Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Small Is Beautiful : Developer Appreciation Week

It's Developer Appreciation Week, hosted once again by Ravalation, who explains the history and purpose of the event here.

Rav makes the very pertinent point that DAW is all about being positive so I'll resist making the very obvious comment about which MMO developer probably won't be feeling the love right now. If you can't say something nice best not to say anything at all.

I'd like to take this opportunity to extend my heartfelt appreciation, admiration and thanks to the Daybreak Team. Being a fan of Sony Online Entertainment all these long years has been difficult enough but saying you think things have actually improved under the new management is tantamount to seeking your own committal hearing.

Nevertheless, that is what I do think. The SOE team under John "Smed" Smedly either made or was very heavily involved in nearly all my very top favorite MMORPGs - EverQuest, EQ2 and Vanguard foremost among them.

In latter years, particularly once overall reporting passed from Sony Pictures to the Playstation Division, choices and decisions were made that even the most rabidly loyal fan would have had difficulty endorsing. Not to mention all the out-and-out crazy projects that flared and fizzled and vanished.

Since the transition to DBG under Columbus Nova the ship has steadied. When the Daybreak PR department offers up something new I no longer feel equal portions of dread and awe at the scale and hubris of what's being planned. Mostly I find myself thinking "oh, that sounds like a good idea".

The mysterious overlords of Columbus Nova keep their commercial cards close to their chests. What their long-term plans are, who can say? Information that came out following the axing of EQNext revealed it to be at best a self-indulgent vanity project. If it was, as was once rumored, the reason CN bought the company in the first place then the decision to stop throwing money on the fire was brave as well as sensible.

Fortunately for the future of the newly-minted DBG, against all reason and good sense H1Z1 continues to prosper. I've still never played H1Z1. I must get around to that some time this millennium.

Meanwhile the ever-shrinking Team Norrath continue to plump up the cushions on the comfortable old sofas that are EverQuest One and Two. Both games are regularly updated with entertaining content and despite limited resources the two teams somehow manage to pump out an expansion every year, the way they always have.

Moreover, EQ2 in particular looks better than it ever did. The updating of in-house development tools a few years back has paid dividends and every new zone and dungeon seems more gorgeous than the last. Whoever's doing the music is on the absolute top of their game, too.

It's very sad to see a developer of Domino's caliber lost to Norrath by dint of factors utterly outside the control of Daybreak or Columbus Nova but as she herself said "Daybreak is very lucky to have so many long-term veterans who are so passionate about the games they work on that they can't imagine wanting to work anywhere else".

A big thanks to all of those "veterans". Long may they stay and deep may be their influence on those who come to join them.

Of course, in typical Inventory Full fashion, this wasn't supposed to be a post about Daybreak Games at all. I spent an hour before I began, taking screenshots and a video, so I could write a piece in appreciation of a much smaller and less controversial team of devs: SmokymonkeyS.

The oddly capitalized SmokyMonkeyS are two Japanese guys. That's it. That's the team. Their biog on the website sets new standards for self-effacement:

SmokymonkeyS is a team consisting of two Japanese guys, one a programmer and the other a graphic designer, formed for the purpose of creating games. We are not professional game creators. We don't belong to any business company and have nothing to back us up. This game is created by only using tools available to everyone.

Well, geez Louise! If it's that easy, let's all go out and do it, why don't we?

Seriously, this is perhaps the most visually delicious, aurally sumptuous, subtle, delicate, enigmatic video game I have ever played. If it even is a game, because the game part is the least of it.

Ninelives is a work of art. That's all. You don't need to play it you just need to experience it. Perhaps it should have been an installation in a gallery somewhere not a free download on a gaming page but the art world's loss is very much gaming's gain.

A few months ago it looked as though time was up for Ninelives. In an ominously downbeat, almost depressive post on the game's website, SmokymonkeyS announced they were suspending development of their project because "the game couldn't gain enough support from players, we don't have enough funds to continue operating and developing the game and we couldn't maintain the motivation to continue the development."

When you think of all the games that do gain support it makes you want to weep. The one glimmer of hope in the darkness is that development has only been "suspended", not cancelled. The game is still up and running. You can download it here and you should.

What's more, there are still flickers of life showing. There's a new version of the client (I just updated this morning) and someone has finished translating the whole game into French!

The reduced teams at one-time major DBG and the tiny indie duo at SmokymonkeyS demonstrate that you really don't have to have a roster of three hundred to create and maintain something very special. You just need to want to do it enough. And have someone pay the bills that keep the lights on, of course.

When the time for Developer Appreciation Week comes around again next year it's entirely possible neither of these developers will still be around. I'd take a bet on Daybreak surviving but nothing's certain. SmokymonkeyS might run out of road tomorrow.

So don't sit back and let the days roll by, while you mean to take a look at this or go and try that or come back to the other for a visit, while never quite getting around to doing any of it. And don't wait a whole year to speak out about what you like about these games we play and these worlds we travel.

They may not be there tomorrow and neither may the people who made them. There are too many games to play them all but by golly we can play the ones we care about and let the people who work on them know their efforts are appreciated.

After all, you never know when the opportunity might end or if the chance will ever come again.


  1. Beautiful contribution to DAW 2017, Bhagpuss! The enthusiasm and heart for gaming of developers is so apparent. That's something that's completely overlooked by gamers that just like to complain.

    I only had a vague notion of Ninelives (maybe I read about it on Inventory Full before), but the world does have a special feel about it. There's something with its atmosphere, it does seem like the perfect game for you. I hope better times are ahead.

  2. I have to say that game looks an awful lot like Skyrim, the desaturated colors, the textures, distant mountain ranges and huge pine trees. If it's a free game I guess there's no harm in at least trying it out.


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