Last week saw the release of The Lord of the Rings: Gollum, and it didn’t go well. While PCG Reviews found the game to have some redeeming qualities, technical issues on other platforms resulted in some poor review scores for the game, so much so that the studio felt compelled to issue an apology and some promises to iron out the bug. This has also led to moments of solidarity among developers on social media, as people who have worked on different games share their stories on such projects.
One particular story was shared at length that would be sad to read for any Iron Man fantasists out there. Developer Ian Saterdalen is currently lead producer at Mythical Games, having held various roles at Crystal Dynamics, Blizzard, Riot, and BioWare before that, when Anthem’s development was extremely rushed.
Anthem used to be BioWare’s next big thing, or so publisher EA sold it, but at launch it felt unfinished, most notably missing an endgame, but with many other issues. Not long after, BioWare went into sorted mode on Anthem, with plans to evolve into something called Anthem Next or Anthem 2, a full-scale rework of the game that was well under way before EA’s exit.
“I learned a lot on this project,” Saterdalen said. “We knew it wasn’t ready because the game was literally created in 15 months. That’s unheard of for a game of this scope. Anthem 2 would be great!”
Many people find the 15-month figure almost unbelievable. Saterdalen went on to clarify that a lot of the concept and world building work was done before then, but “I’m sure 18 months before the first level and Ranger Javelin started was when I started. 15 months was when I started and Ranger didn’t finish, The world is collapsing every 2-3 minutes”.
The story is familiar, and not in a good way. Saterdalen said EA had reasons for wanting to hit the release date, but the development team “had to pay the price.” Prices are for 90 hours per week for 15 months. “It’s not sustainable, it’s not even where we should be […] I’m fine now, but not without harm. It took a toll on my marriage and I needed a period of therapy after that struggle. “
I learned a lot on this project. We know it’s not ready because the game was actually created in 15 months. That’s unheard of for a game of this scope. Anthem 2 would be great! https://t.co/HHK29rpVbr pic.twitter.com/JJkpUf9DqXMay 28, 2023
Saterdalen cites various unsavory aspects of the contemporary industry, such as fans overreacting to the finished product causing some team members to receive threats including death threats, the “rough” process of working with Frostbite, and the constant drop in morale as the team fell into “vicious circle”.
Anthem did get delayed at one point, but it was absolutely essential because it was missing key features, was in a certain state of technology, had scope creep, and had no ending.During Kotaku, Jason Schreier posted This investigation into the development of Anthem’s problemswhich Saterdalen says “It’s 100% accurate at some point in development”.
More troubling is how management decides to address the game’s lack of content and endgame. Said Saterdalen: “I think the worst part of this thing, besides the lack of endgame and replayability, is that during development, management is introducing gating mechanisms to ‘extend’ the time it takes to complete the story.” “IIRC it was removed from the final release after a backlash from the developers.”
The whole point of his comments, however, is that the Anthem team is still proud of what they’ve accomplished in a given amount of time, and that some aspects of the game are undeniably good. “It’s been a great team effort to get control over how we ship. We went through a lot of iterations and it was pretty rough at first. I know the team is excited to get control down as well. We’ve actually taken a lot of feedback from EA Game Changers,” Saterdalen says.
In terms of the game’s final release: “It’s definitely above my pay grade for the ‘this isn’t ready’ decision,” Saterdalen says. “I think everyone is cornered and I assume if we don’t release Anthem, BioWare will disband”.
Moving on to “spicy stuff,” which is actually far from the most spicy thing he’s ever said, Saterdalen did point out that he was unaware of these high-level decisions, and while it’s easy to blame EA for what happened with Anthem, BioWare also had to carry the can. “I actually don’t think it’s all EA’s fault. Developers and publishers should be a healthy relationship of trust and transparency. It’s a two-way street, and I don’t think either side is happy,” Saterdalen says.
As for positioning the game as a competitor to Destiny… yes, BioWare is under no illusions about that. “I thought maybe in the public eye it might have been positioned as a fate-killer,” Saterdalen recalls. It comes up in internal dialogue, but we don’t have the strength or the expertise to deal with fate.it gets squashed very fast [because] That’s a lot of pressure. Let’s go before we run.”
“In fact, most people at BioWare don’t believe in ‘BioWare magic,'” Saterdalen says“I’m just laughing it off now though. It’s sad to see that this is one of the key things people have in mind about Anthem”.
Of course, after Anthem came the great rescue mission that ultimately never happened. “On Anthem 2.0/Anthem Next, the game is really fun and going in the right direction,” Saterdalen said. This is a different development team pushing Anthem 2.0. When it was cancelled, the team was devastated”
“My hypothesis is that Anthem 1 has too much baggage, or that there’s too much cost involved in getting Anthem 2 out,” Saterdalen says. “Anthem Next is Anthem 2. It’s definitely real”.
“Honestly, it would be interesting to see Respawn get this IP,” Saterdalen says“I think BioWare can do it again, although Anthem 2.0 is going in the right direction”.
The developers spent a lot of time responding to comments about Anthem and thanking fans who enjoyed the game regardless of the issues. He thinks the NDA will prevent the full story from emerging, although it sounds like we already have the rough outlines. Yes: they illustrate that development is hard.
“It’s great to see how enthusiastic the players are about what Anthem should be”, End Saterdalen. “There are so many nuances and it’s hard to convey everything in a tweet. Please be kind to each other and bring positivity. Life is too short”.