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Source: http://playsaga.blogspot.com


What's up SAGA fans!

Well, lots has changed since our previous post's burger adventure. Not really because of the burgers themselves, but because time marches on and stuff continues to happen.

People have left Silverlode. People have joined Silverlode. People got married. Babies have been born. Hollywood has put out a lot of remakes of old properties. Weather patterns have continued to shift. Mass pandemonium. Dogs and cats living together.

Enter me. Hi, I'm Brent. You may know me as William of Gearvale on the forums, or just Gearvale within SAGA. I'm the new marketing director. It's my job to let everybody know about the promos we're doing to get more people playing SAGA. I write news, and emails, and blog posts like this one. I also use my ninja abilities to keep the office safe from... other ninjas. Like me.

This is NOT me. You can tell from the fact that you can see him coming.

When I'm not SAGA-ing or Ninja-ing, I like music, hockey, and stand-up comedy. I just graduated from college and am never going back ever even though I have nightmares about it almost every night. My favorite games/series are Chrono Trigger, Smash Brothers, Contra, and Starcraft.

This is me with Logan (he's on the left and I'm on the right):


Thumbs up to you if you noticed my ballin' Mr. Kool-Aid Shirt.

Logan's job is to add new content into SAGA, mostly in the form of new quests. He has a degree in Computer Science from Neumont University and his favorite games (other than SAGA, of course) include Pokemon, Mario 3, Super Smash Brothers Brawl, and Civilization 5. In the Marvel Universe, he has cool claws that pop out of his hands that he can use to open letters and stab people he doesn't like. In the Real Life Universe, he is an eligible bachelor who likes redheads, chocolate milkshakes, and long walks on the beach.


The redhead thing spans across both continuities.

Together, Logan and I form the Super Awesome SAGA Team that more or less keeps the game running, just for you. You're welcome and we heart you, too.

Happy gaming!

Burger Hell
For a game developer, there's nothing quite like fast food. It's quick, convenient, and it's saturated with enough grease to get the gears in your head turning again after a long day at the office. If there's one thing even more irresistible than a good burger, though, it's a challenge-- and if you put those two things together, well... pretty much anyone with a y-chromosome and a sense of adventure is doomed. This potent combination explains how a simple poster on the wall of the local Easy Take-Out Burger turned an otherwise commonplace lunch into half an hour of pure burger hell.


The innocent-looking sign reads, “Take the Title to Receive 50% Off Every Visit.” The “title,” of course, is the dubious honor bestowed upon the individual that is able to consume the largest burger within the time limit. Despite America's reputation for gratuitous gastronomic indulgence, the Easy Take-Out Burger's ultimate record sat at a mere 12 patties. Ha! Such a record is regularly broken at family cook-outs and college dorm picnics-- surely, one of the devs could down a 13 patty burger and gain the coveted 50% discount!


After some encouragement from the rest of the gang (taunting by Slava), Dennis decided that the greasy glory could easily be his. It is import to note at this point that because of several genetic quirks, a full 80% of the human population is physiologically incapable of backing down from a dare. It's a fact! Maybe. Unfortunately, Dennis had bravely accepted the burger challenge without knowing the horrible truth behind the poster; it was almost tragically out-of-date. The current record for patties consumed was nearly double the old, sitting at a gut-turning 20 quarter-pound patties. This meant that in order to claim the title, he'd have to down at least 21 patties within 30 minutes. Alas, despite the obvious insanity of the challenge, Dennis was already irrevocably committed. Genetics are a bitch.



And so it was that an edible abomination was delivered unto the hapless challenger, a great and terrible lunch that had likely required the sacrifice of 50 head of cattle and an entire lettuce field. This was the sort of sandwich that, if successfully devoured, would probably devour about a decade off of the life of its consumer, in turn. Dennis struggled mightily with the meaty monstrosity, and by the 7 minute mark, he'd managed to wolf down 15 patties, the buns, and all the tasty fixin's. Meanwhile, to show support for Dennis' undertaking (and perhaps to assuage his guilt at suggesting such a thing), Slava ordered and consumed an entire 8-patty burger. And in what was either a rare display of sanity and moderation or solid proof of a dainty constitution, Eric and John only ate good ole-fashioned single patty burgers.



The battle raged on for the full 30 minutes, but in the end, meat-product ultimately triumphed over man. With what looked like 3 patties left, Dennis' time ran out. Slava, though, finished his 8-stack within the time allotted, and Eric just barely managed to finish his single patty burger before time ran out. There's probably some great moral that can be gleaned from this whole story, but honestly, we're not quite sure what it is.



31 patties later, we're just happy that none of our team has suffered any massive heart attacks, loss of will to live, or cattle crossings. Everyone returned to the office later that day, a little older, a little wiser, and a fair bit heavier. One thing's for sure: it'll be a long while before the devs can look a cow in the face, again.




Expansion Units: Order's Big Guns
When half of your army has wound up in the belly of an undead dragon, and the other half is trying desperately to avoid becoming part of an orc's home decor (skulls are totally chic, you know), it might be time to call in the big guns. While some warriors of justice merely proficient at Brotherhood beat-downs, these three Order faction heroes truly excel.
  • Hildea

    • Light - You might recognize this fiery maiden from one of SAGA's loading pages. Trained in the deadly art of swordplay since her birth, she strikes evil down without hesitation or mercy-- and looks damn fine doing it. She is a unyielding commander, expecting complete dedication from her underlings, but giving the same in return.

  • Mechanos

    • Machines - Dwarves are renowned for their engineering genius, but there's one individual whose knowledge is envied even by his peers. Mechanos has constructed what is perhaps the finest mech giant of this age, and he's not shy about letting everyone know it. Don't judge him too harshly, though-- if you'd hand built a pimped-out mechanical giant, you'd be tempted to boast about it, too.

  • Albans Boke

    • Nature - Deep within Nature territory, there resides a colony of the fiercest eagles known to Gaia. No sane elf has ever tried to tame one of these giant, headstrong birds, but then again, nobody has ever accused Albans Boke of being sane. This bold hero has somehow earned the trust of his magnificent mount, and now the two rain terror upon the hapless ground forces of the Brotherhood.


Expansion Units: Mounted Madness
There are few things that Order and Brotherhood nations see eye-to-eye on, but one thing is certain-- no matter which faction you pledge your allegiance to, mounted units are pretty damn spiffy. Whether your soldiers are riding musk oxen or abnormally large crustaceans, they're sure to inspire envy in the lowly foot soldiers. Pictured above are three such units being planned for the new expansion.
  • Red Mantle Knight
    • Magic - Wise men dread encountering a creature as beastly as the rhyax, especially if that rhyax that is being directed by an equally beastly dark elf. Order flunkies had best steer clear of this duo, unless they're aiming to be trampled under six steel-clad feet.
  • Musk Ox Rider
    • Machines - Dwarves are choosy about the company they keep. If it doesn't have beards or gears, then it's usually not worth their time. The Machines faction makes an exception for musk oxen, however, which are every bit as stubborn and hardy as their riders.
  • Centaur Warden
    • Nature - Alright, alright-- so they're not technically mounted units, but they're close enough. The Nature faction has called these stoic, four-legged soldiers out of their forest homes to aid in the desperate battle against the Brotherhood.

The SAGA Soundtrack
You've listened to it while slaying dragons. You've listened to it while pummeling the snot out of unruly peasants. Now, you can also listen to it while you make your morning commute. We've compiled 25 songs from SAGA's original soundtrack and put them here for download. Be sure and grab a piece of this musical goodness. Your cochleas will thank you for it!

Download the mp3's here

Captivating Cartography
Every SAGA player is familiar with the quest map. It is a portal to fabulous riches, grand adventure, and shiny new toys with which to poke, bludgeon, and generally harass one's adversaries. What you might not know, though, is that before it was ever digitized, it existed in physical form as a pen and paper drawing. This is not a small work of cartography, either-- this is the sort of chart worthy of a Roman general's war plans. Today, we'll be talking with the madman behind this beautiful work of art, Andrew Black.

So much art is done digitally, these days. Was there a reason you chose to draw the map by hand, first?

I wanted it to look hand drawn and since my art skills are more traditional I honestly didn't know how else to do it! I think all the small variations in weight of line and shape give it a verisimilitude that you wouldn't achieve digitally. But the color was added later in Photoshop, and that allowed us to play around with some different combinations and treatments.


It's just about enormous, and there's quite a lot of detail packed in there. How long did it take you to complete?

I didn't really keep track, but I'm sure it was more than sixty hours.


The SAGA map has a very distinct style. What inspired you to take that approach? Were there other works that influenced you?

I knew I wanted it to be hand drawn. The style is blatantly ripped off from maps that J.R.R. Tolkien drew for LOTR, especially the simple shadowed trees and mountains. Those in turn inspired the building icons, etc.. I also looked at some 15th and 16th century Scottish maps - I think that's where the wave element that edges the coast came from.


Is there a reason for the scale?

Doing it on as big a scale as possible made drawing the fine detail a lot easier.


Did you suffer any setbacks? I heard there were some adventures concerning the undead expansion.

There weren't really any setbacks as such. I'd sketched the map roughly on a small scale first and used feedback from that when doing the finished version. The Undead was a bit of a challenge. I'd deliberately designed the original map to be expandable in all directions (in the early days we spoke about the possibility of adding lots of new factions) but when it actually came down to it, making the two halves "join" was a little tricky but it worked out all right in the end. A little judicious Photoshop editing helped.


What did it take to get such a large drawing into digital form?

A really, really big scanner! Just when we thought we'd have to cut it up to scan it at Kinko's we found one that was big enough at a university copy shop.

Thank goodness for that! And thanks for joining us for this week's Developer's Blog post.

Stayed tuned for next week's post, readers-- there'll be a special treat for the musically inclined.


Dragon Pong
The multiplayer PvP scenario affectionately nicknamed "dragon pong" is still in the development stages, but our lead quest designer was kind enough to give me a peek at the map- which, as it turns out, is as chock full of oldskool goodness as you'd expect it to be. Sure, we were playing with ranged units instead of paddles and bouncing a dragon instead of a ball, but the basic principle is the same, isn't it? Seasoned gamers, be prepared to experience a strange, heady mixture of nostalgia and murderous glee. Your favorite childhood game now includes just the right amount of violence.


Busy week!
Well, it's the very end of the week, but we've got some fun stuff for you.

The next patch is still underway. The bugs and kinks are worked out, the new features are in place, but we're still wrangling some final text display issues. We'll have more news for you next week on that.

So, instead of bringing you more 'next patch's notes' entries, I figured I'd do something a little more interesting. I went around the office and asked everyone to submit a screen shot of their desktop. Only rule: no sensitive info.

So I present to you a bunch of screen captures of our desktops. Not everyone who works on SAGA participated, but some other employees who don't work on SAGA did. You'll see some interesting things. And yes, we strategically positioned some of the windows on our desktops.

Take a look. You might just see some cool stuff.

- John's desktop. Tweaking the animations for the new Orc Pavises.





- Dennis' desktop. I got to work on a lot of Photoshop stuff today while blasting music. Slava has now made a 'no showtunes' rule in our office.

- Andrew's iMac. (obviously not part of the normal SAGA staff)






- Eric's desktop. He's been working on the market.



- Adam's desktop. In the map editor working on a quest.






- Sam's desktop. Just starting to work on the next newsletter.








- Mark's desktop. After a long day of squashing CP and double loot bugs.

-Kynan's desktop. Playing... *ahem* Conducting 'market research'.





-One of our Interns' desktop. Testing that particles and flags are working again.







- Slava's desktop. Figuring out upcoming promotions.


- Mike's desktop. (Not a member of the normal SAGA staff)



Until next week!

Call to War
A few weeks ago, I mentioned a player who had spent many hours putting together a guide to the War faction. Today, I am happy to be able to present you with not only the guide, but an interview with the author, Makash. Earlier today, I sat down and chatted with Makash about the guide, his opinions about War, SAGA, and Flying poodles.

The guide is a .pdf file, which you can download here (~2.3 MB).



Makash is a long-time SAGA player, War faction enthusiast, amateur designer, and proud polyglot who speaks at least three languages fluently.

Dennis: I'm looking through the War guide now, and I have to say, I'm impressed.
makash: I personally think it features 90% of what it is necessary to know. All the PVE & PVP tactics explained in there have been tested as well... that's why it took so long to finish it!

Dennis:
How long did it take you to write the guide?
makash: Altogether, including all the pics, the layout, the info... at least 72 hours. About 3 weeks, adding to it each day.
makash: Having the idea is the smallest part, getting it on paper is the big work. And then making it look the way you want it to be is... almost impossible
Dennis: I can appreciate that, having worked on the SAGA manuals myself.
makash: You coulda asked me for help :-P
Dennis: I just might in the future! The content is amazing. What program did you use for type-setting and putting everything together?
makash: Publisher mainly

Dennis:
That's pretty impressive. So, when it comes down to it, why did you pick the War faction?
makash: It was more of a random choice. I chose the faction which had the best logo and that was War (in my opinion). Also, a friend advised me to make a Brotherhood nation, as he was one himself. After a few Quests, I got used to their way of game play and I enjoyed that. The brutality was a main factor that made me stay with War as my main Nation. I've also tested Machines, Magic and Light, but I didn't like the idea of leaning back and waiting to see what the enemy does before I could actually plan an attack on them

Dennis:
What was the inspiration behind writing this guide? It's obvious you continued to be driven by it, as evidenced by the amount of effort that went in to writing it, organizing it, and making it look appealing.
makash: My intention was to show other players how powerful War can be. Most of the community consider War to be completely useless (at least before the Melee Change).

Dennis:
On several occasions, players have commented that they feel the War faction is under-represented in the player base of SAGA. Would you agree?
makash: War has a lot to offer, they have a counter unit/spell to almost any situation, whether it's PVE or PVP. I guess people underestimate it, because they don't take the time to take a deep look at what War units can actually do. Many people still have the opinion that flyers are the best units in the game. WRONG!. Flyers are good, yes, but flyers don't have as much versatillity as ground units. For example, I can use Orc X-bows to simultaneously capture a building and take out enemy flyers...

Dennis:
So, do you feel like the new Neutral flyers have been a useful addition to the War faction and have helped level the playing field a bit in regards to flying strategies?
makash: I don't think they make much of a difference for War, at least they don't for me. If a Red Dragon is equipped right, it can even take down a Great Dragon in a one on one. I'd rather say, that the neutral flyers have OP'ed other factions, which already have massive air power. But then again, War has Orc X-bows, which do a great job on decimating flying poodles.
Dennis: Flying Poodles, huh? (laughs)
makash: Never heard of Pink Poodle Island? Those Great Dragons seriously look like pink poodles with wings.

Dennis:
Not a fan of the Great Dragon model, huh? What did you think of the Ogre re-models? Also, are you excited for the Orc re-models?
makash: the Ogre Models are fantastic, better than i expected. They now look scary and powerful, just like Ogres should be. Great job. And yes, i am excited to see the "new" Orcs. I bet they'll look great too, even though I'm still curious about that strange "Rider" unit shown on the Dev Blog... the one that isn't a Boar :-O
Dennis: Ahh... yes. I like that unit. I don't think I'm allowed to give its name yet, though.
makash: I'd suggest degenerated Llama Rider :-P
Dennis: I'll pass that along! I know that we've been trying to come up with original mounts (such as the Rhyax). Will you miss any of the old models at all? Any attachment there?
makash: that depends on how the new models will look. I personally like the look of the Boar Riders, but then again, I don't use them much, so maybe if they looked even cooler I'd use them again.
Dennis: Want a sneak peek?
makash: Of course!
Dennis: Let me see if I can get a render of the new Boar Rider.
makash: *drools*
Dennis: Rendering... I don't have a finished Boar Rider yet, and my 3D skills are limited... but here's what I've got for you:

The new Boar and its rider

Dennis: And as a fun side note:

Not a Boar Rider.


makash
: Good thing I didn't sell my lotus firearms :-D
Dennis: Yes, it is a good thing.
makash: It's a sorta Tasmanian tiger thing, right?
makash: the stripes at the back remind me of a Tasmanian tiger, but the feet are more herbivore like.
Dennis: Interesting... I don't know if that's where the inspiration came from or not! I'll have to ask the Art Director.

Dennis: OK, next question: If you could add any unit to the War faction, what would it be, and what would it do?
makash: Well... toughie there... Even though the Giant Bat Rider came third in the contest a while back, I'd rather like to see something Big instead. A Troll or similar, something that focuses on massive Structure/Building Damage OR (keep the troll idea) something big that can also attack Flyers, smashing them down from the sky.
Dennis: Trolls it is! I'll be sure to pass that along to our Art guys. I believe the current expansion is finished in terms of planning, but that's not to say we won't start working on more cards in the near future!

Dennis: So, do you have any questions that you want to ask?
makash: hmmm... most of my questions will probably get answered in the next patch... Does the light in the fridge turn off when you close the door?.... Serious now... Will War be able to make use of all sort of items after WC was released? (as of now they can't use firearms, staves and axes)
Dennis: I know that they'll be able to use firearms (but I'm sure you guessed that!), but as for staves and axes, I don't think staves will make the cut, as they aren't very Orc-like. Ogre Magi use them, but they're in the Magic faction...
makash: Fair enough, but Axes should really make it... I mean, Axes are a sign of Brutality and yet War can't equip them.
Dennis: I completely agree. I just asked our Art Director about it. There is a new War unit coming with Axes.
makash: Yay, good thing I saved my lotus axes, too :-D
Dennis: And as for all of the other weapon types that certain factions can't use, there are some new Neutral units coming in the expansion that will help in those areas.

Dennis: English isn't your first language, though you speak English impeccably. What do you think of the possibility of playing SAGA in your native language?
makash: I'm used to playing games in English. When I buy a new game, I always set it to English to begin with. Though for other people, it would really save me some time, it would be great if they could play this fantastic game in their native language. I certainly think that if the game was in the 4 main languages (English, Spanish, French & German), it would for sure attract more players. Not talking bout my friends here, as most of them are WoW Wussies, they just don't have what it takes to succeed in Saga ;-)

Dennis: Do you ever play games in other languages?
makash: Depends on the games. I admit being a Soccer Fan, and at the soccer game I play (it's a manager), I always adjust the language to the team I play... so if I manage Barca, I set it to Spanish.
makash: gives the game a tad more realism
Dennis: Indeed. I think there's something to be said for accessing a work (whether it be a video game, novel, or movie) in its original language.
makash: Movies in Spanish... *runs*

Dennis: Any final thoughts?
makash: Happy Birthday Saga :-D

Life around the SAGA office
As promised on Wednesday, I'll be showing you all a little more in-depth what's coming in the next patch. But prior to that, I'd much rather talk about life. I'm tempted to place another disclaimer, but you get the picture. SAGA patch info is at the bottom of the post.

Busy Week
This week has been a very busy one around the office. I keep a whiteboard above my desk that I use to remind myself of the most important things that I need to get done any given day of the week.

A random sampling from today's board -
  • Write on the Dev Blog
  • Meet with Entropy to discuss the Ice Drake quest
  • Clear backlog in rankings database
  • Get the manual updated
  • Help QA start a full build test
  • SAGA Credits
  • Finalize content for next patch
  • File taxes!

  • Ballistas and Contests
    This week saw the start of a fabulous new promotion though Xfire. When Slava told me they were giving away a ballista as a prize, I gave him the 'what's so great about ballistas?' look. Then he showed me the Lithobolos. He meant a real ballista. Now everyone in the office wants one. Perhaps we can mount one on top of the office's roof to defend ourselves. (Funny context-giving memory #317: When I first started at SAGA, Slava mentioned plans to invest in a full-scale mini-gun for the roof. It would shoot blanks, of course.)


    Patch Delay
    You will all have noticed by now that the patch was delayed. Why the patch push-back? The decision to hold back the patch was two-fold. Firstly, the patch is not a trivial thing. It has a lot of changes that require an extra level of testing. We could have pushed up a patch this week, but we decided to hold it until after the Xfire promotion (second reason) had run its course, so that we didn't interfere with people trying to rack up hours, should something go wrong.

    New Newsletter
    Earlier this week, we sent out the latest SAGA newsletter. I always get a laugh at the zany nature of our writers' senses of humor (one in particular), and ability to create clever titles for articles. 'The Lion and the Unicode' literally made me laugh so hard I had to show Slava before continuing.

    Excel sheet from Hell
    This week, we finally took the time to re-do the card manual. In a previous life, I did a lot of graphic and layout work, and I normally quite enjoy helping out with projects like that. The card manual, on the other hand, is a demon.

    The manuals themselves are prepared in Adobe InDesign. However, InDesign isn't optimal for managing thousands of cells of data, and updating by hand would be more trouble than it's worth. We use Excel as an intermediary to automatically arrange all of the card data needed (one of the neat things that InDesign can do is pull data directly from an Excel file).

    After we finished updating the Excel file for new cards like the Rhyax this morning, I noticed that the Excel file is 4.6 Megs! That's pretty big for an Excel file. Mostly, the size is due to the fact that it requires several cells to correctly parse any given stat and organize them into something legible. Fortunately, it does its job well, and gives us the info needed for the manual with relative ease.

    Preliminary Patch Notes for 1.46.0 (tentative version number):
    These are the currently planned changes, but this list is subject to change.
    The upcoming patch will launch the second week of March.

    System Changes:
  • Preliminary Unicode support has been added (Extended Latin and Cyrillic character sets).
  • Particle effects have been added to more buildings including: flames for War and Magic, fountains for the Light university, smoke for Light and Machines, an eerie glow for Magic buildings, and fell flames for the Undead.
  • Building particles can now be toggled on and off.
  • The Guild screen has been updated to display more information and allow for easier communication (click to Private Message, Mail, etc).
  • Guild Masters can now pass leadership to another guild member.
  • Mail attachments now show icons for any resources or units received.
  • The Guides (Manuals) have been updated to reflect new cards and previous system changes, as well as being trimmed down by several pages.
  • Spells will now sell for gold in the 'Sell' tab of the Market.
  • Fixed a bug where bound troops could become unbound.
  • Fixed a bug where buildings could become double-stacked.

    Quest Changes:
  • The three Tutorial quests are receiving an update with expanded tactics.
  • We're adding Obsidian Warlord, a new level 28 Heroic quest.
  • We're adding Frostbite, a level 20 Once-only quest. This quest has the unique reward of an Ice Drake (formerly a promotional unit).
  • We're adding Blasted Lands, a new quest.
  • The map for Thermahill Pass will receive some alterations.
  • The usual variety of fixes and tweaks.

    Unit and Spell Changes:
  • Human Heavy Infantry
    AR - 19
    Damage - 8-18
    Speed - 6
  • Human Cleric
    Speed - 7
    Attack Speed - 0.75
    Special - "Healing Aura - Friendly troops in target radius (20m) heal 40-60 hit point per cleric in unit. Cooldown: 90 seconds."
  • Dwarven Mechanists
    AR - 22
    DR - 27
    Hit Points - 450
  • Dwarven Crossbowmen
    Special - "Dwarven Chant - Friendly units in target radius (30m) gain +2 morale and heal 35-45 hitpoints per Crossbowman. Cooldown: 120 seconds."
  • Dark Elf Shamen
    Special - "Spirit Communion - Units in target radius (15m) heal 35-65 hit points per Shaman. Cooldown: 90 seconds."
  • Elven Warrior
    Special - "Hardiness (passive) - +80% DR against ranged attacks."
  • Elven Druid
    "Refreshing Aura - Friendly troops in target radius (20m) heal 55-95 hit points and +2 morale per druid in unit. Cooldown: 90 seconds."
  • Forsaken Warrior
    Hit Points - 325
    Special - "Regeneration - Each Forsaken Warrior gains 65 - 80 hit points. Cooldown: 60 seconds."
  • Diabolist
    Range - 35
  • Orc Boar Riders
    Special - "The Hunt - Nearby friendly units (20m) gain +5% AR per Boar Rider for 30 seconds. Cooldown: 90 seconds."
  • Orc Dog Soldier
    Special - "Healing Chant - Friendly troops in target radius (20m) heal 35-45 hit points and gain +2% DR per Dog Soldier for 30 seconds. Cooldown: 120 seconds."


  • There are a few things I'm specifically leaving out of the patch notes, so as not to ruin any surprises. And, as a disclaimer, the above notes are all subject to change.

    Patch 1.45.7 preview
    HUMOROUS DISCLAIMER: Many Americans might find the bulk of this post boring. If at any point during this post you find yourself falling asleep, skip down to the section labeled "Other changes in Patch 1.45.7"

    So, a lot of people have asked what the SAGA staff has been up to as of late. Many have noticed that there wasn't a patch today. So what gives? In a word, awesomeness*.
    *I'm assuming awesomeness is indeed a commonly accepted/understood word and accurately conveys the intended levels of sheer awesometude**.
    **See preceding explanation.

    One of the larger projects undertaken over the last two months is adding Unicode support to SAGA. (Wait, it's not boring, I swear! Keep reading!)

    At first glance, that might not sound too exciting. But Unicode means that SAGA will soon see several new features.

    Unicode-Related New Features:

  • SAGA will support the extended Latin character set (so accented characters like à, é, and ñ are supported).
  • SAGA will also support the Cyrillic alphabet (????????????!).
  • Players will be able to use the above foreign characters in chat, nation names, guild names, pretty much everywhere you can type.

  • Ok, so that wasn't SUPER exciting***. But Unicode is only the beginning. The reason that we've added Unicode compliance is simple. SAGA is now ready to be translated into other languages!
    ***Except for our European and South American friends, of course, who probably become much more readily enthused over things like accents than the average American.
    Translation-Related New Features:

  • All game text is now centralized into a handful of master files, meaning that any existing English typos don't stand a chance against our interns' keen grasp of grammar!
  • Any lingering pirate speech written by our programmers will be eliminated once and for all! (Ahh, Raiding memories gone by...)
  • Translation will commence on SAGA in the not-too-distant future, though no specific announcements are being made at this time.
  • The translation process, once undertaken, should progress quickly. As an example, check out this half-translated login screen:
    My apologies to the French. This half-translated screen doesn't look super-impressive, but it only took me 45 seconds. ('Credits' should probably be Générique,but I'm not a real translator)
  • Other Changes in Patch 1.45.7:
    (For those who couldn't care less about lots of high-falutin' accents)
  • Mail received in the Pigeon Roost now shows icons for attachments.

    Pictures are worth a thousand words, and seeing a Great Dragon icon in your mail is probably worth a thousand other attachments.

  • The Guild Interface has been re-worked, presenting more information, and adding a few new options (whisper to selected guild member, change Guild Master, a few others)

    The New Guild Interface. Nice shiny buttons. Smaller text. More info. More options. More loneliness when the other testers won't join you guild.

  • The Tutorial quests have been re-done to more amply demonstrate advanced battle mechanics through the use of more images and less chance of dying. They cover more topics than before, such as garrisoning.
  • The background textures for various windows have been improved.
  • Particle effects have been added to more buildings (these can now be toggled on/off in settings).
  • Several systems are getting back-end patches that affect stability.


  • So what can you expect in upcoming patches after 1.45.7 is released? I've taken a look at the projects assigned around the office, and some of the first items on the list (in no particular order) are:

  • The new Orcs highlighted last week will be in patch 1.45.8.
  • Tournaments. The Unicode efforts have fixed a particular crash that Tournaments were getting. Next week, testing resumes in full on Tournaments, and if the QA lead is correct, we'll be able to launch them soon after giving them a final shake-down.
  • PvP Quests. The first four PvP scenarios have been chosen, and work has already begun on them. Entropy is excitedly working on Dragon Pong, while one of his minions is starting on a scenario similar to Capture the Flag.
  • Chat upgrades. Specifically, upgrades that will allow you to more readily see and interact with other players.
  • Well, I can't give away *too* much more just yet. As the Unicode efforts wind down and the next patch is released, I'll try to bring you more information on what's going on around the office.

    Coming next time: I (hopefully) get a hold of the player who wrote the War Guide mentioned last time and ask him some thought-provoking and meaningful questions and Elf bashing.

    Orcs + Facelift = Forklift?
    Well, it's Friday afternoon here at the office, and it's been a long week. I thought I'd share some of what the Art Department has been up to. They've been busy working on the new expansion and the new units being added, but they've also been working on various other small side-projects. As of late, they've mostly been one and the same: War.

    Our Art Director has a personal vendetta against the War faction. He refuses to be satisfied until they look awesome. So, as a side note in the process of preparing for the expansion, the Orcs are getting a face-lift (similar to what happened with the Ogres a few months ago).

    The process of creating any new unit (or re-creating a unit in this case)starts with concept art. Here you'll see a quick sketch of one of the Orcs. This particular example is the front view of the new Boar Rider concept. This, along with a half dozen other sketches, will be given to a 3D modeler, who will generate a model based on the various views and details of the sketches.

    The model starts out looking rather like a gray blob. From there, the model is textured, sometimes by the same artist, sometimes by a separate artist. The Art Director makes sure that the look is consistent across the board, even when multiple artists are working on the various models and textures.

    Once the model is finished and textured, it's given to another artist to rig. Rigging is the basic process of adding a skeleton structure to the model, and creating bones that attach to specific parts of the model's geometry. Then, the rig is animated through a series of key frames. The image at right is a blend of the stages of modeling, texturing, and rigging.

    New Orcs sporting brass armor. And no, that isn't a boar.


    But it isn't just the units that're getting attention. The War faction is getting an architectural renovation, too. The buildings have been re-textured in spare time over the course of the last several months. We've been hinting at this one for a while now, and have posted a handful of pictures in past newsletters, etc.









    The new Farm










    The new House










    The new Stone Quarry

















    The new Watch Tower

    I still need to ask the artists if the red splotches across the buildings are blood. If so, I wonder if the Orcs are in the habit of tossing corpses against the walls (a gruesome form of splatter painting, perhaps?)

    The new models and textures for the War faction will accompany the addition of (optional) particle effects being added to the buildings over the course of the next two patches. For the War faction, the particles consist mostly of bonfires and smoke, though other particles are coming for other factions, such as fountains.

    On a related note, I have it on good authority that one of our players has written an impressive guide to playing the War faction. Next week, I hope to be able to present you with the finished guide, and perhaps even a short interview with the author.

    Stay tuned for more on that next week, as well as an update on what some of the programming team has been working on for the last two months (which has been kept secret until now)...


    New York!
    The New York Comic Con. Whew!

    When Slava asked me to accompany him to the convention, several thoughts ran through my head:

    "I've never been to New York, that might be fun. It'll be the largest convention I've ever been to, and I'd love to meet more of our players."

    What didn't go through my head:

    "30,000 people? Sure I can talk over that amount of noise for about 8 hours a day!"

    Needless to say, my throat is still a little hoarse. Luckily, typing requires no voice whatsoever, so here goes. The convention was awesome in ways that words can't describe. Hence, we bring you pictures!


    A view from our booth, about 30 minutes before the doors opened to the public.


    Less than an hour later as people started pouring in (and this was only the beginning!) Throughout the three-day convention, we saw some awesome costumes. Regrettably, we have no pictures of them, but it was fun to see the hordes of Inu Yashas, Chewbaccas, and even Captain Hammer. It was fun to explain SAGA to a 6-foot tall female Buck Rodgers.



    Some players were more than willing to get stamped with our SAGA stamp, thus acquiring the brand-new Rhyax. In fact, some were even willing to go the extra mile to gain a few more Rhyaxes for their guild mates. Here we have a player who got a few stamps, including a rather large one to the forehead (and he wasn't the only one)!

    On the whole, it was a great experience, though there were definitely a few highlights. Most of them edible.

    Slava is from the East Coast, originally. Myself, I grew up on the West Coast. Since we were there, he made it a point to show me things I've never seen before, and they were delicious.


    Dennis and Slava go to White Castle. No run-ins with Neil Patrick Harris, though.







    America's working class prefers Dunkin' Donuts to Starbucks 2:1 (if you believe the commercials). Now I know why. It's the Donuts.

    As we demonstrated the game on a projector screen, a lot of the convention goers were impressed with the game, and enjoyed learning more. We're already starting to see them in-game, and we're looking forward to getting to know them all better.


    To end this post, I'd like to present to you all the list of the best things I overheard at the convention:

    10) "Entrance for exhibitors... does that mean the people showing the exhibits or seeing the exhibits?" - a convention-goer trying to get in the shortest line possible.
    9) "The Rhyax looks kind of like a demon tick with plate armor. Except it's the size of a schoolbus."
    8) A woman came up to me, looked at the game, looked back towards me, got a quizzical look, and then paid attention to the game again. After a moment, she said, "I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but you look a lot like a strange mix between David Boreanaz and Jessica Simpson's husband..." Not the first time I've been told either, but the first time I've gotten both at once. For this reason, one of our players refuses to call me Dennis anymore...
    7) "You mean Tournaments are done? When are they coming!!!"
    6) "If I can get the G4 chick over here, will you give me a Great Dragon?"
    5) Seen on a t-shirt "And then Buffy staked Edward... The End". (Joss Whedon vs. Stephanie Meyer)
    4) "Ben, oui. Je le connais très bien." "Il est ici, il fait des autographes à 30 mètres d'ici." I spoke with a French gentleman who works for a Gaming Magazine (I have a degree in French, believe it or not). We chatted briefly about the game, and exchanged information. He had just come from a booth where a childhood hero of mine was signing autographs. Slava covered for me for 5 minutes while I got to meet him and shake hands, and returned smiling like a 7-year-old schoolboy.
    3) "I'm looking for princess-type stuff for my nieces. Have you guys seen anything like that?" -Slava "Well, there's a Princess Leia in a metal bikini over there..."
    2) "Wow. Lycra should not be worn by certain people." "Yah, it's kinda like spandex, it's a privilege, not a right."
    1) "Sega? Like the Hedgehog guys?"

    Check back later this week, I'll be posting about upcoming features, Tournaments, and a groovy little thing called the Rhyax.


    Election Day is Here
    Do you feel the anticipation in the air, SAGA players? The seemingly endless political campaigning is finally drawing to a close, and soon the nation will be able to cast its votes. No, not for the U.S. President- what are you going on about? It's time to choose SAGA's elected official!

    The polls are open, and it's up to you to decide which elven candidate is best-suited for the office. The winning side will have access to brand new game content one full week before the other. To cast your vote, send an e-mail to vote@playsaga.com. If you are siding with Gandred Krull, send your message with a subject of "Brotherhood." For Yeven Nyrr, send "Order."

    In case you're having trouble deciding, here's some background information on each of the candidates:

    Brotherhood Candidate: Gandred Krull


    Gandred Krull began his political career as a royal advisor in the small kingdom of Zhald. However, after the reigning king, the queen, and all five of their legitimate heirs tragically fell down the stairs, Krull’s grief dictated that he retire as the king's vizier. Out of heartfelt fondness for his old master, though, he offered to oversee the country's affairs until a new ruler could be found, and the reeling townsfolk happily accepted. The search for a suitable king continues even to this day, but Zhald has flourished under the direction of its temporary overseer.

    Recently, Krull announced his intention to run against presidential candidate, Yeven Nyrr, in the upcoming election. “That tree-hugging, turtle-loving, sandal-wearing sissy is in no way qualified to hold a position of leadership,” Krull said at a recent press conference. “I mean that in the most respectful way possible, of course.” The summoner maintains that his extensive political experience, combined with his uncanny ability to command the demons of hell, makes him the obvious choice for the office.

    A large portion of Krull's platform is founded upon the advancement of the rights of magically animated persons, a group that has been historically neglected by majority parties. Krull urges nations of all factions to reconsider their view of the humanoid constructs. “Just because a golem is made of unfeeling metal and possesses no will of its own doesn't mean we shouldn't care, you know? They have the same rights as everyone else.” When a member of the audience pointed out that nearly 95% of the Brotherhood's inhabitants are subject to the whims of their masters and have no real rights, Krull set fire to several innocent bystanders and ended the interview.

    Order Candidate: Yeven Nyrr


    Yeven Nyrr spent his youth in a countryside province bordering Machine faction territory. When he came of age, he joined the war as an eagle rider and quickly earned a reputation for being an ace pilot and a loyal comrade-in-arms. He headed several successful raids on War holdings until, during a botched rescue operation, his bird was shot down over enemy territory. Somehow, despite several grievous injuries, Nyrr was able to free the three captive soldiers, carry them on his back to safety, and also rescue the wounded puppy they found on the way. His heroic actions made his name famous throughout the Order nations, but due to medical complications, his military career was effectively over.

    In the years following the accident, Nyrr completed training as a certified healer and traveled the continent, bringing aid to wounded soldiers of all factions. He believes that his exposure to multiple cultures would allow him to lead from a unique viewpoint, if he were elected. “I've fought alongside the elves, gotten smashed with the dwarves, and kicked peasants with the orcs. Heck, even the undead are alright, if they're not busy trying to eat your face,” he told the press on Monday. When questioned further about the moral implications of kicking helpless peasants, Nyrr muttered something unintelligible about local customs and quickly excused himself.

    Along with the improvement of inter-faction relations, Nyrr's campaign is also focused on widespread economic reforms, one of this election's hot button issues. He asserts that the current market is “out-of-control,” and that corruption is running rampant. “The real question is not why human charioteers cost over 20,000 gold, but why we're even trafficking humans, in the first place. Isn't that illegal, or something?”

    Lead market officials were unavailable for comment.


    *These campaign posters have been approved by and are the sole responsibility of their respective candidates (who, incidentally, should not be approved of by anyone).

    Interview with John Lawton
    Our artists have been working busily behind the scenes to help make the Unit of the Week program a reality. Joining us today for the third installment in the series of developer interviews is John Lawton.

    I guess to start things off, what's your official job title at the moment?
    My official job title at the moment would be "lead artist," even though I do a little bit of everything right now. I've been here longer than all the other artists, and it's now at the point where I'm making less of the art assets, and instead managing the content our offsite artists create, and then implementing it into the game.

    So what does it take to put a new unit into Saga?
    It actually takes a lot more work that just plugging it in. First, you have to put a unit's mesh and texture into the game, and then you have to animate the unit. You also have to specify what particle effects the unit will use, and create them if they don't exist already. In addition to meshes, textures, animations, and particle effects, you have probably half-a-dozen scripts to tie all of those together. It usually takes about 3 hours to implement a new unit into the game, not counting the time it takes to actually create it. After we implement a new unit, we have to test it to make sure it works and does what it's supposed to do.

    What goes into balancing a unit?
    A lot of time is spent actually playing the game, both on internal and on live in PvP and PvE matches. If there's something that's not working right, the balance team will go in a tweak it, then play a couple of hours on internal to see how the changes work out.

    There's a lot of time spent doing math. A lot of math is involved figuring out what a unit is actually going to do. We have a formula that we've worked out to figure out the actual value of a unit, and also its combat effectiveness (which includes both its stats and its special).

    Not every unit is useful in every situation- there are a lot of them that are good only for niche situations. Then there are your overall good units. There's a variety in the game, but I don't want to say that there's ever a completely useless unit. They all have some use- you just have to know what their strengths and weaknesses are.

    How did you end up entering the game industry?
    Well, my major wasn't actually 3D animation; it was multimedia, which includes a little 3D animation, webpage scripting, and video and audio editing. Kind of the jack-of-all trades major, and that's why after being hired here, I've been filling multiple roles besides just a 3D artist. Most companies will look for what skill you have in animating, and not actually what your degree is. So even though I knew only a small amount of 3D animation compared to someone that had taken 3 years of an animation degree, the quality of work I did was still above-average, and I was able to get a job.

    Most of what is comes to if you're looking to be an artist in the animation industry is just practice, practice, practice. If your artwork stands out, then there will be somebody out there that wants you on their team. You're not going to get hired right away. I went over a year doing odds-and-ends 3D jobs, but my goal was always to find a job in the game industry. It has been ever since I was little.

    When I was younger, I always used to create my own table-top games- you know, figure out all the math formulas. Then I'd get my friends together, and I'd figure out what was working and what wasn't, so then next week we could do it all over again. There's not many people that do that at the age of 10 or 12. (laughter) I think the game industry was meant for me. It was always what I want to do. If you're patient enough, that will happen. Some people just have to get into the industry as something like a tester, and then work their way up into design. The main thing that counts is starting to get experience.

    The Dark Elf Assassin Revealed
    Enemies of the Magic faction have a new reason to fear the shadows; the lethal dark elf assassin is set to be released today, after the new patch has gone live. This skilled (and sultry) blademaster is well-suited to picking off the unprotected or the unwary. With the highest DPS of any magic unit and the ability to teleport short distances, a group of assassins can quickly flank and dispatch any ranged unit unfortunate enough to be caught out in the open. Members of the Order shouldn't take it too hard, though- as far as mortal enemies go, you could probably do a lot worse than a leather-clad temptress with a homicidal disposition.

    The dark elf assassin is the first faction-specific card released as part of the new Card of the Week program, and is a 2CP, uncommon troop. If you're a member of another faction, try to contain your raging jealousy just a little longer; additional faction-specific units are hot on the assassin's heels. Rumor has it that the peculiar combination of dwarven ingenuity and insanity has spawned yet another invention, and if it doesn't explode, it could spell trouble for the Brotherhood.

    Hide the Melee Units
    Dragons are renowned for their ferocity in battle. The blazing wrath of the reds and the righteous fury of the golds send infantrymen scurrying for cover. Few sane men would go toe-to-toe with a green or a black, and the tenacity of a shadow dragon is a match even for archers. However, among all of these fearsome creatures, there is one that stands above the rest: the great dragon.

    Great Dragon
    These ancient terrors signal the appearance of a new type of card in Saga. Deemed "ultra-rares," these cards are designed to be some of the most powerful troops in the game per CP point. Players of all factions can look forward to the opportunity to tame a great dragon, as this card will be neutral.

    Ultra-rares will represent approximately 1 out of every 200 rares, though the odds of receiving an ultra-rare will double if you open you packs in a tournament.

    The Great Dragon is also the first unit in a series of units that will be released. Each week, we'll be introducing a brand new unit. These new units will range across all factions and rarity levels. In no particular order, here is the first wave of warriors that will be stampeding onto the battlefield:
    • Nature: Treant Warrior

    • Light: Giant Magi
    • Machines: Flying Fortress
    • Undead: Humongous Ballistary
    • Magic: Dark Elf Assassin

    • War: Elite Ram

    After the first wave of units has been released, a wave of faction-specific ultra-rares is set to follow. It is rumored that they will possess special abilities the likes of which Gaia has never seen...

    New allies and unfamiliar foes approach! Are you prepared?

    Interview with Adam Ellis
    Today we present you with the second in our series of developer interviews.

    Adam Ellis is one of our quest designers.

    Thanks for taking the time to do this, we’ll try and keep it quick so you can get back to work! As a quest-writer, what does the full process of creating a quest entail?

    It varies slightly from quest to quest. I usually start with an idea or a map. If I start with a map, for example, I’ll develop ideas based on how that map works. Sometimes I end up coming up with both at the same time. Once I know what I’m doing, then I need to script it.


    Can you walk us through the process?

    Surprisingly, it takes some time to do a map; or at least to do one well. The introduction of the larger map sizes actually makes it easier since I don’t have to create the illusion of an environment—I now have enough space to actually create one. It takes a bit of work to make the topography look decent but still be usable to players. And yes, I know that lots of the maps already in the game need a lot of work.

    Scripting and debugging is definitely the most time-consuming part. Each spawn, every chest and its loot (I promise they have loot), all the pop-ups, and everything else has to be put in. Some quests are less complicated than others, but we are working with the programmers to get more advanced features put in to quests so we can make them much more interesting.


    What do you look for in good quest ideas?

    Primarily, the quest has to be fun. That’s why I like getting ideas from players—they often know fun way better than I do. I actually have a number of really good quest ideas in my Inbox that I intend to implement somewhat soon. Our players have some awesome ideas that I need to harass the programmers to make possible (or teach me how to write). Some of the ideas we get from players give us new ideas for quest mechanics, so keep them coming. The game will only improve from players’ input.


    Is quest balance a big priority for you?

    Oh yes. As lots of players have noticed, some quests aren’t quite possible at the levels they appear. And some of them are just plain crazy (the players know which ones I mean). One of the big things I’m going to be working on soon is readjusting almost every quest. We want to make them much better balanced and make them more fun.

    We’re also working on improving the presentation of the overall story arc for the five (soon to be six) factions.


    I know you helped write some of the new quests that feature the Undead, how was that process?

    There was a lot of work that went into that which I didn’t even expect. I spent a while playing with the map editor to see what the new buildings and ground textures looked like in various ways. I even got a new computer here in the office so I can crank out some introductory quests for the Undead a bit quicker. So The Shadow have single-handedly improved my ability to make maps. I suppose I should thank them for that.


    Are you working on any exciting quests right now?

    My top priority is getting some Undead quests in for the near future. We want players to see how powerful they’re going to be. I’ve got a number of simple quests that are designed to showcase them, and those are almost finished, but they need a little more work so they can do the new faction justice.

    After those, I’ve got to go through my Inbox and do the players a little justice as well by putting in some of their ideas. It’s nice to have more ideas than I have time—I don’t have to think of quests myself.


    And now onto our ‘video game industry’ questions – Due to the overwhelming interest to work in the video game industry, we decided to take the chance to ask some of our employees what they think .

    How did you get involved in the video game industry?

    I actually started here at Silverlode as an Intern. My interview was actually pretty interesting; I sat down with Jason and told him how bad I am a RTS games. Did you know I can’t even beat the demo for Starcraft? He hired me anyway and actually had me try to get a feel for the game back in beta to see how noob-friendly it was. I hope I helped simplify it a little for new players.


    Working for a startup company is interesting – employees get the opportunity to help out in a lot of areas of game development. What’s the most interesting task you’ve been given?

    Heheh. What task haven’t I been given over the past few months? I’ve helped fold the booster boxes to ship them, I’ve tested countless features, I’ve even had to translate for our cleaning guy. The most interesting one, I guess, is when they ask me to stay up all night to help new players in chat when we run promos. There are players who think I never sleep.


    Sleep? I’m sure I’ve heard that word before…Well, for our last question, what advice would you give to someone trying to get into the video game industry?

    Get in early, be willing to start out lower than the peons, and do everything you’re asked to do and a little extra!


    Thank you again for your time. We’ll let you get back to working on balancing those new quests!


    Testing Tournaments
    "No!!!"
    -Our lead tester just got matched up against our CFO for the second tournament in a row.

    "I'll give you a $15/hr raise if you can beat me!"
    -*Someone* in authority is pretty certain of his abilities.

    "Do I get a raise if I beat you, Monk?"
    "No, but if you lose you get to keep your job..."
    -A tester

    "How'd you get 4 units of Dark Elf Magi!?!?!"

    -Me, after being ingloriously shut down by John in the Art department.

    "Is the next tournament starting yet?"
    -Pretty much all of us, right after losing.

    "There's NO WAY you could have won without those spells!"
    "That's my whole strategy!"
    "Umm... Point remains guys, we're just testing tournaments right now... these aren't for real."
    The lead tournament programmer responds to our head tester and CEO's conversation


    As you might be able to tell, we've been having a blast around here testing out tournaments (still a few bugs to work out, but we're getting there), and inter-departmental tensions are at an all-time high. I just got beaten by John in Art - he managed to pull 4 dark elf magi! My single unit of Treants went down first, and after that the rest of my army fell pretty quickly (I don't normally play nature).

    I don't think I'd ever realized what a competitive bunch we are! Put in an organized tournament and *wham*, smack talk galore. The losers are generally quite sore, the winners are generally quite immature, and treaties have rapidly come to ban the use of testing commands like 'F9', which instantly kills the selected unit (only on our test builds, never in the released game).

    It's been interesting playing in sealed deck tournaments, because so much of the tournaments relies upon being able to craft a solid strategy with cards that were given to you randomly. Also, it's been very interesting to see the re-prioritization of spell usage. An earlier battle between myself and the CEO resulted in him deploying a single cavalry unit and blasting me with as many spells as he could.

    Kiting aside, it's interesting to see what strategies are developed on-the-fly. Sometimes you only get one or two units you want, and a lot of filler. Sometimes you get a healer or two, and hope that a tank is coming soon.

    Needless to say, tournaments are shaping up to be amazing - and we're all enjoying them immensely. We're working as hard as we can to get them to you, the players, as soon as we can! We'll be bringing you more about tournaments as development progresses ~

    Origins Wrap Up
    Apologies for missing the last show update. I lost my voice late Saturday showing Saga to new player #973. I’m not sure how that kept me from blogging, but that’s my story and I’m sticking with it.

    It has been seven years since I last showed a game at the Origins show and I can report that not much has changed. Sure there were new products on display, some that I didn’t even recognize, but overall the players were just as excited as ever to play their favorites and search out new products to bring home. Among the best of the new products of course was Saga.

    We had many players stop by the booth who had seen a review in the past or were dragged over by their friends. It was rewarding to see their eyes light at the same time as a bulb did over their heads when they started to grasp the scope of Saga and imagine the possibilities. Many ran off with a copy of the game only to return hours later with more friends in tow. Saga really is a lot more fun when you quest with friends.

    Amazingly enough the feature players were most impressed with was the anonymous help chat. They were astounded watching question after question get answered quickly by the community without the condescending attitude they are used to in many other MMO’s. I couldn’t have been prouder of our players.

    When I get back to the office tomorrow, I will post some additional shots of new and current players, for now I leave you with this shot of Casey, owner of SagaUnits, trying to “catch them all”.


     

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