Troika - A Fan's Visit
by Stravaig, posted on 11 December 2000
Note: This article also appeared at Dimensions of Arcanum
Yes, fellow fanboy geeks, I have made the pilgrimage
to the Temple of Ultimate Coolness - the Fabled Troika Offices. I have
abased myself with proper piety in the Most Awesome Presence of the Holy
Triumvirate (and shook hands with) Tim, Leon and Jason.
Mine eyes have beheld the Sacred Artifacts: the
Bug Board, the Area Board, and the Herald of Doom itself, the fearsome
Relentless Countdown Clock.
But lest I get too far ahead of myself, let me start
over at the beginning.
Knowing that a business trip to Southern California
would take me within mere miles of the Mecca of Gaming, I disclosed this
to HeroMan, who provided me with an address and phone number. Unfortunately,
it was their old address and phone number, but I was not to be deterred.
Through my own devices and resources, I managed to get their new number.
So, on Thursday morning, prior to my 1pm flight
out of John Wayne airport, I called Troika and was connected with none
other than Shellman.
She was either actually pleased to hear from me,
or feigned it extremely well. I got directions to their new place, and
quickly caught a taxi there.
I was dropped off at the door with my luggage in
hand, my heart in my throat, and my eyes not entirely in their sockets.
I entered, and was faced with vacant but heavily
used desks, and the overwhelming realization that this is a small company.
As many know, I work for a major megacorporation, roughly 8,000 times
the size of Troika. At my place of employment, we faceless anonymous worker
bees are constantly harassed by Mr. Clean and his cohorts, Ergo-Lad and
Safety-Boy. Their wide-sweeping bureaucratic powers would be quickly rendered
impotent in most small companies, and Troika is no exception. Individual
expression and hard work being valued above conformity and subservience
what a concept. I was very glad for the change, and found the atmosphere
instantly exhilarating. I heard voices in the distance, and so reached
back outside to ring the doorbell and make the gaming gods I had come
to visit aware of my presence.
Shellman appeared and we performed the ritual greetings.
Despite my nervousness, I managed not to vomit on her. Things were off
to a good start.
Shellman's office is right inside the front door,
where she can do the daily office manager type duties of dealing with
mail, bills, shipping/receiving, chasing away solicitors and greeting
pathetic fanboys, as well as her other job of actually working on the
Jesse and Mike sit in an office just off hers, and
then down a short hallway is the conference room, dominated by a large
conference table, chairs, artwork (including the new box art!), the bug
board, the Relentless Countdown Clock, and the door to Tim's office.
Tim was in, with his recently acquired dog, Cooter.
Cooter is a very well behaved, hand-signal trained
dog, of dubious ancestry but showing what I believe to be some German
Shepherd heritage. Cooter is polite, approximately seven years old, and,
oddly for a dog, more touch oriented than scent; Cooter would rather put
his paws on you than sniff or lick you. Cooter is quiet and not overly
demanding of attention, except when it's time for his evening walk. Cooter
is my kind of dog.
Tim and I spoke for a while about various things
of great interest:
- Amongst the gems he let drop, the biggest was the fact that Magick is
no longer Int-based, but Will-based. We agreed that this change could
harm generalists, but made more sense for Arcanum's cosmology (since it
is one's will that subverts Nature and causes Magick to happen).
Another item of great interest to me was that the 'wait' function has
now been implemented in cities: no more taking a short walk, getting lunch,
going to the store, or taking a shower while waiting for the saboteurs
or waiting for Fat to regenerate!
- I learned that Tarant is pronounced "tuh-RANT" and
not "TAIR-ant," and that my delusion in this regard is not personal
in scope, but one that I share with a great many others, including Sierra.
- I learned that they are in the process of incorporating 'dumb'
journal entries. When a stupid character makes a journal entry, it is
now 'dumbed down.' I believe Leon is working on this, and one of the examples
Tim mentioned is from the crash site. Instead of "Virgil seems to
think I'm some sort of important religious figure," it's something
like, "Voi-gil say me impotent litigious person." It's little
things like this that make playing games like Arcanum so much fun.
- We also talked about other languages, and that they're going
to drop Italian. We spoke of the difficulties of translating not just
the words but the meaning into other languages. The dumb journal entries
are a good example: a direct translation of the above wouldn't work, because
of the play on words between 'important' and 'impotent.' It's little things
like this that make making games like Arcanum such a painful process.
Mike joined us, and we talked about some other gameplay
features, including the 'knockdown' feature. One aspect of knockdown is
that when your character fires a gun for which he does not have the required
minimum Str, he falls to the ground. I asked if this happens 100% of the
time, and Mike said yes. Since I feel that it would work better if there
was a percent chance based on the difference between the required Str
and the PC's Str, I relayed this opinion to Mike. He may have just been
being polite, but he did state that he'd consider it. Either way, it's
a pretty cool feature.
I tried to make it clear to Tim that I'd love to
work at Troika. I don't know if they really need my particular talents
(a thousand plus semi-worthless posts may not exactly be the credentials
they're looking for), but that they are slightly understaffed is a mild
concern. A few more dedicated folks can help any company make their deadlines,
and Troika's no exception. Speaking of deadlines, one of the conference
room's dominant features is the Herald of Doom: the Relentless Countdown
Clock, which was in need of some minor repair (new batteries, probably).
While Mike fixed the Doomsday Device, Cooter sat
next to me. I scratched his head a bit. He looked at me with affection.
The Relentless Countdown Clock is counting down the
days, hours, minutes and seconds until Troika's deadline of mid-February.
Since it's already counted down to zero twice before, they have all committed
their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor to ensuring that when it hits
zero the next time, Arcanum will be finished. Tim even joked about committing
seppuku if time ran out and it wasn't done. At least, I think he was joking
Sierra is also very interested in Troika making the
mid-February commitment. Tim mentioned cutting some areas, and trying
to keep the dialogue to under a million lines. The size of Arcanum is
daunting for a company the size of Troika, and the long hours must seem
endless at times. Still there are many features and areas yet to be finished,
and the team is working hard to finish them. Regarding some of these,
Sierra has a mantra: "Arcanum2." I laughed at this information,
because it sounded familiar to me. "Arcanum2," I told Tim, "is
also a common phrase on the boards." We come up with an awful lot
of ideas, some of them, in our opinion, are pretty darn good. But many
of them, we realize, couldn't possibly make it into the build in time.
"Arcanum2," we say. But Tim said "you'd be surprised; I
see some ideas and I think gee, that's a five minute change." It
warms a fanboy geek's heart to hear things like that, it really does.
Long hours and deadlines create the need to work
off some tension, and folks at Troika are fond of having a little fun.
One of the stress relief activities Troika-ites have
engaged in is the dangerous practice of putting dry ice and boiling water
into a plastic bottle and tossing it high into the air. Just don't be
standing too close when it comes back down. It seems that dry ice is a
common stress-relieving commodity at Troika; much joy is generated by
the arrival of shipments of frozen goods packed with this amazing substance.
I believe, but I could be mistaken, but I believe that I heard the words
"dry ice" and "spooky urinal" in the same sentence.
As much fun as that sounds, I doubt it would go over very well at my place
I left Cooter (and Tim) and went down a short hallway,
past the restrooms, to a cavernous area that I shall refer to as
the Cavernous Area.
The Cavernous Area is a large windowless room off
of which are the nursery, the kitchen, most of the other offices (Leon's,
Jason's, Chad's), and in which reside Troika's in-house testers (Tiffany,
Sissie and Scott), as well as the Area Board, a large sofa, large television,
and several console game set-ups. One of the Cavern Trolls, I mean, testers,
was gracious enough to let me use her machine for a short while, and so
I gratefully sat down and was able to play a bit with the very latest
build. Big thanks to Tiffany.
I explored the newest character creation screen.
That's screen, singular, not screens, plural. All the character generation
choices are presented on a single screen, and the effects of race and
background on stats is visible. Jason the Hairy stopped by, and I had
a few comments for him regarding this interface (a way to more easily
see/scroll through the backgrounds would be nice), but overall it's a
big improvement. I did get the game to crash after creating my character,
though, (nothing drastic, just one too many save/load cycles), so I started
with one of Tiffany's saved games, hoping to see parts of Arcanum I had
yet to see.
I got to play around in Stillwater for a bit, checking
out the terrain and NPCs, but I was mostly interested in interface changes
and the like.
The Log Book is now a single book with multiple tabs
that incorporate all the recorded information, including Quests, Rumors,
Kills, Blessings, Reputations and etc. I proclaimed this as yet another
great little improvement.
The Inventory now packs things a bit more intelligently,
and I took advantage of another opportunity to tell Jason of a small peeve.
When shuffling stuff around in Inventory, it would be nice to not have
to hold the mouse button down while clicking-and-dragging. Click to pick
up, and click to drop. This is a very personal preference, so I don't
know what Jason thought of my mini-rant
I shan't expect it to be
changed, but one can hope.
While I had Jason's ear, I also pointed out the potential
confusion with the spell purchase screens (especially the way in which
it looks like followers have all the first level spells). This hadn't
been changed, and still felt confusing to me. Behind his beard, Jason
was, by now, probably gritting his teeth and thinking that I had made
my visit with the sole intention of griping about the various interfaces
and generally being a pest. If nothing else, he was patient with me, and
I appreciate that.
I was introduced to Arcanum's canine follower, Dogmeat's
cousin, "Worthless Mutt." Shellman was still looking for ways
of making Mutt more interactive with the PC. It will take some doing to
replace the beloved Dogmeat in our fanboy hearts, but I have faith that
Shellman will succeed.
The game ran very smoothly on Tiffany's machine,
and I enjoyed running into some new monsters. There were bears and wolves
and some type of ultra-dangerous wolf that, had I known what I was doing,
might not have killed me. But it did, and so ended my little jaunt.
Barefoot Leon came over from his office and I got
to say hey. Most of the folks at Troika know of me, and know me as Stravaig.
Having over a thousand posts at their board can have that effect. Leon,
amongst others, made comments regarding my prolific posting, and I caught
at least one compliment regarding the general quality, insightfulness,
brilliance and usefulness of my posts. Or maybe I imagined that
I would have loved to meet Chad "Seymour"
"Sir Chadwick" Moore, but unfortunately (for me, not for him)
he was on vacation in Italy. That anyone was being allowed to take vacation
gave me a slight shock, but then again, if anyone has earned some time
off, it's these folks.
Time was drawing short, and the need to dash to
the airport was flirting with becoming urgent. Shellman walked me back
out to her office, and I asked if she would sit down and show me the editor.
I got to see Quintarra (very, very cool looking -
the screenshots do not do it justice), as well as the Spot Trap Master's
a dangerous place, not for the faint of heart or
the heavy of foot.
The editor is comprehensive. Given Arcanum's complexity,
the editor is about as intuitive as it can be, which is unfortunately
not very. There are an incredible number of options and variables to consider,
and the editor handles them all. Mod makers are going to have a very powerful
tool on their hands, but making a mod of any serious complexity will be
a big challenge and require many hours. Luckily, most of us fanboys enjoy
such challenges, and are more than happy to put in the required hours.
Social life be damned, I will see my Blazing Saddles mod brought to glorious
As Shellman worked a bit with the editor and showed
me some dialogue files, I glanced out the window and saw Tim returning
from giving Cooter a walk. It struck me that getting a dog was a tactical
move of pure genius. Working in a cube all day, I understand the need
for getting up and out in order to preserve mental health, but very rarely
do I actually meet that need (that my mental health has suffered noticeably
shan't be argued here, but there are plenty of posts at the Inn which
would aid even those of extremely challenged perception in drawing an
accurate conclusion regarding the state of my sanity). But Tim has resolved
this potentially dangerous situation by the masterstroke of obtaining
a dog that requires walking several times a day. If I could only convince
Mr. Clean and Safety-Boy that bringing a dog to work would somehow result
in enhanced productivity I, too, could benefit from Tim's genius. Yeah,
and Mongbats might fly out of my butt.
Shellman was getting ready to go spend some quality
mom-time with her daughter, and so we said our goodbyes while I worked
up the boldness to ask a boon. A simple t-shirt, this and nothing more.
Alas, 'twas not to be! There was only one t-shirt left, and that one was
being reserved for Eiloch's poetry contest. I did get to see it, though
(salt in an open wound, that was) and whomever is the winner will be very
pleased with their prize, I must say.
This set me to reflecting, once more, about what
a great group of folks comprise Troika. They truly treat their fans better
than we deserve. Their willingness to meet me and spend time with me,
as well as the time they spend with all of us on the boards is very much
appreciated. Offering prizes for a poetry contest is the proverbial icing
on the cake.
Shellman left, but Jesse was now in his office,
and I got to see the new Save Game screen. Again, this was a vast improvement.
He was still working on allowing the user to alter the saved game name,
and also on incorporating additional descriptive text into the accompanying
screenshot. They are very close now to having all of these 'minor' changes
finished, and then it'll be a massive bug hunt until they ship.
I was starting to get a bit nervous about making
my flight, and asked for a phone book in order to call for a taxi. Now,
I must admit that in my wildest dreams one of the Troika-ites would, at
this point, offer me a ride to the airport. Well, visiting Troika in the
first place was a dream come true, so why not this one too? And indeed,
Jesse offered me a ride to the airport. The opportunity to spend some
1:1 time with Ilraven was too good to pass up.
I made a quick trip to the restroom. The urinal,
thankfully, wasn't being spooky. I said quick goodbyes to Cooter (and
Tim) and walked back out to the front office, passing the new box art
poster on the way.
A description of the new box art is, I think, in
order. It is similar in many ways to the old one: it is framed in a gear,
and an Elven babe is predominate. The gear, however, is not on a white
background, but is cut out of a more Techie looking background of metal
plates. Within the cutout, the Elven babe is less benign looking, and
has face paint. Below her are the Mage and the flamethrower wielding Dwarf
from the splash screen. There is also a steam engine, and an image of
an eerily backlit forest complete with an intrepid explorer. It is yet
another fantastic example of the improvements and fine-tuning that Troika
continues to make daily.
Well, my visit was at an end, and Jesse drove me
to the airport, a few too-short minutes away. Along the way we chatted
about various things. Jesse was, like the rest of the folks I had met
during my pilgrimage, very friendly and open. For those of you who've
spent much time on the boards, I just want to say that yes, the people
at Troika are as nice, as dedicated, and as thoroughly goofy as their
One thing I was curious about was their plans for
after they ship. A party would be nice, we agreed, and there would certainly
be some time off for all the Troika-ites and the need to reacquaint themselves
with sorely neglected friends and family. My sense, however, was that
none of them are thinking that far ahead yet. Oh, they want to finish
the game, alright, but their focus is not on being done, it's on getting
done. Doing what it takes now, not spending time considering much beyond
This is one focused team, friends. It's also one
company made up of very fine individuals who know how to treat their fans.
And this is one very happy, very fanatic fan.