For about 8 months now, I’ve been telling you what I can get substantiated about the demise of Sigil and what led up to the spectacular failure that was Vanguard’s shipping. I hate to publish without some substantiation. There have been some other things that I have heard from people that worked there about what happened that I have never blogged about or even talked about with Tarkheena.
Over at Fires of Heaven, former game designer Vince Napoli, known at FOH as Teclisen lets loose with a torrent of information that hasn’t been discussed publicly up until now. I’ve been dying for some of this stuff to see the light of day, and now that he’s spilled at least a good-sized portion of the beans let’s do a little postmortem. Not something for the kids to read, probably. The complete post follows, broken out and commented on.
He starts off with an introduction to what he’s going to say. If you have read his posts in the past you would know that he has a different communication style. That is, if he thinks you suck, he’ll say “you suck and you write like a third grader.” (Actual quote.) He tends to be direct. Let’s begin, my comments follow each section;
You know, as much as I hate having to carefully craft (AKA, lie through my teeth) an answer to “What was Vanguard’s biggest failing?” in job interviews, I realized after reading that rather disappointing article how proud I am of it.
Know why? Because I can honestly say with 100% validity: I’m a big reason for Vanguard’s failure. Not Brad Mcquaid – not Microsoft. Me. And Guess what? I’m really kind of proud of it.
This is typical of Teclisen’s writing style. An interesting lead in to this;
Brad McQuaid didn’t do shit. (News Flash?) He’s had an opiate addiction for years now, which only got progressively worse as the project failed. His cumulative face time with sigil designers in the most crucial final years of development? Approx: 15 minutes. And some of the time was spent begging for legitimately acquired narcotics (Or in times of desperation, jacking them from people’s desk).
Part of this has been widely reported, starting with my article on this blog about Brad McQuaid abandoning Vanguard. Brad hadn’t been around. After my article, this was corroborated in several places. I had also heard from a couple of staffers and another person on the periphery of the business about the “sex, drugs, and drugs” aspect of the story. No one would ever go on record for obvious reasons. Brad’s story over at F13 about being out raising venture capital was just more of his bullshit, which we all knew at the time.
The lead designers didn’t do shit. (News Flash?) Sigil fired all of their golden-boy, EQ-Genius designers (Save One) who this board once speculated simply “left.” It wasn’t even secretive. It all happened on the same day.
I’d heard about this as well, although not as much.
Sony didn’t do shit. The extent of sony’s help was 2 designers who ended up writing some diplomacy quests in Tanvu and some adventuring quests in Tursh. I think there was an artist that came in 2 days a week or something for about a month also. Thom Terrasas (sp?) is the only Sony employee that ever directly affected the direction of that game.
The only part Sony really played in Vanguard’s destiny was to let its life unnaturally and undeserving-ly continue. And apparently, it’s simply because they were naive enough to think this project was worth their cash. Hah! Even the staff at sigil was left wondering why the hell Sony would buy us. Dozens of lunch hours were spent trying to figure out why.
“What profitable web of intrigue and mystery was big ‘ol Smed spinning with this crazy move(????),” we’d often cry
It was pretty shocking (and just lame) to hear John Smedly actually get angry and complain to people after the layoff’s that he, “didn’t know what he was buying.” He even expressed anger at Jeff and Brad for bamboozlin’ him. Poor guy. Maybe next time tough-guy Smed decides to spend several million dollars on something he’ll expend some brain power figuring out what it is first.
This part kinda cracks me up. The story had always been that Sony had tried to teach Smed a lesson about working with his loser friends by actually hiring some of them to do Everquest. Problem is, some people came along and fucked that up by allowing EQ to be a success. Now Brad McQuaid thinks he’s a rock star. Sony knows differently and confronts him about it and he leaves to found Sigil and Smed is off the hook for the moment. Enter May of 2006, and SOE agrees to bail Brad and Sigil out and allow them to get the game out. Seems like Smed didn’t do his due diligence about what he was buying with SOE’s money. This is another great example of how this business is still in it’s infancy and there are so few people that truly understand it’s ins and outs. In how many other businesses would the head of a business unit for a multinational conglomerate be allowed to spend millions without knowing exactly what was going on behind the doors there? Not many, I can tell you. (Just in case you were struggling with your answer on that one. Yes, I know you weren’t.)
Dave Gilbertson DID do some shit. (News Flash!) But this guy? Man, so much stuff I could say about this guy. He was truly unbelievable. Even when you thought his insanely unprofessional antics couldn’t get any more outrageous, he’d go and do something like tell everyone they’re getting a raise (to keep crunching) and then one by one call people into his office who WERE actually getting raises (but would never actually get them), how much they were going to get (VERY, soon). Unfortunately he would move through desk rows one by one and simply skip over the unlucky ones. It took a whole 5 minutes for the office to see through his brilliantly laid out scheme. He used the same plan for the lay-offs too. Classy huh?
He’s literally never played a video game in his life, yet when Brad died off and Dave inherited the position of Vanguard Jesus, he decided he must be the final call on every design decision. I guess if you ride dirt bikes with a gamer god, his genius just wears off on you.
Fortunately, sometime this would result in getting played like a fiddle by whoever happened to be lovingly pulling the strings that day. But more often than not, this just meant people had to go around him to get something in, only without the help of (Place whatever department here) that was necessary for a game feature to actually turn out right. Imagine for a second people at Sigil actually knew how to do something right? (Believe it or not, we did on occasion) this guy would become the bottleneck to prevent that from happening.
If there was a ceremony for the Gamespy award, Dave would be accepting. For the sake of all our future video game consumer habits, let’s hope this guy goes back to the only thing he’s qualified to do, whatever that might be.
The one thing I hear more and more from former Sigil employees is what a polarizing figure Dave was. There were those who thought he was making a power play for the control of Sigil, and there were others who saw him as Sigil’s only shot to get the damn thing done. The people that I know that were there told me the story of him being a giant cock-block to getting anything done. There was a lot of frustration among some of those dealing with Dave about how difficult it was to get some things done, and changes to the design made. Two of the people I like most from Sigil thought a lot of Dave and the work he put in. I think it’s telling that SOE initially gave him the reins over there and then soon thereafter he was gone. The consensus was that he was a good at his job, before that job was managing people.
Anyway, enough of my blabbering. The most shocking reality that I don’t think anyone really ever understood is that Vanguard was made (exclusively the design staff, I should say) COMPLETELY by amateurs. People who had been hired less than a week with 0 prior experience were tasked with designing entire newbie areas that shipped. People who had never produced a game in their life were asked to fix a 40 million dollar fuck up. People with no experience were asked to fix the item, diplomacy, ability, content, quest and pretty much every system in the game.
The game that exists now was designed in a single year by people with 0 experience. If that sounds too vague think of it like this: about 1 year from release we had 0 quests in the DB because the tool didn’t exist yet. When I decided to split the team there was over 30,000 quest object entries. Yeah, explains a lot doesn’t it?
What a huge let down indeed.
Oddly enough, the whole situation was probably a bigger let down to the designers than the consumers. I accepted a position thinking I was going to work with a bunch of experts – Masters of their craft – and really learn the ropes of game design. Instead, my fellow design associates and I were unwittingly tasked with trying to fix a failed video game that had literally been canceled twice before any of us were even hired. So in retrospect, despite everything, I guess I’m still pretty proud of vanguard. Every team member should be proud in spite of a truly pitiful and pathetic waste.
This is all true. I’ve been able to get this corroborated and the game was literally done in the final year. A source that used to be a Sigil designer told me tonight that because of the lack of design and programming tools, most of what happened in the first three years was not in the final product. It’s like a freaking high-school term-paper that you have months to do and you do it all in the last three days. Only with a 40+ million dollar budget.
- Brad leaves SOE and founds Sigil.
- Brad is non-functional in his role as CEO and so others fill the void.
- Sigil staffers suffer from lack of direction and tools to do their job, effectively wasting three years and God knows how much money.
- One Sigil staffer described that process as “Arm-Chair design.”
- The shit hits the fan with Microsoft, and they pull their support.
- SOE steps in, and Smed saves Brad’s bacon.
- Smed regrets this.
It’s sad how this all worked out. I feel bad for the designers who really did do heroic work at a time when there was no help coming from the managers that were supposed to be supporting and directing them. It’s again a situation where people were in positions that they shouldn’t have been in, and they got funded in a way they shouldn’t have been. Reports are that Brad McQuiad was a terrible manager at SOE, and that continued at Sigil. Jeff Butler was a great evangelist and brought unbelievable energy to the project. As far as i can tell he shouldn’t have been a manager either. Dave Gilbertson, same story.
I’m going to continue to follow this story, and as soon as I have anything more, you all will know.
As always, I’d love to know what y’all think about this.