Vanguard needs a talented animator (and SOE in general)

Then a character modeler and a texture artist.

There’s finally out there a short video that shows some of the game. With some new screenshots here.

At a first glance it even looks quite good (there’s also a new fancy SOE logo at the beginning), but if you observe it with some attention the flaws start to show.

To begin with (and even somewhat acknowledged) the animations are *terrible*. Pretty much everything that moves looks awful. In particular the horses and the dragon.

And this is why I say the game needs a skilled animator. In the requirements put “must have NO experience with mmorpgs” and maybe you’ll be able to hire someone who knows what he’s doing.

Good animations are essential to have good controls on the character, show clearly what is happening (feedback), immersion and, in particular, to make the monsters feel more different and alive.

Take for example that giant that is shown for a couple of seconds. Why his mace doesn’t hit the ground? Why it doesn’t rise a cloud of dust, throwing away the players nearby? Why he draws back the weapon so quickly as if he was scared to actually hurt someone? Good animations should have a good flow. Swinging a weapon shouldn’t look like hammering a nail. There should be some dynamism, some weight. You don’t just move the arm to hit and then play the same animation backwards to move the arm back into its original position. A giant is supposed to be slow and heavy. Only a few attacks but meaningful ones. So it would make sense to have complete animations that take their time. Designing attacks and combat should be already imagining the way the monster moves and reacts.

Things look even worse when you go with a more realistic look and then have those kind of animations that are also cloned on all the characters. It completely disrupts the game. It feels too generic, amateurish and without personality.

The most improved thing seems to be the lighting system. On the grass it still looks odd like if it was photoshopped on the screenshots in a second moment, with colors too flourescent compared to the rest, but overall it should be decent. It helps to make the scenes feel more consistent and the characters less estranged from them.

I still continue to have mixed feeling when I look at those screenshots. I always have the impression of an amateurish game like those mmorpg studios that come out from time to time. Vanguard is one of those games to claim “cutting edge” technology but it still looks quite bad. I also wonder about the performance of the engine with that level of detail because if it looks like that, at least it has to move well. And not looking bad AND also having a terrible performance.

This is also another game who uses LOD heavily. Already in the video you can see objects popping up at a relatively close distance. At least let’s hope that the buildings will be persistent on screen, instead of watching just hills and trees.

Again, I’m more worried about the technical execution and production value in this game, than the design. It just looks very amateurish, generic and approximate. Brad is still aiming at about 400k subs, even hoping for more after WoW seemed to open the market for everyone. What if the “core” players are instead around 60-80k? That’s my prevision for the game at this time.

It would be a problem because it would cripple Brad’s plans with the future development and they’d have to decide if it’s enough to continue to support it, or just give up and getting reabsorbed into SOE, as in that scenario.

The point is that if Vanguard wants to seduce some of WoW’s players, it will HAVE to pass through EQ2. This is why I’m so unconvinced about the decision to publish the game with SOE. The truth is that Vanguard is EQ2’s most direct and serious competitor. They share the exact same market, and there are even some ironical analogies. Like the characters models and animations that suck in both games. And both look passable only on higher-end hardware because of “cutting edge” technology that looks bad and that has horrible performance.

From Smed’s blog:

One of the things I like best about SOE’s overall development direction is that we’re creating a wide variety of new games. We have four diverse MMO titles in internal development, not counting the five MMOs we currently have live, or our partnership with Sigil for Vanguard.

Each of these new games is aimed at a very different market and all of them are in different genres. From our perspective, it’s time to shake things up a bit in the online gaming space.

In the case of Vanguard what he says just doesn’t make sense because it will directly overlap with EQ2, and realistically only one of the two will survive (while I guess that the developer they acquired was from that show in China).

Right now EQ2 looks much more solid and I think it has the number to succeed over Vanguard even despite all its flaws. There’s also a video about EQ2’s next expansion. Blackguard says it’s alpha footage, still in too early development to be intended to be shown (and where we discover that a “Fae” is just an elf with wings).

Imho it looks terrible. And when I say terrible I mean much worse than what is in the game right now. So I just hope it’s just the video. The animations are worse than ever, the ground textures the usual, generic stereogram. Also quite blocky and unnatural in the way the terrain is shaped. EQ2 also needs a better, more natural-looking terrain editor. Add to the list.

I was also thinking while observing again God of War animations that the cloth he has on the hips moves wonderfully. EQ2 uses a laggy, ugly cloth animation system and I wonder again why you cannot just simulate the cloth animation, record it to the actual animations, and then have it directly in the game exactly as in GoW, without any fancy (and laggy) system.

The combat between the Fae and the rock thing has the sound completely desynched from the animations. The second combat between the two guys and the mechanical helicopter instead looks like a Power Ranger episode. Ugh.

So, really, Vanguard and EQ2 rival for who has the most ugly, jerky and confused animations. I cannot believe that with all the resouces SOE has, they still cannot find a first class animator and some good character modelers.

Btw, what happened to the Station Pass overhaul that was announced in a press release during this last E3?

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Brad McQuaid like John Romero?

So again with The Escapist, I’m reading this description about John Romero and I couldn’t stop to think about it as an omen for Brad:

McQuaid’s game was Vanguard. It was intended to be larger and grander in scale than any videogame ever made, and was heavily advertised as the game that would make you, the player, Brad McQuaid’s “bitch.”

That Vanguard eventually sold 200,000 copies – a smashing success by some standards – is irrelevant. Costing more than $10 million and taking three years to develop, Vanguard would have had to do far more than make you its bitch to have been considered a success. Since day one at Sigil, McQuaid and Co. had set their sights on EverQuest-like sales figures, and in what was certainly the greatest example of star-driven, game industry hubris, had been completely surprised by their failure.

Sigil’s Carlsbad, California office, rocked by political in-fighting (which led to a near-complete walk-out of McQuaid’s Vanguard team) was closed in 2007 by SOE following a bail-out deal in which the publisher had acquired a controlling interest in the hemorrhaging game company.

Hey, maybe it could work like a lucky charm ;p

Vanguard to introduce “variable death penalty”

Premise #1: I thought that by the time I had the occasion to write about this, it wouldn’t be anymore a news. Instead I still don’t see anyone talking about this significant news about Vanguard, not even on FoH.

Premise #2: my brain is currently *fried* by the heat, so don’t expect very bright comments from me these days.

What is the news about? The “death penalty” in Vanguard is changing and going through significant revisions.

There arer currently quite lengthy posts from Brad on the official forums trying to explain the philosophy behind these latest changes. Or better, trying to justify them against the hardcore fanatics of CR (corpse recovery) that Sigil cultivated and nourished along these years.

Since Brad wrote a whole lot as always, I’ll try to simplify as much as I can:

– Levels weren’t enough. So the idea to add a parallel “con system” (to consider the difficulty of an encounter) that could provide a variation that, in their opinion, wasn’t possible using just the levels:

Now is the time (beta 3) to take the con system and death penalty to the next stage and make it even more dynamic.

In general you evaluate the difficulty of an encounter by checking the level of the monster/s. WoW and EQ2 already complicated this pattern by adding monsters that were flagged as “elite” to better identify a “group” encounter (I’m tired to do all the work. Someone in the blog community could write an article about elite mobs and describing exactly how they work from a game design perspective?). Vanguard will (obviously, since they are hardocore) go further and add a “threat level” on top of the standard levels.

Simplifying. A monster could be the same level of another. But it could still have a much different “threat level”.

The threat level is based on “risk Vs reward” mechanics. An high threat means that the monster is stronger (has more hitpoints, skills, better AI etc..) and also carries better loot (the “reward” part). This is all still quite conventional. The news is that an higher threat doesn’t just correspond to higher difficulty and reward, but also to different death penalties (risk).

So if you attack a mob with an high threat level not only you risk to lose because he is stronger. But you’ll also incur into an harsher death penalty.

This also means that CR runs won’t be the standard when you die (as it was before this last announce), but instead will become just ONE of the cases possible. While the death penalties corresponding to lower threat levels should be milder.

High threat: the moster is stronger (higher HPS, more skills, better AI, etc..), but it drops better loot. While if you die you’ll have to suffer harsher death penalties.

Low threat: the monster is weaker, soloable, poor loot, mild death penalty.

About the death penalty “cases”:

But in general, the death penalty can range from a money sink, to some exp lost but able to be regained, to exp lost period, to dropping a corpse with all of your gear but having that gear respawn after X number of hours real time at an Outpost, to a corpse that drops with all of your items that has to be recovered or dragged out by a friend, to even more severe penalties (for example, perhaps a corpse cannot be dragged, or even you have to defeat the mob that killed you in order to have access to your corpse (for example, a giant worm that eats your corpses, and until it dies, there is no corpse to loot)).

This obviously leaded to “core players” accusing Brad to give up on these core concept:

Now, before anyone panics, does this mean we are dumbing down the game? No, I really don’t think so. We *are* making deaths from mobs with a lower threat level easier, but then we are also making deaths from mobs with a high threat level as hard or even harder than before. And then we have options in-between. What we are doing is making the game more inclusive and less exclusive – players with different playstyles, tolerances, varying contiguous play times, etc. will all have plenty to do, again regardless of their level. No, we’re still not trying to make a game that is all things to all people, and yes, our primary audience is still the core gamer and we won’t make decisions that hurt what makes it attractive to our core audience. But there is a middle-ground – we can and are making a game where solo/casual, core, and hard core/raid gamers can co-exist.

My comments (in short, I ran out of time):

1- “Now is the time (beta 3)…” No, “now” is not the time. You don’t make these kind of significant changes so late in beta. This belongs to the very beginning of the design phase.

2- I always thought that “Risk Vs Reward” has never been a really fun mechanic to use because it encourage players to aim lower instead of higher (the game punishes experimentation, I call it fun Vs frustration).

3- Linked to the previous point. The players will tend to “game” the system. Instead of supporting different playstyles, most of the “harder” content will be simply ignored and people will just grind their way up (to boredom). Challenge not imposed isn’t a challenge.

In a treadmill the point is reaching the top (sadly). If killing easier monsters is simpler and risk-free, people will do that and outpace the lack of good loot (supposedly the motivation to do the harder content) through the acquisition of higher levels (like in DAoC where it’s the norm to go around with “grey” equipment while you grind the task dungeons). Instead if they try to make the harder monsters much more desirable, then it means the game will be insanely grindy for solo players who are “stuck” at killing those simple, worth-less mobs.

Moreover I’m not really “getting” the design behind these changes. Why use a “threat level” instead of the standard level to just give a monster more HPs, skills and all the rest? Why the need to “double” it? If the goal was about differentiating “group” content, why not just reusing WoW’s and EQ2’s elite flag (which I consider already superfluous)?

Linking “good loot” to “group content” and then to “harsher death penalties” is also a very dangerous idea. You want to promote grouping, not to punish it. It’s already not a simple task to put a group together, not even always possible (actually I always thought that grouping shouldn’t be “promoted”, as it is supposed to happen spontaneously. The point is about removing the *barriers*. Not to force the players in a direction). As we have already seen, dying is a very good incentive to log out of the game and go do something else (see Prey’s fix attempt). It’s a ticket out. You don’t want the players to do that. You want them to get addicted and keep going, breaking the flow as less as possible. If an higher threat level will lead to grouping incentives, while also leading to harsher death penalties, then you are really risking to punish grouping instead of encouraging it. While also making the game incredibly frustrating for those who don’t have access to another type of content.

A short exchange on FoH:

Laerazi: If it takes 2x as long to level on easier mobs, than it does on more difficult mobs, as well as the harder mobs dropping better loot, I think it would be worth the risk to try more challenging content; plus fighting easy/predictable mobs isn’t exactly fun.

Abalieno: Let’s see.

The goal behind these changes was about promoting different playstyles. Or, as Brad says:

“What we are doing is making the game more inclusive and less exclusive – players with different playstyles, tolerances, varying contiguous play times, etc. will all have plenty to do, again regardless of their level.”

So you think it’s a good idea to support soloing by making the game INCREDIBLY GRINDY for solo players?

What I mean is that the original goals behind Vanguard are about promoting grouping and the community, and then supporting different playstyles:

1- With a link between “better loot”, “group content” and “harsher death penalty” then the risk is about *discouraging* groups.

2- When there will be the need to promote content flagged with an higher threat level, then the risk is that the rest of the content will be incredibly grindy and dull for those players who cannot “afford” a better “risk Vs reward” ratio (because it’s not a choice).

Both basically mean that there’s the risk that those changes will be counterproductive instead of realizing the goals why they were made.

Bottom line is: do we really need all this sophistication? Is it really necessary?

EDIT: interesting perspective

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Why WoW won.

There was a discussion about EQ2’s UI on the FoH’s forums and it made me think that too often people tend to completely ignore the most obvious things. While they tend to consider what is instead absolutely irrelevant.

So here why WoW racked up millions of subscribers worldwide and why it dwarfed every other mmorpg:

First Postulate on Mmorpgs Subscriptions: If you suddenly double the minimum hardware requirements, then even your potential subscribers base is HALVED (if not worst, considering the scaling).

There, I said it. WoW’s success is for the biggest part contained in that line. No need for thousands and thousands of pages and design researches. Just one fucking line.

Hello? Accessibility barriers. The GREAT MAJORITY of people on the internet have computers that SUCK. This is why browser-based games are popular. Not because they are “casual” games, but because they embrace a MUCH BIGGER potential subscribers base.

Crappy internet connection, instable, badly configured system, old drivers, conflicts, incompatibilities. All these are the NORM for PCs. Not everyone is a geek who assembles his computer, runs benchmarks, reads hardware reviews and figures out obscure quirks in the Bios of the motherboard. This is also why the consoles are much more popular. Not everyone has the patience and dedication to swallow that. In particular after having spent considerable amounts of money for that hardware and STILL managing to see games running like crap.

WoW broke the market in three moves:
1- Low hardware requirements, wider compatibility (here)
2- It launched EVERYWHERE, localized and with a good support (here)
3- Game design all focused to simplify a genre and make it accessible/usable (here)

WoW became so popular because it lowered the accessibility barriers. BOTH from the hardware requirements perspective AND the game design. It’s accessible. Its engine is the best out there. It runs more smoothly and without incompatibilities compared to any other mmorpg, old or new. And in nearly all the cases IT EVEN LOOKS SO MUCH BETTER.

Seamless world, smooth framerates with tenths of players on screen each with particle effects and perfect animations, no jerky LOD, impressive environments and clip plane, beautifully painted textures, consistent art direction throughout the game.

Not only it is a charming experience because it runs great and doesn’t stutters or crashes all the time, but it even looks great.

And here we come to that discussion about EQ2’s interface:

I don’t know if it’s a Nvidia vs Ati issue but the UI simply eats a lot of resources. I use the standard EQ2 UI + maps here and I can be in a zone with 30+ FPS or another with 15 or so, the UI still eats up significantly processing power.

Arguably WoW has the most powerful and flexible UI out there, but where it really shinies is in the fact that it takes nearly zero resources. I can have the barely needed on display or I can open hundreds of buttons, windows, features and energy bars and the game maintains roughly the same amount of frames per second.

It’s obvious that it’s a matter of how the UI in EQ2 and WoW are engineered at a basic level and rendered on screen. It’s surely not a matter of “optimizations”.

The point is that in other games the UI really does not impact the framerate. In EQ2 it does sensibly. Now it could even get optimized but the fact that it takes resources will hardly change if it’s not recoded at a very basic level, I suspect.

And don’t bring up the “focus to support hardware for the years ahead”. Slowing down the game just because people have more powerful hardware is not an argument. If I’m buying new hardware it’s because I want new possibilities supported, not so that I can swallow horrible engines.

If your hardware requirements are high, then the game better demonstrate that the slowdown is worth it (and it usually never is). Instead of just an excuse for a crappy engine.

EQ2’s engine is already heavy enough without the UI slowing it down even further. One thing is about supporting better graphic possibilities and advanced engines, another is having high hardware requirements because the engine is not so great. Here the competition is stronger because these things CAN be easily compared.

The same applies to Vanguard. If it looks like crap, then better run *very smoothly*. Because noone swallows extremely demanding engines AND overall deluding graphic quality.

Which is also why I have that terrible nightmare.

Brad Vs SirBruce

Haha, this one is really fun.

SirBruce’s E3 report was linked on Vanguard’s forums beside other places and it got the attention of Brad. The result is great.

Both with their usual shortcomings. SirBruce desperately attempting to defend his credibility with the result of ridiculizing himself more than what everyone thought possible and Brad continuing to use EQ1 as a quality standard (combat more action oriented than EQ1, beta longer than EQ1).

Two noteworthy passages, because I’m mean:

Actually with the gamespace growing my estimate has grown too. I said in the past that we’d likely do 250k-500k. I think now we could on the more optimistic side go north of 500k.

Along with Turbine with MEO and Bioware with the undisclosed project, they are the third company now to consider the 500k at arm’s reach. Fun how WoW is feeding silly dreams. Everyone wants a slice of that pie.


heck, I took back Lum to see everything and his report was pretty positive

That’s just because Lum is now always nice and optimist :)

EDIT: More from Brad:

We do need enough subscribers such that Vanguard is a profitable venture such that Sigil can go on, making expansions and the like, as well as achieve meaningful profit sharing with our employees.

As I’ve said, however, to achieve that requires around 200k. I think given the appeal of the game, it’s design and focus on immersion, long term gameplay and retention, freedom, etc., the size of the audience we are targeting, how much the gamespace has grown, the assertion that a significant number of people for whom WoW was their first game will find themselves wanting a game like Vanguard for their next MMOG, and the fact that because of our pedigree that we will attract a significant number of EQ 1 and EQ 2 players (and I don’t mean just existing subscribers — EQ 1, for example, while it peaked at between 450-500k subscribers, also has sold 2-3 million boxes — so there are a huge number of people who played EQ 1, for example, over the last 7 years that while they aren’t currently subscribers, were at one time, and are likely to be looking for the ‘next’ EQ)… I think if you consider all of that, a very conservative number for Vanguard is between 250k and 500k, a likely number 500k+, and a more bullish number one that approaches a million.

And from Lum:

More to the point, Vanguard is a game aimed at a very specific market: people who played Everquest 1 and wanted “more Everquest”. I don’t think it’ll make the 500k+ numbers that Brad McQuaid’s talked about, but it will make enough to carve out a respectable niche, much like Eve. There’s easily 100-200k ex-EQ players out there who miss Vox raids. (Most of them post on FOH’s boards, I think.)

Honestly, niches are where you’re likely to see originality and new design ideas, not in World of Warcraft version 2.4.

I did warn the Sigil guys at E3 that the people who post on beta forums are not the people who are going to be playing when the game goes live, more often than not. I’ve yet to see an MMO where the message board traffic didn’t drastically change as the game transitions from beta to live. Expectations change, massively. The game is no longer a dream or an ideal, it’s a service.

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Spin, baby, spin

A Brad & Smed Compilation: Best Friends.

A compilation of the posts from Brad and Smed written on the forums. Near the end Brad breaks out of the role and starts to blame more openly Microsoft.

Reading between the lines:
Microsoft grew discontent about the product and further delays, so they started to increase the pressure on Sigil. The game is still unfinished and wasn’t going to be ready for the planned release. In order to not go toward a certain insuccess Brad decided to buyback the publishing rights so that they could further delay the release and get another chance to not delude all the promises that were made.

Smed gloated over the possibility to neutralize a possible direct competitor through another acquisition. Without even risking any of his own money since it’s still Sigil responsible of the whole development and execution.

Whether Vanguard will be a success or a failure, Smed will win. While for Brad, the clock is still ticking.

I’m waiting for the Penny Arcade comics.

Brad: SoE cannot touch the gameplay.

What we have done is become the publishers of our own game. We now have even more control and authority over Vanguard, how it is made, how it is designed, and how it is marketed than we ever had with Microsoft.

I realize there are lots of different feelings about SOE and their games. But whatever those feelings, the fact of the matter is that they know operations and distribution. They will make sure our beta runs the way it needs to, that our game is widely marketed, and that our game is available all over, in all channels.

That is SOE’s role in this new partnership with them. Sigil remains Sigil, able to focus now moreso on what we do best — design, implement, conduct betas, build community, and market.
(spin continued)

brad: Sigil retains their Vision on what Vanguard will be.
SOE is helping to distribute and market the title.

These are the key points:

1. We found an incredible opportunity: the opportunity to purchase the publishing rights from Microsoft and become our own publisher.

2. We now own both the IP (the intellectual property) of Vanguard and the publishing rights.

3. This gives us more control and autonomy than we have ever had before. We are no longer just a developer.

4. Microsoft was TOTALLY cool with this. They are still very happy about Vanguard and looking forward to it bolstering their Windows platform. Vanguard will be an XP game, but also a Vista game, offering both 32 bit and 64 bit clients. We will continue to work closely with them and with Vista’s focus on entertainment/games/graphics, as well as online, Vanguard is key.

5. SOE was TOTALLY cool with this. They are excited to have the people who designed and worked on the original EQ and EQ expansions provide a game for them. They need a game like Vanguard next year — it gives them a variety of games from which players can choose from, or players can just play Vanguard.

6. We continue to have total control over the game’s design, how it is marketed, the community, customer service — everything that is important to us and I think important to all of you.

7. Things like running game servers, getting ads (that we design and/or approve) into magazines, getting boxes into stores, etc., all of which SOE is great at doing, they can do while we focus on finishing up the game and on beta.

8. This also gives us more time to launch the game when it is truly ready.

9. edit: Also, Vanguard will *NOT* be part of SOE’s ‘buy and sell items for real world money’. Our hard line position against this for a game like Vanguard remains as strong as ever.

If there are any other concerns or questions about this — that’s what I’m here for. I know this is a big change and it takes a moment to wrap one’s head around it, but bottom line is that it’s the best thing for Vanguard, for Sigil, and for you, our future players.

Brad: SOE can’t flex their muscles, assuming they’d even want to. We totally control the game and its development and design.

Brad: Absolutely NOT. Vanguard will NOT be part of Station Exchange.

Brad: Microsoft is very focused on Xbox 360 — as big as Vanguard is, their console business involves BILLIONS of dollars. After talking for quite a while with upper management at Microsoft Game Studios, it made the most sense for both of us to do this separation. They can focus on building their platforms (Windows, Vista, Xbox360), as well as their other titles, but we can now do what we need to do to take an ambitious title like Vanguard and use our expertise and experience to shape to an even greater extent it into the game it needs to be. We now have the time we need/decide to keep the game in beta until its truly ready — there is no risk of being rushed out, which is something large titles like MMOGs often face.

Bottom line, this is a win for Microsoft, SOE, and Sigil. Microsoft can focus where they need to and on where they want to go with developing games and platforms, SOE has a title they need such that Vanguard’s target audience doesn’t leave EQ or EQ 2 to go to Vanguard in such a way that hurts them, and we have even more control over the vision behind Vanguard to insure it turns out to be the game both we and you all want it to be.

Brad: This move, raising the money to buy the publishing rights and therefore even more control over Vanguard, is because we care so deeply about it and that it turns out to be the game we dreamed about making from day one.

Brad: We are totally different entities. Sigil is still its own company. Our employees are our employees, and SOE’s theirs. There are no plans for anyone at SOE to work on Vanguard in any way. If someone from SOE did want to work on Vanguard, they would quit and join Sigil. Likewise, if someone from Sigil wanted to work for SOE, they’d quit and work for SOE. It’s a free country And it’s happened before, both ways (people have left SOE to work for Sigil and people have left Sigil to work for SOE, not to mention to and from a lot of other MMOG developers).

Brad: I left SOE years ago because I wasn’t in a position to be hands on making games anymore. That’s why Sigil was founded.

Selling out would put me back in the same place I was before: not making games. Making MMOGs makes me happy. I love Vanguard and intend to see the game through, long past launch. We have so much planned for the game after launch — I’ve hinted at much of it.

Why would I do anything to jeoprodize what I have now? This new deal now even gives us (which includes me) even MORE authority and autonomy. This makes me even happier.

Smed: We’re not planning on changing the gameplay. It’s their game. We did this deal because we’re excited about their vision. I think we probably are more aligned with Sigil’s vision and that’s why this deal works for all of us.

Brad: SOE is NOT funding the game — we are. We are getting funding and buying the publishing rights from Microsoft. SOE is a co-publisher/distributor, with Sigil as the publisher as well. They can focus on what they do well (mentioned above — someone quoted one of my posts from the official boards) and we can now focus with even more authority on making Vanguard into the game we want it to be and believe our audience is looking for.

Smed: On the business side I can assure you Microsoft had (and still has) confidence in Vanguard. I’ve spoken to them myself, and that certainly isn’t the issue. I’ve been in this business a long time and I’ve seen (and I’ve been a part of) plenty of games that move elsewhere at the last second. I would only point out that Microsoft is about to get locked into a severely protracted battle with my compadres that make the PlayStation 3… and even though they are Microsoft, they have budgets. If the right deal comes along and they can get a return on a smart investment… well everything has a price.. that’s the way I’d put it. I happen to respect the MS guys a lot. I play a lot of their games (most notably the Age series) and I know they are committed to making great games.

The same applies to us getting into the deal to co-publish it. I have to say I’m incredibly impressed with Vanguard. The game is awesome, and I think from our perspective it’s going to be something we’re very proud to be associated with. As to your other points, you have made them before and only time and hard work will prove you’ll be happy with the quality of Vanguard and the other stuff we’re releasing.

Smed: I’m probably breaking the NDA, but I’ve played it and it’s a great game. It’s not done yet, but they have the time to do this right.

Smed: Our front end stuff (including a completely new patching system we’re unveiling at E3) will likely be something we’ll work with the Sigil team on integrating.

As for gameplay stuff.. it’s precisely because of the gameplay that we’re interested in Vanguard. Like the old saying goes “If it ain’t broke.. don’t fix it”. I realize I’m setting myself up nicely by saying that, but hey.. it applies.

Brad: (about Smed) While I don’t agree with him on a lot of things, I agree with him on more things than I don’t, and always have. In the areas where we don’t agree, we agree to disagree, and like I said, with this deal, they have no control over the design of this game.

Brad: Sigil and Microsoft agreed to amicably part ways when we decided to raise money ourselves to buy the publishing rights away from them and they agreed to it. (and the money we are raising is NOT coming from SOE).

Smed: Even if you classify EQ, EQ II and Vanguard into the same general “Fantasy MMO” genre, the games are in fact different enough that they will attract different audiences. Do I think there will be overlap? Yes. Do I think there will be many people that give all of them a try? Yes… and they’ll settle on the one they like the best…. that best suits their individual (or guild’s) tastes.

Also as a businessman, this doesn’t take a lot of thought.. would I rather have a great game sitting at one of my competitors? Or would I rather have it within SOE’s realm of games. It really didn’t take a lot of thought at all. I can also say that within our Station Access plan, I’m happy whatever game people play… in fact, I think that’s one of the best parts about it… people get to try different things.

Brad: I knew that some people might be upset which is why I am here explaining our reasonsing and the situation that we’re in. I think that if a potential customer trusts us and wants what is best for Vanguard they will support the decision, some without an issue, and some perhaps with concerns. Over time, then, as we continue to live up to our promises, and the additional control we have over the game pays off and is obvious to future and current customers of Vanguard, I would hope that theses concerns diminish.

Brad: We get paid based on how much the game is played, if it’s played on the Station pass. If a person has the pass, but spends 100% of his time playing Vanguard, then we get all of that money, minus a small royalty to SOE.

Brad: NCsoft is great and I have a lot of respect for them. But having worked at SOE before and having lots of friends there, plus their vacinity, plus the fact we are familiar with their operations and so moving over to them will be easy… SOE made the most sense.

Brad: 1. We have always made the committment that we’d do anything and everything we could to not be forced out early, which is something that has hurt other MMOGs.

2. We feel based on both feedback and instinct that the vast majority of people interested in Vanguard feel the same way — they’d rather we took the time, as opposed to launching early and then patching in the rest of the game later.

Brad: 1. This move was best for Vanguard. We’ve always promised you guys to do the best for Vanguard, that we would do everything in our power to make sure the vision behind it wasn’t altered, or the game rushed out, etc.

2. When we found ourselves in a situation where in order to uphold our commitment to you (#1 above) we needed to assume even more control over the game, we did that by buying the publishing rights from Microsoft.

3. I’ve listed out in detail in several posts why SOE was the right choice as a co-publisher and distributor and how working with them also insures we have the best chance of both finishing, launching, and the building/expanding Vanguard according again to #1 above.

4. While SOE does make a royalty from Vanguard, Sigil pulls in the vast majority of money made by the game.

Brad: If we lose some customers over this, and we may, we will most certainly regret that. But if I had allowed things to occur that would have made it such that I couldn’t live up to the promise to you all that we would stick to the vision, then honestly I couldn’t live with it. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. I would have betrayed myself and betrayed all of you.

Weighing living with the betrayal vs. losing some customers (e.g. money), I would have to choose losing the money. I don’t want to lose any of you, but I can’t let Vanguard be launched as something other than what we promised you it would be if I can help it.

Brad: (about the funds) We’re raising it ourselves. More detail than that I’m not at liberty to (and nor would I likely anyway) reveal.

Brad: I didn’t leave SOE in anger — it was an amicable departure. I have always had many friends over there, still do, and Smed is one of my best friends and always will be.

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I need other bloggers assistance. Mind does not compute as it did not when SWG announced the NGE.


– Sigil Games Online and Sony Online Entertainment In Talks To Co-Publish Sigil’s Ground-Breaking New Game –

May 5, 2006 – Carlsbad & San Diego, CA – Sigil Games Online and Sony Online Entertainment LLC (SOE), a global leader in the online games industry, today announced that Sigil is working with Microsoft Game Studios on an arrangement to acquire the rights to its highly anticipated massively multiplayer online (MMO) game, Vanguard: Saga of Heroes. These efforts have resulted in a tentative agreement for Vanguard to be co-published by both Sigil Games Online and SOE. All three companies will be showing the game at the upcoming Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) as they work closely together for a successful transition. Vanguard: Saga of Heroes is scheduled to launch this winter.

“As the development process is ongoing and constantly shifting, it became clear that MGS and Sigil had varying visions and direction for the title’s development,” said Brad McQuaid, CEO of Sigil Games Online. “In the best interest of Vanguard, it was decided that we would buy back the publishing rights from Microsoft.”

As co-publisher of Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, Sigil assumes greater control of marketing and PR, while maintaining responsibility for game development, community relations, media relations, customer support, and quality assurance. Under the terms of the agreement, SOE will provide distribution, marketing, hosting and back-end support — including billing and technical support — for the game. Additionally, SOE is tentatively planning on adding Vanguard, upon its release,to SOE’s Station Access™ subscription plan. Station Access allows players to enjoy all of SOE’s MMO titles for one low monthly price.

“We are very excited to be working with so many old friends at Sigil,” said John Smedley, president, Sony Online Entertainment. “Vanguard looks beautiful and has an incredibly rich game world. It’s the type of game that will appeal directly to SOE’s hundreds of thousands of players and should fit in perfectly with the current line-up of games available in Station Access.”

”This decision was made mutually by Sigil and Microsoft, in the best interest of the long-term goals for the title,” said Phil Spencer, General Manager at Microsoft Game Studios. “As a key Windows development partner, we will continue to work with Sigil to ensure Vanguard’s ongoing success.”

First guess: Vanguard is nowhere ready and Miscrosoft decided to bail. I wouldn’t be surprised if this will lead to a one-year delay.

Second guess: It makes absolutely no sense for SOE to keep three identic games competing between each other. Two were already too much. This could lead to two scenarios. The first is that Vanguard will never release and the development reabsorbed into EQ2, the second is that it will release but it will fail so loudly that it will be shutdown shortly after.

But then I know that SOE never does anything logic. They bought and still support Matrix after all. They are really mimicking NCSoft’s portfolio strategy and absorbing all potential competitors. Even if they suck.

Instead there’s one thing I’m pretty sure: right now Microsoft is regretting to have dumped Mythica in favor of Vanguard, if someone remembers what I mean.

And one thing is ABSOLUTELY sure: Vanguard will be delayed indefinitely.

Smed: I have to say I’m incredibly impressed with Vanguard. The game is awesome, and I think from our perspective it’s going to be something we’re very proud to be associated with.

This will be pasted again in bold when the game will be released. If it will be released.

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Shattering paradigms

Answering to Amberyl in the form of a new post:

There’s a niche in the market for the super hardcore, undoubtedly. I’m just not convinced that there are 500,000 super-hardcore players who want to play Vanguard specifically (as opposed to, let’s say, EVE and whatever other games come along targeting that market).

The problem of the “hardcore” target is inconsistent.

If Vanguard aims to the current hardcore players it will simply fail. Without a doubt. Statistical data is useless when you start a new project. New games TRANSFORM the players and create their own audience. They make the rules change completely. They CRUSH expectations and implicit rules. They create new paradigms going against all reasonable premises. They don’t behave as we expect. They don’t follow the same patterns we already traced.

All the guesswork done by industry analysts is bullshit. It’s just a temporary theory with no foundation that will systematically crumble as a castle of cards. They just play on the back of a whale till the next wave wipes them off. Short-lived as all the premises on which this whole industry is built. Arbitrary, unfounded assumptions. Hoping to be right when they intimately know it’s all bullshit. And yet they fool themselves.

So, imho, the goal of Vanguard is not to create a game for a niche. Buy ferrying new and former players to that paricular style that the game is going to promote. Whatever it will be. Pretty much what WoW is doing right now.

Casuals and Hardcore are myths. They are completely inconsistent, vaporous. This fracture didn’t exist on past data. It was CREATED.

WoW made it more glaring and critical because they opposed one part to the other. They made it emerge. They built a barrier and two different styles one going against the other. This is not something that the game suffered passively. This is something that the game TRIGGERED. Purposely.

All the statistical data coming from the current games is bullshit. It serves no purpose if not creating commonplaces with no consistence. You cannot see the current trends because what determines these trends are not the trends themselves, but what brought to them: the games.

New games can create new trends, new public and they can completely overthrow the situation as we know it.

This is why Vanguard’s goal isn’t about wagering at the current hardcore players, but creating its own space and value. Converting both current and potential players to its own way. Attracting those players as a magnet. Transforming them. Building its own audience in its own way. Opening a door that wasn’t there before.

The current trends mean jack shit. What matters is solely the concrete value of the game and if it is enough to attract the players.

You win your public not if you meet their expectations. You win the public if you convince them with something or better or different.

Successful games IMPOSE their paradigms, they create trends. They enter the field without asking “please”. They create a public out of empty air as it happened, unexpectedly, for WoW.

This is why we speak of innovation. Because it’s the key that reveals how our convictions hold no truth.

Which is what pretty much everyone is saying (and penguins, and all that stuff). With the difference that I don’t believe that the innovation needs to come through brand new genres.

Our “fantasy”, silly games have still A WHOLE LOT to say. If you allow them.

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Guessing numbers (and praying)

Again from Brad:

Obviously, I’m biased as all heck and very bullish about Vanguard, but my confidence level is very high. Let’s use conservative numbers. If we get most of the old school EQ players (say, 200k) and then we get just 5% of WoW’s 6 million (300k), that’s 500k subscribers, which is 45k more than EQ had when I left SOE and when EQ was top dog. And I think that’s conservative — I think we can do even better than that — with every 100 players WoW introduces to MMOGs, there must be at least 5 of them that are now or who will be looking for something more like Vanguard, so as they grow, our potential grows as well. And if Vanguard get’s 500k subscribers, we will be in fantastic shape financially from both Sigil and Microsoft’s perspective. Not that we’d mind more, of course :) Like I said, agree or disagree, but those are our conservative numbers (note I said more like 250k a year ago, but that was also when WoW was much smaller as well — like I said, everytime they grow the gamespace, they not only profit themselves, they also help every MMOG developer out).

He writes more about the progress on the beta here.

He even makes fun of me (btw, it’s not so hard to find Blizzard’s press releases).

I tend to sympathize with Utnayan (even if he lacks arguments). You cannot ask anymore the players to have “faith”. It doesn’t work anymore and we are much more jaded nowadays. Faith is something you have to earn.

As Matt Peckham said about Oblivion:

On the national cynic’s curve, we’ve all progressed mightily since 2001.

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