Age of Camelot
was the best-selling computer game in the United States for the week of
October 7, 2001, and was still comfortably in the top five when I wrote
this. This Postmortem is an overview of how this successful title was
conceived and developed. My role on the project was as the game's producer.
Mythic Entertainment has been developing online games as a company since
1995 - forever in this field - but the company's founders had made online
games even before then. In fact, as a company, we probably have more experience
than any other company in developing online games of all types - over
the years we have developed role-playing games, first-person shooters,
top-down spaceship shooters, and strategy games. When I last wrote a Postmortem
it was back in May 1998 for Aliens Online, our online first-person
shooter based on the well-known Alien movies.
After Aliens Online
, a nonaccelerated game, we created our first
3D-accelerated game, Spellbinder: The Nexus Conflict
. During that
project, we developed a relationship with NDL, makers of the NetImmerse
3D engine API toolkit. We learned a lot about 3D engine development over
the course of that project and became very comfortable with software and
art development in this environment. We finished Spellbinder
went on to be a mildly successful Internet shooter, and it still has a
small but loyal following.
project, we decided to create a graphical online
role-playing game to compete with the then-new wave of online RPGs such
as Ultima Online
, which were taking traditional
text-based games and adding a graphical front end, with very successful
results. Over the years, we had developed several nongraphical online
role-playing games, including Dragon's Gate
and Darkness Falls:
. Because of our experience developing RPGs, we knew that
we had to have a slightly different slant on our new title in order to
distinguish it from the RPGs that were already on the market. Darkness
Falls: The Crusade
(DFC) featured a built-in player-versus-player
(PvP) conflict in which three different teams, called Realms, fought each
other for control of magical artifacts, known as Idols. We really liked
this concept, which served to keep DFC players hooked on the game - especially
because no other online game featured such team-based conflict as a core
part of the game design. So, in late 1999, we decided to make a graphical
version of DFC. The project was dubbed "Darkness Falls 3D
and we began preliminary work researching client engine and server technology.
Right off the bat it was obvious that we had two major factors going in
our favor. First, we determined we could use a much-enhanced version of
the Spellbinder graphics engine as DFC3D's client, just as we were able
to use DFC's server code as a platform for the new game's back end. Having
such a solid client and server right at the start - with associated client/server
messaging - alone saved us at least a year of development. Second, and
even more advantageous, DFC's server came with that game's database of
objects, monsters, and weapons. Indeed, we went into the Camelot project
with a huge head start.
We were proceeding along under the DFC3D concept until our president,
Mark Jacobs, came up with the idea of basing the game, at least partially,
on the Arthurian legends. It was a great idea, since the stories of King
Arthur are in the public domain, which meant we could use them with no
fear of licensing issues. Of course, because the game was based on the
idea that three Realms were in conflict, we quickly came up with the idea
of basing the other two Realms on Norse Viking myths and Celtic Irish
legends, respectively. Having the myths and legends of three cultures
gives Camelot the feel of being three games in one, since each Realm has
different races, classes, guilds, terrain, and monsters.
Because everyone knows what happened in Arthurian England, we based the
game after Arthur's death and developed a back story of conflict among
the three Realms. The game was rechristened Dark Age of Camelot, and around
January 2000 we began the project in earnest. A year and a half and untold
numbers of Monty Python jokes later, we finished the game.
The initial versions of Dark Age of Camelot
used the rights for
a tabletop role-playing game called Rolemaster as a basis for the class
and spell systems. Not long into the project, the company that created
Rolemaster, Iron Crown Enterprises, filed for bankruptcy, and we lost
the rights. This turned out to be good for us, however, because we were
no longer required to adhere to a set of rules based on the license -
although we did have to scramble for about a week to rename and retune
spells and classes and otherwise clear Rolemaster content out of the game.
As a company,
Mythic had never before been able to devote all of its resources to any
one game - we'd never had a project big enough to pay for it. Because
of the sheer size and scope of Camelot, we wanted to ensure that everyone
at Mythic devoted themselves fully to the project. Doing so required an
influx of money, and that's where New York's Abandon Entertainment stepped
in. Abandon owns a couple of small companies, each of which specializes
in different types of entertainment: a film studio, a web company, and
a couple of game content development companies. Abandon wanted to become
more involved in game development, so it purchased a minority stake in
Mythic. This money allowed us to devote everyone on staff to the Camelot
project, while also expanding and hiring much-needed programmers and artists.
Our spreadsheets showed that we had enough money to support exactly 18
months of development starting from January 2000, giving the project a
hard end date of September 2001.
By the summer of 2000, we had nearly our entire team in place. We had
about 25 developers working full-time on the project - quite a small number
compared to other online RPGs, but our existing technology allowed us
to reduce substantially the amount of technical programming staff required.
We had five programmers, ten world developers, seven artists, and several
other people working on the game.
Rob Denton, Mythic's vice president and chief technical brain, was responsible
for all client and server programming, as well as the client/server messaging
that tied the two together. His input was critical during design discussions,
as he could tell us whether an idea would work or not. He immediately
categorized features into "doable," "not doable,"
and the dreaded "on the list," which meant that it could be
done, but he wouldn't commit to it. Brian Axelson was in charge of server
programming as well as design of the game's combat system - a critical
component in a PvP-centric game. Jim Montgomery provided Camelot's client
interface coding and also designed and coded the game's magical spell
CJ Grebb and Lance Robertson led the art team. CJ was responsible for
the game's look and feel, while Lance handled figure modeling and animations
and managed the team's deadlines. Their team used 3DS Max and Character
Studio to create Camelot's character and monster models and animations.
The character models were technically advanced, as each in-game character
has several different parts buried in it that can be turned off and on
by the game. So, each model can have a helmet head and a regular head
(with hair) without having to load in a new model. Mike Crossmire created
the game's spells in 3D Studio, tweaking the NetImmerse system to display
animated spells with spectacular results.
The other major group in Camelot's development was the world team, led
by Colin Hicks. This group was responsible for quests, monster placement,
object placement, and just about everything else having to do with creating
the world of Dark Age of Camelot
. Camelot's economy was designed
by Dave Rickey. This economic system ensures that players must continue
to spend money as they rise in level, which limits the amount of money
that stays in the game. Dave and Mark Jacobs designed Camelot's trade
skill system, which enables players to make armor, weapons, and other
objects in the game - all tied to the economic system.
Among the myriad tasks that I did as a producer (writing, designing, persuading,
arguing, and such), my job was to make sure all the teams worked together.
I hosted an almost-daily morning meeting (at the wretched hour of 8:30
a.m.) where Colin, Rob, CJ, Lance, and I got together to make sure that
we were all on the same page. I was also responsible for maintaining the
master game client - all files added to the game had to be given to me,
so I could verify they worked and then integrate them with the rest of
For the game's sound and music, we contracted with Womb Music, based in
Los Angeles, which had provided music for some of our previous titles.
Rik Schaffer, the main guy at Womb, composed a wonderful soundtrack that
consisted of several long main scores, as well as many shorter pieces
in the style of Celtic, Norse, and old English folk songs, adding a sense
of depth and quality to the world.