Michael Legg on Petroglyph (or Yes, there is life after Westwood Studios)

Petroglyph President and Co-Founder Michael Legg has seen many sides of this industry in his career as a lead programmer and occasional designer. He’s most famous for his work at Westwood Studios, where he gathered 17 years of valuable experience and stories . After that, Legg decided to co-found his own studio; Petroglyph. With the majority of the studio hard at work on the upcoming MMORTS End of Nations, it was a pleasant surprise to be able to sit down and talk to Legg about changing the design of PvP, Petroglyph’s work on their own newest projects, staying innovative, learning from others and the studio’s internal love for League of Legends.

Changing the horror of PvP

Mike Leggs’ experience at Westwood Studios still influences his work today and drives him to strive further than ever. “We have a huge real-time strategy background and so doing End of Nations with Trion Worlds is a dream come true project. It was one thing where they gave us the opportunity to say, ‘Hey, take your RTS pedigree and push it forward and let’s take it online’. Let’s go to server based gaming where everything persists and there are thousands and thousands of people playing simultaneously and you can play co-operatively with your friends, rather than just PvP where, you know, it’s like you’d log in and you’d play PvP and you’d just get trounced”.

Instead of putting the player through the same-old PvP experiences, they decided to take a more MMORPG inspired direction. “We’ll let people play co-operatively and team up with their friends to work together as a group, like you would in an MMORPG, because it’s so much more accessible. This is because nobody loses, you play together with your friends, you team up, you go fight the dragon, and it’s like, ‘God! There are no losers’.”

Petroglyph’s own games

Legg: "We released four separate board games during the summer of 2010 and celebrated here in this photo with the production assistants."

The bulk of the studio is working on End of Nations and a small team is left to work on Petroglyph’s own new title, Rise of Immortals. Within that small team, a couple of developers started to utter their intrigue with the game League of Legends. “The company was having so much fun playing League, they were like, ‘man, we’ve got to make one of these ourselves because they’re so much fun and they’re so cool’,” Legg admits. “That was a huge inspiration to us. We own all of our technology and we’ve developed it since 2003, since we started Petroglyph, so it seemed like a great fit for what our technology could do. The guys went off with a very small handful of people and created a playable prototype. Just some very simple turrets, they got some creeps to run around and fight each other, they had a red team and a blue team, and you could swoop in with a very simple hero and run and fight”.

The resulting prototype quickly charmed Legg as well. “When they showed it to us we were like, ‘this is awesome you guys! This is really fantastic’. We decided this was a really great opportunity, because this type of game is very controllable, from an asset point of view, because it’s not a full-scale MMORPG where the world has to be massive. Plus our whole company loves this game. We have the tech to do it and so we started a very small team with just a handful of people. They started it up last summer and have just been working away to where we are now.”

Legg: "Spring and Fall are always great for a company BBQ out in the garage."

Besides going from players to creators, Petroglyph is planning to completely self-publish the game. “We feel like we’re making a really great game,” Legg argues. “It’s free to play and it’s downloadable. We feel that if we do a quality job and provide a quality experience, and react to people’s feedback, and let them know were listening, we can pull people in. We want to say ‘we’re self publishing this, so we can listen and we can react. We don’t have to go through another party to co-ordinate what we’re doing’. It’s going to be a huge challenge. And it’s something that we love, so we are looking at potential cross promotion plans right now with other companies. We’re looking at publishing partners that can have a big marketing span.”

With Rise of the Immortals in closed beta, Petroglyph is trying to get the word out that they are creating something that they are particularly passionate about. The small team of developers, including lead designer Amanda Flock, have been showing demos and promoting the game intensively. “The game is not going to come out day one and be like, ‘Boom! Million’s of people! Oh man what are we going to do’,” Legg admits. “The gameplay though, has proven to be really compelling and it’s so infinitely replay-able over and over and over again that we feel that we can react. We can completely watch what everybody’s saying, what everybody likes, what everybody doesn’t like. We can be right there reacting, ‘Oh we’ve got to tweak this, and people are saying this thing is way too overpowered, look at the analytics’.”

Innovating co-op

Legg: "End of Nations was unveiled in Spring of 2010. Trion sent us these t-shirts as a thanks for the hard work on the project!"

For creating Rise of the Immortals, Petroglyph uses the countless lessons and experience they’ve gained from other projects, like End of Nations . “We’re constantly creating new technology on both projects but they are shared between all the projects that we do,” Legg explains. “We’re always thinking about a multi-use solution, to use in both projects. The bulk of my time is stuff developed for End of Nations; its size and demands are way higher.”

Besides learning from their own projects, Petroglyph learns from other people’s projects too. According to Legg, playing other people’s games keeps him and his team on the edge. “We learned a lot from League of Legends and other free to play micro-transaction games,” he admits. “We found out people love vanity items, for example. We’ve already kind of gained that knowledge just watching the online space and the free to play space. The End of Nations project is where a ton of the innovation is happening. That really is where our huge innovations are happening with Real Time Strategy. We’re just taking RTS and Roleplaying and we are just totally taking it to the next level”.

Legg: "Each year we dress up for Halloween and have some pretty crazy costumes... like this tank!"

Staying innovative and creative is a must when developing End of Nations , Mike Legg explains. “Each side is dynamically, hugely different, and there are awesome units for each faction. So with End of Nations we’re like, ‘Gosh Dang we’ve got to bring it!’. We have to have a way in which people can come in and team up with friends, play in a group and work cooperatively and have that co-op experience, where you’re not just getting trashed in multi-play.”

This notion was instantly carried over into Rise of Immortals Legg confirms. “I think it just became a company paradigm. It became the idea of ‘Let’s make cooperative play really, really important so that people can team up together and not have to play against the other humans if they don’t want to.’ So we brought that up in Rise of Immortals, where there’s a PVE mode where you can team up with your friends and you can play through almost a kind of dungeon crawl style of game play. It lets you get familiar with the immortals that you’re playing. It lets you learn how to play them and get better at them. You’re not immediately in a game where ‘Oh crap! This is going to go against me in the leader boards and this is going to affect my ranking’, and all that stuff. So we felt having that kind of cooperative play would be good.”

Legg and his team are currently working on End of Nations.

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Written by Vlad M.

Vlad wears many hats, but he's mostly known for his work as a freelance game journalist, researcher and consultant. He's always looking for the next game related project to sink his teeth in. You can find his adventures over on www.VGVisionary.com

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