the game. So far I'm liking southern California. Sunshine does wonders for your mood. For the foreseeable future, this is where I plan to be.
Maggie: Have you ever considered launching your own studio and creating your own titles, and if so, what genre do you think would suit you best? Could you give us an idea of a game you might develop?
Jess: I'd be lying if I told you I hadn't toyed with that idea. I'm not at the point where I'm ready to start my own studio right now, but I wouldn't rule it out in a few years.
I'm on the fence about genre. I have several different ideas I'd like to see made into games. Certainly a strong story would be a core tenant of anything I made, and you could be sure there would be a player-generated content component as well.
Maggie: Let's talk Top 20. You were recently named as #17 on Beckett Magazine's Top 20 Most Influential in MMOs. What do you think propelled you there, and how much impact do you believe this has on your career? Will people expect more from you as a result?
Jess: I've had the tremendous good fortune to have worked with some truly talented teams. Without the people who worked on Guild Wars and Pirates of the Burning Sea, I wouldn't be on that list.
As far as the impact on my career, I'm not yet sure. I sort of hope people expect more of me. I know I personally feel like I have to step it up a notch. At Carbine, I'm again surrounded by talented people. It's the coolest thing. I find myself super motivated because the creative energy level is so high. And at the end of the day, I hate the idea of being the weak link in the chain.
Maggie: If there was one person that you could have be your mentor for a day, who would that be and why?
Jess: That's easy: Kurt Vonnegut, may he rest in peace.
One of my very best friends handed me a copy of Breakfast of Champions just after I graduated high school. I was hooked instantly, and I read everything Kurt wrote. He had such a smooth, easy way of telling a story. There was so much he could have taught me. I'm sad he's gone.
Maggie: I know we previously asked you about ninjas vs. pirates, so this time I thought we'd go a different route... the Rogue or the Warrior? Which suits you better and what would your name be? Is there a history behind that you'd care to share?
Jess: Rogue I think. Though if you asked my old D&D group, they would tell you warrior. I used to play this dwarf fighter. His name was Gruuble. I really liked him. In fact, I think everyone did. The thing is, he wasn't a typical fighter type. He had a couple levels of rogue to start off with, so he was always sneaking and tumbling. Gruuble was a very dexterous, crafty little fellow.
Sure, the sense of security you have with high armor and lots of hit points is nice, but I'm partial to the notion of controlling when and if you are seen. I like to be in control of when I attack, and I like backstabbing, so I feel like the rogue is more my style.
Maggie: Thank you, Jess, for taking time out to bring us up to date on what's happening in your life. We look forward to seeing what fantastic world you bring to us next from Carbine Studios!
Maggie "AutumnKiss" Olsen
Senior Editor, ZAM Network