The March On Oz™ Begins!

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Folks,

Finally, after 3 long years of both forced and self-imposed silence, I can begin talking about my studio’s first game, March On Oz ™.  City State Entertainment was formed in March of 2011 and early last summer we began working on the first of what we hope will be a series of games based on the Worlds of Oz ™ the aforementioned March on Oz.  For a new and mostly young team (I really throw the curve off, sorry kids), this game represents a major undertaking. We weren’t content with doing “JAICG” (Just Another iOs Clone Game) but set out to accomplish two rather significant goals. The first was to begin a re-imagining of L. Frank Baum’s Oz and create enough unique IP that, as I and the team at Mythic did with Camelot and DAoC, create enough non-cannon IP that we can protect it while at the same time making it more relevant to today’s audience. The second goal is to create a game that we can be proud of upon its release and that is worthy of the talent and effort than is going into the game. While I know that we can accomplished the first goal, I won’t know if that is true until after the game is released and you, the players, tell us what you think. No matter what happens though, I am proud of the effort that the entire CSE team has made on this game and I expect even better results from us as we mature as a studio.

March is also the first in a planned series of what we are calling Road Defense ™ RTS-style games. These games are, at their core, RTS-style but they also include elements of RPG-style gaming as well as other types of games. March On Oz doesn’t represent the end of the road for CSE’s journey through the Worlds of Oz rather it is just the beginning and as we all know, every journey begins with a single step and today we took our first public step on what we all hope will be a long and fascinating road. I hope that we will have a long journey together walking down this and other roads together.

www.marchonoz.com

Mark

Anyone hungry?

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If Nexon’s apparent hunger for some American take-out is true  they may want some dessert after that tasty meal. True or not, here’s a nice bit of cake from our game for everyone to enjoy:

Gosh, it feels like 1995 all over again!

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Folks,

There’s an old saying that you can’t go home again.  While I still believe that to be mostly true, the last few months have had an eerily familiar feeling to them.  As to why, well, here’s a look at some of the stuff that has happened in CSE during the Fall/Winter:

a) While CSE was desperately looking for a first-rate modeler to join our team, he appeared.  Eerily like when Mythic needed another artist ASAP and the talented Lance Robertson simply walked our door and asked for a job. Since joining our team, Mike has frankly, kicked serious ass;

b) I  drafted and executed a Term Sheet with another company and then wrote a first draft, hog-choker of a contract with said company.  We have a fine attorney, as we did then, but saving some significant money by me doing the grunt work is always a good idea;

c) Worked on a “Vision Document” and presentation  for two new games to show to our partner.  We were always “presenting” things to partners or potential partners back in the day.  The difference is this time, we don’t need to, as I used to say, “put on the Presidential kneepads” and beg for funding, now its to talk about JVs or distribution;

d) Got to work and hang out with an outstanding bunch of guys and gals, a team composed of a mix of industry veterans and less experienced folks who, working together, are focused on building a new studio and who are all excited about all the interesting opportunities in a growing gaming space;

e) Me, smiling broadly as the entire team contributes to our game both from within their work discipline and outside of it.  Our last two major design ideas came from our artists. That’s one of the many things that make CSE different from many (not all) other studios.  Everybody is part of the design, incubation and development process whether they are a programmer, artist, finance, HR, etc.  Lucas, one of our industry vets, confirmed that this was the first place he has worked at where everyone truly has a voice in the process;

f) The studio hired what should be our last major team member for a while, we now have everyone we need to be successful, now we just have to deliver.  It was the same back at old Mythic, we had a small team and we simply had to go out and make games that were fun to play;

g) Nerf guns firing within the office as people bring their kids and pets (including one very cool Bearded Dragon) to our space and bad jokes, puns and other assorted witticisms flow like water from the Nile (during its flood stage of course);

<<<drum roll please>>>

h) Back hurts again, not as bad as when I was walking around various E3s with a walker/cane/crutch but painful enough.

So, while this is not exactly the same as 1995, it is pretty damn good and I’m one happy camper.  As a matter of fact, I’m happier than I’ve been since the middle of last decade (way before the EA acquisition). And that alone makes it all worthwhile.  All in all, I consider myself truly blessed.

Mark

P.S. I’ll have a follow-up post that will focus on the guys and gals of CSE and why I think we have a real shot at success.  No guarantees as usual in this business but we are off to a great start.

P.S.S. More teaser goodness tomorrow.

Thank you to my friends/foes/etc. at the IGN Vault

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Well, I’m pretty sure that the title of this post will surprise some people but hey, what the heck, I’ve wanted to say some things for quite a while and now I can (well pretty much anyway). Over the past decade, I have spent a considerable amount of time at the IGN Vault listening, talking and having tons of rotten fruit thrown my way there. To say it has been a love/hate relationship is a great understatement but there are a few things I would to make clear:

1) The guys there have at times, been truly important to both DAoC and WAR. One of the reasons I decided to go back to the Vault during the development of WAR was that I believed the Vault had a lot of players who would end up being better testers than any QA team we could hire (internal or external).  With so many of them truly caring so much about games, I believed they could really contribute to WAR on an ongoing basis. While its role in DAoC was also to help create buzz for the game (as well as feedback), by the time we went back to the Vault for WAR the buzz was building nicely and we had lots of other ways to promote the game.

2) During the WAR days, I wish I could tell you how many conversations I had with the team at Mythic that went like this:

Me: The guys on the Vault said XXXX
Team: That’s impossible.
Me: Check it out anyway (sometimes there was an intermediate step of denial/wait for another report)
Team: Okay but…
Hours/days later, the majority of time what was said there turned out to be true.

Whether it was crash bugs, design problems, leveling curves, balance issues, etc. so much good stuff came out of the Vault that I lost my temper a few times with my people (I wasn’t a joy to be around when certain things posted on the Vault turned out true contrary to our internal tests). This wasn’t because my team wasn’t good at their jobs (even good people make mistakes and tools made by people are fallible), it was because the Vault had people who were not only really, really good at playing games (and had so much experience with MMOs including DAoC) and who were also good at finding issues/bugs but they also put in lots and lots of time in WAR. For WAR, I even had a trusted group of Vault testers who I knew I could count on to tell me the truth and I always relayed what they told me to the team.

3) I loved the passion displayed by the players there. Now, this passion could turn real ugly but during its best days, the forum was filled with people who really wanted the games to succeed and that was great. Even during the ugliest of days, I knew that many of the people who were upset were not upset because they wanted us to fail, it was because they wanted us to succeed and they could see us doing things that would damage our chance to succeed (and if/when I forgot that, during the DAoC days, Sanya was there to remind me). In all fairness though, there were also players there who were pissed because our changes made it harder for them to succeed even when we made things better for the vast majority of people and there also were the guys who were just causing trouble for a variety of reasons.

4) It’s not all love though and I remain steadfast in my belief that people shouldn’t throw nasty words/phrases, threats, accusations, vulgarity, etc. around casually and expect there to be no consequences. The nonsense that Sanya had to put up with during the DAoC days upset me greatly and that’s why I decided to scale back Mythic’s presence from the Vault. She was strong and could take it but I didn’t think it was right/necessary for her to do so any longer (FYI, as I’ve said before, she argued against the move). In hindsight, maybe I should have handled it differently and insisted that the Vault ban lots of posters for the kinds of vulgarity and harassment she had to go through but I didn’t want to do that. I had never asked the guys there to ban anyone and I didn’t want to set that precedent. I too was bothered by the hate, threats, etc. directed to myself (or my family) by a minority of posters. Maybe my skin should have been thicker and I shouldn’t let anything said bother me but I’ve never claimed perfection and never will. And like some of the people there who I have spoken to over the years, I too said a few things in anger that I shouldn’t have. Like I said, nobody is perfect.

5) When I first posted this entry I forgot to mention the moderators at the Vault so I am now correcting that oversight.  While we didn’t always agree on things either, they tried very hard to do their jobs and walk a very fine line at the same time.  I appreciate their efforts as both players of DAoC/WAR and as members of the IGN Vault.  They also cared about the game and their IGN community, not an easy and very rarely appreciated job.

So, to all the inhabitants of the Vault who contributed so much to DAoC and WAR, thank you very much. I truly do appreciate it.

Mark

P.S. I don’t expect this post to change a single thing if I ever reappear there. This is something I have wanted to get off my chest for a while and that’s good enough for me. 🙂

Update: I wanted to make a couple of quick corrections and an additional clarification or two. Also, I wanted to say  (since I got an email on the subject) please don’t ask me what things I am referring to in terms of bugs/issues found from the Vault folks, I’m not saying anything other than sometimes they were big things and sometimes they were small things and many times they were things that were sent to me privately in email by either the trusted player-testers and/or simply players.

Update #2: Added the bit about the Vault moderators.

Fan Mail From Some Flounder

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Well, time to fire up another R&B special feature, Fan Mail from Some Flounder.

Jeremy writes  “Wow…Mary Kate and Ashley Online? Sometimes I wonder what goes through peoples heads. Not only would it have been a bane on the mmo industry as a whole, I cant even begin to imagine the fallout after people realized it would have been a candy store for sexual predators. That aside, I’m SO glad you helped talk them out of that. No one would have ever taken MMOs seriously at that point. Side note: Welcome Back Mr. Jacobs. I look forward to hearing about your future projects. Glad to see you back in the swing of things.” You nailed it in one my man.  The whole “sexual predator” bit was something I brought up to them at the meeting.  As to the side note, well, I’m not back in the swing of things yet (this blog is a just a warm up I hope) but I expect to be.  I ain’t the shy and retiring type.

Robert writes “Marry Kate and Ashely – The MMO!  ROFL!  You should keep track of the moron that thought that was a good idea. Make sure that if he’s gone to another company, and has been put into a position of power, that you avoid that company like the plague!” LOL, I don’t need to do that, the “old” Acclaim went bankrupt and as far as I know, the guys who wanted us to do MKAO are no longer in the industry.  Unfortunately, they took a lot of jobs with them when they imploded.

James writes “I hope subscriptions in mmo’s aren’t dead. I really don’t like the micro transactions. The trends I am starting to see in mmo’s as player is adding more linear flow to them like a single player rpg’s and a move to low the difficulty so everyone can play. I personally can’t say I like either but oh well.” I truly don’t think that sub games are dead but they are not the “Take cash, add team, bake in oven, release game and make GIANT BAGS OF PHAT LOOT” that some investors thought that they were (and some think social networking games are now).  A few years ago I sat on a panel where I argued that RMT games weren’t the future any more than subscription games weren’t the future, there’s room for all types of games and there isn’t a silver bullet out there.  I hate silver bullets (unless you are killing werewolves) and I always get a chuckle out of people who think that the “Next Big Thing” will be the “Ultimate Big Thing”. That’s one advantage of having been around the block a few times, you’ve seen and heard this type of stuff many times before.

Alexis Muhly writes “I still get teary eyed when I think about all the good times I had playing Island of Kesmai via Compuserve on my Apple //c over 1200 baud at $6/hr. My first introduction to the world of MMORPG’s(well not so massively but still). I wonder what happened to Snafu? Probably the first real online addict lol. I was a total AW junkie myself. I played some of the other games too but Kesmai really had their mojo going great guns back in the early days. And when you consider the hoops we had to jump through to make a game work on those services (and from what I was told, CServe was even tougher to write games for than GEnie), man oh man, it’s a miracle that anything got done.

Silverel writes “Oh you beautiful genius of a man. Looking forward to following your blog for any bits of wisdom and inspiration that fall upon your path. Mythic is a win in my book under your leadership and it really is their loss that you’ve been thrown under the bus. Kudos sir, I wish you the best and thank you for all you’ve brought the MMO community.” As to being thrown under the bus, obviously I have no comment on that other than to thank you for the kind thoughts about myself and Mythic. We did some pretty great stuff together over the years but one of the things I am proud of is that we never did anything with malice aforethought. Stupid, yes, epically STOOPID, yes but never out of malice towards the players. And as always, success or failure depends on many people getting things right or even getting things wrong and it was always a team effort at Mythic. Like anyone involved in the creative process especially as CEO/GM, I made a lot of choices. Some of my choices/design elements worked, some didn’t but as anybody who worked on DAoC/WAR can tell you, lots of creative/design authority was delegated to a wide range of people as it is in every MMO. It’s why I’ve never taken all the credit for DAoC/WAR and never will (even if I do another MMO) but it’s also why I never have thrown any of my guys/gals under the bus publicly, even when they screwed up truly epically. I’d rather the community hate on me, blame me for every bug, bad design choice, coding error, poor communication, etc. than some team member(s) who was trying to do the best they could but still screwed up. That’s actually one of the few good things about no longer being at Mythic, I don’t have to be mocked, screamed at, etc. when I tell something to the community that was told to me and then it turns out to be wrong. Makes things a lot more relaxing to be me or to be around me. 🙂

B-I-N-G-O, B-I-N-G-O,B-I-N-G-O and Bing-o was his name-o

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One of the things I truly enjoyed (more on this another day) about my time at EA was getting to know and interacting with Bing Gordon.  I considered Bing one of the brightest people at EA (I was far from alone in this regard) but his ability to think outside the box was unsurpassed, unique and in my estimation, invaluable.  Bing is one of the guys who earned and deserves an immense amount of respect and credit for his work at EA and his new career at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers continues to add to his legacy.  During the development of WAR, he visited the studio and he and I also talked a number of times about the game and he delivered both useful insight and contributions to WAR.  He is like the Hollywood screenwriter who could look at script/scene and add something really unique and unexpected to it (I think they referred to it as a “wild man” in the old days).  Getting to hang out with him, exchange ideas and discuss/argue with him is one of the things I miss even now.  What brought this to mind was an article he just penned over at TechCrunch.  It’s a great read, check it out.

http://techcrunch.com/2010/08/23/the-end-of-moores-law-a-love-story/

Mark

TWM – The Mother of All Bad Ideas!

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It’s late 1999, money is running out fast and we’re scrambling to find a development deal or sell the studio.  We entertained a few offers one of which was from old Acclaim.  During our many discussions with their leadership, we talked about the kind of games we could do for them.  I pushed hard on doing online games (including variants on our current games such as Silent Death Online) and even MMOs.  Unfortunately, their CEO didn’t think much of SDO and even went as far as to say “Why would we want to do that, we were making those type of games 10 years ago?”  I pointed out that as far I knew Acclaim wasn’t making online games that long ago (I don’t think he enjoyed that retort) and also explained how low our budget was for it and all but one of our other games (our highest budget prior to DAoC was 450K for Aliens Online (with an essentially an expansion) with the rest being well below 100K). They listened politely to what I said and replied “But We have a better idea!” Expecting a merely bad idea to come out of their mouths, I told myself no matter what they say, don’t be an ass**** when I respond.  “Let’s do an online game” they said “based on Mary Kate and Ashley. Now, that would be great!” They told us how hot they were commercially and that we could make a ton of money if we could do an online game/MMO based on them.  At that moment all sorts of thoughts went through my head.  Is this a sign of the coming apocalypse in 2000 perhaps? How bad would it really be to go back and work in fast food?  What constitutes justifiable homicide?  Which countries don’t have extradition treaties for capital crimes with the US?  However, we needed a deal desperately so I politely pointed out what that would be a bad idea and why MMOs like EQ would be a much better idea.  They didn’t agree but we continued to talk about other, smaller budget games going forward.  Like the vast majority of publishers, they didn’t believe that there was much future in those MMO things.  After many months of negotiations I desperately wanted to walk away from the deal.  Truth is I didn’t trust them at all and the deal terms weren’t all that exciting.  IMHO, I’d rather go belly up than take a bad deal especially since we would have to stay and work for them.  So, we walked away and a couple of months later we did the deal with Abandon for DAoC, things could not have worked out better for us and the world was saved from perhaps one of the worst ideas for an MMO EVER.

Mark

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