Requiem for Molten Games

Note: This post is about my experiences at Molten Games, a San Diego based game development studio. If you have objections to any materials posted here, please let me know and I’ll remove them. 
 
See this post on Gamastutra.

How it all started

It all started about a year ago, around the time when it became painfully obvious that my project at the time will not be able to raise funding it needed to go into production. The day was more stressful than usual when I received a phone call from my friend Blaine Smith. He started with some small talk, but I impatiently interrupted him…. “What’s all this about? Let’s get to the point.”  That’s when he told me he was starting a new company in San Diego and whether I wanted to join in…. After a quick lunch with Blaine and John Fitzgerald (aka “Fitz”, the Art Director), I was sold on the idea. There was no office, no computers, no email, no WIKI, no employees – just the game idea and a pitch video Fitz put together. We were to build the company from ground up.

Blunderbuss original pitch video (screenshot)

Blunderbuss original pitch video (screenshot)

 

Building the team

Over the next few months I learned everything there is to learn about recruiting. I’ve scoured through LinkedIn, sent countess in-mails and talked to many candidates over the phone. Heck, I’ve even started using ATS. At first, it was very difficult. How do you convince a server engineer to join when you are interviewing him at a restaurant in Pasadena instead of an office in San Diego?  How about interviewing 3D modelers in the hotel lobbies? But somehow we did it. There was something great about the idea and the people at Molten that attracted industry’s best developers.  One by one, Molteneers began to assemble.

Our first in-person company meeting at Hyatt, La Jolla

Our first in-person company meeting at Hyatt, La Jolla

We have an office!

Working from homes and hotels was exciting for a while, but everyone sighed with relief when we finally moved into an office. Nothing beats working side by side with creative people. Thanks to Unreal 4 we had multi-player going within a month. Our artists built art for our first few units. The miracle of building the game has begun.

Sprint 2 Review Meeting at the new office

Sprint 2 review meeting at the new office. True story – we tripped the circuit breakers at that office every time we had a playtest. Too much awesome?

After a few months we had outgrown the space and moved into a larger open-floor office with an ocean view. Somewhere along the way something wonderful happened to Molteneers.  From a set of distinct individuals they turned into the most tightly knit team I’ve ever seen.

 

How we became Molteneers

There were practical jokes….

Blaine once told us a story about how he was banned from the game he was previously working on as a practical joke by his co-workers. They gave him a pair of glorious granny panties with “Banned ’08″ inscription to commemorate the occasion. Now, how could we resist not to pull the same prank on him again? :)

Our CEO was working remotely from Korea for a while… this is how we said “Hello” when he came for a visit…

This is how we welcomed our CEO Jungwon (aka JW)

This is how we welcomed our CEO Jungwon (aka JW)

This is how we said “Congrats on graduating!” to our amazing intern Gennaro (nickname DiGiorno because I could not remember his name when he just started…. I’m old!)…

Congrats DiGiorno!!!

Congrats DiGiorno!!!

There was Halloween…

Molten Pumpkin

 

During the Halloween we had what we’ve called “Molympics” – a championship where teams compete in a series of games (Mortal Combat, Trivia, Toss the Bag, Foosball) to win a trophy.

Epic Tennis Match

Epic Tennis Match

Halloween 2013

Halloween 2013

 

There was Movember…

I think it wan’t easy for anyone… for girls to have to see all the facial hair every day, and for guys not to shave it off.

Movemeber 2013

Movemeber 2013

2013-11-12 00.10.53

Congrats to the winner of Movember 2013 and the owner of the most epic mustache ever!

Congrats to the winner of Movember 2013 and the owner of the most epic mustache ever!

There was Christmas…

We had the most amazing Holiday Party at the Legoland Hotel.

Lego Logo

Lego Logo

Happy Holidays, Molteneers!

Happy Holidays, Molteneers!

Secret Santa! Some gifts are more naughty than others....

Secret Santa! Some gifts are more awkward than others….

Raul was pretty excited about his gift :)

Raul was pretty excited about his gift :)

 

 

There was Paul’s coffee…

Paul made coffee once. ONCE.

Don't let Paul make coffee in the morning... he likes it REALLY STRONG.

Don’t ever let Paul make coffee… WAY TOO STRONG.

 

There were trophies…

The entire studio competed in Blunderbuss championship.

The entire studio competed in Blunderbuss championship.

Nothing can stop these guys...

Nothing could stop these guys…

 

A commemorative trophy for me for breaking the build. We never ended up using this for anyone else... :)

A commemorative trophy for me for breaking the build. We never ended up using this for anyone else… :)

 

There were nerf wars…

Let the nerf war begin!

Let the nerf war begin!

 

 

There was singing…

We had an amazing number of musicians at the company. As I absolutely love live music, this made me so very happy! Now if I could only convince Yong to deliver on his promise to sing…

 

There was Lavashark…

The Lavashark was Molten's mascot. It came out during Sprint reviews to try the martinis :)

The Lavashark was Molten’s mascot. It came out during Sprint reviews to try the martinis :)

 

There were meetings… so many meetings!

At the end of every Sprint we got together as a team to review progress. We watched the videos displaying concept art, gameplay, new platform tools and telemetry graphs; we cheered each other’s accomplishments and discussed our goals for the next Sprint.

Sprint Review Meeting

Sprint Review Meeting

Sprint Review Meeting

Sprint Review Meeting

 

There was so much more…

It’s impossible to show everything that happened in the past year in just one blog post. There were countless games of Mortal Combat, Foosball, Table Tennis and Darts. There were potlucks, chili cook-offs, birthday cakes and unexpected doughnuts and cupcakes. We watched movies together, went on hikes, had lunches and dinners, and drinks together. Probably too many drinks. We’ve had a few Molten babies born that year – we welcomed them with gifts purchased by the team. We had board games nights and fantasy football nights. We went to see Padres games and Chargers games. We became friends.

And then there was the game!

It took the team about 8 months to build the game. It was a complete Vertical Slice with an installer, patcher, back-end platform (multiplayer, basic matchmaker, persistence, monitoring, telemetry), back-end administration tools, automated deployments, automated test framework, gameplay systems, UI, and of course content – multiple champions and a beautiful map.

It took a lot of hard work. We were agile, we constantly adjusted our goals, re-scoped the deliverables and maintained extreme focus on the goals.

In terms of what we were able to accomplish, I consider Molten to be a profound success.

Before you could play the game, you had to agree to the EULA. Our legal team was not too happy with the wording…

Blunderbuss EULA v1

Blunderbuss EULA v1

And this is the cinematic video for the game itself!

How it ended

On Monday, March 24th, just about a year since I started,  a company meeting was called. Visibly shaken founders stood in front of the team and with tears in their eyes delivered the news. We’ve lost our funding unexpectedly and the studio had to shut down. That was the end.

The team stood silent for a while. Then there were hugs and tears. The team had to leave the office by noon so almost everyone went to lunch together (ironically, we hit the “Rock Bottom” bar). Almost everyone showed up at the office the next day. And the day after. And the day after that. They came to show support for each other, share leads for jobs and just hang out with each other. They were an embodiment of what it means TO BE A TEAM.

The last post on our suggestion board

The last post on our suggestion board. One star = one vote.

 

Molten and all Molteneers will always have a special place in my heart. We’ve accomplished so much. It was the best year of my life and I would have done it again in a heartbeat.

I will miss you.

13 thoughts on “Requiem for Molten Games

  1. Run a kickstarted campaign, I have put a money into a few games to give small indie game companies a chance. Planetary Annihilation is one and there are about another 8. I know there is a risk but I like many others like to give the “davids” a chance

    • Eric
      Thanks for your advice and the kind words. It’s so great of you to support the indie community – I have many friends who were able to success because of Kickstarter and people like you.

    • A Kickstarter might work, it would also depend on the Disposition of the Intellectual Property. Some publishers have a “MINE” mentality, and will seize, shutter and shut-down anything they calculate wouldn’t be profitable or interfere with the other games they are publishing. Molten’s funding was / is probably tied to a Non-Disclosure Agreement where the publisher or funders may retain a certain ownership of the IP, Dev Studio name and other nonsense. If funding was pulled by the publisher because the MMO doesn’t fit their vision it may affect the IP rights, but if they simply ran out of funds it’ll be a case for lawyers. Sadly many companies have been Garriott’ed by this publisher garroting them with funds.

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  4. How exactly did you guys lose your funding? as far as i’m concerned you can’t just “lose” it without any reason whatsoever, thats ridiculous.

    • Lex, unfortunately I’m not at liberty to discuss the exact details. What I can say is that we try to do everything possible to save the studio, but ran out of time and options.

  5. I’m really sorry to hear about the closing of the company since I was really excited when I heard about the formation of the company when I heard about it last year. As a student learning how to design games, I think you for writing this post because it helps me gain insight into how the games industry works from the inside. I hope you land on your feet, and judging from the videos I’ve seen you guys had something special going.

    Good luck!

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  7. I would say that money is always an obstacle in games development, well in everything to do with our life, and has to fully depend on funding as either from investors or publishers because I don’t expect the development team to handle all of the expenses even if they had to. However, you guys threw all the weight on funders while enjoying your time there like nothing suddenly would pop up and ruin your party and everything else. The thing that I don’t get is how it ended up with you guys giving up on the team and the games just once the funding stopped- I’m not a developer tho, but I’m a gamer and I don’t give up so easily on games.

  8. I’m so sorry. This is the first I’d heard of this. The game looks so polished!

  9. Ours is a brutal industry. Very polished looking effort, I hope to read that something happens to allow the game to be picked up and completed.

  10. about what you come to expect from NcGoons with their funding tbh, chin up as you seem to have a great product there and kickstarter is surely the way to go for you guys

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