Playmakers: Cyberlore returns to the Mac with Majesty
Cyberlore Studios has been in business for over eight years, but it's been a little over four since Mac gamers last heard from the Northampton, Mass. based independent developer. After Blizzard's 1996's release of the Cyberlore-developed Beyond the Dark Portal, an excellent expansion to WarCraft II, Cyberlore went on to develop add-ons for Heroes of Might and Magic 2 (The Price of Loyalty) and Deadlock II (The Shrine Wars), neither of which made their way to the Mac.
But with Cyberlore's new all-their-own project, Majesty: The Fantasy Kingdom Sim, things are back to where we like to see them; the critically acclaimed Majesty has recently been released for the Mac, with the new MacPlay acting as publisher. Cyberlore's so enthusiastic about this happening that when we tracked down the developers of Majesty, and asked them to participate in one of our "Playmaker" interviews, we landed not one, but three volunteers. Welcome 'em back, folks:
Joe Minton is CEO of Cyberlore Studios. Before heading up day to day operations, he worked as a producer and a game designer for Cyberlore. Joe has been a key person involved in growing the company from five to thirty employees and is also responsible for pitching new project proposals. He has experience working with a variety of different publishers, including Hasbro, EA, Ripcord, Accolade, GT, Blizzard, Psygnosis, 3DO, and SSI.
Jay Adan is Cyberlore's Marketing Manager. When he's not tweaking the Majesty Web site, or answering questions on the Cyberlore forums he's flying off to industry events to show off Cyberlore's cool games. Jay is also co-owner of Griffon Games, a traditional game store in Greenfield, Mass.
Ken Grey founded Cyberlore with Lester Humphries back in 1993. He currently guides, with ever-loving care, the development of the game engine on which Cyberlore's games are based. True to his nerdy heritage, he still owns his original Apple II and talks constantly about alternative operating systems.
MC: The Cyberlore Web site talks about how Majesty is bringing "Cyberlore back to its roots in Mac gaming". How far back do those roots go?
Joe: In the early days, the founders of Cyberlore worked on porting a lot of games to the Apple II and the Mac for such companies as SSI, Origin and EA. These include Starflight, Curse of the Azure Bonds, Windwalker and many others. In addition, Cyberlore's 1994 game Entomorph: Plague of the Darkfall, was also published on the Mac.
MC: Has Cyberlore been tempted to re-enter the Mac market before? What makes now the right time for you?
Joe: The iMac has definitely opened the Mac market back up. In addition, Majesty is a game that we feel is a great fit for the Mac audience.
MC: Other than the Deadlock II -- Shrine Wars expansion (which was never released for the Mac), most of Cyberlore's titles have been heavily fantasy-based. Is this a design preference, or were you following the opportunities presented?
Jay: In looking back, I'd have to say that it's mostly the luck of the draw. We've had a number of other SF-based games that we've worked on that have stalled out for one reason or another. The same goes for other fantasy games as well. It's the nature of the business. It just turns out that the ones that have made through the entire process to the store shelves have been almost exclusively fantasy. I'd say that the enthusiasm for science fiction around the office is just as high as for fantasy.
Be it through subconscious direction or random happenstance, a fantasy theme once more came into play for Majesty. An extensive preview of the game we published back in October concluded that Majesty would be one of the hot titles to watch for this winter, and feedback from Mac gamers seems to bear that out.
Lots of monsters and magic frame a game that is part strategy and part simulation, rounded out by a generous dollop of gorgeous art and refined sound design. Majesty tasks you with leading your kingdom, protecting your peasants, and challenging your heroes, and does it all with a fresh twist in and what's otherwise been a narrowly-defined real-time strategy genre.
Many of the announcements concerning PC games that are being ported to the Mac include a crucial bit of information that tells us who's been tapped to do the conversion. There's nothing wrong with that, as there are a good number of very talented people who've been handling this aspect of Mac gaming for years. But when Cyberlore decided they were coming back to the Mac they decided to do it with a real show of commitment, and developed the Majesty port themselves.
MC: What have been the greatest technical challenges you've had to solve for during the porting process?
Ken: Overall the port was very straight-forward. Our code is organized so that any machine specific code is very compartmentalized. The biggest headache was working Apple's NetSprocket library. NetSprocket lacks some of the higher level functionality, like host migration. This made for a lot of extra work on our end. The second problem was with memory. With Windows 9x / NT, as long as you have a decent amount of hard-drive space, you can never run out of memory and memory fragmenting is hidden from you. With MacOS 9, you only get a fixed portion of memory and that can become fragmented very easily. Thankfully, memory is handled better with OS X.
MC: How many people did the Majesty team consist of? And was the expertise needed for the subsequent Mac port already in-house?
Ken: Two programmers were used, one doing the networking and one doing everything else. A part-time artist was used to do some Mac specific interface art. We did a port to the Mac of one of our other games so we had plenty of experience with the Mac.
MC: About networking: support for Scott Kevill's GameRanger service for the Mac multiplayer is great ... but will we ever be able to play network games against Windows gamers or were the Microsoft DirectPlay demons invoked during the initial development?
Jay: The network wizards did indeed draw from DirectPlay when creating multiplayer for the PC. As you surmised, PC folks will not get the benefit of rubbing shoulders with Mac gamers.
MC: Majesty has received a number of positive accolades in the PC press ... what features in particular should Mac gamers be excited about?
Jay: It is the unique nature of Majesty's gameplay that has really struck a chord with many gamers. Many folks have told us that after playing Majesty they have difficulty going back and playing RTS games because they really want their units to act on their own (like they do in Majesty). Instead, when playing games like Warcraft or Starcraft the best you can hope for is that they'll attack somebody that comes into range, but that's it.
MC: What was Majesty's design history like? Was it ever envisioned as less of a sim and instead a more straight-forward RTS with lots and lots of micro-management, trees, gold, trees, gold, trees, gold ... ?
Jay: I still have a copy of one of the original design docs for Majesty on the shelf next to my desk. At the time the proposal was put together, over four years ago, the design was not much different from what we released in March. This is probably because the creator, Jim Dubois, had such a clear vision of what it is that he wanted right from the start and he stuck with it until the very end. Majesty was never thought of as an RTS or as a Sim while it was first being designed. It definitely draws from both of those wells but the core concept was really fresh. Sort of like the first guy who realized that chocolate and peanut butter are both tasty, but when you put them together you get something REALLY good.
Another sweet combination is having that great game and the in-house expertise to port it. But even with those two key ingredients ready, you still need to figure out who is going to publish that game for the MacOS. It's a tricky thing; you need someone who understands what it takes to sell to the Mac market, as well as someone is committed to building a lasting relationship with the Mac gaming community. And ideally, of course, you'd like to be some sort of flagship title.
When Ron Dimant's United Developers made their big "we're here" announcement at MacWorld Expo in New York this past summer, Majesty joined Sin Gold and Screaming Demons Over Europe as the first three games that would form the beginnings of the new company's Mac line-up. And after Ron Dimant later unveiled his licensing of the MacPlay name (we talked to Dimant about MacPlay in a previous Playmakers ), Majesty shipped alongside Sin Gold to become one of the first two games to mark the rebirth of the brand.
MC: How did the relationship with United Developers come about?
Jay: Well, when I started my search for a Mac publisher to handle Majesty I started making phone calls. One of those calls was to Wallace Poulter, who works at Apple as Games Partnership Manager. We've known each other for years and I figured if anybody could help us, it would be him. His first recommendation was that I call Ron. He wouldn't give me any details though. I imagine that this was because at the time his United Developer project was still a big secret.
Jay: I played a bit of phone-tag with Ron for a couple of weeks while I made calls to every Mac game publisher out there. We then met up with Ron at E3 and everything fell into place from there.
MC: What have Ron Dimant and crew been like to work with?
Joe: They are great guys. I'm impressed how quickly and how well they have been able to get MacPlay going.
MC: "The Northern Expansion", an add-on for Majesty, is slated to be released for the PC in March. Any thoughts on the likelihood of Mac users seeing this (and maybe some of the other titles you're working on) on our platform as well?
Jay: MacPlay has already expressed an interest in publishing the Mac version of the expansion set, but nothing is set in stone yet. Keep your fingers crossed and be sure to let them know that you would pick up a copy if they decided to do it.
MC: Any truth to the rumors that you threatened to kill Sean Connery's reputation as one of the sexiest men alive by flooding the world with free copies of the B-movie epic Zardoz unless he agreed to narrate Majesty for you?
Jay: Actually it wasn't Zardoz, it was The Avengers that we threatened him with.
Jay: I think that the biggest surprise that we got after Majesty was released was the amount of feedback we got about our Royal Advisor. People love him, people hate him. Some thought that it was Sean Connery (especially since there's no credit listing who did that voice), and endless other comments. It was really funny. Nobody got a kick out of it more than George Ledoux though. George is the man behind Ven Fairweather, Majesty's Royal Advisor. He did Ven along with other voices as well. And as long as we're plugging him, you can check out his Web site.