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Author Topic: Panel to Indie Developers: "Forget it"  (Read 13470 times)
Trippy
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on: May 12, 2006, 09:26:09 PM

From the Red Herring: Indie Game Devs: ‘Forget It’

Quote
Indie Game Devs: ‘Forget It’

Developers tell aspiring game makers the ugly truth.
May 10, 2006

A panel of independent developers delivered a sobering reality check to aspiring game creators at the E3 expo in Los Angeles on Wednesday, warning those who harbor dreams of producing a game with a small team and reaping hundreds of millions of dollars from a big deal with Electronic Arts.

“You have a zero percent chance of success,” said Warren Spector, a game industry veteran and the current president of Junction Point Studios, a company that develops games for consoles and PCs. “The barrier to entry in terms of cost, quality required, access to a market… forget it.”

Fellow panelists echoed Mr. Spector’s sentiments, telling a room full of game company representatives, industry consultants, and members of the media that the path to entering the $7-billion market is fraught with more pitfalls than Tomb Raider.

While opportunities do exist, small companies and startups find it difficult to secure funding and distribution for their work. They often have to deal with past projects that pigeonhole them and potentially hamper future expansion.

While opinions differed on ways to overcome these problems, the panel reached a consensus on one thing: the need to have several elements in place before success is even a possibility.

“Don’t come to the traditional game companies and try to sell [them] an idea,” said Gordon Walton, co-studio director at BioWare Austin. “It won’t happen. Every company I worked for had a backlog of ideas that was too deep to work through.”

Instead, Mr. Walton said aspiring developers would greatly increase their chances of success if they could show actual implementations of their ideas.

“Publishers… are saying they won’t sign anything until they see a working prototype,” said Michael Scandizzo, president of Castaway Entertainment, a small company staffed with numerous former employees of Blizzard Entertainment, producer of the blockbuster multiplayer game World of Warcraft.

Double-Edged Sword

In a cruel twist of fate, panelists warned, companies that manage to pull together enough resources to produce a working demo, secure funding, and get their game distributed might end up shooting themselves in the foot.

Companies that originally intended to develop sports games but ultimately broke into the puzzle or casual games market won’t find it easy to return to their original area of focus.

“You can’t go make Bejeweled [a puzzle game] and then tell EA you want to make Madden,” said Mr. Spector, referring to Electronic Arts’ lucrative John Madden-inspired football game series, a perennial hit for the entertainment software giant.

While that may be an extreme example, past performance is the ultimate predictor—and potential limiter—of future performance.

According to BioWare’s Mr. Walton, companies looking to diversify might find themselves, in a worst-case scenario, back at square one.

“You almost have to start over again… which causes you to lose momentum,” he said, explaining how game titles create brand identities that can be both a blessing and a curse.

Jim Deal, president and creative director of Airtight Games, admitted that at one point his company considered starting a second firm to create games for the sole purpose of generating enough revenue to support the development of the title they wanted to make originally.

While they ultimately finished the game under a single company, he still thinks the idea merits some thought. However, companies considering such an option may need to face investors who are not necessarily enthusiastic about the idea of using profits from one game to fund an entirely different one.

Great Casual Hope

Despite all the doom and gloom, panelists and audience members expressed limited optimism about the likelihood of small companies breaking into the games market.

One area attracting a lot of attention these days is time-passing “casual” games. Difficult to define, but hardly short of participants, casual games are often classified as basic puzzle, card, or trivia games that are easy to play on a PC or phone and don’t require a large time commitment. They also require much less money to develop.

According to the Entertainment Software Association, 52 percent of all games played fall into the puzzle, board, game show, trivia, and card game category. Thirty-two percent of heads of households report playing games on wireless devices.

For aspiring developers, flexibility is the key, said Mr. Deal. Startups won’t get the chance to produce titles and build a company by going to a large publisher and demanding hefty sums of money for games using development plans written in stone.

Mr. Spector trumpeted a tried-and-true strategy for anyone looking to break into an established market. “Look where the big guys aren’t,” he said. “Embrace the chaos.”
Hokers
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Reply #1 on: May 12, 2006, 10:36:04 PM


The main message may be true about getting bought out for millions, I think they focused too much on what can't be done.  With X-Box Live and a possible Sony imitation, I think that it is a ripe time for small indie developers.  How big of a team do you need for Geometry Wars?
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Reply #2 on: May 12, 2006, 11:03:51 PM

I'm a big name in a highly competitive industry.  Do I want to encourage, or discourage the smaller guys who might compete with me? Hm.. let me think on that.

The past cannot be changed. The future is yet within your power.
Broughden
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Reply #3 on: May 13, 2006, 12:17:01 AM

I'm a big name in a highly competitive industry.  Do I want to encourage, or discourage the smaller guys who might compete with me? Hm.. let me think on that.

Yeah, I came to the same conclusion. Its pretty transparent what their goal was.

Lets look at a semi-successful company: Turbine. One MMO was successful AC1, the second, AC2, might have been profitable but did not create the long term revenue expected of an MMO.  Yet, they were able to secure $46 million in venture capital funds.

Also some of the advice was comical, for example:
Quote
“Publishers… are saying they won’t sign anything until they see a working prototype,” said Michael Scandizzo, president of Castaway Entertainment, a small company staffed with numerous former employees of Blizzard Entertainment, producer of the blockbuster multiplayer game World of Warcraft.

Okay a publisher wont sign with out a working prototype. Am I the only one who thinks thats just common sense and not some big insight into the industry?

The wave of the Reagan coalition has shattered on the rocky shore of Bush's incompetence. - Abagadro
slog
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Reply #4 on: May 13, 2006, 07:22:40 AM

I'm a big name in a highly competitive industry.  Do I want to encourage, or discourage the smaller guys who might compete with me? Hm.. let me think on that.

Yeah, I came to the same conclusion. Its pretty transparent what their goal was.

Lets look at a semi-successful company: Turbine. One MMO was successful AC1, the second, AC2, might have been profitable but did not create the long term revenue expected of an MMO.  Yet, they were able to secure $46 million in venture capital funds.

Also some of the advice was comical, for example:
Quote
“Publishers… are saying they won’t sign anything until they see a working prototype,” said Michael Scandizzo, president of Castaway Entertainment, a small company staffed with numerous former employees of Blizzard Entertainment, producer of the blockbuster multiplayer game World of Warcraft.

Okay a publisher wont sign with out a working prototype. Am I the only one who thinks thats just common sense and not some big insight into the industry?

And you have how much experience in the industy?  None?

"Die of flaming ass cancer you schmuck. No really, die."

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Reply #5 on: May 13, 2006, 08:49:03 AM

He has charts.  Becareful or he might tell you you can't see them.

From those speakers point of view what they said is true.  If you are going to try to come to them for thier money they will only take something that's a 100% guaranteed moneymaker.  That means a solid prototype something thats a no brainer for them to invest it.  Also why should they give you money to try somethign 'new' when you have shown you can make money with 'Pop-It 3'?  Unsurprisingly, they don't give a shit for your artistic horizons.

There is lots of room for small start-ups in other areas of game development though just be realistic, your not going to make an A-list title for the next-gen consoles on your first attempt nor are you going to pull in 50 million in funding just 'cause you had the idea to make pigs in space online.


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Reply #6 on: May 13, 2006, 01:30:09 PM

I'm a big name in a highly competitive industry.  Do I want to encourage, or discourage the smaller guys who might compete with me? Hm.. let me think on that.

Yeah. I'm sure game designers heading teams of 50+ people and working with multi-million dollar development budgets are losing all sorts of sleep over the possibility  about the work being done by "indie developers" who have no support and no money.

These guys are right. Game design gets progressively more complex, more time-consuming and more expensive with each generation. "Indie" designers can maybe make games for cell-phones. The best indie-devs, if they get investment capital, coukd make games for  Xbox marketplace, but commercial software isn't something you can make in your garage anymore.
Broughden
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Reply #7 on: May 13, 2006, 08:42:29 PM

I'm a big name in a highly competitive industry.  Do I want to encourage, or discourage the smaller guys who might compete with me? Hm.. let me think on that.

Yeah, I came to the same conclusion. Its pretty transparent what their goal was.

Lets look at a semi-successful company: Turbine. One MMO was successful AC1, the second, AC2, might have been profitable but did not create the long term revenue expected of an MMO.  Yet, they were able to secure $46 million in venture capital funds.

Also some of the advice was comical, for example:
Quote
“Publishers… are saying they won’t sign anything until they see a working prototype,” said Michael Scandizzo, president of Castaway Entertainment, a small company staffed with numerous former employees of Blizzard Entertainment, producer of the blockbuster multiplayer game World of Warcraft.

Okay a publisher wont sign with out a working prototype. Am I the only one who thinks thats just common sense and not some big insight into the industry?

And you have how much experience in the industy?  None?

And that has what to do with someone seeing through, "We are big name's with big financial backing in the entertainment software business, all you small guys shouldn't even bother."

Im not the only one who came to the same obvious conclusion.

Edit- See post below mine. V
« Last Edit: May 13, 2006, 09:24:31 PM by Broughden »

The wave of the Reagan coalition has shattered on the rocky shore of Bush's incompetence. - Abagadro
Stephen Zepp
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Reply #8 on: May 13, 2006, 09:01:01 PM

Pardon my french, but that panel is basically full of shit. Funny that they didn't have anyone on it that actually makes independently developed games...the only comment with any valuable information is the concept of the casual games space being highly attractive to indies, and sometimes easy to get locked into if you aren't careful.

There are more opportunities and more available resources for Indie developers today than their ever has been in the past (even when everyone was an indie--keep in mind that back in the day, EA was a dipshit little company that starved themselves to make games, too), and more big names in big industries paying attention to the independent developer community than ever before.

Do you have to have more than an idea to get something published? Absolutely. Does it take multi-million dollar funding to produce quality games that can be released in some very large channels? Well, here are some examples:

Wildlife Tycoon: Venture Africa--on sale in your local Walmart. Made with under a $10,000 budget (may have been 5k, I can't remember)--indie all the way.

Marble Blast Ultra: an order of magnitude higher in budget I admit, but created entirely by an independent studio (GarageGames, obviously). I can't give official numbers, but last time I checked (couple of weeks ago), there were > 75,000 names on the leaderboards (being on a leaderboard means that you've purchased the game at 800 points, roughly $10 US)in just 3 months of retail availability...you do the math. Hell, even Bill Gate's 6 year old plays MBU, not to mention Jenny McCarthy.

A couple of k (MAX) for engine licenses, some good ideas for interesting gameplay, and a hell of a lot of sweat and tears, and indies can certainly compete with the big boys--and not just in the "little guy" arenas, but on leading generation console spaces.

You are going to be hearing a lot more in the next 3-6 months regarding just how much opportunity there is for indies.
« Last Edit: May 13, 2006, 09:02:35 PM by Stephen Zepp »

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Reply #9 on: May 13, 2006, 09:06:51 PM

It's obviously very difficult. But part of the problem is these panel people are used to bloated 10 million + budgets.

It's strange how everyone will say indie games are impossible and totally ignore reality. CounterStrike anyone? It's more popular than any of the games anyone on that panel worked on most likely.

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Reply #10 on: May 13, 2006, 10:17:57 PM

I'm a big name in a highly competitive industry.  Do I want to encourage, or discourage the smaller guys who might compete with me? Hm.. let me think on that.

Yeah. I'm sure game designers heading teams of 50+ people and working with multi-million dollar development budgets are losing all sorts of sleep over the possibility  about the work being done by "indie developers" who have no support and no money.

These guys are right. Game design gets progressively more complex, more time-consuming and more expensive with each generation. "Indie" designers can maybe make games for cell-phones. The best indie-devs, if they get investment capital, coukd make games for  Xbox marketplace, but commercial software isn't something you can make in your garage anymore.


I never said you could make them in your garage by yourself.  I said the panel was pretty damn set on telling everyone else to stay out of the business.  Considering their own interestes, that should be  pretty obvious how self-serving that statement is.

And yes, people who head teams of 50+ people with multi-million dollar budgets SHOULD lose sleep over folks with 'no support', as Margalis points out.  It's true in any industry that you need to be aware of ALL your competition.  Even more so when someone with 1/4 your budget and overhead can produce as many units of a similar  product.

The past cannot be changed. The future is yet within your power.
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Reply #11 on: May 13, 2006, 10:36:41 PM

Wouldn't the idea pioneered by Doom still work?  Release a demo type version shareware, then sell the full version?
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Reply #12 on: May 14, 2006, 12:39:10 AM

The point they are *trying* to make is this:

The top 90% of sales are made by 5% of games, which must be AAA titles with awesome production values, huge budgets, etc.

This is not actually true at all. It IS true that sales are heavily biased towards a couple of big hits, but the second part is false. Not all huge sellers are "AAA" titles (by their definition) and certainly not all mid-range sellers.

Again, Counterstrike. HUGELY popular but by their standards not a AAA title. The Sims anyone? HUGELY popular but not a AAA title by their standards. Then you get into-mid range games like Roller Coaster Tycoon and such.

The sad fact is these guys are used to their little corner of the universe and can't conceive of anything outside of it. All they see is MORE MONEY = MORE SALES, so if you don't have money you don't have sales. The facts don't back them up.

Most amateur projects will fail, in any domain. That is certainly true. Selling a concept on paper to a major studio is a waste of time - that is true. Indie games have a 0% success rate - clearly and demonstrably false.

Hard work and talent trump everything else, in basically anything you could ever do in life.

vampirehipi23: I would enjoy a book written by a monkey and turned into a movie rather than this.
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Reply #13 on: May 14, 2006, 07:22:28 AM

Wouldn't the idea pioneered by Doom still work?  Release a demo type version shareware, then sell the full version?
Heh?  Maany people do this, I can get demos of hundreds of recent games absolutely free.

"You have all recieved youre last warning. I am in the process of currently tracking all of youre ips and pinging your home adressess. you should not have commencemed a war with me" - Aaron Rayburn
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Reply #14 on: May 14, 2006, 11:04:30 AM

Wouldn't the idea pioneered by Doom still work?  Release a demo type version shareware, then sell the full version?
Heh?  Maany people do this, I can get demos of hundreds of recent games absolutely free.

Every game written for the XB360 Live Arcade is required to have a fully playable downloadable demo. Most of the time the purchase unlocks new levels, new features, etc., but yes, this is still very common.

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Soln
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Reply #15 on: May 14, 2006, 11:38:29 AM

time for me to catch up.  "Raging Douchebag Week" is over? 

This kind of post is typical.

Someone to Steve Jobs and Wozniak: "You have zero chance of ever surviving.  Quit now."  Thx.
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Reply #16 on: May 14, 2006, 03:16:02 PM

I wish I knew more about this, but I wonder what makes games so different than producing an album or making a film (besides the obvious points)? The biggest barrier that defeated independent artists working in those fields came down to what tools were available to them. Much of that has been solved nowadays (and only getting better). I would hope the same situation panned out for those wanting to make games (I suppose it was once like that before though, in the pre 3D engine days).
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Reply #17 on: May 15, 2006, 09:15:18 AM

Surprised nobody has mentioned Mount&Blade.

And Battlefront.com (makers of the Combat Mission series - click on About Us to understand their level of indie success).
« Last Edit: May 15, 2006, 09:19:23 AM by Tale »

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Reply #18 on: May 15, 2006, 10:16:48 AM

Wouldn't the idea pioneered by Doom still work?  Release a demo type version shareware, then sell the full version?
Heh?  Maany people do this, I can get demos of hundreds of recent games absolutely free.

Every game written for the XB360 Live Arcade is required to have a fully playable downloadable demo. Most of the time the purchase unlocks new levels, new features, etc., but yes, this is still very common.

D'oh, sorry for not being clear.  I meant sell the full version from your garage, bypass the distributors, stores, etc.
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Reply #19 on: May 15, 2006, 11:07:22 AM

So where's all the terrific games from the deep pockets? 

E3 was a huge disappointment to me this year.  I thought with all the money that WoW is making for Blizzard, we'd see a bunch of promising new MMOs.

What the game industry needs is less EA and more Indies.
Soln
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Reply #20 on: May 15, 2006, 12:51:38 PM

...good stuff...

I didn't catch that earlier, but good post Stephen.  It would have been sufficient for the panel to say "you can't make this" for less than $x^2 million" but otherwise the whole tone came off typically as jaded condescension.  Someone should have shown them Minions of Mirth or RagDollKungFu or Puzzle Pirates or Eve -- "explain plzkthxbye". 
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Reply #21 on: May 15, 2006, 02:01:56 PM

I thought with all the money that WoW is making for Blizzard, we'd see a bunch of promising new MMOs.

Nope, what we're seeing are a lot of MMOs trying to copy WoW.  Many lack the ability to ask themselves the question, "Why would anyone play this game over WoW when they're virtually the same thing?"

They get offended if you ask it, too.

That the saints may enjoy their beatitude and the grace of God more abundantly they are permitted to see the punishment of the damned in hell. -Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica
Broughden
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Reply #22 on: May 15, 2006, 02:04:44 PM

They get offended if you ask it, too.

Any interesting related stories? Do share!

The wave of the Reagan coalition has shattered on the rocky shore of Bush's incompetence. - Abagadro
Llava
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Reply #23 on: May 15, 2006, 02:10:17 PM

Yoru talked to the Hero's Journey people for a few minutes.

They didn't snap at him or anything, but it didn't go all that well.  Definitely saw some blank stares and could feel the vibrations of, "Uh... he just asked us the same question again... our deflection didn't work... what now?"

That the saints may enjoy their beatitude and the grace of God more abundantly they are permitted to see the punishment of the damned in hell. -Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica
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Reply #24 on: May 15, 2006, 02:19:16 PM

Yoru talked to the Hero's Journey people for a few minutes.

They didn't snap at him or anything, but it didn't go all that well.  Definitely saw some blank stares and could feel the vibrations of, "Uh... he just asked us the same question again... our deflection didn't work... what now?"

They should have hit their Feign Death macros.

The wave of the Reagan coalition has shattered on the rocky shore of Bush's incompetence. - Abagadro
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Reply #25 on: May 15, 2006, 03:38:06 PM

Seriously, quite a few of the exhibitors probably took lessons from White House press conferences. I do wish I'd taken notes at the Hero's Journey booth though. Going from memory on a day 1 visit is gonna be rough...

They get offended if you ask it, too.

Any interesting related stories? Do share!

Pretty much everyone claimed that they had an awesome storyline and an amazing world and so on and so forth. I'm not noting those at all, since, well, if everyone claimed to have one, it doesn't set any of them apart. At all.

Vanguard - "Depth of gameplay". When asked to elaborate, the response was "go talk to our people up at the SOE booth".

Hero's Journey - "We have a roleplaying focus", no elaboration available. "We have people writing lots of content". When asked to elaborate, we got a toolset demo. The toolset was quite nice. They also mentioned something about a more 'in-depth' multiclassing system. I kind of wish I'd gone back and gotten more info, but the icy stares were starting to get to me.

Warhammer Online - RvR accessible from about 2-3 hours after starting a character, and advancement available if you just RvR. Couple incremental additions to PvE. We'll get more into this in a WHO writeup.

Age of Conan - Singleplayer starter game, instanced RTS game. Mounted combat. Handful of other stuff we'll note in the full writeup.

Tabula Rasa - twitchiness.

Aion - I don't remember the answer. It probably involved skill-chaining or cinematic special moves or something.
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Reply #26 on: May 15, 2006, 05:13:39 PM

I kind of wish I'd gone back and gotten more info, but the icy stares were starting to get to me.

Im just glad you got out of there safe! Nothing is more dangerous than a dev on a Mountain Dew rush who hasnt had human contact in 18 months due to programing.

You are lucky to be alive!  shocked

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Reply #27 on: May 16, 2006, 04:25:24 AM


 "We have people writing lots of content". When asked to elaborate, we got a toolset demo. The toolset was quite nice.


Danger Will Robinson.  This means 'We expect teh Intarnet to churn out content !!!!1'

Oh dear.


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Reply #28 on: May 16, 2006, 09:05:34 AM

Hero's Journey is being done by Simultronics, the folks who did Gemstone III (now IV) and DragonRealms, two very in-depth and very good Text-based games.  I enjoyed both when they were on AOL and Compuserve, but not enough to continue the pay-per-hour (they're flat fee now) model when they moved off of AOL to support themselves.   

I dunno, if they can bring the quality of the GS and DR games into HJ, they'll be ok.  They're not going to be WoW, and hopefuly they're not trying to be.  Hell, this is their first foray into a 'moving pictures' game 10+ years after the first MMO, so if they get 100k subs I'd be surprised. But then GS has 1000 players online at any one time and they've had it around since 1987.. so they seem to understand they're niche and are ok with it. 

When they say "roleplaying focus" the stuf I've seen bandied about elsewhere are things we've discussed here before.   COH-level of customization, multiple outfit options, making your own armor look how you want it. If a female character is wearing metal bikinis because s/he wants to look like that, not because it's "the breastplate of b00b pwnage" and better than any other item at that level.

 Of course, they're also as slow as Blizzard about creating stuff.  HJ's been in-dev for at least 3 years, and I think it's actually been 4 or more. Did they have ANYTHING to show you guys, or was it just a lot of talk and icy stares? 

The game they're going to produce isn't anything I'd expect anyone here to enjoy. The folks Tale mentioned in the Vanguard thread, the ones that 'live high fantasy?' Yeah they were playing these games, not EQ. EQ was a pale, pale shadow of everything you could do in GS and DR.   They're also going to be the ones playing HJ when it finally gets released.

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Reply #29 on: May 16, 2006, 12:08:47 PM


 "We have people writing lots of content". When asked to elaborate, we got a toolset demo. The toolset was quite nice.


Danger Will Robinson.  This means 'We expect teh Intarnet to churn out content !!!!1'

Oh dear.



Actually, I think it's hand-selected volunteers, much like the 'builder' crew of any major MUD.

When they say "roleplaying focus" the stuf I've seen bandied about elsewhere are things we've discussed here before.   COH-level of customization, multiple outfit options, making your own armor look how you want it. If a female character is wearing metal bikinis because s/he wants to look like that, not because it's "the breastplate of b00b pwnage" and better than any other item at that level.

 Of course, they're also as slow as Blizzard about creating stuff.  HJ's been in-dev for at least 3 years, and I think it's actually been 4 or more. Did they have ANYTHING to show you guys, or was it just a lot of talk and icy stares? 

The game they're going to produce isn't anything I'd expect anyone here to enjoy. The folks Tale mentioned in the Vanguard thread, the ones that 'live high fantasy?' Yeah they were playing these games, not EQ. EQ was a pale, pale shadow of everything you could do in GS and DR.   They're also going to be the ones playing HJ when it finally gets released.

HJ's MUD origins are one of the reasons I'm at least interested in the game's development (being a semi-former MUD admin myself), since a lot of what we're seeing in MMOs today that isn't directly driven by Having Graphics was being done by MUDs in the late 80s and early 90s. It seems that many of the lessons MUDs taught us in the 90s have been ignored or forgotten (e.g. on-the-fly modifiable code from LPMUD).

As for stuff to show us, yes, they had a staff member playing it on a big-screen projection TV as well as multiple stations where people were apparently creating missions in relatively short order. The on-screen demo wasn't the highest graphical quality (nothing near the screenshots they've put out), but it was smooth. I didn't get too much of an idea of the gameplay from it as we were met by a Simutronics rep almost immediately after glancing at their booth.

I do remember more about their customization spiel (thanks for jogging my memory). Note that they were also showing off the toolset alongside this explanation, so I don't know if players can do the same thing. Basically, you can get objects that plug-in to weapons/armor that improve it, giving it various modifiers and abilities. Think socketed items. I'm guessing they have some way of preventing you from plugging in every effect known to man. Sounds kind of like COH, if you socketed items instead of powers, and if powers had drawbacks as well as advantages.
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Reply #30 on: May 16, 2006, 03:15:34 PM

The game they're going to produce isn't anything I'd expect anyone here to enjoy. The folks Tale mentioned in the Vanguard thread, the ones that 'live high fantasy?' Yeah they were playing these games, not EQ. EQ was a pale, pale shadow of everything you could do in GS and DR.   They're also going to be the ones playing HJ when it finally gets released.
I am one of those looking forward to it.  Since they want to encourage RP, and popular games tend not to, I will be perfectly happy if it stays niche.

Hahahaha!  I'm really good at this!
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