Video Games

Flagship lists

I went on quite the little tirade early this year about my poor experience with the PC game Hellgate: London by Flagship Studios, and its support staff. This game really broke my heart – I expected so much from it, and so many compelling features were promised, but the final product didn’t live up to its own hype. Its inauspicious launch last Halloween was one of the worst in PC gaming history due to bugs, server downtime, and broken content.

The weight of this poor launch was too much for Flagship to bear. This little startup, fronted by Blizzard North veteran Bill Roper, was forced to lay off its entire staff and liquidate its assets. There’s a great, genuinely heartwrenching interview with Roper on which is well worth a read.

So why am I bringing this up now, after writing the game off fourscore and seven hellgates ago? Because I feel really bad for Flagship and its staff, and especially for Roper, who had to jeopardize his family’s financial security in order to get his people paid for their last shifts.

The real reason why I care so much, though, is that I actually like this game now. I reinstalled it in May and got a good couple of months of online gameplay out of it. The kinks haven’t all been worked out – online play can be laggy and it’s not long before you’ve seen all the assets repeat themselves – but to be perfectly honest this is the game I’d hoped for all along.

It took 7 months for it to reach this state, and 10 months for the company to go under. Just imagine if Flagship had just half a year of extra funding and could have delayed the launch. I bet it would have been a real summer blockbuster, even for a modest underdog of a game.

I don’t feel I can retract my criticisms or comments from my previous post about this game, since I’m a paying customer and deserved better than what I was handed in that huge foam-filled box. Still, I am saddened that it had to end this way, so soon.

Let this be a lesson to any and all who are tempted by a lifetime founders’ subscription – $150 bought those poor saps only a few expensive months of sparse subscription content that was promised but only fractionally delivered.

Most of all, let this be a lesson to startup companies on the importance of image. When your userbase is screaming from the rafters that something foul is afoot with your product, the WRONG way to handle this feedback is to ignore it and pretend that everything is fine. Flagship insisted on playing their cards very close to their chest, which unfortunately meant that they let the pessimists and naysayers do all the talking for them. I imagine this was a conscious choice by Flagship’s senior staff to hide their tenuous financial situation from prospective investors, but unfortunately this made damage control impossible, forcing frustrated customers and would-be subscribers to get their news from more vocal sources like Flagshipped (a site with the subheading “MMO Fail as Daily News”).

It takes a good captain to send his staff out with all the life preservers and go down with his ship. My condolences to you, Bill. You put up a hell of a fight. I’d have empathized with you from day one if only you’d given us a glimpse of your tribulations much earlier on.

Video Games

Cliffy, take a long walk off of one

Epic (née Megagames) superstar level designer (!?) Cliff Bleszinski (gesundheit!), aka CliffyB, laments to Gamasutra about the poor sales of his (proclaimed) acclaimed Xbox hit, Gears of War. Says Bleszinski:

“I think people would rather make a game that sells 4.5 million copies than a million and Gears is at 4.5 million right now on the 360.”

Such commendable objectivity. Let’s look at the facts behind this blanket statement.

  • Gears of War was released on PC, at full price, one year after the Xbox360 premiere.
  • Thousands complained about the game’s inexplicably high system requirements.
  • Needless integration with Windows Live requires you to create an account and be logged in to save your single player game.
  • You’re stuck with console-style continue points and can’t save anywhere.

Not only does Cliffy assume that no PC gamer owns an Xbox 360, the game is crippled with needless online integration and obviously overlooks many of the PC platform’s strengths. As is the case with all console ports the game looks dated on PC and does not warrant the full price of admission.

Epic is recoiling from unimpressive holiday sales, but this comes as little surprise on the PC side. Their two major offerings last quarter were the ageing Gears of War as well as the universally snubbed Unreal Tournament 3. The reasons for the failure of the latter title are quite obvious to me:

  • Epic’s insistence to synchronize its launch with Valve’s Orange Box and EA’s Crysis.
  • The game is marginally different from Unreal Tournament 2004.
  • The mod scene for UT2k4 is huge, so starting over with a blank slate is mundane.

And Gears of War?

  • Very awkward WASD controls.
  • The level design is sub par – every map is a square with debris.
  • You fight baddies called “wrenches” (Get it? Gears? Wrenches? Neither do I.) and the rest of the writing resorts to sub-Stallone gravelly machismo.
  • A more apt name would have been “Run and Hide” since that’s all you ever do.

Reality aside, Cliffy’s assertions of the PC market being in “disarray” are unfounded. These fraudulent allegations combined with his sloppy port of Gears proves he wouldn’t know a personal computer if it slapped him on the rump.

“I think the PC is just in disarray,” he stated. “What’s driving the PC right now is Sims-type games and World of WarCraft and a lot of stuff that’s in a Web-based interface. You just click on it and play it. That’s the direction PC is evolving into so for me, the PC is kind of the secondary part of what we’re doing.”

His examples are way out of left field and he ignores not only the enormous variety of the PC market that can’t be found anywhere else, but also the phenomenal titles on the horizon (Spore, Conan and Warhammer Online, the Sam and Max series, Postal 3, Fallout 3, Starcraft 2, to name a piddling few).

What irks me most of all is Cliffy’s dismissal of the platform that made Epic the company it is. Longtime fans of the company will remember Epic Megagames as a marginally above average purveyor of shareware PC titles sporting charismatic protagonists like Jazz Jackrabbit and Jill of the Jungle. These were games whose first few levels were free and continued play warranted incremental payments for subsequent stages. Even their later, more polished titles kept the grassroots image by employing, for example, MOD music legend CC Catch (Kenny Chou) to score the awesome robot fighting game One Must Fall 2097. This company was the very definition of humility and the goodwill and support of the PC gaming community bolstered it into the powerhouse it is today.

So bye bye, Cliffy. Go seek out your fortune in the wild, untamed mainstream. Leave the most powerful gaming platform in your wake as you squeeze the last ounce out of yesterday’s technology. Obviously you know your company better than those of us who spent our childhood playing the likes of Kiloblaster and Dare to Dream on Windows 3.1. Your army of Xbots sweats with prepubescent anticipation, calling your name in their collective prepubescent tenor, itching to wrap their monkey mitts around the most imprecise controllers on Earth to nudge and fidget their way through your next square room full of boxy debris. Count me out.


What is love? Cliffy, don’t hurt me!

Video Games

I’ve been unfaithful to Crysis

I’m playing Crysis but I’m thinking of Wing Commander. How I wish a more unique or other less popular genre of game were the one to premiere Cry Engine 2 instead of this merely adequate shooter.


The game engine is damn fine, and this little Google Video clip can’t do it justice. Click here to see the half-resolution 170MB AVI. Pretty nice frame rate for all High detail settings with AA and AF while recording with Fraps, eh?