I’d like to thank Ivan Sulic, Kaiser Hwang and Brennan Ieyoub for making this interview possible and for continuously supporting the Hellgate: London community throughout the game’s various stages of development.
I’m extremely happy to note that while this will be the last interview conducted prior to the game’s release, it is certainly not the end of the line. It is but a celebration of a new age in the legacy of Flagship Studios.
Without further ado, the interview!
1. To members of the community who are unfamiliar with you, please explain what you guys do for Hellgate: London.
Ivan: My name is Ivan Sulic. I am Flagship Studios’ Marketing / Communications Manager and Writer, which means I manage the PR / Marketing / Community group under Tricia Gray and I write the story for Hellgate and do quest layouts under David Brevik.
Kaiser: I’m Kaiser Hwang, and my title is Senior Community Manager. One thing about Flagship is that everyone helps out any place they can, so my work here crosses over into general PR/Marketing as well. That said, I work with the guys here to implement new site features, keep the community updated on what’s going on, organize events and contests, make sure our worldwide partners have everything they need, and so on and so on.
Brennan: I’m the Video Production Manager. I handle all of the asset creation and distribution and have my hand in many marketing tasks.
2. Flagship Studios have been pretty quiet lately. The whole community’s wondering what’s happening over at Flagship Studios. Fill us in!
Ivan: We’re working on our patch content – fixes, changes, additions, enhancements, and seasonal content for day one, with a more substantial content offering also in the pipe and being tirelessly labored on.
Of course, we’re also launching Hellgate in NA, EU, and SEA territories while prepping our China, Korea, and Japan launches. It takes a lot of coordination to make these things happen. That’s not even all of it, though. We’re constantly working on web updates / features, long-term plans, press fulfillments, demonstrations, partner fulfillments, ancillary products, exhibitions, and a million other things. We’re busy, which is business as usual.
Kaiser: I think the general perception is that when a game is about to come out and goes gold, that means there’s a lot of downtime for the developer. For us, it only gets busier. Don’t forget that even though our gold master release is done, we have ongoing content to work on, as well as the entire backend infrastructure for the game, which we work with Ping0 on. The great thing about working on Hellgate is that we can and will always be improving it, whether that’s through a small balance tweak, or something more substantial like a new level.
Brennan: Work, work, work. By the time you read this interview Hellgate will be in the hands of the public and that doesn’t mean we get a vacation. That means we have to start pounding out the ongoing content to keep the game fresh for subscribers.
3. For everyone: How’s the launch of the game coming along?
Ivan: Very well. Hellgate: London is gold (as most of you know), our first patch is in the can and going through final QA, we’ve received some very positive reviews, and we’re expecting to have a solid day one. (Note to testers: You haven’t all seen what we’re releasing on Halloween.)
Launching any game is scary, but launching an online-centric title – one that can easily be called an MMO – is plain terrifying. However, we’re prepared for the worst and ready to work well beyond death to make this baby of ours successful.
Kaiser: So far so good. With the game having been in development for the last few years, everyone’s really excited to get this thing out in the wild. With the early reviews being really positive so far, and all of our fans counting the seconds to launch day, you can really feel the electricity in the air at the Flagship offices.
Brennan: It’s my first worldwide game launch so I’d have to say it’s going swimmingly!
4. For Ivan: What was it like writing the story of Hellgate: London?
Ivan: It was a lot of back and forth. I would come up with something, edit it based on comments, change it based on requests, edit it again because of tech alterations, then cut it altogether because it didn’t work or someone hated it. Sometime later, somebody would want that same something put back in, only different. And then there are the conveyance limitations… There’s only so much a man can do to captivate an audience with 150 word monologues. It’s all that plus deadlines. Many, many deadlines. But, I’m happy with the way it turned out, all things considered.
Of course, regardless of what goes into the game, pleasing everyone is impossible. So, 50 extremely vocal people will demand something be changed, that decision will get approved (or vetoed, depending on what we feel is best), and the content may be changed… Suddenly, 100 people who loved what was originally there and had no reason to complain in the first place would turn around and say, “WTF? You took out my favorite part. Why the heck did you do that?” That’s just the way it goes.
5. For Ivan: What sources of inspiration did you have in creating the personalities of the myriad of interesting characters throughout London?
Ivan: None. I winged it all. Well… I suppose Tehol and Bugg from “Midnight Tides” probably influenced Lucious and 314 a bit. But that wasn’t a conscious decision I made. It’s just something that happened. The pairs aren’t identical, though.
Of course, many other people contributed in many other ways. Hm… I suppose if you’re going to blame someone, you’d have to blame me, but if you’re going to thank someone, you’d have to thank the whole team.
6. For Ivan: You used to be an editor at IGN. How is your experience so far working for the other side of the game industry?
Ivan: Much better. I worked at Ziff-Davis and IGN / GameSpy while doing various freelance work, by the by.
First, grading papers is not fulfilling.
Second, editorial is too heavily influenced by the very same publishers and developers featured in any given article. Ad buys, code deliveries, exclusives, event invites… All that and more depends too heavily on “relationship” and relationship is entirely determined by how hard Editor X bashed the last game from Studio Y. So there’s no real freedom there, which was very frustrating for me.
In particular, I found online editorial to be plain aggravating. Editors are afforded precious little time to do anything genuinely interesting, quantity is always valued above quality, and the medium is overrun with devious and / or obtrusive advertising campaigns.
It burned me out eventually – felt like I was snapping at my best friends all the time. I didn’t like it or myself. And I didn’t even realize how unhappy I truly was until I left.
Development has its own set of problems (I work over 100 hours a week, for starters), but it’s definitely better and gives me far more satisfying work to do.
In editorial, I destroyed. Now I create.
7. For Ivan: Besides being a writer, what other stuff you do at Flagship Studios?
Ivan: I manage the PR / Marketing / Community group, which basically means I try and make sure things get done. I attend about one trillion meetings per week and I deal with just about anyone who has a question, be they partners, coworkers, media, or fans.
Writing also entails a lot of design work. Not balancing, mind you, but general design work. Brevik and I talk often about what sort of things we each want to see from the game. Our discussions are always story-centric, but do often involve background art, character art, features, and technology. Whatever he decides has to get worked in, which requires lots of effort from lots of different people, which binds me to them in some way or another.
8. For Kaiser: What is it like for you to deal with the community, which is spread out throughout multiple fansites, in different languages and countries?
Kaiser: Y’know, this is at once the best and hardest aspect of my job. The hardest because I don’t speak 100 languages, creating a few speed bumps in the flow of communication. The best because what other job lets you talk to such a diverse group of people around the world, who all share a common love for all things Hellgate. Thankfully, there are a ton of devoted fans that are bilingual and help make the whole process a lot more efficient.
9. For Kaiser: Can you tell us about some aspects of what you do as a community manager?
Kaiser: As I mentioned earlier, I deal with everything from our website to the forums to our partners. Pretty much anything involving community/PR/marketing, I touch to some degree. Sometimes, though, I get wrangled into doing something wacky like massaging Ivan’s feet, or catching flies with my chopsticks.
10. For Brennan: The videos (e.g. E3 2007 trailer) that you’ve produced for Hellgate: London conveyed a really dark atmosphere in Hellgate: London while maintaining a good mix of storyline and action. Besides the game itself, what were your sources of inspiration?
Brennan: I come from the school of feature film editing, so with trailers and the such I try to make them as cinematic as possible. I’m a big Steven Spielberg fan, I love science fiction, and Hellgate fits right in with my tastes.
11. For Brennan: The class videos that you created for Hellgate: London were really well received by the community. Can we expect to see future videos covering different aspects of the game?
Brennan: I think as time goes on our video content will be much more community centric and of course we’ll be giving you guys a sneak peek at our ongoing content. Expect to get more face time with the developers and a greater sense of what’s happening outside of Flagship in regards to the Hellgate brand.
12. For everyone: What build and what class will you guys be playing at launch, and why?
Ivan: I think I’ll be reading a book at launch. I’ve played Hellgate every single day for two years. I think it’s a real solid game, but I can’t eat Boston Cream Pie every single day for two years. And, boy, I love me that shit something fierce.
Kaiser: I’ve always loved the Marksman and Engineer classes. Those two are what I played during most of the development period. So, at launch, I will play… a Blademaster. See, I’ve been purposely playing this class the least over the last few months. That way, when I start my first “real” character, it will feel like I’ve never played the game before.
Brennan: Blademaster…two swords…nuff’ said.
13. For everyone: Can we expect to see anything special in the near future of Hellgate: London?
Ivan: Of course! Our content upgrades are looking real impressive. Seasonal stuff, achievements, more extensive online grouping functionality, levels, monsters, weapons, skills, quests, NPCs, tighter web integration, entirely new classes… If you can think of it, it’s probably already being worked on.
Kaiser: The list of things we have planned for Hellgate: London is a mile long. This includes everything from in-game features to web-related stuff. Really, there are no boundaries with our game. Of course, I’m not at liberty to talk about any of these things yet… ^_^
Brennan: Tricks and treats a plenty this Halloween ; )