Blogged Out: 'Middle Earth Offline'

In his latest 'Blogged Out' column, veteran UK writer Jim Rossignol takes a look at the world of developer blogging with some views on failed gaming from a three part series on Sierra's defunct Middle Earth MMO, and rising to LOLCode challenges.
Welcome to 'Blogged Out', the news report that looks at the world of developer blogging and the conversations being had with the community at large. This week: failures and promises. Ignored The Food Vital reading that I've somehow managed to miss up until this week is the blog of Joe Ludwig, where he writes about the failed Middle Earth Online project. Inspired by the chatter surrounding Sigil and the development of Vanguard, Joe has elected to write a three part series about the lost game. There are scenes that developers of all kinds will find upsetting: “Ten o’clock rolled around and we all filed into the big conference room. They laid out typical morning meeting junk food (doughnuts, muffins, etc.) at the back of the room, and I think there may have even been a cake. Nobody was hungry, and we all ignored the food. Pretty soon a guy nobody knew stood up and started talking. “His name was Bill something or other, I think. He was down from corporate, but not directly in the chain of command. He pretty much cut to the chase and said that they were closing the studio and that some of the people in the meeting would now go upstairs for a separate meeting. At that point he started reading a list of names, and it was obvious about five names in that this was the list of keepers. He read the names of almost the entire Babylon 5 team and about 2/3 of the Middle-Earth team. We got to walk past all the people who were about to be laid off and go pack into the second largest conference room to be offered relocation to Bellevue, Washington.” Surely in that situation they should have eaten as much as possible? No? Anyway, failed games are genuinely interesting topic for us jaded games journalists – far more so than failed books, plays, or symphonies, for me at least. Perhaps the reason they have such evocation for me is that I am over-familiar with the medium, but perhaps it's also the idea that games have created puzzles, challenges, forms, shapes, characters and worlds that a small number of people have become intimately familiar with, and yet cannot be accessed by the world at large. In the case of MMOs and such large-scale games, cancellation is like a world being shut off before it was even given a chance to live. I visted the first iteration of the Warhammer MMO several times while it was being developed by Climax in Nottingham, UK, and that project has now, of course, been entirely canned. There's an entire alternate universe of Warhammer fantasy out there, one that will never see now that the EA Mythic project is nearing completion. As excited as I am about the Mythic project, it really does look rather like World Of Warcraft. The lost Climax game had a darkly realistic style, something that hearkened back to Games Workshop's earlier more baroque style. It saddens me that we will never grind quests in such a world. Of course Joe's particular story doesn't necessarily have a bad end, since he is now working on Pirates Of The Burning Sea, which might just be awesome... Syntax Error Finally, Costik has made a pledge that he might one day regret, which is to write a game in LOLCode: “Years ago, esr told me he had a standing offer: he'd build a compiler for any well-defined programming language, however obscure or idiotic. LOLcode isn't there yet, and I don't know that he's still willing to do that. However, I'll make a corresponding pledge: If this project turns into a working, Turing-complete language, and esr makes a LOLcode compiler, I'll write a game in LOLcode. “Mind you, I don't promise it'll be a good game. (Yes, there's my out, to be sure.) But still.” Would the internet generation find programming easier with a LOLCat language? Hmm, business opportunities from slang... [Jim Rossignol is a freelance journalist based in the UK – his game journalism has appeared in PC Gamer UK, Edge and The London Times.]

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