Much time has passed since the millennia-old Empire of MU lost complete and utter control over the Continent. While the power of the central government of MU continued to wane, feudal lords became engrossed and engaged in an inner turmoil over control of MU, destroying the foundations of its society.
Is this a fragment of ancient history? The outline of an archetypal myth? Webzen's advertising copy for MU, its online video game, makes it feel like a little bit of both – with a good dose of epic battle thrown in.
A far more modern feeling is conveyed by the spectacular views of Los Angeles offered by the glass walls of the offices of Webzen's American branch. Inside, there are scores of flat screen monitors displaying the company's various online game creations. Sporting a foosball table and lounge-able couches, Webzen's break room has the kind of dorm-room-meets-conference-room ambiance you'd expect from a company catering to its most important asset – creative, tech-savvy and culturally attuned employees.
That group includes Brian Clark (B'06), Webzen's Web producer and IT chair.
Clark's responsibilities at Webzen, which includes managing its online community, creating Web sites for forthcoming titles and providing feedback for game producers, could not have been foreseen when a rudimentary precursor for the first popular video game, Pong, was first developed at Brookhaven National Laboratory half a century ago in 1958.
Whether it's inner-city, intra-galactic or dreamily other-worldly, contemporary gaming is a landscape littered with such acronyms as FPS, MMO and RPG. Along with the requisite console and keyboard, Clark uses his Ferris degree in Digital Animation and Game Design to navigate this landscape in both the virtual and real worlds.
"Most gamers have probably seen the movie Grandma's Boy that shows all these kids testing video games and maybe think that's the main thing that happens to produce a title," Clark says, shaking his head. "Companies are only as good as their next project. They don't hire slackers."
Clark made his own way to Webzen, a major player in the online gaming industry, by way of an internship with Creative Capers, a "boutique" animation studio whose most recent success has been its work on the "Bionicle" trilogy, which it co-produced with Miramax and Lego toys. At Creative Capers, Clark worked on 3-D modeling while beginning to pursue the online aspect of interactive programs.
"I ended up coming out here to do the Web producer role," says Clark. "After that, they threw me into different kinds of situations they needed me for – IT management for the servers and going over to Korea to help out with production of one of the titles."
As a Digital Animation and Game Design student, Clark had a chance to flex his managerial muscles while still in school. He headed a team that designed "Kid Justice Conquers Chaos," an online game funded by a grant from the Michigan State Bar Foundation that DAGD students developed with input from educators and legal experts.
"Here at Webzen I'm not just stuck in one position or one role," Clark says. "And sometimes things totally change from one day to the next. Having had team-leadership experience at Ferris was a definite help."
Webzen was founded in South Korea in 2000, making a name for itself with the release of its MMORPG (Massively Multi-player Online Role-Playing Game) MU in 2002. The company is a major global player in what was considered a niche market when video games first started to appear in the early to mid-1970s. In 2006, the gaming industry took in $7.4 billion in the United States, with 67 percent of American heads of households playing computer and video games.
Clark sees Webzen, with its focus on MMO, as positioned to continue to be on the forefront of gaming.
"I think the biggest growth in the industry will be in online – even platforms like 360 and PlayStation 3 are having that online aspect to them," says Clark. "But the thing that some of the games are lacking is that the quality of the game is continuously changing." Webzen recently completed a second round of beta testing on its new post-apocalyptic title, Huxley, and further out is developing a new MMORPG to compete with the popular World of Warcraft. These games have a complex internal dynamic far removed from a speck of light bouncing back and forth between virtual ping-pong paddles.
Also, with the advent of the Wii system, game controllers have also become more interactive. The success of the Wii points toward what Clark sees as the other frontier of gaming – keeping it simple. "One of the biggest things in the industry is going to be ease of use. Once we combine that with enhanced graphics, it's going to take the industry to a whole new level."
In its new game, Huxley, Sapiens and Alternatives battle each other over control of the critical energy source Lunarites. Gaming companies engage in an equally pitched battle each and every day for the attention – and money – of the millions of gamers worldwide. Webzen has a team member who has already prevailed when faced by a chamber of lawyers. How can it lose?