You have seen him at various game conventions around the world, featured in a Blade & Soul video and his pictures popping out on online gaming websites from time to time. Meet the game’s producer, Mr James Bae.
This industry legend in the making has come a long way since his days working on Lineage II. In this feature, he talks about his gaming journey so far leading up to Blade & Soul.
Ever since I was in school, like other male students I was interested in gaming, but did not see it as a career path at that point of time. In 1997, after I graduated from college, I joined NCsoft immediately as a programmer, but the role had nothing to do with developing games.
NCsoft was busy making Lineage then and was lacking a game programmer. NCsoft’s CEO knew that I was very interested in gaming, hence recommended me to join the Lineage team, kick-starting my career.
In the autumn of 1998, Lineage finally entered commercial phase after all the hard work done. During that point of time, the online gaming market was very small, and I could still remember the team shouting in joy at December 31st, 1998 at 12AM when the con-current number of players in the game hit 1000.
This can be considered as the turning point of my life, as I view myself officially entering the gaming industry. While working on Lineage, I met many new colleagues and learn many things.
Soon after, I left the Lineage team due to a lack of passion at that point of time. The hardship of developing a MMORPG left me frustrated. I was seriously doubting if I would make another online title. The rise of 3D technology began, and in my mind, I was telling myself to make a 3D title if I ever make a comeback.
2 plain years passed, and in the spring of 2001, I chatted with a planner for Lineage and the topic shifted to developing a 3D MMORPG. We had the same ideas, hence started on a new title, Project L2, which is Lineage II.
We had 2 main goals for the game: To develop a full 3D MMORPG, and castle/ town siege combat must be the core content. Making a game in Korea back then was not a small task, especially with the 3D technology. There wasn’t a proven market for 3D games as well.
Developing in 3D requires a powerful engine, and to shorten the time span, we decided to purchase Unreal 2. It was a rare move within the industry, using an external game engine, and the project drew quite a number of doubters and criticisms. Looking back, I guess the decision was not a bad one.
When in the process of developing Lineage II, our team heard about Blizzard making a MMORPG as well, which is scheduled for a 2003-2004 release. But due to a project overhaul, it was delayed till 2005, which is the current World of Warcraft.
To avoid having a direct clash with Blizzard, we stepped up development speed to release Linage II in the autumn of 2003. This was one of the worst decisions made.
Game content was then sacrificed, together with quests, combat systems among many others. We did launch Lineage II on schedule and it did reasonably well in Korea, but the lack of content and preparation caused a failure in the overseas market.
After Lineage II, we added a third mantra, which is never to let other games affect our own titles. For example, we are not afraid of clashing with Diablo III in 2012 *laughs*.
A year from Lineage II’s release in Korea, we managed to develop 2 expansions during that time and started marketing the game overseas. Soon, I was transferred to NCsoft’s subsidiary, PlayNC. After a period there to help steer the ship on a smooth course, I began to think of my next move.
I thought about developing a game again, but the hardships of Lineage and Lineage II made me too a step back. When everyone asked me if I am going to develop a new title again, my answer was a “no”.
Then, I had 2 regrets with regards to MMORPG development. First, was the unpolished combat in Lineage II. I wasn’t able to come up with the combat system I really wanted, something with more depth.
The shortening of development time made this impossible. Second, Lineage II wasn’t able to obtain a global success, and at that time I got to know Hyung-Tae Kim (Blade & Soul art director) and invited him to join NCsoft.
After much thought, I jumped back into game development, and that is when Blade & Soul first started. The idea for this new game was “combat” and “wuxia”, wher ethe combat was to redeem myself for what happened with Lineage II.
Wuxia came into mind as I wanted the title to be successful in China, and I am a wuxia fan myself. Just like this, the game was secretly in development over a few years, with the official release coming soon.
To make a top-notch MMORPG now starting from zero, a funding of around USD 100 million. With such a big sum involved, it is very risky once the development path goes off the road. Fortunately, no one is walking the path alone as there are still colleagues around lending their support and contributions.
Although I will probably get more emotions from the players once the game is released, I am very grateful to have my team walking down the path with me.