The internet has turned into the Wild West of a generation. Bullies and gang leaders rule with an iron fist while Good Guys try to stick together. Unfortunately, the Good Guys usually end up having to use their arsenal of bansticks liberally when trying to clean up a message board.

In addition to the struggle between Good and Evil, snake oil salesmen and evangelists roll into town and convert hundreds and thousands of followers before disappearing in the middle of the night, leaving behind bewildered good people. This is a story of one of those flashes in the pan. What happened to this flash? The answer rode off into the sunset.

Headed up by Peter Baumann, Jr., a 15-year-old wunderkind, and his father, Red Dragon Software set out to create the holy grail of MMOGs. Announced when Ultima Online, EverQuest and Asheron's Call began losing their luster, Rune Conquest promised fast paced combat, interesting crafting and skill gain that made sense.

Back in the dark ages of MMOG development, the concept of a two man team building the foundation of a game engine, along with designing the aesthetic and promoting the game, was eminently more believable. Even EQ's team was relatively small by today's standards, and Meridian 59's development team was just a handful of talented guys working in cramped quarters. Besides, the Baumanns never planned on going it alone; as soon as they acquired more funding, they'd hire an entire development team. But they planned on getting funded in an avant garde manner: players could pay $50 to guarantee entrance to an online beta, as well as receive special God powers once the game went live.

Money from hopefuls poured in. Here it was, a chance to be a part of something, to have a financial stake in an idea you believed in. And hey, God powers. Red Dragon was able to play on hope and greed, and the powerful combination got people talking, which only drew in more interested gamers. As more people grew interested, more people began wondering exactly what it was they were buying into; the scheduled public beta was fast approaching, but Red Dragon had yet to hire any new developers, aside from a web designer named Chris Anderson.

The Baumanns defended themselves by claiming one of the programmers they were planning to hire was a corporate spy from another firm, and they nixed the entire group in a fit of xenophobia. Red Dragon was in a bad spot: They were still a three man company without a game to show people, whose money they were holding.

Red Dragon disintegrated into panic. The Baumanns became extremely aggressive on their message boards, taunting members who questioned the game's development. The actual website went through turmoil, as Chris Anderson took it down after a dispute between he and Baumann, Sr. The drama came to a head when Anderson declared he and his wife felt their lives were threatened by Baumann. Anderson later retracted his statement and transferred ownership of the website and its content to Baumann, but the episode shook many of the beta testers' resolves.

Comments on