Unseen 64 has been given the great opportunity to talk to Asi Lang(who can be reached at alliancethegame [at]gmail.com)president of Windward Mark Interactive, about just what exactly happened to Alliance: The Silent War, and where Windward Mark Interactive went, and get the story in his own words. You can read about the game Alliance: The Silent War here or continue below for Asi Lang’s article.
[Organized By Earthwormjim]
The Story of Windward Mark Interactive, by Asi Lang:
We started WMI literally out of our dorm rooms in 2003. We had this great concept for an FPS we called Alliance: The Silent War, and a very small (but dedicated and enormously talented) team of coders and artists. All in all we were a shop of just 8!
We had gone into sleeper mode to develop as much of the concept, code, and visual pizazz as possible for Alliance before debuting anything. Then we painted a big red X on E3 2006 and said, that’s where we’re going to do the debut.
We managed to secure this really amazing spot at the LA Convention Center that was on the main thoroughfare as you entered West Hall, so pretty much everyone at the show had to pass by the Alliance booth on their way in.
We never imagined the level of interest we’d receive – we had throngs of people and press on opening day, all wondering where this sleeper title – from an unheard-of studio – had even come from. The one thing we didn’t have, though, were all the publisher meetings.. yet.
We had done our best with all of our contacts to set up as many publisher meetings before the show as possible, but naturally, it was difficult as we were, again, unheard of and no one knew what it was we were pitching. So on Wednesday – opening day of the show – I remember running around trying to bend their ears to come take a look.
Well, the promotion and the buzz we generated worked. By Friday, it was quite another story.We had VPs from literally every major publisher waiting outside our booth, complete with entourages, waiting to speak with us. We were doing triple duty, conversing with those in line, queuing them up to speak with us in the right order, fielding questions, etc. It was hilarious as most were old friends (or bitter rivals) and were chatting up a storm about how they were all there together.
The dialog with each was nearly the same:
“Wait, this was all done by eight guys, who’ve never shipped a game before?”
“We swear- you’re looking at the whole company on the couch right there”
“We need to sign you guys. This is amazing.”
Repeat 8 or 10 times. So naturally we were on cloud nine, and figured, fantastic. We didn’t go cashing any checks quite yet, but as far as E3: The Mission was concerned, we thought we’d had a great success.
We scheduled all the follow up meetings – in LA, San Francisco, and in our offices in Boston. And then, pretty much the same thing happened…
“This is great stuff, we love it.”
“But you’re only eight guys..”
“And you’ve never shipped a game before…”
“So we’re gonna have to pass”
“You’re serious? You knew this, this is why you came to us. Are you kidding?”
(Though that last line was usually mental monologue or reserved for our debriefing meet ups afterwards :) )
And repeat that 8 or 10 times…
Now, I’m exaggerating just a little here – there were a few publishers who either couldn’t afford our proposed budget (which was absurdly low compared to most games today.. under the 10M mark), or for whom we just didn’t fit in their calendar, which makes sense.
But for the overwhelming majority, it was exactly that. And it dumbfounded us. We were sitting there thinking “what did you expect to see here? A teeming studio of 50 people??” We were completely forthright at E3 and they knew what they were getting. It baffled us.
But, cest la vie. In the end, we realized how absurdly risk averse most of these guys were. After the show, we got some interest from some toy moguls and Hollywood studios – people a little outside the fold, and I genuinely wished they would have panned out because they were approaching it as “let’s take a risk here.. let’s buck the system.” They wanted a foray into the gaming world, had the backing to do it, and wanted something a little maverick, to borrow a turn of phrase, with which to do it. But those didn’t turn out either, for various reasons, mostly due to money.
It sucks too – we were really offering here to parlay our sweat equity (read: eating ramen noodles for four years) into a game that was practically half built for them. Our budget was vastly lower than the competition on account of all the leg work we had already put in, and we came to the publishers and purse-string holders very frankly – we were new, we were unproven, and we needed some experienced people to help see it through. But damnit if we didn’t have a killer concept and the raw talent to pull it off.
In the end, we were on indefinite hold with many of them, or with a pending offer “if we could just get the budget down.” By about 90%. I’m not kidding. I wouldn’t have wished a game made with a budget like that upon the most dilapidated bargain bins, let alone our fellow gamers!
So we turned our attention to the other side of our business – selling graphics tech to the military and flight simulator world, and really examined our options.
Around that time, we had made some contacts with some venture capitalists as a result of a talk we gave at Harvard Business School on the video game industry. We didn’t think much of it since we were well aware that entertainment one-offs (movies, games), were rarely the domain of VCs, but we did the round of meetings nonetheless. One man saw our tech and immediately thought of Linden Lab, the makers of Second Life, with whom he had good contact and whom he knew wanted to open a Boston office.
So one thing led to another, and we were acquired by Linden which, despite Second Life’s reputation in the gaming world, is an amazing company and whose product I genuinely believe has great potential, once it gets a few key features in place which we’re actively working on right now.
But we do still definitely go to the Alliance website, pretty regularly, when we need to grab screenshots, show someone some graphics technique we’re trying to explain, or just reminisce.
The funny thing is, not a month goes by where we don’t hear some news of it.. some friend of a friend will mention “that awesome Alliance game, what happened to it??” over their airsoft match, or a friend interning in Washington DC will ask me for the link to show her politically-minded friends. Or, as happened here with Unseen 64 or last month on IGN, we’ll get picked for a great “where did it go?” segment.
But, the embers are still there. Our original company, WMI, is actually still in existence and still owns all the IP, code, and assets for Alliance – it’s all sitting there. We’re busy right now, but maybe someday- hopefully soon – we’ll be able to revive it and *finally* give all our supporters the game they’ve been asking for. It probably wouldn’t take much as the assets are still relatively fresh, and lord knows we’d have the community’s support!
A short interview with Asi Lang:
Asi Lang: Not really – we really dumped everything we had into our E3 showing in 2006, and all of it went onto the website. The one thing I *could* share with you is a collection of media we gathered both during and after the show, displaying just how popular it was with audiences and gamer websites. You can see some of the pics from E3 above.
U64: If Alliance gets released, or in the unfortunate event cancelled, would Windward Mark Interactive ever be willing to release a prototype of the game to the public?
Asi Lang: Not likely, but rest assured the flame lives on ;) Windward Mark, the original company we founded, still has all the assets and retains all the IP for Alliance, and considering we still receive news and inquiries about Alliance every month, we still have hope and ideally some plans!!
U64: How close to completion was the game when work on it was stopped?
Asi Lang: It’s tough to say, as we were taking a breadth-first approach. We actually touched on nearly every asset and level in the game during our make-it-or-break-it development cycle, something like 30 levels and innumerable weapons, characters, and animations. As an overall figure, I’d have to say it was approximately 30% complete.
We finished over 100 of the weapons, all of the combat and motion animations had been professionally motion captured at House of Moves in Los Angeles and integrated into our engine, and all 30 levels had been through a base pass and several had already gone through a detail pass. That’s how we worked- in a pass system- we’d touch everything then go back around for refinement.
I think levels were slated for five total passes. In retrospect, we could have focused a lot of our energy on a single level and polished that, but we were going for an expansive, all-inclusive showing at E3 that really conveyed the scope and scale of what Alliance was going to be, and that’s exactly what we ended up showing.
Thanks a lot to Asi Lang for his contribution! He can still be reached for questions and comments about Alliance at alliancethegame [at] gmail.com.