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TOPIC: OM NOM NOM

OM NOM NOM 4 years 3 months ago #14

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Here it is, for the record, the original version of Dan Rubenfield's blog:


In which I start a flame war with the internet.
06.12.08 |Comment?


Caveat - This is not an argument. I will attempt to speak honestly about these elements, to give you perspective. For those of you who want to misconstrue it, or perceive it as some “ZOMG YOU ROONED SWG”, please proceed to the back of the room where you can quietly eat a dick. OM NOM NOM.

For the rest, I look forward to a well versed and intelligent discourse on the nature of a creative business, and how to better approach difficult situations in the future.

begin article here. You dick eaters quiet down. *om nom nom*

So, I just logged back in to discover that a bunch of you whackjobs have turned one of these threads into some misguided personal grievance with the SWG NGE.

So first.

If I have ever created something that you didn’t like or that brought you sadness, I apologize.

That is never the goal of a game developer.

However.

Let us set the record straight.

Let us set the history of the Star Wars Galaxies NGE into something that makes a little more sense to those from the outside.

First, some ground rules.

I am a game designer. I make video games. I manage teams, develop features, and turn the creative insanity that is game development into demonstrable and sellable products.

A lot of this manifests itself in the form of direct implementation. Scripting, writing, hands on content development.

I do not sit in a room and give orders. Generally, nobody I’ve worked with ever did this.

We provided a means to create something to make money.

As professional developers, it is our job to execute on these types of creative endeavors within the context of limited finances, linear time, and sometimes explicit creative direction.

Sometimes this context is direction from Raph Koster. Sometimes it is to meet a marketing need, other times it is one of business decisions.

At times, I describe it as, ‘If someone asks for pink fluffy bunnies, we give then bunnies done to the best of our abilities. If we don’t like those, we can still deliver the best bunnies based off of our understanding of the marketplace.”

That is what we do. All of this is tempered with reality. Sometimes people get sick. Sometimes things take longer than we’d like. Sometimes things end up more or less fun than we intended.

This is the job of a designer.

This is what I did on UO, Galaxies, JTL and every other game I worked and am working on.

So we were given the directive to make Galaxies better.

Not just make Galaxies better, but make it succesful. Not the 200k subs it had, but really succesful. The idea was that we had the most valuable IP in the entire world, and we fucked it up to the point of having 200k subs.

And yes, all 200k of you were important, but 200k means nothing in the scheme of things.

I worked on Galaxies for around 5 and a half years. That’s a long time.

Before we launched, I wrote the combat system, mission system, spawning system.

I wrote the combat model for JTL, implemented Content development tools and ship interior systems and more.

Hell, I implemented the original Jedi System in 2 weeks after we launched. Not because it was how we wanted it, but because we had 2 weeks to do it.

I have the understanding of where we went wrong and how. I see the misteps and how the experience was misaligned with what most people wanted from a Star Wars game.

So, when the NGE push came along, we were asked to reimagine the game.

Not just small changes, but rebuild it.

And it was needed. When we were asked, we were bleeding subscribers.

If I remember correctly, somewhere around 10k a month. LOSING 10,000 subs a month.

It was not idyllic. You can remember it as an amazing game, but it wasn’t.

Hell, all of you who recall the grand ole days of launch seem to conveniently forget that everyone quit shortly afterwards.

It’s similiar to the UO rose colored glasses. Everyone remembers the positives, but nobody remembers how unpalatable UO was before Trammel. Nobody acknowledges that after Renaissance, UO’s numbers rose from 110k to 220k.

But I digress.

WOW was out. SWG was niche and clunky.

We were asked to imagine something new and unique. To push it to the next level. Originally, it was specced as a tutorial. A tutorial paired with a new marketing push, new and grandiose relaunch that would recapture the magic that we missed when we first released.

But a tutorial wasn’t enough. We scrambled to come up with something more impressive.

We tested out a new combat system on a whim. I did a quick prototype and we discussed it internally.

The difference was the control scheme, not the rules. You clicked, You shot.

When we demonstrated it, the first comment was “Wooooah….”

And the producer left the room.

He came back shortly and was torn. He knew that we had to make the change. It was THAT much better.

We did a side by side comparison. We tried to play the old system. We couldn’t.

However, we made a mistake.

Somewhere during the discussions it was strongly recommended that we streamline our characters.

People wanted something simpler, more direct, more accessible.

We told them. “If you do this, you will lose all 200k subscribers. It is that significant.”

It was explained that we would gain more due to the marketing push and relaunch.

So, we pushed forward.

If I remember the dates correctly, we did our NGE conversion in 2-3 months of solid crunch. It was some of the heaviest crunch I’ve ever done.

We had an immovable date, and an insane set of features.

We were working in parallel, maintaining old code on the off chance that we would pull the plug on the implementation.

We launched, the marketing push failed, and we lost subscribers.

It was a misread at an organizational level. Marketing, Production, community. You name it.

Epoch grade fuckup.
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Re: OM NOM NOM 4 years 3 months ago #15

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(con't)

But.

The fuckup was NOT the changes.

Let me say it again, louder, for those who do not get it.

THE FUCKUP WAS NOT THE CHANGES.

Galaxies NGE made it more playable. I think it lost a lot of the Raphy goodness that makes MMOs work, and that was a profound loss.

But the general idea was sound.

The control scheme was a good idea.

Losing the character skill system was not.

But, that’s not the point.

The point, the fuckup, the mistake that we made, was answering an unasked question.

“Can you change an MMO drastically after it launches?”

Categorically, NO.

If we were to do it again, and wanted to make those types of changes, you have to make a new game.

Relaunch with a new title.

Or shut down Galaxies and relaunch for real.

You cannot change it at runtime.

BUT!

And this is a HUGE but.

Right as I left SOE, post NGE..

Galaxies was subscriber positive.

A few thousand, but it was a far cry from the 10k per month we were losing.

A lot of you were upset. A lot of you still seem to be upset. I’m sorry if you feel betrayed, or that we ruined something you liked.

But I’m proud of the work I and the rest of the team did. I’m proud of the choices we made, the direction we took. ALL of SWG.

JTL, NGE, Launch, Jedi Fuckups. You name it.

We made mistakes. We made a LOT of mistakes. We crunched, we argued, we fired people, we hired people.

But we fucking launched a goddamned game. We launched a SECOND succesful MMO (post-uo). We made a fucking amazing space game using the same fucking game engine, integrated action combat, interior spaceships and in 9 MOTHERFUCKING MONTHS, all while running a succesful, cash positive product.

NGE was done in 3-4 months by a team of people. I am proud of the work that we did, even if I am torn about the end product.

So those who think it’s about blame or credit or who ruined what or how great it used to be when kids didn’t swear so much…

Take a deep breath and move on. Times change. Games don’t last forever.

Except UO. It’s still running. And I bet people are still pissed about some fucked up code I wrote in 1997.

That, I am genuinely sorry for.

And Finally, a telling Anecdote that I think came from Gordon Walton originally.

A cancellation email from UO came in. A diatribe, really.

It want on and on about how shitty the game was, how it was the worst piece of crap he’d ever played.

So, someone called him to find out some information.

They asked how long he played for.

His answer?

2 years.
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Re: OM NOM NOM 4 years 3 months ago #16

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Q&A:

Here are a few cherry picked questions, rewritten to be answerable by me.


“How is working for SOE for a developer ?”

Kick ass actually.

I worked there for almost 6 years and got to work with some of the best people I have ever worked with A great experience.

I left, not because of anything they did, but because I had been working with the same people for a long time.

Figure >10 years with the Austin crowd. Mix in the time at SOE and I felt too complacent, too comfortable.

A complacent designer is a scary thing. So, I left and moved overseas, looking for a new challenge.


“Is it hard to develop a game such SWG with so much interferences from Lucasarts? ”

Lucasarts was the most pleasant IP owner I have ever worked with. Professional, fast, concise, and willing to bend over backwards to make sure we could do what we wanted to do.

Plus, all of the liason’s we had on their end went out of their way to streamline the process.

Very positive relationship all-around.

“Why was there such a rush to release the NGE?”

Holiday Season.

“Who is to blame? We want Names!”

That’s not how it works.

I am proud of the work I and everyone else has done over the years since Galaxies started development.

Even though I’m not at SOE anymore I respect the work they do every single day. Some of the best game developers I have ever worked with are still at SOE.

Every day the game continues to run, every day that that SWG has someone playing is something I view as a great accomplishment, and one I’m proud to have been a part of.

So, if you want someone to blame, blame me. This isn’t about finger pointing or passing a buck.

“Why CU?”

I don’t remember specifics actually. I think it was reasonable, but we were trending down.

If you think about playstyle variances as a pendulum and use the extremes of the arc to represent playstyle differences, you can get a feel for how stagnant an area of play is at any given moment.

We saw this with UO, where one day, everyone was an archer, and the next, a mage. The less the overall oscillations, the more static everyone’s playstyle is.

With a player driven experience, playstyle monocultures are bad. Look at Ogame to see how it horks up an experience. So, CU was an attempt to whack that pendulum and get some more variance into the game.

Plus, it cleaned out a lot of the crufty bits we had put in pre-launch and made it more maintainable. “Why introduce loot and ruin crafting?”

This is an interesting design discussion. We had a curious problem where the economy was so inflationary, and so controleld by the crafters, that new players were simply unable to actually get into the game.

The items they needed were too expensive to purchase, and no manner of starting income could have fixed this.

Basically, the crafters did what they wanted, which was to control the economy.

When you’re looking for a large amount of new players coming into the game, this kind of lockdown is a problem.

We can debate the value of the change, but that was the impetus.

The decision was to comply supplant the player-driven economy, but merely to support it in parallel. The reality, well..we can talk about that later.

Once the backlash of the community, and consumers, were made known and articles in the New York Times were published how much explaining or defending did you have to do with your friends and or family who were familar with your work - how tough was it?

I go hot and cold on this one. On one hand, I’ve had to develop callouses about external exposure of my work since UO days.

I get inured to commentary about how I should be “Put into a sack and kicked to death” on the forums.

On the other hand, it can still be tough. Nobody wants to work on a game nobody likes. Nobody wants to work on a game that makes some little kid cry when he gets it for christmas.

I find it helps to be introspective on the whole thing, to see what we did wrong, what we did right, and think about how to improve future things.

It comes down to personal growth as a developer, and using mistakes we made to prevent mistakes in the future.

Do you feel that your work on SWG during the “nge” fiasco has impacted your ability to be employed in the game industry?


I’ve spoken quite frankly about these bits during interviews, so I’m not sure it’s had much of an impact.

I’m less interested in stock MMO’s, so that shift might have helped as well. So let’s go with Maybe.

Which version of the game do you personally prefer?

Jump to Lightspeed.

From: http://rubenfield.com/?p=94
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