New Orleans

Monday 12
Paris-Charlotte: despite the noise, I enjoy the plane's multimedia system. The Adjustment Bureau, Cheaters, Flight of the Conchords...
Charlotte-New Orleans: I am sitting next to a strong, silent type dude watching 24.
I arrive at the Ursuline Guest House in the French Quarter around 6PM, which happens to be wine o'clock in this particular place. I enjoy a good glass of red wine with hosts Bill and Marlin; then a second one; then I ask for a drop and get a full refill, captain's orders; then my memory blurs and I am playing with a set of spoons on a tin washboard with Bill.
There is an "employees only" sign on the door of Room 6B (think: Floor 7½). I crawl into a cramped room full of character. It would look like a suite to submariner smurfs and is quite the atmospheric base of operation if you do not intend to sleep much anyway. Six-feet tall people cannot lay straight on the bed. I hunch my way to the shower then slither back into the bed, where I spend my jet-lag in wonderful half-sleep.

Tuesday 13
I grab a huge, all-encompassing, "All That Jazz" mushrooms shrimps and win sandwich at Verti Marte. I visit the French Market. I buy a superb multi-dyed velvet scarf in Dutch Alley from her very maker, who tells me she likes quiche lorraine. Friendly people all around. I rest a bit in Jackson Square and later take a peek at Greg's Antiques. The magnificent city bathes in infernal heat. I push into the Tremé neighborhood, but it is late.
I try to regain composure inside the scalding hot tub in the courtyard of the guest house.
I am an all-you-can-eat buffet for mosquitoes. By the end of my stay, the little bloodsuckers will have taken more than thirty blood points from me.
At night, I drink a local Abita beer with Jeremy H., a recently arrived French expatriate, at Lafitte's, the oldest bar in the Quarter and hence one of America's oldest.

Wednesday 14
I wander into Louis Armstrong Park. I spend quite some time in the New Orleans African American Museum, set in a beautiful Tremé villa. A French-speaking curator helps me and a couple from Martinique understand the madness that slavery was ("Drapetomania: A Disease Called Freedom") and appreciate the vibrancy of local art. I absorb the beauty of Marcus Akinlana's paintings into my skin and vow to use it as a sadness repellent.
I eat at Lil' Dizzy: salad and fried chicken, rice, red beans, sweet tea. Tasty.
Bill has invited me to a sailing race on his boat. First we stop at a supermarket to buy a few bags of ice. Then we board the Stray Bullet with smiling crew members Kenny, Tucker, Miranda, Thomas, Rachel and Lance. The ship launches into Lake Pontchartrain, where the sky blurs into the sea. We chat, drink cold beer and have good fun while the most dedicated and skilled crew members make sure the ship holds her own in the race. That is a fantastic and precious moment and I am grateful to Captain Bill and his friends for it.

Thursday 15
The weather has downgraded from hellish to very hot. With a dozen other geeks, I follow the man with the hat, cold-skinned Lord Chaz, to St. Louis Cemetery One. Lord Chaz has been a guide in New Orleans for two decades and the layer of stories he adds over churches and crypts makes them pulse with darkness under midday sun. I learn of St. Expedite, of entombed people saved by the bell and of coffins banging against the stone over them.
I devour a half-muffaletta at Central Grocery, treat myself with a Creole praline and head to the Monteleone Hotel to attend the Grand Masquerade convention.
The master of ceremony asks attendees not to wear weapons and not to brutalize each other. America.
I play a first pen-and-paper Vampire game with the Wrecking Crew, the group in charge of this kind of games at the Grand Masquerade. My character somehow survives, thanks to a fragile relationship with Baron Samedi.
I take part to the French Quarter Opening Night Reception, a classy party with beautiful people. I make friends. An acrobat dances in a piece of cloth, suspended under a chandelier, and pours wine into glasses.
After the party, I eat a good hamburger in Clover Grill, a dinner on Bourbon Street, far enough from the noise.

Friday 16
I attend two panels and end up in a gigantic line. Everybody and his fanged cousin wants his version of the Vampire 20th anniversary edition book signed by the authors and contributors. Endless lines are gifts by superior entities to make sure we pay attention to the people around and make new friends.
In the evening, I spend some time at the Bayou Club on Bourbon to find Bill and Lance. T'Canaille performs Cajun music. Frank (Cajun singer), Bill (only musician in the world, he explained to me, to use three-spoons-and-a-fork), Lance (accordion) and four other musicians give the crowd a good time. There is some dancing and a lot of spoon music by many people. "Allons danser!"
A permanent sound battle plays out in Bourbon Street by now. Each bar unleashes insane amounts of decibels onto the street. This is madness. No, this is NOLA!
I retreat with Joe a fellow geek to Clover Grill for another delicious hamburger.
Finding the Canadian-made International Party and exchanging rumors about it makes it all the more fun when it begins at 1AM. The theme is the Prohibition: bathtubs of cranberry-flavored gin are in order. Making friends, chatting.

Saturday 17
The morning begins at noon.
I head at Johnny's Po-Bo and regale myself with a bowl gumbo.
I see things you people wouldn't believe. Chicago Bears trucks worming their way through the French Quarter. I watch break dancers do their thing in the place in front of Jackson Square. All those moments will be lost in time, like an overused movie quote.
At the guest house, I make friends with the week-end guests.
At last, the Succubus Club party begins in the House of Blues on Decatur Street. The venue is a pleasure to navigate. Multiple dancefloors with multiple DJs. Good sound and not too much noise. Open bars all over the place. Performers to amaze us. The high point is a play where actors exemplify seven different kinds of vampires.
A friendly fellow named Doug gives me a cigar. I religiously smoke it all night long while gulping down Abitas and butterflying.

Sunday 18
I play another tabletop Vampire game with the Wrecking Crew. Mike's story of "Great Uncle Victor" is a real treat. The roleplaying experience and effort put into this game by everybody is appreciated. My character tries to kill the guy he was supposed to protect, ultimately fails and ends up in vampiric torpor.
After that, I buy a sandwich at Verti Marte, eat it on a bench in front of the Mississipi (Mississipi!) river. The city is in front of the TV to watch the Saints triumph over the Bears. Who Dat?
I say my farewells to the French Quarter, bathing in its beauty. Then I bathe in the hot tub at the guest house, I take a shower, I drink some water, I drink some wine, I eat some cheese. Time to relax for one last evening in this courtyard.

Monday 19
It rains. New Orleans-Charlotte, Charlotte-Paris. In the plane, strong and silent, I watch the first episode of a 24 season (the one where Jack Bauer kills a guy with his bare mouth, vampire-like on the neck). Arrival at 6:30AM on Tuesday.


Worlds of Darkness 8: Q&A MMO panel at the Grand Masquerade 2011

I was present Saturday, September 17th at the Q&A MMO panel in the Royal Sonesta Hotel in New Orleans. Reynir Harðarson (creative director) and Chris McDonough (senior producer) gave little bits of information here and there and answered questions and queries from the assembly.
My notes, below, have been edited Saturday 24th to include my comments. I used quote marks for clarity purpose; these are not exact quotes.

- High-level design principles
"Before the advent of computer gaming, games were multiplayer. The trend is a return to that. True human interaction is most interesting."
"You can play very casually -e.g. like Magic:The Gathering."
"The game will feature external access from the Web."

- Scope of the game
"Vampires only initially, no other critters (otherwise shallow, lack of depth). Caitiffs are not part of the original game."
CCP has confirmed that, at start, the game will only feature the seven clans from the 1991 Camarilla. Werewolves or mages may be present as part of the occult background, but only as non-playing characters. It makes sense to focus on a small part of the World of Darkness (WoD) and to do it right before expanding the scope. The pen-and-paper game started that way. The print collection provides a template for a development roadmap. While adding layers of systems to the depth of the game, CCP just needs to make sure every one is properly "corified" so as to be fully compatible with potential developments in scope.
- Game mechanics design
"Live action roleplaying (LARP) inspiration for systems."
This neatly answers my question about the core gameplay model for this game. Eve Online had Elite or Freelancer. World of Darkness, the MMO, has the Mind's Eye Theatre game line. We will gather, we will chat, we will plot. There is a model for that, and it functions well -ask the thousand or so Larpers who attended the Grand Masquerade.

"It is possible to gain influence without fighting anyone. You can fight stuff, but it is not the only way."
"You have to make friends."
"There is some metaplot, but it unfolds differently."
Chris: "player-driven metaplot". This was an answer to a player demanding some story.
"World events: in."

- Game objects and world setting
"There are non-playing characters (NPCs)."
This was an answer to a question by Justin Achilli, former developer at CCP and currently in charge of the open development process with the V20 Companion Book. It looked like an inside joke question, however I am going to guess it might have been based on an actual discussion where Justin would have advocated the removal of non-playing characters. Only players (in two meanings of the word) might have been able to fulfill a number of functions such as dialogue and unique in-game appearance.

"The choice was difficult but the other options (like playing mortals during the day) were rejected: permanent nighttime."
The developers do not want to prevent the players from playing the characters dearest to them half of the day. Makes sense. It does not even prevent CCP from introducing daytime in the future as another shard with passageways into the nighttime shard or something like that.

Hopefully with a way to design them.

"One big huge community, multiple cities."
"No duplicates, there are differences between each city."
If I understood well (really not sure about this one), you can start the game in the WoD reflection of your real life city and try to plot your way to Princedom there (or elsewhere).
Perhaps CCP could try to crowdsource part of the design of some elements of what constitutes a city to the community? I can imagine people from Mexico, for example, building some Elysium in Mexico City with a housing tool otherwise used for havens. I would trust them to add more local flavor than CCP ever could.
And what about devising a program to partner with real world outlets, like nightclubs (advertising revenue for CCP, added content to the World of Darkness)?

A player requested that the use of Dementation powers could impact the interface of players of the affected characters, if I understood well. At least graphical effects. "We have systems for that."

- New player experience and character life cycle
"Everyone starts as a mortal. You cannot be Embraced against your will."
If a player tries to Embrace you, you will have the possibility to refuse. It means you can probably choose your Sire and your Clan. If I understood correctly the answer, it also implied that Embraces are player-made, with multiple consequences:
- you will have a hard time accessing the most exciting part of the game if you like to play MMOs without ever talking to other players; the socialization incentive this system provides will help form the first social structures;
- there can be systems using genealogy, both in and out of game.

"Unique characters."
Already the case in Eve Online, graphically speaking.
"The standard character sheet is similar to the one in the RPG."
Five-dot skills fit nicely with Eve Online's five-level skill system.

- Player versus player combat (PvP)
"You should never be totally safe."
Like in Eve Online. You can attack everybody everywhere, but there are consequences.

"Attacking other players lowers your Humanity and a low Humanity allows other players to attack you."
This control mechanism might naturally entice players to segregate themselves according to their Humanity rating.

"PvP is very different (from what I don't remember), smoother and more restrictive."

"You can die permanently – including vampires."
Like for the Embrace, permadeath appears to be a matter of choice. It would make sense to carefully craft a set of guarantees around it. Just ask any Eve Online player who lost his shiny ship to a wave of lag. You do want the players to be able to evade permadeath by following specified courses of action.
Permadeath does not need to mean the loss will hurt you as much as would, for example, the loss of your character in Eve Online. There are ways to make it more palatable to players, as I previously pointed out. If the player can come back as another vampire, possibly even of lower Generation, it can offset the loss of all his contacts, wealth, boons and other assets. After all, CCP does want to kill characters, not to lose customers.

"Diablerie and Generation under discussion."
Generation is more troublesome than Diablerie if the playerbase Embraces itself, if you wish to stick with the canon. You would probably need to renounce the limit on Fifteenth Generation.
Plus, a system with player-run Embraces set in the Old World of Darkness would put new players at a heavier and heavier disadvantage as time goes by. Blood Potency, as a replacement or a complement to Generation, could solve this issue.
EDIT: Chris says a little bit more in an interview with Generation could end up being the result of your in-game activies, like levels in Diku-type MMOs.

- Roleplaying and maturity
"This is not forced roleplaying game but emergent. The interests of player and character converge: that is roleplaying."
I hope they entirely remove static quests, using other devices to retain players who like to farm.

"A staff lawyer is looking into the implications of adult content. Characters in underwear are not allowed in public spaces, you can do it in havens. Opening the possibility for full nudity risks lowering the maturity of the game by opening venues of abuse by kids, trolls, etc."
"Inappropriate character names can be reported, there will be bans on that ground."
Good luck to them for that.
There will be tons of abuse in the game, if only because betrayals and character assassinations are part of the eternal war vampires wage against each other, and accepting with good grace the loss of a character in a contemporary world, who looks like a cooler version of yourself, will not come easily to many players. I think that, like in Eve Online, reputation will be everything.

- System requirements
Query about keeping minimum system requirements low.
Chris jokes "The game is done, we wait for machines to become powerful enough to run it."
"It's gonna run on the laptop."
Common sense. When World of Warcraft came out, the average machine was able to deal with cartoonish graphics. In two years time, even smartphones may be able to handle realistic graphics.
Also, not entirely untrue. Some Eve Online players reported losing their graphic card to the Incarna expansion (which uses the graphic engine common with WoD).

- Localization
"Epic localization system" called Cerberus... Same for Eve Online. (French version on the way!)

They also said:
"There will be more next year, everything is not set in stone."

I urge you to check the post on Umbral Echoes for another take on this MMO panel.