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.
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.