May 2001

E3 HIT AND RUN [Author: Lum the Mad]

Just a brief update post to let you all know what’s coming. J and Lietgardis are here with me listening to the opera singers at the swimming pool. Surrealism in full effect.

From yesterday, our talk with Shadowbane’s Sam “Meridian” Johnson on some basic design concepts. I also asked Josef “Arcane” Hall, Wolfpack’s President today some pointed questions about publishers, beta dates and future plans. (I also threatened to kick Belthior’s ass. Which, when I remembered he was a Shao Lin kung fu instructor, marked me as a completely stupid person.)

This morning, I sat down with Gordon “Abashi” Wrinn to talk turkey about Luclin, and what’s coming soon in Everquest PvP. I also got a guided tour of Planetside from Kevin McCann, that game’s producer. Those to be posted later as well.

Unfortunately, thanks to a disastrous morning my interview with Bob Roland and the rest of the Netdevil team didn’t happen. (Sorry, Bob, I did NOT mean to stand you guys up.) However, I talked about it some with Baelish when I ran into him, and he showed me Jumpgate’s manual. Yes, they have a real manual. A REAL THICK MANUAL. SPIRAL BOUND. Someone at Netdevil knows what they are doing.

This afternoon we sat down with Mark Jacobs (CEO), Matt Firor (Producer) and Dave Rickey (Designer) of Dark Age of Camelot. Lots of news there which we’ll update you on. One word: N’Sync.

This evening we’re going to drive out to World Fusion to get a look at Atriarch. So Zang, yes, we’re going to have some Atriarch news. Calm down.

Oh, and UGO brought Gary Coleman again. I watched him play some video game for a minute, but then realized I was staring at a midget playing a video game along with dozens of other people. So I stopped.


. . . If I may, allow me to offer some points, from the perspective of someone who has done marketing, community and now (some) development.

First, hype is important. In fact, for a small developer, hype can make or break you, as you said. But hype is actually just as important for the large developers as well. Of course, I agree, that hype should be backed up with actual content…but it is extremely important for a marketing department to “talk up” the game and make it sound like it is the best thing since sliced bread. Like it or not, that is what they are paid to do. It’s not the marketing professional’s job to make the game be that good, that’s the job of the developers. See, marketing folks can only talk about what they are told. If a developer tells the marketing department that their game will have laser guided yo-yos, and that the laser guided yo-yos will be the best laser guided yo-yos ever, and the marketing person feels that laser guided yo-yos will be a selling point (based on market research, focus groups, past experience, etc.), s/he’s going to use it in the prerelease hype…and it’s up the developer to fullfill that obligation. If the marketing department downplays the game or its features, prospective players will immediately assume the game is trash. The marketing department also has to make sure the press is excited about the game. Getting on the cover of a gaming publication can affect your bottom line significantly…and the magazines will only put games on their cover that they think players will want to read about…and the way to get players to want to read about it is hype.

Having said that, I personally feel we (the industry) are announcing these games too early which can lead to the problem you highlight about developers talking to players. This point here…”Either hire a professional marketing department so players aren’t nervous about your product due to poorly managed comments from the team, or keep quiet unless you can tell the players something about your product with no less than 100% certainty.”

But here is the problem, the catch 22. Players ask questions on the boards. They want answers to those questions. Developers, if they cannot talk about a system until it is 100% finished, have to say things like “We’re thinking about that.” or “Hey, that’s an interesting idea, thanks for the feedback!” Players hate that. And actually, so do developers. Players also hate when developers talk about systems in vague terms and of course hate when they talk about a system that does not come to fruition or is not exactly as the developer described. See where I am going? Players also want to know what we are working on next. They want to know what’s in store for them in the next 3+ months. But these games are not that cut and dry. Things changes, priorities shift, and designs get put on the back-burner for other, more pressing systems. You’ll notice we haven’t put anything in In Concept recently. There is a reason for that…and it’s not because we aren’t working on anything, we most certainly are.

I think the key to avoiding the issues you talked about is actually good Community support, working with marketing. I think in the last two years, the developers, working with OCR, have cut down significantly on the misinformation we used to see three years ago. It’s about having a consistent message and getting people to understand that posting on the boards is a skill, one that must be taught, practiced, and refined. Anyone can write a post, but it is far more difficult to write an effective and appropriate post. Anyone can swing a bat, but it takes skill to actually hit the ball. That doesn’t mean things will go off flawlessly, but the effort has to be made.

I honestly believe that many of the “broken promises” are due to the complexity and the dynamic nature of these games, rather than some desire to trick players. Believe it or not, every system that was “promised” in UO (alchemy, necromancy, name change deeds, etc.) were systems that were actually being worked on in some form, some were even on test center. I’m sure the same is true for other games as well. But then, as is often the case, something changed, the designs weren’t balanced, and/or priorities had to be reevaluated.

The MMOG industry is not the only industry to make changes like this though, but it is so apparent when it happens because we talked so openly about our designs. And again, if we don’t talk about the future systems, then players think we are ignoring them, or worse, they think nothing is going on at all. Catch 22. We’re working our tails off on lots of stuff for UO right now…we just aren’t talking about it yet…and if you read the boards, you’ll see tons of posts asking what’s next, what is that status of this, etc.

Those of you who followed UO2 probably know that I kept pretty tight restrictions on what the team could and could not talk about once I took over OCR. Many of the systems were being redesigned and frankly, talking about them would have been inappropriate at that early stage. I know many of the developers and the players did not like that decision…but I stood by it, and with the hindsight of now knowing what happened, I still stand by it. Because, again, this gets back to the distinction between community and marketing. While marketing HAS to hype the game…having your community department (and thus, your developers) control the hype is a recipe for disaster. Developers want to hype their game (heck, it drives me crazy not to talk about the scenario stuff we have planned for the future, so I now know first hand how it feels) but it’s not their job to do it on their own, on the boards, whenever the whim strikes them to post. It’s up to marketing AND community to create the plan for the prerelease information, and to coordinate with the developers on how (and more importantly who) to do it and for everyone to stick to it. Community takes more control of information once the game is actually released, but even then, press hype and the like should be handled by marketing.

I do think there is a middle ground however…and I think those of us involved in this aspect of the industry are workings towards that.

Jonathan “Calandryll” Hanna
Designer, Ongoing Content



Shadowbane surprisingly wasn’t showing a copy of Shadowbane, instead having a demo reel replay endlessly on a large wall of video monitors. To compensate, they had Wolfpackers available for brain picking, and there were enough Shadowmaniacs on hand to ensure that said brains were properly picked. Hell, I think J. is still at the booth. J. and I opened the morning with am hour-long chat with Sam “Meridian” Johnson about some of the basic gameplay concepts behind Shadowbane, the transcript of which will be posted later. However, they were launching “Play 2 Crush” T-shirts from a catapult. This is not a joke. Belthior occasionally also set things on fire.

As for details on what Shadowbane is? Well, there’s plenty of them and I won’t begin to presume on the territory of the experts. My basic impression was “Wow. You can tank rush in Shadowbane.” No doubt this is probably a wrong impression. Not being part of the Shadowbane priesthood, most of the conversation went woefully over my head and, like everyone else, I’ll have to wait until an actual game appears before passing judgement. Meanwhile, expect the transcript of our interview with Meridian next week.

Star Wars Galaxies

The best game at the show. Yes, for once we agree with Gamespy. Star Wars Galaxies is all that and several bags of chips.

Ignore the snarky jokes about Muffy the Daggit we posted yesterday. Ignore our readers thinking that SWG uses the Luclin engine. Trust me – I saw the Luclin engine yesterday. SWG is about four generations past that. The SWG engine is as close to photorealistic as we have yet seen. Luclin has blades of glass. SWG has blades of glass that sway gently in the wind. And when the wind changes direction, so does the grass. Of course, you’re probably not noticing this because there’s this HUGE GODDAM DRAGON ON THE SCREEN ABOUT TO STEP ON YOU. Everything in SWG is to scale. This means that when you see an AT-AT walker you are going to run screaming.

The SWG engine just screams Star Wars. The Jawas kind of funkily mosey. Droids sort of herky-jerky in the exact same manner they do in the movies. Tatooine looks like Tatooine, not like featureless desert landscape number 5. The screenshots released are nice, but seeing the game in action is on a seperate plane of existence. You really do feel as though you’re walking around, well, Star Wars movie sets.

Of course, when the space engine expansion is released, you’ll never be on Tatooine ever again. You’ll be fighting me. This is because I will be commanding that huge Star Destroyer that takes you ten minutes to fly across, modelled in exacting detail that is functionally identical to the models shown in the movies. And I will be kicking your rebel ass, in a space subgame that looks and plays better than any SW space shooter out yet. In case you haven’t picked up anything yet, pick up on this: LUM WANTS TO COMMAND HIS OWN STAR DESTROYER. Thank you.

And, oh, yeah, you can do that. Rise through the Imperial ranks and command capital ships with substations manned by other players. Or build droids. And program them with your own AI. And sell them to other players. Or write for in-game newspapers. Or go womp rat hunting or whatever else the functioning world ecology produces. If you think that a deep, actually working as advertised Ultima Online persistant world model set in a dazzling Star Wars environment is your cup of tea, well, as Lietgardis said as we left, “you won’t need to play any other game. Ever. Unless you want to play medieval fantasy for some reason.”

Face it, you will be buying SWG when it comes out. It could have been “Star Wars: Quest for Chewie’s Dirty Socks” and you’d buy it. You already knew this. The good news is that it looks like you’ll take it home and find out it really is a pretty kickass game.

Destination: Lineage

“Well, we were going to run our own company, then we decided that it’d be cool to be bought out by these Korean guys who make more money than Jesus.” That’s not a direct quote, but that is pretty much the gist. For whatever reason, Richard Garriott wants you to believe that Lineage: The Bloodpledge is the future of massively multiplayer gaming. My only conclusion is that Lord British hasn’t actually played any games since Ultima 9. Which, I will say, Lineage is superior to.

NCSoft claims to run the most popular MMOG on the planet. While this is a debatable notion (when internet cafe site licenses aren’t included, Lineage’s subscriber base is more on the level of Asheron’s Call) what isn’t debatable is that NCSoft makes a huge pile of money. Garriott’s figure was that NCSoft could afford to shell out $40 million to create a new MMOG every three months. By the way, Richard Garriott and his brother now own 6% of NCSoft. If I owned 6% of NCSoft, I would probably stand in front of a room of shell-shocked fans and proclaim Lineage the future of online gaming, too. Not that I am implying anything, mind you.

Talking with a new Destination Games staff member last night, my drunken yell/demand/roar was “When you localize Lineage for America, is task one on the localization list ‘MAKE IT NOT SUCK?'” The answer was something approaching an embarassed wince. Wincing is going to a lot more popular in Austin of late, I suspect.

Then again, this whole thing could have been engineered just to make Larry Probst, EA’s CEO, cry. If that’s the case, mission accomplished.

Richard Garriott

Jake Song of NCSoft

Robert Garriott

Starr Long and Carly Staehlin

Jeremy Gaffney

Larry Probst, CEO of Electronic

Arts, just damned glad to be there

Apropro of Nothing

Paul Sage.

“So, what’s up.” “Nothing”.

“No, really. WHAT’S UP.” “The usual.”

Jeremy “Utidayael” Dixon, Community Coordinator

for Horizons, and 0.5robo from the Lumboards

Asheron’s Call 2

Our visit to Turbine’s office deep within Kentia Hall’s hell of karaoke went well in that I was not actually killed. Jason Booth showed off the work they’ve done on the Turbine Engine powering AC2. Despite repeated pestering he wouldn’t actually tell us anything about AC2, mind you. The Turbine Engine’s come a good way since last year’s showing and is now pretty spiffy. The blocky models of AC1 give way to lovingly detailed creatures which really do a much better job of establishing the “sense of wonder” that I found missing from much of AC1. The engine itself was running on a fairly non-uber machine (I believe the specs were an AMD 600mhz processor with a GeForce 1 card) and still looked show-off-worthy. Turbine has always done landscapes well and AC2’s landscapes look really, um, landscapey. As you can tell, pretty much any question I asked not involving landscapes was answered with “we can’t talk about that”. Oh well.

Please make the karaoke machines stop.

Jason Booth, seriously mulling over

a question.

Jesse “Nei” Kurlancheek

Jeff Anderson, Turbine CEO, amazed that my badge reads

“freelance journalist”

Earth and Beyond

In between extremely surreal phone calls of women screaming from the Majestic showroom next door, the Earth and Beyond team showed off their baby. If you liked Starflight, you are going to love this game, as “massively multiplayer Starflight” is pretty much the goal of this game’s design. The game is class and level based and with groups of characters that have interdependent abilities, which does raise the unpleasant spectre of Everquest-in-space. However, the classes are “Explorer”, “Warrior” and “Trader” which does seem a bit more cut and dried than “Shadowknight” and “Ranger”. Explorers can apparently go out and explore as their gameplay – how this will actually happen wasn’t explained. The model for trader gameplay is Tradewars. Buy ore, sell equipment! Well, more detailed than that.

Earth and Beyond has some really spectacular eye candy screenshots on their website, but the presentation we saw was actually pretty lackluster (aside from some well done warp-point transistions.) As for gameplay, we’ll learn more of that when beta opens this fall.

Derek Sanderson, still gainfully

employed in the post-Windfeather era

Eric Wang, EAB’s producer

On deck for today: Luclin, Jumpgate, Atriarch, Dark Age of Camelot and more


In retail, marketing is half the battle. Wolfpack knew this, which is why we’ve been subjected to endless Shadowbane hype ever since the game was a mere twinkle in its designers’ eyes. If a game is not properly and forcefully marketed before its release, there is a rather high probability that it will fall flat on its face no matter how good it is.

However, is marketing years before a product is finished really necessary? I must admit, I have yet to play the game, and I’m already tired of hearing about Shadowbane. I suspect, by the time it’s actually released, I’ll be tired of hearing about SW:G as well. I did not hear about Ultima Online until 6 months prior to its public release. I didn’t become excited about the game until about 3 months before it went gold. The lack of endless aggressive marketing eons before release didn’t seem to have damaged the game at its outset.

The next generation of MMOGs is going to be sink or swim venture. Pre-release hype is going to make or break some of these games. With a flooded market, name recognition alone is important. Yet, is name recognition enough? With bad news filtering out of the betas of games like Fallen Age and Anarchy Online, one has to ask “Where’s the marketing department?”

Dev comments are not enough. The fact of the matter is that spin is important. A talented and able marketing department seems notably absent from MMOG companies. Oh, if only every MMOG could have their own private Calandryll. Comments like “We’re working on that,” or “We’ll be adding new features and content,” or even “We’re hoping to have that fixed by release” aren’t reassuring to a rabid playerbase that is hoping these companies learned the lessons of Origin, Verant, and Turbine.

If future games and companies attempt to charge $15, $20, or even $30 a month for their game, they will have to justify that price to the players before the game is released. They will have to hire a professional marketing department that is able infuse that kind of confidence in the game.

Right now, these companies are doing a piss poor job justifying why I should want to pay $10 a month for their games, let alone $15 and up. I’m tired of seeing designers flip flop on what features will be in their games, what kind of content will be present, and what kind of player the game will appeal to.

Basically, my wish for game companies and their designers is this:

Either hire a professional marketing department so players aren’t nervous about your product due to poorly managed comments from the team, or keep quiet unless you can tell the players something about your product with no less than 100% certainty.

Take a page out of Origin’s marketing book of blunders; never release information about features and content if those things won’t be there at release.

Backtracking and poor spin crumbles confidence. A lack of player confidence in a product cripples it before it even hits the shelves.

ELITISTS ONLINE [Author: myschyf]

Anyway when I mentioned on our boards that I thought charging more was good, Kash, Director of LumCorp, accused me of rooting for Elitists Online (hence the headline — thanks Kash). He’s right you know. Higher prices for gaming will create elitists online with those not able to afford the fee doing the battlenet thing or whatever. Which is fine — the massive model isn’t a particularly good one IMHO. I’m more and more coming to think that massive is bad bad bad and can only work in an FPS type of setting and why you would pay 10 bucks a month for that is beyond me. Oops there I go digressing again. Bad me.

It gets worse though (or better, depending on your point of view). Not only will people be paying more per month, they’ll be paying for the big ticket items. Want a house in the next UO-type world? I bet you’ll have to pay real dollars for it. Want a l33t spaceship in SWG? Be prepared to give Verant your bucks. Those of you sitting here saying you’ll never do it don’t matter one bit to Verant or whoever. There will be plenty of people who will. Look if they’ll spend forty to eighty hours online camping spawns and whatnot you had best BELIEVE they’ll shell out disposable income as well. These people are nuts — they’ve already proved it. Why start doubting now? People will lie, cheat, steal, scam and spend all their disposable time and much of their non-disposable time in online games. I’ve seen people get divorced over games. I’ve seen people lose their jobs over games. Of course they’ll spend money to get the good stuff. This was only a matter of time — you can’t tell me you didn’t see it coming.

But above and beyond all that I think there’s a deeper issue here. I think the ten bucks a month has devalued these games to the point where people don’t care. They don’t care about bugs, they don’t care about bad customer service and, more importantly, the companies don’t care about them. You know if you have 300 thousand people paying 10 bucks a month, losing even 500 of them is not that big of a deal. That’s .001 of your customer base. Now if you’ve only got 100 thousand people paying 30 bucks a month, losing 500 becomes a bigger deal. Looking at the recent models by Marc Jacobs on numbers needed to maintain a small profit margin, if you have 50 thousand people and lose that many it becomes a much larger issue. Perhaps a trend you might want to consider spending the money to investigate.

Conversely, if you’ve been playing for a year at 30 bucks a month, losing your account to scamming, hacking, or harassment or whatever, it becomes a much larger issue. That’s approximately 400 bucks in one year. What if you actually paid real money for that house you just placed and along comes some twink and scams you out of it? Now you have an actual legal issue. (Of course convincing the courts of that is another matter entirely). Nonetheless, the larger the amount you spend, the more valuable the product, the larger the deal it becomes when you lose it or when the company loses your subscription.

Now I know most of you that read this site and post on our boards are going to disagree with this. From the fact that *you* will never pay more than 10 bucks a month (and we should care about that because….???? Like anyone cares about your 10 bucks a month?) to your much mistaken belief that customer service will not get better and bugs will not be fixed faster you’ll take this as evidence that all these companies will go under if they charge more. Sorry. Wrong. They won’t.

In fact, this shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone who keeps tabs on the online gaming industry. A smaller user base means less support overhead. A smaller user base with higher subscription fees and less overhead equals more profit. As a matter of fact, we’ve already seen higher subscription fees and charges for the little extras that can make a game that much more enjoyable. It has already been proven that a playerbase will pay exorbitant fees in order to be a part of a game they love. It was called Neverwinter Nights on AOL; an online world where players spent hundreds of dollars a month to be a part of that community (When AOL charged by the hour). I believe Gemstone charged for uber items. You will see this again.

MMORPGs are a business. Businesses in the Western World run according to the rules of capitalism. Companies in a capitalist system charge what the market will bear. If a gaming company can build a profitable, yet smaller user base by charging more, they will do so. If they can charge for the extras like housing, spaceships, or special items, and still maintain that profitable user base, they will do that as well. In an infant industry with the potential to attract tens of millions of subscribers, it is simply a matter of time before one company will test the limits of the market. Richard Garriot, though a tad flaky around the edges, has always proven himself to be slightly ahead of his time in the industry. I don’t find it unbelievable to assume he will do so again. He often manages to accomplish the unbelievable.

After all, he got you all to pay for Ultima IX, didn’t he?


So really the only proper response is to drink heavily. Luckily, Gathering of Developers was there for us. Lietgardis in particular took offense to the Cinemax-pr0n being shown on viewscreens and vowed that in revenge she would drink as much free Godgames beer as possible. I on the other hand settled for sticking my camera in everyone’s face. We ran into some of the Shadowbane team, who while not commenting on their opinion of Godgames were quite happy to drink their beer.

J and Ashton Kai

Mr. “I’m Not Quite Drunk Enough Yet” Poppinfresh

Pop and Belthior

Arcane, Warden and Ashton Kai

Warden and Ashton Kai

Free beer, always a good way to promote your company’s games

The crowd being very impressed by the band. We think the band was called “The Strippers’ Boyfriends”.

“Does he ever quit pointing that in our face?” “Only if there is a just and benevolent god.” “I think I am in much physical agony now.”

More reports from the show later today, assuming reality doesn’t completely dissolve into a surrealistic gel and ooze away.


(If you don’t get the title, it’s a UO thing. You wouldn’t understand.)

Two Star Wars Galaxies newsbits out of E3 today: the first actual screenshots (the forest scenes looking an awful lot like Luclin) and an announced expansion that adds the first word of the game title. (The third word, “Galaxies”, will be added in the second expansion with the Battlestar Galactica and Muffy the Daggit addons!)

\’e2\’80\’9cThe staggered release schedule of the space component of the Star Wars Galaxies series will benefit players because they will have time to establish their characters and explore different elements of the core game before we add the space layer,\’e2\’80\’9d says Rich Vogel, director of development at Sony Online Entertainment\’e2\’80\’99s Austin studio. \’e2\’80\’9cOnce the space component becomes available, players who have been with us since the beginning will be ready to buy their own starships and launch into this new arena.\’e2\’80\’9d

Translated into Basic, “We have to get this damn thing out by Episode Two or else George Lucas will make us add gungans.”


According to Jinx, who has a better accuracy rate on these things than we do (mainly because he never says anything about Asheron’s Call), Paul Sage, UO’s Lead Designer, and Kirk “Runesabre” Black. UO’s longtime lead programmer and now executive producer, are both leaving OSI. As he says, still at the rumor stage and being that both are at E3, neither of them is available for comment. As Jinx says,

If it is true, we here at The Chosen wish them the best and hope Sage can come up with a better handle than his last name in his future endeavors.

It’s also worth noting that Paul Sage’s wife Amy also is quite active on the UO team in the Community Relations department. Neither she, nor anyone else at Origin could be reached for comment.

We’ll let you know more assuming there is anything more to let you know, etc.

E3 DAY ONE: WE ARE SO NOT THERE [Author: Lum the Mad]

Welcome to E3 2001: Day One, otherwise known as “screw it, we’ll go tomorrow”. Since I’m still stuck in Cubicle 2341, I’m forced to get my news from Los Angeles today, not from the E3 floor, but from that noted gaming journal “The Los Angeles Times” (for the playaz, by the playaz, played by playaz).

Boy, you make a fine woman! Gender bending in MMOGs, who would have thunk it.

“It certainly makes you more aware of how men treat women,” said Raph Koster, 29, who has played a female character for years in an early online text-based game, “LegendMUD.” “You’re more aware that there are a lot of gendered interactions that we don’t recognize as such. It makes you think more about what you’re saying and how you’re sending subtle messages without being aware of it.”

For instance, “if you’re a female character, just something as innocent as smiling might get read wrong.” And if a male character tries to help a female character, it’s assumed he wants something. Often, he does.

The article goes on to helpfully explain that “some players engage in online “cybersex” with each other–basically a modern twist on phone sex in which acts are described in real-time chat“. The fact that many of them are men pretending to have sex with men pretending to be women was thankfully not spelled out.

Um.. they’re running WHAT?” Remember that Russian Meridian 59 revival we mentioned last month? Um, it’s running on pirated servers. D’oh!

Just a few weeks after the U.S. shutdown, an unauthorized English-language “M59” popped up on a Russian site. 3DO officials said in a recent interview they were not only unaware of the Russian outpost for “M59,” they didn’t know how its operators could have gotten a copy of the game’s computer code.

Have no fear, though, 3DO has given their blessing to the localized German and Korean versions of M59. Or you can always try Meridian 59 v2.0.


Ken “Ken Troop” Troop posted in Lietgardis’ patch-day thread explaining exactly what is going on at Turbine lately.

It is well known that AC actually has been losing 80% of its customer base each month for the last 6 months. As everyone also knows, we started out with a total of 4000 total subscribers, so we are now left with .216 subscribers. And he is currently in a lot of pain due to the fact that 78.4% of his body has been removed (including his eyes, everyone knows that AC has the worst graphics), so he may not last that long. As a result of this abysmal retention rate (10% would be a godsend, but I appreciate the well-wishes, Belgrathx), we are currently in negotiations to pay Microsoft to take us over.

He then exploded in a (flurry (of (parentheticals))). Microsoft, who now own Turbine’s employees as chattel, announced that portions of him will be “embraced and extended” for use in Age of Empires XP (now with the Goths, the Huns, the Department of Justice, and Clippy).