Press: January 13, 2007
Endrody is the man behind the free MMORPG Sherwood Dungeon and other
multi-player games on maidmarian.com. Despite the fact that Gene had little
programming experience, heís managed to do all the development himself using
off-the-shelf tools and build a loyal following that often reaches 4000
So how did this one-man-team do it? I wanted to know, so I interviewed him. We
talked about his background, the technical aspects of doing an MMO with off the
shelf tools, and how he built up his user base.
tools and build a loyal following that often reaches 4000
What is your background?
I started an Amiga Video Toaster dealership in the early 90s with a friend. The
Toaster came with an early version of Lightwave 3D and that was my first
exposure to 3D modeling. After Commodore went belly up, I became a 3D Instructor
and Program Manager at the Center for Digital Imaging and Sound and later the
British Columbia Institute of Technology. I joined Radical Games as a Technical
Art Director in 2000. It was really the experience at Radical that put me in a
position to pursue 3D web games. I got the opportunity to art direct on a few
projects, but a Technical Art Director is mostly responsible for solving
technical issues related to stuffing 3D art and special effects into games. Itís
a great position because unlike many game industry jobs, you get exposed to the
entire process of making games rather than just one specialty.
Tell us a bit about Maidmarian.com. When did you start it, and what were your
goals for it at the time? What was motivating you to start it?
Iím a card carrying, Lord of the Rings loving, fantasy freak. I played Dungeon &
Dragons as a teenager, read fantasy novels and made a few pathetic attempts at
writing games on my Commodore 64. In 1996, I was planning to do some web
delivered 3D animations based in Sherwood Forest and discovered that
MaidMarian.com was still available. I reserved the URL without having a clear
concept of what to do with it. (Steve Jobs had reserved RobinHood.com through
Pixar just prior to that as well.) Working with properties in the public domain,
like Robin Hood and King Arthur, seemed like a good strategy for a small
independent developer. You get to work with a great property with lots of
history and donít have to worry about being beholden to the owner of the
intellectual property. Even through the focus is now on games, MaidMarian.com
has always allowed me to make a living with one foot in a fantasy world.
It looks like youíre focusing on Sherwood Dungeon at the moment. Is this the new
vision for MaidMarian.com?
Sherwood Dungeon is the game I always wanted to make. The other games on
MaidMarian.com taught me the lessons I needed to take on that challenge. That
being said, the games work together to provide a variety of experiences with the
same basic feel. I think of MaidMarian.com as one big experience or community
with of lots of choice about where to hang out and what to do. Some of the
games, particularly Marianís World and MoonBase, arenít really games at allómore
like social holodecks to goof around in. Talk to your friends, dance, drive
aroundówhatever youíre in the mood for. Ratinator is really the exception to
this philosophy. It was more of an attempt to get on-board with the digital
distribution craze in 2003 and make something that fit the business model of
game portals like Shockwave.com.
Maidmarian.com has evolved over the years. Has it been a learning
Absolutely insane learning experience! I was lucky enough to be nominated by Macromedia for a Peopleís Choice
Award at UCON2001 after the Director 8.5 beta. Iíd never won anything before and
just being nominated gave me the confidence that I wasnít wasting my time on
this 3D web stuff. I wanted to do web based MMOís but the industry seemed so
excited about the digital distribution and casual games. After talking to a few
game portal producers, I started working on Ratinator. That was my first revenue
generating independent game, distributed through Shockwave.com. Although
Ratinator was named by the Adrenaline Vault as one of the Top Shareware Games of
2003, it failed to have any real commercial success. After that experience, I
tend to look at industry trends and hype with a great deal of skepticism.
Ironically, now that Iím focused back on MMOs, there are signs that I
inadvertently ďcaught the next waveĒ.
How has Sherwood Dungeon been accepted by players?
I get fan mail ! Can you believe that? Players seem to love the game and they
seem to relate to the idea that Iím a just guy with a computer living his dream
of making massive multiplayer games in his basement. MaidMarian.com has grown to
1.4 million unique visitors every month with Sherwood Dungeon taking the lionís
share. I donít want MaidMarian.com to be some faceless corporation in the eyes
of the players. I want it to be grass-roots and personal because itís certainly
personal to me. Trying to maintain that personal connection to the players is
getting really hard, but I do my best to listen and keep them in the loop
through my developerís diary.
Your online games are developed with Adobe Director and run in a web browser
using the Shockwave plug-in. When did you start using Director and Shockwave,
and what was your programming experience at the time?
I started using it with the beta of Director 8.5 in 2000. Thatís when Macromedia
first introduced 3D into Shockwave and when I got really excited about the
possibilities. My programming experiences was very limitedóCommodore 64, Radio
Shack TRS80 BASIC and some MEL scripting (Mayaís Embeded Language). I really
learned to program in Director MX, as most of the veteran programmers on
DirGames probably figured out from all the noob questions I ask. Honestly, I
donít think of myself as a programmer so donít ask me about best practices for
object oriented programmingóyouíll get a confused blank stare.
Has Director/Shockwave made this possible for you?
I love Director and even with itís challenges over the last few years, Iíve
found no other product that can deliver hardware accelerated 3D multiplayer
games to a large install base of users on a web-page.
You use Shockwave and Director for the client side, but what is the server side
like? What technologies are you running there? I have three game servers running
the Shockwave Multiuser Server under Windows 2003 on a 100 Mbit connection.
An application called Always Up runs the SMUS server as a Windows Service and
restarts it automatically if a crash is detected. At times Iíve run very close
to 2000 simultaneous players per server and been very happy with the latency.
The SMUS is an underrated, disrespected piece of old software that just seems to
crank along and do the job.
Sherwood Dungeonís stats are impressive, and despite that Iím a huge fan of
Director frankly itís beyond what I thought Shockwave could handle. How did you
go about doing an MMORPG in Director? Did you ever stop and think ďthis might
now be possibleĒ?
ďThis might now be possibleĒ implies that I had some sort of grand vision or
clear concept of what was possible when I started. I just dove in, crossed my
fingers and hoped for the best. Sherwood Dungeon is a bit of an ongoing
experiment, testing my own abilities and the limitations of Shockwave and
Director. Because I work in such a weird, organic way, I canít tell you what the
game is going to look like next month or next year. There can be a risk of
ending up with a spaghetti working this way, but the basic architecture of the
game code has evolved to become quite robust. Often by doing creative things to
the underlying systems, new features become not only possible, but also fast and
elegantómuch better than using brute force to shoehorn new features into the
How much of your time is working around speed/performance and download
limitations, and how much of your time is true ďgame developmentĒ?
I canít really separate the two. Sherwood Dungeon gets performance and download
efficiency from the fact that much of the game content, including dungeons,
forests and islands are procedurally generated. This is how I can have an
infinitely deep dungeon in a game thatís almost small enough to fit on a floppy
disk. The design process differs from more traditional narrative driven MMOs
because youíre tweaking the parameters of a procedural dungeon generator rather
than manually placing trees, chests, monsters or other game content.
Youíve talked a bit in the past about download sizes and times being a
restriction. Seeing as how Director can make binary executables for both Mac and
PCs out of Shockwave files. Have you thought about taking the game in the
direction of an installable client application?
This is one of those questions where tech and business collide. Web games are
inherently limiting because of download size. Thatís not a bad thing for an
independent developer because it effectively levels the playing field between
you and the larger developers. Having an army of artists and vast cash reserves
doesnít give a large developer much of an advantage when the game needs to be
small enough to run within a web page. By making an installable client
application I would effectively be trying to compete with large companies, like
Vivendi or Sony, on their termsóand thatís insane. By sticking to the web gaming
space, being small and nimble with low overheads gives me the advantage. That
makes a goal of developing Sherwood Dungeon into the most popular web-based 3D
MMO achievable for an independent game developer.
How did you go about promoting maidmarian.com and Sherwood Dungeon?
Sherwood Dungeon is both an MMO and a web game, with one foot in each world. Web
games have an uncanny ability to market themselves virally through word of
mouth. Blogs, portals, email, forums, instant messenger, and social networks Ė
anyone who can provide a link and say, ďTry this cool gameĒ just became your
distribution partner. Players can go from discovering the game exists to playing
it in literally 20 seconds. The trick is just making sure you donít do anything
to mess that up. Sherwood Dungeon and MaidMarian.com are designed to get you
into the game quickly with an absolute minimum number of mouse clicks. Other
than to maintain a very liberal linking policy for portals and websites
interested in the game, I do very little to actively promote Sherwood Dungeon.
This is actually the first interview Iíve done.
Your business model is to give the game away, and make money off of the ads, vs
selling memberships. Has that been successful, and how did you come to that
decision? Any major plans to change or augment the business model?
The viral distribution and ad based revenue model work well together. Ads were
intended to provide revenue while I developed the games to a reasonable level of
completion. I received plenty of feedback from players that the games needed to
stay free. Once Sherwood Dungeon hit 4000 simultaneous players, it was clear
that MaidMarian.com would be very successful on ad revenue alone. I think about
other business models a great deal but as always, the devilís in the details.
Whether developers like to admit it or not, the way a game make money is a major
influence on itís design.
Earlier last year you quit your job as technical art Director for Radical
Entertainment in order to work on Maidmarian.com full time. Having quit my job
myself several years ago, I know itís not an easy decision. What made you decide
to go for it?
If youíre going to spend half your life working, why not do it on your own terms
with the opportunity to profit by your own ideas? MaidMarian.com gave me an
opportunity to follow a dream and determine of my own future. Thatís the truth,
but not the whole story. By the time I left, MaidMarian.com was already more
profitable than my day job, so there wasnít much of a risk involved. Radical
Entertainment was such a great place to work that that I had to do some soul
searching before making a decision that should have been obvious.
Has making the full-time leap changed priorities of the game for you? Has it
changed your development style at all?
The only major difference was a shift in attitude away from trying to do
everything myself. I still do the majority of art and code in the game, but Iím
much more willing to hire specialists who are more talented in specific areas.
When you have a ďjack of all tradesĒ mentality, itís sometimes hard to recognize
times when you are not the right person for the job. This shift will become more
obvious in the game and on the website in the coming months. I should also take
this opportunity to thank Jeff, who helped me with the development and modeling
of the new player characters; and James, who has provided programming advice
over the last few years.
Whatís the future of Sherwood Dungeon? Where are you taking it?
Right now Iím focused on improving the visual quality of Sherwood Dungeon and
MaidMarian.com so that it really feels like youíve stepped into a fantasy world
from the moment you get to the website.
Thanks for your time in chatting with me. Youíre an inspiration to indie
developers all over the world!