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Vanguard. Saga Of Heroes: The Famous Fail Beginning And End – Part 1

Vanguard. Saga Of Heroes: The Famous Fail Beginning And EndPreviously i wrote the Famous Fails tag for those games that look famous and popular, but in truth – if you look closely – they are actually a pretty bad choice to play. Now, this is a different story. A story of the fail that really was famous in it’s days, the story of a game that was pretty much fail at the beginning of its life – but got fixed, patched and in time became a real gem that would shine if this game was released, say, last or this year – but not many people know about it. Because if you fail once, it’s almost impossible to avert the damage (and Square Enix is learning this lesson now too, i bet). It’s the story of Vanguard: Saga of Heroes. So, we all heard it was a big fail, right? But how and why did it happened in the first place? And why now I’m calling this game “a gem” when you probably heard no one plays it now? Let’s find out!

To tell a true story of Vanguard fail we’ll have to do begin with some history digging. As Wikipedia tells us, Vanguard: Saga of Heroes is a high fantasy-themed MMORPG created by Sigil Games Online, and now developed and run by Sony Online Entertainment. Originally, the game was co-published by SOE, and the company producing it, Sigil Games Online.” Well, that’s actually not true (do you ever believe to Wikipedia? You better stop doing so) because Vanguard development did not began with SOE.

Sigil Games Online was founded by Brad McQuaid and Jeff ButlerSigil Games Online was founded by Brad McQuaid and Jeff Butler. McQuaid worked on EverQuest as a lead programmer and later as its producer and one of the lead designers, and Butler was an artist who worked on such games as Heretic 2, SW Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast, X-Men Legends 1 & 2 and other games. McQuaid left SOE after WoW just launched and (commercially speaking) screwed the future of EverQuest2, and went on gathering people to create “the best mmo, ever”. Majority of the workers who were hired by Sigil were ex co-workers on some of the past projects, other had impressive resumes and some were just friends. They all tried to form a team but, as McQuaid wrote in the series of his blog postings, management fails led to low morale inside of the team – that wasn’t the only mistake they have made.

When they started developing Vanguard, it wasn’t SOE who funded it right away, it was Microsoft who invested a huge pile of 30+ millions of dollars into the game’s production. At first, Microsoft didn’t intervene and kept hands-off the development team, but as time went one they became nervous at what is going on with their money. An ex-sigil employee told in an anonymous interview, that to keep Microsoft high-spirited (so to say) Sigil periodically showed them a pieces of game that were made especially for the purpose of showing them to Microsoft, with no intent of using that content for the actual game. But Microsoft grew suspicious, and at some point its inner hierarchy had changed – those people with whom Sigil had an agreement were gone, and the new management stopped wasting money on an ever-lasting project.

McQuaid worked on EverQuest as a lead programmer and later as its producer and one of the lead designersBy summer 2006 – when Vanguard actually was supposed to be released – Sigil was looking for outside investors to help fund the development. That’s when SOE came on-board, not anytime earlier. It’s partly a mystery how McQuaid managed to make SOE sink into a project that, well, lacked an actual product behind the shiny show-off. Even Sigil employees did not knew why SOE would buy a game it’s not yet actually a game after such a long time in development, and especially why they would buy a project that is a direct competitor to their EverQuest series. SOE did help Sigil with money, but they haven’t really put a lot of people onto the project, it’s said to be like 5-6 persons and some help with testing. I’ll get back to testing part later, you’ll be amazed at the truth of how some MMO are tested – that would prove your nightmares, believe me… But, back on track with SOE. They never went on saving the game, they just wanted as much of their money back as possible, so by the end of 2006 Sigil ran out of funds *again* and was forced to release an unfinished, untested project that everyone saw end of January 2007.

But why wasn’t Vanguard ready in time in the first place? There were different reasons. I think, the first and the most serious problem – the root of everything else – was management failures. Vanguard was developed on Unreal Engine 2.5, which wasn’t supposed to be used as an MMO engine back then (the way it is used now is thanks to Vanguard experience, among other things), and of course it did not meant to support seamless world that Sigil wanted to implement. The game was developed with in-house tools that were only a baseline functional (for example, the engine did not even had a script language, which everyone wanted except for those who made decisions on such things). So Sigil programmers and designers were forced to literally cheat to do things they needed, which led to the development progressing very slowly and painfully.

Another mistake was the world itself. Sigil management wanted Vanguard to have a giant, seamless world. They put a tremendous amount of effort into art and story assets when the engine was barely working, and remember that they were running out of time and money at the same time. They wanted 3 giant continents (Thestra, Qalia, and Kojan) that would be home (starting areas) for different races.

But when Sigil artists started building actual landmasses it took much longer than anyone expected. Cutting one continent out meant that some races became homeless, and shrinking the world by removing pieces of continents was another problem – the continents weren’t made modular, and by the time that problem arise Thestra and Qualia were almost finished. So they cut out a piece of Kojan and by the time it was released this continent was smaller than two other starting areas. And then Sigil went back on to polish all 3 continents, which took even more time. And they were running out of time and money, remember? So building the world took out so much time that there weren’t much left for the content that would fill this newly-created world…

At first, i thought to write only one post about Vanguard, but while i was writing i found it to be too long for one-post article, so i spread it into a few different posts. Read the next part here:

Vanguard. Saga Of Heroes: The Famous Fail Beginning And End – Part 2

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