Bill Roper on Hellgate’s Hellish Demise


Bill Roper is currently between companies, since he left Cryptic a couple of months ago. He’s pitching projects and thinking about what he wants to do next, but in the meantime he seems to have time to chat, since GamaSutra has posted a very long interview with the famous ex-Blizzard and ex-Flagship fellow. The transcript runs six long pages, and it’s not even the whole interview; they say they’ve got a pat two yet to post.

There’s nothing in the interview about any Diablo games, or even very much about Blizzard, since the vast bulk of it covers the failure of Hellgate: London and the closure of Flagship Studios. The story’s been told before, by Bill and others, but this interview is very heartfelt, and gives some good insight into just how painful and personal the non-success of HGL and Mythos was. Bill’s very honest about a lot of things, and while a fair amount of the interview seems a bit self-pitying, better that than glib superficial replies that would just blow off the question.

Here’s a quote about one of his many regrets; that Mythos died before it could be born.

Bill Roper: I honestly think that as much as people hated me, as much as people hated Hellgate and hated Flagship, people would have loved Mythos. And that was the second game from the studio. And there was a lot of crossover, you know. And I think that Torchlight proved that that next game idea was…

But the thing is they’re kind of doing it in this three-stage process, where they released a single-player version. Runic did the game like “Here’s a single-player version.” The next is going to be a peer-to-peer type thing. And then it’s going to be, “Okay, now everybody goes online and plays.”

The advantage we had with Mythos is we would have been right at stage three because all that tech was already there. It’s a real drag. There was a version of Mythos… We did internal, and then we pushed from the internal server to beta server. And people who were playing Mythos when we closed the company, the version that was next going to get pushed to beta, which was internal, had all these changes to it based on everybody’s feedback that was playing.

It wasn’t hub-instanced anymore. It was a big open world that then you would go into all the instanced content. You could actually run around with people. We were like, “Oh my God, this is it. This is going to be so great.” But you don’t get there. And I think that’s the difficulty, that we were in an unsustainable business model.

In past threads on HGL, we’ve had ambivalence (at best) about HGL. We’ve not had the rage-threads that were so prevalent elsewhere, but there’s not been a great deal of sympathy for Bill and his fellow Flagshippers. That’s something Bill addresses in the interview; how nasty and personal the flames got, and you can get an idea how miserable he must have been then if you imagine that his companies were dying, his games were failing, his income was nil, his marriage was breaking up, and every internet forum was filled with vitriol directed right at him, since he was the most visible person at Flagship.

My impression is that the general feeling towards HGL and FSS has shifted over the past couple of years, and it’s now more regret for the lost opportunities than rage at the game devs for screwing things up. I think the candor shown by Bill and some of the other guys in interviews has had something to do with that, as they’ve admitted mistakes and frustrations. Pity none of the Flagship Founders have ever opened up about what it was like leaving Diablo III behind when they left Blizzard North in 2003. And that none of the guys who kept working on that early version of the game have been able to talk about what went wrong, or what it was like to see the project closed down and restarted in 2005.

Maybe someday we’ll hear that story told publicly… So hey Bill, since you’re giving interviews this month, where you at? I’ll buy you some beers any place you want to meet in The City. Just remember to speak right into the recorder.

Tagged As: | Categories: Ex-Blizzard, Other Games, Other RPGs

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  1. I don’t necessarily view any of the changes as “dumbing down” (except maybe weapon swap but that’s maybe due to the wording they use for stuff such as this to make us look like we’re drooling buffoons).

    I think of it like this: If they remove or change something, does something else get added or adjusted to make up for the perceived loss? And does that addition add or keep complexity in a more logical manner than the previous version? The answer to both is usually yes. Not always, but usually.

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