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Interview - (2004-07-26) Jeff Bouley
Title Interview - (2004-07-26) Jeff Bouley
Description Onyx interviews former Keep admin Jeff Bouley on his latest ventures in mod making and his relatively new position as webmaster of our incubator site Charsi's Forge.
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ONYX:

A big part of the modders in the Phrozen Keep know you well, but for the new members - could you please say several words about yourself?


JEFF:

Well, I’m a former newbie modder who ended up a moderator and later a co-admin of the Phrozen Keep. I guess I got my start in the Keep oh, maybe 3 or 4 years ago. I asked stupid questions and made stupid suggestions for the early mods for D2, long before we had the nifty tools we have now, and eventually took a stab at modding myself. I just ended up having enough knowledge pretty quickly to help others, and I posted a lot to help people even more noobish than me, which led to becoming a moderator in the old forums, and eventually that led to being invited by the admins at the time (Phrozen Heart, Fusman and Iowan) to join their ranks. I created the Sanctuary Corrupted mod for classic D2 (pre-expansion) and then Sanctuary in Chaos for classic D2 and later for the expansion (up to version 1.09 anyway). I also created the Power Item mods, which are basically normal D2 with more reasonable drop rates and with some extra Horadric Cube recipes.


ONYX:

You were a Phrozen Keep co-admin for a long time. Why have you decided to retire and was it a hard decision?


JEFF:

It was a hard decision; I had a lot of time invested in the Keep and I’ve always enjoyed being part of the family. But in the end, responsibilities to my non-Internet/non-Diablo family superceded things. I work for myself as a freelance writer/editor/desktop publisher, and that takes a lot of time…finding clients, keeping them and getting their work done. Also, we bought a big old Victorian house here in Maine recently, and I’m just too swamped to be a full-time, every-day admin. I still pop in when I can, though.


ONYX:

Last thing I heard about your mod Sanctuary in Chaos is that it will be available for patch 1.10. What's the status of it and are we too far away from the release?


JEFF:

The status is “in Limbo,” which I suppose is better than being in Hell. I still intend to release SiC for 1.10, but it’s just hard to find the time. And what free time I have had lately, I’m been using to play in Closed Bnet. I had never played online before about a couple months ago (hard to believe, eh?), and it’s actually proving to be good experience, since I cannot wimp out and juice up my characters with a trainer program (or fix stupid mistakes like badly allocated skill points) like I inevitably would on my PC in single-player. Playing unmodded D2 “honest,” which I haven’t done since playing my first sorc through Normal several years ago, is teaching me a lot about character balance (I currently have 8 characters going in Realms). It’s weird, because I started modding shortly after I started playing D2, so I never really played it a lot before I started changing the game. It’s a miracle my mods aren’t more unbalanced. Before I do SiC for 1.10, I want to really have a sense of the game so that I’m not just running on blind luck and raw instinct alone. I wish I could provide an estimated time of arrival for the mod, but I’m just not sure when it will happen. Likely, I will release several open alpha test versions (probably one act at a time) before I get to a closed beta and then a final mod. So, the upside is that once I start the work on the mod in earnest, people will get to be involved with the creation of it.


ONYX:

What are the new features of 1.10 Sanctuary in Chaos?


JEFF:

Well, the skills are going to be completely gutted. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that my old SiC skills won’t be available as skill choices anymore; they’ll probably appear on items instead.

Every character will get 35 to 40 more skills to choose from (not sure yet…it might even go higher than that), and they will be a mixture of spells, combat skills and miscellaneous skills. This means if you want to have a sorceress who is mostly melee combat oriented, that will be a viable option, because she’ll have certain weapon masteries and passives that will make her able to survive in combat a lot of the time. And if you want a spellcasting paladin, that will be viable as well. Now, paladins will have many more combat skills than spell skills, and the sorc will have many more spells than combat skills, but I want people to have a little more leeway and more options.

And actually, I’m changing the classes, in part because of the skill changes and in part because I’m bored of the old names. So, the sorceress is now an Asian mage called a miko and the paladin will be a cavalier (more knight and less holy man, though there’s still a holy/religious element to him…as the warrior of the bunch, he’ll have the most weapon masteries of any class in the mod). The necromancer will likely become a thaumaturge, sort of a summoner and miracle worker. The barbarian will become a lot less combat oriented and much more spell/nature oriented, and will now be a shaman…sort of combining the druid with a little barbarian and a little paladin. The druid will become a ranger, making him more combat and less spell oriented, with a focus on bows, staves and small blades. The amazon gets a little pirate twist and becomes a sea rogue, the ocean-faring cousin to the rogues we all know and love in D2…she’ll have some weather/sea-oriented spells and some passive and combat skills that strike me as pirate-like. The assassin will become more of a demon/undead hunter and shapechanger and will be called a nightstalker. Of course, some of this may change. My inclination is to leave the character animations alone and simply change their skills and names, but there is the possibility I might scrap one of the current sets of character animations and make a character that is a mechanical construct…sort of a robot or android, if you will. That would be a fairly radical change, and the character might actually “upgrade” itself to new and more powerful bodies as the game progresses. But I’m not sure if I’ll have the time to do that or not, nor am I sure which class I’d sacrifice. Certainly not the miko, thaumaturge, cavalier or nightstalker, and probably not the shaman…but maybe the sea rogue or the ranger would get the boot if I go for a “mechanical man.”

I will probably completely change the weapon system, too. My thought is that there shouldn’t be so many different types of base weapons, but that there should be more variety among them. So, for example, there might be three different variations of a one-handed axe. They’ll all just be called an “axe,” but one might be faster and do less damage, whereas another may be slower and have a much higher average damage, while the third may be in the middle on damage, but have a high durability. And then they’ll be a few variations of two-handed axes, which will all be called “large axe.” Also, I want to institute a random system of 5 or 6 different images for each weapon type. It’s always annoyed me that every long sword looks alike, every dagger looks alike, etc. Finally, each weapon type will have something special to set it apart. Daggers, for example, because they are small and slip in between armor, scales, etc., will either ignore AC or sharply reduce it (by like 75% or more). Axes might reduce armor class with each hit (damaging the armor or hide of the opponent) or might grant a DR bonus (because they can catch enemies’ weapons). Hammers might have knockback, but will always be painfully slow. And so on. My hope is that there will actually be a reason for some characters to want to use a dagger and for fewer people to salivate over finding a sword. Armor will also probably change a bit, with the heavier armors actually reducing damage slightly, spiked shields providing a little extra defense vs. melee attacks, and so on. Basically, trying to have the weapons and armor make some semblance of real-world sense.

I intend to have many more monsters. Some from SiC, many from original D2, and more in addition to that. I will likely change all or most of the bosses, both in name and appearance, possibly powers as well, though I’m not sure.

I’ll probably redo all the speeches in the game by NPCs (or most of them, anyway), and alter the quests as much as I can without digging into code, since I’m not a coding person.


ONYX:

Now let's switch to your incubator site - Charsi's Forge. First of all, could you do a brief overview of it?


JEFF:

Well, Charsi’s Forge is the place for modders who cannot get hosting yet at the Phrozen Keep. Because the Keep gets its hosting space (particularly the space required for the huge filecenter) from Planet Diablo at GameSpy, many newbie modders cannot get hosting, because Planet Diablo has pretty specific requirements for hosting. For some modders, hosting isn’t an issue, because all they want to do is get their mods into the Keep’s filecenter, which is easy enough. But for those who want a forum and a web site, they have no place good to go unless they can convince someone with their own server to give them a little chunk of space. Fortunately, I can get them hosting through a webhost called The Grotto, run by a guy called DaMidget. During the short period of time between when Xfernet went out of business and left the Keep high and dry, but before we went back to Planet Diablo, DaMidget provided the Keep with web space. His servers aren’t fast enough or big enough for the huge traffic that the Keep gets, so we couldn’t stay with him for the Keep. But The Grotto’s servers are great for the smaller sites and newer modders that I bring in through Charsi’s Forge. The ultimate goal of the Forge is for sites/modders there to get good enough and solid enough that they can apply for hosting at the Keep and leave the Forge behind. I want people to go on to bigger and better things; Charsi’s Forge is just a way to get their foot in the door.


ONYX:

Do you think Charsi's Forge has been successful so far, compared to your original idea?


JEFF:

More popular than I would have though, actually. I don’t get flooded with requests for hosting, but the list of hosted/incubator sites is longer than I ever would have thought.


ONYX:

A question out of curiosity - why Charsi? Why not Fara, or Hratli, or Halbu, or Larzuk?


JEFF:

To be honest, the original name of the site was the “PK Incubator.” The “PK” stood for Phrozen Keep, since I consider my site to be a sister site to the Keep, and the “Incubator” part was meant to evoke the idea of a business incubator, those projects and office parks and such that are designed to give small industries and businesses a start. Problem is, everyone assumed PK meant “player killer” (as in the folks who slay other players online in Bnet). And too few people understood the particular meaning of “incubator” I was going for…too many probably envisioned an incubator in which you keep premature babies or grow bacterial cultures. So, I needed a new name, and I hit upon the idea of a “Forge” because these are new modders trying to create something from their blood, sweat and tears. That only left which blacksmith to pick from D2 to put in front of the word “Forge,” and I hit on Charsi, mostly because she’s the nicest of the blacksmiths, and the first one you encounter. That seemed fitting, given that Charsi’s Forge is all about welcoming newbie modders into the D2 modding world.


ONYX:

Charsi's Forge has been up for more than 6 months, currently with 13 hosted mods and 2 graduated mods. What's the future of the site and do you plan to add new features?


JEFF:

Good God, six months already? Time is getting away from me. That means I’m more behind on SiC for 1.10 that I already thought I was. But I digress. The future of the Forge won’t change much. It’s only intended to be a place for hosting, since the Keep is the place to go for modding knowledge and for the larger sense of camaraderie and community. The only change I could see to the Forge is if for some reason we could no longer get the free hosting from The Grotto, in which case Charsi’s Forge would probably cease to exist, since I cannot put money into a server myself. But hopefully that won’t become an issue.


ONYX:

What are you doing when you're not modding or doing anything related to Diablo II?


JEFF:

Trying to make enough money to pay the bills and get ahead…it’s hard working for yourself. I don’t get a regular paycheck and I don’t get an employer-sponsored health plan. Also, with the new house, which is more than 110 years old, I have plenty of home-improvement projects. I also try to cook a little, spend time with my wife and stepson, and play PC games when I can, mostly the Baldur’s Gate games in addition to D2. I don’t get too many of the newest games. I tend to buy them when they are no longer new and come down in price. Partly because I’m a cheapskate that way, and partly because that means I rarely have to worry about whether my PC is up-to-date enough to handle the game; I stay ahead of the technology curve by buying old software. It works for me. I read when I have the time, mostly speculative sci-fi, some fantasy and horror, and the occasional crime/cop thriller. I like movies a lot, I’m a beer snob, and I collect action figures. I’m basically a 36-year-old former nerd.


ONYX:

Thanks for your time.


JEFF:

Not a problem. Maybe I can get some time soon to actually be an active force in modding again, and then people won’t need an interview to remember who I am

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