Footprints: The Fall of Mucky Foot

By Kieron Gillen on April 22nd, 2008 at 2:34 pm.

I worked on all sorts of feet-based puns for this, but decided that like my own, they stunk.

The Escapist’s Post-Mortem issue is live. I contributed a piece about Mucky foot, describing the birth and descent of the makers of Urban Chaos and Startopia. It’s quite the story. This does the VH1 Behind the Music approach, talking to the four primaries and them recalling all the inspired and foolish decisions they made, with the benefit of hindsight. It also includes details on games which you probably won’t be aware of (Their Punisher? ER Tycoon?). There’s a mass of other material specific to Urban Chaos and Startopia which I’ll spin into Making Ofs down the line, but this sad and human story’s enough to be getting on with, yeah?

And while you’re there, Nick Pirocanac’s examination on the incredibly resilient Allegiance community is well worth a read and Erin “EASpouse” Hoffman’s tale about Black9′s cancellation is so enormous that I may have to write about it later. People occasionally ask me why I don’t go into development. The idea of spending years of my life on something then this happening is Reason No 1.

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34 Comments »

  1. Larington says:

    Its a damn shame, considering that I’ve replayed Startopia several times and enjoyed it every time, so I’m still somewhat perplexed as to why it didn’t sell well. Lack of advertising? A victim of the ‘SS2 and a much more hyped game being released too close together’ trend?

    Or maybe too many gamers are philistines who can’t recognise new, fun or innovative stuff unless its hyped and given a bigger advertising budget than every GTA game ever released put TOGETHER. No, mustn’t be *that* cynical… But sometimes, I wonder.

  2. Phil says:

    Just read Hoffman’s piece – whoever the assistant producer was deserves his own sphere of hell.

    Does anyone know if the source code for black9 ever saw the light of day on any reputable corner of the internet?

  3. Kieron Gillen says:

    I admit, I was wondering that myself.

    KG

  4. Alex says:

    The story gets stranger – at the same time the PC game was developed, a pen-and-paper RPG (Black9 Ops) based on the same IP was also made, by Steve Perrin of Chaosium fame.

    And that actually is available (Perrin made it freely available, apparently):

    http://www.philomathgames.com/Black9Ops.pdf

    That might give us an idea of what the gaming world would’ve been like.

    (And Erin Hoffman is noted as one of the writers, btw)

  5. Pod says:

    My has the term “post-moterm” risen to fame in the games journo world?

    Are you trying to start another new style, KG?

  6. Pijama says:

    :’(

    All that can be said is that Startopia 2 would be fucking awesome. And what better legacy a developer can leave?

  7. Nick says:

    “Are you trying to start another new style, KG?”

    Surely it would be called Neo-post-mortessisim if he were =)

  8. Henrik J says:

    Only the first page of the Mucky Foot article works, the others just refer back to the first page

  9. Smee says:

    @ Henrik J – yeah, I just noticed that too. Any chance the code-monkeys at the Escapist can fix those links, hmm? Even manually changing the url to pages 2, 3 or 4 still refers back to 1.

  10. Chris says:

    Very much enjoyed Startopia, except that I was always put off by the level that first introduced farming, and rather dropped you in the deep end. Left off twice at that point, and then when I went to reinstall it on my newer PC, it refused to run. Ho hum.

  11. Heliocentricity says:

    http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/issues/issue_146/4839-Footprints

    tried reading it, the next page link is screwed, each page ends up looking like the first?

  12. Larington says:

    Thats well strange, the article worked fine on my first read through but now its stuck on page two.

    Now its stuck on page 1. Ctrl-F5 isn’t fixing it either (Forced refresh), XP IE vers 7.0.

  13. Kieron Gillen says:

    Yeah, odd. Was working fine when I put it up. Will forward to appropriate people.

    KG

  14. Chris Daniel says:

    re: borked pagination

    You can read the whole article on one page by clicking on the “Print this story” link on the left, hidden in among the digg/reddit/etc links.

  15. Chris Daniel says:

    Sorry, should have just pasted the url:
    http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/print/4814

  16. steve says:

    The Black9 story is interesting, but it’s a wee-bit one-sided. I’d be curious to know more about what was going on at Majesco.

    I’d expect developers to blame publishers for their failures, but it works both ways. Sometimes, developers just fuck up. And if Black9 was as amazingly awesome as detailed in that article—and it may very well have been, though my admittedly superficial looks at it didn’t make it jump out at me as some kind of world-beater—someone else probablou would’ve picked it up.

  17. Man Raised By Puffins says:

    It was working until I used the ‘Next Page’ link (up til then I was using the individual page links), then all the pages froze. Which was rather odd. Seems to be working fine now though.

    Good article on Mucky Foot. I knew the poor sales of Urban Chaos and Startopia affected them pretty badly, but didn’t realise that they carried on for a bit after that (Blade 2 having completely passed me by, probably for the better).

  18. Erin Hoffman says:

    Hi all. This popped up on my google alerts, so followed on over and thought I would comment. Kieron, enjoyed the Footprints article, and glad you found my piece interesting. Certainly interested in any of your further comments on it.

    Steve, you’re certainly correct that there’s two sides to any story. I welcome Majesco to explain what they were doing during this, but I will buy you a pony on the moon if they ever do. They did so many incredibly illegal things that it is entirely to their advantage to pretend it never happened, and as they have since cleaned house (though a couple of the same people are still there) they can claim they screwed up in the past but are an entirely new company now, which is what they’ve done.

    You’re correct that for a great, finished game that suffered cancellation another company would likely grab it as a pick-up title. This does happen. The problem was that Majesco wasn’t letting it go. They didn’t cancel the project. They claimed they were still developing it. They fired the development team, but claimed it was still theirs. They never actually accumulated a dev team to continue it — they tried to finish it literally with about five programmers from what we heard down the grapevine — and obviously could not. So a white knight coming in would have to have supported Taldren’s lawsuit first, which lawyers told us would likely take two years (and obviously thousands of dollars) to resolve. At that point the game was under contention, and no outside company is going to come near a project that they can’t prove legal ownership for. And the litigation was strong enough and unresolved enough that Majesco would have had a hard time releasing the game at that point, too. So regardless of the competency of the people they then put on the game, it eventually came in their best interest not to finish it. They expected Taldren to just roll over and cave, not fight legally as far as they could.

    Had all of those complicating factors not been in place, Black9 certainly would have been picked up with another publisher. There were a few at the time that acquisition was being discussed with, should the lawsuit have been resolved. Mega-hit or not is certainly debatable and subjective, but it was a fun game and would have made quite a bit of money had it gone to distro.

  19. Kieron Gillen says:

    Steve: While I agree it’d be interesting to have heard the other side, one of the key things of Erin’s piece which worked for me is humanising the horror story of development. In some ways it doesn’t matter if Black9 was as good as she thought it would be – what mattered is that the team believed it was, and to have that torn away from them after all the emotional energy they put into it… well, it’s the sort of thing that’s hard to get over. We say “Aw… well, that sucks” when a game is cancelled, but the piece captured a lot about what I imagine it must be like.

    (Fear of working in vain is one of the reasons why I personally expend a lot of my creative energies on my comics writing – with an artist and myself we can create something that, on all levels bar marketing, is on a par with what Marvel and DC put out. I don’t need to rely on anyone else’s money to nearly the same level.)

    Erin: Basically, what I’d have said, would have been an extended version of the above. I may still do, y’know.

    KG

  20. Rook says:

    The only problem with that article is that the hyperbole over Black9 almost over shadows the message of how insidious much of big business is.

  21. Kieron Gillen says:

    I kind of took that as evidence of the emotions. You describe the love of your life who was torn away by a tragic accident, you don’t “say she was kind of plain and could be annoying to many people, if we’re being objective”.

    KG

  22. Rook says:

    I think there’s a case where if you’re to openly slander a person, or company, you’d probably best stick to the facts rather than bring emotions to it. Otherwise, as a reader you do wonder if the game was really awesome, or just a cliché ridden deus ex knock off, and then you start to wonder whether the producer was really that bad etc. It’s the Dennis Dyack effect “you’re game is how awesome? and epic stole your money and sabotaged your game to make gears of war and still left you with a shitty engine? tell me more.”

  23. Arnulf says:

    Funny and sad at the same time.

    I’ve bought both Urban Chaos and Startopia.

    Am I a misfit?

  24. Daniel Purvis says:

    Excuse me while I go cut myself … no mention of, sniff, My article:(

  25. Daniel Purvis says:

    Yeah, yeah. I know haha! But hey, man. Programming is universal.

    Must admit, the business side of the industry scares me a lot – more so after reading this issue of Escapist. I’ve always wondered how developers go when they start new companies but I’ve never looked into it, too young, too ignorant.

    I do know that splintering can be difficult in Australia due to our tax system. I’ve known of one splinter group and a sound recording studio that tanked on release of their first game and after the first year (respectively) for tax reasons, as game development isn’t attributed the same benefits as other creative endeavours such as television, artists, writers etc.

    The government is currently looking at introducing a 40% rebate for game developers, as other creative Australian industries are provided, which should help gaming companies establish themselves.

    I’m also surprised at how common splintering is. When I asked how the Pandemic guys felt about merging with EA, he said the mood was positive but that if it came down to it, many of the developers wouldn’t think twice about breaking away and setting up their own shop.

  26. A.Nonny.Moose says:

    I don’t know the other guys involved, but Mike Diskett is a top bloke. This sounds like yet another good bunch of people either being screwed over by the publishers, and/or simply not getting the rub of the green in the marketplace. In my experience, sadly too common. When people ask me what its like to work in games development, I tell them the facts:

    8 years, 6 companies, 4 redundancies, 1 walk-out through not being paid for months and 1 resignation. Only 1 of these 6 companies still exist, although 1 of the others claim they do too. I think they are kidding themselves.

    Games, its a great buisiness.

  27. parm says:

    All you bastards that didn’t buy Startopia, I hope you’re happy now. It was a bloody brilliant game with some of the best and funniest writing and presentation I’ve ever seen. Sim Spacestation? With a sense of humour straight out of the Douglas Adams school of resigned cynicism? By rights, this game should have been as big, or bigger, than any of the Theme series. I shall have to go home and dig it out again tonight.

  28. fluffy bunny says:

    I love Startopia so much. It’s just… perfect. There’s something wrong with a world where stuff like Prison Tycoon sells and stuff like Startopia doesn’t.

  29. Geoff says:

    How did I never hear of Startopia? I’m probably the only American right now playing Anno 1701, and I prefer the space/sci-fi setting to historical ones.

    This looks excellent to me, and I’m probably gonna end up buying an old copy now, but I never even heard of it when it came out.

    It’s just a shame the sales won’t get back to these guys…

  30. Ginger Yellow says:

    Always wondered what happened to them. Startopia is one of my all time favourite games. I drag it out every six months or so and play through again. Easily the best themed management game ever. So why do you think it didn’t sell, Kieron? Was it just down to marketing? Fans of management games don’t like space? Or British humour? Makes no sense to me.

  31. Pete says:

    “One was called Skyships, a steampunk pirate game.”

    Oh my. What a great shame THAT never saw the light of day.

  32. Jesus says:

    Wow.
    Can’t believe someone wrote something about Allegiance.

    Escapist I salute you.

    (also yeah I loved Startopia too, great game it was)

  33. Son_of_Montfort says:

    I always wondered by something like Steam or GoG.com didn’t get Startopia to put up for sale again? I still have a copy, I believe, somewhere in the ether, but it seems lost in the basement of doom and I would much rather slap a $5 and get a digital copy. I remember having tons of fun with it, and it had graphics that were pretty far ahead for its time. It was a good summer of gaming, with Startopia and System Shock 2 on my plate.

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