April 6, 1998

Listen to the chat with Real Audio! (Click Below)

Universal says "Coming to you live from Universal Studios - it's The Backlot Cafe. Today is Monday, April 6 and you're chatting live at Real Hollywood - the place you need to be. My name is Jeremy Berg (aka MingoJones) and I'll be your moderator for the evening."

Universal says "Tonight we're happy to have Susan Dodd chatting with us!!! Susan is the producer of the new online role-playing game Hercules and Xena: Alliance of Heroes!! You won't want to miss this chat! It's going to be super cool!"

SusanDodd coughs noisily.

Universal says "Before we begin, I want to take the time to introduce The Backlot Café crew and explain to you how to participate in tonight's moderated chat. As always, your Backlot Café crew consists of the following stellar individuals:  Jennifer Koziol (aka Back Meat), Steve Leff (aka The Penguin), Jeff Pakosta (aka Tossed Salad) and Troy Rutter (aka Man with no Job). To put it simply….these guys (and gals) jam!"

Universal says "OK chatters, listen up!!! Here are some instructions on asking questions during tonight's live chat: If you'd like to ask a question, there is a question mark icon on the menu bar you can click on, or just type /ask space and then type in your question. If you're using the Java client, click Ask Question (it's located in the bottom right section of  the screen)."

Universal says "And for all of you Excite users out there - Thanks for joining us!!! If you're using Excite's VP chat, ask a question by clicking on the "Something to Say?" button on the lower right corner of the stage. All right folks, let's move onto the big event. This evening we're privileged to have Susan Dodd with us!!!"

Universal says "Susan Dodd is co-producer and product manager of Hercules and Xena: Alliance of Heroes and product manager of GemStone III. Suz (as she likes to be called) started with Simutronics in May of 1993 as an Assistant GameMaster for GemStone III and since that time has contributed significantly to the growth of Simutronics."

Universal says "In the spirit of, "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys" and "Xena: Warrior Princess", Universal Studios Online and Simutronics invite you to experience an exciting online fantasy role-playing game! Hercules and Xena: Alliance of Heroes will give you the chance to live in the ancient world traveled each week by Hercules and Xena - but this time you are the hero!"

Universal says "All right chatters, let's get to it!! Ladies and gentleman…….it's chat time!!! Without any further ado, please welcome Susan Dodd to the Backlot Cafe!!!"

Universal says "Should I call you Suz or Susan?"

SusanDodd says "Suz is good! Either one works!"

Universal says "I think it's going to be Suz! So where did you get your start?"

SusanDodd says "Well, I actually got my start on Genie on chat."

Universal says "I remember that. How long did that last for?"

SusanDodd says "I was there for maybe 2 years. Then I found Gemstone."

Universal says "With Gemstone and Simutronics, you've been there since 1993?"

SusanDodd says "Yes."

Universal says "And you've been having a good time?"

SusanDodd says "Of course! Its a great job!"

Universal says "What's a day in the life of Suz like these days at Simutronics?"

SusanDodd says "I actually start a little earlier, I get up at 7:30 and from home I read all the message boards for the two games I run. Our work day starts here at 11 in the morning. First thing is email and then it's a combination of meetings, plans for whats going to happen in the games. What's going to happen with the web site.. keeping in contact with my bosses and the people who help me with the designs of the games - and a LOT of talking to players and seeing what it is they like and want."

Universal says "When you talk to the players, you talk to them in the game or a message board type of thing?"

SusanDodd says "Message boards, and I spend a lot of time in the game talking to players and the gamemasters"

Universal says "I was a gamer myself and its' cool to find out what they like and figure out how to make it better."

SusanDodd says "We get a lot of our best ideas from the players."

spicoli asks "So what is this game all about? Can you give us a run down on how it works?"

SusanDodd says "The idea with this game is that you're not going to be Hercules or Xena. You're going to come into the game and play a character that might have lived during that time. Your goal is to become like Hercules or Xena.. hopefully. So as you get more experience, you learn more moves like they do."

Universal says "Are you a guy or girl in the game?"

SusanDodd says "You can choose whichever you like. You can be a Centaur."

Universal says "Oooh! Centaur!"

SusanDodd says "Thats my favorite thing to play! Or you can be a giant."

Universal says "Is it like any game out there? Like Diablo or Warcraft or is it totally different?"

SusanDodd says "This is a text based game. So, if you've ever been to a MUD.. its that type of game. But MUD to us is an insult because we've taken it a lot further - not putting them down! We're a lot more rich and have more texture."

Universal says "So it's like an early edition of Zork?"

SusanDodd says "It's that type of game. It's not so much an insult, but doesn't encompass everything. Some of the first computer games were Zork and Leather Goddesses of Phobos and stuff like that. "An old Infocom game."

Universal says "Leather Goddesses of Phobos! Some of the titles of role playing games are just so funny"

SusanDodd says "That's a great one!"

Universal says "I used to work for Computer Gamer magazine and we had a contest for the funniest role playing game title"

SusanDodd says "They're a lot of fun and I think a lot of us got our love of text games from those"

Universal says "Jennifer over here was a big role playing game fan"

SusanDodd says "She better come and check us out then!"

Girlie asks "What's Gemstone II?"

SusanDodd says "III you mean. Gemstone III is also a text based game - it was really our first big text based game. The first really big one, we believe that it is the largest online role-playing game anywhere. We have thousands of players. That is a similar game in that it uses the same engine, the ISE, Hercules & Xena uses that engine, as."

guest4152 asks "what was the first game that you ever worked on?"

SusanDodd says "That would be Gemstone III"

Girlie asks "What is the thing you like most about the game? and why."

SusanDodd says "I like the atmosphere we've created. We spent a lot of time and energy into trying to create something that had the same atmosphere as the TV shows have, which is lighthearted and campy, a lot of tongue and cheek humor. Combat there is fancy acrobatic moves, hardly any blood. Thats a lot of fun - I like that. I like the atmosphere of the TV shows"

Loozer asks "What is a producer's role when producing games?"

SusanDodd says "Good question! The producer is the person who has to coordinate the whole staff including the designers, the programmers - and get the job done. Its like being the producer on a television show. Where you have to put all the pieces together and come out with something that is hopefully a very nice whole. John and I spent a lot of time asking ourselves "is this right?" and if it fits the game - all of tha. It's a fun job and I enjoy it a lot!"

Universal says "What's the next project you're producing?"

SusanDodd says "I don't know. I'll probably be on this one for a while. It's, officially we've had our grand opening but we still have a lot of work to do. We built this in 8 months. I don't know how we did that!"

Universal says "8 months! That is a short time!"

SusanDodd says "We usually say 12-18 months."

SusanDodd laughs hysterically.

SusanDodd says "That means that it's still going to be growing for a few years. We still have a lot of systems that we want to add and a lot of things we want to do."

GS3Rayvynne asks "love ya Fawn, just wanted to say im having a great time .. but Gods i can hardly keep both games goin at once! two questions..are the Diteties in Xena going to get as involved in goings on as the Arkati do? and do you think we will get Storylines as involved as say .. the Vvrael quest?( which im loving )"

SusanDodd says "The Gods on both the hercules and Xena shows are very involved with the mortals. We think that's a really fun part of the game."

SusanDodd says "And so, I would expect to see them meddling quite a bit. As far as the storylines - oh yes! We have some very creative gamemasters that love to keep the playeres guessing. So yes to both of those questions!"

Steve25 asks "What made you think of using the Hercules and Xena characters for the game?"

SusanDodd says "Actually Universal came to us! They decided they wanted to do a game and we were one of the companies they came to."

Universal says "Did Jae Samon approach you guys?"

SusanDodd says "I dont know who it was - that would have been through marketing. I can remember when David brought this up to us a year ago and asked what we thought - we thought it was the coolest thing we've ever heard. That was how it came about - we have a lot of fans of the show here. Also, the idea of doing a game based in the Greek and Roman mythos was real intriguing. It was fun to build ancient Greece New Zealand style"

Universal says "It's a good backdrop for this type of game."

SusanDodd says "The research was fun! Most of us new how to do mideivel things, but Greece was something new."

Girlie asks "How long does it take to get through the entire game?"

SusanDodd says "Hopefully the answer is: you will never get through the entire game. Our games are built around communities. We want players to come in, meet other players, fall in love -we've had many marriages"

Universal says "Really!"

SusanDodd says "We continually expand it, so if you run out of game, you will have more game soon! The game never ends, nobody ever wins! Hopefully you stay with it for a long time. Its not like some of the graphic games that has a 2-3 months life... we have about a 20 month life!"

Universal says "Oh my God!! 20 months playing a game!!"

SusanDodd says "A 20 month retention... and remember thats an average. There are people in Gemstone who have played longer than I have! Thats six years!"

Loozer asks "Do you find that people are fascinated with what you do or do they not even understand it?"

SusanDodd says "Yes to both! I think people are fascinated to think about the possibility of having a job where your job is to play a game or build a game or try other games. And yet, a lot of people dont understand it, because the Internet is such a huge thing and we think everybody knows about it, but there are people who are jut getting a handle on it. My own mother probably doesnt know what this game is! It sounds like a cool thing, and it sounds fun, but they don't totally understand it."

Universal says "It's a tough one to make everyone real clear on if they have no experience with these games"

SusanDodd says "Right. They'll ask me "Do all these people pay long distance charges"?"

spicoli asks "Is it easy to pick up this game the first time you play????"

SusanDodd says "Im glad you asked because we specifically designed this game for people who have never played this type of game before. One of our primary design goals was to make it simple. Some things that anybody could learn how to play within say an hour. You should be able to get around and buy things and go hunt very quickly. We put a lot of energy into making it easy and to get help for the new guy coming in."

Universal says "Can you describe the process of getting involved in the game? Is it free?"

SusanDodd says "For 30 days."

Universal says "Tell us a little about getting involved"

SusanDodd says "Sure, first thing is to get the account, come into the game. We have a couple of front-ends... When youcome in, the first thing you do is pick a name. And that is the name you will have for the life of your character. I don't wanna see "Fuzzbuster" hanging around in ancient Greece! And then you pick your gender - male or female. And then you'll pick your race: Human, Centaur or Giant. And your profession... warrior, rogue, priest, alchemist and storyteller. And that's it!"

SusanDodd says "Your statistics or stats are randomly generated for you and you get into the game and asked how much help you want. If you think you know what you're doing you can start off and then maybe decide if you want help. You can then take a tour, like how to move, talk , how to pick things up and all that. And then, you will be finally - if you've taken the tour, you will be placed in the garden, which is where the newcomers start. We usually have mentors there helping the new players out."

Universal says "How many people are usually on at any given time?"

SusanDodd says "We're still small. So, Gemstone you have 1,500 people, we've only been open a week - maybe 100-150 people."

Universal says "When do you expect to top the 1500 mark?"

SusanDodd says "Any day! No, I'm not serious! I would love to top 1500! I think if the fans take us to heart, we could top that quickly.I hope they like what we've done and we could top that number. That would make me very happy!"

Universal says "And a lot of people here at Universal I'm sure."

SusanDodd says "And my boss very happy!"

squeekie asks "are you a big fan of Herc and Xena or did you just get roped into this project?"

SusanDodd says "I begged them to let me do this project."

Universal says "Was there anyone else there who liked the show as much or are you a die hard fan?"

SusanDodd says "I think that, among the people who wanted to work on it, we all begged to be let in. We thought it had a lot of potential. I love whimsy and humor - I saw this as a way to do a game that was humorous in nature - that people would not expect to be so serious. Sometimes in Gemstone, the gamemasters think I lean towards the silly side. Well, and you need it in all the games, but we put a lot more emphasis than the other games. We have a great excuse!"

Universal says "You're working on a property that let you do that"

SusanDodd says "Exactly! It's expected!"

SouthPkKenny asks "Do any of the writers on the show contribute to the online journeys?"

SusanDodd says "We are expecting that to happen. We're hoping to get some early information about episodes to come so that we can create things in the game to mirror the show. And hopefully it will go both ways. But yes, we do have plans to do that. You might see an area first in the game and who knows next season you'll see it on one of the series"

Universal says "We should probably give out the URL right now. You wanna tell us what it is?"

SusanDodd says "h t t p://www.herculesxena.play.net. If you cant remember, just go to play.net and pick your game from there."

Elric asks "Do you do any of the programming for the games themselves, or is that handled by other people?"

SusanDodd says "Yes, we have a staff of gamemasters that does a lot of the scripting in the game - well, we do all of it. We have engine, but the gamemasters do program the game. I don't program a lot because I have people who are better than me! but I like to for fun! When a newcomer comes on, they get a token and you can toss it - I scripted that. I tend to do smaller projects so I can concentrate on the whole thing. I scripted the gem-shop there."

Universal says "What can we blame you for!?"

SusanDodd says "The gem cutter! LOL! I have people who are a lot better at it - and you can blame then! Oh gosh - I dont know - probably blame me for the whole thing! Me and John - it's our fault."

Universal says "If you hate the game, let Suz know!"

SusanDodd says "but you won't - it's fun!"

Girlie asks "What is the ultimate goal to playing the game?"

SusanDodd says "To become more Hercules or more like Xena. To be able to do the really flashy combat moves... to acquire a lot of fancy equipment and to make a lot of friends. Some people it may be just to get married! We have in-game weddings!"

Universal says "Really!?"

SusanDodd says "Yep! Really!"

Universal says "Wow!"

Steve25 asks "What is your favorite role playing game, besides the Herc and Xena one!"

SusanDodd says "Well, of course Gemstone III!"

SusanDodd laughs hysterically.

Universal says "Do you go out and buy CD-ROMs at all?"

SusanDodd says "I do. We play a lot around the office. Everybody here loves to play. We play all kinds of different things."

Universal says "From Quake to . . . ?"

SusanDodd says "The current big one is Starcraft. I'm not very good, these guys all grew up with these games - that's my excuse for never winning! For a slower-paced game that we all play - we've been playing a lot of Worms 2."

Universal says "Is that a fun game? I played the demo of Worms but I didn't give it enough time"

SusanDodd says "It is a lot of fun! It takes a little bit of practice. We hook up all the phones so we're talking while we play! It's kind of crazy!"

Universal says "I heard Carmaggedon was fun."

SusanDodd says "Im not a very violent person, but I had a ball with Carmageddon"

Heath96001 asks "Hi. Are the supporting characters also part of the game (i.e. Joxer, Autolycus, Salmoneus, etc.)."

SusanDodd says "Yeah, they will be! In fact, We've tried to put references to the shows wherever we can. Was it Joxer who had a Taco Bell stand? I think we have that in the game!"

Universal says "That's funny. I didn't know that!"

SusanDodd says "I think it was him. We're going to have the sundial-wrist-dial things that Salmoneous had. Last wednesday, Herc made an appearance! He made a lot of appearances in Athens the day Herc turned into a pig. He was chased by a young rogue type with wild blonde hair."

Girlie asks "Have you ever had players 'get out of hand'?"

SusanDodd says "Oh.. of course!"

Universal says "What do you do in a situation like that?"

SusanDodd says "We try to talk to them and convince them that they'd have a lot more fun out with their friends then in a room somewhere. There's a percentage of people who come in to cause trouble. When we find people like that, we hope they are confused. We talk to them, see if they really want to play. Sometimes they just don't understand... if they are determined to cause problems, WE HAVE OUR WAYS."

Universal says "As are we here at Real Hollywood! There is nothing more fun than muting obnoxious people! I do that to my employees sometimes!"

SusanDodd laughs hysterically.

cyberkosta asks "I am a hot young gamer and I want to know what I should do to get my work seen?"

Universal says "He's probably just doing stuff from his house and thinks he's a hot young designer!"

SusanDodd says "We get design proposals and they are welcome to send them to us. I can forward them along to John who handles that kind of thing. If they see something they like - you never know!"

Universal says "Do you wanna give it out?"

SusanDodd says "Send them to suz@simutronics.com. And I will make sure they go to the right people!"

Girlie asks "What is the strangest thing that you've encountered as a role play gamer?"

SusanDodd says "I've encountered stranger things as a game-master. I can't think of a good answer to that! Probably people. People will do the oddest things. It's a gamemaster story... we were running an event in Gemstone, we decided we would have a thunderstorm and windstorm. I was a new gamemaster, running around and knocking people down... and I'd knock em all over. I was doing this for a while and I knocked down a whole room of people. They couldn't see me, another guy walked in, looked in the room and he laid down in the middle of all these other people. He figured if they were laying down, he should lay down! I really liked that guy!"

Universal says "Did he stick around and keep playing?"

SusanDodd says "In fact, I think he's still around! It was just a funny moment!"

SusanDodd laughs hysterically.

Universal says "These people who play, are they on every day or do some just come in each week?"

SusanDodd says "I think most of our people come in every day but you dont have to. You could pop in every week or so, you might miss something fun., A lot of our players come in for an hour or two. Just to visit,see what's going on. If theres something happening in town they want o be part of."

SouthPkKenny asks "Who put the bop in my shooby-do ****, she bop - who put the lang in my rama-lama-ding dong?"

SusanDodd says "I think it was Chef!"

Universal laughs

Universal says "Good answer!"

Steve25 asks "What are some other types of Simutronics games out there?"

SusanDodd says "We've got several others - we have Dragon Realms, which is a spinoff of Gemstone III - it's very different in a lot of ways"

Universal says "I like that title"

SusanDodd says "We have Modus Operandi... that is a project we did with Time-Warner, which is a mystery type of game. Let's see - we have Cyber Strike - which has been out there a few years and this fall we have a new 3D action oriented game called Cyber Strike: The Clan Wars. Which we are doing with Sony"

Universal says "Is that your first 3D title?"

SusanDodd says "Cyber Strike was 3D but it was several years ago - so the technology wasn't there yet. It had a great game play but the graphics weren't spectacular. This one will blow you away!"

Universal says "This is an online adventure game as well?"

SusanDodd says "This is more of an action game. You get in a cyber pod,. which is like a big bug looking thing - like a Mech - that type of thing and they form teams and alliances and they blow each other up - it's a lot of fun. Anybody who has seen the graphics are amazed!"

Universal says "When is that going to come out?"

SusanDodd says "They're going to do a single player version will be in stores in the summer of fall, I believe the multiplayer version will be out in the fall"

Universal says "But in the meantime they can be playing Herc & Xena"

SusanDodd says "We have plenty of thing to keep them busy! If anybody is curious, we do have a convention coming up this summer - we're inviting all our players to come to St. Louis in July"

Universal says "Is it a simutronics convention?"

SusanDodd says "Yep - we think it's one of the biggest gathering of role-players. Last year we had 300 people, this year, probably 500 - should be a weekend-long party!"

Universal says "Are there any plans to make Herc & Xena into a graphic game?"

SusanDodd says "As far as I know - WE dont have any plans at this time. Thats not to say that couldnt change tomorrow. Things change quickly in this industry. I would never say never"

Universal says "It could be a milestone at some point in time"

SusanDodd says "Yeah! Anything's possible. We like to build games - especially if this one does well!"

Universal says "I think we're going to do 2 more questions."

Girlie asks "Who are the villians?"

SusanDodd says "The villains are the creatures you actually hunt - bandits or Briggains - it's like a meaner bandit!"

Universal says "What's a briggan?"

SusanDodd says "It's some kind of humanoid creature! You can hunt boa constricters and anaconda's - the idea is that the players are playing heros who are allied together."

PackedHoney asks "Where do you see the future of games going?"

Universal says "That's a good one."

SusanDodd says "I think that it is going to .. we're going to see more and more massiovley multi player games, I believe. We have proven that you can do well by creating very deep, richly textured games that will appeal to people for a long period of time. And that the players really do enjoy the communities created."

SusanDodd says "When you have a user base that is averaging 20 months, we are doing something right. Hopefully other companies will try to emulate that. We tend to think that every new game benefits all of us. If Diablo comes out and does well that's good for us! I think we're going to see more and more games like that - and people will start designing games with multiplayer in mind. A year or two years ago, what you got was a single player, then someone decides to make it multiplayer - now you'll start to see them in mindat the beginning which means better games for everybody!"

Universal says "Very cool."

Universal says "Thank you for chatting with us tonight!~"

SusanDodd says "I had a great time! You all asked some really great questions!"

Universal says "We have a good audience. All our chats get great questions!"

SusanDodd says "They were wonderful!"

Universal says "I try to tell people it's going to be great and afterwards they say it was great!"

SusanDodd says "Bye!"

Universal says "That's going to wrap it up for another episode of The Backlot Cafe. Our thanks go out to Susan Dodd for taking the time to chat with us!"

Universal says "Thanks again to all our chatters out there. And thanks to everyone over at Excite as well. You guys were awesome. Remember, the best chats can be found only at Real Hollywood!!! Stay tuned for Charles Shaughnessy from The Nanny! He'll be chatting in about 10 minutes."

Universal says "Tomorrow we'll have two great writers from the series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys!!! Kurtzman and Orci will be chatting at 6:00 PM PST/9:00 PM EST!!! This has been a production of Real Hollywood and Universal Studios On-line, Inc.. TM & Copyright Universal Studios On-Line, Inc."

Universal says "Good night everybody!!!!"


The Real Hollywood Network TM & (c) 1997 Universal Studios, Inc. All rights reserved. The contents of The Real Hollywood Network Transcripts are property of Universal Studios, Inc.