Craig “Silirrion” Morrison. The man behind the robot.
It is the dream of many players to work on, in some aspect, their favorite MMO. Whether it was world building, item creation, or class balance, we have thought that if we were in charge, the game could become “perfect.” What if that dream can come true? In recent years, many games have hired former players to become developers. Craig “Silirrion” Morrison is a player turned Game Director for Funcom’s Science-Fiction MMORPG, Anarchy Online. As a long time player of Anarchy Online I was very interested in finding out more about Craig, as well as his thoughts on being Game Director. Craig was very happy to answer a few questions for MMOCrunch:
Can you state your name and current job title?
My name is Craig Morrison and I am currently the Game Director and Producer for Anarchy Online.
Can you state any other positions you have held at Funcom?
Prior to becoming the Game Director I was the company’s Community Manager.
What brought you into gaming? What brought you to Anarchy Online?
That’s a tough one, I’ve been gaming since I was about six years old and my father bought us a BBC Micro home computer and I first discovered Asteroids! I don’t think I ever stopped being a gamer. In the 90s I got into MMO games, starting with Meridian 59 before moving onto Ultima Online and Everquest. It was while playing Everquest that a guild mate showed me Anarchy Online during the beta period and since then I have been hooked on Rubi-Ka!
In terms of getting into the industry it was really a series of very fortunate accidents to be honest. I first threw up some help pages for Anarchy Online onto my personal website to help some other EQ guildies get into the game. From there it somehow turned into a fully-fledged fan-site I updated every week, almost without me realizing I was doing so! It was really the support and encouragement from the community at the original fan sites like AO-Basher and the AO-Vault forums that helped me expand into actually running a fan-site too. Then I was hired on a freelance basis (as I had what most would call a ‘proper job’ at the time working in the newspaper industry in the UK) by IGN to run their AO Vault fan site and so it became a daily thing for me. Then being part of IGN I got to meet, interview and get to know some of the folk at Funcom and go to things like E3 and eventually through those connections I was offered the Community Manager’s position when it became available. There definitely wasn’t a magical career path I had plotted for myself and I still look back and am very thankful that things turned out the way they did!
Do you still play Anarchy Online? Do you play any other games?
I still play AO as often as I can, it is very important to keep in touch with the player base and experience the game we spent our time creating from their point of view as well. I don’t get to play as much as I did as a fan, but I still make sure I find the time to spend time on Rubi-Ka!
I think I have played most western MMO games and a good deal of the eastern ones as well! Now through professional curiosity but I have always loved the genre and it’s always interesting to see what other people are doing. So I still pick up all the new releases as they appear.
What was it like to go from player, to community contributor, to Funcom employee and then to Game Director?
Easier then you might think! The first transition was actually not all that hard, as Community Manager you are representing players in many ways, so that felt quite natural going from playing to providing the feedback on that. As I got more involved in the production side of the game, and then to Game Director I think the biggest (and scariest) change is when it first dawns on you that people aren’t just asking for your opinion anymore but are asking you to make the decision! I’m very lucky though that we have a fantastic team working on the game and they really make my job in that regard pretty easy. It definitely takes a little getting used to though!
How do you react to some players who may feel that certain classes are still unbalanced, particularly in regards to PVP?
There will always be opinions about balance. That’s inherent in any situation with such a diverse selection of gamers, game-styles and preferences. So we expect there to be disagreements (all the designers don’t always agree, let alone tens of thousands of players!). With PVP in particular the systems in AO are deep and complex, which is the beauty of the game, it is also however a fact that means that there will always be some inherent ‘imbalances’ in the system. Therefore it’s a constant task to nudge, adjust and otherwise meddle with things to try and bring improvements.
How do you react to some players who may feel that certain classes receive unwarranted buffs while others do not receive any?
I don’t think we would ever put anything in that we considered ‘unwarranted’. Of course the players might always have a different opinion! We do realize that when other professions (who did need it) get some attention, that others (who don’t so much) feel left out. It’s one of those pesky tricky balancing acts we have to get right when we do professional changes. At the end of the day sometimes you do have to consider some updates or changes for a given profession on the basis that they haven’t had one in some time. As with the PVP question in a game as complex as Anarchy Online this is an area that’s never easy, and we won’t get it right 100% every time, but an area that we would never make changes too that we didn’t think would have some overall benefit.
Being a former player, how do you separate your want to please players, yet still retain the responsibility of Game Director?
I think deep down we always want to please people! After all we are making these games to provide entertainment for people. Yes, it’s a business too, but if people aren’t having fun with your game, they won’t keep playing it. We do have to do so responsibly though, in particular with virtual worlds like Rubi-Ka and we always have to consider the implications of the changes we make. It’s not always an easy balance but it’s an important one and something that is at the core of all the decisions we have to make, so whether we want to or not, that responsibility is forced on us. I wouldn’t have it any other way either!
What do you feel has been your most successful addition to Anarchy Online?
Personally I love the recent Dust Brigade team instance. I was very happy with the balance we managed to get there between challenge, reward and fun. I think it’s re-playable in a good way with a decent return for the player’s time.
What do you feel has been your least successful and how have you learned from it?
I try to avoid thinking in negative terms too much, but there are definitely things we learn from all the content we put in. I’d certainly like to think nothing has been totally ‘unsuccessful’ so far! What is true is that we have definitely learned how to do things better as we go along. I think the experience in the Alappaa team instance was better then that in Albtraum (which was the first team instance we ever made) for example, and the Dust Brigade instance better again as we moved along with learning how to integrate the team instancing technology better and get the game-play and the rewards balanced better. It’s always a learning curve.
Any advice for other players looking to get into MMO game development?
Get involved in the communities around the game, and never presume that things are as easy as they sometimes might seem from the outside! It’s not a guarantee that you might one day land a job, but it’s certainly not a bad start! Also always try to be objective in your views on the game and look beyond your own personal preferences. The key to being able to understand and work on MMO games, is understanding all the different play-styles and how they interact. Always remember that the designers of your favorite game made any given change for a reason, even if you don’t understand it (or worse really hate it!) try and think about it and why that change might have been done. Looking at these games in that way will generally give you a much better idea of the concepts involved. I think that’s what any company making an MMO are looking for most when they interview for design positions – someone who understands the dynamics within the gameplay of a virtual world.
If you are artist then just keep producing and practicing! Your portfolio is really what you will succeed or fail by.
What do you feel you bring to Anarchy Online that the previous Game Directors did not?
I think that’s a hard one and probably something you should ask the players rather then me. I think everyone who heads a creative process brings something to the table and it’s very different for each person. The main thing I have tried to focus on is providing the players with new content and asking the design to team always keep one question in their minds – ‘will this be fun?’ I think that’s the most important thing I try and maintain.
Is Omni-Tek your friend?
Now that would be telling! In all seriousness it’s a not so well hidden secret that the majority of my characters were Clan and as a player I was in Clan organizations, so purely in that context I guess Omni-Tek would not consider me a friend!
I would like to thank Craig for his time in answering these questions. As a player, I feel his passion for the game has given Anarchy Online a fresh breath of air. From implementing player suggestions to bringing in new and challenging content, the game has changed quite a bit since he has become Game Director, with many more improvements on the way.
You can check out the game at www.anarchyonline.com.
I never knew that the current AO Game director used to be just a player of the game. Gives me hope for my own career someday. :)
Well, Sil won’t say it, but the vast majority of the players think he is the best Game Director the game has ever had!
As a current player on rk2 it was interesting to get this kind of personal insight into silirrion, as we tend to read/await his posts in the forums with anticipation..cant wait for the social clothing option it will be a long awaited addition
Nice interview, Sil.
Guess, i know why Omni SB3 got nerfed aswell as introducing Laser pointer inhibitors.
Just face it, Omni-Tek is better.
Even that won’t restore SIde XP balance.
Very interesting interview. :)
Hmmm, perhaps it is time to give AO a go…
I think its been amazing to see when a player can rise to game designer and positive game play is deployed to the player base because a hard core fan became the lead designer. I can’t wait for the engine upgrade. Great interview.
This was an great interview!
It’s a unbeliveble that an big fan of AO, is turning into a Game director,
You should lay more time on ao tough, and join omni ofc!
// Thapetowner 160/4 Mp Rk2
// Ilovetokill 124/12 Agent Rk2
// Awaaa 74/6 Soldier Rk2
Sil rocks my socks ;D
Nice interview, it’s shows the difference between someone who knows things about game as opposed to generic questions posed by some large sites. Shame the answers are more or less expected and usuall denial of problems. And what’s even sadder, balancing issues get only fixed when even Omnis start to whine that the stuff is too one sided.
Well I m nobody to start any flame or any threading comments but I think most ppls comments here aren’t really useful, neither mine, because I shouldn’t post that here, but it is pretty much related.
First nice interview, but I have to say gz to the riporter who asked the questions, has some knowledge about ao and touched the most important part “PvP”.
Myself I am a fan of ao and I have respect for all other players,
I didn’t knew Marius, so I can’t say you are the best for me Craig, but all my compliments you have done a great work keep it up.
Hint: 20-49 bs is nonesense.. pls review a bit pvp and pvp in bs
The current and upcoming content is top notch, especially endgame content, i remember the day the improved nano DB missions came out, spending about 11 solid hours doing all the missions, it was the perfect challenge, please dont listen to people who say new content is too hard in future and make it a bit easier, they are just gimped…we managed to do it why cant they :)
That was nice, Silirrion :) Nice to get to know more about the “man behind the machine” and you’ve always been such a nice person in any situation I’ve seen you. Only once have I actually disagreed with your reasoning (and that wasn’t really game related), how rare isn’t that to happen with a person you see this often?
Its nice to see that sill believes that each profession gets the attention and improvements that it needs.
It would be nicer still if this wasnt utter garbage.
Its blatantly clear that some professions are simply played more by developers and directors alike and that some other professions are simply not understood or indeed wanted in the game anymore.
When certain members of your playerbase stage protests, strikes and sit-ins this should raise a big red warning flag that you realy are NOT catering to the needs and wishes of your entire community.
To then refuse to even converse with those players on the grounds that you are simply stubborn and will not be forced in to even the slightest compromise shows a clear lack of respect that will ultimately lead to players leaving and a loss of respect for the “people in charge”.
I gotta support “Random Engie ” on that matter , some of the “Balancing” that came with LE was done in the most crude Manner possible .
The old “Lovechilds” got nerfed a bit by giving them less Valuable new Equip/Nanos ( which is fine ) BUT some of the former “Victims” are now easy-to-play Killingmaschines while other Classes that had to spezialise either for PvP or PvM now can do both with same Setup . OFAB Armor is f-ugly for most Proffs , some Classes can Wear a nearly Full Set of it , some can only take 1-2 Pieces to get good results ….
Dustquest Nanos depending on Proff range from ” Useless & hard to do at 220 wasting of 1000K IP ” to “Usefull and easy Selfcast on a 215 halfnaked toon just spending 250k IP ”
This aint Balance ….