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LucasArts’ Prez: Time is more important than Quality

Posted by inpheaux on June 17th, 2006 at 7:02 am

For anyone who's been attempting to play and enjoy recent games from LucasArts, a formerly epic game developer, this should seem like a no-brainer, but it's nice to see confirmation from up high. LucasArts cares more about deadlines than releasing good polished videogames.

Examine this wonderful quote from a recent interview LEC's President Jim Ward had with MCV, a UK Gaming Mag:

“There’s an attitude in this industry that says in order to make a great game, it takes whatever time it takes and it takes whatever money it takes, and that that’s okay,” he claimed. “Well it’s not okay – it’s wrong. It’s not okay in other entertainment businesses. In other businesses it’s big trouble.”

Guess what, Jim: videogames aren't like other forms of media. If you rush a movie by a couple months you're not going to risk releasing it with a bug that shuts off movie theater projectors 15 minutes in. You're not going to have to cut the entire ending because you didn't have time to get it to work. With videogames, even the smallest overlooked bug due to rushing can be the difference between "buy it at release" and "don't buy it at all because it's a broken piece of crap that's going to require seventeen patches to be playable".

Now, no one is expecting every game ever to be entirely free of bugs at release, hell, several of my favourite games of the past few years have had some quite major bugs at release, but when you have a corporate mentality of "RAR! DEADLINE SLIPPAGE IS RUINING THE INDUSTRY! RUSH FASTER!", your games are going to have more bugs and more severe bugs.

Look at KOTOR and KOTOR 2. LOOK AT THEM. Look at ANYTHING ANYONE SAID ABOUT BOTH GAMES. KOTOR wasn't rushed too horribly. It had bugs, but it was an overall amazing game. KOTOR 2 was rushed like mad to get it out for Xbox in time for the 2004 holiday season. It was impossible to go ten minutes in the game without running into some kind of glitch (ranging in severity from "depressing but benign" to "gamebreakingly horrible") or awkward poorly-designed bodged-together quest element due to the devs trying desperately to salvage all the cut content. The result was a confused and disjointed game that paled in comparison to its predecessor. It all made sense once the PC version was released and we could finally see all the remnants of the hastily cut content, including the entire ending of the game.

Luckily (but also sadly), there's only one game coming from LEC in the near future that I remotely care about: Lego Star Wars 2. Good news: it looked quite far along at E3, and we're still three months away from release. Bad news: it's got a hard release deadline that coincides with the re-re-re-re-re-re-release of the Original Trilogy DVDs. However, we know the dev team responsible for the Lego Star Wars games has had to deal with LEC's crazy hard deadlines in the past, with Lego Star Wars being released vaguely in conjunction with Episode III's theatrical release. So it might turn out ok, despite Mr Ward's attempts to rush all his games into the ground.

The real problem here is that deadlines are one of those things that you can't take to either extreme. If you enforce unflinching drop-dead dates like the one that was imposed on KOTOR 2, you end up with a product full of bugs and failed potential. If you take an absolute "when it's done" approach, you end up with Duke Nukem Forever. To produce good games you have to take the middle road. Deadlines are great, but shipping an unfinished game to make it hit an arbitrary deadline is ridiculous. I know LEC's business model in recent years has been based entirely around milking Star Wars license tie-ins, but I seriously question the value of getting a mediocre or bad game out "on time" vs a highly polished game out "slightly late".

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