Jan-22-07, 11:41 am by Hanford
File under: Video games, Macromedia, Director, Adobe, Shockwave, Lingo
[Read part 1] This is the second and final part of my interview with Gene Endrody, the one-man-team responsible for the free MMO Sherwood Dungeon. This time, we continue to talk about the technical aspects of programming an MMO with Director, as well as discuss the marketing aspects of getting the game out and into the hands of the public. Be sure to also check out part 1 of the interview.
Sherwood Dungeon's stats are impressive, and despite that I'm a huge fan of Director frankly it's beyond what I thought Shockwave could handle. How did you go about doing an MMORPG in Director? Did you ever stop and think "this might now be possible"?
“This might now be possible” implies that I had some sort of grand vision or clear concept of what was possible when I started. I just dove in, crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. Sherwood Dungeon is a bit of an ongoing experiment, testing my own abilities and the limitations of Shockwave and Director. Because I work in such a weird, organic way, I can’t tell you what the game is going to look like next month or next year. There can be a risk of ending up with a spaghetti working this way, but the basic architecture of the game code has evolved to become quite robust. Often by doing creative things to the underlying systems, new features become not only possible, but also fast and elegant - much better than using brute force to shoehorn new features into the game.
How much of your time is working around speed/performance and download limitations, and how much of your time is true "game development"?
I can’t really separate the two. Sherwood Dungeon gets performance and download efficiency from the fact that much of the game content, including dungeons, forests and islands are procedurally generated. This is how I can have an infinitely deep dungeon in a game that’s almost small enough to fit on a floppy disk. The design process differs from more traditional narrative driven MMOs because you’re tweaking the parameters of a procedural dungeon generator rather than manually placing trees, chests, monsters or other game content.
You've talked a bit in the past about download sizes and times being a restriction. Seeing as how Director can make binary executables for both Mac and PCs out of Shockwave files. Have you thought about taking the game in the direction of an installable client application?
This is one of those questions where tech and business collide. Web games are inherently limiting because of download size. That’s not a bad thing for an independent developer because it effectively levels the playing field between you and the larger developers. Having an army of artists and vast cash reserves doesn’t give a large developer much of an advantage when the game needs to be small enough to run within a web page. By making an installable client application I would effectively be trying to compete with large companies, like Vivendi or Sony, on their terms - and that’s insane. By sticking to the web gaming space, being small and nimble with low overheads gives me the advantage. That makes a goal of developing Sherwood Dungeon into the most popular web-based 3D MMO achievable for an independent game developer.
How did you go about promoting maidmarian.com and Sherwood Dungeon?
Sherwood Dungeon is both an MMO and a web game, with one foot in each world. Web games have an uncanny ability to market themselves virally through word of mouth. Blogs, portals, email, forums, instant messenger, and social networks – anyone who can provide a link and say, “Try this cool game” just became your distribution partner. Players can go from discovering the game exists to playing it in literally 20 seconds. The trick is just making sure you don’t do anything to mess that up. Sherwood Dungeon and MaidMarian.com are designed to get you into the game quickly with an absolute minimum number of mouse clicks. Other than to maintain a very liberal linking policy for portals and websites interested in the game, I do very little to actively promote Sherwood Dungeon. This is actually the first interview I’ve done. :)
Your business model is to give the game away, and make money off of the ads, vs selling memberships. Has that been successful, and how did you come to that decision? Any major plans to change or augment the business model?
The viral distribution and ad based revenue model work well together. Ads were intended to provide revenue while I developed the games to a reasonable level of completion. I received plenty of feedback from players that the games needed to stay free. Once Sherwood Dungeon hit 4000 simultaneous players, it was clear that MaidMarian.com would be very successful on ad revenue alone. I think about other business models a great deal but as always, the devil’s in the details. Whether developers like to admit it or not, the way a game make money is a major influence on it’s design.
Earlier last year you quit your job as technical art Director for Radical Entertainment in order to work on Maidmarian.com full time. Having quit my job myself several years ago, I know it's not an easy decision. What made you decide to go for it?
If you’re going to spend half your life working, why not do it on your own terms with the opportunity to profit by your own ideas? MaidMarian.com gave me an opportunity to follow a dream and determine of my own future. That’s the truth, but not the whole story. By the time I left, MaidMarian.com was already more profitable than my day job, so there wasn’t much of a risk involved. Radical Entertainment was such a great place to work that that I had to do some soul searching before making a decision that should have been obvious.
Has making the full-time leap changed priorities of the game for you? Has it changed your development style at all?
The only major difference was a shift in attitude away from trying to do everything myself. I still do the majority of art and code in the game, but I’m much more willing to hire specialists who are more talented in specific areas. When you have a “jack of all trades” mentality, it’s sometimes hard to recognize times when you are not the right person for the job. This shift will become more obvious in the game and on the website in the coming months. I should also take this opportunity to thank Jeff, who helped me with the development and modeling of the new player characters; and James, who has provided programming advice over the last few years.
What's the future of Sherwood Dungeon? Where are you taking it?
Right now I’m focused on improving the visual quality of Sherwood Dungeon and MaidMarian.com so that it really feels like you’ve stepped into a fantasy world from the moment you get to the website. Many of the planned new features focus around community and social networking. Oh, and dragons! Players have been bugging me about dragons for months (I’m working on it - don’t rush me!)
Thanks for your time in chatting with me. You're an inspiration to indie developers all over the world!
Be sure to check out all of Gene's games on MaidMarian.com!
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