Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning

Interview: Designer talks about the Beta

We've never met somebody who gesticulates as enthusiastically and vigorously as Paul Barnett. His hands are often a blur of activity, and his mouth a frothing kiosk of amazing sound effects.

He does this to expertly demonstrate Warhammer Online, which he's done to us, right here.

What's the reception to the beta been like?

Paul Barnett: Well, our beta comes in three stages. Firstly, internal - that's when one of our clever guys says "Hey, I've made it so you can run into the cities and blow them up," and we all pile into a local server and it explodes and it doesn't work so we put a new chip in and we change the code until it does.

Stage two is closed beta, the stage we're in now. This is the bit where you invite a select group of people in to do targeted testing, so we can say "Hmm, we've had 400 people beating the crap out of this dungeon, let's put 4,000 people in and see what it does."

And that's when you flush out all the craziness and go, "Oh that explodes, we need a bigger dungeon, the monsters are too hard, they're too fat, they're too thin, we need more elephants."

The final stage is the open beta, which is like when they say a movie is launching on Friday, but you can come and see it on Tuesday.

As for how it's gone? We've found a load of stupid stuff, we've proved a load of game ideas, we've disproved a load of game ideas. We've thrown away some of our most darling ideas because they turned out to be crap...

Oh yeah, like what?

Barnett: We weren't going to have levelling. We had a different progression system. But people want to know, "How powerful am I and how powerful is he?" So we just gave players levels - clearly that is the answer, and it's what they want.

We stayed away from quite a few of the mechanics of Dark Age of Camelot too - boiling oil that you can pour on people's heads, battering rams that can smash your army to pieces, ballistae, trebuchets - but people went, "What are you doing? That's some of the best stuff in Dark Age!"

Now we've got orcapults and cannons blowing the crap out of things. Those are examples of when we've gone, "We know best! Oh hang on, no we don't..."

So betas are important...

Barnett: Betas are like jumping out of an aeroplane without a parachute - you can practice on the ground all you want, but it's not until you jump out of an aeroplane and it doesn't open that you realise you're fucked.

If we don't throw 5,000 players at it on one server then we don't really see what it's going to do. And players do things that our quality assurance team just don't do - I mean, I like our QA team, but no one really breaks our game like real players, who just do absurd stuff that no one would normally even think of doing.