A Big HMMMM


#1

Eurogamer have just published a morality tale which takes the form of a close look at the rise-and-fall of Starbreeze, much in the news for various things (never mind System Shock). There’ s a nice prescient quote from one of the put-upon devs who is labouring under poor management, unwillingness to address underlying concerns, engine viriginity, and all the usual myopia that goes with failed projects:

‘You can’t solve an issue if you don’t admit you have one’.

(Insert your own example or ‘I told you so’ if so inclined, right about now…you know, get it out of the way early on so you feel better later?)

Of particular note are the time-honoured ‘kitchen sink’ whims of management and producers (‘put that feature in, I played this cool game over the weekend’)…engine woes…etc etc. Substitute games for ‘house franchises’ like Thief and subsequent games, and you can see where I’m very obviously going with this.

So let’s say,‘so far, so predictable’.

Of course, the detail may be way off (and it’s very easy to say so) but the axioms tend to ring true. No, it isn’t gloating…it’s concern that not only was a lot not heeded first time round, but it even seems largely to be unheard and unlearned today?

Whilst there seems to have been a good and genuine effort to correct various game issues, I have yet to see a single substantive post from any senior figures regarding the game’s over-riding design failures - which is what they are, let’s not be too earnest - and the over-riding failure to derive useful benefit and lessons from the original games. Never mind the enjoyment of their basic features.

This would provide every bit as much, if not more, goodwill than the effort to correct skewed local game mechanics. I realise there are legal necessities, and faces to be saved, but even so. Aside from early ashen faces at the state of release, and one or two side-swipe ‘because this’ reponses on other forums, there has been crickets on the important matters (not-withstanding Update 2).

True story: years ago when i was in charge of the Technical Author division for a company as it was being bought out by a large multinational, I saw my boss stand up in a conference call and take the flak for an interrim pre-release build that was crocked, courtesy
of a branch of the dev team. The team were reponsible, but he took the flak (and so did I, but that’s another story).

Another morality tale…

We don’t need a deep Japanese bow for forgiveness (or worse) but a bit of good old-fashioned standing up (or posting) from someone senior would not go amiss. Put another way: is anyone actually going to admit to these issues…a pre-requisite it before you can discuss their relative failings, never mind take reponsibility …or are we still in the land of ‘small team, limited budget, not-steering-expectations-as-much-as-we-should-have’?

That’s a pointed point, I know, and for good reason. It doesn’t pass the smell test, to use a phrase.

…or is that not how it works these days? I’m curious, because it’s been a while now, and it’s hardly going to prejudice people against the game. We don’t need the full Mueller-esque Gamasutra, just someone who is prepared to stand up, at some point, and face underlying facts. The failed release is a fraction of the game’s failure as a whole.

(It’s easy to do a ‘well, it was like this’ years later when the coals are cold).

As before, grovelling apology is not being asked for (at least by me and other old hands here) but a bit of truth-telling beyond the usual platitudes. Is anyone going to address the overall design failures without resorting to the life-boats we’ve already seen lowered? And to avoid the personal aspects, it might be the senior collective tier as a whole, if someone can round-up a few thoughts.

Personally, I’d be happy with ‘yeah we got the design all wrong’ or ‘lost sight of’…but down-sizing it to ‘it was a bad release’ is always going to leave a bad taste with the vast majority of people who have issues with this game.

After reading all the forums connected with this game (and those frequented sometimes by some of the devs) it’s very clear that the game’s design, lack of vision and connection and to the originals, is still the main thing.

Odd, but what this Underworld needs is daylight.


#2

The above is pretty mixed, it’s true. It’s not a feeling of entitlement, exactly, but simply the wish someone would stand-up and actually address the large-scale reality (for once), not just the down-in-the-weeds stuff. The former is much harder to do.


#3

Exactly my thoughts, Flug.


#4

They have already completely agreed and acknowledged that their design was not what people wanted, expected or thought they were buying.

"IT'S A NICELY DESIGNED GAME AS LONG AS YOU DON'T WANT ANY MEANING IN YOUR LIFE."

That admission is at the top of every single page, in all caps and for me perfectly sums up and acknowledges everything that people have been saying about the game.

This post you’re asking for? They did it already, you just don’t like it. And sure, the “we planned it this way, but communicated it poorly” rationale was bizarrely infuriating and tone-deaf, when “we had to cut off a lot of things we loved just to make it to release” would likely have been accepted with less skepticism and more empathy, and “our design team was unbalanced by having only ImSim fans in” would’ve been closer to the truth.

But whatever reason they give, reasons are the “why”. They’ve already repeatedly admitted and acknowledged the “what”.

So, what specific constructive thing are you asking for in addition to that? What specific things could they say, that would satisfy this request?


#5

Seriously, I don’t think there is much more to say.

The Starbreeze deal is going to falter in the coming weeks and no other investor is going to bail out the studio that just launched what many say is the worst game of 2018 so they can try make another game whose two prequels were both commercial failures.

The writing is on the wall.


#6

Dewi…i am asking for an explanation of initial design, and deep cut changes. The stuff said has been cursory, hint heavy, and doesn’t really spell out much beyond a rat’s ass. Tim’s quote can be taken any number of ways, and is most probably meant as tongue in cheek and dev-based… which seems to have gone largely unnoticed.

I also happen to know much more was on the table reasonably close to launch (without going into details).

I get the need to ring fence this place off from the shoe-throwing elsewhere, but that doesn’t mean it should be a shrine of understanding.

Senior dev statements on the underlying principles of this game, and why it all went wrong, have been extremely scarce. Part of the reason it’s a ghost town again… people have taken their tumbleweed and left. Yes, some may drift back with update 2, but the reality is horrendous.

As I say - goodwill. And that comes with meaningful explanations, not two-liners.

If you’d been round here on a daily basis a few years ago, you’d know how blood-out-of-a-stone it often was. I know, first-hand.

A scintilla of progress on that front would be nice.


#7

To what end? How much mea culpa’ing will ever be enough?

It’s clear you’re annoyed. Every single one of your posts here (as well as those of some others) for the past several weeks has been relentlessly negative. I can’t imagine anyone at this point has any lack of clarity about how you feel.

I’m not a mod here; I have no power to or interest in trying to police your comments. Say what you like. And I’ll say what I like, which is that I think flinging nothing but hate at this game is counterproductive, and in particular that going after the developers personally (as either incompetent or deliberately malicious) is wrong.

I don’t think the devs abasing themselves further will have one iota of tangible benefit. Demanding it is pointless. The only thing that matters now, the only thing that earns goodwill, is improving the game and letting it speak for itself as either worth playing or not. Constructive suggestions toward that end are what will attract people back here to comment actively; continuous personalized rage and “game over, man!” is what drives them away.

Believe me or not when I say I’m frustrated with how things went, too, and I’m not about to suggest that those who are disappointed are wrong in how they feel. My opinion is that expressing only that reaction in Every Single Post does nothing to improve the game or encourage anyone to participate on this forum.

Just the opposite.


#8

I think I kind of agree with you, Flug, on various levels.

For a start, I’m totally in agreement that I’m a latecomer to the party, basically a noob, so I’m missing out on a lot of the history and subtext. And I slightly envy you in having that! My fault for not paying more attention to the kickstarter when I first heard of it! :smiley:

And I think I misunderstood what you were asking for. Not only weren’t you asking for an apology, you also weren’t even asking for another acknowledgement of where the game differed from people’s expectations.

Instead, if I read you right, you’re more after a breakdown of which features were removed late in development, with a rationale for each.

I’d absolutely love to see that. I’m fascinated by the game-dev sausage-making process, and to any game historian, a detailed postmortem of every hard decision made in a game’s development would be beyond price. From a gamedev-culture and historical-documentation point of view there are few things more valuable that they could do.

I just don’t think it’d be worthwhile from a political or business point of view. It would boil down to just: they give a spreadsheet of all cut features; then we yell at them that those features were needed, as were features “ditched” for being not-ImSimmy-enough, or being forbidden by EA. They gain nothing from the exchange, and would be better spending their time on development.

Because they’ll already have had those heated arguments themselves. I’d love to have an inside view into their late-stage triage meetings, because they must’ve been really tough. Like you said, some features were kept on the table until as late in development as possible, because they really wanted them - but other stuff still got prioritized above them.

Personally, I blame Kickstarter. If you don’t keep kickstarter promises, people utterly crucify you: this has destroyed the careers of some of the Origin team. But the cost of keeping those promises is working on crap which only a minority of the richest supporters will ever see, rather than working on the cool stuff you want to. Shroud of the Avatar’s devoting years of development time into nothing but player housing is about the most perfect example of this that I know of. To me, the quote in my sig, the razor-thin margins by which they complied with their kickstarter description, and my own unpleasant kickstarter experiences, all suggest that fulfilling their written promises and feature-compatibility with the UW engine were both given (wisely and by necessity!) a higher priority than many beloved features they cut.

But you’re right that it’d be lovely to know fersure. For now, though, I think it’s too early for a public post-mortem. Stuff’s still changing :smiley:


#9

I started getting a feeling about a half year before launch, that the real entertainment to be had would be post launch and they are certainly delivering!


#10

I’m fairly certain that Tim quote has been on the forum since long before the game was released and isn’t in reference to UA? Unless the devs have since confirmed otherwise?


#11

Flatfingers…I’m surprised by your post.

You of all people know that I have a sore ass from fence sitting. I don’t need to spell it out. ‘Hate flinging’ is not what I do, not because of saintly reasons, but simplybecause I don’t feel hate. A whole range of things really…frustration, disappointment, some hope now and then, bafflement, distaste, puzzlement, logical disconnects…outright annoyance sometimes. Not hate. That’s where the Curratums et al come in.

So come on. It’s not about mea culpas (for the umpteenth time)…it’s about taking the time, and having the courtesy, to speak to people like adults, really. And that means steering between over-earnest apology, and glibness.

This is anything but self-abasement. It’s about respect for your fans, and by association, respect for yourself, if you like. If you’re satisfied with what you’ve heard (and seen) then you’re in a tiny, tiny minority. That doesn’t make you wrong, but it should give you pause for thought.

I don’t know why people keep attaching cathedral tones to this request for a bitmore explanation - it’s just know-how and back-bone. If you know the answers explain it to me. But I don;t think you do, or any of us on the outside.

Let’s not fall into that binary trap of it being all love or hate. Like others, I would just prefer some meaningful insights into this mess, over and above what we have now. That’s not hateful or unrealistic, or disrespectful…it’s one (useful) way of digging out of it, moving on from it, and avoiding similar mistakes in future.

Edit: Jenuall…correct. It’s long been taken out of context.


#12

Also, it doesnt take many resources to inform the fans.

Even if it is a simple and quick post on a monday morning, saying “Here is whats up with whatever”.

Its almost like… they take a little time and plan out a mini-production, roll it out to us, then… nothing… where is the honest meat and potatoes posts we used to get from malphunktion and the like? Is update2 even a thing still? Does anyone really know?


#13

I remember it being displayed in the forum for at least one a year.


#14

Heh - that’s delightful in itself, then :slight_smile: Because, by seeing it in the context of the UA Steam release, it perfectly set my expectations for the game!


#15

Didn’t have to wait weeks, Starbreeze is now out of the picture, lol:

https://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2019/02/11/starbreeze-sell-system-shock-3-rights-to-otherside/


#16

Flug, a quick follow-up: I don’t think I’m being unfair or inaccurate when I describe the majority of your comments here over the past couple of months as strongly negative – not just of the game, but also of the developers themselves. It’s been nearly every post, in addition to the sometimes seriously bilious stuff from others that’s gotten deleted.

When I say this, I’m not aiming anything at you personally. I’ve really enjoyed many of your comments here over the years. My goal is practical: I’d like this game to be better, and I’d like this forum to be more welcoming. And I see both of those as unnecessarily harder to achieve when the feedback is just repeated negativity. Not constructive, not substantive, but “this game and this studio are doomed, but do what I tell you to do while I condemn you anyway.”

You know this isn’t calling for nothing but happy-talk. I’ve made my own share of criticisms of some decisions, including a couple of “I told you so’s.” I will always support thoughtful, constructive criticism… but it only needs to be said once. You may not agree with OtherSide, but it’s hard to imagine you really think they’re stupid – these are, remember, some of the folks who made the original Underworlds: if they weren’t stupid then, how are they stupid now? In which case, it cannot possibly be necessary or effective to make the same criticisms, and the same demands, over and over again in every post, as though like any sane human they won’t just start ignoring piling-on. Which also discourages interested gamers from bothering to comment any more.

I don’t expect my thoughts on this to matter. I’m mostly following my own dictum that if you want to see positive content, post positive content. Griping about the tone of other comments isn’t exactly positive, of course, so I’ll end with this: I wish there were a way for every member of this forum to have a sub-forum where we could each place a single post, and in that post (which we could edit anytime) we would be free to list every single thing we’d like OtherSide to do. Every positive, constructive suggestion, and every “go to hell, strong message to follow”; what we think OSE ought to do would be right there, visible to everybody, with not a shred of doubt as to what’s in our minds. If we want OSE to know what we hope/desire/expect/demand of them, there it is, unmissable.

That wouldn’t eliminate unhelpfully harsh negativity or My One Perfect Idea to Save UA. (I’m guilty of that latter one.)

But it would at least make repeating ourselves unnecessary.

And I’ll stop here so I don’t repeat myself. :smiley:


#17

I’m English, I don’t see the need to think in those positive or negative terms. I say put a few things on the table, clear the air, then you can move on. I hold the devs in higher regard than you think, but that doesn’t by itself make it a better game, or the underlying reasons any different. There was enough happy clappy earlier on, esp in all that early publicity tour stuff. The reality is somewhat different now.

Plenty of people have been plenty constructive, me included. It’s up In the air how much was taken onboard. Another reason for someone to take the time to post something.

Also, haven’t we been here before with the communication side of things?


#18

heh, the Tim quote has been up forever, and was not about any of our games at all, it wasn’t even about a video game if I remember right.


#19

I posted this on a thread in our SS3 forums, adding here so people don’t have to hunt around for official statements and stuff:

[i]We have very much enjoyed working with Starbreeze on System Shock 3. They’ve been a great partner. As developers themselves they understand the challenges of game development and that’s been refreshing. However, in light of Starbreeze’s current situation, we decided together that it would be best for us to go our separate ways for now. We wish them the best of luck.

OtherSide is rolling forward with System Shock 3. Warren Spector has built a great team and the game is more than halfway completed. At its core, it already feels like a System Shock game, while at the same time introducing new elements to the franchise. As the original creators of the game, we want to see this game made as much as our fans do. Look for more information about System Shock 3 soon.[/i]

We’re also adding the following today, just wanted to have some separation from the Starbreeze press release:

We parted ways with Starbreeze i, which means we are in the process of lining up a new publishing partner. Happily, given the pedigree of System Shock and the progress we’ve made so far there’s been a lot of interest. Has the situation affected development? Not really. The team is still, as we say, ‘psyched and cranking’ - in other words, continuing as normal. We’re confident we can bring System Shock 3 to market and have it take its place as a leading title in the immersive simulation genre.[/i]

edit - typos


#20

Walter, while you (and Chris) are here…are we going to hear anything with a bit more depth (on the dev of UA)?

It would not be just for us. I’d imagine any potential publisher is probably going to be taking a look at the UA ‘situation’ and drawing some conclusions…not just on the stuff already covered (and themore negatrive side of things) but how you set about winning back a fair chunk of those with a shared interest in UA and SS. I’d imagine most of us here hold SS in similar veneration to UU (I do). In other words, an overlapping audience. And a lot of the fans of the originals are older, just as with UA. In fact,I hope theparallels are front and centre in the dev process.

(…and, with what has been said, does that expectation make us more hindrance than help? :))

There’s quite a lot of ‘hostage to fortune’ in saying things feel like the original, whilst ‘adding new features’, as Nyast pointed out. But, we all want a good game. That’s the killer (even more so after UA).

Plus, can we have someinfo on’where we’re at’ with UA, Update 2 and future plans in general, please?