Four months after its release, it's fair to say Hellgate: London didn't live up to expectations. There was an unfortunate gulf between what people wanted - a polished successor to Diablo, and what they received - a buggy, seemingly unfinished dungeon crawler.
This abyss of expectation isn't something that's gone unnoticed by Flagship, and a string of subsequent patches (a content update - The Stonehenge Chronicles) have begun to set right what went so wrong. But how do you change first impressions? You can't. Can you?
"I think that people had incredibly high expectations that we simply didn't meet," admits Roper. "The game came out with some major bugs and that threw fuel on the fire. We've been killing ourselves addressing all of those issues, and the game is so much better now than it was when it came out. We just hope people will come back and give it a try again, if they played in those first few weeks of its release and were disappointed."
"As for development issues," continues Roper, "we simply tried to do too much with the game. Vista, DirectX 10, being both a single-player boxed product and a multiplayer online game, a simultaneous launch in seven languages across Europe, the US, and South East Asia, and creating our own fully-featured online destination on top of all that.
"We'll take the blame for not getting enough testing done while working to meet our committed ship date. There were so many issues that came up just before launch that just compounded the things we were working on, right up until the game launched, that we didn't get fixed. Or that we thought had been fixed, but came up again when we had tens of thousands of players online concurrently."
Issues like items for level 70 characters being dropped by mobs, when the level cap is 50 - as if the loot's taking the piss out of you - was one example of the maddening wrongness that riled players into such a frenzy they coined the scathing term 'flagshipped', and the hypercritical 'fansite' www.flagshipped.com.
The word's even appeared on UrbanDictionary.com - not quite the Oxford English Dictionary, but embarrassing for Flagship all the same. An example of how to use this new piece of internet slang follows:
Tim: "I just bought a new table today and one of its legs broke."
Jeff: "Man you got flagshipped!"
The internet is always going to be an angry, bubbling vat of criticism-spitting piss, but the reaction to Hellgate was especially negative online. Maybe more testing would have offset the nerd rage?
"Our issues when we launched were less about the total months of testing (which were numerous) as opposed to the vast number of issues that came up right at the end," explains Roper. "The game would certainly have benefited from a couple of more months in the oven, so to speak, but we didn't have the ability to do so. The challenges of an independent game studio are drastically different than those owned by a publisher. We're fortunate that the online nature of the game has allowed us
to continue to fix bugs, add content, and respond directly to our player's wants
Other reasons contribute to an unfinished product reaching the shelves - the most upsetting being pressure from the men in suits holding the briefcases full of cash. So were Flagship rushed into completing Hellgate: London?
"Yes and no," claims Roper. "We made a commitment to ship the game on a certain date, and that decision was made jointly between us and our publishing partners. We wanted to stay true to that date because of all the marketing and sales work that had been put into a timed launch.