Seeking the Golden Path

[In which I wonder what strategy Larian should follow when the next generation of gaming platforms arrives]

Something is bothering me.

Yesterday I received a request for doing an interview, the subject being “Why are you still active when there is such competition as Watch Dogs or Farcry 3

Now ordinarily, I’d shrug such suggestiveness off as yet another misplaced opinion from somebody uninformed trying to be interesting, but since this was the third time I received a question of this type, it actually got me thinking.

Of course, it’s perfectly possible that I’m not actually dealing with a trend – in each of those three cases it might have been the same journalist asking me the same question in a different flavor. I don’t know, my name/face memory really is that bad. But even if it would be the same guy, my inability to immediately refute his statement and give him 10 reasons why he’d better go and study the lifecycle of leishmania, instead of bothering me with such stupidities, well, that inability disturbs me.

Thinking about the future of Larian always brings out the serious in me

You see, I should’ve had an answer ready right away. That I hadn’t, meant I hadn’t thought the matter through sufficiently, and I think I should have. It’s part of my job after all, doing all this vision and strategy thing. To make matters worse, not so long ago  I was making the exact same type of comments  to other developers who weren’t adapting to the new state of the art, warning them that they were heading for the graveyard.

Since I was right about several of these developers, it therefore followed that I’d better start worrying when a few guys (or one guy, we’ll never know) state(s) that Larian looks like one of those archers in a time of intercontinental ballistic warfare in a game of Civilization

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Of Kickstarter & one thing I think game journalists should do

[In which I discuss that I like Kickstarter, point out some of the dangers implicit in the model, and urge journalists to publish links to developer’s online stores ]

In a couple of months it will be 10 years since Divine Divinity was released, and as you can expect, we’ve been organizing a little side-project to celebrate the occasion. Part of my job in preparing for this, is delving into the archives of Larian.

It’s something I hadn’t done in quite a while, and I smiled a lot seeing old pictures, like for instance the ones from our old offices being flooded by Kirill, our brilliant but occasionally forgetful composer, who happened to take a bath 😉

The big flood of 2003 - at 03:00 am we get a call that Kirill stayed late in the office, and something went wrong 😉

Some memories remain sensitive though, and at some point I found myself getting all excited and upset again over something that happened more than 10 years ago.

Surprisingly, it made me think about Kickstarter, online stores and something I think every single game journalist should do.

Here’s the story…

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The million units manual

[In which I discuss that it’s imperative I manage to guide Larian to selling a million units in my self-publishing model if I want to make my very big RPG I’m dreaming about]

I had a big discussion the other day. Somebody was challenging the entire philosophy behind what we’re trying to do – i.e. taking our destiny in our hands and incrementally earning sufficient profit to make the very big RPG that will dwarf them all.

The road we picked is long, very very long, and maybe we're not traveling in the fastest possible manner, but that doesn't mean we'll not get there in the end.

His reasoning was that that would never work, saying that the profits that can be made by a single game of the type we’re making is limited, and that unless we branch out in a variety of different markets, the reality of our burn-rate would always ensure that our funding would be too limited to achieve the vision behind it all. He also said trying to make a cool game wasn’t really a strategy, and accused me of not having any vision for my company.

Faced with such an onslaught of criticism (he had other issues) and seeing that he was very convinced about his arguments being infallible, I didn’t counter-argue that much, opting instead to think the matter through and do a little bit of introspection.

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Should independent developers go to E3 ?

[In which I discuss that independent developers of a certain size need to be at E3, especially nowadays]

As promised, now that the dust has settled, it’s time to find out if our recent little outing to E3 was worth the effort. Specifically, is it something that I’d recommend to other developers like us ? The short of it is a definite yes, but there’s quite a few caveats that you need to be aware of.

Larian at E3 - proof that "no sweat, no glory" has its merits - it was hard work but it gave us good results

Traditionally, E3 is an industry-only show and its raison d’être is showing off upcoming games to retailers. The general idea is that you get them excited enough to place large day 1 orders and thus ensure a succesful launch.  To do that, you need to convince them that yours is a big game, and demonstrating some muscle is believed to be a tried-and-true method of achieving just that. Hence the extravagant booths with occasionally outrageous budgets.

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Post E3

[In which I discuss that shows like E3 force developers to think about the essence of their games ]

I’m writing this one from the airport. We’re finally packed up and good to go after what seems to have been a pretty good E3 for us. I have to say, it’s been a long time since I’ve been so exhausted. But I’m also happy.

The road to LA started about 2 months ago for us, and when we began this particular journey, it looked like it was going to be smooth sailing. That didn’t last very long with the first crack in the plan appearing when we realized that in order to be featured in magazines at the time of the Divinity – Original Sin announcement, we’d need to show the demos we wanted to show at E3, one month before the actual show.

You’d think that after having been 15 years in this industry I could’ve predicted that one, but for some reason, the thought never occured to me, and the result of course was that we needed quite a few heroic development efforts to save the day.

Actually, when Tom, our PR agent, told us in april that he scored a visit from PC Gamer to our offices, my initial reaction was to cancel the entire thing. At that time we literally didn’t have a lot to show. Our development had been organized such that it would suffer minimal impact from having to make a demo for E3, but that visit meant we had to somehow cram 8 weeks of work in 3 weeks or so.

It was madness, but in hindsight, I’m glad we did it.

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Dragon Commander at E3

[In which I discuss that I’m happy about how the press is reacting to the showing of Dragon Commander at E3]

As promised, here’s an update about our adventures at E3.

Today I’ll focus on Divinity – Dragon Commander & tomorrow I’ll hopefully get a chance to do Divinity – Original Sin. After that I’ll shut up about our games for a bit and talk about other games industry stuff again, because pretty soon you’ll start thinking that this blog is only here to promote our new games (which of course it is, but it’s supposed to be done in a sneaky way 😉 )

Anyway, if you don’t feel like reading, just watch this.

But if you want some context, read on!

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Larian home movie @ E3 – the Thomas files

These two funny guys are senior Larian producers, vets of many a game development horror story, armed to the teeth with producer weaponry and other unspeakable things. Right now they're trying to ensure that they can show 40 hrs of gameplay in 15 minutes and not fall asleep because of their jetag

[In which I discuss how the final preparations for E3 are going ]

After two months of preparations and I don’t know how many late nights, the moment of truth has finally arrived – Larian is in LA, ready to present its new games to a crowd of opinion makers, industry veterans, expert gamers and occasionally of course also a couple of idiots 😉

We’ve discussed what we’re going to show a zillion times, rehearsed the presentations intensively and in less than 24 hours we’re going to be doing those presentations every 15 minutes for 3 days in a row. Not that we’re complaining because we’re having a lot of fun, but it did cause a bit of stress from time to time.

We took Thomas with us, our inhouse video guy, so if you want to have a behind the scenes look, check out the footage that we’ll hopefully be posting each day. I say hopefully because we’re hopelessly jetlagged & have (contrary to popular opinion for the ones we left behind in Belgium) been working pretty hard ever since we arrived here last Friday. Also, Thomas is not very good at his job 😉

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Divinity – Original Sin revealed !

[In which I discuss my surprise at the surprise regarding the announcement of Original Sin and give plenty of links to first look coverage ]

So now you know 🙂

Project E, the secret Larian project I tried to hype by sneakily dropping hints about it from time to time turns out to be a top-down multiplayer turn-based RPG called Divinity – Original Sin.

Judging by the reactions I’ve seen on various forums, about the only thing that apparently didn’t come as a surprise is that it’s set in the Divinity universe. And even that seems to raise some eyebrows, because it takes place before Divine Divinity and not after Divinity II: The Dragon Knight Saga.

I’m surprised by the surprise, so I guess that  now that I can openly talk about it, it might be worthwhile telling you what I was thinking when this game initially saw the light. Before you read on, you should probably have a look at one of the previews – otherwise a lot of what I’m going to say won’t make sense. Also, think of it as contributing to our chances of being covered by these media in the future, because if nobody reads what they write about us, they might lose their motivation to write about us 😉

Here’s a bunch of previews, which are the result of that press thing we did. Of course you can also check out the website, which features a kind of “inside look” video.

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The inspiration behind project E

[In which I discuss that I’m an Ultima fanboy and how that inspires my RPGs]

I’ve been talking a lot about the Ultima VII games these last couple of weeks when pitching project E to the press. I happily abused them to explain where a lot of my inspiration was coming from, and what aspirations we have with our new game.

While talking about Ultima VII, it unfortunately dawned on me again that I’m really not that young anymore. Apparently half the journalists had never played any of the Ultima games, and several of them had never even heard about them.

I was a bit shocked by this, because to me that was like a fantasy book reviewer saying that he’d never heard about Tolkien. Of course, if you think about it, it does makes sense.  Most of these guys were still trying to figure out if Optimus Prime really existed when it was first released, yet for some reason that hadn’t occurred to me.

That didn’t dissuade me from talking about it though.  I consider Ultima VII: The black gate and Ultima VII: Serpent Isle to be among the best RPGs ever made, and in my mind there’s not been a single RPG since 1992 that surpassed them, including those now considered to be the industry benchmarks.

So why was I talking about Ultima VII so much ? Continue reading

The side journalists never see

[In which I discuss that preparing to present a game can be a very tough affair ]

Three sicks guys sitting in front of a TV screen in the middle of the night – one has a splitting headache, the other a bad case of chinese food poisoning and the third, being myself, has a high fever.

What are we doing ? Preparing for a horde of journalists invading our offices to check out our new games.

It’s not going well – Dragon Commander has been crashing randomly throughout the rehearsal presentations, and one of main features of project E game doesn’t seem to be doing what it should be doing.

I'm going to fire the cleaning crew - really, I am. that's what this blog entry is about 🙂

We’ve been ambitious in what we wanted to put in this demonstration, an now we’re paying the price.

One of the youngsters in the office asks me – are we going to make it? I smile reassuringly, and treat him to one of my warstories from past PR events. He walks away, slightly confused. Not sure I was that inspirational.

Speakers scream – “Project E – Yet another succesful build”.  We look up, hopefully, maybe this will be the one that miraculously fixes the problems.

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