The Game Archaeologist: Vanguard Saga of Heroes

The significance of Vanguard’s development, release, long-running drama, second chance, and eventual closure should be of great interest not just to game historians but to everyone who plays MMOs, period. What happened with this game caused a huge fallout in the industry, and we are still feeling some of its effects even today.

As our own Bree once put it in her blog, “Vanguard’s implosion was a big deal at the time and marked the beginning of the post-World of Warcraft destruction of the industry that hobbled Age of Conan and Warhammer Online a few years later.”

While the crash and burn of Vanguard was a very well-known tale several years ago, I’m wondering if today there might be many who are quite unfamiliar with what happened to this unassuming title back around 2007. Let me put on my old fogey glasses and we shall begin!

Enforcing the Vision

Brad McQuaid, a longtime MUD player and designer, was brought on board with Verant Interactive (later SOE) to work on EverQuest in the mid-1990s. He was best-known for his alias Aradune Mithara (a name which McQuaid clings to even today) as well as being part of a famous EverQuest guild called Fires of Heaven.

McQuaid worked his way up to the position of lead designer of EverQuest, where he enforced his capital-V Vision for the popular new MMO. His star was so on the rise, in fact, that a 2000 issue of PC Gamer listed him as one of “the new game gods” alongside American McGee and Stevie Case.

After becoming one of the top executives at SOE, McQuaid and fellow EverQuest alum Jeff Butler left in 2002 to found their own studio and make their own MMO. With Sigil Games established, the fledgling team turned their focus on making Vanguard: Saga of Heroes.

In 2003, McQuaid announced to the public that he had assembled a “dream team” to make an incredible MMO that would top his previous project: “Well, really, it’s going to be the next big thing. We have EverQuest behind us, the most popular MMO in North America, and we have to at minimum one-up ourselves. Honestly, nobody in the all-star team that is Sigil would or could be satisfied with anything less.”

The Vision that drove McQuaid’s design decisions at EverQuest found a new home in this project. He had grand plans for the type of game Vanguard would become: an MMO that went back to MUD roots while learning from the current crop of games, had truly massive crafting and open-world housing systems, a dynamic weather system, a huge world, public dungeons, an innovative diplomacy system, and somewhat of a hardcore attitude. The team figured that there was a large segment of gamers that were dissatisfied with the increasingly casual-pandering environment in MMOs and wanted to go back to an era when time, effort, and consequences had meaning.

Sigil signed on with Microsoft in 2002 to be a co-publisher, although later McQuaid said it was a mistake not to get all of the details of the agreement regarding the project between the two companies in writing. Microsoft went on to fund Vanguard to the tune of $30M to $40M, a considerable sum for an MMO even today.

Microsoft became increasingly skittish about the development of Vanguard following a “regime change” in 2004, requesting more demos and milestones as time went by. Over the next couple of years, the two companies bickered, pointed fingers, made demands, and sowed sour grapes as competing (small-v) visions for the game became too different.

It also certainly didn’t help that McQuaid and other Vanguard devs ignored the rising star of World of Warcraft, dismissing it in conversations and never playing it in person. Other red flags started to pop up, such as the leadership refusing to allow the team to create scripting language and other necessary tools for the game.

By 2006’s E3, Sigil Games had developed a strong following and a salivating press corps giving wind to the hype surrounding Vanguard. The team talked up how it had seven years of content already planned for the game, leading some publications to speculate whether the game might be “a true threat” to the behemoth of World of Warcraft.

A black day

Meanwhile, tensions came to a boiling point between Sigil and Microsoft. According to McQuaid, the latter was losing a desire to create an MMO at all, especially one that wasn’t a clear carbon copy of World of Warcraft. At this, Sigil started to look elsewhere for funding the home stretch of development.

In May 2006, Sigil switched publishers from Microsoft to SOE. That was considered a blessing for the Sigil team, which enjoyed more freedom (and additional funds) under SOE than it had received from the demanding suits from Microsoft.

Following E3 2006, Sigil pushed to get the game into beta. While it was obvious to both Sigil employees and beta testers that Vanguard was far from ready for prime time, the devs ignored the criticism. Matters were worse than most assumed: There was only a single member of quality assurance working on the game through November 2006, McQuaid stopped coming into the office by the time Vanguard was in the second phase of its beta testing. Jeff Butler disappeared as well, leaving a leadership void during a critical time.

Vanguard launched on January 30th, 2007, which was by admission of McQuaid and others on the team at least six months too early. But SOE needed to start turning a profit on what had been an expensive money sink, so out the door it went. Unfortunately, Vanguard had numerous bugs, hitching, lag, duping problems, and technical issues right out of the gate — and the public wasn’t willing to wait for the team to patch up the cracks.

In what was one of the worst scheduling decisions of video game history, Vanguard launched just a couple of weeks after World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade. Blizzard’s expansion came out roaring, with several million copies sold on the very first day. To say Vanguard got steamrolled is an epic understatement; it got squashed like a very small insect under the efforts of some of McQuaid’s former EverQuest co-workers. At the end of its maiden month, Vanguard had retained only 90,000 subscribers out of 200,000 copies sold at that point — hardly the sign of “the next big thing.”

The next several months were a grueling marathon of frantic fixes by the members of Sigil Games. McQuaid spent the time pointing fingers at the community as to why the game hadn’t succeeded and predicted that Vanguard would soon pick up players bored with The Burning Crusade. But while employees saw the writing on the wall, few could have predicted what happened next.

On the afternoon of May 14th, the entire company was instructed to meet in the Sigil Games parking lot. It was here that Director of Production Andy Platter informed the staff that the game was tanking, Sigil was basically out of money, Vanguard was being sold to SOE, and everyone in the studio was fired.

One employee who was there recalled the now-infamous event: “The email said literally to check in any work we were working on, grab anything we’d need for the evening, and meet out back for a short company meeting. We met in the parking lot. Worse still, though Dave [Gilbertson] was supposedly in charge all this time, Andy is the one who delivered the ‘you’re all fired’ speech, while Dave never said a single word. It was very emotionless. Very callous. ‘The deal is done, and basically you’re all fired so some of you can be re-hired by SOE.’ Bill [Fisher] was there and actually made comments about how he was likely buying a house thanks to his stock.”

Brad McQuaid was nowhere to be seen on May 14th, allegedly too distraught to be there to see the end of Sigil and the termination of its staff.

Rescue, free-to-play, and sunset

From my vantage point, Vanguard was rescued twice.

The first was the day after the parking lot firing. SOE announced that it had acquired key assets to Sigil, keeping the doors opened while it hired back around 50 to 75 of the 150 people fired the day before. McQuaid, surprisingly enough, wasn’t let go, but he was demoted to the position of creative consultant.

This action was meant to reassure worried Vanguard players everywhere that the MMO would continue to operate under the guidance of a portion of its former team. It helped to keep the community from scattering to the hills. While Vanguard crashed at launch and burned during the firings, it somehow survived to limp on as a complex, niche MMO that garnered a small but loyal playerbase.

Of course, it wasn’t as though Vanguard was redeemed at that point; it was only saved. SOE eventually dissolved Sigil entirely and brought Vanguard entirely in-house. With a reduced development team and a missed opportunity for a strong launch, the game’s fate seemed resigned to lingering in the shadows while being an example of “what could have been.”

However, SOE rescued Vanguard for a second time several years later. In mid-2012, the studio announced that Vanguard would not be shuttered (going against expectations, especially in light of what had happened to EverQuest Online Adventures) but would undergo the free-to-play conversion that other SOE titles had received. On top of that, Vanguard was given its first proper dev team in years. With a rejuvenated playerbase, F2P access, and actual content being developed after being in perpetual maintenance mode, Vanguard was able to walk tall after being hunched over in shame for so long.

While free-to-play was a boon, it didn’t trigger the renaissance that SOE had hoped to see. Eventually, the studio would cut its losses and declare that Vanguard (in addition to three other titles) would be sent to pasture.

“Player population numbers have decreased making it difficult to justify the resources needed to support and update this game,” said CM Jenn Bridges. “This is an older game and we’re experiencing more and more technical challenges to continue running and updating it in a way you deserve. Simply put, these are issues that cannot be fixed in the long term and as a player, we would be doing you a disservice and going against our company commitment to provide the best gameplay experiences. So given this information, sunsetting the game later this year is the inevitable conclusion.”

On July 31, 2014, Vanguard was retired for good. Perhaps it’s not the ending of a movie where the underdog wins it all, but I maintain that it’s far better than a game prematurely canceled due to hubris, mismanagement, and a lack of understanding just where the industry was going.

As for McQuaid, after his quiet run at SOE, he eventually left to create another company — Visionary Realms — and create a new old-school fantasy MMORPG called Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen. It’s anyone’s guess whether McQuaid has learned something useful from the lessons of Vanguard or whether he’s trying his very hardest to cling on to his dream — his Vision — from so long ago.

Believe it or not, MMOs did exist prior to World of Warcraft! Every two weeks, The Game Archaeologist looks back at classic online games and their history to learn a thing or two about where the industry came from… and where it might be heading.
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64 Comments on "The Game Archaeologist: Vanguard Saga of Heroes"

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Melissa McDonald

I would have played Vanguard if the avatars weren’t so darn ugly. They were really terrible.

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Barantor

See I’m the opposite. For the time I liked that they were more realistic and less cartoon-like with what we got from WoW.

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James Hicks

I loved that game. Early bugs and poor performance ultimately did it in, followed by Sony’s completely insane further development of it.

But it was probably doomed from the outset – I played the last two Betas and in retrospect I was not witnessing a project anyone on staff seemed to know how to finish. There were just loose ends everywhere, and nobody seemed to be on top of the big issues (performance and bugs) that killed its launch a few months later.

It had mountains of potential in so many ways, but implementation fell short of the conception. I played adventuring and crafting up to the release limits, and a fair way into the Diplomacy game. All three were innovative in their own ways.

The post level 50 game Sony implemented was a completely different game. A game I had zero interest in, unfortunately. I remember robots, and gnomes with laser sniper rifles or something? And suddenly you just couldn’t solo anymore, not if you wanted to progress at all. Bzzzt.

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Barantor

It’s a cautionary tale, and one that I have intimate knowledge of on the player side of things.

I was an early supporter of the game with other folks who had lost guilds or friends from EQ to the behemoth that was WoW. Many of us wanted a game more in line with the social and group aspects of EQ, but updated into something new. We thought that through Vanguard we would get that chance.

I helped form a very large pre-release guild called “The Crimson Wind” back then and several of us from the guild talked with the devs and GMs. We were very active on the forums and had chats in irc and emails with some of the old names at Sigil.

I remember going to the pre-release convention for Vanguard in San Diego. We met some nice folks, won a signed copy of the game and met the Microsoft folks as well as all the Sigil employees that attended. The Microsoft folks seemed very standoff-ish, though they did give away some prizes and McQuaid himself looked like he had stayed up for the last 36 hours straight. Jeff Butler was nice enough, but everything to me had a nervous feeling to it, odd to put my finger on still today, though we know what happened later. I still have the signed box of Vanguard as a reminder of some of the good friends I met there.

With our showing at the convention and being a bigger guild some of us got invited very early into the testing process, one GM told me it was still considered Alpha. So early that all races spawned in one spot on the north coast of Thestra. As the testing continued we were able to get more and more folks into the game. The devs were communicative but very non-committal on how long things would take to get fixed. It was around this time that I started getting worried as we would often hear about things “not getting a definitive answer from above” answers to major problems or systems in the game. It was still fun and besides a few crashes worked on the brand new machine I bought to play the game.

It seemed not long after the convention and some magazine articles that Microsoft dropped them as a producer and we heard SOE was now backing them. This was tough for some of us as we had not only heard Vanguard was supposed to run on the Xbox eventually, but the fact that EQ was our ‘old game’ and we hoped SOE wouldn’t pull the reins in on some of the plans for Vanguard. Everything seemed to continue normally, though we were getting less and less talk from devs and GMs, but most of us attributed this to crunch time to get the game done.

The ending of beta was glorious. The GMs in game were able to hand out flying mounts and ships to folks and we had a grand tour by one GM of some of the more remote and hard to access parts of the game. It was a fun time for us since we were eager to start the game in full.

Release happened and many of the systems changed, we never saw them in testing. It was like ideas that we had heard about were suddenly there and nobody knew who tested them. People making dwarves were falling through the world and had to be rescued by GMs in game, which sometimes took hours given how many folks were trying the game and having issues. I remember several members who were testing with us could suddenly no longer get the game to run. New whole starting questlines that nobody had seen seemed to have been added last minute. It all felt rushed, it all felt chaotic, but we as a guild continued to play because “it would get better”.

We heard about the employees that got fired, rumors of McQuaids drug addiction and going off to ride dirt bikes in the hills abounded. Jeff Butler arriving to give out instructions only for McQuaid to suddenly show up in the office and give completely different instructions days later, wasting both dev time and confusing employees.

The game had good ideas, a grand scope and some forward thinking tech, but it never got refined enough to be the game that all of us wanted. This was a game with no loading screens between areas, mounts at early level, ships that players can build, in-world player housing and flying mounts in a time where most games only gave out ground mounts at the highest levels of play.

I still think that Vanguard as an idea could be done as an MMO, but I will never trust another game headed by McQuaid and I hope folks view this as a cautionary tale about Pantheon.

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holyavengerone

Wow, thanks for the walk down memory lane :)

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donvweel

Vanguard was a well designed game poorly coded. It was such a hairball nobody was able to fix it. If they had managed to clean up the programming so the game ran without crushing everyones computer we might still be playing it.

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Jdawg Playsgames

McQuiad still has people that want to literally punch him out over this, my brother being one of them, his wife was two days away from her due date, and that parking lot incident was much more callous than is reported. And Brad wasn’t distraught he was home high and drunk.

I personally will never spend one dime on anything this snake oil salesman sells.

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Fisty

Unplayable at release. This is what killed them. They never had a chance after that.

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Castagere Shaikura

Man i still have a special edition box seal for this game. I got it cheap too. I thought i would get into this game but i tried it when it was f2p. It was really bad to me.

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Dreema

I bought Vanguard shortly after it came out but, despite my computer being well above the recommended specs, it was pretty much unplayable for me. Only by turning the graphics down to their lowest settings and making it look like something that had escaped from the 80’s could I get a decent frame rate out of it, and even then it was prone to freezes, crashes and lots of lag. I didn’t play it for long. The very fact that it was released at the same time as the best expansion to the best MMO ever certainly didn’t help.

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roo woods

I tried it on release but my PC struggled with it even on the lowest setting so I went back to WoW which I could play just fine on medium settings at the time .

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Stropp

I ‘played’ Vanguard at release. Or tried to. It was unplayable for me.

I wrote a blog post about it at the time which detailed my experiences. To put it mildly, they weren’t good.

Four months later I tried again, and while some things had been fixed, the bugs that made it unplayable for me hadn’t been fixed. I posted about that experience here.

At that point I didn’t play it again for some years. I think it was just a few months before they announced the closure, but I finally got to play the game.

With all the mess that happened with Sigil and the game, I’ve developed a bit of a scepticism regarding Brad. He didn’t help matters with some of his early behaviour with the finances surrounding Pantheon, but I do hope the project succeeds. I believe he’s no longer in charge of the business which I think increases the chances of success.

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drgreenhoe

This game had potential. I hate it when greedy suits push a game out too early. Same thing happened to Warhammer and EA.

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Oleg Chebeneev

In Vanguard’s case it wasnt greedy suits fault. Game was a long time in development, was delayed few times, Sigil’s leadership couldnt give any launch ETA to sponsors or even provide information in what state it is. Brad Mcquaid barely even cared about the game due to drugs addiction. And SOE had to pay for all that. Who can blame them for having it enough.

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Nic Hickman

There are some real similarities between this story and Asherons Call 2. Hind sight is 20-20, but I wish we could go back and warn MMO devs

1) Don’t team up with MS on an MMO!
2) Don’t release anywhen near a WoW release!
3) Don’t rush it out with no content, and test your frickin game – once players realise there are more bugs than content, they are unlikely to come back, even if you fix that bug/content ratio!

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Bryan Correll

4) Discourage your fans from heralding the unreleased game as a ‘WoW Killer’ on every forum they can access.

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Stropp

Yep. Microsoft has a truly dismal track record with MMORPGs. Aside from AC2, there was Uru (or was it UBU?) a Halo MMO, a game called Mythica, and Marvel Universe Online.

I find it a little odd that a company with such deep pockets had so much trouble getting an online game out the door, especially since they’ve had such success with titles like Halo. They’re not neophytes in game development.

Perhaps it’s the rigidity of a large enterprise focused software company in play here.

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Nic Hickman

And True Fantasy Online.

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JonSpace

Vanguard was a game I really, really wish could have been finished. I loved the potential it had and the vast game world, but one thing that always bugged me from an aesthetic standpoint is that parts of the world really needed a clutter pass to flesh it out. I’m thinking in particular of New Targonor. It was a great big citadel, but it was so stark and barren. Contrast it with, say, Divinity’s Reach in GW2, which is also a huge city but brimming with all kinds of stuff to make it feel lived in and active. All the big cities suffered from the same issue, but none moreso than New Targonor. This includes interior spaces, in particular Taverns. Bare walls and hardly any props to give a sense of place and coziness.

Given all the other issues the game had, this may not seem that big of a deal, but I’m big on aesthetics and how it makes me feel in the game world. All the MMOs I’ve enjoyed over the years all had a great sense for immersing you with the environment itself, and Vanguard sadly lacked this for me.

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Oleg Chebeneev

I always hated New Targonor. Never understood people who called this city one of the best not only in Vanguard but MMO genre overal.

Khal including its surrounding areas on the other hand was pretty awesome.

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Jack Pipsam

I always loved the ‘feel’ of the game from the soundtrack to the art-style.

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kimowar101

I beta tested vg and talked all my eq2 friends into buying the game…..about 2 weeks into the game I was banned for no reason, Fast forward about a year and soe finally sent me an apology along with 3 monthes of eq2 time.
I would check in from time to time but could never take the game serious after that.

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socontrariwise

That was an incredible gentle and lenient article on the soap opera like drama that was Vanguard. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the game for quite a while, was there in beta and at launch and I was stubborn enough to defend it for quite some time and play it. But realistically the claims by Napoli/Teclisen about it being essentially slapped together by amateurs in the last year in a desperate/insane attempt to save it after the seniors/veterans had been fired and McQuaid and Butler had disappeared … This seemed very believable considering how the game looked in beta and at launch.

There was the “big release patch” myth and all (of course never happened). The game’s world was incredibly empty and laggy and people had this nuts rubberbanding on the (small) zone borders. Mobs could not cross them so you would just run straight north or east or such for a bit and once you hit the rubberband you knew they would ease off. Quests were grindy as hell, I recall that one quest that was supposedly one of the pinnacles of “prove your worth and earn a mount”: kill 100 of x. Spot of x was small, low respawn and farmed like crazy and even with the low population (and that was a relatively low level, 30ish I think) it was a pain to even get one of the mobs assigned to you and not kill-stolen. The promised dungeons were missing or buggy or laggy.

The tutorial/race introductions were awesome. Hands down really enjoyable quests dragging you into the culture and lore of the race which were distinct enough lore and did not feel like the 1000th repetition of the repetition of high fantasy. I still recall the Dark Elf one where there was that double agent thing going on, you had to assassinate someone and then find the assassin and it just got more absurd with every minute but was very smart and enjoyable (I usually don’t play assassins or dark elves by the way, I’m boringly good).

The crafting was in theory great (complexity, brains, stood on its own, one alone could progress but for crafting useful items you needed to trade or cooperate with others) but intensely grindy. Most of it was crafting quests which asked you to craft useless “quest” items. Lots of them. I think they called them writs. Man were those dull. It would have been much more interesting if they had been a challenge for quality or such, not quantity (action points for crafting, each step you could affect quality, progress and sometimes add traits/stats for a fee, run out of points before 100% progress and that is it). And there was no market for interesting items and resources were rare and … groan.

The diplomacy game was great but you needed enough presence in different areas (think stats but for talking, merchants presence, noble presence etc) to start the game with the NPC and usually there was no way of getting those without grinding for the equipment that gave it to you. And you needed faction to gain the right to buy the equipment. More grinding. There was such a lack of content for diplomacy that you were basically never doing the card game to do what it was intended to do: obtain lore and information with each successful turn and thus fullfill quests or get new ones or loot. Instead one would intensely re-run the same conversation over and over and over to build faction. And you could not raise your diplomacy with low level games and there were so few, so the grind really had to be with exactly the same NPC again and again and again. Oh and then there was a timer. Which helped intensely. Not.

Pretending it was the WoW addon release that killed it is just ridiculous. McQuaid himself acknowledged in an interview that most people left after reaching level 2 or 3 (!). They had sold at release 250,000 boxes. But the game was such a mess technically and so void of content and instead came with this amount of filler grind … Burning Crusade wasn’t the reason for its nice existence.

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Stropp

The problem was that at release the game was incredibly buggy. It was unplayable for me and stayed that way for at least four months after launch.

A lot of folks wouldn’t hang around for that. It’s no wonder there few players.

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Alex Js.

I remember getting into latest beta test, I think it was the last one before release if I remember correctly – got e-mail from “Robin Winkelman” (rwinkelman@sigilgames.com) congratulating me on accepting into “Closed Beta Phase 4” or something ;-) Game was kind of unique and beautiful in its own way but it ran like utter shit and was clearly way, way too unfinished… Then I’ve read about release date, thought it would be a suicide to release it so soon, decided not to order it, then just watched it slowly die.

Also, reading about all the drama related to Sigil (supposedly from former employees) was pretty entertaining – how the Brad was doing drugs and supposedly didn’t really give a fuck about company and its success and was spending more time with his sport bike collection than at the office, etc. Not surprising at all that the development progressed extremely slowly and Microsoft decided to drop the Sigil (supposedly due to Microsoft’s “change of direction” but I think people at MS just saw what kind of “leadership” Sigil had and what it would inevitably lead to)… Also not surprising that the ONLY person on planet Earth dumb enough to pick up this game’s “leftovers” and (most importantly) hire Brad and keep him on paid position for few more years was Smedley (who, again, not surprisingly also ended up running SoE into the ground with his “leadership”) ;-)

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Stropp

I think you’re being unfair to Smed here.

If he hadn’t picked up Vanguard and given it a chance it would have died in the parking lot. There would have been no bug fixes, and many of the folks commenting here on how much they loved the game wouldn’t have had a chance to play it in its fixed state.

I know a lot of people don’t like his leadership and the decisions he has made, but he is responsible for ‘saving’ Vanguard.

kjempff
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kjempff

Vanguard had the best class combat system, yet to be beaten. Diplomacy was nice on paper but not really that interesting, but a decent first try that could have been evolved. Which is the general theme for Vanguard, much potential to evolve but of course being starved of development resources ever since its launch, that is theoretical history.

In my opinion.. First the disagreements of direction between Micro$oft and the developers starved the game and forced bad design decisions. Then the horrible mistake of launching a year too early and on top of cataclysm, was the death stroke. I was there on launch day and it was mostly unplayable because of performance, crashing on every zone chunk load, hardly any quests worked.

Putting on the tinfoil hat for awhile, you could also argue that SOE had very little interest in Vanguard becomming a success because it was a direct competitor to eq2 which was their main flagship and not doing great.

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Oleg Chebeneev

Vanguard’s combat system yet to be beaten? Lol. I can name like 100 MMORPGs that have a better combat. Combat in Vanguard was clunky, slow, with bad animations. It wasnt nearly as good as in vanilla WoW and its laughable to even compare it to modern WoW’s combat.

Classes themselves were interesting, even unique in some cases (like Bard). Not the combat.

kjempff
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kjempff

Yeah well I look at the pure mechanics of it, couldn’t care less about animations or the bugs; I also don’t even consider comparing with any mmos that doesn’t have roles (gw2, Barbie doll online, etc).
The invension of offensive/defensive target was genious, moving while casting, the innovative combat spells of classes say for example the bloodmage, and so on. It was role based but less one sided than eq or even wow, and there were versatile group composition options that weren’t strict trinity.
Maybe there is a more inventive role based combat system, just not something I have heard about yet. Neverwinter would to be the closest contender I can mention.
So, assuming Vanguard combat had been bugfixed, updated, polished (which it never really was, afaik from trying to come back in 2010), then.. Yes I stick with my opinion.

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Oleg Chebeneev

Moving while casting and offensive/defensive target were very minor features. They didnt really change perspective of combat. Which again felt very slow due to long ass global cooldown and clunky due to bad animations. I dont remember any real innovations in Vanguard’s combat. There were in classes. But class mechanics and combat are different things.
On a side note, Vanguard’s combat wasnt the worst either. It was way better then in EQ1 and EQ2 for example.

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Ben Stone

Can someone please make this game again with a new engine? I miss the races and classes :(

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Matt L

It’s slowly coming back to life. You can actually do most everything on the Isle already, barring crafting. Check it out: http://vgoemulator.net/index.php

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Phubarrh

No other game has given us demi-shoggoths as a race option!

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Ben Stone

The game was great but ran like garbage (chunk lines were horrendous). If the same game had launched without all the tech issues I think it would have done much better.

shazanti
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shazanti

I miss this game.
I didn’t get into it until 2012, some time before the F2P conversion, but I fell in love. I played it regularly until mid/late 2013 when after purchasing a new home we were almost immediately flooded out of it and then spent a year arguing with our adjuster before being allowed back into our home… and that was a year without real internet access, and thus no online gaming. When I get back into my house with my internet in Autumn 2014 I find that Vanguard was no more.

The best parts, for me, were crafting (including gathering) and diplomacy. I also really enjoyed the race/class variety and simply exploring the world. I will always regret not being able to ‘come back home’ to the game when I finally got back to my real home.

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Arktouros

I remember really liking the card game in Vanguard. Was a cool way to do interactions. BDO kinda has something similar but lacks the detail Vanguard had and certainly doesn’t have the same kinda boosts you could generate in a town from the card game.

Otherwise it was pretty mediocre. I quit around the time the first raid had come out I think it was (maybe it was first dungeon?) I am not sure was a long while ago. I remember walking away with the impression game just didn’t have the people it needed to really pull it off.

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MesaSage

I only learned about Vanguard shortly before it shut down. I thoroughly enjoyed it and would love if it could have continued.

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Eboni

Vanguard was my jam. I loved almost everything about the game especially diplomacy. Also, I don’t remember if group crafting was a thing. But, group gathering was and I thought that was pretty awesome.

I remember there being an emulator. Last time I checked in, all you could do was run around the starter area. I had forgotten about it for a long time and now I’m super curious to know if anything became of it.

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Oleg Chebeneev

Good read, Justin, as always. I have a warm feeling about Vanguard. I never liked its dungeons and raids, they were primitive and boring. But the world was really cool and immersive. And diplomacy was one of the best features Ive seen out of any MMO. Its sad that MMO devs copy lots of other crap features but never this one.
Also Vanguard was very pretty for a time when it was released. And required a strong PC. Its one of the reasons why it didnt hit mass market.

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BalsBigBrother

I tried this game on and off over the years, it didn’t really click for a long while. It eventually did click though so I jumped in fully subbed up and enjoyed it for a good six months as my main mmo.

I would have loved to have played it longer but I found the fun only six months prior to it closing down. While that was a little sad and I would have liked to have played longer I am at least happy I found some fun in the game before it was gone.

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Zulika Mi-Nam

ah the mems….map still looks good. I keeps stuff like this in the storage footstool thingie under my desk now.

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Fisty

maps on my wall

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Winter

I have the CE for it nice box I still display it.

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Dennis Heffernan

Vanguard had the best crafting system I’ve ever seen in an MMO. And the diplomacy mini-game was a great idea. The rest, meh. It was largely yet another case of a designer ignoring reality in favor of his own conception of The One True Way, and that story has a predictable ending.

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Geoffrey Tillman

There were so many issues with this game but I really miss it. I loved the look and all of the classes.

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the_balance

Possibly THE cautionary tale when it comes to launching video games and the disaster’s we’ve seen. So much went wrong here, it’s nothing short of incredible and a testament to the talent of the team that worked on this game that it turned into something loved by so many in spite of its flaws.

Quite honestly, I think you’re spot-on here, Justin, with the timing of the launch and failure to consider WoW to any meaningful extent. Vanguard needed to be a polished, complete, ground-breaking game to launch in this window and thrive.

This brings up thoughts of another game that never quite achieved what it should have. Another game steamrolled by WoW – Everquest 2. EQ2 launched on Nov 8th, 2004. WoW launched two weeks later, on the 23rd. The game’s population absolutely cratered on the 22nd, when folks slept in and got ready to jump into WoW, for real, after the beta tests hooked them.

Some people will say EQ2 had a following and lead-in from EQ1, and they’re right – to a very minor extent. Everquest was a popular game, played by many, and somewhat still an original offering on the market. Warcraft 2 was one of the best games ever made, played by millions more than have, or ever will, even hear about Everquest. Warcraft 3 had launched just two years earlier, and fans were itching to get back into this franchise.

The pool of fans EQ1 was pulling from was a drop in the ocean of fans WoW was pulling from.

Both launches had their issues, downtimes, and nonsensical bugs and progression issues. Truthfully, if we’re talking about the usual launch stuff, and not any other factors, these games both launched on an even keel in this regard, but EQ2 had one major problem.

Anyone who’s played WoW probably hasn’t had issues getting to run the game smoothly. It’s never been a graphically challenging game for hardware to run and, these days, basically runs on a potato. Does it have FPS issues? At times, sure. Especially when queues PVP content came out, but that wasn’t at launch.

EQ2 ran like garbage at launch. Poorly optimized, fps-stuttering, town-avoiding garbage. It was unplayable for huge swathe’s of the populace because, while the game ran relatively smoothly in small combat scenarios, it became a slide show when multiple players were around. Forget about going into Freeport or Qeynos, if you managed to get out of them, that is.

EQ2 launched when it did, another rushed title, because they knew it had zero chance launching in the remainder of 2004 and well into 2005 after WoW did. They knew WoW was better in literally every way except for die-hard fans of the EQ franchise. They had to launch it then, or else delay it until Q2 2005, after the WoW hysteria subsided from the holidays.

They never got that choice.

These days, launch is more or less everything. The only meaningful recovery from a launch I can think of is FFXIV. Meaningful here, to me, means it not only launched and failed spectacularly, but rose to become what it should have been at launch, and so much more. I can think of significantly smaller success stories like this, but none from AAA games to an extent where I can point to it and reasonably argue that the game failed its launch and turned into something = to or beyond what it should have been had it launched right.

Vanguard was a good game, but it had a lot of performance issues that made many people unwilling to push through them, or upgrade hardware, to really get a taste of what it had to offer. I’ll always miss my Necromancer from that game – one of my all time favorite RPG classes ever.

But I won’t miss the mess of bungled launches. I do a lot of research before I play a game on day 1 these days. I almost never pre-order unless there’s a real tangible benefit I want and its a game I’m fairly certain will thrive post launch.

Vanguard should’ve been so much more. EQ2 survives to this day, and I’ve had remarkable fun playing it recently on the fresh timelock/theme servers they release every so often (Except the PVP ones, which no one should ever play because they are empty two weeks in – and this is coming from someone who won’t play most RPG’s that don’t contain PVP).

EQ2 should’ve been so much more.

Hopefully all these games in “beta” or “early access” for years learn from the mistakes listed here (and the many other tales that could be listed). Truthfully, though, most of them have realistically already launched, and blown it, in spite of the developer promising the world and that everything will be better at “official” launch.

I doubt it though.

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Baron von Munchausen

EQ2 at release was also pretty solo unfriendly. By the level 20 zones, there were group-only mobs all over the place. It made sense if you were using EQ1 as a template, but it turns out that’s not what the vast majority of players (and potential/new players) wanted.

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Loopy

There is a great “Death of a game” series on youtube that did a similar analysis for Vanguard: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a1G0d5IDvjM

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Ket Viliano

Tyvm, the whole “Death of a Game” series is a wonderful resource.

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Chosenxeno .

Sorry for the post but I read the Blog Bree posted(link is in the article). We might be related! Someone understands my point of view. I..I need a moment! *eyes begin to well up*

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squidgod2000

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Doctor Sweers

love the part where he rips the card playing diplomacy game. I wonder how that would go over in a MMO these days:) Still, they gave the game a 3/5…

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Greaterdivinity

If an MMO could come out with as fleshed out, deep, complex, and largely optional (at least while leveling) of a system as diplomacy, I’d be rock hard. Seriously, while I may not have delved terribly deep into it during my brief time playing, it’s such a fantastic concept and my memory was that it was actually executed rather well.

Shit, you could have ripped that out of the game and sold it as a stand-alone card game without many changes.

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squidgod2000

Yep. I especially liked that it was used to provide buffs to everyone in the city. Much more satisfying than everyone just doing it for themselves.

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Chosenxeno .

I played Vanguard for the 1st 3 months of it’s life. While there were lots of bugs(my favorite being your armor staying over top of your head when you dismounted from your horse lol) I can say that SOME OF THE DESIGN CHOICES hurt the game just as much. I always loved Vanguard because it was so ambitious in scope and scale. That is what made me look at Pantheon. I know that McQuaid is going to have some great ideas. He has that kind of interest from me and I have never played EQ and my time in VG was short(I would sub just to walk around the world from time to time. It felt so massive at the time)but it had so many cool systems. That said, I am concerned for Pantheon because it has 2 systems that drove me out of VG(surprise it wasn’t the bugs): Forced Grouping. As the population declined so did the availability of groups and the prospect for steady progression. That’s why you will see me hear or on YT arguing against Forced Grouping. Vanguard is why. Secondly, the non instanced Groups or Raids. How are you supposed to organize people when they might not even get a shot at the dungeon? Instances simply allow for better coordination. That’s an indisputable fact. Brad already knows this which is why Vanguard ultimately implemented Raid INSTANCES.

I can’t blame them completely for over looking the detrimental effect that some of the systems had on the game. People mainly talked about the bugs as being the dagger. The reality is WoW was proving that many of Vanguard’s Core Philosophies(basically the stuff they implemented from EQ) were headed for the graveyard.

“It also certainly didn’t help that McQuaid and other Vanguard devs ignored the rising star of World of Warcraft, dismissing it in conversations and never playing it in person.”

This^ was a huge mistake. This is what I mean when I say the core philosophies were headed for the graveyards. People had gotten a taste of life WITHOUT corpse runs, forced grouping and open world dungeons and they liked it. They liked it a lot…(which is why I warn against these Nostalgia Freak MMORPGs. You have to build for the base that’s here now. Not the guys from yesterday. They have..well..lives now:P)

Speculation: If they had just made a WoW clone they might have atleast reached WoW or EQ levels. They had Boats, Housing , Superior Crafting, Flying Mounts and multiple leveling Paths and I also believe that it was the 1st MMORPG to deliver a TGC minigame. It’s 2017 and seeing Boats or Housing in a game is not that common. Seeing both in one game is ever rarer. VG had this in 2000-fkn-07!

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Slaasher

RIP Vanguard. I miss you

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Winter

These are all I have left of Vanguard

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Cadaver

One of my all time favourite MMOs. I have fond memories of my time in Vanguard.

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Doctor Sweers

Not being able to show up on a day like that is something I would think anyone would regret. I am certain that made the day just that more memorable for the employees who lost their jobs. Regardless, I loved VG: SOH. Despite the stories about McQuaid, I have enjoyed his past work and look forward to Pantheon.

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Christopher Pierce

The game was buggy but it was very very good. I miss it.

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Erik Von Drachenfeld

I never comment on places like this – but – This was my favorite game ever. SO much soul, so much to do, such a wonderful game. I really doubt something like this will ever come along again, with its multitude of classes, skills, weapons and so on. Now-a-days everything has to be “balanced”, which, to me, mostly means dull.

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Warking

I think Ashes of Creation is going to come close

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Chosenxeno .

Dude. I forgot how many classes and races this game had and they all had different *GASP* Racial Abilities. Remember those? lol

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squidgod2000

And starting areas. The scale and scope of the game was damn impressive.

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