Examiner.com - Behind Sherwood Dungeon
An interview with Gene Endrody
by Jaime Skelton, October 4, 2010
Original Article: http://www.examiner.com/mmorpg-in-national/behind-sherwood-dungeon-an-interview-with-gene-endrody
Last Friday, Examiner took an in-depth look at Sherwood Dungeon, a free-to-play, browser-based game produced by Gene Endrody. The unique game lets heroes delve into mysterious locations and a deep dungeon, quest, and even PvP. We talked with Gene to get further insight into Sherwood Dungeon's creation, development, and unique perspective in the world of online gaming.
Examiner: What milestone has Sherwood Dungeon made that you are the most proud of?
Gene: I feel more lucky than proud. I started making small shockwave based games in the evenings and weekends ten years ago while I was working in the console game industry. These were just small, fun hobby projects and there were no grand plans or aspirations. Sherwood grew out of that and I didnít have any expectations other than it seemed like a fun creative and technical challenge. Iíve been blessed with how much success Sherwood has enjoyed in the first six years of operation and Iím grateful to the players who have supported the game.
Examiner: What made you finally decide to introduce the bow and arrow recently to Sherwood, despite earlier objections to ranged combat?
Gene: Sherwood doesnít use the traditional tank, DPS, healer trinity and focuses more on an action RPG style of melee combat. This was intended to make the combat more up close, in your face and visceral. In discussions with players, we were concerned that ranged combat could disrupt the emergent game play that comes out of the clan room raids. Players also like their downtime in Sherwood. We did not want ranged combat to interfere with the social nature of the game and end up introducing a feature that could be used for griefing. For these reasons we limited ranged combat to PVE only. After a rewrite of the MOB AI to balance the ranged attacks, I released an alpha version of the update to players very early on. With their help I was able to tune the system and it ended up being a very popular update.
Examiner: Have you ever thought about adding gamepad support?
Gene: I have considered gamepad support. We use Adobe Shockwave as the browser technology for the delivery and 3D rendering in the game client. Gamepads are not supported natively by Shockwave but there are third party add-ons. These add-ons trigger security dialogs in the web browsers, requesting permission for installation and I donít consider this to be an acceptable solution given that you always loose players when dialogs pop up.
Examiner: Has bringing Sherwood to Facebook helped its popularity or accessibility?
Gene: Sherwood as a Facebook app is really more of an ongoing experiment. About 13,000 players do use Facebook as their gateway into the game, but that is a relatively small number compared to the stand-alone version at SherwoodDungeon.com. Sherwood scales to fill the available space in the web browser and usually is played full screen. Because Facebook limits the screen space available for the game, most players migrate from the Facebook app to the regular version. I use Facebook quite extensively to keep in touch with players through the fansite and we often discuss requests and new features in the discussion area.
Examiner: Do you find it difficult to deal with an international audience, given the small nature of Maid Marian Entertainment?
Gene: I didnít really set out to attract such an international audience. It happened organically as international game sites started supporting Sherwood. I donít localize the game and the player community became a mixing pot of languages and cultures. This has turned out to be a major influence on the game culture. Recently Iíve created Spanish, Portuguese and Polish default servers and room assignments so players of the same language can easily find each other. Players are welcome to override these setting and often do. I think of the international nature of Sherwood more as a lucky accident than a challenge.
Examiner: How do you respond to critics who think the game is dated?
Gene: I take feedback seriously, but I guess that depends on what Sherwood is being compared to. Iím not trying to compete with downloadable client based or boxed games because they are often 100 MB to over a gigabyte in size. Considering Sherwood fits on the equivalent of three floppy disks, most critics have been impressed with what we have been able to accomplish given the limitations of the web browser. We have a huge advantage when it comes to accessibility. As we donít require registration or download, most players can go from discovering the game to playing it in less than a minute. We try to make smart compromises. There are actually very few fantasy MMOs that run inside your web browser in 3D and only one that I know of that attracts more players. At the end of the day I was lucky enough to make an MMO as a hobby and now itís played by over a million users. It has succeeded beyond my wildest expectations. Just the fact that weíre here at all as a tiny cottage industry MMO, alive and kicking for over six years in an industry dominated by corporate giants, weíve already won.
Examiner: Search engines show a lot of results for Sherwood Dungeon hacks and cheat programs. Do you feel like you've secured Sherwood to your best ability?
Gene: Victim of our own popularity? Any MMO with a decent sized audience will attract some of this, particularly the browser based ones. If many of those cheats actually worked, I suppose it could be a major issue but patching hacks is a continuous part of running any MMO.
Examiner: What was your favorite area to design?
Gene: If by ďareaĒ you mean a location in the game, it would have to be Midnight Glade. This is a moonlight town with shops, merchants and windmills. Unicorns and wolves wander in the forest just outside of town. I think itís one of the nicest spots in the game. If by ďareaĒ you mean an aspect of the game, it would have to be the ďProphecy of BaneĒ quest series. These quests bring you face to face with the DarkBlood, a cult set on returning the world of Sherwood to the void. The Darkblood worship the oldest of the black dragons, a creature named Bane who can only be defeated by a weapon called the Dragon Claw Scepter. You need to earn six Stones of Power to summon the Dragon Claw in trials of combat throughout the kingdom and defeat Bane in order to fulfill the prophecy. The Prophecy quests are a great way to get acquainted with the kingdom as they keep you moving from location to location.
Examiner: If you were given a million dollars to remake Sherwood Dungeon, would you do it? If so, what would you change?
Gene: The thing about being given a million dollars in the games industry is that at some point whoever gave it to you is going to want it back with interest. There are always strings attached. I donít really want to work on a multi-million dollar MMO. There are plenty of those to go around. Iíd rather make a small hobbyist MMO on a shoestring budget that defies the odds and is done for the right reasons. Sherwood succeeds because itís small, very independent and beholden to no one but itsí players. Iím very grateful not to be knee deep in all the corporate nonsense that most developers have to endure and I believe players appreciate the honest approach. When Sherwood launched it was a glorified 3D chat room with swords. 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 barely a game at that point. These players found it cool to hang out in an unfinished game. There wasnít much to do, so they would invent stuff. That culture of emergent play never left the game. As a result, some of the coolest ďfeaturesĒ of Sherwood came from a very active player community. Six years later the game has evolved and matured but I wouldnít change a thing about where weíve come from.