Insiders Say Shutting Down Visceral’s Star Wars Game Was “A Mercy Killing”

Visceral Games’ closure and the manner in which EA announced that their Star Wars game would be reimagined came as a shock to many, especially when the studio was much loved for the early Dead Space games and their Star Wars project had Amy Hennig as its creative director. However, a number of ex-Visceral sources, who’ve remained anonymous to avoid tanking their future careers, came forward and spoke to Kotaku that paints a decidedly un-rosy picture.

Project Ragtag, as it was known, was troubled from the start, those sources say, facing a number of new and legacy issues. It’s a fascinating read and paints a real picture of how Visceral struggled under EA’s umbrella over the last few years.

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A few key points include how the studio was divided and hampered, both in terms of manpower and in terms of morale, by the development of Battlefield: Hardline and then, just as Hennig convinced that the existing open world Star Wars project needed to be started over for a more linear Uncharted-like game that would become Ragtag, they were split again for half the team to work on Hardline expansions. As Visceral’s staff size – around 80 people – couldn’t really grow further through needing to pay liveable wages in San Francisco, one of the most expensive cities to live in the US. While Motive Studios was originally meant to help, EA’s need to pivot for Star Wars Battlefront II to include single player meant that Visceral were effectively on their own until EA Vancouver were drafted in to help earlier this year – a fresh source of culture clash for the teams.

However, working with Frostbite engine was a chore and lacked many of the necessary tools to make a third person action adventure instead of a first person shooter – a similar problem that helped scupper Mass Effect Andromeda’s development. One source says, “It was going be a year, or a year and a half’s work just to get the engine to do things that are assumed and taken for granted.” Meanwhile, the game design had to be pushed in new directions to avoid the direct parallels to Uncharted, with character switching and a real focus on AI manipulation and distraction techniques, given that the characters you play as were not Jedi and could not manipulate the Force.

While LucasArts and Disney were supportive of the development, ultimately they held development back by Star Wars being their property and maintaining strict control over what exists in their universe. Everything had to be approved and this could take months.

What ultimately did for Visceral was the tension with EA and an inability to meet their demands and expectations. Without Jedi and the Force, Project Ragtag was not hitting the market research buzzwords EA felt they needed, and additionally, EA had expectations of being able to compete with Uncharted 4’s reception and a Metacritic rating of 90.

What triggered Visceral’s demise was an internal demo earlier in October, known as Gate 3.5. Coming away unimpressed by the progress made and not seeing a much-demanded hook for the game – sabotage and manipulation weren’t enough to hide its Uncharted parallels – EA chose to shut the studio down.

This is just a brief summary that loses a lot of the nuance of the original article on Kotaku, including EA’s statement issued in response to Kotaku’s questions. Definitely head over there to discover a fuller picture of the game’s troubled development.

Source: Kotaku

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5 Comments

  1. The Kotaku article was fascinating, I’ve never had such an insight into the industry before, and I think that’s saying something because you TSA guys like to reveal way, way more than most!
    It must be crushing for the Visceral guys who, honourably or naively, stuck with the rollercoaster and ended up at that last sacking meeting. What an absolute mess of a project which in my opinion suffered from gloriously incompetent management, especially from Hennig and those on her level who failed to control their relationship with EA. Having said that, it must be tricky to deal with their profit-centric executives who really do have geese that lay golden eggs, why keep chickens?
    All the best to those who went and with any luck the Montreal studio have a treat lined up for us in Battlefront 2 and will keep the story campaign alive at EA.

  2. They were already doomed to close with how awful Battlefield Hardline turned out to be. I hope Amy Hennig gets to go back to Naughty Dog… or Crystal Dynamics. At least a place free from greedy executives. Jak & Daxter, Uncharted and Soul Reaver were awesome games so its a pity the Star Wars game never worked out so well.

  3. Whilst I don’t advocate this attitude of cutting ties suddenly, and more so closing down studios and people’s livelihood, I now wonder if at least shutting the project down wasn’t for the best.

    No one really wants an Uncharted clone, more over I wouldn’t want any stylistic attributes from Uncharted such as linearity and character driven plots, let alone sabotage and manipulation elements. Uncharted may have a good metacritic rating, but it’s tried and true with far too many games copying it.

    To even think of having the Star Wars universe wrapped around it is tough. Republic Commando and Bounty Hunter are the only many story driven shooters with no force powers or Jedi, and they both tap into different genres. RC was squad based action based in between the films, and Bounty Hunter was enamoured by open environments and brilliant gadgets, plus again a story directly tapping into canon. They were both pretty unique at what they did.

    In fact if you look at the dozens of Star Wars games in the past, they all touch upon genres but do things a bit different. Bounty Hunter is the best example. Problem is, no one on the management/share holders board can handle something new and different, plus the grammar of video games has changed quite a bit.

    So chances that a Star Wars single player game that isn’t another successful game wrapped in a Star Wars skin seems unfortunately limited if this is indication.

    Also, I would’ve liked the sound of an open world Star Wars game if it was handled in a unique way (read: not an ubisoft way). Hennig changing it to linear doesn’t sit well either.

    • I’ll have an uncharted clone.
      If nobody had wanted a tomb raider clone we won’t have had uncharted.

  4. A fascinating read. I needed two cups of coffee.
    It’s a shame how things have turned out, especially for Visceral but clearly many factors contributed and the project became a mess.

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