Apologies in advance for the title of that post.Â It stinks more than the southbound end of a northbound bronco.
Longtime fan, first time writer.
Executive summary – I’m writing to inform you of my dissatisfaction with your game, Hellgate London, and with your company, Flagship Studios.
I wish I could start this letter by saying “nothing personal, Bill.” Having played your games for about a decade and having “met” you and your team on the making-of DVD bundled with HG:L Collectors Edition I feel like you’re one of the guys. You speak earnestly and enthusiastically and have a career-long portfolio of work to be proud of. You live in a modest but beautiful home with all kinds of awesome nerdy knickknacks and happy children naughtily peeking into the shot while you record commentary. In many ways you’re living the dream life of many gamers, myself included. Because of this your fans expect that much more of you.
I’d been looking forward to HG:L for a long time. Years. Since you left Blizzard I couldn’t wait to learn what you next had in store for me. When I read a preview of the game in PC Gamer magazine I loved your concept of a synergy between my favourite PC genres. I read interviews and avoided screenshots since. I exclaimed to my friends my impatience for October 31st to arrive so that I could stay home all evening. I wondered aloud in my blog, regarding the new, heartless Blizzard, whether “the soul of the company was extinguished forever when Bill Roper … jumped ship.” (hellgatelondon.com even quoted me and linked to my blog – sorry, can’t find the link on your site now)
I wasn’t accepted into the beta but I kept abreast of testers’ reports. Word on the street was that the game wasn’t ready for gold. I played the demo. Regardless of my opinion of it I still bought the CE (thanks for that 8.3-named WAV soundtrack) on opening day.
I’d recently watched an interview with you on the PC Gamer video podcast. You absolutely plucked my heart strings when you said: (and I paraphrase)
“Some people celebrate Christmas. We celebrate Halloween. We take pleasure in the mental image of your children standing sadly by the door as they wait for you to stop playing Hellgate London.”
I played online for about 10 minutes on Halloween. It was down the rest of the night, on opening day, because your team wanted to enable some optional content. Then your website went down. By the time things were running again about 24 hours later I had little to look forward to.
The game is unfinished. It is laggy, crashy, textures disappear, the game lags while the hard drive churns leaving the game fully unresponsive for many seconds, I get hopelessly stuck between objects all the time, my inventory sometimes disappears, and much more. This in itself is shameful, but that’s not all I’m disappointed with.
On my third day of owning your game I loaded it up after coming home from a hard day of work. I walked through a subway station for about 5 seconds before my computer locked up, a strange sound came from the speakers, my computer made a loud TICK, and it hard rebooted to the BIOS. My hard drive was no longer detected. Long story short, efforts to back up my year-and-a-half-old 300GB hard drive failed. I performed stress tests on all my other components and they all worked fine. Other games worked fine. I uninstalled Hellgate London immediately.
I emailed Flagship Studios tech support. The website said I’d hear from someone within 6 hours, and an autoresponse email said I’d hear from someone in 24. About 30 hours passed before I emailed them again. Someone responded shortly thereafter and suggested some FAQ articles. They were largely unrelated.
Your support department later emailed me saying my ticket had been escalated to the next level of support and that I should reply if I didn’t hear from anyone in 72 hours. 3 days passed so I replied. 1 more day. Another. Another. A week. Two weeks. No one would reply. I left a message on the forums posting a quick summary of my problem and my ticket number, pleading for someone to continue assisting me before I involved the Better Business Bureau. The forum post was deleted quickly and no one replied. I tried to send an email to sales on the Flagship Studios website but the web form was broken. I had no other choice.
I submitted a BBB complaint on November 13th. Your company didn’t bother responding until December 6th, 3 weeks later. Flagship’s reply suggested I return this month-old, opened game to the point of purchase, Future Shop. We communicated back and forth once more before I resigned, forced to accept your company’s baffling declarations that you did not develop the game, you only manage the online play aspect of the game, and that I must take up my grievance with EA and not with Flagship Studios.
And now I’m writing this open letter to you, Bill Roper. I congratulate your Technical Support department on successfully ignoring me, disavowing any responsibility, and pushing me to exhaustion so that I am no longer willing to fight for a refund or even technical support. Dealing with your company is more of a grind than your game, but I don’t get any reward for the privilege. Quite the opposite. I’m out $60 for the game, 300GB of data, and $120 for a new hard drive.
The game has sat on my shelf since, right next to me. The outlandish, foam-filled box kept calling to me, reminding me of the game I’d hoped for all along. Anticipation got the better of me so I installed it on Vista yesterday. I played for 30 minutes. I uninstalled it. Buggy. The envelope full of collectors extras even fell off the box.
I found a post on your forums, posted this week, entitled “i haven’t played since the week of launch…is it safe to come back?” The first reply states, “Not just yet. Stay back in your bunker a bit longer. 1.0 is on it’s way apparently.”
My point for telling you all this, Mr. Roper, is to make you aware of my experience in dealing with Flagship Studios. I’d wager that the terms of the release of HG:L were out of your control, as I don’t believe you’d so proudly and frequently laud such a mediocre product on purpose, but in my opinion your credibility is destroyed because of it. I cannot recommend your company nor your game to anyone, and I even felt too guilty to give the thing away which is why it’s still sitting beside me, unused.
Your unfinished product has failed to work, damaged my property, and is responsible for a huge, catastrophic loss of my personal data. Every time I’ve dealt with your company its representatives always waited until the deadline had been exhausted or exceeded before giving me less than the bare minimum of service. My experience with Hellgate London could not have been worse.
This is the worst experience I’ve had with a video game in the 25 years I’ve otherwise enjoyed this hobby. No one at your company cares. This is the way Flagship Studios markets the name Bill Roper.
First person shooters have the reputation of being the cause for seemingly violent behaviour amongst teens and young people, or at least that’s what come anti-game politicians and inept lawyers (and I use that word loosely) like Jack Thompson would like you to think. After all, all the ammo is there. The gratuitous blood, mounds of mowed down, bullet ridden corpses and the protagonist’s supposed raison d’etre, often stemming from either something traumatising or years of pent up anger, that can only be released with the pull of a rapid fire gun.
Games that might fit in this framework include and not limited to, Postal and its bloody-ridden sequels, Man Hunt and its less-than-impressive follow up, Grand Theft Auto (though more of a third person shooter) and its many incarnations, including San Andreas, Max Payne, the Call of Duty series (thought just as violent, the violence is based on something other than being purely the quest to inflict pain unto others) and many others, which don’t need naming because it would take all day. But, point aside, there are plenty of them and they contain the same basic elements needed to make for a mindless first person shooter, a good place in which a person can vent their anger at some sexy, enhanced pixels that may even seem life-like at times.
These games are scapegoats when someone decides to pick up a gun and take out their anger on soft, supple human targets. Many of the people to pick up arms in the end were shown to have no connection to these types of games, nor were active players.
What’s my point? I guess its that you don’t need a first person shooter to go on a rampage and kill everything in plain sight. Guns are merely one of many instruments that can be used when mowing down swaths of innocent bystanders who stand in your path, only able to scream, “Help, someone’s been murdered!” before you come along and slice them in half with your sword, axe or hammer. Or maybe that’s not your style, maybe you prefer something more fantastical like a fireball spell or the magical properties of a staff.
If you’re into the mystical or you’re just a person who would prefer to go on a murderous rampage using something other than a rapid fire, lethal arm, the weapon assortment in Oblivion: The Elder Scrolls may be more up your ally.
Please note that at this point, this is not a game review, it’s merely an opinion piece regarding an element of the game that allows the player to move away from the more linear aspects of the game and go take out their anger on humanity with graphically rendered models that happen to look like something we call “humans”. Of course, not all your potential targets are human. In addition to the human races, there are orcs, elves, khajit (cat-like creatures) and argonians (lizard-like creatures), who exist be side the human population of Cyrodiil.
While there are repercussions in the form of fine or jail time from the different groups of guards, you can ignore the consequences if you want to cause chaos and mayhem. It’s easy enough to kill people out of view of the rest of the society, making it easy to literally get away with murder. But, it’s not satisfying unless you’re doing it for a quest or something with a reward on the end. There is something missing…
I guess, one might call it carnage. There is no point in killing unless you can’t take everyone down with you. Carnage is the whole point of rampaging. To take out them before they can take out you. For this, you don’t need a first person shooter. You just need the game to be open-ended, like Oblivion, and the ability to freely be a jackass.
Perhaps a practical demonstration is required at this point.
For this article, I have decided that I should go on a nice little rampage before I write this so that the experience is fresh in my finger tips. Let’s just call it, field reporting.
So, as you can see from the above, I’m near one of the gates in Chorrol. I have my sword out. It’s a nice little weapon. It’s got a glass skin but it’s enchanted and does frost damage on my target. I also have a shield, but it’s not used for blocking. So, with my sword and very study heavy armour, I’m a real tank, able to just go in and take a beating from the guards and not break into a sweat.
So, I killed the nearby beggar first. No one’s going to notice one less mooch on the fragile welfare system. However, this guard took exception to it. He wasted no time in approaching me and interrupting my rampage. This was quite rude of him, despite giving me a change to get off the hook.
My bounty by the time the guard caught me was already 1,000 gold, but he was going to be nice and either let me pay the fine, or go to jail. Though, as you can guess from what’s highlighted here, I was going to resist arrest. What’s the point in rampaging if you can’t bring down a few guards in a violent blood bath as you resist arrest?
As you can see, however, the guards were no match for me. They tried to charge at me, but they come at intervals, giving me a chance to prepare for the attack. The AI is stupid in this respect. It had the guards attack me without back up. Though I don’t think the AI was programmed to handle this kind of stupidity.
There are a few guards but not as many as I would have liked. They are badly organised, which heavily takes away from rampaging time as I go in search of more in this town. I didn’t get many guards charging toward me at once. Then again, I’m just one lone psychopath going on a murderous rampage through this quiet town.
I had to patrol to find more to kill, but it eventually paid off and I found a few more innocent civilians to hack and slice into itty-bitty pieces of worm chow. I slew them I did. With a swing of my mighty sword I cut their life line short and sent them on the Midnight Express to see the Nine Divines.
No one escaped from my grasp. Neither the rich nor the poor. They were all pawns in my way. They would all suffer equally before the hand that belonged to the Listener; The Messenger of Death. I spared none. When death comes calling, death does not discriminate.
And as if the violent rampage itself isn’t enough, with Oblivion, you can also loot the corpses of those you kill and remove the armour and clothing that they are wearing. Take a glance at the image above the image here. In it, the guard is wearing his armour and in the image directly above this paragraph, the guard has no armour on. In addition to the clothing and armour, I can loot any number of things from the corpses as I kill them, including and not limited to gold, jewellery, weapons, potions, scrolls, keys, gems, alchemy ingredients, et cetera.
So, while I rampage, I often check the corpses for good, useful items like keys. More often than not, I just find garbage, pure garbage.
I couldn’t get a good screen shot for this, but if I did, I would have inserted it here. During my rampages, I’ve seen the guards themselves stop to loot the bodies of the slain, including their fallen comrades, instead of coming right for me as I stand there waiting for them to finish inspecting the corpses for something of use.
After a while, the town wasn’t showing me any more golden slaying opportunities, so I set the Chorrol Castle in my sights and headed over to it to continue my rampage. My first stop was the castle barracks where I got into a good fight with three guards, two pictured here being all chummy in death.
Near the barracks was the dungeon. It was heavily guarded and well, providing me with a decent slaughter-fest as I cut mercilessly through the soft, supple bodies of the guards who charged me. These guards, like the others went down fast…
Considering they are supposed to be guards, I killed them a little too easily. I’d hate to think how easily a foreign invading force would trample over this town and others, if this is as strong as the local watch is. If they can’t stop me, a simple psychopathic lunatic, how will they ever defend their dear countess?
The countess who rules over Chorrol all by herself, with no one to defend her from the psychopath that now stands in front of her, ready to pounce, driven by the scent of blood.
Before moving in for the final kill, I take some time out of my busy, busy day to talk to this meddlesome guard who feels it’s important that he try and stop me. He can’t give me the opportunity to pay my fine, and I’m certainly not going to go to jail…
I’m also baffled that you expect me to pay 24,240 gold pieces to make this little offence go away.Â If I didn’t pay the first thousand, why would I pay the subsequent thousands?Â Explain that one to me, Mr Guard, I say, as resist being arrested and thrown into the dank, squalid Chorrol Dungeon.
“Then pay with your blood!” is the declaration heard upon resisting arrest. It’s the same line all the guards are known to cry as soon as you decide you don’t want to co-operate with them.
Though it looks like I’m not the one who paid with their blood…
While this was a short rampage, I feel that it’s a far superior environment to rampage in than a first person shooter because you have other weapons available to you. I am only good with the sword in my character, otherwise I would have used a spell, but my character doesn’t have enough magicka for me to cast a good looking spell, or a deadly one.
While not as gory as others, it still provides an excellent venue in which to vent one’s anger and irritation at the modern world that is slowly turning into a pseudo-nanny state, where the state thinks it knows best and that some how, if people play these games we’ll all turn into murderous lunatics who will enter a crowded market place and start killing on whim.
Too bad someone didn’t tell that that the art of rampaging like a psychopath comes from real life, and that video games are a harmless way of unleashing that anger…