The former head of SOE and Daybreak. Affectionately known to gamers as “Smed.”
There are MMOs that have been around a while, and then there is EverQuest. It’s so old school it is old enough to be out of school! Yup, EQ turned 19 years old yesterday. That’s 19 years of the iconic music, 19 years of Qeynos, and 19 years of Fippy trying to storm that gate! So much has happened in Norrath between March 16th, 1999, and March 16th, 2018 – more than one single restrospective could cover. So we’ll just look at a single year!
As is tradition, I’ve sat back and looked over the previous year, remembering the highlights and goings on of the game. How did the 19th year play out for one of the oldest MMOs? Sadly, this year was of the leaner variety; not much happened across Norrath. You wouldn’t know that by all the anniversary offerings, though! Take a stroll down the cobbled lane of memories, but don’t get lost in the nostalgia; there are oodles of anniversary quests to fill your schedule with during the celebration, going on now through Thursday, May 10th, 2018.
In 2003, Sony Online Entertainment tried an experiment to reach out to the (then) small-but-growing community of Mac users. The company released EverQuest Macintosh Edition — quickly abbreviated to EQMac — which incorporated the core game and the first four expansions of EverQuest: The Ruins of Kunark, The Scars of Velious, The Shadows of Luclin, and The Planes of Power. Because EQMac was a separate version of the game, SOE segregated Apple players on their own server called Al’Kabor and then, for all intents and purposes, left them alone while the “real” EverQuest continued to expand and advance.
While the population didn’t exactly explode as the progression of time rendered EQMac stuck in a type of video game amber, a singular community of dedicated, helpful players formed. This community soon became proud of their hardcore home. According to many of them, EQMac was the way EverQuest was always meant to be played, frozen in time at the release of one of the game’s best expansions. It was a mark of pride to say that you played on Al’Kabor.
For over 10 years, EQMac quietly and doggedly continued, thanks to this small group of loyal players, SOE President John Smedley’s affection for the title, and one or two devoted devs who helped to maintain the MMO. This is the story of a spin-off game that became a living time capsule.
It looks as if John Smedley’s new game is about to begin hiring in earnest. “We are going to be looking for an experienced Level Designer for my project here at @AMZNGameStudios San Diego soon,” Bill Trost tweeted yesterday.
Trost, a veteran of major MMOs from both SOE and Trion, has been attached to Smed’s new project for almost a year. You’ll recall that following Smed’s 2015 departure from SOE, a company he’d led for almost two decades, he put together a studio called Pixelmage Games, which began work on the ultimately stalled and refunded retro-sandbox Hero’s Song (we’ve discussed why and how that game failed at length right here).
Almost immediately after the collapse of Pixelmage, Amazon announced it had picked up Smed to run an “ambitious new project that taps into the power of the AWS Cloud and Twitch to connect players around the globe in a thrilling new game world.” We quickly realized Smed had just ported most of the Pixelmage team straight over to Amazon for the new game.
As it’s been about a year now, I know that pretty much nobody remembers John Smedley’s ill-fated Hero’s Song. For a while there, we were cheering it on pretty hard, even though it wasn’t a full-blown MMORPG. The retro stylings and promised agile development blossomed some excitement, especially for those of us who wouldn’t mind a modern MMO with a 16-bit aesthetic.
There certainly aren’t a lot of these types of MMOs out there, and those that do exist are pretty niche. Guild Wars 2 has its goofy Super Adventure Box sub-game, Realm of the Mad God makes the most of its permadeath world, and the upcoming Dragon of Legends has had my interest for a while now.
Would you be interested in a retro-styled MMORPG, one that would use pixel art, be presumably in 2-D, and yet have most of the features of modern games?
You do the cybercrime, you do real world time. Cast your mind back to 2014 and 2015, when a hacker group called Lizard Squad became notorious for slamming the PlayStation Network and H1Z1 with DDoS attacks. The group also called in a bomb threat on an airplane flight as a way to target then-Daybreak CEO John Smedley.
The slow process of justice finally saw Zachary Buchta, one of the founding members of Lizard Squad, convicted for his crimes after he plead guilty in court. During his guilty plea, Buchta admitted to a conspiracy to commit damage to protected computers. He could spend as little as two-and-a-half years and as many as 10 years in prison for the crime.
Buchta is expected to help prosecutors in the ongoing investigation of the attacks. Another member of the group, Julius Kivimaki, was convicted in a Finnish court in 2015 but was only given a suspended sentence.
We’re taking a time-machine back through our MMO coverage, month by month, to hit the highlights and frame our journey before we head into 2018!
February saw the launch of housing The Elder Scrolls Online’s Homestead patch – a quality addition to a game that once declared MMO housing too hard to implement – and continued teasing Morrowind, both of which drove the game to a new high of 8.5M registered players.
Meanwhile, SOE/Daybreak’s former John Smedley, fresh off the death of Hero’s Song, set up shop with a new studio under the Amazon Games umbrella – with all the same people.
And Funcom declared it had recouped all its costs on Conan Exiles and would reboot The Secret World (while letting its other MMORPGs slide).
Read on for the whole list!
With 2017 drawing to a close and 2018 rushing up to meet us, the Massively OP team has regrouped for another round of bold and goofy predictions for the year ahead. We’re feeling pretty good after our fairly successful predictions from last year! What’s in store for the MMO genre next year? Here’s what we think.
Kotaku is reporting that Amazon has “basically canceled” Breakaway, with two sources confirming that the game is over – on “indefinite hiatus,” one said, with the potential to return in another format in the future.
The game was announced by Amazon’s fledgling studio last fall following a drawn-out series of Twitter teases. It was essentially a 4v4 brawler that boasted heavy Twitch integration.
It is not clear whether other in-progress Amazon games — like the MMO sandbox New World or the unnamed game John Smedley’s old Hero’s Song team was picked up to work on — are affected. Kotaku writes that “no layoffs are planned” for Breakaway’s team, in any case.
Former SOE head honcho John Smedley put out a S.O.S. on Sunday for one of his former employees who is recovering from alcoholism and an emergency trip to the ICU.
Gordon Wrinn, best known to the EverQuest community as Abashi, put up a GoFundMe page to help in his recovery from medical woes that left him penniless. Wrinn said that after 15 years of alcoholism, his body “decided that it was time to die” and sent him to the hospital for emergency treatment.
While he was able to pull through after a lengthy stay in the medical system, Wrinn admitted that it left him destitute with only a job and a computer. He is attempting to raise $4,500 to get back on his feet, out of which $3,403 has already been donated. “My situation is a Catch-22 in that I need a place to be able to work, and I need to have money to get a place,” he wrote.
It has now been seven months since John Smedley shut down Pixelmage Games and took his team over to Amazon Game Studios to set up shop in San Diego. We’ve been greatly curious about what game he’s been heading — and if it is an MMO — but until recently Smed has stayed out of the spotlight to get work done.
This is why we’ve perked up to see him sit down with VentureBeat for an extended interview about his new employer and his take on the direction that the industry is heading. He has a lot of opinions on just about everything, ranging from virtual reality to Twitch integration to the rise of e-sports.
If you’re hoping that the notoriously chatty Smedley was going to reveal what game his studio is making, you’re in for disappointment. He indicates that he’s very excited about the project but is tight-lipped about specifics.
Ever pause during your day and find yourself wondering, “What ever happened to that game?” With hundreds upon hundreds of online titles these days, it’s surprisingly easy for MMOs to fall through the cracks and become buried as more aggressive or active games take the spotlight.
Well, every so often we here at Massively Overpowered find ourselves curious what has transpired with certain MMOs that we haven’t heard from in quite a while. Have we missed the action and notices? Has the game gone into stealth maintenance mode? What’s the deal? What has it been up to lately?
That’s when we put on our detective hats and go sleuthing. Today we look at whatever happened to PlanetSide 2, A Tale in the Desert, and Istaria (witness protection program name: Horizons).
Back in February, we learned the fate of MMORPG industry veteran John Smedley: He’s heading up a new game for Amazon Game Studios.
Smed is well known for his 20-year reign at SOE and then Daybreak, which he departed in 2015, and most recently for Hero’s Song studio Pixelmage Games, which closed down last year ostensibly for financial reasons.
While Smed wouldn’t speak about the game on the record back then, Amazon did cite his MMO experience when telling gamers that his game is “an ambitious new project that taps into the power of the AWS Cloud and Twitch to connect players around the globe in a thrilling new game world.” We might have a clue today as he’s tweeted about PC shooters, soliciting opinions on gunplay.
Here’s the million-dollar question of the day: What is John Smedley making for Amazon Game Studio’s San Diego branch? Ever since being handed the reins of a new sub-studio back in February with a bulk of his Pixelmage team, we’ve been intensely curious about whether Smedley is staying close to his MMO roots in his new project.
Perhaps we might glean a few details from the job listings on Amazon’s site. The studio is looking for several positions for art, combat systems, and engineering, and there are a few bullet points in the job descriptions that hint at the project in question.
One of the job descriptions has the best hint yet, with the position being tasked to “architect and develop the real time combat system for a cutting edge action multiplayer game.” Another intriguing entry mentions a “real time terrain deformation system based on physics simulation.”