What’s wrong with Erikson’s prose?

I finally started reading “Gardens of the Moon”.

Through the pallor of smoke ravens wheeled. Their calls raised a shrill chorus above the cries of wounded and dying soldiers. The stench of seared flesh hung unmoving in the haze.

On the third hill overlooking the fallen city of Pale, Tattersail stood alone. Scattered around the sorceress the curled remains of burnt armour — greaves, breastplates, helms and weapons — lay heaped in piles. An hour earlier there had been men and women wearing that armour, but of them there was no sign. The silence within those empty shells rang like a dirge in Tattersail’s head.

For all the smells and sounds surrounding Tattersail, she found herself listening to a deeper silence. In some ways it came from the empty armour surrounding her, an absence that was in itself an accusation. But there was another source of the silence. The sorcery that had been unleashed here today had been enough to fray the fabric between the worlds. Whatever dwelt beyond, in the Warrens of Chaos, felt close enough to reach out and touch.

On the plain below, the bodies of Malazan soldiers covered the ground, a rumpled carpet of dead. Limbs jutted upward here and there, ravens perching on them like overlords. Soldiers who had survived the slaughter wandered in a daze among the bodies, seeking fallen comrades.

Just at page 60 as writing notes on the wiki is taking quite a bit of time. I probably read on forums and blogs more about Erikson and his series than all the words written in the first book. So I know well what to expect, the criticism and so on.

One aspect people complained about is the prose. I also found those critics often enough to believe that they are actually founded.

But I’m failing to understand what is that people don’t like. I expected the writing to be more uneven and crude than what I found.

Scott Bakker on worldbuilding

What a kickass interview:

As a diehard grognardian world-junkie myself, I obviously disagree.

Worldbuilding either is or is not “necessary” depending on the effects the writer is hoping to achieve. Of course Harrison would say that worldbuilders, such as myself, are trying to achieve the wrong effects. Detailing a world beyond the technical requirements of the story, the implication is, simply turns readers into literary shopkeepers with inventories to keep and no meaningful choices to make. Thus the frightening psychology: apparently the worldbuilder’s goal is to cretinize their readers, keep’em dumb and distracted so that they can be better exploited by the powers that be.

For Harrison, who is an avowed post-modernist, the reader should be continually confronted with the performative as opposed to the representational function of language. They should be reminded (apparently over and over and over) of the power of words to spin realities, to the point where the work becomes a multifarious, promiscuous, meaning event (albeit one that is too often generated by the most mechanical of po-mo tactics, elision). Forcing the reader to draw whole characters out of fragments, narrative arcs out of discordant events – to “fulfill their part of the bargain” – this is the true way to make the reader an active part of the process, and so a critically minded, enlightened citizen.

I don’t know whether to laugh or yawn anymore. For better or worse, readers without literature degrees tend to hate this stuff. They like coherent characters and stories and settings. So when you start screwing with “representational expectations” (in other words, unilaterally rewriting the “bargain”) by and large all you end up doing is preaching to the choir, writing for people with literature degrees, which is to say, for people who already share your values. In other words, you simply end up catering to their expectations. You become an “upscale” version of the very commercial entertainers you continually denigrate.

We’re hardwired for this shit, which is why you see the same pattern repeating itself over and over in every sphere of cultural production. Every sphere has a self-styled elite who both identify and flatter themselves via their values, then criticize others for not sharing those values. “Our values are the values and you guys are losers because of this and this and this…”

Also some infos about the upcoming duology, now a trilogy (first book probably not out before 2009):

Well, I can’t say it’ll be a duology anymore, because in the course of writing it ended taking a parallel form: the story breaks into three natural parts. The first book, The Judging Eye, does the same kind of frame-setting work that The Darkness That Comes Before does in The Prince of Nothing – only without the super-steep learning curve! The second, The Shortest Path, will be a travelogue, much like The Warrior-Prophet, and the third… well let’s just say we’ll be a long time cleaning the fan! One difference, I think, is that the relative lengths of the books will be inverted. The Judging Eye will be the shortest, and I anticipate the final book will be far longer than The Thousandfold Thought, which picked up on the doorstep of Shimeh. This could complicate things, since I would like to include an updated Encyclopaedic Glossary. Maybe I’ll have to break down and do a separate omnibus – but that just feels like a cash grab. Cheesy.

There’s more to read beside these quotes.

New kids on the block

On Westeros boards there’s a fun thread of the kind of “Who’s stronger, the Hulk or the Thing?” Just about new fantasy writers.

Abercrombie is dominating. See? My opinion can’t be that crazy if it’s so widely shared.

Can’t comment about the others since I haven’t read them. But I really doubt they can top my preference.

By the way, there’s still Scott Bakker who may still have wiped em off (considering what I’ve read on that forum), but he wasn’t as recent, so out the poll.

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Mediawiki needs this

Mediawiki is the engine of the well known Wikipedia, that you can download to make your own specialized thing.

I installed it because I figured out that I could keep my notes about Erikson’s books (I started now) better organized. I know there’s already a wiki for it, but the first page I opened was filled with spoilers.

So I decided to install one here locally where I transcribe my notes. Then I also thought how it could eventually be made useful to others. Because in the end it would bring the same problems of the other.

My idea is not too complex, but I wish to know some php programming to make it work. Basically you use a “cookie” on the browser with the user preferences. These preferences are: book read, and page. The idea is that Wiki only shows all the informations that are part of what you read. For example if you are at page 300 of book 4, you’ll see all that is known till that point, with the rest hidden.

And on the side of the wikipedia you make this work with simple syntax, so that you write down on the wiki adding page and books tag. So for example you are writing an entry about a character and divide each section with updates and new information with a book & page tag, so that this ideal module would them display only “safe” infos.

Now I’m wondering about a compromise, to obtain a similar result, but without php programming…

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Shadows Linger – Glen Cook

Second book of a trilogy, but also part of a series of ten books in total. I didn’t comment the first book, but I read it. It was wonderful.

In order to explain what I think about this second book, I have to explain a few things about the first, because I started reading with some expectations and those expectations had a weight on my opinion about the book. The fact is that I loved the first book. For its setting, its pace, its structure. It’s from many points of view a “perfect” book. Every piece fits together and it’s masterfully planned and executed. In 310 pages Glen Cook wraps up an epic campaign that other authors would pan for thee books of 600+ pages. And this without leaving you feeling like you missed something.

The structure (first book, not this one) is probably the very best quality and what sets the book apart. Seven chapters, about 60 pages each. Each of these chapters are “standalone”, in the sense that you could read one in the middle of the book without feeling like you are missing a piece of the story, and so can’t understand what the hell is going on. Each also has its start, development and conclusions. So each chapter feels like a novella on its own. This isn’t all, the real quality is that not only the story is wrapped up perfectly around this structure, but that each chapter/novella adds plot elements and characters that contribute and move steadily onward the overall story that spans the whole book. It feels as modern as possible, like it happens now with the most successful TV series, that need, from a side being self-contained to be accessible to who didn’t follow every episode and remembers every detail, and from the other plot elements that link all the episodes together, giving the series its continuity and overall development. So no stalling. The Black Company follows the same principle and Glen Cook executed this masterfully in this first book. It couldn’t have been plotted and structured better. I had a few minor complaints (like how some “spoilers” were handled) but they are just small details toward the end.

I consider that book exceptional because it’s as steady as possible. There’s no slacking, no slows down, no weak parts. In 310 pages the author shows how he has perfect control over his story. And it’s very good, with plenty of unexpected and clever twists. With an end that doesn’t disappoint. The story could have just ended there, but it didn’t.

I don’t know if more books were planned from the beginning, the flow of the second book isn’t perfectly smooth, but still coherent enough to not give the feel of something artificially excused. The real problem is that the structure that made the first book wonderful, was completely discarded for this sequel. Instead of long chapters and self contained stories, we have this time a linear plot developing through the book, and organized with very short chapters (often just 4-5 pages) and an attempt to do different POV. I honestly didn’t like this choice as it gives a too fragmented feel. On the other side the chapters are so short that you keep turning the pages and read more as the next “exit” point is just two pages away, and the end of one chapter always making you wish to turn the page and look for other developments.

Gone the mastery of the structure, but also gone the overall “feel”. No more the militaresque campaign, but a bend toward a “spook”, supernatural theme, leaving you with the impression you are reading a fantasy version of Dracula. I was disappointed because I wanted more of the same, and instead I found something much different, with a plot much, much less inspired and deep. In fact I was much deluded by this second book, but as I went on reading it captured my interest more.

The first 2/3 of the book present two plots, one encapsulating the other. The book wasn’t a complete disappointment because I think Glen Cook achieved his purpose. This purpose was to make readers care more about the inner plot, instead of the outer. Without spoilering much, there’s an “outer” plot still about the Lady and the Dominator fighting each other, with the Black Company caught in between, just trying to survive and choose the lesser evil. With the Dominator rising his castle near a small town lost up the north of the world, forgotten by all. The “inner” plot is instead about the day-to-day miserable life of the people of that town. These two plots initially made distinct also geographically as the scenes with the Company happen at the other side of the world, also used to show how the Lady uses liberally the Company, tossed from one side of the world to the other. You start reading with all the hype once again on the Black Company (the first scene is superb, from the point of view of kids to return the reader the sense of wonder and badassness of the Company), but progressively the focus moves toward those who look like minor characters, and that instead become major ones. In fact Glen Cook artificially zones out the Black Company itself to narrate a “covert” operation with just a few members of it, that are “flown” far away. So there’s already here the will to move away from the theme and execution of the first book.

Even in this case, though, the trick that holds the second book is the same of the first: small things affecting big things. Just applied to a different context. The whole coolness of the first book was “watching” the normal men of the Black Company walk among much powerful beings. Giving the impression of gods walking among men. But gods made of flesh, powerful and intimidating, but with their own weakness. And then the fun of watching clever men fuck with the power of these gods. Because you shouldn’t underestimating the Black Company. This shift of power and point of view from the bottom was what made the first book awesome. In the second book this theme is applied differently, there’s less the same kind of direct confrontation, but the mess-up that feeds the story is still about some smallish acts that generate a disaster. Just think at the miserable people of this lost town, just thinking selfishly how to survive the next winter, stealing money to each other, all caught in their personal dramas… While a black castle is growing just over their shoulders, growing on their filth and miserableness.

And then you have the climax: huge glowing balls rolling around, invisible giant feet stomping the ground, flying carpets airstrikes, eggs exploding into fire and a black castle made of goo and smelling pretty bad too.

Before it all happens, though, there’s another strong point of the book, that is the return of the Company into the scene. And also the demonstration of why and how they are cool: Get things done. Quickly. Efficiently. Competently.

Then the mess. And, as you may guess from my words above, a really weird mess. Even if helped by the strong realistic way Glen Cook has to describe things. While the scene presented is so surreal to be silly, it’s still described in a “serious” way that makes it still consistent and believable. Even if I have to say that the descriptions of the first book were more inspired, beautiful and better written. The prose of this second book in general has a slight dip in quality.

Those five immediately encountered the portal from elsewhere that expelled the cold breath of the infinite. They all perished.

And once again it’s interesting the contrast. The weird magery stuff from a side, and the concreteness, down-to-earth approach and mindset that the Company has.

Another aspect I was thinking about but that isn’t underlined in the book, is how there’s a sort of meta-fiction. The book you are reading that you have in your hands, exists also in the fictional world as a physical entity. In fact it’s written in first person, and the protagonists writes and “records” what happens, as it is his other duty within the Company, the annalist. So sometimes there are references at how the book itself was saved from danger. Because it’s implied that if you have it in your hands, then it would have been saved somehow. As if the Company really existed.

Last thing about the style: as I said the book is written, like the first, in first person. But feeling like third. Even more so in this book than the first Glen Cook plays with this concept. It’s not present tense, as the events are “recorded” by the annalist, and this time there’s an attempt at different POV, so scenes where the writer isn’t directly present, and so written in third person. It’s a book written in first person but where the writer is not the protagonist, only an “observer” that, due to the context, is also sometimes present physically and doing things. It’s interesting.

All in all the book disappointed me because the militaresque feel I liked and the cleverness of the plot is mostly gone, replaced by an unimaginative spook theme that was kept throughout the whole book (instead of occupying just one chapter and then moving on, as in the first book). The writing is a bit worse, the structure and plot not as good. But at the same time it’s not as deluding as I initially thought. It’s as if Glen Cook started from an awful concept, but managed to still pour good things into it. I don’t consider this an exceptional book, especially because I keep comparing it with the first and in no way it can stand that comparison. But, on its own, I enjoyed reading it and the Company has still not lost any charisma.

Glen Cook has less aces up his sleeve, but he still knows how to play the game.

Books at my door!

Not all of them since I’m waiting for Bakker’s one, but the Amazon shipment has arrived:

Mostly monothematic this month.

I usually buy the books in their US version from an Italian online shop, but in this case I wanted the UK versions of the Erikson’s books because they make a better product with overall better covers, and Abercrombie is also first published in the UK, so I got them together in one shipment from Amazon.co.uk.

Before They Are Hanged – Joe Abercrombie (440 pag.)

Second book in the trilogy. The first I already read and commented. This second one is supposed to be even better, and the third even better then the second (with the expectation of one epic battle as well), if you trust the usual reviewers. I do, and in fact I read Abercrombie because of the positive reviews and blurb on the forums. I wasn’t disappointed, in fact it was much better than expected and also the kind of book you continue to think about even after you are done reading. It’s just that good.

Receiving the book I was both pleased and disappointed. Disappointed because I got this huge version, while I have “The Blade Itself” as a much smaller book. This fooled me because I didn’t anticipate the difference as I thought I got the two books in the same format. Instead I didn’t. Both are “paperback”, but after a quick research I discovered that the paperback in the format I wanted isn’t even out yet. So now I have mismatched books, but it’s the same because while I could have waited to buy this book in the matching version, I wouldn’t then wait another year to get the third. I was also pleased because it’s a so beautiful edition. The image of the cover doesn’t do it justice. The words are like carved on the paper and there’s this magic circle in silver that is only visible on the picture if you squint a lot (and probably only if you know it’s there). The pages are also thicker. Looks meaner.

I have this stupid obsession over the pagecount/wordcount. Even if I know well that quantity means nothing, I still have a childish passion for huge books. So I was slightly disappointed to know this second book had “only” 440 pages instead of the 514 of the first. I want more! But then it’s not a smaller book, in fact I suspect the wordcount is about the same as there are just more words on one page. So it’s about the exact same size.

I’m tempted to start reading *right now* and I keep grinning thinking about the first book, but I’ll resist.

House of Chains – Midnight Tides – The Bonehunters – Steven Erikson (1015, 932 and 1202 pag.)

If I like to check thickness and wordcount, I can only be pleased of Erikson just by the sheer size. Soooo pretty massive tomes. And a saga of ten books, plus spin-offs. That’s another reason why I have to like him, there’s so much to read that I hope it will be all awesomely awesome. All three books use the exact same typeset, so the number of page is indicative of actual size. Not so much comparing them to other authors, as, oddly, there are just 37 lines of text on a page, compared to a standard of 40-42. So usually take about 150 pages from the total count to have an idea. Still impressive.

Erikson’s books also have the very best maps (and more than one for each book). I know the presence of a maps is debatable as there are both advantages and disadvantages, but in this case they probably help with the scope. You’ll be confused enough by the habit of Erikson of not explaining a damn thing that you don’t want to be confused by the geography and where-is-what as well. Just an example: the first book begins at the Mock’s Hold, on top of a cliff and in the city of Malaz. At the time I started looking for “Malaz” on the map for a long while without finding it. You would guess that the “Malazan” empire that gives the name to the series should be on the map. But it isn’t because it’s not even on the same continent the map in the book is about. Instead looking at other books you find out where Malaz really is, and, today in Bonehunters (book 6), I find a good map of the city itself. And while Erikson description were very good, it’s still refreshing to have a better and doubt-free look at it.

Does someone have the US version of House of Chains? Because as I expected looking at the maps online, that map is not printed exactly well, and it misses the central section. Since in the two US Erikson books I have the maps are printed better, I wonder if that map is too.

Anyway, I’m about to start from book 1. In the meantime I should also write some comments about that second book of the Black Company I just read. I can anticipate it was a bit deluding.

Oh, and the cover of Toll the Hounds is out. As I commented over there, I don’t like it much as it doesn’t present well the book. Looks too much like a spook/supernatural book. And Erikson needs something that shows the qualities of his books, so wide scope, scale, sense of wonder. Neither the US or the UK covers underline those qualities.

It also looks to much like the annoying Beast in that Witcher game.

No books at my door… Yet.

It looks my monthly shipment of books will take slightly longer than expected.

On the tracking page the package seems lost somewhere into Germany. On flight and waiting for delivery I also have a package with the American hardcover first edition of “The Darkness That Comes Before” (the one with the pretty cover), and some drugs (well, not really) I bought from here.

The plan is that I finish the second book of the Black Company in two/three days (I keep delaying it even if I’m just 80 pages from the end) and then start to finally *work* on Erikson. I want to keep a good pace even if I still read very slowly by other blogs standards. About a book every month, fitting that second book by Abercrombie somewhere, so that I can then order Abercombie’s third and Erikson’s seventh at the same time since they have similar release dates (March/April). Then continue the epic reading task of Erikson up to book 7 and in time for the Hardcover edition out for June/July of “Toll the Hounds” (book 8), as announced. Which should also be out along with the huge tome of Esslemont also set in the Malazan world.

Plenty to read, and even if I still haven’t read anything to Erikson, I HAVE TO like it, because he tries to do exactly what I want from fantasy. And if he fails I have little hopes to find it somewhere else. Not that the genre is arid, see my recent comments about “The Blade Itself”.

I read that Erikson is already well into book 9, and expects to complete it even before book 8 is out. I think this is the first case EVER of a writer who not only respects the schedule, but that is AHEAD of it. I have high hopes that the series will be complete by January 2010, and, no matter of personal tastes, Malazan will surely be the most ambitious fantasy project ever realized.

There’s also this aspect I wanted to discuss. You may think that when a writer pushes out books too fast they will feel rushed. While a writer like, say, Martin, takes his time and rewrite endlessly chapters till they aren’t absolutely perfect. So you have this different approach. From a side books that are made to last, going as close as possible to perfection (art). And then books that are considered like “consumables”, so they need to be pushed out in time, see a sudden, short-lived success, and then disappear (commodities).

Well, I have instead a very high respect for those writers who work their asses off, and don’t wait for “inspiration” before starting to write a word on a page. Writing is still “work”. It’s fatiguing, and if you aren’t fatigued it doesn’t work. As a matter of fact, it’s almost a rule that those books that come out quickly in a series are usually the best, and those that get delayed, and then delayed more, almost always finish to disappoint and reveal a dip in the quality. This, I think, because writing is a matter of complete immersion. Either you lose your life to be completely absorbed by it, or it doesn’t work. There is no other way to write a book than your blood.

When it comes to books it seems in practice that more time almost never equals to better quality. But the opposite.

I also noticed that my don’t-call-me-review of “The Blade Itself” was linked by Abercrombie himself. So I guess I’m losing my “covert”, low-profile purposes for the drift of this blog toward books. I like staying anonymous. On the other side I feel like I got more “validation” in two months writing sporadically about fantasy books than three years writing daily, and more competently, about MMOs. But then, who cares. Validation isn’t between the goals, and I’ll “reward” Abercrombie by being very harsh with his second book ;)

Anyway, to those landing here for the first time, remember that I’m not English native speaking. So I try to write as I can, hoping it can be at least interesting for an occasional reader.

The yearly bitching at Mark Jacobs

Since I already stepped outside my purposes by commenting on Vanguard I decided to add on top of it by commenting one recent post by Mark Jacobs I spotted. The reason is that for once I don’t have much that is edgy or bitchy to say. So I decided to do it for a change. And while I demonstrate to not respect my own rules, don’t expect any more comments about MMOs for a long while. Take this as an EXTRA.

The comment I spotted is on the WarhammerAlliance tracker, I’m going to nitpick it:

Truth #1 – In terms of sub numbers DAoC was higher than AC and around the same as UO. These numbers are a matter of record and have been cited by numerous people over the years. EQ and of course WoW were more successful but on the other hand, DAoC cost only 2.5M to make in 18 months and its earnings to cost ratio make it one of the most successful games, not just MMOs, of all time. Its profit margin is even higher and based on what I know of almost all the other studios out there, was the best of any of the aforementioned games because of the game’s lower costs for bandwidth, servers, etc. DAoC is 6 years old and still running.

Sure, DAoC was a success. Mythic deserved that success, put together a very good team, licensed some terrible middleware that still cripples the game today and will cripple Warhammer too, BUT that helped a lot pushing out the game so quickly and efficiently. It’s probably for that crappy middleware that DAoC was *possible*.

So, DAoC’s success should be measured on its own scale. As should EVERY game. Eve-Online has been MORE successful than DAoC, I’d argue. Measured on its own scale. And, measured on its own scale, WoW would have been a massive failure if it had just 400k subs all over the world. But it has nearly 10 millions. So it is not. Keep this in mind because I’ll return on this point.

Sure the (DAoC) numbers are going down as they have been since WoW but *every* MMORPG that was launched before WoW took a hit from that game.

It’s just too easy to argue this, but not too easy if the arguing isn’t as superficial as that claim. Eve Online is again the exception to a rule. It grew and didn’t sink.

I’d phrase that claim differently. MMOs whose numbers went down were all MMOs that presented the same gameplay WoW had (so most of all). WoW made a better work, so players moved there. It’s simple. DAoC, between all similar MMOs, was the game who lost MORE players overall. Why? Not so much because game design went down the drain after TOA (that’s another matter, not incisive here), but because WoW targeted those players and offered something better. While WoW’s PvP is still limited, it’s still the biggest effort since DAoC. And while DAoC still has a charm that wasn’t recaptured, WoW, as a whole package, is just better than DAoC as a whole package.

Truth #3 – DAoC was the most successful MMORPG in Europe prior to the “WoW era”. Nobody, not even EQ, had the same success in Europe that we did. This includes AC1, AC2, UO, EQ and all the other smaller MMORPGs that game out prior to WoW.

True. And it’s why licensing Warhammer was a good move on this front. Trying to strengthen your position in a field where you are already strong. Supposedly because Warhammer has a more European appeal.

Slight problem: we aren’t anymore “prior to the WoW era”. Rules are different now.

I wish I had saved all the snark from Sanya and others when they kept repeating that WoW was as every other MMOs launched and that it wouldn’t kill DAoC. Fact is that WoW killed DAoC and shapeshifted the whole market, entirely changed the rules. Only that MMOs don’t die in a day. They become just corpses that continue to struggle indefinitely. It still doesn’t mean they are alive.

2) Assertion – DAoC failed because of Trials of Atlantis and because we made RvRs do PvE.

Truth #1 – DAoC’s numbers were going down as expected even before ToA.

I call this false, even if I don’t have any factual number, while he has them.

I remember the numbers on the live servers well. During summer Mythic always lost some activity, but then it was stable. DAoC’s numbers weren’t going down prior to TOA. They just oscillated as it typical of every MMO without major updated. When TOA launched numbers went up significantly. Three months after TOA I think DAoC peaked on concurrent logins. So it actually was doing really well after TOA. I believe because TOA was an ambitious expansion, with lot of work and resources gone into it. Three months later and with the actual conscience of the flaws, players started to say “fuck it”. So the impact of TOA’s failure actually arrived after some time, and it then lasted for a veeeery loooong time. What TOA did was destroy Mythic’s reputation more than the game itself. TOA’s effects on the game were long term.

Truth #2 – If the PvE required for ToA had been better, the PvEing wouldn’t have been as big of a deal but as I just said above, and countless times before hand, it wasn’t so it made it worse. Burning Crusades required WoW’s people to PvE and yet less of a stink was made about it because they did a better job with it than we did and we paid the price for it.

I agree, even if “making PvE better” isn’t the real solution to a less superficial problem (relationship between PvP and PvE in a mixed game type).

But here Mark Jacobs misses Truth #3, the most important. It’s slightly before TOA (so where Mark Jacobs puts the start of DAoC’s decline) that Mythic started to move resources away from DAoC and over to new projects. Namely Imperator. DAoC suffered firstly from this shift of focus, that never ended as it moved smoothly through Imperator development, to its sudden cancellation, and right into the purchase of the Warhammer license. It’s not game design that killed DAoC. It’s management. And management is about choices.

Truth #2 – We listen more to our community than any other developer of a major MMO as our betas have proven.

I’m sure you can work for any other company and claim the same. I’d add “subjective” before “truth”. But then I was never in DAoC or Warhammer betas, so no first hand experience.

Assertion – We are keeping out the players because WAR isn’t ready

Truth – We have delayed beta and the game before, and will do so if necessary again, to make sure WAR is a great game. I will not apologize nor be sorry for doing so in the past and if it happens again, I won’t be sorry then either. So, guilty as charged. That’s what all the great developers do and we want to be considered in the same breath as people like BioWare and Blizzard and you don’t get there by cutting corners or releasing a game before its ready. We will take the time we need to make the game great, period, end of discussion.

And here comes the real truth, that Mark Jacobs tried to disguise.

He starts his post saying that DAoC was a success because, requoting:

DAoC cost only 2.5M to make in 18 months


and its earnings to cost ratio make it one of the most successful games

Understood? So, as underlined above, an exceptional success on its own scale.

But how can be this justification valid when projected on Warhammer? Because Warhammer as a project BETRAYS BOTH those critical points:

1- Warhammer cost Mythic independence, had to sell out to EA to make it possible.
2- Warhammer is being delayed because not ready.

One wonders that Mark Jacobs sold out Mythic to reduce the risk. That’s his claim, Mythic was on edge after all the work wasted on Imperator and with DAoC going down, if Warhammer failed then they would have been in a very bad situation. Supposedly selling to EA bought them time and resources, so more living space. More hopes?

If only was that easy. Once again DAoC was a huge success because of its costs. If there’s a rule that was valid for DAoC and won’t be valid for Warhammer is that one. EA dumped on this new game a lot of money and resources. That comes at a price and the price is that expectations rise.

Consequently, if Warhammer is as successful as DAoC, it is a failure. Because its costs are not even comparable, and EA won’t leave Mythic its space if all they can do is make another 300k subs game. So this is where all Mark Jacobs post comes apart. You can’t justify Warhammer through the example of DAoC because DAoC was made under different rules.

As Lum repeats continuously, yes, you can be successful and profitable while still small. Problem is that the rule is not valid in the specific case of Warhammer. And it is not valid because the management decided to go big, sell out to EA, and overturn the principle on which Mythic worked (stay out of the radar, then come in and surprise everyone).

What will be of Warhammer?

I think Lum’s predictions are overly optimistic. The first batch of players will be of the unfaithful/jumpy kind. Those who go out and try every now MMO, last two months max, then lose interest. From my point of view the biggest competitor at this first stage will be LOTRO. The one game without strong bonds and already filled with that kind of jumpy players.

At this stage I know very little of Warhammer. I kind of expect an execution slightly better than LOTRO. The license may be strong, but stronger than LOTR itself? So my opinion is that the number of active subs will be on that scale. I stick to my old prediction. 400k or less in six months. As long it launches in US+EU at the same time. From there it’s hard to predict without having seen the game. If much more or much less will depend solely on the quality of the game. I doubt it will reach 1M.

Making better PvP is kind of easy. WoW itself would just need some more persistence and more guild involvement. Banners or something to display, some territorial control. Elements borrowed from strategy games and RTS, Blizzard should know them. Just empowering the players enough so that they don’t just fight anonymous faces or over continuously resetting objectives/achievements. Something that puts players together working on a shared objective, more than just a personal piece of power-up. Something more motivating and moving. And as always there are plenty of ways to achieve all this, you just need the WILL to go down that path. Start trying things and experiment progressively. PvP isn’t a system you get right all at once.

Warhammer is trying some of that. I’m skeptical mostly because the game design doesn’t seem to have found a clear direction yet. Just heaping together different game modes without a clear concept of how they should work together, or what drives the players progress.

One last remark for Krones. I don’t actually remember Mark Jacobs calling my ideas ‘rubbish and not worth piddly-shit’. I guess I would if it happened because it would be amusing. And I don’t think he did because I seriously doubt he ever read anything I posted on this site.

I’m not worthy to be what Lum was for Richard Garriott back in the day ;)

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Two words about the fireworks

The year starts refreshingly.

I noticed this old-style drama, yet about Vanguard, on both Plaguelands and K10R. Fun stuff, reminds me of old times.

Just a few words:

1- While I don’t believe every word written, I think there may be some truth and it is not a complete hoax.

2- The guy isn’t scared about burning bridges.

3- Comments about private life are always inappropriate and should be omitted. Those were gratuitous attacks.

4- I was the first to call Vanguard vaporware when Anyuzer started to drink the Kool-Aid, years ago. I spelled it out: it was vapid. Those comments, while poorly written and making me ashamed, are still mostly valid. Vanguard wanted to be a design innovation, but it didn’t innovate anything aside some very vague (almost valid) concepts that weren’t properly made a whole (as game design should be).

5- I would defend Brad McQuaid. I think he proved that he believed in the game and that he had a vision. Debatable, but still personal, strong and competent. I’m sure that he saw the thing sinking from far away and still blindly continued to hope in some kind of external intervention to make the miracle. If they say he didn’t do shit in the last year of development, I would believe. But I don’t believe that he didn’t care about the game and that he was slacking. I just don’t believe in this drug-addicted image of Brad McQuaid, careless and hands-off his game.

6- Vanguard, once again, was a failure for *technical* execution first. Programming. Graphic engine. Server stability. Art and animations. Controls. Game design comes after those, and in that Post Mortem there’s no mention of those flaws, as if the game’s faults were all about high-level design. The game didn’t fail because of Game Design, it failed because it was a POS close to Shadowbane. It was broken. Not because the newbie quests weren’t written by senior designers, but because it ran poorly even on powerful hardware and yet looked awful. You need the basics to work, then you can think about the rest.

7- If Vanguard had a good technical execution but poor game design, it would have survived. Not a success, but something viable (see LOTRO, a game with zero ideas but good execution overall). So it’s the technical execution the most relevant aspect of Vanguard’s failure. And the one that is still ignored the most in discussions.

8- Brad McQuaid has responsibilities as he wasn’t just responsible of the game design, but of the project as a whole. Including the technical execution. In particular: you have to bargain between ambition and concrete possibilities. Especially if you are forming a brand new studios. Start small and improve from there. Aiming too high is another relevant factor behind Vanguard’s failure (and probably others on the horizon).

9- Let’s talk about something else. Thanks. This drama is now about as relevant as Glitchless’ Dawn and Dave Allen’s Horizon. I hope we are past that swamp and that we can expect and bitch on a different level of quality and competence. Good and interesting discussions for the genre are somewhere else.

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