As we near the end of RPGFan's 20th Anniversary year — even though we are ten days away from the exact inception date — we figured, who better to look back on our history with than the original founders? It took a lot of planning, scheduling, re-scheduling... and re-scheduling on everyone's part, but I managed to
corner sit down with two of the most instrumental people in getting RPGFan started: Founder Mickey Shannon, and long-time Editor-in-Chief Eric Farand.
Of course, back then, Mickey, Eric, and I were known on the site as GhaleonOne, Rudo, and Chronologist respectively. RPGFan was very much a "fansite" back then, long before we switched over to real names. In this new roundtable chat, we talked about RPGFan's origins as LunarNET (and how close it may have been to getting a different name), the hard working folks in the early days, and how both RPGs and the internet have evolved over the 20 years we've kept the site going. It's a long discussion (we talked for three hours!), so we've broken it into chapters via the menu at your right. We hope you enjoy this look back!
Mike: Hey guys, how's it going?
Eric: Hey! Great! How are you?
Mickey: All good here.
Mike: I'm so grateful we're able to do this! Geez, the three of us haven't talked (emails aside) together since like, 2000?
Mickey: Yeah, it's crazy to think how long it's been and how fast time has flown by!
Eric: By the way Mickey, I didn't remember I had asked you on December 29th to join LunarNet. How old was LunarNet by then? A week old?
I thought I had asked in January 98 but finding the email last night I noticed it was even earlier than I thought! :)
Mickey: I "launched" it sometime early Christmas morning, so you asked maybe 5 days after I put the site up. I may have had it up a week or two prior as I was building it, but I honestly don't remember. I always just say Christmas 1997 because I know it was pretty close to that date.
And seriously, seeing that original website design... man, was that terrible! Hah!
Mike: Wow, Eric, you were really on the ball!
Eric: I guess I really wanted to be a part of this thing since we knew each other from the Lunar Threads (including Webber).
Mike: I'm proud that at least at some point in our history, we at least had the classic animated flame GIFs as part of our design. Those were so important back then.
Eric: hehe, yeah the designs were pure gold! :)
(LunarNET's v2 design for reference.)
Mickey: Animated GIFs were a staple of GeoCities and Angelfire websites! We brought them into LunarNET in the first year or so, but thankfully they died out after that!
Eric: and don't forget the star-filled background!!
Mickey: Oh yeah! It's funny seeing how tiny those websites are on today's 27 inch retina displays too.
Mike: No kidding! he says, as if he had a 27" Retina display
Anyway, even though we have our list of topic ideas to cover, I do want this to also be a conversation and not a full "interview," so feel free to ask me things too as we go along. :)
Mickey: Sounds good!
Eric: Yeah, but we'll still let you handle this mostly or else it'll end up being a bunch of old guys chatting about the past!! Keep us on track! And prevent me from writing my patented Wall O Text.
Mike: To be fair, the feature name could really be "Founder's Chat" OR "Three Old Guys Chatting About the Internet Circa 1998"
Eric: a lot of our readers weren't even born at that time!!! :)
Mike: But we'll see how it goes! Let's start at the beginning with how LunarNET came to be. The internet was a far different place in 1997. You really had to look if you wanted to find something, and if what you were looking for was information on RPGs, there were only so many sources. Mickey, is that part of what led you to start LunarNET, to build a "home" for the games to share with people?
Mickey: Honestly, there weren't many big RPG sites out there. I think RPGamer started about the same time as us. There were a few other RPG sites that died off in 98 or 99. I believe FFVII had just been released, so RPGs went from being fairly niche to much more popular around that time period. It was a pretty exciting time to start a gaming website!
There were so many classics that came out around that time period too, that there was never a period of time where it was difficult to find stuff to cover. Prior to FFVII, only the best RPGs seemed to make it over here, and even then, many top games were left in Japan.
So we kind of started the site right as the RPGs became much more popular.
Mike: Of course, the focus was solely on Lunar at first, right? (Even if Eric joined a week later and wanted to plaster Grandia images everywhere)
Mickey: I think my original idea for LunarNET was actually Lunar-only. Then as I was gathering content and putting the site together, I decided to make it about RPGs in general. When Eric came along with the Grandia photo gallery and Webber came along with the idea of starting a petition to get Grandia released in North America, it just sort of took off as a site for all RPGs.
Mike: Well, my whole perception of the site's focus in the early days has been a lie, but please, continue.
Eric: And Grandia wasn't far off from Lunar anyway since it was made by the same people, so it felt natural to get it a ton of coverage since all 3 of us were diehard Lunar fans.
Mickey: You know, Grandia probably put LunarNET on the map in the beginning. Between Eric building such a large Grandia pictures gallery and that failed Grandia petition, it brought in quite a few readers in the beginning. We probably seemed a bit Sega-biased in the beginning though, considering so many of our favorite games that were being released were Saturn exclusives at the time!
Mike: Hey, nothing wrong with a Sega bias! I was in the Nintendo camp (because really, back then, you had to pick a side).
Mickey: Once we started pumping out lots of content geared towards people with similar tastes in games, it just sort of went in that direction!
Mike, it's okay. I actually grew up a Nintendo fanboy myself until I played Lunar! :)
Eric: Yeah, I was firmly on the Sega side I admit! :) One of my best friends was a Nintendo fan and we had so many arguments back and forth while playing games together!
Mike: How close were we to being "GrandiaNET" early on?
Mickey: I wouldn't be surprised if there was actually a GrandiaNET out there somewhere. Adding the word "Net" to your website name seemed to be a staple of video game websites at the time.
In fact, we had a sort of "sister site" in a website called GameNET for the first year or so.
Mike: Oh! Who ran that one? Anyone who's still around today? Did you interact?
Eric: I remember how the LunarNET name ended up bugging me after a while cause I had a feeling it was "holding us back" because it made us look biased towards one particular series. And that's probably why I pushed pretty early on for a name change
Mickey: I'm sure the name did hold us back! If only we had Google Analytics back then to prove it! Haha
Mike, GameNET was run by another original Lunar Threads member named SegaBoy. Ironically, I think he ended up an editor for Nintendo Power later on!
Eric: GameNET was run by a fellow Lunar fan called Steve Thomason if I remember correctly. He called himself Segaboy on the Lunar forums where we all met each other.
Mickey: Yeah, the name is right Eric. I just looked up Nintendo Power on Wikipedia and apparently he was the Editor in Chief before the magazine was discontinued!
Mike: Oh wow, well, he did well from humble beginnings then. :)
Mickey: Yeah, I don't think anyone that grew up in the late 80s/early 90s could forget that magazine! :)
Mike: Aha. Let's dig even further back then, because I wasn't a part of the Lunar Threads and I guess assumed it was on our end — we did have a "Lunar Threads" section of the forums, right?
Eric: The Lunar Threads originally started on Dave's Sega Saturn Page, which was a renowned Sega Saturn resource on the internet.
Mickey: Yeah, there were two message boards there, if I remember right? The general Sega board and the Lunar Threads. I think I came in later than most to those boards, so I can't speak to how it started.
Eric: The website was started by Dave Zdyrko who ended up working at Working Designs years later and he still works in the game industry doing sports games for Visual Concepts.
Mickey: Wow, I didn't know that!
Mike: Me either! I remember the name, but I guess I never asked "which Dave?" haha
Eric: RPGFan pretty much originated from there since Mickey, me and Webber were all part of the Lunar Threads community on that site, and that's how we ended up working with each other on LunarNET (RPGFan).
Mickey: Do you remember who came along after it was the three of us? I remember a number of editors coming aboard in 1998, but I'm struggling to remember who did what. I remember we had some pretty solid reviewers at the time too.
Mike: I feel EsquE was pretty early on?
Mickey: Yeah, he was. First year for sure.
Eric: I remember our main 3 reviewers in 1999. Commodore Wheeler (Ken Chu), EsquE and Woojin Lee.
Mickey: There were two others, Commodore Wheeler and E-chan.
Woojin Lee, that's right. I remember him too! Those guys were putting out a lot of solid content!
Mike: Since we've been looking over older reviews lately for [secret site project], I was reminded that yes, Ken is a great writer, and his stuff still holds up.
And I'm suddenly reminded that I forgot to email Ken back and if you're reading this, Ken, uh, sorry, and let's try and do that lunch thing you suggested...
Mickey: Wasn't E-Chan the one that did a fan translation of Grandia or something like that? We were linked in an issue of GameFan for it, I remember.
Eric: Yeah, he was.
Mickey: Is Ken still around? I figured all of those old folks disappeared a long time ago!
Eric: I didn't know you still had contact with Ken, Mike! That's cool!
Mike: He messaged us on Twitter to offer to lend a hand if needed on any anniversary stuff, in fact.
Mickey: That's awesome!
Eric: That's cool! I haven't talked with him in such a long time.
As far as other original members, there was Damian Thomas (Sensei Phoenix) and Neal Chandran who came in pretty early too.
Mickey: Yeah, Damian actually came from AOL's Lunar club, Althena's Court Online, where I first got into online communities.
Mike: [Side comment about one of the large companies a former editor works at today]
Eric: Man, our former editors really get around don't they? That is one thing that always filled me with pride. To see former RPGFan editors moving on to working at various big websites or gaming companies, etc.
Mickey: Wow! Yeah, that's pretty awesome Eric! I didn't realize just how many of them were doing such big things! That's really great!
Mike: Heh, so Lunar was also how Damian came to be with us!
And Neal, well, Neal is STILL HERE, which is amazing. I'm the longest-running active staff member, but Neal actually pre-dates me a bit since he was part of the community before me, I believe.
Eric: Yeah, I believe Neal might have been part of the original Lunar Threads too.
Mickey: That sounds right. I think there was a Neal at the Lunar Threads, I just don't remember if it was him or a different Neal.
Eric: He might have gone by the name Blademaster Dezo, but don't quote me on that... we're talking about more than 20 years ago and I'm getting old :)
Eric: I was already old even back when I was EIC :)
Mickey: I was always the youngest one for the first year or two of the site I think. Both you and Webber were older than me.
Mike: We mentioned it a little earlier, and I know the answer, but what prompted you to contact Mickey about joining the site, Eric? (I won't make you share your email ;)
Eric: Well, to be honest, when Mickey posted a link to his website he was working on in the Lunar Threads and a fellow friend (Webber) mentioned he wanted to help him out. I just felt like I wanted to be part of this thing. At first I thought I'd just help out a bit for fun but I had no idea I would become so obsessed with the site :)
There's something most people probably won't understand about that era of the internet. It was relatively in its infancy and there was no "guidelines" on how to create and run a successful website. Mickey, me and Webber pretty much learned the hard way how to do everything. There were no YouTube tutorials or anything back then :) It was a lot of trial and error.
Mike: And back then when making websites, the solution always came down to: Build a table.
Mickey: Haha, I resisted CSS for way too long! But back then, every website was built off of HTML tables. GameSpot, IGN, all of those big names.
Eric: In that first few years, all 3 of us busted our asses working like crazy on trying to establish the site, trying to get people to know about our website, trying to make contacts in the industry with video game companies, making deals left and right to try and find hosting servers for the website, etc. It was a very trying time but it was an exciting time and we had a blast doing it.
Mickey: Eric's right though, so much of it was exciting, but also a lot of trial and error. We had so many problems with figuring out web hosting alone! E3 helped. I still remember that interview you and Webber put together with Victor Ireland. I always felt like that was the first of its kind and way ahead of its time!
Eric: It was definitely the highlight of my first year on the site (May 1998). The interview with Victor Ireland at E3.
Mickey: Sitting down and having more of a "round-table" discussion with, at the time, practically our only real connection with an RPG company was pretty awesome. Prior to that, websites just had "standard" interviews.
Eric: I still have the tape of that interview
Mickey: I always wished I could have gone once. I never did make an E3. Is that interview still on RPGFan somewhere? It would be a nostalgia trip to go back and read it.
Eric: Yeah, it is Mickey.
Mike: Yep, it's right here! At some point, I spruced up that page in terms of colors and adding that super amateur logo. ;)
Mickey: Nice! I'll have to go back and read this after we're done!
Eric: And yeah Mickey, it's a shame you could never make it to an E3, it would have been fun to have shared that with you!
Eric: You should also link the 1999 interview Mike :)
Mickey: Yeah, I remember you had another interview in 99 that was equally as good!
Mike: That one is right here!
I would totally re-hire you as a consultant to let you see E3, Mickey... but I've seen the stuff you photograph, and I feel you would be horribly disappointed by the Los Angeles scenery. haha
Mickey: Hey, the beach is not far! And the mountains aren't either!
Eric: Oh, is Mickey into photography?
Mickey: Eric, I run my own photography business these days!
Mike: Hm, seems I keep up with people more than I realize. heh. Check it out:
Mickey: Hah, thanks Mike!
Eric: I've been into photography as a hobby for years and am part of a local photography club. So weird that we ended up with similar interests even years later.
Mickey: Eric, we'll have to talk photography sometime!
Mike: This is the kind of stuff I see on professional photo and video sites and can't stop looking at. You're just so talented. (and I haven't seen this version of your site!)
Mickey: Hah, I'm redesigning it again right now actually! My wife gives me grief that I redesign my site more than I actually get out to shoot sometimes.
Mike: Endless redesigns... nope, I wouldn't know anything about that.
Mickey: Hey, at least you've stuck with the green for RPGFan all of these years! That's not an easy color to work with! (at least the orange faded away!)
Mike: I was forced to stick with the green for many years....
Eric: Yeah, you have no idea Mickey how many times Mike tried to change the green and I always used my veto as Editor in Chief to block him!! :)
Mike: Here is my second design for RPGFan... early 2000. I persisted with the red idea for awhile but obviously it never took off. Which is good in this case. XD
Mickey: I think I remember this Mike! I always loved your design work! I remember the portfolio of design work you had was amazing!
Eric: This never made it to fruition though Mike, right? Cause I blocked you!! :)
Mike: It's true. (And thanks, Mickey! I'm actually redoing my site now, too)
The thing is, I wanted to change cause I was tired of the green, but what it really came down to was that I needed to find the right greens. Which I eventually did, and I've long since embraced the color for us.
Eric: Poor Mike always had to deal with my constant nitpicking of his designs! And it's not cause they were bad or anything, it's just that I'm such a perfectionist that I'd find tiny little things to complain about all the time :)
Mike was patient to put up with me! But in the end, I think we made a good team cause I pushed him to make things even better all the time!
Mickey: Haha, hey, you've made the green work well Mike!
Mike: I mean, yes, I'll give you credit for that, but I won't let you take full credit for our designs... ;)
Eric: Oh not, definitely not. That was ALL you Mike! I don't know where RPGFan would have been without your awesome designs
Mike: It was a good experience though. There's a lot of people that don't want their work critiqued, and they either get angry or dismayed, but it's such an important part of any process, because you learn so much from it.
Whether it's design, writing, etc, it's really easy to be too close to a project, and extra sets of eyes can really make things better (to an extent - too many eyes brings it into "convoluted" territory).
Eric: Very true Mike.
Eric: So, just to get back on track, I'll mention something else very important that happened in 1999. With Webber leaving and us growing more and more as a website, we were running into a bit of a crisis in that we didn't have enough people working on the website.
People who knew HTML and web design, and who could do pretty much everything on the site.
So I went full-blown into "recruiting" territory.
I browsed the internet looking for websites and contacting the various people who did them to ask if they wanted to join RPGFan and be part of the "collective."
I was able to recruit StahnMahn and Synbios that way. 2 editors who really helped RPGFan for a while and then in June 1999, I made the same offer to a certain Mike Salbato. And fortunately, he accepted!
Mike: Oh, right, that guy.
Eric: And RPGFan changed forever!! :)
Mickey: I'm not sure what RPGFan looks like on the backend these days, but, keep in mind that working on LunarNET/RPGFan back in those days meant you had to at least have some HTML background. Everything was custom coded. No content management systems in those days.
Mike: You may be surprised how much manual HTML there still is, haha. But that updater script of yours has largely kept us sane. ;)
Mickey: Wait, you're still using that updating script? Wow!
Mike: I know, right? We've made some modifications but it's the same basic thing.
Mickey: You're getting some mileage out of that thing! I still remember fighting that code in the early days. Wasn't it built off of Perl or something? That was like the pre-PHP for script building in those days. Just needed a CGI-bin, hah!
Mike: I like this part, let's talk about how great Mickey is, and I'm totally not saying that to deflect attention from me.
Eric: Hey c'mon guys!! Don't change the subject here!! We're talking about the entrance of the super cool Mike here!! Work with me!!! :)
Mike: Oh yeah, it's an ancient piece of script, and it has its quirks — which is why only a handful of people have access to it — but it's kept us going!
Mickey: Hey, having a designer on board was huge! Getting one as talented as Mike was exceptional! I remember StahnMahn and Synbios as well. StahnMahn was the guy who really revamped the pictures galleries, wasn't he? Or am I thinking of someone else?
Eric: With Mike on board, we went from being a little "fan site" to a more "professional site"
Mike: I am so glad you guys felt that way, honestly. My early RPGFan stuff just makes me cringe now, haha. I guess it was better, or at least... cleaner, but wow, I have definitely improved since then.
Eric: Yeah, Stahn was the picture galleries guy. He was really good at that job.
Mike: Stahn was as much of a perfectionist as Eric (and as I turned out to be), and he was amazing with the picture galleries. Tons of work.
Mickey: Pat/Ramza came in sometime around then too didn't he?
Eric: As for Pat, it's a funny story... While I was checking my old e-mails last night trying to find the e-mail I sent Mike to have him join RPGFan, I also stumbled upon my emails to Pat. And turns out I was having those 2 e-mail discussions on the same day!! June 28th, 1999.
Mike: (Side note to anyone reading who thinks they're maniacal about keeping old items or communications: Eric found an email he sent to me 19 years ago)
Mickey: I thought I kept Email for a long time (my archive goes back to about 2003), but Eric crushes that!
Mickey: Pat is still around isn't he? I think I saw his name still listed in the staff.
Mike: Pat "retired" for a little while, and came back on as a contributor in Music, but this year he's done more music reviews than anyone, and I'm perpetually thankful he's still around. :)
Eric: So yeah, Pat Gann ended up joining almost at the same time as Mike. So that was one hell of a productive day! 2 of the best RPGFan editors of all time almost at the same time!
Mickey: Yeah, Pat was always another who did awesome work and was very specialized as one of the best for soundtrack reviews. Yeah, that's a pretty good haul for one day!
Mike: I'd say!
Mike: What are some of your favorite moments with the site? As a followup, what are some challenges you overcame/something you learned and applied later?
Mickey: Favorite moments... there were quite a few! Just getting it off the ground and seeing it grow was a big one for me! And also seeing how far you guys have taken it over the years. While I certainly hoped it would become a big site, to know it's still alive and well 20+ years later is phenomenal!
I already mentioned, getting those exclusives with Vic at E3 was a favorite of mine as well. Lunar was and still is my favorite series, so even though Eric (and Webber in the first year) did those interviews, they were a source of pride for me!
Eric: Favorite moments obviously include those early days at E3, in 2000-2001-2002, etc. We had a blast at those E3 shows where I met a lot of the editors (like Mike).
I still remember a few of us going to Mike's house before E3 and just chilling! Playing some Dreamcast games and just enjoying our first few E3s.
Mickey: This makes me wish I could have gone to those E3s even more! Didn't you have dozens of these pictures Eric? For some reason, I remember you posting a bunch of these on the staff board or something
Eric: errrr... no, of course not! You're imagining things! Both of you!!
It was all Ken's fault.
Mike: For me, E3 is also consistently among my favorite moments at the site. I've gone SO MANY TIMES that the show itself has become kinda predictable and I don't have the patience for how long the lines have become. But seeing the staff every year is a thing I treasure.
Obviously, that staff in general — and those that attend E3 — changes all the time. But when you work with people exclusively over the internet, it's just great to have that week where you can chat in person. It's the best.
Mickey: That could be a fun article for RPGFan though. E3 then vs now. (maybe you've already done this)
[Editor's Note: We haven't, but perhaps we should.]
Eric: Now, as for challenges we overcame, etc... There were a TON of those, especially in the early years. But one that I remember as particularly tough was a certain E3 show.
Mike: Heh, I know which one you're talking about...
Eric: I can't remember all the details exactly but while we were all at E3 doing coverage for the site, the website went down.
Mickey: Oh yeah, I do remember that. I can't remember what the reason was, but it was downright terrible timing though.
Eric: The end result is that we had lost almost everything on RPGFan.
So there we were, all of us trying to figure out what the f*ck was going on and thinking we had lost everything we had done for the last few years.
And we were faced with a decision of "What do we do now? Is this the end of RPGFan?"
And in the end, we all decided to try and work it out. And it turns out that John's [Editor's Note: John McCarroll, current Editor-in-Chief] sister (I believe) was there in LA at the time.
And her and maybe her husband were pretty computer savvy and we ended up being able to figure out a way to get back into the site and restore it.
Mike: tl;dr it was a really depressing time, but thankfully we found a way through it.
Mickey: Still, that's a terrible time to go down. E3 was the end-all-be-all in those days (maybe still is? I'm not into gaming as much as I was then), and to have the site go down when you're trying to bring in new readers with E3 news really sucks.
Eric: that was stressful as hell but things ended up working out in the end thanks to the help of some outside people. I'm having trouble remembering the exact details but I think it was something like that.
But the worst part was that it really looked as if all of the data was gone from our website. THAT was the worst part, since I don't believe we had backup at the time.
Mickey: Yeah, I can imagine.
Mike: There's a lot of other shows now — TGS, PAX, gamescom — but yeah, E3 is still one of the biggest, and when we needed to update the most.
Eric: Ok, moving along now! Next question Mike! :)
Mike: haha, was already prepping it! I guess we'd be missing an opportunity if we didn't discuss Lunar, eh?
Mike: Why do you think it is that Lunar: The Silver Star has been ported and remade so many times, but Eternal Blue never gets that treatment? We never saw Lunar 2 on DS, PSP, or mobile platforms, and it seems like a strange omission by the various companies that have worked with GameArts to update TSS.
Mickey: I would imagine it's financial. Silver Star always sold more than Eternal Blue, but EB was always released at the end of a console's lifespan.
Also, personally, it's frustrating to me, because Eternal Blue is my favorite game of all time.
Eric: I have some guesses on that one. I think that every time they tried to make a "new" version of Lunar, they ended up doing it in the hopes that it would make money and with the plans of doing the same with Lunar 2. And I'm assuming that every time it ended up not making enough money (the first one) they ended up scrapping the plans for Lunar 2. I could be wrong, but I don't know why else they would always leave Eternal Blue hanging.
Mike: Kind of like those PSP remakes of Mega Man and Mega Man X that sadly never spawned sequels in their new art styles? (which is a huge shame, on the Lunar and Mega Man fronts)
Mickey: We always had such high hopes for a great Lunar 3 and it never happened.
We did get Genesis/Dragon Song, but well...
Eric: Yeah, and it'll never happen...
Mickey: Oh yeah, I'd be surprised if we even get a remake or port of the original again. It's been done so many times and the series fanbase is practically gone.
Eric: The passing of the Lunar creator was such a shame. It really puts a stop to all possible sequels.
Eric: And it's a licensing issue too. I don't think the owners of the license are interested in doing anything with the franchise.
Mickey: That seems to be the case as well. I do know that the group that was working on the mobile port of Silver Star Story had mentioned they wanted to release the original (The Silver Star) on mobile as well, but it never happened.
Mike: I think it could be done — there's more a market for a classic 2D JRPG now than there has been in years. It's just a question of whether or not anyone would want to take that on.
And would they want to go retro in style, or modern? And how would you keep it feeling like Lunar in the latter case?
Mickey: Is there? I haven't played a new RPG in years, but mostly because the old JRPG seemed a thing of the past.
Eric: Mickey, do a little research on a game called Octopath Traveler, it's a very "old school" JRPG and sold very well this summer for the Nintendo Switch.
Mike: Yeah, Octopath Traveler is the most recent example... it's not entirely 2D, but it is sprite-based in a semi-3D setting, and that's on top of really retro-style games like Undertale, or anything Zeboyd Games makes.
Octopath repeatedly sold out in Japan, even, so even Nintendo/Square Enix underestimated it, heh.
Mickey: I'll check it out. I have a Switch (100% bought for Breath of the Wild, which I loved by the way!)
Mike: Aha, he DOES still play games!
Mickey: Hey, if there was a new Zelda, Chrono or Lunar game, I'm on it! Maybe even a Suikoden. At least Zelda keeps me in gaming every five years or so :)
Eric: Well, in that case, you're stuck with only Zelda since all the others are pretty much dormant! :)
Mickey: Yeah... Though I still don't know why they haven't done anything with the Chrono series. It was very popular.
Eric: Don't mention Chrono in front of Mike! He'll talk our ears off!!
Mike: An indie dev just last week (or so) made a "what if" trailer of what a Chrono Break could look like and it blew up in popularity. Heck, we just re-linked it on our Facebook and it was the most popular thing we shared that week.
Mickey: I'm okay with that! It's my second favorite series after Lunar.
Mike: As an obscure aside, Square Enix released a mobile-only FF called Final Fantasy Dimensions II last year, and one of the developers (who worked on CT) casually mentioned that part of what Chrono Break was going to be is in that game. (of course I bought it immediately)
Eric: I read some more old emails last night from summer 1999 and Mike was trying to include Schala in the RPGFan logo... and I turned him down! :)
Mickey: I think I remember that! Though we usually had a very Lunar-biased logo in those early days. Which makes sense, since we did start out as "Lunar"NET.
Mike: Schala made it to some of those logos!
Eric: Yeah, later on, but not immediately as your first logo when you came on board.
Mike: No, it took a couple months. haha
Mickey: Eric just shot you down on everything. No Schala, forced to stick with the green... Haha
Mike: Speaking of site changes... The sections on RPGFan have changed a lot over the years. One of the biggest casualties was the loss of the "Fan" sections (for newer readers: RPGFan used to have fan art, fan fiction, and mailbag columns), which were tough to maintain as dedicated websites like DeviantArt and Tumblr became where people flocked for such things. On the other hand, we have things now we never dreamed of in 1999 when we had dial-up internet, like podcasts and Twitch streams. What do you guys think of the transitions in that respect, and how it differs from early concepts behind the sections we had?
Mickey: It's just an evolution of how things have gone. Moving from something like mailbag columns to podcasts and such was only natural.
Eric: Yeah, these fan sections were pretty much the norm back in those days. Fan Art, Fan Fictions, Mailbags, Midis, etc. A lot of sites had those and we just followed that trend. As trends changed, we gradually phased those out
Mickey: MIDIs, I forgot about those!
Mike: I did like our built-in MIDI music player we had in the early days :)
[Editor's Note: Sometimes people have non-sarcastically suggested we bring it back too!]
Mickey: Oh wow, forgot about that as well. Number one rule for a website should be "no background music."
Eric: It became so hard to get dedicated people to staff these sections.
Mickey: It really was. Unless you had an editor who could spend hours upon hours keeping up with fan stuff, it was impossible to keep up!
Eric: We see the song selection at the top of this design.
Mike: Ha.. don't choose a song though or you're in for a soapy surprise.
Mickey: I just tried to select one for fun and got the "Borgan" 404.
Eric: I did the same thing!! :)
Mike: I am quite proud of the fact that our actual error pages on RPGFan still are Lunar bromide pics.
Mickey: Mike, didn't you come up with the Lunar bromide 404 idea originally on RPGFan?
Mike: ....did I? Uh, sure!
Eric: Honestly, I don't remember at all who had this idea.
Mickey: You did! At one point, I think we had like 5-6 random ones I think?
Eric: But it can't have been Mike cause I always shut down his ideas!! :)
hehe, just kidding.
Mike: Plus it was such a fun and good idea, it must have been Eric!
Mickey: Well, it was a hidden page, maybe you didn't realize it at first!
Eric: hehe, I think this might remain a mystery... who thought of the 404 bromide pages! Now it's going to bug me that we don't know for sure who had this idea!
Mike: (watch, it was an old RPGFan editor who is reading this now and saying, "Hey, that was my idea!")
Eric: By the way, I forgot him earlier but I also wanted to point out Zone Pharaoh as one of our early editors who did some really good work on videos for the website
Mickey: Oh yeah, that's right! He built a pretty large collection of movies for us! I think we lost those originally when we lost the SimpleNet server early on and had to rebuild though. In those days, 100 megs of video was a huge chunk of web space!
Mike: Another thing that evolved over time was the types of games we cover. More and more games fall under our coverage as games of all genres add more progression and narrative elements previously only seen in pure RPGs. We've also evolved to cover visual novels since they hit a lot of the same strengths of story-centric RPGs, and were a natural addition.
We discuss anything "fringe" whenever it comes up, because I'm all for expanding where it makes sense, but it's certainly increased our workload! What do you guys think about how RPGs have changed as a genre but also as far as RPGFan's coverage is concerned?
Mickey: Well, I do remember that we covered some "fringe" games even back in the beginning. Games like Snatcher and Popful Mail made it into our coverage enough though they weren't traditional RPGs.
Eric: The whole "what is an RPG" debate had been a thorn on my side for so many years while I was Editor-in-Chief. How many arguments did we all get into when trying to decide what we cover and don't cover? I'm glad I don't have to deal with that anymore! :)
Because it's even more complicated than ever now. Just look at games like God of War and Assassin's Creed. Now, the new ones have so many RPG elements that they have pretty much become RPGs over time.
Mickey: Do you guys still have to debate whether something gets covered quite a bit? So many elements of RPGs seem to have bled into other genres over the years.
Mike: Oh, we definitely do. We rarely argue about it, thankfully! But there's always something that's just close enough to being a full action RPG, but it's hard to tell.
We technically covered the new God of War, even if we didn't review it. And we DID review last year's Assassin's Creed, and will be doing the same this year, now that they're going the open world action RPG route. It still feels weird to cover a series like that, but hey, that's the direction they're taking the games.
Mickey: Even though I've never played either of those games, they just don't seem like RPGs to me! But I think of RPGs in such a traditional sense, having not really played any new ones in years, that I would probably be worse than Eric at this point in arguing against inclusion!
Eric: Which is probably why it has become so tough to debate these things. The lines have blurred so much on "genres" nowadays that almost no games now are only "one genre". They're all hybrids of multiple genres.
Mickey: Even sports titles sometimes have a sort of "story" mode sometimes that could be considered role playing at this point.
Mike: Yeah, it's way complicated, and we discuss it internally, and some fans don't mind calling us out; We got some flak when we covered Mass Effect, but just because there are guns doesn't mean it's not an RPG. I'd argue Mass Effect is MORE of a "role playing game" than the stuff we now associate with the term, simply for offering dialogue choices and different paths.
Eric: Phantasy Star had guns!!! :)
Mickey: So did Lunar actually! (the star dragon sentry)
Mike: Good point! Ah man, I really want Phantasy Star to make a comeback.
Eric: hehe, look at us oldies going back to Phantasy Star and Lunar as reference! :)
Mickey: Did they ever re-release any Phantasy Stars on mobile? I never played any of them, but that's usually an easy way to play a classic these days - if they release it on mobile.
Eric: Only Phantasy Star 2.
Mickey: Wasn't Phantasy Star 2 considered the best? I feel like I remember many fans loving 2.
Eric: It's a classic for sure but I don't think it aged well because it required SOOOOO much grinding and the dungeons were almost impossible without a map. Phantasy Star IV is the best for sure.
Mike: The re-release of PSI on Switch looks really neat, and that new mobile game... looks like a mobile game, so it's not forgotten, but it would still be neat to see it get a full, new, proper game. There's also the Genesis collections now on PS3/4, Steam, Switch, etc that have most of the games, too.
Mickey: One of these days, maybe I'll go back to them!
Eric: And Phantasy Star 1 is probably the most significant JRPG in history. It was so ahead of its time. Came before Dragon Quest 1 and Final Fantasy 1.
But anyway, that's a whole other discussion! Moving on! :)
Mickey: I didn't realize it was before DQ and FF!
Eric: It was in the US at least! Maybe not Japan though.
Mike: I have tried to play PSI today but man, it's a tough thing. I'll get the Switch one because having a map might be enough to get me through it :)
Mike: Okay, next! When I started at RPGFan, I was at the "baby steps" part of my real-life career, working as a teacher's assistant/tutor in a graphic design class at a local school. I still do design work today, so it was a key step in where I am now, but it was my practice and time with RPGFan that helped really hone my skills at that time. What did you guys do for work at the time, and how has that changed?
Mickey: I was still in high school when I started the site, so I definitely didn't have a career yet! (though I had started to do internships as a web designer/developer). It's funny, because I started out on the programming end of web development, then moved more towards the web design side of things well after leaving RPGFan. I've gone back and forth multiple times. And now, I've had a hand in just about everything marketing-wise outside of print design. At the time though, web design/development was what I was going into, and so running a website kind of fit hand in hand. Obviously now, photography has also become a huge factor in my career, but web design, SEO, advertising, etc. has all helped me build my photography business. I also still work as a web developer for a university. So I've stuck with that.
Eric: When I started at RPGFan, I was working in IT. Basically taking care of computers at work. Doing support for the users at the office, etc. Anything that had to do with computers. I have changed companies over time but I'm still doing IT work so I can't say that it has changed much since I started RPGFan.
However, one thing that RPGFan really helped me with was to be in a "power" position and having to make decisions. I've always been a guy who is really reserved and doesn't have much confidence and I have the worst time having to make decisions. But somehow, RPGFan was the one place where I was the complete opposite. I always knew exactly what I wanted and I had no qualms about making decisions. In a sense, RPGFan really helped me gain confidence.
I gained so much experience in those early years at the site that it gave me the confidence I needed to be that position on the site later on.
Mickey: Eric, you had just gotten out of college when we started right?
Eric: And yeah Mickey, I had just gotten out of college
Mike: I don't think I hardly ever had that impression of you, Eric. You always seemed pretty set on "this is how this should be," so clearly you're right! You really did grow in that position.
Eric: Actually 1998 was my last year... and my grades suffered quite a bit because of all the work I was putting into LunarNet :)
Mickey: Eric, you also kind of gave RPGFan an identity in those years. I would jump all over the place on ideas and things, and you were always good at trying to get something nailed down (for example, what is considered an RPG or not).
I also probably never would have thought to rename the site to RPGFan, and I doubt the name LunarNET would have stuck around as an RPG for 20 years. It's great for a Lunar fansite, but not really if you want to be known for RPGs.
Eric: Yeah, as I said, it's very strange how "uncertain" I was about everything in life, except for RPGFan stuff. That was really clear in my mind somehow.
Mickey: In some ways, those early days at RPGFan helped me in my career. I do a lot of branding now, and you have to "stick to a brand" or an idea to keep things focused. Working with you helped that stick with me as I started working in marketing departments later on, for sure!
Eric: Yeah, I think RPGFan helped all of us in some capacity
Mike: We even have a Brand Guide at RPGFan now. ;) (or rather, we will... once I show it to people)
Mickey: That makes me happy Mike! :)
Eric: It's a great experience for growing up and getting experience, hence why so many former editors of RPGFan have gone on to have great careers in various fields.
Mickey: Yeah, certainly!
Mike: Exactly. I learned so much about HTML, CSS, and design work because of having RPGFan as a "playground" that I could keep trying new things with. Those green Venetian blinds on my first design are pretty bad now, but I had to start somewhere to get where I am.
Mickey: Yeah, there's no better way of getting a start with some of that kind of stuff than just jumping in and doing it.
Eric: And this is probably the thing I'm proudest about RPGFan. The fact that it has helped so many people over the years, especially the editors since it's a great learning experience.
Mike: Yep. We've had people gain experience and industry footholds here and some have gone on to Microsoft, Nintendo, GameInformer, Kotaku, Google, and plenty more I probably don't even know of.
Mickey: That's a pretty prestigious list of places to be working at!
Eric: Square Enix too! :)
Mike: Admittedly, I wish we were able to pay people and keep some of them here, too. haha. Cause we have wonderful writers now, though we've also had to say goodbye to some real talents as well. And yes, Square Enix too!
Eric: I also think we have former editors at Atlus and Xseed.
Mike: I think we got to the major topics we planned, so I GUESS I can let you guys sleep. Did you guys have some final thoughts?
Eric: Yeah, my final thought is that you should be so hungry right now Mike!
Mike: I grabbed an early dinner and ate it like right at 5 when we started. :)
Mickey: Oh yeah, I forgot it's 2 hours earlier there.
Seriously though, it's really awesome knowing RPGFan has stuck around all of these years! Very few websites from those days made it.
Mike: No kidding. I am STILL sad that The GIA shut down. They were amazing. (They came back for a brief time too, but didn't last)
Mickey: It looks like RPGamer is still around, but I don't know of any other RPG sites still alive today from then.
Eric: Yeah, we are one of the oldest gaming websites out there alongside Gamespot, IGN and RPGamer.
Mickey: See, the GIA was WAY larger than us when we first started, so it's nice to see RPGFan grow to what it is today.
Mike: RPGamer launched a big redesign in April, too! Really happy they were able to pull that off. Eric and I can speak from experience that it's... a difficult thing to do, to put it lightly.
Eric: No kidding...
Mickey: Yeah, redesigns are no joke. Especially nowadays.
Eric: We've had 4-5 failed attempts at trying to migrate the site to a modern platform, over the last 12 years or so.
Mickey: I was going to ask if you guys have any plans to make a responsive design?
Mickey: Haha, I feel like I opened a can of worms with that question?
Eric: It's essentially more complicated when a website is as BIG as RPGFan and has so much legacy conte---
Mike: Well, that's all the time we have, folks! Clearly you don't want to hear about future site development, so we're cutting the conversation here. Given that each of us learned something along the way, no doubt anyone reading did too! Now you know perhaps way too much about the founding of RPGFan and what kept us going in the early days.
We thank you for taking this long journey with us down memory lane, and we actually will be sharing more about future site developments, but that's a story for another day!