The End of an Era

mythiclogo

As of this morning, the first studio I worked for – Mythic Entertainment – has been closed.   There will be plenty of poorly-informed theorizing about “what happened” in comment threads and snarky forums elsewhere, so I’m going to ignore that side of things myself and just reminisce a bit.

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Second Chance Heroes has (finally) launched!

Second Chance Heroes (aka “That Thing I Was Doing in Alabama”) has finally launched!  For iOS devices, at least.

The Mac/PC version continues to wallow in the unmitigated awfulness of the Steam Greenlight process, where it’s been stuck for nearly a year, but at least it’s playable for SOME folks now!

It’s  free  99¢* so if you’ve got an iPad (2 or newer) or an iPhone (4s or newer), you should give it a shot (and yes, that is your Humble Host pitch-hitting as the voice of a few characters).  And when it eventually comes out for PC/Mac, you should play it again, because it will be super-awesome at Glorious Properly High Resolutions.

So far, the response has been pretty much universally positive.

We’re on the front page of the iTunes App Store for Best New Games:

SCHFrontPage

 

Our overall app rating withing iTunes is 4 1/2 stars (out of 5).

Our Metacritic rating is currently sitting at 84%.

Players’ main comments appear to be a combination of “this is how free to play games should be” and “I wish you’d just let me buy this outright”, which is a fair enough point.  Other than that, they love how it looks, love how it plays and seem to enjoy the puns (THE WONDERFUL PUNS) I fought endlessly to include.

But my favorite moments so far are probably these two player reviews:

“I like this game because it reminds me of my past life when I was a centaur.  Thank you for letting me be myself. – 5 stars”

and

“Initially I grabbed it because of the multiplayer but honestly it’s a passel of fun all by its lonesome.”

Henceforth, fun shall be measured EXCLUSIVELY in passels.

 

* [UPDATE: 2/23/14]  After a week on the market, “free with gentle IAP” apparently wasn’t cutting it revenue-wise.  As a result, the game is now 99¢, with even-cheaper IAP options.  The RCS crew posted an explanation here.  

WAR is (still) Everywhere

The WAR Team

The WAR Team

The tagline “WAR is Everywhere” was part of the top-level marketing shtick we used during the development of Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning. It was supposed to indicate that the game would be – above all else – about a permanent, ongoing, PvP/RvR struggle. It was initially just part of an effort to differentiate WAR from other titles where PvP was a secondary component, but it became a somewhat broader concept as development progressed. By the time we launched, it felt like WAR – the game itself – was EVERYWHERE.

I’m not going to waste time picking at old wounds or attempting to offer a post-mortem commentary on “what happened”. There’s been tons of gossip and speculation and smug armchair game design (and project management) in the years since it launched. Some small bits of it have been on-target. Most of it is uninformed BS. It will be up to people well above my pay grade to decide if the “real story” ever gets told, but in the meantime I will say this:

We were proud of and confident in the game we launched. We knew it had enormous potential. We knew it had been well-built and crafted with care and affection by hundreds of developers. We knew that those developers spent YEARS of their lives, giving it their all to make sure that WAR would be everywhere and enjoyed across the globe.

In a few hours, Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning will go offline for good.

That’s sad in a lot of ways, not the least of which being that the hard work that hundreds of developers put into it will vanish, without a meaningful way to ever visit it again. It’s one of the cruel realities of MMORPG development. You can’t just load up your old work years later and show it off to your kids.

But it DOESN’T change the fact that – now more than ever – WAR is everywhere.

WAR launched a little over five years ago and began development a few years prior to that. It was a huge part of a lot of lives for a very long time and it will be sad to see it slip away. But for most of us, our direct involvement with the game ended years ago. Only a small handful of people who actually worked on WAR are still at Mythic to see it shut down firsthand. The vast majority have moved on. Some have left the industry entirely. Most have joined new studios, teams and projects. But everyone took some of WAR with them, out into the world.

If you look around the industry today at pretty much any major MMO being developed in the Western market, you will find WAR there. Sometimes, it will be in the games themselves where concepts and ideas that first showed up in WAR have been “gently borrowed”. Mostly, however, it’s in the people making those games. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a major MMORPG team whose leadership doesn’t feature someone who cut their teeth as a developer on WAR. In some cases, HUGE chunks of the WAR team simply set up shop in a new project – old comrades in a new home.

That hasn’t happened by accident. We didn’t miraculously recruit a team of people who were already the Best There Is At What They Do. The WAR project helped MAKE them that. It gave people an opportunity to learn and struggle and grow. Oddly enough, I suspect that – had WAR been a run-away success – a lot of those people WOULDN’T have become the industry leaders they are today. It’s hard to toughen up and get stronger in a comfortable environment. It’s even harder to grow if you never leave the nest.

When those people walked away from Mythic, regardless of why, many found an industry that respected their experience, their talent and their hard work. More importantly, they found an industry that WANTED that experience and talent and hard work for new projects.

Personally, WAR gave me amazing opportunities that I will be forever thankful for. It let me do lots of silly things, it let me travel the world (always cattle-class, but still a good opportunity!), it let me meet tons of amazing people – on the team, in the wider industry and among the hordes of fans. But probably most importantly, it taught me lessons I make use of every day now. Hard-won wisdom, first learned (and earned) in the trenches of WAR has helped me be a better designer, producer and director.

As I said, in a few hours, WAR itself will go offline forever. But the people who made it will carry the lessons they learned with them onto countless projects, both now and in the future. The next time you log into a new MMORPG, scan the credits for familiar names and when (inevitably) you find them, you can smile and think “WAR is here too”.

As a final note, I wanted to touch on the folks whose post-WAR experiences haven’t been entirely rosy. I don’t want to gloss over the real human cost of the project’s failure to become a blockbuster, because that’s a very real part of the story as well. I realize that not everyone was able to transition to new and better things, at least not within our industry. There were a large number of people who simply decided they couldn’t put their families through the stress of the game development “lifestyle” anymore. For those folks, I totally get it and wish them well. But there were also plenty of people who left the team and were never able to find a new industry gig. That, to me, is a tragic waste of talent and experience and potential. I hope that everyone who worked on WAR is aware that – for all of the bumps and bruises we endured after it launched – the work they did is held in high regard across our industry.

WAR’s End

Today is the 5th anniversary of the launch of Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning. Never lacking a flair for the dramatic, moments ago Mythic announced that WAR will be shutting down on December 18th of this year.

It’s been years since I worked for Mythic and I haven’t closely followed anything about the game during that interval, but it always felt oddly nice to know that – somewhere out there – folks were still playing WAR (and DAoC and UO, for that matter). This shutdown represents the first time a game I helped launch will go offline for good and, I don’t mind saying, it’s a sad thing to consider.

WAR wasn’t the first game I worked on, but it WAS the first game I worked on from the very start of production and – until recently – it represented the single longest project of my career. It was certainly the LARGEST game I’ve worked on so far. I worked with hundreds of people, all over the world (and amassed enough frequent flyer miles that I started getting holiday cards from airlines). I had the distinct pleasure of meeting with thousands and thousands of fans.

Every, single person on that team worked their butt off to make the best game they possibly could. And like everyone on the team that built it, there are bits of me and my life in WAR.

A small example:

There’s an NPC – Vorque, the Skaven – named after a friend of mine who passed away while we were still in early production. The last thing he said to me before he died was an impassioned plea for playable Skaven in WAR, so it only seemed fitting to immortalize him in that small way. It will feel strange to see Virtual Vorque go away as well.

We had HUGE plans for WAR. We wanted it to be something that grew and thrived and endured for many, many years. It’s sad that things didn’t work out that way. Nevertheless, I’m proud of WAR. It’s a good game that brought a lot of joy to a lot of people. And five years is a solid run.

So to the folks I worked with all those years ago and to the millions of people who played WAR over its lifetime, cheers and a hearty, bittersweet WAAAAGH! to you all.

Oh hey, look at our new game!

Oh, blog. I’m so sorry that forgot about you when we announced our new game last month. I assure you, I told Facebook and Twitter ALL ABOUT IT.

Anywho, here’s the announcement trailer:

[NOTE: All videos got nuked when the studio closed for reasons I cannot understand.]

And here’s some gameplay (WARNING: BETA FOOTAGE/me talking):

[NOTE: All videos got nuked when the studio closed for reasons I cannot understand.]

click here click here IGN said some nice things about us already and Rock Paper Shotgun declared that we have “just the right amount of Abraham Lincoln”, which is high praise indeed.

So… yeah. That’s what I’ve been up to!

P.S. Vote for us on Greenlight!

What the Video Game Industry Needs to Learn from the Comics Industry of the 1950s

This is long. I’d normally apologize, but I feel like it’s all very important to say. While it takes quite a while, I promise it gets around to video games eventually.

Crime SuspenStories

“I can see how you might get confused and think this is for kids.”

In the early 1950s, comics were a HUUUUGE business. More than 600 titles were published each month and annual sales topped a BILLION issues, industry-wide. It’s fair to say that comic books at that time were roughly analogous to video games today, both in terms of popularity and in terms of market scale. And that market was growing in size AND scope every year.

By the end of the 1940s, interest in superheroes had faded as the audience that first grew up on comics moved into adulthood. As a result, while there were still plenty of books aimed directly at children, many of the best-selling titles featured stories aimed at young adult and adult audiences. Comics featuring crime capers, detective stories and gruesome horror tales routinely topped the sales charts.

The content of these books was presented quite explicitly. The audience wasn’t being tricked into buying something with an innocuous cover or title only to discover an unexpected trove of horror within. It’s hard to imagine kids were routinely able to buy these books WITHOUT the local vendor’s awareness and no parent was going to mistake “Tales from the Crypt” for a kid-friendly “funny animal” book.

At the same time, the United States was in the midst of a panic related to the perceived scourge of “juvenile delinquency” and the public demanded action!

In 1953, the bipartisan “United States Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency” was convened to start the kind of “dialog” about the causes of delinquency that are now routinely being called for in relation to gun violence. This was no simple task, since vague ideas like “juvenile delinquency” tend to have extremely fluid definitions and rarely have overt – much less singular – causes. And, of course, there were the added issues of not wanting to target any group or cause that had significant political influence. What Congress needed was a scapegoat without any serious defenders. And it needed it FAST. Read more ›

Concerning Hobbits

So… this is going to get deep into the weeds of geekdom pretty quickly, so here’s a brief, spoiler-free review of the first installment of Peter Jackson’s “Hobbit” trilogy for folks who don’t want to wade through minutia and plot-points:

Overall, I thought it was good. There were some bits I disliked, but far more often than not, I enjoyed how the story was handled. It’s true that some of the whimsy of the source material is lost in an effort to make it jibe properly with the “epic” scale of LotR, but I didn’t mind the tonal nudging that much.

The Crazy Frame Rate tech was… curious. In places, it really shone and the results were pretty amazing. It worked best in chaotic action sequences where things normally get muddled and hard to follow. But when things slowed down, it was distracting and tended to make things feel less believable. In particular, things like dwarf axes looked blunt and fake – like all the weight was missing from them. Still, it’s PROBABLY worth seeing it in Crazy Frame Rate mode, just so you can see what the fuss is about.

Compared to the LotR films, I would say it’s not as good as any one of those, but it falls short of them by a relatively slim margin and is definitely worth seeing.

From here on out, it’s all spoilers and super-geek stuff, so be warned.

Read more ›

It is Fear, O Little Developer, it is Fear!

“Ere the Moon has climbed the mountain, ere the rocks are ribbed with light,

When the downward-dipping tails are dank and drear;

Comes a breathing hard behind thee, snuffle-snuffle through the night–

It is Fear, O Little Hunter, it is Fear!”

 

– Rudyard Kipling

Over the past week, lots of folks from around the industry have been linking and nodding approvingly in response to this article offering “7 Reasons You Don’t Want To Work in the Video Game Industry”.  Like most things that get people worked up, there’s some truth to what is written there, but I take issue with much of what’s on the list.  My main complaint is the suggestion that most of these problems are unique to game development somehow.  With one exception, they are not – and I don’t mean that in the sense of the problems being shared in a limited way with a small number of other jobs. 6 out of the 7 are problems that apply nearly universally to ALL jobs.  Specifically:

7. You Won’t Work On A Game You Like

(1/2 true) You won’t ALWAYS work on something you love, but you often will. When I was getting started doing testing and support work, I had to deal with some stinkers, but I also got to work with lots of stuff I really enjoyed. Once I was properly into development, I never worked on a game I didn’t love again.  But beyond that, how many OTHER industries allow you to work on “things you like”?  Almost none, by my reckoning.  The worst thing I’ve had to do as a game developer is more interesting to me than the best thing I can imagine doing as a lawyer.

6. You’ll Be Expected To Move Far, Far Away

(true) Maybe not right away, but if you stick around long enough, expect to be shuffled all over the planet in cattle class. The good news: This usually doesn’t happen until you’re fairly senior in the industry.  I find it odd, however, that the author focused on the issue of having to travel abroad to work with international teams (which, as I mentioned, tends to mostly impact Management).  The more widespread (and problematic) scenario is that you’ll have to move around domestically to find work, often once every few years.  Regular state-to-state relocation makes it hard to do things like buy a house or feel comfortable starting a family.

Oddly, this wound up protecting lots of developers (myself included) when the housing market tanked.  I never felt comfortable or confident enough to get the $350-500,000 mortgage that would have been necessary to “own” a reasonably-sized home in the DC area (where I lived when the Recession hit).  As a result, when the housing market collapsed, I felt like I’d dodged a MAJOR bullet.  When I was laid off couple years later, I felt the same way.

5. The Fans Will Attack You For Everything

(true) Fans will get mad at you, but it’s only because they love (or want to love) your work. There are far worse things than lots of people giving a damn about what you do.  In addition, the fans will ALSO be your strongest, most steadfast advocates.  Personally, I get something out of both strong criticism and vocal praise, so I don’t consider this to be a “problem”.  This is probably the ONLY thing on the list that is “unique” to game development (and its other creative brethren).

4. Nobody Will Understand Your Job

(false) People understand game development WAAAAY better than many jobs. Imagine being a cop or a lawyer or a doctor, where a huge chunk of the population watches 30 hours a week of procedural dramas that TOTALLY misrepresent their jobs. THOSE guys are misunderstood, not us. In addition, almost no job is really “understood” by people outside that field. Do YOU know what your tax preparer does when it’s not tax season? I assume mine fights crime in a magical kingdom filled with math wizards.

Also, who CARES?  Honestly, unless you’re desperate to constantly be told how special and interesting you are, do you really give a damn about your spouse’s co-worker’s husband being intimately familiar with the ins and out of your daily routine during a chat at a dinner party?

3. You Can’t Complain – Literally

(1/2 true) You can complain about serious issues – forced overtime, hostile work environments, etc. just as much as any other person can. I know of NO cases where someone complained about a legit workplace problem and was then punished (much less fired) for raising it.  Most studios have well-trained, diligent HR departments who take that kind of thing VERY seriously.

Obviously, if you bad-mouth your employer or berate your coworkers or the product you’re working on publicly, you’ll get fired. But you’d get fired if you did that ANYWHERE.

2. You Will Work So Many Hours, You Will Essentially Stop Existing

(true) Yep. You’ll work long hours. Crunch exists and it sucks. Companies know this and (generally) try to make it suck as little as possible, but that doesn’t excuse it.   It’s worth noting that, as the Great Recession drags on, this type of “work more with less” approach is becoming the norm EVERYWHERE.  Leaving game development won’t magically help you “start existing” again (assuming you could find work at all).

1. You Will Get Fired

(1/2 true) You probably WON’T get fired. That would mean that you were removed with cause based on poor performance. If you do good work, you almost certainly won’t get fired. You probably WILL get laid off. If you HAVEN’T been laid off before, you’re probably very young. But that’s also true for nearly every OTHER industry in the world right now aside from repo men and undertakers.

So what’s it all mean?

To me, it means that the game industry has positive and negative features that you should consider before deciding to pursue it.  MANY of the negative features it has are shared with MOST professions, but very FEW of its positive features exist elsewhere. There are excellent reasons to thing long and hard before diving into game development – even when times are good everywhere else, but there’s no reason to think about it as a “scary” industry that dooms all who enter to suffering and defeat.

We live in unsettling economic times, regardless of the industry we work in. This calls for caution and patience and long contemplation of our options. If you’ve done the leg work necessary to learn what game development would REALLY be like and the risks and labor seem “worth it” to you, then I say be not afraid – go forth and take your shot.

Hail to the chief, he’s the chief, so let’s get… um… hailing.

So… what am I up to these days BESIDES working on [SECRET], which is a [SECRET]-style game about [SECRET] set in a [SECRET]?

Why, I’m running for President, that’s what!

I assure you, this is only PARTLY a shameless act of self-promotion. Stay tuned for more (but stay tuned on the other site, since… ya know… I’m lazy).

Oscar Predictions

Just under the wire, here are my predictions for this year:

Actor in a leading role

Who should win: Colin Firth
Who will win: Colin Firth

Actor in a supporting role

Who should win: Geoffrey Rush
Who will win: Geoffrey Rush

A win for Bale would be great since he was equally excellent, but tie goes to the better film.

Actress in a leading role

Who should win: Natalie Portman
Who will win: Natalie Portman

To quote myself from elsewhere: She went down the “How to Win An Oscar” list and checked every box. Lost an unhealthy amount of weight for the role? Check. Straight actor doing same-sex love scenes? Check. Commenting on a comfortably damnable subject? Check.

Actress in a supporting role

Who should win: Hailee Steinfeld
Who will win: Hailee Steinfeld

There were some very weak contenders in this category. Steinfeld is the only sane choice.

Best motion picture of the year

Who should win: Black Swan, True Grit or The Social Network
Who will win: The King’s Speech

Anything but Inception will do, really.

Achievement in directing

Who should win: Tom Hooper or Darren Aronofsky
Who will win: Tom Hooper

Sometimes, precision and reserve can win the day. The lack of a nomination for Nolan seems to indicate that the Academy is feeling that way this year.

Adapted screenplay

Who should win: The Social Network
Who will win: The Social Network

Honestly… they made a movie about a website gripping and intense.

Original screenplay

Who should win: The Kids Are All Right
Who will win: Inception

I just have a bad feeling about this one. I hope I’m wrong.

Best documentary feature

Who should win: Exit Through the Giftshop
Who will win: Inside Job

EXtG was amazing. A Banksy acceptance speech would be potentially mind-blowing. But Inside Job lets Hollywood think it’s super-duper-important, so it’s got a leg up there.

Best animated feature film

Who should win: How to Train Your Dragon
Who will win: Toy Story 3

Not a great showing this year for this category. Toy Story 3 was deeply mediocre, especially by Pixar standards. HtTYD was at least wacky fun.

Achievement in art direction

Who should win: Inception
Who will win: Inception

I think Inception will pick up a lot of the more technical awards and get snubbed in all of the major categories.

Achievement in cinematography

Who should win: Black Swan of The King’s Speech
Who will win: Inception

People seem to thing that CGI, slo-mo and practical gags Kubrick pioneered in the 70s are a revolutionary visual styling.

Achievement in costume design

Who should win: True Grit
Who will win: The Tempest

Not much thought going into this one. Alice in Wonderland shouldn’t win because it was pure CGI rubbish. True Grit had cowboys and I like cowboys. Meh.

Achievement in film editing

Who should win: Black Swan
Who will win: Black Swan

That movie scared the bejeezus out of me. Mostly due to its editing.

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