Dark or Light

Interview with Howard Marks

Dana Massey Posted:
Interviews 0

The man who brought back Acclaim talks about the direction of this storied company and its first game

Howard Marks is the CEO of Acclaim. This fabled company returned to the scene recently with the announcement that they would - under Marks - be focusing on online games. 9 Dragons and Bots are the first two games announced by this new publishing house. This Q&A acts as an intro to 9 Dragons - which was added to our list today along with seventeen screenshots - and Acclaim's reborn strategy.

MMORPG.com: Acclaim’s brand-name is obviously a big one in the game industry. Can you run us through how Acclaim’s new incarnation came into being and what relation you have to the old Acclaim?
Howard Marks:

I agree that Acclaim is a fabulous brand and one that is loved by millions of people. We have received tens of thousands of fan mail supporting our goals to grow and extend this brand.

I was having breakfast with my Dad on December 2004 and I was reading the Wall Street Journal’s announcement on Acclaim’s continued search for a buyer. My Dad said “why don’t you call them ?”. I was a little reluctant because I knew the amount of work it would require to restructure Acclaim. However, I pointed out that if we could take it into an entirely new and exciting direction and find a way to no be dragged down by the past problems then this may be a cool brand to own. I took me over 9 months of conversation to convince the bankruptcy trustees that our online games strategy was the right one and that we were the right people to do it. They finally agreed and on August 10, 2005 I became the new owner.

At this point, we are only publishing new games that are well adapted for multiplayer experiences. We are kind of tired of the industry’s sequel overload and lack of creative risk taking. So here we are, the new kids on the block with a gargantuan brand and an amazing fan base that wants to see us succeed.

MMORPG.com: 9 Dragons is new to our readers. Can you briefly introduce the game and its core defining features?
Howard Marks:

I fell in love with 9Dragons because of its poetic atmosphere combined with outstanding graphics. I have always been a fan of martial arts since the days of Bruce Lee. When I saw this game, I was dying to get play it because it was so close in style to the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I always wanted to be a martial arts hero.

9Dragons is a MMORPG that is placed in the historic times of the Ming Dynasty. The story in this game is part historical and part fantasy. I love this mix because it draws on a rich past with chivalry and honor while you have creative license to make the game fun.

This game’s strength is the use of martial arts combat in the gameplay and how your character grows in skills from novice to master during the game. The 9 Dragons are each a unique clan and you need to become a Dragon in order to save the future of China. The game takes the standard MMORPG gameplay and adds some cool and innovative features such the way a player evolves its fighting skills through training and experience.

MMORPG.com: In 9 Dragons, you are touting Martial Arts. Besides the obviously superficial differences, how will the guts martial art combat in 9 Dragons be different from other combat on the market?
Howard Marks:

The main difference is how the player will acquire the right fighting skills. Each clan has its own style but the player is not just going to a trainer and is given a fighting skill, the player must earn the skill through mini games and practice to acquire the full use of the skill. This is definitively different than other games. The game offers over 400 unique martial arts styles and over 500 different items of martial arts weaponry. This kind of depth gives our game a unique differentiation.

MMORPG.com: You tout your engine as having movie-like graphics. What made you decide to go with the art style you did?
Howard Marks:

We looked at a lot of MMORPG games and found that most of them were European Medieval themes. Through research we found that the martial arts phenomenon is a lot bigger than people think. Martial arts movies have grossed over $1B in combined sales in the last few years. I think the movie Hidden Dragon, Crouching Tiger awaked an entirely new audience who now loves this style of fantasy. We chose, the Ming Dynasty, the same period in history as the movie because it is visually the richest. China was at its most powerful state at that time and controlled a vast portion of the world’s economy.

MMORPG.com: Practically, every MMORPG sell sheet I’ve ever seen touts “superior monster AI”. Why should we believe 9 Dragons? What is superior?
Howard Marks:

I think AI is misnomer because they are not really intelligent. Players are intelligent, monsters are there to challenge the player. We are not using this theme to claim superiority. Our monsters have some unique and fun attributes that players will appreciate. The monsters belong to their own clan and rivalry between monster clans. The player can win by getting monsters to fight against each other. Monsters gain XP if they beat players and they become stronger. Some monsters even commit suicide in order to claim an honorable death when all is lost.

MMORPG.com: Many gamers lament the genres move towards instancing. You promote having 450 quests at launch and 20 new ones each month. What form will these take?
Howard Marks:

Our quests are well weaved into the game’s story. There are five different sub-categories. Through the quests, the players can advance, join clans and learn martial arts. The quests are not just meaningless chores but they are well crafted and meaningful challenges for the player to complete. Quests can be single player or played by a group of players.

MMORPG.com: Recently, there have been a flood of companies porting Asian MMORPGs to the North American market. Why should Acclaim stand out?
Howard Marks:

We believe that we have the only authentic martial arts game. Other Asian MMOs are asian themed but pure fantasy without a historical backbone. We think that the historical background of this game is meaningful and provides the player a context into the game. Our choice of the Chinese Ming dynasty places the game into a different category when you look at other Asian games. Also, 9Dragons won the coveted “Game of the year” in 2005 in Korea.

MMORPG.com: Can you explain the basics of your game’s progression system?
Howard Marks:

The player’s initial character is a novice in martial arts with minimal skills and weaponry. The player will progress through the game via quests, PvP fights, join a clan, defeat monsters, train and increase their fighting skills and continue to grow while enjoying the vast landscape and story plots.

MMORPG.com: Run me through your intended “end-game” in 9 Dragons? Why do players work their way up?
Howard Marks:

The goal of the game is to become a Dragon and a leader of a clan and save China from its tragic disorganized state be reuniting all of the Dragons.

MMORPG.com: Finally, what are your target milestone dates (roughly)? When do you hope to hit beta, open beta and eventually commercial release?
Howard Marks:

We plan to launch closed beta in June and Open Beta in August of 2006. The commercialization should be around November 2006. However, these dates may change so please check out our website www.9dragonsgame.com often. In Europe, our partner is Persistent Worlds and their website is www.9dragonsonline.com.

MMORPG.com: When you release 9 Dragons, how will you do it? What is your business model? Subscriptions, retail box copies, online downloads, micropayments or something else entirely?
Howard Marks:

We have not announced the business model at this time. We plan to be very innovative on that front. Our goal is to offer the best player experience so our first focus is on the game and its service.

Thank you to Howard for doing this interview.

If you would like to comment on this article, you can do it here.


Dana Massey