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Bill Money of Iron Will Games: Part One
In spliting with TKO, Bill Money, and other IWG co-founders, took a leap of faith on a dying title
By: Blair Morris | Game Data | 9:47am, March 3, 2006
Codemasters Generic UK Eshop Pop up
In November 2004, Iron Will Games announced it’s declaration into the gaming industry, and shortly afterward, in December, announced the acquisition of a dying title from TKO Software called Ashen Empires (also formerly known as Dransik). Though Ashen Empires' fan-support was still strong, the acquisition could be seen as risky on the part this new independent developer. However, being familiar with the game itself, since the four co-founders of Iron Will Games split from TKO Software, and not wanting the see the work and time put into the title die, the risk was will worth the chance.

Today, Ashen Empires' is growing steadily in popularity, and the risk seems to be paying off. Already, Iron Will Games has released a major update to the game in September 2005, and followed up with the first expansion pack in October. For the company’s founders, the success of Ashen Empires is paving the way for a more eventful and productive future.

One of Iron Will Games’ founders, and developers, Bill Money, who may be better known as “OneEye” to the Ashen Empires’ gamers, took the time to talk with OMGN.com about a wide range of topics in this two part interview. Kicking it off, Money talks to us about his background, career, and experiences in the gaming industry, plus goes into detail about Ashen Empires, and what could be in store for the game in the near future.


OMGN: For some of our readers that are unfamiliar with you, would you mind telling them a little about yourself?

Bill Money:
Hi, my name is Bill Money. I am a co-founder of Iron Will Games. Iron Will Games operates the MMORPG, Ashen Empires and is located in my hometown of Austin, Texas, home of the 2005 National Champion Texas Longhorns. I am also co-founder of Pixel Mine Productions. Pixel Mine is the contracting side of our business. Over the past year we have worked on several PC titles including Stubbs the Zombie, Area51, Tony Hawk: American Wasteland and True Crime.

OMGN: What’s your experience and background in the gaming community?

Bill Money:
I've been making games for most of my life. I started out on the Apple II in the early 80's, developing one of the first 'online' role playing games called The Thieves Den. By online, I am talking about a 300 baud modems, the really 'old days' of online gaming.

I've been in the professional game business for 15 years now. My first job was at Looking Glass working on Flight Unlimited for the PC and System Shock for the Mac. After that, I moved on to Dynamix in Oregon and then to a startup company in the Bay Area called Multitude. Multitude was a pioneer in multiplayer PC gaming, having the first (and best) voice over IP integration into our game Fireteam. Multitude is where I first met IWG co-founder David Reese. After leaving Multitude, I worked on Microsoft Casino before landing at Ion Storm, where I was the producer for the Deus Ex series of games. At Ion I got to work with David Reese again.

After Ion broke up, David had the opportunity to head up development at TKO Software on a game called Ashen Empires. He asked me to join him as a designer. TKO eventually decided not to invest much time into the PC market, so Ashen Empires quickly fell on hard times. David, myself, Doug Gesler and Denis Loubet (all from TKO) decided to split from TKO and purchase Ashen Empires. That was at the end of 2004 and is how Iron Will Games was started. We were lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time with some pretty experienced guys ready to make a leap of faith to get this going. Denis Loubet for example, is probably the most experienced artist in the game industry. He was the first artist ever hired by Richard Garriot (Lord British) back when Origin was first getting started and did most of the art for the early Ultima games.

OMGN: What was it that inspired you to get into the gaming making business?

Bill Money:
I've always loved games and coming up with my own rules and systems. Even when I was seven or eight years old I was making up games based on the stats on the back of football and baseball cards. When I took my first job at Looking Glass, I left a higher paying job at Apple to jump into the fray.


"I was probably one of the first 100, or so, outside people to actually step foot in the lands of Norath."


OMGN: What are some of the PC/online games that you’ve enjoyed playing, aside from the ones you’ve worked on personally?

Bill Money:
I was an EverQuest fanatic from day one - actually before day one. When we were working on Fireteam we were lucky enough to be able to trade alpha/beta copies with some of the EQ guys. I was probably one of the first 100, or so, outside people to actually step foot in the lands of Norath. I played four to five years before finally calling it quits. I’ve played pretty much every other MMO released for the PC as well.

OMGN: What’s the most difficult part of being a game developer?

Bill Money:
I would have to say the hours. All through my career our teams have put in extremely long hours to get our dreams onto the machines of our customers. The long hours and being away from your family and activities you enjoy can really take it out of you. Running an online game now is also very hard. If the game goes down at 4 a.m. on a Friday night, somebody has to be there to fix it.

OMGN: What would be some advice you’d give to those that may be looking to follow in the same path as you?

Bill Money:
If you want to be rich, have a great social life and have a happy wife/husband I wouldn't recommend it. However if those things aren't important to you, then I would recommend jumping right in. [Money says with a smile.]

OMGN: What is Ashen Empires in general?

Bill Money:
Ashen Empires is a fantasy, swords and sorcery, MMO. One thing that makes Ashen Empires unique is the game is a 'classless' game. Meaning you can choose to play your character in whatever manner you wish. If you want to be an archer or a mage or a warrior or any combination of those you are free to do it with just one character. There are also many trade skills and non-combat related activities to keep you busy.

OMGN: Could you give us a little time-line and insight into history of Ashen Empires?

Bill Money:
Ashen Empires was originally called Dransik. Dransik was developed by a small startup company called Asylumsoft. Asylumsoft eventually sold the game to TKO Software who re-branded the title to Ashen Empires. Over time, the game has progressed from a small overhead tile based game, to an isometric view game to what it is today, an isometric view with layered terrain tiles and a lighting model.

OMGN: What is the story Ashen Empires tells?

Bill Money:
Ashen Empires is the classic good vs. evil story. The good side is managing to hold the evil back at the moment, but evil is always lurking and always looking for ways to re-emerge. This last weekend for example, the Knights of the Dark Lord Talazar (the big evil guy) staged a raid on two different cities and were pushed back through coordinated efforts on the part of many players.

OMGN: From what you recall, what was the inspiration of the Ashen Empires’ story?

Bill Money:
I wasn't around when the original back story was conceived, but the gist of the story is the lands of Dransik (that is still what the lands of the world are called) are on a flat plane. The 'good' plane is on top and the 'evil' plane is on the bottom. Evil is constantly trying to evade the top plane seeking to change the balance of power between good and evil. At one point an epic battle took place where evil was finally vanquished back to the bottom of the world.

OMGN: What are some of the in-game features the individual gamer will experience in Ashen Empires?

Bill Money:
The player starts the game on Valinor Island. Valinor is an area where players can experience almost everything the game has to offer without committing to paying the monthly charge. We let players try everything out before they have to commit to a subscription. We also have a group of players who help guide new players, the Valinor Welcoming Committee, so look for VWC member if you decide to give the game a try.

OMGN: In many MMORPG’s to come out in the past couple of years, crafting is a major part of the game. What sets Ashen Empires’ crafting system apart from others?

Bill Money:
There are so many different kinds of crafts the player can chose to dabble in. We also don't limit the player in any way with crafting. Unlike some games where you can only have one or two major crafting specialties, Ashen Empires lets you do them all. From Jewelry Making to Brewing to Salvaging to Woodworking to Farming to many others, there are lots of crafting activities to keep you engaged.

OMGN: For you personally, what are some your favorite features, or experiences, within the game?

Bill Money:
I love to see players take on challenges that we, as developers, think are impossible to solve and come out victorious. We just had a group of players take on a monster called the Spore Summoner, who we thought would be un-killable, and take him down after an epic battle. I guess it is back to the drawing board for us to create the un-killable boss. [Money closes with a smile.]

OMGN: You mentioned the game event last weekend, how often does Ashen Empires hold events like this, and what do these events offer the player besides the change of pace from normal game-play for an hour or two?

Bill Money:
We had a Halloween event where the top players in the event got special in-game Halloween themed items. We created a special dungeon with triggers that put players into different monster skins as they explored. We had players dressed as ettins, bats, snakes, demons and more wandering around this dungeon fighting witches, black cats and giant pumpkins. Around Thanksgiving we released a horde of wild turkeys into the world and the top turkey hunters got special prizes. One of the neatest special items was a magical totem that created a pumpkin pie. When the pie was eaten, it gave special stat bonuses to the player.


"There will be a follow-up to last week's event where different cities will be attacked by the minions of Talazar. Talazar himself might even make an appearance."


OMGN: When will the next event be, or for those new players, their first chance to experience an event? If one is being worked on already, are there any hints you can drop in what will take place within it?

Bill Money: There will be a follow-up to last week's event where different cities will be attacked by the minions of Talazar. Talazar himself might even make an appearance. We are already working on some features to make the event more challenging and rewarding for the player base.

OMGN: Speaking of the player base, how large is the community of gamers at Ashen Empires?  How would you describe that community when comparing to others you’ve experienced, or been around?

Bill Money:
Ashen Empire has a small but active community. We have players from all over the world from the Netherlands, to Japan, to Canada. I think our player base is very knowledgeable about the type of game they want to play. We as developers realize we have to offer a different experience from games like World of Warcraft, or GuildWars, and I think our players understand and respect that.

OMGN: How much input from the individual gamer has actually gone into Ashen Empires? Can you give us one example that comes to mind?

Bill Money:
Lots. We constantly take feedback from our users. Just today I am working on adding new trade skill items that a user suggested for the brewing skill. The user even went as far as to draw some tile art for the new types of brews.

OMGN: Since Iron Will Games took over development of Ashen Empires, there’s been one major update, Demon Spire, and the first expansion, Talazar’s Revenge. What where the major additions to the game with these?

Bill Money:
Demon Spire featured a full revamp of almost all of the game systems within Ashen Empires. All of our base formulas are now derived from an XML script which we can change on the fly without taking down our servers. We also added new equipment slots like cloaks, boots, rings and jewelry for the player and brought thousands of new items into the world.

OMGN: What has been some of the general feedback you and the other developers have received from players of Ashen Empires since the Talazar’s Revenge expansion?

Bill Money:
Our players love the Talazar's Revenge expansion. Roughly 90% of active accounts have purchased the expansion. The added locations, items and quests that TR provides have been great for the community. Since TR we have been working on more game balancing between different player styles. We are at the point where we believe the game provides an even base across all possible player ‘builds’.

OMGN: You mentioned implementing XML script into the game. For the technical junkies out there, what are some of the engines and/or programs, programming language, and other aspects Ashen Empires uses?

Bill Money:
Ashen Empires may seem like a small MMO, but the underlying system and architecture used to run the game are the same as the largest MMO's out there. The game client is written in C++, the servers (login and game servers) are a mix of c# and c++. The game client, login server, game servers and web servers all talk to each other through a secure SQL database. We have a proprietary scripting language that we use for game play elements like quests, spells and creature attacks.

OMGN: Going back to updates and expansions for Ashen Empires, are there any plans going forward dealing with more major updates and/or expansions in the near future?

Bill Money:
Our next big expansion will feature player built housing and guild halls. This is something that users have been clamoring for.


And with that, we draw to a close on the first half on this interview with Money. Sunday will be the next, and final, installment where Money continues to share with us plans for Ashen Empires, his opinions on the game, as well as, what is in store for Iron Will Games in the near future, the state of the gaming industry, and more.


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