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Preparing for WAR: Mark Jacobs on Launching Warhammer Online
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Preparing for WAR: Mark Jacobs on Launching Warhammer Online

September 22, 2008 Article Start Page 1 of 6 Next

After over three years of development, Mythic Entertainment last week officially launched its latest MMO, Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning. The game represents a considerable investment into the Blizzard-dominated MMO space by parent company Electronic Arts -- not to mention a strong vote of confidence in Mythic, which was allowed numerous development delays.

The game was released with few hitches, so few in fact that Mythic believes Warhammer can claim the smoothest MMO launch to date. Of course, far after the launch period has passed, Mythic will still have to contend with the World of Warcraft behemoth, a game to which some MMO players say Warhammer is not distinct enough. But Mythic is confident in its "realm versus realm" mechanic of large-scale player warfare, which it debuted in its 2001 MMO Dark Age of Camelot.

Gamasutra caught up with Mythic co-founder and GM Mark Jacobs the day after launch to discuss the release, the state of the MMO market today, and why he's "not afraid of WoW." Also on tap are amusing anecdotes about the rogue UPS truck that took down Dark Age of Camelot, and the eerie parallels between Mythic and Funcom in 2001 and 2008.

Mythic's claim is that Warhammer Online represents "the smoothest MMO launch to date." How do you back that up tangibly?

Mark Jacobs: You can measure a launch in a number of ways. Usually, the first way people measure a launch is, does the game stay up? Since last Sunday, when we began our "head start," which allowed in up to 60,000 of the collector's editions -- because that's how many we sold -- plus a lot of our older players, to Tuesday, not a single crash. Not a crash of the game, not a crash of any of the servers.

Then we started the second phase of the head start, for our standard edition, and that was a little under 48 hours. No crashes of the game; no crashes of the individual servers. [On Thursday,] we started the official opening for everyone. Again, no crashes of the game; no crashes of an individual server. The only time we took it down was [Friday morning] to put up a server patch, and it was actually back up before schedule.

From that metric, I think it's a really safe assumption that we have the smoothest launch. If you've played any of the other MMOs, if you look at downtime due to crashes or maintenance, there's no comparison.

We launched Dark Age of Camelot back in 2001, and it was regarded as one of the most successful launches of all time. We like to think it was the most successful; the guys at Turbine like to think Asheron's [Call] was. I think we were a little bit better than them. The only problem we had that time was when somebody parked a truck on our internet.


MJ: Uh... A UPS truck. If you go back seven years, we had Mythic Entertainment, an independent company with one month to go before we ran out of money, launching Dark Age of Camelot. Because we had very little money, and because of a certain internet provider who we won't name, they couldn't install a hard line between our customer service and development buildings.

Saying "customer service building" and "development building" is one of the great overstatements of all time, since we had 24 developers in one building, and in CS I think 15. They were townhouse offices.

Mythic Entertainment's Dark Age of Camelot

So we couldn't get them to install internet. We were thinking, "This is great. We're a month away from launch, and our CS department can't connect to the game." We came up with -- I don't know if they're still available -- point-to-point satellite internet dishes. You take the two dishes, and you point them at each other, and you share the internet connection. We put one dish in one window, put the other dish in the other building's window, and we did it on a street where you weren't supposed to park.

The game goes up; not a hitch. All day, numbers are going up, and we're starting to get excited: "Okay, we have a shot at this." Around six o'clock, the numbers stop going up. The game doesn't crash, but the numbers aren't going up. Then they start going down. But the game's up. We log in, and the game's looking fine; people are playing, no issue. The numbers keep going down, the game thinks it's fine, and people are playing, so it must be that people can't get back in.

We're trying to figure it out, when one of our guys comes into the office and says, "You need to look out the window." There's a UPS truck parked illegally in front of the CS building, and it parked right on our internet. The internet was bouncing off the UPS truck.

So the CS department couldn't get to the game, the game realized that, and shut down the external login servers. Internally, we could log right in, but the CS app thought, "I better stop people from getting in," so it shut itself down. CS couldn't tell us something was wrong, because to them it just looked like nobody was sending in any [troubleshooting] tickets.

It was bizarre. So bizarre. That's how we lost our internet. That was the only time our game went down. We had to take down the game, and get the UPS guy to move his Goddamn truck, which he did.

So here we are now, almost a week into Warhammer.

No trucks running over your internet.

MJ: No! We have a real building this time. Our servers are nice and safe in one of the most secure facilities in the country. That can't happen. It's hurricane-proof; it's wonderful.

Article Start Page 1 of 6 Next

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Tom Newman
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Great interview! I can confirm that playing WAR on launch date was great. I went down once and was back in in 5 minutes, much smoother than any mmo I've experienced. Being familiar with Games Workshop's world I can also state how impressed I am with the spot-on implementation of a pre-existing fanatasy universe.

Luke Rymarz
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Warhammer has had a great launch. It's not perfect, but it's much better than other launch MMOs I've played.

And like Mark says, they're up for a good competition with WoW. Judging by how Blizzard is changing WoW, Mythic is doing something right. Siege Weapons? Battle Healers? Coming soon in Lich King. Congratulations to all the hard work the Mythic team has put in.

My only critique, and I see this in a lot of games that compete with Blizzard, is RESPONSIVENESS. The biggest thing I notice between Blizzard games and the others (try Titan Quest vs. Diablo II) is that in Blizzard games, my mouse clicks and keyboard presses are met almost instantly with some in-game action. WAR has a consistent .5 to 1 second lag on the inventory screen (try reorganizing your items), and in combat ("hey where'd he go? OH, I'M DEAD"). WoW (and all other Blizzard games) is nearly instant.

Either way, I'm sticking with WAR for a while. RvR (and Renown) is a lot of fun. PQs are awesome. And the Guild related innovations really bring things together.

Lorenzo Wang
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I wanted to add my congratulations to the pot. This was an incredibly smooth launch, and once the initial comparisons against WoW is done with, I think you'll have nothing but a growing user base. Sure there are issues, but I can honestly say that this game has gotten to the heart of the fun faster and less ashamedly than previous MMOs we've played. Bravo for a great product.

Raphael Santos
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I'm not a big MMO fan, but i'm really liking this game.

I have to say at first i thought it was a WoW clone, the interface and controls are identical, but WAR managed to get only the good part of it and made major improvements.

As a player looking for PvP, being able to get into action in a few minutes of gaming was extremely joyful, i'm currently level 15, have been playing it for 3 days, and till now i'm having a experience which WoW couldn't provide me, i can just log-in and have some quick action, develop my character a bit and quit, where WoW demanded minutes(maybe hours) of preparation/party-looking(not very casual friendly) to play and replay instanced content which werent really fun at all, but required to earn XP and better items...

Better items, so that players could beat biggers monsters... cause there wasn't much else to do, since World PVP was not only non-rewarding, but somewhat discouraged (dishonor)

WoW revolutionized the genre, but in my opinion its WAR making things now go in the right way, the "war is everywhere" concept kinda buffs me with bloodlust :)

Brett Rayer
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"I have to say at first i thought it was a WoW clone, the interface and controls are identical, but WAR managed to get only the good part of it and made major improvements."

Thought this was an interesting comment. As a 3 year WoW vet, I don't really agree. WoW is so massive (at this point, after an expansion and numerous content patches) that it's hard to pick one great thing about it. Some people PvP exclusively, some people Raid exclusively. Some people raid casually, and PvP to relieve post-office stress. Some people just farm mats, make gold and walk around in pimp gear, but never make it into an instance. Plus, it's hard to discover ANY of this if you are unable to meet a sizable group of people (20-300 players in a guild) and make friends, or at least working relationships, with most of them. The end-game, some of the real brilliant game design that Blizzard has conjured, will elude you without finding personal sustainability in a progression-oriented guild.

That said, I too have really enjoyed the immediate and pervasive RvR content, and have been pleasantly surprised by the PQs, in Warhmanner Online. I've logged about 12 gameplay hours and am starting to crave some of its nuance. I do, however, feel like the game is significantly less massive that it could be and eagerly await content patch announcements (they did, in fact, leave out two major cities amongst other things) and rumblings of XPacs.

All in all, kudos to the Mythic team. The game is everything an MMO should be and some fun new additions to the genre (Tome of Knowledge ftw!). They have a lot of potential over the next 2 years to chisel themselves a niche in the MMO mountain.

hander joki
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Bravo for a great product.

cipro soma
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Congratulations to all the hard work the Mythic team has put in.