The Grouchy Gamer

Yeah, I'm cranky. That's kinda the point...

Sigil Dirt Finally Hits The Street

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.

Until today.

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 McQuiad 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.

Let’s recap;

  1. Brad leaves SOE and founds Sigil.
  2. Brad is non-functional in his role as CEO and so others fill the void.
  3. Sigil staffers suffer from lack of direction and tools to do their job, effectively wasting three years and God knows how much money.
  4. One Sigil staffer described that process as “Arm-Chair design.”
  5. The shit hits the fan with Microsoft, and they pull their support.
  6. SOE steps in, and Smed saves Brad’s bacon.
  7. 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.

 

16 Comments

  1. So much makes sense now. Genda and I were in early beta for the game and I kept thinking to myself that it was progressing, but slowly. I drifted off to play other things for a while, but we were there at Fry’s (yes…I “faked” a doctor appointment so I could be there on opening day) to buy our collector’s special edition of the game. We ran home and loaded it and…WHAT THE HECK?! the game was TOTALLY different from the early beta. I don’t just mean different look and feel. I mean Star Wars Galaxies beta versus Everquest production type of different. Cities were on different continents. NONE of the quest lines were anything like the same.

    Some areas were populated ( the Gnome starting city for instance) with quests and activities that were very progressive and made a lot of sense. Then they would send you out into the world to another zone where there were almost no quests and what was there was so inappropriate for your level that you literally couldn’t even do one quest. The world was so beautiful and expansive, but EXTREMELY hard to get around in.

    I guess it makes a lot of sense once you understand that they had people with no experience developing content. The guys that I met seemed like such great people with an honest and idealistic goal. To make the game that people would love to play that wasn’t for the “WoW fanboys”. I had such great hopes that it would be something like my original foray into Everquest. And honestly, there were such amazing spots of brilliance in VG that brought that back to my mind. I can’t keep saying enough how much the Gnome starting quests were awesome. And I got that same newbie EQ rush when I was starting to learn the diplomacy quest and trying to figure out how to play my hand of cards and which ones were the best. The Kurashasha had a great diplomacy newbie quest as well.

    It just seemed to fizzle out and, consequently for me, lose my interest once you got out of your newbie starting zone. Nothing seemed to make sense and you didn’t have the same cohesive layout to quests and adventuring as you did before.

    Once again…I am rambling. I guess I will leave it to say that I see things a lot clearer now that news like this is coming out about the final days. Can you say Brad as Nero? Brad Hero-Clixed as Telon burned.

  2. Reading about the inner workings of Sigil really makes me think that my future potential profession, Organizational Psychology, could have helped, if not potentially saved a project such as this.

    While I certainly am not an expert in the field, being only and under grad psychology major, there are so many things wrong with this situation that could have been corrected:

    1.) For a good office environment that is working at optimal efficiency, you want establish an Archetypal system, not a Direct control system.

    That means the top people, who are managing the people below them, work as directors and communicators, rather than getting in peoples way and trying to do everything themselves. You higher workers who are specialized and highly skilled, so you don’t have to hold their hand, and you let them work; being the “bottle neck” by having to have everything approved by the manager (and potentially rejected simply because “I don’t like it!”) is a very flawed process.

    The heads of the department should be the traffic directors, they should be well informed on all the goings on at their office and should be the hub for which all communications go through. If people submit reports on what they did that day, what their current plans for the week are, so on and so forth, the head of the department is supposed to direct everyone, get different people working on the same page, and generally help all the parts of the machine function together.

    2.) It seems the interpersonal relationships in this setting were very strained.

    People are humans, we will have conflicts and differing opinions, but a professionals in an office setting is required to grin and bare it for the sake of the project. As long as someone has not physically or sexually abused you, simply shrug it off and get on with the task at hand. You aren’t here to be their friend, you are here to model their art, produce their spell animation, code their UI ect. After work if you don’t feel inclined to go have a cold one and shoot the shit with them as friends, that is fine, but while you are in the office you have to work together, despite any personal animosity.

    3.) Obvious miss-management, and no whistle blowing until now?

    If your director is obviously incompetent, ineffective, or being a general hindrance to the project, you should always seek the higher ups. In this case, I’m assuming Brad himself was the highest person on the totem pole, but considering his complete lack of interest in the project, and his personal issues, you start to run out of options.

    This is also a fine example of why no one person should have full control over the design of the project, because any power left unchecked, or without a stand-in in cases of incapacitation, fatalities ect., and people with absolute power can indeed make poor decisions that are harmful to the project merely based on personal agendas or spontaneous whims.

    Its hard to stand up to a tyrant if they control your pay check, but once the SOE guys got involved, some developers should have come forward anonymously with video footage of the goings-on at the office. This would allow the people who control the money, the investor, to make some executive descension and cut the hindering people from the project and higher some real professionals.

    An organizational psychologist worth his degree could have really helped Sigil establish better business ethics and a healthier office environment, performance enhancement and efficiency improvements, and better management and communication skills for the CEO/directors, but only provided that the investors pushed hard enough for this change.

    150,000+ O. Psych salary a year was (and still is) worth saving a multi-million dollar investment.

  3. I don’t know too many companies who have a Psych consultant on staff. But at the end of the day, the first step in solving a problem is admitting you have a problem. When the head of the company IS the problem, it is the 500 lb gorilla in every meeting. Everyone is afraid to say anything because you don’t want to be the one to see the emporer is naked.

    Mixed metaphors aside…I think the article that apparently spawned Tec’s rant says it all… http://goty.gamespy.com/2007/special/26.html

  4. I know it’s really juvenile, but I eat this kind of stuff up. What a bunch of clowns. It’s just too bad so many people’s livelihoods were screwed with by a handful of egomaniac morons with no business savvy and no qualms about fleecing both fans and their own employees–otherwise I’d get a big chuckle out of this. Someone REALLY needs to write a book about this.

  5. I don’t get, how these people can call themselves professionals and I don’t get, how they manage to spend 40 million dollars on such projects.

    I am an independent game developer too and we try to raise money since 3 years for our project, which is realized (in early stage) by true professionals, who have strong game development backgrounds.

    If you are an investor and want to spend about 10 millions for a true mmoRPG, visit http://renaissance-mmorpg.com ;-)

  6. Vanguard was kept alive to make The Agency look that much better. ;)

  7. @ Aaron – I wouldn’t be surprised if that was indeed the case. SOE in my opinion are the kings of putting out mediocre product. Rather than putting a concerted effort into one or two really great games, they pump out middle-of-the-road mass produced crud 99% of the time. It’s ashame considered the financial and staff resources they have.

  8. I’m not in the gaming industry, so I don’t really know the demographics of its employees, but I would guess, from playing games, most of them are white males in their 20s. I could be wrong, of course, but I’m thinking as I read this, Wow, sounds like a bunch of people with not a lot of teaming experience, not a lot of life experience, lots of big egos….and then the words ‘dot com’ flitted across my mind…visions of the 90s…dot com startups…big drama…big failures. Her we go again.
    So I’m thinking, Huh, immaturity. We older people know better..and then I look around my office. Gads. Same issues, just less overt drama.
    So, my conclusion is, it’s People Stuff: Chimps in Pants.

  9. I’ve dealt with people in the gaming industry in the past and have a few close friends working at MS and EA Games and I have to say that the stuff this guy has posted seems to be the standard run of the mill office drama to some extent. I am in no way saying that it wasn’t true nor that it did not happen but lets face it, everyone thinks they can do a better job than their boss and everyone seems to think they are under appreciated. At least this guy admits he’s inept and was under qualified for his job. I think if I were in his shoe’s I would feel a similar level of vehemence towards Sigil and what became of it. My last company I worked with had a similiar boss who spent all year traipsing around world rather than staying in the office and adminstering the company. This meant that many of us were put into positions we were not hired to do. I ended up training and running human resources for the company when I am typically a project/department manager. I stuck with the company because I felt a level of camaraderie with my fellow employee’s and I felt that if I left I would be leaving them in a bad way. I think the employee’s at Sigil felt the same thing and as a result stuck with the company even though it ended up being the worst MMORPG launch since Funcom’s Anarchy Online. Thank god that SOE did step in because honestly I feel they made some serious progress from what I was reading earlier about the game.

    I would also add that I just started playing Vanguard: Saga of Heroes and I must say, I’m impressed. It is buggy, not even a little buggy mind you, kind of final beta buggy but that’s good. This means to me that in the next few updates the game will be rock solid. Right now it is definitely filling it’s role as an alternative to the WoW Fanboi game. I was on EQ from beta till release and right now it reminds me alot of EQ Beta, where people could see where the game was headed and the impact it would have on the gaming industry. With regards to V:SOH, it will be the different elements of game play, diplomacy, crafting and adventuring that lend to the atmosphere of the game and also most importantly, the scope of the game. Then there is as mentioned the size of the world. I still remember Ultima Online in it’s infancy and thinking that was huge, then playing Asheron’s Call and feeling that same rush. This game blow’s them both away. It’s so huge, I spent 40 minutes running nonstop from one city to another tonight and I was still in the under 20th area’s.

    I would say that though this may be off topic, if you haven’t tried it yet but have been waiting for it to be playable, now is a good time to get in the mix. The game, though still buggy like I mentioned, is very enjoyable. I hear from alot of people who say they are happy they gave it a chance. I would add that the recidivism rate is about 80% right now from people that came back for the free month in December. Thats pretty good but I’m also seeing a bunch of new players who are playing just from word of mouth from other players. The fact is people are very loyal to this game and for good reason, they took a hacked up game and finally made it into a solid MMORPG. I strongly feel that this game will only get better and with the history of SOE support for it’s games, it will be around for long enough for us interested party’s to enjoy.

    Enuf Said.

  10. It doesn’t really matter whose fault it is at this point. All the affiliate sites got burned, the fans got burned and now it looks like SOE got burned also. Pointing fingers and keeping the flames going isn’t going to help anything. I say let it die.

  11. Hey G,
    Nice “RE:” from you. To hear this all substantiated makes it all quite damning.

    I guess the only thing left for me to wonder is are we ever going to get the “anti-WoW”/”more like EQ1″ game that so many of us thought VG would be? I would reckon not after this failure… What a shame.

  12. After reading this, I’m speechless.

    Nice read!

    This would explain the crappy starting areas in Vanguard.

    So, basically, this game was dev’d in a year… props to those newbie devs?

  13. I enjoy reading your site but it would seem you have quite a bias against Brad McQuaid, based solely on what you’ve heard from disgruntled employees, which is ok with me, but regardless of his apparently “shitty” management skills, he still has the best theory or “vision” on MMORPG games and I don’t believe too many avid MMO gamers would disagree with that statement. I feel that if you see what you like in a game and you want to see it progress, regardless of how bad it has been fucked up, don’t bitch about it, support it. Anyhow, thanks for the read.

  14. @Melonhead

    Just to set the record straight, I never had a bias against Brad until all this stuff happened. I, like you, had slurped the Kool Aid and thought whatever he was going to do was going to be right on. Unfortunately that didn’t happen and I felt compelled to report my findings and my opinions here.

    On the subject of supporting the game, I do. While I don’t actively play I do have a station pass with Vanguard on it, and I operate one of the longest-running fansites (since March of 2005) for Vanguard that is still out there. So I’ve been supporting Vanguard by either discussing it on their forums, running a fansite, playing the game, or through other methods since 2003.

    I say all this to say don’t discount my criticism of Brad as someone who was a long time Brad hater. Think of me as a long-time Brad supporter who finally saw the sausage being made.

  15. @Genda

    I’m not saying everything he is going to do is going to right on, but you have to give the man credit for some of the things he has done and the influence he has had on these games, rather than only point out the flaws and bash him for the things he has supposedly done, or lack there of, as you tend to do, solely based on hearsay. Heh, as for “slurping the Kool-Aid,” there isn’t much to be slurped as of late. I don’t claim to be a McQuaid lover, but I do read alot of his theories and about “the vision” and it seems to me that they are almost spot-on with what the intelligent base of MMORPG gamers wants. Forget the sausage, where’s the love?

  16. I am a new player to Vanguard, and after reading these stories, it makes me wonder in awe at what could have been accomplished if a solid 4 years of development, good management, and good tools had been in place.

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