WildStar’s former design director calls out studio politics for his pre-launch resignation

We all began with good intents.

Well here’s a little bit of a walk down memory lane – and a bright light shined on a dark period in MMO history: Timothy Cain put up a 22-minute video discussing why he left Carbine Studios, the NCsoft substudio responsible for the long-sunsetted MMORPG WildStar. Cain, of course, is extremely well-known for his role designing the original Fallout, as well as founding Troika. He was the programming director and then design director of Carbine until July of 2011 when he quit.

“In many ways, Carbine was one of the best companies I ever worked at,” Cain says wistfully, praising some of his colleagues as the best in their fields. He says the pay was great, too, but it sounds like the company was a mess, particularly after NCsoft booted the bulk of the design team and replaced the studio head after the group spent three years on the engine with “no setting, no story, no classes.” Cain was moved into the newly open role of design director with just three months to invent the game’s setting and classes.

The team did it, but it sounds like Cain butted heads with the new art director and new studio head. Cain politely declines to name these folks, but based on the timeline, the studio head would’ve been Jeremy Gaffney and the art director was Matt Mocarski. According to this particular account, it sounds as if NCsoft’s replacement team was sabotaging interpersonal relations to a dramatic degree, unilaterally deleting classes from the game and causing interdepartmental chaos in a “three-way tug-of-war.” Apparently, it all went south after NCsoft’s internal QA tested the fledgling game and the studio head reportedly lied to the team that QA hated the design when the actual complaints centered on art design issues. Cain quit, along with the audio director, an original senior programmer, and the lead concept artist.

“Carbine was the biggest example to me of [the idea that] without a singular vision that everyone – directors and everyone at the company – buys into, it will lead to ruin. No amount of money, no amount of time will make up for the fact that if you don’t have a very clear vision, you are not going to succeed. I tried being that vision person. I was prevented. I tried supporting others, one of the others being a vision person – that didn’t work. So I just had to remove myself from that. […] In many ways, I told people, Carbine broke me.”

Cain concludes by inviting Carbine workers to contact him to add to the record, as his written and dated records from the time are seemingly voluminous.¬†Unfortunately, drama at Carbine seems to have been the rule rather than the exception, and it’s certainly reflected in the sharp design pivots our writers and readers recognized and called out in the year before its final launch in 2014. RIP WildStar, you deserved better than behind-the-scenes NCsoft drama.

Source: Tim Cain’s YouTube. Cheers, Mourni and Protobear!
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