Tag Archives: Ultima Onilne

Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen and the Realities of Kickstarter Funding

Here we are, less than a day in and Pathneon: Rise of the Fallen Kickstarter project is just shy of the $50,000 mark.  That would put it at a little over 6% of the way to the first goal of $800,000.

39 days to go

No doubt higher now

As with Camelot Unchained and Lord British’s Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Title Brevity, I am interested in this project and Kickstarter campaign for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the personality driving it.  Brad “Aradune” McQuaid is an name to conjure with in the MMORPG world.

The guy with the flaming sword

The guy with the flaming sword

His is also a name tied with a pretty public meltdown of vision versus follow-through.

Vanguard at launch...

Vanguard at launch…

If you want to spin this from a particular angle, you can draw on the parallels between Brad and Mark Jacobs and Richard Garriott.  All three were key drivers for three of the early MMORPGs that were very successful, drawing in hundreds of thousands of players.  EverQuest, Dark Age of Camelot, and Ultima Online all left their mark on the MMORPG world.

All three went on to another MMORPG that… failed to meet expectations.  Tabula Rasa closed quickly, Warhammer Online lingered, but closed as soon as it was contractually able, and Vanguard would have shut down a few months in had SOE not bailed it out.

And all three have come back to the MMORPG table pitching a new game based on lessons learned.

Well, sort of.

Mark Jacobs clearly had a “lessons learned” message with Camelot Unchained, and spent weeks talking about it before the Kickstarter was launched.  PvE is out, all focus of the game must be on PvP and RvR and everything in the game must in some way support those two.  The theme is about moving forward into a superior mix that will make for a game that is great within a limited focus and which can be sustained by appropriately small numbers.

Richard Garriott’s “lessons learned” were more along the lines of being true to what made his past single player RPGs popular.  Shroud of the Avatar will have a single player mode and it isn’t exactly clear to me how “MMO” the multiplayer mode will really be.  The theme here is about all the cool games from the past, Ultima IV through VII inclusive, and how to make that sort of thing come alive again.  We shall see.  But there is also a sub-current of focusing on what is important to make sure that gets developed fully.

And then there is Brad McQuaid.  He wants to remake EverQuest in a more modern image… which isn’t a bad thing.  After all, viewed from the right angle, Mark Jacobs simply wants to re-ignite what was great about Dark Age of Camelot and Richard Garriott is clearly after the spirit of the Ultima franchise.  The problem is that while Jacobs and Garriott spent many days before their Kickstarters talking about visions and lessons learned and what is important and where they want to focus, the Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen preamble was pretty much this:

And I got what he meant by that, at least in spirit.  The problem is that this isn’t a big enough nail to hang a project on, in my opinion.  There wasn’t a lot of build up to the Kickstarter, the game details and tenets are bullet point lists (copied in my previous post), and there is very little on the whole “lessons learned” front.  I know Brad has said that he clearly bit off more than he could chew with Vanguard.  The game had way too many goals.  But what is the take-away from that?  How is this project, being taken on by a small team, going to pare down the possibilities to the key essentials so that they can deliver both to the vision and at an acceptable level of functionality and polish?

It is here I think that we see the key difference between Mark Jacobs and Richard Garriott, both long time game designers who founded their own companies, lead teams, and delivered many titles over the years, and Brad McQuaid, who has EverQuest (which got a nurturing hand from Sony and John Smedley), Vanguard, and a couple of small efforts he worked on before EverQuest.  This aspect of his skill and experience could be the make or break with the Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen Kickstarter.

If Brad McQuaid cannot get people engaged by articulating both the vision he has for the game and how it is going to come together, then my guess is that the funding is going to dry up pretty quickly after the “I want another EverQuest” faction kicks in.  And that time is going to come very quickly.  The first 48 hours of a Kickstarter set the tone.  That is where critical mass is assembled, where you get your true believers to become your evangelists.  Because after that, every dollar is a fight.  Look at the patterns for Camelot Unchained and Shroud of the Avatar from Kicktraq:

Camelot Unchained

Camelot Unchained

Shroud of the Avatar

Shroud of the Avatar

Both of those graphs are very front loaded.  Camelot Unchained got 35% of its $2 million goal in the first two days, while Shroud of the Avatar got 55% of its $1 million goal in the same period.  After that, there was the long dry spell where Mark Jacobs and Richard Garriott got out and did interviews and spoke to everybody who would listen.  Hell, Mark Jacobs came HERE and left a comment on my first post about the Camelot Unchained Kickstarter, acknowledging my statement that it was going to be a tough fight to get to $2 million.  The man was a communications machine, and he continues to be one in the project updates.

Brad McQuaid will need to do the same, because the easy money will dry up soon.  Will he be able to take it to the streets and get people interested?  We will see.  He will have to do more than make comments on Twitter and Facebook supported by a company web site that currently does little more than act as a pointer to the Kickstarter page.  This needs to be a political campaign, a marketing event, and an old fashioned spiritual revival meeting all wrapped up into one to succeed, and Brother Brad needs to step up and testify.  If he is going to bang the nostalgia drum, he needs to bang it loud and often.  He cannot be the lone monarch on the throne.  He has to be out and about.  We need to see him in the press and doing updates and a dozen things in between.

The spirit can't pledge...

The spirit can’t pledge…

While the project “only” needs $20K a day to fund fully, and it will no doubt make more that $50K in its first 24 hours, it has to do a lot better out of the gate to carry things forward.  There will be a last minute rush of people pledging, but that will only matter if there is a big enough base of funding in place.  In looking through a bunch of projects, the last day rarely ever exceeds the first.

What do you think?  Is Brad up to the task of getting out the faithful and getting them to pony up for another run at the EverQuest vision?  Are bullet points enough, or does this whole thing need more substance?

Darkfall Cometh?

As noted over at Keen & Graev’s, Darkfall is in the news again having announced they are accepting applications for beta testers and having released some game play videos that say “Coming 2008” near the end, apparently indicating that they are shooting for a release this year.

You can find the six game play videos here on YouTube.

Announced almost exactly seven years ago, Darkfall has promised a very ambitious feature set (from Wikipedia), which a friend of mine described as the merging of the best of EverQuest and Ultima Online (pre-Trammel).

  • Unrestricted PvP, with no safe zones, only protection by NPC guards in racially controlled cities.
  • Indiscriminate player killing results in changes in alignment (see alignment section below), which in turn has severe in-game consequences.
  • A character advancement system devoid of player levels and classes. The majority of player capabilities are determined by the possession of skills, which improve in response to in-game use. For example, all weapon proficiencies, the ability to swim, cast spells, ride mounts, and climb various obstacles are all skills that can be learned and improved through in-game use.
  • A real-time combat system that includes FPS-style manual aiming & blocking. Ranged combat and general play will be viewed from the first person perspective, while melee combat will be third person perspective. There will also be no ‘player radar’ or floating names with which to identify players or NPCs, and inflicted damage and the health status of actors are indicated through visible damage, blood-spray, and audio cues.
  • Furthermore, friendly fire is always in effect, so missed melee attacks, misfired arrows, as well as area of effect offensive and healing spells affect both friends and enemies.
  • Complete looting. All of a player’s items become world lootable on death (see looting section below), and virtually all props and items in the game will be player-craftable.
  • Cities that can be built, sieged, captured and destroyed by players, as well as individual player housing.
  • Player mounts and mounted combat, which can be captured and killed by players.
  • Naval warfare, with the ability to create, board, capture and sink player controlled ships, including player-mediated ship-ship and land-ship combat.
  • Real-world physics, including inter-character and projectile-character collision detection. Projectiles (spells, arrows, cannonballs etc.) can be evaded or blocked in real time. Players can be pushed or blocked by other players, NPCs and/or explosions.
  • Dynamic, physical weather, including variable, directional winds. For example, foggy or rainy weather can severely limit sight range and high winds greatly influence tidal wave amplitude and ship movement. Day and night cycles are based on a realistic planetary system of 2 orbiting moons, producing dramatic sunrises and sunsets.
  • Enhanced monster behavior and AI. Monsters do not simply stand and swing at players until dead; they may employ sophisticated combat tactics based on their capabilities, social behaviour, and intelligence level. For example, intelligent monsters will preferentially target healers, casters, and/or weakened players. Monsters do not have fixed spawn locations or sizes – monsters form their own communities, may construct buildings and/or may relocate to new areas in response to being hunted by players. Monsters may also fight other monsters in their region.
  • A zoneless game world capable of supporting over 10,000 concurrent players per game instance,including explicit and dedicated support for large-scale (> 200 player) battles at playable frame-rates.

Seven years is a long time for a game to be in development.

To put that in date in context, in August 2001 Dark Age of Camelot was readying for release.  I was still playing EverQuest, which was on its second expansion (count now: 14), on my 400 MHz Pentium II system with a hot TNT2 based video card, having finally ditched the 3Dfx Voodoo2 configuration. And Duke Nukem Forever was only approachings its fifth year of not being available yet.

The game has a dedicated following that rivals the ferocity of the followers of Derek Smart during the height of his fame on Usenet, and who write things like:

Darkfall is going to be one of the biggest subscription-based MMORPGs over the next decade. It will rival and surpass EVE. Mark my words, you heard it from me first.

-Amonn777

with complete belief and conviction.

But is there really a sizable market for such a game?

Didn’t UO end up with Trammel because such a ruthless, winner-take-all world threatened to chase off a big chunk of their subscriber base?  Does not a game like that almost require a substantial subscriber base willing to be on the losing side, stripped of everything, yet willing to start over again?

Somebody will mention EVE Online naturally, but CCP is tightening down on high security killing with the Empyrean Age 1.1 release and they have published statistics that show that most players not only never venture into 0.0 space, what the hard core declare to be “the real game,” but they never even venture into low security space.  And EVE has its own crutches to take the sting out of loss such as the insurance system, which pays out a good 40% of the price of your ship even if you never bother to insure it.

I have often heard the opinion that the World of Warcraft playerbase will eventually seek to graduate to harder, more challenging games, but have yet to see any proof of that.

And doesn’t the PvP MMORPG community have a standard bearer coming up in the form of Warhammer Online?  Doesn’t that make the balance of 2008 something of a risky time to be launching Darkfall?

So with all that in mind, I just want to ask…

I am undecided, myself.