Aussie Gamer Interview: Gene
by Vincent Haoson
November 2, 2010
Original Article: http://aussie-gamer.com/interview-gene-endrody/
Aussie-Gamer.com recently had the chance to catch up with the one-man team behind the browser based MMORPG, Sherwood Dungeon. Gene Endrody takes care of the development, updates, graphics and servers for the game, and we wanted to find out exactly what he was thinking! Read on below to find out!
Aussie-Gamer.com: How did the idea for the game come about originally?
Gene Endrody: In 2003 I had two hobby virtual world projects going, Marian‚Äôs World and Moonbase. I was on the beta for Shockwave 3D and these projects were really intended to learn how to code and hopefully leave me with some techniques I could use in the future. I posted all my little experiments on MaidMarian.com so friends and other Shockwave developers could see how it was going. A link from Macromedia, the makers of Shockwave, started a gradual increase in traffic to the site and the audience shifted from tech people to end users who wanted to try the virtual worlds. As a fantasy lover, I launched Sherwood to see how close I could get to an Everquest-like experience in a web browser. Although I liked the 3rd person camera and visual presentation of Everquest, from a game design perspective I deviated immediately and went with a skill-based, action RPG style of combat where timing counts. That is why there is no auto-attack in Sherwood as that would make as much sense as having an auto attack in a game like Street Fighter.
Fan Art by Roadkill
A-G: Apart from running a game system that is used by thousands of users, what specifically are the main issues that arise when dealing with all the work by yourself?
GE: I enjoy wearing all the different hats associated with running an MMO and honestly I think most people in the industry cut me a break if I'm not perfect at each one of them. The biggest challenge has been just putting myself out there and available to criticism. Many players don't necessary know or care that it's just one guy who made the game. They just want entertainment value and even if the game is free, their time is valuable. There is constant pressure to deliver and even when you try to take a day off, you have to keep checking the servers to ensure there are no surprises. That being said, for the most part making and running an MMO with a million players is as good as it sounds and I consider myself very lucky.
A-G: The game’s 6th year anniversary has just gone by in May, when you look back what are some of the highlights?
GE: Probably the biggest transition point was in 2006 with the launch of the dungeon. At the time I was working in the console game industry at Radical Entertainment. I became interested in procedural dungeon diggers and item generators after staring over the shoulder of a co-worker playing Angband. That was my first exposure to text based Rogue-type games and lead to the release of the bottomless dungeon in Sherwood. This redefined the game and actually split the player community quite a bit. Although it was still just a hobby, this was also the year that Sherwood passed a million unique monthly players and passed my day job in terms of income. I quit Radical, we incorporated Maid Marian Entertainment and my wife became CFO. We also changed the name of the game to Sherwood Dungeon because the URL was available and because the new name reflected the recent updates.
A-G: How much input do the players have in how the game evolves over time?
GE: In 2003 I said on the MaidMarian.com website that Sherwood would be an experiment with a more open development process where players could see the game evolve over time and participate in the process with their feedback. That sounds more official than it is in practice and really it's just a bunch of people talking about Sherwood and one of them happens to be making the game. No player community speaks with one voice, so it's always a tricky balancing act. Articulate ideas from individuals seem to have the most influence as opposed to some kind of design by committee process that you might be thinking of. Early players bought into the idea of what Sherwood could be some day as opposed to what it actually was. The fact that I wanted their feedback to help steer the direction of development was apparently such a rare thing that they were willing to overlook the fact that it was so unfinished. There wasn't much to do, so they would invent stuff. That culture of emergent play never left the game. As a result, some of the coolest "features" of Sherwood are not found in the user interface but come from a very active player community.
A-G: Do you still play games yourself?
GE: Yes, but I find it increasingly difficult to just sit and enjoy the experience rather than analyze everything to death. I'm coming at this from the perspective of someone fascinated by virtual worlds and the associated technical challenges. I keep trying to peek behind the curtain and end up playing just enough to get the reader's digest version before moving on to other games. I find myself reading fantasy novels for simple enjoyment and to get away from the computer screen when I need a rest.
A-G: Any in-game secrets you can share to the Aussie-Gamer.com readers?
GE: Sherwood isn't really a secrets driven game. Most ‚"secrets" are players finding ways to do things in the game I never intended. With emergent play, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. There are players who "glich" in the game to try to climb up things, like the castle or taverns that are not really designed to be climbed. The latest seems to be trying to get to the flag on the highest mast of the Pirate ship. There is a lot going on in the game that isn't immediately obvious. I would recommend that once you are familiar with the game to get involved with the player-run guilds, room raids and tournaments.
A-G: Your game is an inspiration to upcoming indie developers – what advice would you give someone starting out?
GE: We've tried to maintain a small, mom and pop corner grocery store feel to the business as opposed to becoming a traditional publisher funded developer or VC funded startup. We are not beholden to investors, publishers or distributors, don't do work for hire, don't owe anyone money and own 100% of the IP. I'm very aware of how lucky that makes us especially considering the games industry in recent years seems to be running on the feudal system. It seems the more powerful you are in this industry, the less you have to work because money comes from leveraging power. Do distributors, publishers and portals deserve more than 50% when they don't make the game? Do cell-phone companies deserve 40% in fees for an SMS purchase of virtual currency? They are leveraging the fact that most small developers don't have a choice. My advice would be to do everything you can not to play the game by their rules. Try to find a creative way to get access to eyeballs without bending over.
Sherwood is designed to be playable either in a small window, typical of a web game or full screen, more like a boxed MMO. We have a liberal linking policy and provide code so that any website can embed Sherwood and the other games on their site so long as the ad is visible under the game. With hundreds of sites linking in, we‚Äôve ended up with an ad-hoc distribution network rather than relying on a major game portal. This also means that Sherwood guilds and clans can include the game itself as part of the content of their guild site. So if you want Sherwood Dungeon on your website, let me know.
A-G: What’s next for Sherwood Dungeon, and yourself as a developer? Do you have any plans for your next game?
GE: I'm fortunate enough to have large enough audiences with Sherwood Dungeon and Club Marian to sustain both games. Club Marian is our social virtual world with similarities to the now defunct There.com. It has about 700,000 monthly unique players. I don't want to let down either player bases by focusing my attention elsewhere and feel a responsibility to match their commitment to the games.We don't talk much about updates before they are released or discuss specifics about what's in the works and new features usually just appear without advanced notice or hype. This way there's no false expectations and it's just a nice surprise.
Players can often get a sense of what's on my priority list from the on-going conversations on the Facebook fan page, particularly when I ask for feedback on aspects of the game. We constantly have to retool and update the game to keep it current and take advantage of faster hardware and graphics cards. In the year ahead issues around the core game engine and graphic fidelity of the game will be a major focus.
A-G: Thank you for taking the time to chat to us