Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Aradune At Sunset

I had other plans for what I was going to write about today but the news of Brad McQuaid's untimely and utterly unexpected demise put paid to all of that. There's no information yet on the cause of his death, which came out of the blue. By report he was working on Pantheon up to this week.

He was fifty-one, ten years younger than me. He'd been a professional MMORPG developer for a quarter of a century, almost exactly half his life, virtually the whole of his adulthood. Before that he'd been an independent games developer, starting his own company in 1989, publishing his first game, War Wizard, four years later.

He joined Sony Online Entertainment in 1996, where he brought Norrath to life, incorporating concepts and ideas from both his own tabletop roleplaying campaign and TorilMUD, the dikuMUD variant whose systems and gameplay formed much of the structure of what would soon become the most successful Western MMORPG of its era, EverQuest.

From there he went on to form his own, ill-fated company, Sigil Games, where he presided over the development of one of the best MMORPGs ever made, ironically also one of that genre's most infamous disasters, Vanguard: Saga of Heroes. Vanguard launched in January 2007 but it probably needed at least another year of development and polish to meet the expectations of the quarter of a million eager fans who bought it. The launch had been brought forward by financial pressures, the game was full of bugs and just five months later Sigil was no more, its assets, namely Vanguard, purchased by SOE.

That must have been one of the lowest points in his life, his passion project floundering and failing, his name and reputation trampled underfoot. It looked for a while as though that would be the end of his dream but it turned out Brad was as unstoppable as his namesake, Aradune. After a spell in the wilderness he returned briefly to work on EverQuest in 2013 before announcing the following year his intent to create the spiritual successor to both EQ and Vanguard: Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen.

That project got off to an inauspicious start with a failed Kickstarter launch. At that point many observers thought it had to be game over for Brad but they'd reckoned without the unwavering dedication to the MMORPG cause which seems to have driven him throughout his all-too-short life.

Alternative funding was secured and over the last five years opinions on the game's prospects have shifted. Once thought of at best as wishful vaporware, at worst some kind of scam, Pantheon has risen to feature on many MMORPG fans' lists of most eagerly awaited new titles. It is, of course, too early to know how Brad's death will affect Pantheon's future but we can only hope it goes on to become the success he would have wished and the capstone to his estimable career.

Brad McQuaid was a worldmaker. Vision was what he famously brought to every project on which he worked. Management may not have been his forte but few disputed his power to see other worlds and bring them into being, sometimes, it seemed, by sheer force of will.

Brad's vision affected almost everyone likely to read this post. I expect the blogosphere to ring with tributes and memories.

Without Brad, the last twenty years of my life would have been radically different, as would the gaming experiences of even MMORPG players who never set virtual foot in Norrath or Telon. But for him, there might have been no EverQuest. Even if there had, the game that could have been made without him might never have achieved the success and attention it did.

Had EverQuest not been a hit there most likely would have been no World of Warcraft. And without WoW, MMORPGs might have been little more than a peculiar footnote in the history of gaming instead of the major sub-genre and pervasive influence they have become.

Speaking of influence, Brad McQuaid has probably had as much impact on my life as any individual I've never actually met. He stands in a select group alongside musicians, writers, film-makers and artists who have shaped the way I think, feel and believe.

I've spent much of the last twenty years living inside Brad's head, seeing things through his eyes, sharing his vision. So have millions of others. It's a legacy that will long outlive him.

Rest well, Brad. Your vision lives on.


  1. Considering I never played Everquest or Vanguard, I was kind of surprised by how much I was shocked by this piece of news this morning. Like you say, he was just responsible for so much of what we know and expect of MMOs today, and he was still working on Pantheon. Quite the loss.

    1. It's such a tragedy to lose someone so creative at such a relatively young age. Even with the lengthy development timescales of MMORPGs, he could easily have had another major project in him even after Pantheon.

  2. I wasn't always happy with his choices... it seemed at times that he never met a feature he didn't like... but he got the worldliness thing right. And the sense of world is what has fallen out of the genre as MMOs bent towards making shorter, more easily digested content. Games I thought I would like, DDO or Neverwinter, failed for me largely because they lacked any sense of world.

    So while I was emitting heavy sighs every time Brad said that PvP or whatever had to be in Pantheon, I was still very curious as to how the game would end up.

    1. He certainly could be something of a maximalist. He reminded me of one of those highly creative but overly-verbose writers who would really benefit from the help of a good editor. Or in his case a project manager.

  3. Well said.
    When I saw the news I first thought it was a joke in poor taste, and then realized "Wait, this is real, he just... died all of a sudden?"
    I suppose I'm still young enough that can be a surprise.


Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide