Surly’s Column: State of the Game: Darkfall, Razorwax and Aventurine, Here’s the Rub


After missing one day from lack of internet Surly can finialy publish his new column. Today Surly looks back for the last seven years to point out the major announcments that Darkall was been through and some of his future perdictions..

Given Aventurine’s recent admission that they will not even be capable of
entertaining their scheduled WarCry update by writing it ahead of time on or around
the 15th of August[30], I think it’s a safe assumption that mid-August will see
Darkfall’s public servers online, and functional.

To read more click below!

Surly’s Column: State of the Game: Darkfall, Razorwax and Aventurine, Here’s the Rub
Written by Surly (Darkfall Warcry columnist)

Speculation has been the friend of every fan of Darkfall Online since it began development nearly half a decade ago. We’ve grown up, had kids, obtained gainful employment, and some of us have even moved out of our mothers’ basements (Admittedly, I’m a bit optimistic) but the only thing that’s remained constant is our adherence to the continual guessing game of the enigma that is Darkfall Online. Frankly, most of us don’t even know who Aventurine is. Their lips are tighter than the Virgin Mary’s… lips, and it’s left the fans of their work-in-progress forlorn, grasping at straws, and grasping at their own sanity. Today is a day for a bit of hindsight, a bit of realism, and a bit of analysis of the current State of the Game.

Let us step back into a time when the greatest failure to the sandbox MMO concept cast its massive, tremendous, ubiquitous, gloom-rendering shadow on the genre and ruined what would have otherwise been a magnificent resurgence of the playful and adventurous spirit of the MMORPG that had thrived in the imaginations of game developers before the industry was revolutionized by its streamlined greed. I speak of course of the good old days, and of even our recent memory when the rift between MMORPG and MMOProfiteering began to take shape. Champion of those who longed for the old days, for the Meridians, the Ultimas, and even the Asherons of the world, quite a few developers would seek to reverse the direction Everquest had taken the industry. Looking to the sky and blinded by the searing brilliance of farinaceous lye to the eyes, Shadowbane’s developers in particular would trip on their own egos and fall face first into a cauldron of the acid spewed from their own fans[1] and set the standard for what not to do with an MMORPG.

How could a game with 50,000 initial subscribers[2] redefine the word “fail” so thoroughly as to resound through the industry as evidence that a free-formed MMORPG will not and cannot work? More importantly, who cares? A colossal failure of such magnitude leaves little room to question why, as such abortions of logic leave their mistakes strewn manifestly for all to see. Even the most indolent of fans could look upon Shadowbane and think to their selves “I could do better.” It matters little why the game failed, but its effects on the industry itself are anything but negligible. Razorwax AS, having been founded in July 2000[3] would suddenly find itself the last bastion of PvP and sandbox game design in the entire market. Rather than an independent development project as part of a continuing tradition, Razorwax would be left alone in a market now indelibly marred by the general acceptance that MMOs must be grinds.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Perhaps it would be best to first start with history.The first month was spent working on Darkfall’s original 3D engine while moving into the new office in Oslo, buying new PCs and office equipment, and projecting goals for the future which eventually lead to the expansion of the Razorwax staff. By the close of July the following year, Razorwax had moved offices twice, hired seven new employees including five game logic programmers, and was poised to announce their game to the public on the first of August, 2001 with an expected launch date of Q1 2003[4,5]. It was a rocky, but altogether arable foundation for the development of the game. An interesting bit of history on its own, but the real intrigue is in the financiers and how Razorwax was able to stay in business and expand so easily without any income, and later why the company moved on to Greece.

Razorwax, mostly unknown to the general public, had a silent partner in Intermedia Invest AS[6], a seed investment capital company headed by Managing Director Trond Heier, at the behest of some Chinese fish barons by the name of Yuen[7]. Trond, also CEO of the renowned Linux-dedicated Norwegian company Linpro, was most directly responsible for the funding of Darkfall Online prior to Razorwax’s move to Greece. Under this partnership, Razorwax flourished and by the close of the year 2002 had achieved quite a bit of buzz from gamers all over the world. With the Razorwax/Intermedia fanbase stretching as far as Russia[8] and a large repertoire of screenshots and widening degree of fan support, things were looking on the up and up. Unfortunately, with this success also came quite a bit of realization. Darkfall had achieved such levels of popularity and support it was apparent that the original game designs would need far more polish and professionalism to really shape Darkfall into a competitive game in the genre. Though an “indie” project by its roots, Darkfall’s potential soon outweighed even the most optimistic projection, and it became clear that the inexperienced projections of a Q1 2003 release were either going to be met with a complete, but unpolished project, or development would need a serious overhaul to truly turn Darkfall Online into the next-generation game that it is today.

As early as mid-December, 2002, Razorwax had closed a deal with a Greek publisher that we would all later know as Aventurine[9]. Within months, and by February 2003, Razorwax had cut its ties with Intermedia Invest and planned on moving its locale to Greece. Trond Heier had a few choice words to say of the exchange, wishing Razorwax well in their endeavors, and lamenting only slightly the 3million kronor loss he accrued from the investment in an interview with VG.no[10]. Today, beyond sticking it to Microsoft[11], it appears Trond Heier’s financial ties to Darkfall are severed. Although they were quite apprehensive about the whole thing at the start, it seems as though the 60 million kronor investment in Intermedia Invest paid off, at least for us Darkfall fans, and the excitement and tenacity of Simon Yuen really makes him out to be one heck of a cool guy[12,1].

Expanding beyond the budget of a small investment company in an economy very poorly suited to game development, Darkfall’s development found its new home in Athens, Greece in early 2003. Adapting to the new surroundings apparently took minimal time for adjustments, as the 14-man crew of Razorwax quickly swelled and development of the game finally began in full for the first time. Backed by newer, deeper pockets, it is apparent that Darkfall had finally found its home among the capable hands of Aventurine SA. This is unfortunately where clarity fades and is replaced with a shroud of surreptitious mysteries left to be assembled from dozens of interviews and wildly scattered information held together by the glue of speculation. Immediately, we do know that Aventurine is hemorrhaging enough cash to sponsor rally races in Greece[13]. It’s also apparent that Aventurine has done some work with military simulation software for the Greek government[14,15], and that three of its most influential management staff are Tasos Flambouras, Jade al Mehdawi, and Spiros Iordanis[14,15,16]. As explained by Tasos, Aventurine was established explicitly for the development of Darkfall Online. Unlike the history with Razorwax, however, the answers to “why” and “how” and “who’s got the money?” are left completely up to speculation. People are curious, and they want to know exactly what it is they’re following.

Now 2003, Aventurine would soon find that the little hot potato it had picked up from Norway would prove the object of far more fascination than anticipated. With the subsequent rise and fall of Shadowbane and the tremendous new market brought to the genre by way of World of Warcraft, Darkfall would increasingly be put in the lime light for even the most mundane of interviews and updates. By August, Claus Grovdal would be quoted claiming an internal beta as early as September, with gradual tester additions leading up to a release[17]. Not exactly endearing to the fans, but as serious competitors to Darkfall’s niche, including Shadowbane, faded into forgotten history, so did the prospect of beta for Darkfall Online.

2005. Easily the most eventful (or least eventful, depending on when you ask) year for Darkfall’s development process, coming on the heels of two years of increasingly tight-lipped interaction from Aventurine which, in June, brought lamentations from the then-site manager of DF Warcry, Ferox, criticizing the long dry spell of communication from Aventurine[18]. Two months later, long time Aventurine community manager and forum administrator, Brannoc, announced his retirement from the project[19] and washed his hands of Darkfall. Two days later, he recanted his decision and was reinstated[20]. Yet another two months along, Darkfall announced its Clan Beta Signups[21] in anticipation of a public beta beginning immediately. Brannoc, with his newly replenished super-hero powers, stated at the behest Aventurine that Darkfall would see its maiden voyage into the world of public beta testing prior to the end of the year[22].

Needless to say, two years later Aventurine has become even more reserved with its commentary and neither mention nor explanation about the beta announcement of 2005 has ever been made. Nonetheless, in this time press releases have become more professional and feature genuinely interesting content from state of the game updates[16] to professional grade gameplay videos[23]. Few and far between though they may be, coupled with Aventurine’s history and background it’s hardly anything to get pissy about. However, after the botched clan beta of 2005 and two consequent years of introversion, Aventurine has once again brought up the B-word with an offhanded announcement of an internal beta date of this summer[24].

Closely following this announcement, news from behind the scenes has become public knowledge thanks to investigative efforts by fans. As early as May of this year, the long disputed point of interest for many Darkfall fans regarding Trademark and Copyright usage was finally put to rest with the Notice of Allowance mailed to Aventurine SA by by the USPTO[25]. Together with the estimation of a summer beta, this news held quite a bit of promise for fans looking at the game optimistically. One piece of the puzzle, however, had yet to be answered. A publisher would be needed for the game, and for the longest time the answer to whether or not Aventurine would be self-publishing was unclear to the community, and probably just as unclear to Aventurine[26].

With the latest news to be uncovered, it appears Aventurine has procured a 20 million Euro convertible bond ($27.5m USD) loan with Marfin Bank[27] at the behest of Proton Investment Bank of Greece[28]. Now I’m not expert in MMORPG development and distribution, and I wouldn’t pretend to be, but when last ditch desperation investments from big name has-beens like Interplay, throwing every shred of their capability into one Last Hurrah that is Fallout Online, confidently dedicate what is assumed to be an overkill amount of $75m USD to the pre-production, development, and publishing of a software[29] I can’t help but think that no more than $25m of that would be dedicated to initial server hosting and publishing. Without much enthusiasm or presumption, I would submit that the wait for Darkfall is over. $27.5m loans tend to be a bitch to pay off interest on, especially when sitting squarely on your laurels. The clamps are most certainly down, and Aventurine is financially committed to the launch of Darkfall whether they like it or not. Whether that’s a good thing or not is also yet to be seen, because for the first time in its long development Darkfall Online is subject to the most dreaded of all development problems: time constraints.

Given Aventurine’s recent admission that they will not even be capable of entertaining their scheduled WarCry update by writing it ahead of time on or around the 15th of August[30], I think it’s a safe assumption that mid-August will see Darkfall’s public servers online, and functional. Recent business trips which left Tasos outside of the country[31] would even indicate that they wouldn’t necessarily be located in Greece. As I stated in a previous article, public beta by October, or I’ll club a baby seal.

Hopefully this recap of the last seven years serves some fans well. For those of you who have paid enough attention to know all of this off the top of your heads… well, frankly I pity you. It would be nice to have all of this in one place, I’ve always thought. So here it is. Shame it’s not on Aventurine/Darkfall’s site for easy access, but better trashed and scattered than left up for guess work.

1: Hearsay
2: MMOGChart.com
3: IGN RPGVault interview July, 2001
4: Razorwax.com Press Release, circa 2000
5: Razorwax.com News, circa 2000
6: Open Letter from the Developers, July 2001
7: Royal Supreme Seafood
8: TI Gaming
9: Darkfallonline.com News Page, circa December 2002
10: Trond Heier Interview at VG.no, February 2003
11: Linpro news, circa June 2007
12: Nettavisen Interview with Intermedia Invest circa 2000
13: PhotoRallyPress Photographs 1, 2
14: Darkfall Journal 1 – About Aventurine
15: Epicos e-business platform for Aerospace and Defense
16: RPG Vault Update Interview
17: Game Banshee Interview
18: DF Warcry Update from Ferox
19: DF Warcry Brannoc Update 1
20: DF Warcry Brannoc Update 2
21: Darkfallonline.com circa 2005
22: Commentary from Brannoc
23: Darkfall Gameplay Video
24: DF Warcry Update “The Beta Question”
25: USPTO.gov, TARR office
26: WomenGamers overview of Darkfall
27: IFLR1000.com
28: Proton.gr
29: Gamasutra.com Interplay Plans Fallout MMO
30: Darkfall Warcry Update
31: Darkfall Warcry State of the Game Update

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