Roper Talks Flagship, Hellgate, Sadness


Gamasutra have a wide-ranging interview with Bill Roper, the juciest portion of which talks about how Hellgate: London went wrong. He says: “It still eventually comes down to dollars and cents and time. I mean, I think when Hellgate: London came out… we knew it needed another four to six months. The publishers knew it needed another four to six months. Everybody was all in. That was kind of the mindset.”. And much more. Go read.

Mythos, Flagship’s other project, is now in beta.

48 Comments

  1. Artist says:

    I really liked the setting of HG:L – too sad that they failed and went for a very ugly business model. Still have HG:L installed and wish there was LAN support for a nice weekend with friends and a crate of beer.

    • bob_d says:

      Part of their problem was that they didn’t have a coherent business model. They wanted to go one way, but the US publisher demanded a sales & subscription model, while their Korean publisher would have preferred free-to-play. They ended up with an ungainly hybrid that failed to work (a not-so-massive-multiplayer game that didn’t require a subscription, and also didn’t give you much if you paid one), but I do know that given how much the game cost to make, just selling boxed copies with LAN play wouldn’t have made them enough money to pay back dev costs.

    • Sarkhan Lol says:

      I liked the setting too! Unfortunately, that was the only thing I liked.

  2. Dominic White says:

    The saddest thing is that Hellgate got an ENORMOUS online-only patch (round about a full gig) about a week before the servers shut down forever. That patch was, for the most part, the extra six months of development the game needed, and it really did improve things across the board. If it had launched in that state, people likely would have been a lot happier with it. It still wasn’t perfect and still needed some tweaks and refining, but they really did clean up most of the problems.

    And THEN it had to shut down. Buggeration.

  3. mkultra says:

    They should have published that interview Doc Brown style instead of Hellgate.

  4. oddshrub says:

    I think Hellgate London had one of the best premises and game world settings ever, and Mythos was sure wasn’t bad. But with flagship and the failed champions online on his back I’m not sure why anyone really cares what roper has to say. I’m sure he’s a decent game designer if he’s given Blizzard style development time but he honestly seems fairly incompetent when he isn’t.

    • Artist says:

      From past experiences in the biz Im pretty sure that its more complex than “a failure of the leading men”. Ive seen awesome able teams fall into the grip of a kind of hybris before. And its damn hard to notice when you cross the “point of no return” when you have to decide to still pull it off or let the whole investment of months/years fall apart.
      No, such stories are often not as simple and clear as holywoods movie plots…

    • 12kill4 says:

      I remember listening to a GFW podcast with Bill Roper a few years back, he definately seems to be an intelligent, personable fellow and whatnot… but I have to agree with your assessment oddshrub. Thoughout the interview he keeps going back to the issue of bloat and out-of-control spiralling as if it wasnt his job as CEO to ensure that these things didnt happen to the company, the product and the relationships with its associate organisations. Too many of the faults with the game seem to stem from poor leadership and oversight for Bill to put this one away as nothing more than a comedy of errors and unfortunate circumstances… and honestly, having played the game for approx 10hrs, I dont think another 6 months of development time would have significantly altered its financial outcome.

    • bob_d says:

      For some reason everyone thinks he’s a game designer (I guess his job title at Cryptic contributed to that perception), but the reality is, he’s not worked as a designer (and certainly didn’t work in that capacity on any Blizzard or Flagship game). He’s a PR guy, and excellent at it. In the case of Hellgate, he was too good at it – he raised expectations beyond what could be delivered.

    • bob_d says:

      @Artist: Knowing some of the inside story, this is actually a case where management shoulders a large part of the responsibility for its failure. The project was badly managed – people would be waiting for a management decision, but the management would be off in New Zealand talking to Weta about the design of the collectable Hellgate figures, or off dreaming about a sequel or a movie spin-off (really). They spent huge amounts of money on things like cut-scenes, trade shows, parties and publicity stunts (and then unsurprisingly ran short of cash). Features seemed to make it into the game based on whether it was the pet project of one of the programmers, so highly ambitious core features never got the attention they needed to work properly.
      You want to talk about hubris? One of the ex-Blizzard people actually said something along the lines of, “As former Blizzard management we could shit in a box and people would buy it.” They expected everything to be as it was as Blizzard (huge paychecks, unlimited funds until they were ready to ship) and were unprepared for when reality didn’t support that expectation.

  5. rocketman71 says:

    Should be “Roper talks enormous failure”. They thought about fleecing everyone via monthly payments (thus, removing LAN support) and forgot that they should have started by developing a fun game that also didn’t look like it was 8 years old at the time.

    The differences between Hellgate: London and Torchlight highlighted who were the real geniuses behind Diablo.

    • bob_d says:

      The irony is that Max and Erich Schaefer, the former Blizzard management who worked on Torchlight also worked on Hellgate, but the success of Torchlight probably has more to do with Travis Baldree (who I hear is amazing), who had previously worked on a Diablo clone.

  6. acgabs says:

    I played it online for free with 2 friends. It was awesome. Way better than Borderlands.

    • Negativeland says:

      I was just completely in love with this game. It had fast-paced combat, a compelling setting and the loot-piƱata-mechanics of the roguelikes. TBH it was also of course horribly broken. But still so very addictive. I lost count how many hours I spent on this game. I think my Gun-Guardian was one of the first gundians, if not the first, to hit Lvl50 Rank50. :D

      I still have this statue sitting on my desk too..

    • Jacques says:

      Gun Guardians were insane amounts of fun. Never did manage to optimise my vorpal on hit mods though :(

  7. Hallgrim says:

    I think Roper still doesn’t get it. Yes, people can be mean and vicious on the internet (going after him while he’s getting divorced because he made a shitty video game? Seriously?). But that doesn’t change the fact that he was largely responsible for a shit game. A shit game that he spent a lot of time hyping to people. I read a whole lot of “yeah bad stuff happens and there were mistakes and the investors and publishers made us release it”. I really don’t see any “yeah we sold you a complete piece of shit for 50 bucks, after we promised you that it was awesome! Sorry about, especially you lifetime subscribers!”

    I wish someone had asked him… how would you feel if you worked at McDonald’s or something, and spent your money on Hellgate London?

    • bob_d says:

      It’s weird; there’s this public perception that Roper is some lead game designer, responsible for games X, Y and Z (a perception that I suppose he must encourage to some degree), when in reality, he’s never been responsible for design (or, as far as I know, even contributed to it) – he’s a PR guy who deals with the press. Just as it’s unfair to give him credit for any of the Blizzard games, it’s unfair to blame him for the design failures of Hellgate.

    • Hallgrim says:

      @bob_d: You make it sound like he was completely disconnected from development. Wikipedia says that Bill Roper was co-founder and the CEO of Flagship Studios. If the CEO of a development studio can’t be held responsible for the quality of the product his company is selling, who can?

      I guess when you say “he’s a PR guy”, what you mean is “he’s got his head completely up his ass but he’s good at raising money”. If that’s the case, why the hell was he the CEO?

    • bob_d says:

      @ Hallgrim: The title of “CEO” means a lot of different things in the game business (with a number of CEOs having no production experience or roles), but Bill is one of these guys where there’s a huge disconnect between his job title and his job duties. I think he was given the CEO title because of this cult of personality that grew up around his spokesperson days at Blizzard, where people thought he was this driving force in the development of various titles that he had nothing to do with besides talking to people about them. At Flagship, Roper was working alongside the former management of Blizzard North, and I think they did all the overseeing of production (such as it was); his role was to be an engaging public face, raise investment money and shmooze with business partners, a role that I’ve seen other CEOs take on (and successfully so).

    • Shiny says:

      Agree with bob_d: the people responsible for the design failures would be Erich (who has since put out Torchlight, although that was really Travis’ creation) and Dave, who is now a Gazillion bigwig.

      They had a lot of trouble making a real action game for the first time and making a 3D game for the first time.

      And yeah, they wasted a lot of money and spent a lot of time on stuff that didn’t pertain directly to game development.

  8. adonf says:

    Regarding the failure of Hellgate London, it seems to me that they didn’t manage to appeal to customer outside of those that would be immediately interested in the game. Maybe it’s because they thought their game was so important that everyone knew about it, especially every potential buyer, but that is definitely not true.

    Here’s my experience about this game: the first time I had an interest in Hellgate London was at GDC 2007 or 2008. And guess what: if I’m at the GDC it means I’m rather interested in games, yet I knew nothing about it. I’d seen the name on several news sites but I never really payed attention. I think that I skipped the articles because it wasn’t clear if it was a single player or multiplayer game or an MMO and I didn’t care to find out by myself. I believe that’s a big mistake they made here: in a world of generic MMORPGs and manshoots it’s great when a game doesn’t have a very defined genre but it doesn’t mean that it should be confusing. Your game might be the most important thing in the world to you but to me it’s just one of the hundreds of games that come out every year so it’s your job to get me interested, especially if it didn’t catch on with me immediately.

    So yeah, there was this conference about Hellgate where I wanted to learn more about the game but they didn’t even bother to describe it. They just discussed their server hosting deals with IBM, assuming that everyone in the room knew what kind of a game it was . I left this conference knowing bugger all about this game except that it had servers. So congrats to IBM on their servers but boo to Flagship on their PR.

    • Negativeland says:

      They must’ve done something right in Germany, as the game seemed to be hugely popular with Germans. It seemed like 9/10ths of the European players spoke german as their 1st language. I think there’s a joke about WW2 in there somewhere. :P

    • Nethlem says:

      Has nothing to do with hellgate..
      Europe is traditionally pretty strong with PC gaming and germany especially strong within europe.
      You can find many germans in most multiplayer PC games but most games do/did a better job at grouping up same nationalities then hellgate did.

  9. Hoaxfish says:

    I never played this game, but I imagine it was filled with demonic tramps and magical beer

  10. bob_d says:

    To be fair, it was quite an ambitious game, but it can be hard to tell that since those ambitions were rarely realized. The bad levels, for example, were created by a procedural level generation system more complex than any other game out there, but it ended up creating functionally identical levels that weren’t as good as hand-made levels, and the procedural content placement systems made environments that were homogenous and had no sense of progression. The reason why they (very expensively) created their own engine was to have that procedural system, and it bit them on the ass.
    Another six months of development would have helped, as it would have taken care of some of the worst bugs that really brought down gameplay. The bad quests & story would have stayed however – that was a blind spot for the management, apparently, as they formally instructed the employees not to criticize the terrible writing (which was all down to a guy who was the community manager). Their attitude about writing and quests was formed by their Diablo days, apparently, where they offered anyone in the team something like ten or twenty dollars for each quest they wrote.

  11. BobsLawnService says:

    I’m curious, have you played Hellgate : London?

  12. BobsLawnService says:

    *Sigh* my post disappeared.

    I can’t speak for multiplayer but the single player game was awesome. Creative and varied monster design, great shooter gameplay that puts Borderlands to shame, good graphics, amusing quests, excellent level architecture, amusing writing at time, tons of different weapons n’ loot and a good weapon upgrading system.

    I think once tide of popular internet opinion had turned against it the game never stood a chance in spite of what it did well.

    So if you haven’t yet, see if can find one pick up a copy and buy it for the single player alone. You might be pleasantly surprised.

    • Bluebreaker says:

      You sir, are a bad joker.

    • BobsLawnService says:

      I guess we just have different tastes. HG:L is one of the few games that is widely panned that I think people should play and make their own minds up about.

    • Bluebreaker says:

      Well, problem lies in that the best features that you mention, are instead the weakest parts of the game.

    • Negativeland says:

      The writing was mostly horrible, yes. But I have to agree with BobsLawnService on everything else he mentioned. And the writing had it’s high points too. Like certain mid-game vendors…

    • Bluebreaker says:

      or the grand variety of enemies.. oh just wait there where just 5 enemies reused again again again and again. They weren’t even reeskins, just same enemy with diferent name.

    • bob_d says:

      @ Bluebreaker: There were a surprising number of enemies in that game, not counting the (many) reskins; the problem was that the game was often so dark that you simply couldn’t tell. (The environments were perceived as more similar than they really were for the same reason, although variations of train tunnels are still bloody train tunnels.)

  13. Jacques says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed Hellgate, such a shame it had to die.

    It’s the only ARPG since D2 that managed to captured the over-the-top insanely stupid builds that made the game fun for people like me.

    • Paravel says:

      Agreed. From day one I enjoyed the game until it shut down. I honestly never had any idea about anything all the haters were talking about. I never experienced anything wrong with the game, ever. Was I lucky, or just not so jaded? Who knows!

    • Jacques says:

      Probably lucky to have missed out on some of the worse memory leak issues, I had quite a few bluescreens with the game, but nowhere near as bad as some people on the forum supposedly had.

      The Abyss Chronicles was also fucking cool, such a shame they went down before it could be released beyond the test server.

  14. Jacques says:

    bob_d, wasn’t there a demo of them running Hellgate on an 8 core system as well? What other game engine at the time was capable of that?

    Aha, here it is. link to youtube.com

  15. bob_d says:

    @Jacques: Huh, I didn’t know about that one, although it makes me groan a bit. It’s typical Hellgate: ambitious but underperforming – support for 8-core processors that no one has, but un-dealt with performance optimization and memory issues. The performance issues were mostly due to the ambitious, novel engine design, but it shows something of the mindset: they were convinced people were going to be playing the game 10 years down the road, and were preparing for that situation, but at the expense of the initial release.

  16. jameskond says:

    I thought Mythos was bought over by some Asian company and is now getting ‘re-released’ While the Mythos team founded Runic Games and made Torchlight? I’m pretty big followers of those guys so I should know I guess :P

    • bob_d says:

      Yeah, Korean MMO company Hanbitsoft/T3 now own Mythos, and after some Korean-ization of the game, they’re trying to release it in US and Europe.
      Travis, the driving force behind Mythos has been a driving force at Runic, working on Torchlight.

  17. Negativeland says:

    The game really *was* a diamond in the rough. It could’ve been a flawed classic with just a couple of more months of development time, and a cash injection that would have helped Flagship change their business model. Of course those thing were *way* too much to ask for.
    Personally, the game ran fine for me with a Core 2 Duo X6800 and dual GeForce 7900GTs at the time. Way above the average specs of a typical PC of the day, but I guess it shows that the game didn’t need 8 cores to run decently. :P

  18. Punizher says:

    what happen to the Other Hellgate game that was in Korea or whatever?? its not going to make the EU/US? so little info if anyone knows anything please say!!! i really wanna a new Hellgate game :)

    • Matt says:

      The current management is so incompetent that I wouldn’t bother waiting for a release outside of the Asian territories.

    • Punizher says:

      blah that sucks ! but thanks for the reply

  19. Warskull says:

    Champions Online sucked before they hired him. It was something all the players in the beta knew was coming. They only hired Roper near the end of CO. However, he had plenty of time with STO.

  20. Shiny says:

    True, I had forgotten how awful the story was and how lame the pre-rendered cutscenes were. Diablo at least had nice cutscenes, and a story that was shallow but not downright nonsensical…

  21. Jimmeh says:

    I’m assuming that article was written verbatim from the recording of the interview. However after the third straight page of “like, you know, like” I lost the will to live.

    I gave up trying to extract any information from what appears to be one of the least eloquent individuals to ever learn speech.