Stormy weather

Hot new computer game maker ION Storm appears to have all it needs for success -- top talent, plenty of money, and legions of anxious fans. So why is its future so cloudy?

Porter looked for someone to lay it all off on. "John, Tom, Jerry, and I have decided that we...really want to countersue Bob...for Corporate Espionage (or whatever the legal term is) by attempting to cause a mutiny amongst out employees, many of whom are now leaving threatening to make our title, Daikatana, ship late costing us at least 4 million is [sic] lost sales." Porter also says he wants to accuse Wright of running the "biz side" with "such reckless abandon that it has cost us a multimillion-dollar deal--it has cost us $12.5 million personally," and he admits they have had to "eliminat[e] one of our titles."

But he made a critical mistake. On November 15, before Porter went off to be deposed in Bob Wright's lawsuit, he apparently posted his e-mails to the company server to be disposed of, but someone forgot to hit "delete" before the employees got there.

"They were posted to the main server where someone found them, and told other people, and everybody in the whole company started reading," recalls one former ION employee. There was the company CEO giggling about planned firings, telling Eidos the employees who left "were shit," getting rid of hardworking colleagues to hire old chums. One set of e-mails that received wide circulation suggests that Porter fired a PR firm in part because Rolling Stone decided to take just Romero's picture.

"It just confirmed everything we already knew," explains one employee who left after the e-mail incident.

Many had been planning to leave anyway, so the e-mails just eased a little guilt. Their reasons, like those of all who have left, were varied. "If you wanted the overriding problem with John Romero's character, I'd say it was his emphasis on being John Romero in the public eye, rather than getting things done, especially the things that made him John Romero in the public eye in the first place," says one former ION employee. "It's this idea that once you've reached this pinnacle, life's a free ride and you don't have to do anything from that point on, which is totally wrong."

Others were more willing to tolerate Romero's rock-star hours. "A lot of us accepted that early on," says another former employee. "That's not necessarily why we left. As long as we could produce a good game that, at the end, would be on the shelf--our game with our name on it--it was no problem." For them, the situation ceased being tolerable when they no longer believed Daikatana would ever come out.

Others were angry with Romero for letting Porter control the place. "Some people don't want to do anything," says one ex-employee of Romero. "And to them, it's not a high price to pay to let somebody else take control, if they can still do whatever they want."

Still others simply felt that the owners' emphasis wasn't on making games. "I approached Tom [Hall] about four months ago," says one recent departee. "About that very issue, about the focus of the company. And he told me it was basically to value up the company and sell it off.'

"I'm not going to lie to you and say the departures didn't have an effect," says Mike Breslin, ION's vice president in charge of business development. Nevertheless, Breslin declines to say exactly when Daikatana will be out, other than "spring." A new team has been cobbled together, consisting of old Dominion team members, conscripts from Anachronox, and a few new hires. But ex-employees, who get calls every day from the new team working on Daikatana, say that, during the course of reporting this story, the game's internal delivery date slipped from March 15 to June 1. Sources inside ION Storm say employees are on a mandatory 12-hour-a-day work schedule for the indefinite future.

As of late November, when the old Daikatana team walked, the innovations upon which the game is being marketed and that will distinguish it from similar first-person-shooters did not exist. The artificially intelligent sidekicks had not yet been programmed. And neither had the daikatana itself.

Nobody is yet willing to say that Daikatana can't pull it off. What they will say is that it's looking more and more like a long shot. "It depends on when it comes out," says Wallace. "That product is late, and usually when a product is delayed for a long time people start to lose interest. There have been exceptions--Half-Life [a current top-selling first-person-shooter], for example, was at least a year late. But that product had the quality, so it's had the sales."

Still, it's sold nowhere near a million copies in the United States. According to PC Data, Half-Life had not crossed the 100,000 mark as of November 30, a month after its release. And there has been only one game in the "action" category (the one in which Daikatana falls) to sell three million copies: Doom. Since 1994, all versions of Doom have sold around 3.5 million copies. Not even Quake, the game by which first-person shooters are judged, has in all its versions sold 2 million copies in the United States.

In other words, for ION Storm to reach that mark and survive the dilemma it has created for itself, the company may need all the magic that Romero and pals can muster. It may need a real daikatana.

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