I've been designing games now for more years than I want to recall. I've been doing it professionally for nearly 30 years. Designing games is fun, sure… but contrary to what most people think, it’s a LOT of work and you seldom, if ever, get to design what you want. Coming up with the concept for the game is the easy part, in fact I would be so bold as to say that any person who has ever serious played, or worked on games, has an idea for that they think would make a great game. In other words, ideas are cheap, and not at all hard to come by.
What is hard is to fully design a game. This takes a lot of time, effort, swear words, lots of typing, lots of spreadsheets, graphs, research, long nights beating your head on the wall and waking up on your keyboard with the pattern of the keys embedded into your forehead. You have to understand what has been done before, and why. How your ideas would be made, and how many people it would take for how long. You have to understand how it could be tested, what tools could construct it, what engine could run it, or what technology would need to be developed, and is there a market that wants to buy it, a publisher who wants to publish it.
In truth, for the most part you cannot design a game and get it made. Instead, you have to be hired by a publisher/developer and work your way into the role of game designer… and then you still can’t design your own game. They will then tell you what they want you to write and you design what they asked you to do.
Sound like a pain in the keester? It can be. However, every once in a while a beam of sunlight makes it through the canopy of life, and somehow, someone gets to actually design a new game… from scratch. That moment happened for me several years ago when I got to concept, design and see the construction of the MMORPG, Citadel of Sorcery. After about one thousand pages of Design Guide, years of work, thousands of design meetings, ridiculous numbers of redesigns, grueling years of hard sixteen hour a day work… my game is coming to life. It CAN be done… it’s just hard… really hard.
Citadel of Sorcery is, simply put, my look at the MMO genre of games, specifically fantasy, and what I wanted to see vs. what I got. Let me explain. I started reading fantasy at nine years old when I picked up a copy of the Hobbit by J.R.R.Tolkien, as if you didn’t know who wrote it, I didn’t, at least at nine. It was one of two books, and my teacher made me read one. I happen to pick the one on the left… The Hobbit. This changed my life, forever. Since that day I have loved fantasy, read everything I can get my hands on, played D&D, wrote many fantasy novels (see earlier posts). And… every single time a fantasy based MMO comes out… I get excited. Though I was FAR more excited the very first time I tried one. Why? Well, I expected to be Bilbo Baggins going on an ADVENTURE! I expected an amazing romp, like a novel, I expected the depth and fun of a table top D&D game. I expected to be swept up into a new world of wonder and magic… but what I got was grocery shopping.
Yes, you heard me, grocery shopping. It was like my mom telling me to go get her milk. I walk up to some NPC standing on some corner (he’s been standing on that corner for a few years now, night and day, saying the same thing to every woeful player who ambles by). He says something like, “Blah, blah, blah, fetch me 10 wolf tails and I’ll give you one of these swords.” So… I go out to have my grand adventure and kill a wolf. I find a wolf, some other sorry ass player runs up and attacks it first, so I have to find another wolf. I do, and kill it. No tail. Crap. I find another wolf, (stealing it from some other player) and kill it… oh boy, it drops a wolf tail. Now I have to kill more wolves, I need 9 more of the stupid things. ARGH! This isn’t an adventure, it’s a tedious task! Worse, EVERY other player who comes through this world will have to do the same thing. WORSE yet, the wolf I killed will pop back into existence in two minutes, right here, as if my actions meant NOTHING! Well, in this game they don’t. I don’t get to destroy the necklace of doom, by hanging it around the fairy queen, who then knights me as lord of the seven kingdoms. I don’t get to lead armies into the dark forest to find the man who set the spider men on my trail. I have no story, I have no life, I have no impact on the world, no… I do the same thing as everyone else in a world where nothing changes, and all reverts back to the same state every few minutes. I’m not positive, but… isn’t that a definition of… hell?
This is not what I signed up for (certainly not what I wasted my hard earned bucks to buy). I want AVENTURE! I want to carve my story out of the world, have an ongoing story, have epic climaxes, in situations that MATTER! I want to save the world! I want… well, I want everything. I get nothing, except a grocery list. Fetch me ten whatevers.
Each time a new games comes out, I get excited (though a little less each time, (the Little Boy who Cried Wolf syndrome), and then am once again crushed by the lack of anything great, exciting, new, or fun. Out of boredom I decide I want to kill people, other players, because maybe, just maybe then I’ll get some excitement, you know, a ‘thinking’ opponent. Unfortunately, though this happens to a small degree, it is pretty rare. Mostly I deal with idiots trying to gank me, or prey on newbies, or goad me (a lower level player) into attacking them, so they can slaughter me and take my stuff. They often do this by becoming annoying to the point where I want to kill them.
I nearly despaired. Where was all the adventure? I wanted to be Conan going through the adventures in Hyperborea. I want to be Aragorn and take on the battle at Minas Tiriath. I want to be a hero, doing things that matter, in a world that will change, reaching epic climaxes of grand adventures.
Well, I finally got my chance to put up or shut up. I designed many games for other people. I even got to do a few concepts of my own. And after much success I got into a position where I could put together a large team of professionals with the capability to make a major AAA game title. I chose MMORPGs. I did this simply because I was so disappointed in what I’d seen. I expected so much more, and never got it. This meant to me that there must be other people, many other people, just as disappointed as I have been, each wanting that grand adventure. They might even know what kind of game they want, even have an idea for it, but not the experience, means, support, contacts and sheer gumption to turn that dream into reality.
I did. And the game is Citadel of Sorcery. I started work on the design eight years ago; companies were formed to make the technology and to make the game. I had many contacts in the industry, so people signed on, also intrigued by the promise of making that elusive game that they have always wanted to see made. The team grew, work started, technology began to arrive, designs were written, reworked, rewritten, revamped, redone, remade, renewed and… we got results. Better yet, when we started melding that technology with the game design… lo and behold, it all… worked. I game and world like this wasn’t impossible! A game world is forming, a world so large no player can ever explore it all, so deep that Quests are the equivalent of an epic multi-series novel. Every player has a unique path through the world, each one with their own personal stories, enemies and friends. No monster pops back into existence in their quest. In a crises, things they achieve matter, and their efforts can change the course of the world. Their quests tie together into a bigger personal story, which in turn takes place with a progressing epic story. And there isn’t one… no, not one… grocery list.
I would love to take credit for all of the innovative and wonderful design ideas for Citadel of Sorcery, but in truth, though I designed the initial game, over time the ideas and thoughts of many designers have made it better than the original concept. It has become such an amazing game that players will be in shock when they first start, but once they realize what they have discovered… they will never go back. It’s like eating mud all your life… and then someone giving you a bowl of ice cream. Holy CRAP! This is good stuff! And I was PAYING to eat mud?
And so… yes, I have gotten to design that elusive game, that idea, that original concept, and gotten to see it grow into a full fledged, epic monster of a game. More than a game, a world, an alternate reality where I can really BE that hero on a grand adventure. This project is on the verge of even more massive expansion as all major design elements have been proven viable. And at this stage we have started to garner serious interest in the title from publishers in multiple countries. Almost every publisher we show it to gets excited about the design. We are closing in on making a deal with one of them, and then Citadel of Sorcery will finally come to the players, where we hope to give them what they have been wanting for so long: true adventures. All of us that have gotten to work on the game are blessed, and we are trying our hardest to give the players the reward for their long patience. CoS is coming, get your wand and sword and meet me in a Reflected World for the adventure of a lifetime… soon.