The Adventure: The Silver Lining Journey

by on May.06, 2014, under developer diary, featured, tsl

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What better way to start sharing the Phoenix story than with the one true moment of uniqueness that made us who we are today, from King’s Quest IX to The Silver Lining. The years of struggle and the years of learning.

The common ground between every team member is that we met each other through forums and other forms of social media at the time. The one thing that brought us together is the shared passion we had for creativity and the need to do more.

Thinking from when it all started to what it is today, it isn’t difficult to grasp that a bunch of fans became developers, but the truly remarkable part is how we became developers. At first, most of the team had unspoken and endless talent for their craft. Let’s take an example: One of our oldest members is Richard Flores, current Art Director for every Phoenix development. He is this unrealistically talented man that had devoted his craft to movies and other larger than life projects, but somehow it was Phoenix that caught his passion.

Another such team member is Aaron Light, lead programmer for Phoenix, that got started when he was nothing but a frequent forum poster with a very silly pixely avatar; nowadays he is part of the life and soul of Phoenix. He decided to go to school and take a risky life opportunity with us, and quite frankly it’s impossible to picture our team without his skills or spirit.

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What brings these two types of character together is the passion they share to pursue their dreams, to motivate themselves into investing hard work, and the talent and knowledge they already had to push forward. Fact is deep down we are just a community of people that found each other and we have been able to make this all possible by sharing the same dreams. One big forum working together, and that’s exactly how TSL got started.

In the early years the struggle was to make progress into the script. I personally remember joining the team and every single week things would be different – it was disorganized at best. I don’t think back in 2002 any chapter was even remotely done yet. In fact, one of the biggest achievements from 2003 was not finally setting things up – specifically when it came to dividing responsibilities so people could approach work much more efficiently – but the fact that we decided to finally even give the team a name. It wasn’t until 2004 when we registered the site and finally set the teams and leads in place to distribute the creative talent much more efficiently.

I was The Silver Lining Press Relations Director at the time, and I have to say it brings me nothing but pride and joy to have been part of one of the most loving and wonderful group of people I have ever met as of this day in this industry. Personally, these people are sincerely the most valuable part of the Phoenix family, and that’s the way it will always be.

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Phoenix did not release any game until 2010, when finally The Silver Lining‘s first episode came through, so this is why it’s so important to understand how Phoenix came together like it did. Phoenix back in 2004 to 2006 was one of the most talked about indie teams – showcased on MTV News, 1UP, Gamespy, Edge Magazine and many other digital and print outlets – so it is invaluable to understand the impact of the community in all this, because believe it or not, Phoenix was being featured without even having a demo released.

The amount of activity and the amount of support the team had not only moved us forward but also kept us together through the most unexpected hardships. And for those of you who may understand a little bit of game development and publishing, you probably know the struggle of getting previewed, let alone even having anyone care for you or your team without even an alpha build. TSL PR was hands down one of the most remarkable experiences I would ever go through.

Nothing would have ever been possible without the support of the King’s Quest fandom; while it never belonged to us, they gave us everything and then some. Because of this, Phoenix kept getting so much attention, and things back at our home – the TSL forums – were the best they could have been. The forums were filled with everything from original King’s Quest flash games to all sorts of media going through constantly, as well as a new subculture called “Haven” which sort of became the most popular section of the forums for years. Amazingly enough, even as of today in 2014 I still get people asking me to bring all that back. It is very humbling to see all the love people still give to us.

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Talking facts, we were running a website that barely had about 200,000 pageviews at the time and in a year we reached up to 7,000,000 in a month. We used to handle an activity of 300 to 500 new posts per day – it was unreal for a game that wasn’t even remotely out at the time. But deep down I keep thinking, it wasn’t really about the game – it was about the people. This is what clearly opened up the doors to so many opportunities. We had the chance to meet such beautiful people at Gamespy, Game Informer, and many others that were all interested to see what the deal was with this little site and its community and why so many people would care.

Everyone became sort of curious and as they would learn about the project, they would become supportive and thankful of all that we were and of what we were doing at the time. We didn’t even do giveaways at the time, we would do hangouts but not like the fancy video ones of today – no, good old IRC-looking chats in which one day we even managed to get about 400 people at once. In fact, the community loved it so much we even created something called “Chamber” which was the name we gave the site’s chatroom.

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This was like a dream come true to most of us – I know that it was for me – and even though development had a different pace to community work, we loved what we did and we absolutely loved all the beautiful and great things we shared with the community. Never once in my life had I thought I would ever co-develop flash games, but it was one of many great things we would do for the people we loved. 

However, things were going well until we received a letter of Cease and Desist from Vivendi Universal. It will never fail to amaze me that a bunch of people so caught up in their own little world in a forum would ever pose a threat to a large corporation like Vivendi. The game and the team had become so popular, that I think Vivendi at the time took us far more serious than we did back then. It was a moment of deep sadness when Cesar first told us what most of us couldn’t believe – but it was very much true. We were being shut down.

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We tried to reach out to them, to open conversations with the Vivendi legal department, but deep down we were nothing but a bunch of fans that, let’s be honest, weren’t really knowledgeable and we were just as confused as we were sad about the whole situation. So eventually we had to share the situation with the hordes of people that were there from day to day, and I can say it broke all of our hearts to have to take everything down. Everything had to go.

Everyone was hurt, especially those who used to frequent our forums every day. They felt that it was uncalled for. This was a free game after all, a game made by King’s Quest fans for King’s Quest fans. I got hundreds of emails that week and I felt like my soul would die every single time I would reply because we didn’t really know what to say, and quite honestly, we had no freaking idea what was next. We were truly lost.

So while we were busy sulking into the problem at the time, the community started to reach out to me and they wanted me to help them help us. They would ask for web design help, they would ask for info how to reach some websites to get the info out here and yes, I did help. These people had been there with us since day one, the least I could do was listen and provide my skills as they would be needed – and well, it kind of grew a bit larger than life. Before long we were all over the news again, and somehow it became the little guys vs the big guys. The press followed very closely, and while we couldn’t do much at the time I was overwhelmed to see how it evolved.

Point in fact, we had Vivendi PR Director say to us “Please, make them stop”. I don’t think there could have been a much more meaningful time in our Phoenix journey like that one. I think it is safe to say we all hold that as one of our most important moments through everything we have been through – I never, not even once, dreamed Phoenix would ever take off like it did, let alone that a “Support KQIX” campaign would ever have such a relevant impact in both the future of the game and the future of the team. At that moment, sticking with the idea of “Phoenix” as this magical creature that comes through its own demise made much more sense to us at that very moment. We not only faced the problem, scared and hopeless for a while, but in the end we never gave up – we had every reason to, yet we chose not to.

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We were feeling the love and all the support, and we were surprised as it kept on happening; while we knew we had the support of so many people, we never quite thought they would let us move forward, but they did. Vivendi finally had agreed to grant us a fan license, and that’s the big moment when “King’s Quest IX” became “The Silver Lining”. After a very long hiatus we had to shake off the sadness and get back to work. We must admit that while Vivendi were very serious, they were also very polite and open minded through the whole ordeal. 

It’s now probably easier to understand more of our purpose and our essence – we are a community, and we craft dreams. We encountered the worst we could, and yet hardship didn’t destroy Phoenix – it is exactly what made us. The hope people gave us from the hope they got from us was exactly what broke through what we had thought of as impossible, and helped make it all happen.

Just don’t think that we had all the right answers. Although we had done everything how we thought it should be done, I do think we have done a few stupid things – but we have also admitted our wrongs and moved past to a point of learning and growth. The Silver Lining has been our school, not just for how to build a team and conduct ourselves as one, but also with growing into the industry and overcoming all the things that nobody ever taught us we should know.

Eventually this all happened again. A few years after the Vivendi struggle, the rights for Sierra games came into the hands of Activision and, to continue our luck, they wanted to dissolve the fan license, making it yet again another challenge for the community to be heard. Eventually we managed to keep the license thanks to the community’s endless support.

We finally released The Silver Lining – Episode 1: What is Decreed Must Be and The Silver Lining – Episode 2: Two Households in 2010; then The Silver Lining – Episode 3 : My Only Love Sprung From My Only Hate and The Silver Lining – Episode 4 : Tis In My Memory Locked And You Yourself Shall Keep The Key Of It in 2011. There is still Episode 5 to go, and I am glad to announce that coming next month we’ve got plenty of TSL to share.

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I don’t want to spoil much of what’s ahead for TSL, but there is a lot more yet to come. TSL has been the center of a lot of questioning lately, considering there was Cognition and Moebius in between – and also now the Gabriel Knight remake – and though I have answered here and there all the comments as they come through, I feel like I must bring some clarity to the issue as well. 

TSL was never abandoned: The team that worked directly in all the previous builds is the team that has moved forward into the main production of the recent games, but TSL was given to another team and it has always had a team in charge ever since and they were given pretty much everything we had. Unfortunately, Torque – the engine we were using – stopped supporting updates, and we had to migrate years of work to Unity; it was almost like starting over. This was an important decision we made in hopes to continue and finish up TSL, but it has also taken quite a toll into providing extra production times and the uncertainty of an unfinished build.

We are not making excuses for it. In fact, we try our best to comment and make ourselves accountable for that. The Media team regularly raid the servers for the newest work, and we keep pestering the development team for updates, and we care to be sensitive to how each side feels – the developers about the production delays and the community about the lack of updates. While I may not be able to give you the game today, I can certainly share a glimpse into the new work and hopefully I will be given better news to share soon enough. I am having my team work extra hard to put things together for these coming updates and we sure hope you like what you’ll see, because I truly believe Episode 5 to be the most beautiful yet.

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It is impossible to speak of Phoenix without knowing what The Silver Lining means to us, and I want to dedicate this article to all the beautiful people that have been with us through all of it – and excuse me if I may be as bold as to openly mention few of them from the community: Katharina Bucher, Kelsey Gardner, Jamie Patton, Kimmie Fisher, Catherine Tyson, Leanne Coote, Brandon Wiles, Jafar, Chris McDermott, Gabriel Mancini, Alex Saunders, James Ingram, Jasol Mumford, Neil Rodrigues and Aaron Light. There are quite a few hundred more but do know that it doesn’t matter if you are in the team or not, do know that we are all Phoenix.

Thank you all for giving us the opportunity of a lifetime. We continue to work very hard to become more and become better. Also thank you for reading one of the longest articles I have ever written – not just for Phoenix but in my entire life, I think. I tried really hard to summarize as much as I could, but there’s still so much to be said for TSL that we are indeed moving forward with updates just exclusively for that purpose.

Next week comes The Reckoning: Exploring Cognition. Everything about the game that didn’t make it out to the public from production woes to financial nightmare, and how Erica Reed became a part of our lives.

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Say Mistage
Social Media Director
Phoenix Online Studios


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