(Prairie) Chicken Little Be Damned – An Exclusive Fallen Earth Interview


As an active member of this
nutty world we call gaming media, I can
understand the desire to be the first to break a story. Even if the
same information is bound to be spread paper thin across the
‘net and beyond mere minutes after being published, that
desire can still be a powerful motivator all the same. After all,
bringing news about the industry to the fans that make its existence
possible in the first place is one of the things we journalists are
most passionate about (or at least should
be in my opinion), so being
first on the scene with breaking news is just icing on the virtual cake.

Only sometimes, in the epic
rush to disseminate information as quickly
as possible, wild inaccuracies and rampant speculation get thrown into
the mix. While most self respecting journalists tend to shy away from
such purposeful behavior, it inevitably happens with certain hot news
items all the same. While this is to be expected to happen on occasion,
it can also have an unfortunately negative impact on those same people
we’re here to serve in the first place – the gamers
and fans who simply wish to know the bottom line truth when breaking
news happens.

Members of the gaming media who
are fans and gamers themselves no doubt
understand how crushing it can be to read doom-filled headlines about a
favorite title. The href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/83980">restructuring
at Fallen Earth
officially announced
late last week was one such case, and boy were there some pretty
extreme headlines floating around out there, some even going so far as
to claim, “Fallen
Developer Icarus Studios
Closes Up
Shop”. Even if you eventually track down the truth of the
situation and edit in an update to correct such a bold statement, the
damage has already been done.

As a result, href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/fallenearth">Fallen

have spent
much of the past week in a
state of confusion, and to a degree I don’t necessarily blame
them. Nearly
every online gaming outlet has covered the story, but few
have dug deep enough to provide meaningful insight into the heart of
the matter. Knowing this and having been a long time fan of the game
myself, I set out for Icarus Studios to find out exactly where things
stand for the Fallen Earth
team today, and their plans for the future.

So this one is dedicated to all
the Fallen Earth
fans out there, past,
present and future. The sky is certainly not falling on Fallen

– far from it in fact.

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don’t think anybody here is in survival mode. Everybody here
is in “make the game awesome” mode."

Pulling up to the Cary, NC
offices of Icarus Studios and the Fallen
team, it was hard to
ignore the fact that the parking lot was
packed to the point that had there not been a visitor’s spot
open, I’d have been hard pressed to find someplace to park.
This was hardly the exterior one might expect to see for a company
about to shut its doors as some of the rumors floating around out there
might want you to believe.

While the team inside may
indeed have been notably smaller
than when I’d made my href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/67281">inaugural
visit to the development home
of Fallen Earth
last spring, it was no less buzzing with activity and
excitement for the release of the game’s newest beast
of an
update, patch v1.4 which is due to hit live servers this Friday and
contains not only Deadfall and the awesome new Blood Sports maps, but a
robust achievement system and much, much more.

Details on what makes patch
v1.4 an awesome jumping-in point for new
players and plenty of reason for current players to be excited will be
coming to a Ten Ton Hammer near you in the very near future, and we
also have an excellent href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/84071">dev
journal outlining each of the Blood Sports
maps in the meantime so be sure
to check it out. Blood Sports and patch
1.4 certainly offers players plenty to be excited about, but I was also
keenly interested in speaking with the team on where the company stands
today in light of the recent restructuring announcements, and where
they aim to take the game in the future.

Sitting down with Senior Game
Designer Marie Croall, Lead Scripter
Michael Broadwater, and Marketing Manager Jessica Orr, I found myself
facing members of a development team who were as passionate as ever
about Fallen Earth, and more than happy to share their thoughts with me
on recent events. The resulting discussions filled in many of the
blanks and addressed many of the concerns players might currently have
about the future of the game.

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sharks, we keep moving. I don’t want to make light of what
happened or to trivialize the fact that there are fewer of us, but
we’re awesome
so we’re going to make it

One of the recurring statements
you see whenever an announcement of
this type occurs is that the remaining team is simply in
“survival mode”.

Senior Game Designer Marie
Croall explained,
“Here’s the thing. We have always been a scrappy
little startup. Our philosophy is “make it work with what you
have” and that has not changed. When we had a full staff
we’d come in and ask can we do this? Well, we have the tech
so let’s make it work with what we already have.

We had our first big
next?” planning meeting on Monday. You know, things went bad
and we came in ready to work and ready to figure things out, like patch
1.4 is on Friday, so what’s next? Because we’re
“what’s next?” people. 

There’s no such thing
as survival –
survival is dead. We’re sharks, we keep moving. I
don’t want to make light of what happened or to trivialize
the fact that there are fewer of us, but we’re awesome so
we’re going to make it work. Every company goes through this.
It’s never easy to hear, and MMO fans are fickle and they
panic. I know because I’m one of them.”

Lead Scripter Michael Broadwater
also noted, “I
don’t think anybody here is in survival mode. Everybody here
is in “make the game awesome” mode. Nobody in
company that I work with that I’ve talked to, and
I’ve talked to everybody, wants to maintain stasis.
That’s not what we want for this game; we want to continually
improve it, not just sit around and say “well we’ve
got bugs so let’s just fix the bugs.” We want
add new features. You can’t just

A big concern with many current
players seems to be, I’m
paying a monthly subscription fee but is there going to be something
new for me in the game 3 or 4 months down the road? In other words, is
my subscription fee going to be contributing to further development on
the game, or simply helping to maintain the status quo for as long as

That said, with the release of
patch 1.4 this Friday, a question on
many player’s minds is what’s next for Fallen Earth?

”The first thing will
be [the Blood Sport map]
Assault” said Marie, who continued, “After that
there are a couple of things on the table. We do get to sort of look at
all the features we had planned and figure out what is best for us.
Endgame content for us is obviously not going to look the same as it
does for other games. We have some plans in place that would require
minimal time, or maximum time with minimal people is probably a better
way to put that.

Here’s the thing: we went from 110 people to 35. So I can tell you honestly that everything is still on the development schedule, but that schedule just got a lot longer. We’re still trying to figure out who we are, where we’re at and what we can do with the core staff. The game is still here, we promised a lot and we still want to deliver it. Our intention is to deliver it, but we’ve got to do what we can with the people that we have."

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href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/83689"> src="http://www.tentonhammer.com/image/view/83689/preview"
alt="" style="border: 0px solid ; width: 200px; height: 200px;"

Sports may be the newest addition to

Fallen Earth, but it
certainly won't be the last

Marketing Manager Jessica Orr
went on to explain, “The other
thing about it too is that every time we make a major round of changes
that could potentially affect the entire dynamic of the game
– like before we
sat down and said ok I know we’ve
changed some things with PvP - we need to address some issues that
people have with these parts of the game. At that point it was very
obvious to us through some of the reviews we were getting, through
forum posts, and what the clans were telling us, that a change needed
to be made. And I think one of the things we’ve done really
well is after each change we have a time where the team reflects on
what’s just happened. We figure out how did that change the
dynamic, what’s missing, and what’s left.

So I think like what
we’ve done in the past it’s
still pretty normal for us to regroup and figure out if there are
things that stem from this that we didn’t expect that we need
to readdress. Or, can we go ahead and proceed with what we have on the

I think in all evenness I know
we’ve talked about
what’s next on the schedule and how we’re going to
handle it with the team size, and obviously that is something difficult
to consider in terms of planning. We obviously have to be even smarter
with our resources than we were before, but we also know that
it’s a huge concern for our community right now, that
they’re afraid that we’re going to let this patch
go and that we’re going to sit on it. Or that we’re
just going to go into maintenance mode and we’re just going
to keep cruising and that the servers are going to stay on as long as
we have subscription numbers adequate enough to hold it. And just for
the record that is not the case.

It’s the
kind of thing that’s more
difficult than it was, but that doesn’t mean that
we’re any less determined. And rightly so I don’t
blame players for asking that question at all. It’s going to
be difficult with resources, but I think that we’re a smart
team and
we’re ready for the challenge.”

“We have the right
people for the challenge” Marie
added. “Everybody that we have is really good at identifying
what the core issues are and making it work with limited resources.
Plus we’re awesome.”

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something worth watching and looking at, and I think Icarus is down but
not out so we’ll see what happens."

Later in the day, I also had
the opportunity to sit down with Scripter
Michael Bacigalupo, one of the team members recently let go who offered
to work for free this week to help complete his work on the latest game
update, which to me speaks volumes about the drive and dedication
you’ll find with those developers who are truly passionate
about what they’re doing.

When asked about his continued
work sans pay this week, Michael
explained, “Most people in my personal life think
I’m crazy because I’m coming back in and working
for 3 or 4 days for free. The thing is, we’re so blasted
close on Blood Sports and I was writing a significant portion of the
code and I knew we had about three days left. I was committed enough to
the project and to the company and wanting all of my friends who are
still here to have the best chance possible moving forward.

I think all the people who
caused the situation to go poorly are gone.
So trying to point fingers or scream doom for the qualified team that
still remains is insane. Given the release coming on Friday
it’s pretty clear they didn’t do this out of
maliciousness or a plan to dump everybody or that kind of thing. They
just got kind of screwed by the situation.”

Jessica also noted,
“And one thing too which I think
hasn’t been released but a lot of people, especially on our
forums have said, “It’s always the case where the
execs get to keep their jobs and they’re full salary still
and they still take all the pay” but that’s totally
not the case. Part of management was cut with this and the guys who
stayed here were prorated the same way the rest of us were. Our CEO is
in that mix – I mean he actually chose to withhold pay, so he
didn’t get paid at all. So he’s not your typical
corporate schmuck.”

“No, it’s
definitely not a “golden
parachute” situation where somebody wrecks the company and
then leaves with all the money. Their part in it is done and
they’re gone.” Michael added.

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href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/84082"> src="http://www.tentonhammer.com/image/view/84082/preview"
alt="" style="border: 0px solid ; width: 200px; height: 150px;"

Earth Marketing
Manager Jessica Orr introduces me to one of the devs. (And no, you
shouldn't believe the rumors that the team is really this small)

I was also curious to hear what
Michael might have to say to those
players who are concerned about the future of the game. “It
clearly still has life left in it.” He went on to explain,
“This came at what seems like a ridiculously poor time with
the relaunch and everything else that’s been happening. If
anything is going to boost our numbers it’s going to be the
stuff that’s coming out this Friday. Blood Sports is awesome,
and for a free patch the thing coming up is absolutely enormous in

So I definitely think
there’s a future. I mean, if we had
investors working with us when we had four times the staff that we
currently have, now that we have a quarter of the people it seems like
profitability shouldn’t be all that difficult.”

I also couldn’t help
but ask what Michael thought about Blood
Sports. “I actually prototyped it initially, so
it’s kind of my baby. Each one of them came out better than I
think we expected them to, including Assault. We were in a panic about
[Assault] on Thursday morning because it was so confusing and nobody
knew what was going on since we hadn’t communicated clearly
what the rules were. I was here until 10pm that night and you would not
believe the change in the feedback we got in that one day of work.
It’s absolutely fun, although I don’t think
we’re going to be able to get that out on the 7th like we
were originally hoping to, but it looks like it’s not going
to be too far behind. I should know, that’s what
I’m finishing today!”

So while the downsizing has
obviously had a direct impact on
many of
the individuals who worked on Fallen
previous to last
week’s events, it’s not all doom and gloom even for
some of the team members who were let go. Michael concluded,
“It’s just an unfortunate situation where they had
to do what they had to do. I did want to officially say though, that if
I’m crazy enough to continue working on it, there’s
something still here. There’s something worth watching and
looking at, and I think Icarus is down but not out so we’ll
see what happens.”

And there you have it folks.
While the Fallen Earth
team may be
smaller, they are no less determined to continue making the best
possible MMO experience they can for their players. Everyone that I
spoke to during my time at Icarus Studios had the same
passion and drive as ever. So no, the sky certainly is not falling on
Fallen Earth
anytime soon. In fact, earlier this evening Ten Ton Hammer
even broke the news that href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/84108">the
game will soon be available through
Walmart, which is pretty big
news for the indie
developer and a sure
sign that wastelanders need not fear for the game’s future.

To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Fallen Earth Game Page.

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