The Tome of Knowledge is undeniably cool.
I say this with every ounce of humility, and it has little to do with the fact that I’m working on it. I say this because not a conversation about the Tome goes by where I don’t end up leaving, pad of paper and pen in hand, rushing back to my desk to take notes about new Tome ideas. Every presentation I’ve ever given has begun with me suggesting some of the ways in which we use the Tome, and the recipients giving me fifty of their own ideas. My mother tells me what she’d like to see in the Tome. The press tells us what to put in the Tome. People at conventions tell us what should go in the Tome. And above all, every person working on Warhammer Online has an impact on what goes into the Tome.
So it is my great honor to be able to work on this system.
For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the concept of the Tome of Knowledge, allow me to use common references that may set your imagination ablaze. Picture the diary that Sean Connery (Henry Jones) keeps in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and then multiply by it by the Xbox 360 Achievement system, and then multiply that by a thousand.
If we could find a way to get the Tome of Knowledge to begin spitting out cupcakes, it would probably be my favorite thing ever.
Welcome to the story of Roosevelt the Engineer
So what is it really? The Tome of Knowledge is a book. It’s a book that is written while you play Warhammer Online. It tells the story of the Age of Reckoning, the events that go on in the game, and it tells the story of your character, the things you do and see and interact with as you play. Because it does all these things, the Tome tracks a lot of information.
And this information is tracked in several different ways. Some of it is referential, so you can use the Tome of Knowledge to learn more about the game and the IP of Warhammer. But we don’t just define the things you encounter, including the most fundamental basics like WAAAGH! and beer. We use storytelling mechanisms to introduce you to these items with flavor. It’s informational for people who are new to Warhammer, and fun to read for veterans.
For example, let’s take the Tome of Knowledge entry on “Grudges”. If you make a new Dwarf, like Roosevelt the Engineer, and explore the starting area for Dwarfs, you may come across a book on a bench. It’s a Grudge Book, and by finding it, you’ll get a little bit of experience and some information about what Grudges are. The way it’s told, you’re definitely going to understand that Dwarfs hold grudges…for a long, long, long, long time, and you’re going to get an anecdotal story to confirm it.
Roosevelt learns about Grudges from the Grudge Book found in Mordrin’s Anvil
Some of the information in the Tome is tracked by keeping a record, literally with numbers, of the things that you’re doing in the game. Let’s take for example, killing monsters. The Tome of Knowledge tracks every monster that you kill, ever. It doesn’t matter if you’re paying attention to the Tome or not, it’s going to keep track of it. And in all cases, you’re going to get a reward for doing it.
But on top of achieving kill thresholds (1, 10, 100 of specific monster kills, for example), the Tome tracks and challenges you to come up with other ways to interface with monsters. Say you’re walking through an area and you’re killing basilisks. There’s a chance that maybe one of them drops an item, a backpack belonging to a Dwarf back in town. You may notice the name and recognize it, or you may sell it as junk loot and get a few copper for it. But say you recall the reference, and take the backpack back to its owner. Well, then you’ve accomplished a special task for being so observant, and the Tome is going to reward you for it.
And we don’t just track this for monster kills, but for everything in the game: doing quests, interacting with objects, finding areas, etc. We even comment on the way in which you play the game, so there are Tome unlocks for perhaps the duration of your play (whether it’s a positive or negative reflection on you :P), or the things that you do at the keyboard. There is no system that the Tome doesn’t touch.
Roosevelt exacts punishment on the Goblins, and gets several Tome of Knowledge unlocks for doing so.
So how does this work? How do we develop for the Tome of Knowledge? How do the vast numbers of people working on Warhammer Online contribute to it?
There are really two phases to the work on the Tome of Knowledge. The first is creation, and the second is supplementation.
There is a team, a group of artists, programmers, writers, designers, and implementers that have worked on the Tome of Knowledge on a daily basis. These are the people responsible for making the framework in the Tome. They are the ones that came up with the content that is going to be in the Tome (and forgot the cupcakes!), including delineating all of the various sections within it and determining what each of those sections were going to look like.
Once the concept of the Tome was born, we needed to define what exactly the Tome is and what it isn’t, what it can contain and what it can’t. There was a moment, early on, where there was a real danger that too many things were going into the Tome. It became the catch-all for every line of text in the game, every UI element, every piece of information. But we all knew that the Tome had to be cool, so there were a lot of discussions and a lot of design documentation establishing exactly what goes into each section. What makes something a Bestiary entry and what makes something an Achievement? Where do we give away the coolest rewards, and what are they? What stuff doesn’t go in the Tome?
The guidelines and rule sets have all been established and agreed upon, but we’ll get changes and iterations (often based on player feedback), probably for…ever. Right now, however, we’re full force in the second phase of the Tome of Knowledge - supplementing the framework with tons and tons of cool content.
For example, most recently we’ve been working on Achievements. Achievements are the section in the Tome where you don’t know what to expect. Achievements are things that are granted out of the blue, and are often a commentary on your play style. There are RVR achievements, exploration achievements, essentially achievements for every thing in the game. So the first order of business was for the Tome team designers and implementers to meet with every other team in Warhammer Online. We scheduled meetings with the people working on the Cities, on quests, on RVR, on crafting, on everything… and then had huge brain dumps, where people came up with every possible thing we’d want to track. Let’s track kills, let’s track deaths, let’s track kill to death ratios, let’s track kills over time, let’s track deaths over time, let’s track kills in certain areas, and survival in others.
Working closely with the teams that conceived and defined each of the game systems helps us to closely understand the ways in which people would use them, allowing us to make even more interesting Tome unlocks. Tome brainstorming sessions remind me of the scene in The Hudsucker Proxy when they’re trying to think of a name for the Hula Hoop, and they’re standing behind closed doors shouting “The Dancing Dingus! The Belly-Go-Round! The Wacky Circumference! The Shazzameter! The Daddy-O!” Ultimately, of course, we’re going to arrive at the Hula Hoop, even if we have a few Daddy-O ideas along the way. And even then, sometimes we’ll put the fun and funny ideas in too.
After the brain dump, everything needs to go by the programmers (under the watchful eye of the Tome's lead programmer, Kristen Neal) to make sure that it’s feasible to track the information. The UI artists get involved to help us with laying out the Tome of Knowledge, and making sure that we’re presenting all this information in a way that’s easy to understand. The writers write the text that we’ll grant along with tome unlocks, the implementers come up with cool ways in which you find/achieve them, and hook them up. And then next thing you know, you’re running through the world and you get a title reward for finding an out of the way area in the game.
Because so many people are involved, because every team knows everything about the areas of the game they’re working on, and because we solicit their input, the Tome of Knowledge becomes intrinsically integrated into the gameplay. I think that’s one of the things that makes it so satisfying. That, and all the cool rewards, of course.
But above all, I think what makes the Tome of Knowledge so special is that it’s your story. We are simply making a vessel to show you how you play Warhammer Online, and we expect people’s Tomes to express their different play styles and methodologies. While we are making one Tome, we are also making many. We are making your Tome. It’s waiting for you, and we can’t wait for you to come and check it out.
2006 Aug 26 21:31 GMT