In the Hands of the Enemy

In the Hands of the Enemy
Fraternizing with the Enemy

Joe Blancato | 7 Feb 2006 11:03
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Developers and players traditionally clash over what's best for a game. It's a fundamental difference in opinion; the battle between The Vision™'s progenitors and their primitive, pragmatic followers. Take a look at any message board, get deep into any game, and you can see the lines in the sand. Players are Us, devs are Them - common ground doesn't exist in the land of internet anonymity. Any of Us who crosses the line is either regarded with deep suspicion or appealed to, like an Uncle Tom with a million owed favors.

It's really not uncommon to hear about players becoming developers, joining with the "enemy" in order to make things better, or provide unique insight into a studio's next title. But go the other way; what about developers as gamers? Every troll in the world swears devs don't touch their own game; they're too out of touch with what players want to have actually logged in since beta. But I didn't believe that, and decided to seek out a developer who not only plays his own game, but does it with one finger over the gaming equivalent of The Big Red Button.

Brian Green is the Co-Founder of Near Death Studios and Lead Developer of Meridian 59, a MUD-like forefather of modern MMOGs. The game, released in 1995 by Archetype Interactive, existed as quiet, overlooked sibling to more successful MMOGs like Ultima Online and EverQuest, ultimately taken offline in summer of 2000. In 2001, Green - who previously worked as a developer - founded NDS and purchased the rights to the game, re-releasing it under the name Meridian 59: Resurrection. Over the past five years, Green has poured blood, sweat and copious amounts of cash into the game to give it a graphical update and client upgrade , as well as market it around the web. He also spends time on several message boards, preaching the virtues of the game's PvP system to jaded gamers burned out on meaningless struggles. He also logs countless spare hours inside Meridian, for bug hunting and straight up gaming.

A guy in his 30s with long brown hair and beard, Green looks every bit the modern day mad scientist. He's also a gamer, through and through; when he and I talk, we end up swapping tabletop stories rather than talking shop. This time, though, we stick to brass tacks and focus on his habits within M59.

"I'm a developer, first and foremost," he tells me. "I have mortal characters I play and enjoy, but I always look at things from a developer's perspective to find ways to make the play experience more fun and engaging. I also know most of the secrets 'behind the curtain,' so there's not much to surprise me in the game." Without ever being able to enjoy discovery, he's cut off to one of Bartle's four main archetypes - Brian just can't explore his own game. And really, how much achieving can someone who's worked on the same game for years really do? That leaves killing and socializing, both of which could easily get him noticed in M59's small community.

"Once I join a guild, the bonds of friendship eventually cause people to learn more about me and to realize who I really am," he says. "Once that happens, people fall over themselves to either kill me to claim bragging rights, or be nice to me in order to curry favor. I have a number of retired characters on the servers because someone figured out who my characters were." And each time he rolls a new character, that's time spent rebuilding his skills, rebuilding bonds with people. Imagine having to make new friends because some internet detective realized you leave out your apostrophes in the word "don't." And when you fix that quirk, someone else figures out you "hehe" at a bad joke and "hahaha" at a good one - time to start over. Green is a fugitive in his own game, a slave to his godhood.

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