Asheron's Call Community Wiki
Advertisement

Question 1

July, 2021 - [No Link]

Q: Introduce yourself! Besides working on Asheron’s Call, what else should people know about you?

A: I'm Toby Ragaini and for over 25 years I've had the privilege of working with talented teams developing games. Asheron's Call was my first game, but since then I've contributed to many other titles including The Matrix Online, Faunasphere, Wartide: Heroes of Atlantis, and most recently, Spellbreak, an action spellcasting game.

Turbine Icon.png Toby Ragaini

Question 2

July, 2021 - [No Link]

Q: What years did you work on AC, and what roles did you have on the team?

A: I joined what would eventually become the Turbine team in the summer of 1995. I was 22, just out of college with no professional game dev experience. Initially, I was hired as a 'game writer' but quickly became the lead designer on the team and eventually the creative director. I left Turbine in the summer of 2000, after Asheron's Call had successfully launched and began the series of live events.

Turbine Icon.png Toby Ragaini

Question 3

July, 2021 - [No Link]

Q: Out of all of your contributions to AC (game mechanics, quests, lore, etc) what are you most proud of and why?

A: It's hard to pick which specific aspect I'm the most proud of. I still have my original notebook where I sketched out the map of Dereth, the Olthoi, and the first mention of Asheron (who was initially called Aiden). I guess I would have to say that shipping the game is the thing I'm the most proud of. I can't really describe how ambitious Asheron's Call was at the time. When we started, people were still connecting to the Internet using dial-up modems and paying per hour to access services like Genie and Compuserve. And while we would eventually launch alongside other great games like Ultima Online and Everquest, we had no idea those efforts were underway. We felt like we were doing something unheard of. Creating a 3D graphical MUD felt like science fiction. Building a fantastic team, attracting investment, gaining the support of Microsoft, and ultimately launching one of the first 'games as a service' was and remains an epic achievement for a group of college-age kids that had essentially no professional development experience.

Turbine Icon.png Toby Ragaini

Question 4

July, 2021 - [No Link] Q: Would you mind sharing those sketches?

A:

1) This was a sketch of a player character arriving through a portal (into Dereth, though we hadn't named the place at this time). We wanted to have a reason why people were arriving in this strange new world without any prior history or familiarity with the world.

2) This was the first sketch of an Olthoi. You can see they had the overall shape AC players would be familiar with but were quite different from the final version.The whole fungal symbiote idea was just too abstract and subtle for us to communicate using the technology of the time.

3) The first sketch of Dereth, with some major landmarks that made it into the lauched version of the game. Note 'Aiden' vs his later name, Asheron.

4) This was my attempt at a more polished sketch of an Olthoi for an artist to create a 3d model from. The writing on it are his notes that don't have anything to do with the work, afaik.

5) This is the cover of the business plan for the company that would eventually become Turbine. The name, 'Cyberspace', didn't last long, as it was a fairly generic term even at the time. It was changed sometime in '96 to 'Second Nature Interactive,' and later to 'Turbine Entertainment Software'.

Turbine Icon.png Toby Ragaini

Question 5

July, 2021 - [No Link]

Q: Out of all of your contributions to AC, what would you redo if you had the chance, and how would you change it?

A: Asheron's Call paid a steep price for being "different." What hurt us the most was an incomplete understanding of the importance of the new player experience. For example, character classes work because they are an easy but interesting decision for starting players to make. The skill based model of AC front loaded a number of decisions and was overwhelming for many users.

Similarly, I think having quasi-realistic human tribes replacing fantasy races was a shortcoming. It really cut down on the amount of visual difference available to player characters. Having short, burly dwarves and tall, elegant elves provides for instant recognition.

However, in other ways, our willingness to buck the trend paid off. I'm still very proud of the unique backstory and fiction that we developed in AC. It provided us with a degree of flexibility that allowed us to surprise players, and introduce monsters and villains that people would experience for the first time. And of course, we also stood out in that our environments offered vast seamless vistas. This was an enormous technical achievement at the time, and represented an incredible engineering accomplishment.

Turbine Icon.png Toby Ragaini

Question 6

July, 2021 - [No Link]

Q: Did your time working on AC influence your work on any later games? How so?

A: Influence would be an understatement. AC defined my early career and to this day, twenty years after its launch, it's still something I'm asked about. At the time, there were only a handful of designers that had successfully launched an MMO, and I found myself in the enviable position of basically being able to choose what I wanted to work on next. Ultimately, that ended up being the Matrix Online, but that's a story for another day.

Turbine Icon.png Toby Ragaini

Question 7

July, 2021 - [No Link]

Q: After leaving Turbine, did you still follow the development of AC1 or AC2? What did you think of the additions to AC, and what did you think of the sequel?

A: I was closely following the live events after I left and I remember being excited reading about the response to Bael'Zharon and the defense of the shard. But I have to say, I was never a proponent of the sequel. It felt like a compromised game from the start, and it didn't make sense to me why anyone would want a sequel to a live MMO. There was very little to make it appealing to existing AC players.

Turbine Icon.png Toby Ragaini

Question 8

July, 2021 - [No Link]

Q: Have you ever placed any AC easter eggs in other games you have worked on?

A: Nope. Asheron's Call was alive and kicking for 17 years, so it never felt appropriate to refer back to a game that was still active and being supported. I may now though, now that it's (probably?) not coming back.

Turbine Icon.png Toby Ragaini

Question 9

July, 2021 - [No Link]

Q: Do you have any fun tales from the early days of Turbine? For example, Jon Monsarrat’s old website mentioned the numerous office pranks that occurred.

A: I remember we covered the office of Dan Scherlis (CEO of Turbine at the time) floor to ceiling with sticky notes after he came back from vacation. There was another prank played on one of the engineers who complained that her character always lost her pants when she was defeated. The other engineers, sensing an opportunity, arranged it so that her character did, in fact, always lost her pants when she respawned.

Turbine Icon.png Toby Ragaini

Question 10

July, 2021 - [No Link]

Q: Could you outline the development and testing phases of AC? That is, when did development begin, when did AC start alpha testing, and so on?

A: You'll have to forgive me, but I simply don't remember the specific dates surrounding the various testing phases. I do though have some VHS tapes that are dated. The oldest is labeled 'Turbine AC Demo 8/28/98' so the game was at least demoable at that point. Another tape is professionally packaged featuring the MSN Gaming Zone logo. This one is dated May, 1999 and labeled 'Beta 0'.

Development had started when I joined mid '95 but I would categorize these early efforts as prototypes. The earliest mention of the game that would eventually become AC is in a business plan dated March 29th, 1995.

Turbine Icon.png Toby Ragaini

Question 11

July, 2021 - [No Link]

Q: The release of Asheron’s Call was delayed a few times. One source had the release in the first quarter of 1998. Another gave a release during the fall of 1998, and another set it at early 1999. Do you recall why these delays happened? And overall, do you think the game was better or worse off being delayed?

A: The earliest versions of the schedule had us shipping even earlier than the times you mentioned. The truth of the matter was that our team was very inexperienced and had very little ability to accurately schedule a project like AC. Keep in mind that no one had actually made a game like we were developing, so there was nothing for us to compare our development schedule with. That said, the game was certainly better off with the delays. There was no way we would have shipped a quality experience without them.

Turbine Icon.png Toby Ragaini

Question 12

July, 2021 - [No Link]

Q: There are a few very early screenshots of AC that look nothing like later development or beta screenshots. Could you elaborate more on these? When were these from? Were these from a functional version of the game, or were they mockups of possible UIs?



A: These images are from an early tech demo that was built for potential publishing partners. None of the UI is functional from what I recall, but you could maneuver characters around a shared dungeon environment, demonstrating the multi-player nature of the game. You'll note that the large open terrain AC was known for is missing from these images. That's because the tech to display that environment hadn't been created yet. It's also worth mentioning that this kind of demo is what secured Microsoft's interest in the game.


Turbine Icon.png Toby Ragaini

Question 13

July, 2021 - [No Link]

Q: In another early screenshot, there is a skill shown called Linguistics. What was this skill to be used for?



A: Originally, we were thinking that the different groups in Dereth would speak different languages that would be unintelligible to each other. So chat from someone that was Sho would be garbled if you were Aluvian. The linguistics skill was your ability to 'translate' those other languages. In practice, this was just a bad idea, and we realized, thankfully, that creating barriers to player communication was not fun.


Turbine Icon.png Toby Ragaini

Question 14

July, 2021 - [No Link]

Q: In a few early screenshots, there is an Aluvian town at the location where Tou-Tou would later be. Do you recall any details about this? Was this merely a testing location, or was this originally going to be an Aluvian town?



A: These look pretty early so I suspect we didn't have the assets for the Sho buildings yet. The Aluvian buildings were some of the first above ground-ground assets we created, which is why you don't see the other cultures in early screenshots.


Turbine Icon.png Toby Ragaini

Question 15

July, 2021 - [No Link]

Q: There were seemingly two additional player character races planned that did not make it in: The Viamontians (then called Viamonters) and another race called the Rennaj. Could you elaborate more on these? How far along into planning or development did either of these races get?

A: The Viamont were originally envisioned as a group of humans that came from the same world as the Aluvians, Sho, and Gharu'n. They were imagined as imperialist conquerors with a vaguely medieval French inspiration from the Charlemagne period. I believe they were later implemented as blue skinned folks, but that was well after I had left.

The Rennaj were another group of humans that were considered early on in the game's design. Evil and corrupt, they were slavers and hedonists somewhat analogous to the Melnibonéans from Michael Moorcock's Elric Saga. They seemed out of place in the conflicts that we wanted to focus on, and so they never made it into the final game

Turbine Icon.png Toby Ragaini

Question 16

July, 2021 - [No Link]

Q: Were there any other features (game mechanics, quests, content, etc) that were planned (or even developed) that ultimately didn’t make it into the retail release?

A: Sure. You don't go through a five year development process without leaving a lot on the cutting room floor. We had imagined the game offering mounts and player housing, neither of which made it to launch. Swimming never made it in, despite having oceans and rivers in the game. I'm sure there are many others that I'm forgetting.

Turbine Icon.png Toby Ragaini

Question 17

July, 2021 - [No Link]

Q: There are many references to internal documents like a historical outline or database, and the original fiction written by you. Could you elaborate on these? Roughly speaking, what was in these documents?

A: I can remember working out the timeline as early as late '95 or early '96. Most of this was focused on Asheron and the Olthoi war, followed by the appearance of humans in Dereth and their eventual defeat of the Olthoi queen thanks to Elysa Strathelar and Thorsten Cragstone.

Turbine Icon.png Toby Ragaini

Question 18

July, 2021 - [No Link]

Q: An important part of AC’s lore are the Sendings of Darkness. How did you define a Sending of Darkness? Would you be able to elaborate on the Sendings that occurred in AC’s backstory: the first, second, and third Sendings?

A: Sorry, the sendings along with all the history of the Falatacot and Dericost are not my work, so I can't really speak to it. I think this may have been Stormwaltz's contribution?

Turbine Icon.png Toby Ragaini

Question 19

July, 2021 - [No Link]

Q: It’s interesting to hear that the Sendings of Darkness were not originally part of the Shadow lore. What did the pre-Sendings lore for Shadows look like? In his Q&A session, Stormwaltz mentioned that Jhirvall was the Kemeroi that changed Ilservian into the Hopeslayer, and that fact was established long ago. Does that line up with what you recall? Were there more details about the Shadows?

A: I had established the events that would later be described as the third sending: Ilservian's transformation into Bael'Zharon, the death of Lord Atlan, and Bael'Zharon's eventual imprisonment by the group including Asheron's Mother. I also sketched out the live events that would later become the fourth sending. But the categorization of these as discrete events was done by another.

Turbine Icon.png Toby Ragaini

Question 20

July, 2021 - [No Link]

Q: Similarly, in his Q&A, Stormwaltz gave a very detailed answer about the origin of the Empyrean, the menhir, the gods, and the creation of the world/universe. What were the early origin stories for those, as you remember?

A: The cosmology of Auberean that Stormwaltz describes is, I believe, largely of his own creation. He took some early fragments that I had developed and fleshed out something much more comprehensive. I'll note that 'Auberean' is a play on my internal email address at the time, auberon@turbine.com.

Turbine Icon.png Toby Ragaini

Question 21

July, 2021 - [No Link]

Q: The original sketch of Dereth is really interesting. While lacking many of the features of the Dereth that came to be, it is still clearly recognizable. Could you provide any additional details on the locations shown? The Goddess Keep and Lin Vac Tukaal are particularly interesting.

A: Lin Vac Tukaal was envisioned as the Lugian stronghold from its earliest inception. I believe Goddess Keep became Fort Tethana. Similarly, New Teldon became Cragstone. And obviously Aiden's tower would become Asheron's castle.

Turbine Icon.png Toby Ragaini

Question 22

July, 2021 - [No Link]

Q: There have been some name changes in early AC. The game itself was once called Empyrean. The Gharu’ndim were originally called the Garondish. And it's been said that Asheron was originally named Aiden, and Ilservian Palacost was originally named Yservius Pentecost. Are there any other original names that didn’t make it to retail?

A: All the names went through Microsoft to ensure they weren't copyrighted or in use by another company. Empyrean was Asheron's race, but some other game was using the word Empyrean, so Microsoft wasn't comfortable using that. Similarly, there was another game that featured a character named Aiden, and so we changed that as well. I think you hit all the big changes tho.

Turbine Icon.png Toby Ragaini

Question 23

July, 2021 - [No Link]

Q: There were a handful of creatures that were shrouded in mystery until the end of AC. This includes the Virindi, Wisps, and Zefir. What were the backgrounds and origins of these creatures?

A: The Virindi were imagined as beings from another dimension that were attracted to Dereth because of the instability Asheron's portal magic caused. Unlike most of the other monsters, the Virindi chose to come to Dereth and had their own inscrutable agenda. My intent was for them to evoke a kind of cosmic horror aspect; truly alien and unknowable beings that existed outside the understanding of humanity. At one point, I had planned for them to create an alliance with the forces of Bael'Zharon but I don't think the team went that route after I left. The wisps and zefir didn't feature prominently at least in my material. I believe they were added to the game after my involvement.

Turbine Icon.png Toby Ragaini

Question 24

July, 2021 - [No Link]

Q: Similarly, was there ever any more detail about the origin of some of the more mundane beasts, like Armoredillos, Mites, Monouga, Shreth, or Tuskers? Or were they simply creatures from other worlds, with details to be determined later?

A: Yeah, of those creatures you mention, the Mites were the ones that had the most backstory. I had imagined they reproduced very quickly, and a possible threat was that they would overrun Dereth with shear numbers, creating a crisis of sorts. In general, we didn't specify the worlds where the other creatures came from simply because we had so much world building to do. Each new place represented a daunting amount of work for what would arguably add very little to the game.

Turbine Icon.png Toby Ragaini

Question 25

July, 2021 - [No Link]

Q: Are there any other interesting tidbits of lore you’d like to share?

A: Checking my earliest notes, Asheron's first name wasn't Aiden. He's first mentioned in my notes as 'Bracilae'. Along with this: 'After kindred left, Bracilae stayed to close the Portal, but he goofed and the energy fractured into lots of others.' That is the first mention of the character that would eventually be known as Asheron.

Turbine Icon.png Toby Ragaini
Advertisement