Can you believe that it has been 20 years since Legend Entertainment Company released the original Wheel of Time computer game? It’s true, and a walk through the wayback machine confirms it.
To get this out of the way, if you’re a fan of the game and you find yourself here, then you have no excuse not to check out the Story Behind WoT, right on this page. There’s a ton of behind-the-scenes, making-of stuff you probably didn’t know about the game.
Now, 20 years later, people are still playing the game; a dedicated group of fans is even now planning a 20th-anniversary celebration. And I’ll talk more about the game in a moment, but I also want to take this opportunity to discuss how the Wheel of Time has continued to evolve as a property, even many years after the death of the books’ author: Robert Jordan (James Rigney).
Fans’ enthusiasm for the series hasn’t diminished, and you can even count a large number of contemporary authors among them. If you haven’t seen it, here is a video that discusses the impact Robert Jordan has had on the face of epic fantasy.
But it gets better. George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones proved that viewers are hungry for deep, powerful, well-presented fantasy stories–and so it only made sense that someone would snag the chance to make a Wheel of Time TV series. In this case, Amazon stepped up–and so far, even the most hard-core book fans are warming to the choices the production company is making (believe me, I know personally how difficult those fans can be to please). Here, look at snippets from the table read of the first episode’s script. This show should be amazing.
So, now, indulge me in a quick look back. In October 1999, the Wheel of Time PC game went gold, to be released in stores on November 11th (on my birthday and just in time for Christmas). It received a passionate response, both from the press and from players.
Some reviews focused on the fact that it was one of the first games that introduced a strong female lead in a compelling story (not common in a first-person shooter). Some praised the stunning fantasy art come to life. Others enjoyed the ground-breaking multiplayer gameplay. The incredibly talented team at Legend produced one of the titles I’m most proud of in my career–and I hope they feel the same way.
Back then, in addition to designing the game, I moderated the WoT community at our web site and produced regular dev updates (kind of a precursor to the updates you see on kickstarter projects). To wrap up, I thought I would reprint the post when we went gold, which includes the description of our trip to show the game to Robert Jordan himself.
Thanks for joining me here, please lift a glass for WoT turning 20, and make sure to return for updates about The Child of Chaos, my upcoming debut fantasy novel published through Rhetoric Askew Publishing.
Development Update 11/2/1999
If you ask most game development studios when their latest release is due, chances are you'll get a response something like, "It'll be done when it's done." Ask me, and you'll get something much simpler and more satisfying.
Sometime during the evening of Saturday, October 23rd, The Wheel of Time officially went gold. Release candidate number eight proved to be the pick of the litter while all of his runt siblings got stuffed into a sack and thrown into the Potomac. GT immediately put lucky number eight into production with the intent to get the game into your hands as soon as possible. The end result is that you should be seeing a bunch of shiny new WoT boxes on store shelves possibly as soon as November 10th, one day before my birthday. Now that's an official WoT present that I'm looking forward to.
The event struck me like an anvil. For the last five years, my professional life has been devoted to somehow changing this game, whether it be rethinking the fundamental design or tweaking the amount of damage that fireball inflicts. In one searing moment, it's over. The game will be the way it is. The order of bytes is fixed.
It's wonderful, though. Although one never feels completely finished, I've been looking forward to showing this game to the world for years. There are so many elements to be proud of, things that the whole team should be proud of, that I can't wait to hear what the public thinks.
Here is an excerpt from the letter I sent internally to the team, which sums up many of my feelings about this game:
"The single player game is wonderful. The levels are beautiful, fun, and solid. The story is compelling. The experience is satisfying.
"Arena is a blast. We will introduce the multi-player community to something they've never seen, and they're going to love it.
"Citadel is as solid as ever. It will at least give people a fun diversion, and at most become a staple.
"Everyone should feel very good about what they've done: programmers, artists, testers, designers, everyone. Your literal years of hard work have paid off. This game is the most impressive thing that Legend has ever produced, and you're all responsible. Very soon, the public is going to be telling you the same thing. We are making history.
"Thank you for making this game possible."
Enough of my gushing. Let's move into the future.
Right now, the team is catching its breath, but still running and putting together a demo for the game as I type this. People are already producing some wonderful new and distinct assets for it. The multi-player maps include two cool Arena levels, and the single-player section presents two disparate missions from the SP storyline (I'm still trying to figure out how to fit them into some sort of coherent package, but we may just give them to you as-is just to get a taste of the game without the story to explain it; you'll just have to buy the game to understand how these chapters fit into the whole). We'd like it to hit at about the same time as the retail product, so we're moving quickly to finish it up.
Following that, we'll be setting up Legend's official WoT hot tub party of fun: a dedicated T1 with four to six servers, all with multi-player sessions of WoT on the brains. Craig "No More Changes!" Lafferty and Grant "Food Man" Roberts will be sharing the captain's chair in this effort (although my money's on Grant to push Craig off of the overstuffed cushion), so you can yell at them if a server has problems--or if you're just losing and want someone to blame it on. I'll keep you all up to date about the status of our bank of servers, and any events or contests you might want to know about. By the way, as soon as they go up, you know that members of the development team are going to connect, just so they can kick ass before anyone else gets good! So if you want to run with the big dogs, bring it on!
Many of you have made it clear that you're waiting to hear how the visit with Jordan went. In fact, some of you have waded through all of the sentimental crap above just to get to this section. So let's get to it.
As you know, Mike Verdu and I trekked to Mr. Jordan's house with a pre-gold version of the game. I wasn't really nervous, at least up until we actually started the game. The first cinematic began to play. Through all three minutes of introduction to his world, Jordan and his wife stared at the screen expressionless. My only thought was, "What if this wasn't exactly how he saw it all in his head?" By the time it was over, I was almost a wreck--then his wife looked at me, smiled, and said, "That was beautiful." Jordan immediately agreed.
After that, it was much easier. We played through more of the game, watched more cinematics, and had a good time. Jordan kept repeating that it was "absolutely gorgeous" and that he really appreciated our attention to detail, especially since this activity was very important to him while writing the books. Soon after, he stopped commenting on the game and wanted to talk about possible sequels. He was excited about pushing new areas of technology and implementing some of the untouched and more ambitious design ideas from my original concept. Given that my mind had already starting wandering in those directions, I was happy to discuss them.
In all, Jordan was impressed and excited about the possibility of future projects. This doesn't guarantee anything, but it's always nice when the author wants to see more. And, I have to admit that I enjoy playing in his world.
This update is too long already, so I'll finish up with a summary of the latest media coverage (if I miss a piece, please let me know). Previews have sprouted up all over the web, and reaction to the game continues to be great.
PlanetUnreal weighed in with this nice piece (on a similar subject, I will neither confirm nor deny the rumors about a PlanetWheelofTime).
GamesDomain did a head-fake toward a preview, indicating that more will follow.
When GamePen's servers are working, their preview is dang fine readin' (and you have to like the quote, "If Half-Life was the answer to Quake, then Wheel of Time is the answer to Unreal.").
Gamespot UK went over and above again (remember the 102 screenshots they released?) with a nice walkthrough of the first level (not the third as they reported).
And Incite just wrote this bad boy up. Whew!
Finally, I'm pleased to welcome the newest member of the WoT on-line community: MGON's WoTgame.com. Although it's too new to peg them yet, their layout is very cool and I've got high hopes. Check 'em out!
That's more than enough for now. Until next time!