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Postmortem: Monolith's No One Lives Forever
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Postmortem: Monolith's No One Lives Forever

June 8, 2001 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next


When we started No One Lives Forever, the team had just come off Shogo: Mobile Armor Division, which (although critically successful) fell embarrassingly short of our original design goals. In fact, the only thing that saved Shogo from complete disaster was the realization, some six months before we were supposed to ship, that there was no way to make the game great in that amount of time. So, we concentrated on making it fun.

Ambition undermined Shogo. The intended scope of the project was so grand, particularly for such a tiny team, that we were overwhelmed just trying to get everything into the game. As a result, we didn't have time to polish any of it. The final product is barely more than a prototype of the game we were trying to make, even after we cut characters, settings, story elements, and whatever else we could jettison without breaking the game. It was simply too late to shore up all the deficiencies by the time we realized how many there were. I'm certainly proud of Shogo as an accomplishment, but as a game it is a grim reminder of the perils of wild optimism and unchecked ambition.

We felt it was better to release a comparatively humble game that got all the details right than an ambitious one that fell short in numerous area.

We were determined not to repeat those mistakes on our next project. Half-Life confirmed our growing conviction that presentation is more important than innovation: although that game is often hailed as having revolutionized the first person action genre, it doesn't do anything spectacularly new. What makes it so influential is that it does everything so well. The pacing is sublime, the situations inventive, the AI incredible, and the overall level of polish unprecedented. It's a game made up of unforgettable moments.

Polish, therefore, was our chief mandate. We felt it was better to release a comparatively humble game that got all the details right than an ambitious one that fell short in numerous areas. To a great degree, we succeeded, for although No One Lives Forever was to undergo a great deal of turmoil in the coming months, we never let it get out of control the way we had with Shogo. As a result, we managed to ship a product that actually surpassed the goals we set for it. That's not to say we didn't make plenty of mistakes or that the game is as polished as we had hoped, merely that it was a monumental improvement over previous efforts.

Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

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Chris Rowley
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A nice blast from the past. I had hoped given reports earlier this year that the game would be made available again that we'd get an update on that, oh well lol

While I haven't seen it mentioned in every Post Mortem, the first difficulty, a changing premise, has come up on more than one occasion. While things are certainly different today in terms of the publisher/developer dynamic, I wouldn't be surprised to find similar experiences in other large projects using original IP. Given the difficulties in bringing The Oerative: No One Lives Forever into modern storefronts I assume Monolith had to surrender the IP. Given the notes in this part I'm more than a little curious to hear more of this tale or something similar from another developer. It's just hard to imagine all the hoop jumping to satisfy the various departments of publishers and would love to hear more about the various iterations, what they stood firm on, and how many ideas evolved from suggestions/demands.

Part of the Indie revolution is obviously rooted in removing these layers and executing visions outside corporate "group think" and packaging, but I'm sure both sides could look for some good in with the bad. As budgets grow and the dividing line between AAA and smaller scale titles widens, what can be learned from this process? Is there still a place for developer identity outside varying publishers? Monolith is a good one as they have been at this for so long (with a well-received title near the start of the last two console generations with Condemned: Criminal Origins on the 360 and now Middle-earth: Shadows of Mordor) so maybe someone there could tell us more about this process.

Sean Telephone
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I can't believe this great franchise is lost forever because nobody will claim the IP.

Dwayne Douglass
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I LOVED that game. Being a big fan of the 60's Bond movies that basically invented tropes seen everyday I thought NOLF was a great homage to them and other spy movies. What a great blast from the past. Thanks for the postmortem!

Matthew Bentley
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I find it so strange that what you pick as positives and negatives have very little to do with the takeaway experience of the game, although obviously a lot of that was solved pre-release.
For example, for me the positives were:
* Humour - how many games manage that well? Few.
* Scriptwriting - brilliant dialogue
* Style

The negatives were:
* clunky, glitchy engine and lack of polish
* poor weapons balance - most felt the same, there was little point to changing weapons
* Weird pauses in cutscenes which killed the jokes for the most part

Would love to see another one, though no.2 felt painfully short and polished at the expense of expansiveness and dramatic payoff.