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Postmortem: Double Fine's Brutal Legend

March 25, 2010 Article Start Previous Page 6 of 6

5. Double Fine gets served

In June 2009, Activision Entertainment Holdings, Inc. filed suit against Double Fine, claiming breach of contract and seeking a preliminary injunction to stop the release of the game by Electronic Arts on Rocktober 13. Less than 2 months later, the case settled out of court. I can't talk about any of that in this article, or any article really. I bring up getting sued as something that went wrong because of the impact the transition between publishers and subsequent lawsuit had on the development of Brütal Legend.

Let's go back a little bit. We had been working collaboratively and successfully with various groups at Vivendi for two years until Vivendi merged with Activision and we lost touch with both publishers while a lawsuit percolated.

The merger announcement and subsequent diminution in publisher contact with Vivendi personnel, especially after such a previously harmonious relationship, caused internal unrest and morale dips among the team.

Company meetings often included frustrating discussions about what little we knew about the current situation at our publisher, and what the various possible outcomes would mean for Double Fine.

This demoralizing uncertainty lingered for months, during which time the leads continued to motivate the team to hit their scheduled milestones while watching our coffers run dry in the absence of any publisher payments.

We learned Activision was not going to be publishing Brütal Legend through an official press announcement issued by Activision that listed the games they would be shipping, with ours conspicuously absent. Again, the team was abuzz with anxiety -- and the official hunt for a new publisher began, distracting Tim, myself, and various team leads during an already intense development period.

Even after the game was re-signed with Electronic Arts, we enjoyed only a brief reprieve before the legal communications began among Double Fine and Activision and Electronic Arts. Most of the team was shielded from the drama that unfolded between December 2008 when Electronic Arts announced that they had picked up the game for publication and July 2009 when the lawsuit settled. But Double Fine's leadership was not, and the distraction and stress took its toll on individuals and on our deliverables.

The lawsuit was filed just as the game went Alpha, with a stipulation that it be heard prior to Gold Master being submitted -- relegating Tim and myself and a cadre of team leaders to the unenviable job of information gathering, declaration writing, lawsuit reading, witness interviewing and all around non-game-making during the crunchiest, most critical time of development. The lawsuit took its toll on the team, on the company, on our product and on our optimism. Wrong, any way you slice it.

Double Fine, for Metal

Everything in the game -- from the lore, to the locations, to the life, to the linguistics -- has been individually handcrafted by a Double Finer. 107 licensed heavy metal tracks from 75 different bands and countless heavy metal album covers inspire the game's creative direction.

The voices of celebrities Jack Black, Rob Halford, Lemmy Kilmister, Lita Ford, Ozzy Osbourne, Tim Curry, Kyle Gass, David Cross, Brian Posehn, and Wil Wheaton alongside the stellar voice acting work of veteran video game actors such as Kath Soucie, Zach Hanks, and Jennifer Hale bring the more than 150 original characters to life through 40,000 lines of dialog that were written, recorded, edited, and hand-integrated into the game.

Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing personally wrote and recorded Eddie's, Ophelia's, and Doviculus' original guitar riffs. It takes the following words -- third-person melee, single player, multiplayer, open world, driving, RTS, adventure -- to describe how Eddie uses one axe, one guitar, and one hot rod to harness the power of metal to command armies and defeat evil.

In the end, 83 developers, propped up by the patience and tolerance of their families and friends as well as by the profound support of Electronic Arts, exemplified the utmost devotion to their craft and a fierce tenacity in the face of uncertainty and disappointment -- surmounting publisher plate-shifting, turbulent contract negotiations, lawsuits, misdirection and redirection, focus test surprises, and extreme excesses of ambition.

Armed now with a proprietary game engine, a robust tools pipeline, a talented and experienced staff, and the creative freedom and corporate mandate to innovate, Double Fine is well positioned to set forth on its next epic journey.

Game Data

Developer: Double Fine Productions, Inc.

Publisher: Electronic Arts

Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3

Release Date: Rocktober 13, 2009

Number of In-House Developers: 74

Number of External Contractors: 9

Budget: $24 million

Development Time: 4.5 Years

Typical Workstation: Dell Quad Core Xeon, 4GB RAM, 150GB, NVidia GeForce7800, Windows XP

Software Used: MS Visual Studio 2005, Autodesk Maya 2008, ZBrush, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe After Effects, ProTools, Sound Forge, Perforce, Microsoft Xbox360 XDK, Sony PlayStation 3 SDK, Internal suite of development tools

Total Lines of Code:
Game (C++, excluding middleware): 554,736
Game (Lua): 42,745
Tools (C++ & C#): 52,263
Tools (MEL): 85,294
Tools (Python): 34,079

Total Number of Perforce Checkins: 164,863

Article Start Previous Page 6 of 6

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Dave Sodee
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Love the game

r marc
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I think as a game Brutal legend tried to serve up too much on one plate.

I would have been content to just play as Eddie as he encounters this strange new dimension/universe. I didn't need the large open world or the RTS stuff, in fact I lost

interest as soon as the other elements started to kick in in earnest. I love the premise of

the game alot and I really loved the cutscenes. I would love to watch all of them like a real

time film they were that good as was the casting.

I love the art style and just the idea/premise/property that is Brutal Legend in and of itself.

Nice work under alot of stress all you guys and gals at Double Fine.



ken sato
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Impressive shift, process, recovery, process.

Minor schedule and developmental changes can often cause major problems in delivering per milestone, so it is particularly interesting to this level of process changes versus normal internal forces and rather uncommon externals.

Just for reference, I was part of another project with similar metrics but made different choices. The outcome was 'different'.

Matt Hackett
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Very interesting process, good insights and terrific damage control on the developers' parts. The game is admirable in its innovation (I enjoy games that combine genres, like Blaster Master and Act Raiser back in the day), and I appreciate the effort and passion.

Bart Stewart
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Commendable honesty. There are some solid insights about what works (and what to watch out for) that I hope other studio leads will pick up on.

Otherwise, my only concern is that this game didn’t use the Scrüm methodology....

Oliver Snyders
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Haha. Scrüm.

Also, thanks for the great, informative article, and thanks for the great, rocking game.

Double Fine is class.

Tim Johnston
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This article....well.....ROCKS. Thanks for all the really great insight.

Joshua Pfeiffer
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Glad to see Bert get a shout out in that article. He really is a great tester, and all around swell guy.

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Love the game. My only thing was that when I first played the demo, it was a hack n' slash. When I got the actual game, it turned into an RTS.

Was a big WTF moment for me.

Great article. Loved the insight and lessons it teaches.

Daniel Galarza
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I love the Action RTS hybrid parts, and the multiplayer. Totally innovative and I'm never playing another console RTS again unless it's just like Brutal Legend.

Henrick Stankenheim
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Concept = great

Writing = great

Art style = great

Game = really lame

Andrea Bambury
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Excuse me. It was very clear in Double Fine that BL was an RTS hybrid. EA decided it was a good idea to market it as an action game instead. Double Fine played along; all game previews and even some reviews strongly downplayed (hid?) the RTS side of the game. Gamers were induced to think that BL was a light-hearted, heavy-metal-themed take on God Of War.

No one else has a problem with all this? Is it just me?

ken sato
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Pop quiz:

Which is title is more interesting:

(1) Brutal Legend: The Sequel (With less RTS)

- OR -

(2) Brutal Legend: Ode to the Three-way

I ask the question simply because concept-wise, it's clear that when a studio is having difficulties game play and marketing suffers. In my experience this is due to the additional work load placed on management and production towards the mid and end of the project. So much communication and coordination is required, time is short, and much of your time is spent in 'due diligence' tasks. Add on top of it the additional requirements for legal prep and you can quickly see how time per day quickly runs out. (24 hours in a day, hah! I once worked a 56 hour day!)

Finally, if you chose option 1, you have a future as a game reviewer.

If you chose option 2...let's talk.

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I chose option 1, because I think it would be totally wicked for a game with the stylings of Brutal legend to have straight and refined hack n slash gameplay, like something from ninja gaiden. I can't realistically wish for this because I don't really expect it from schafer; hes known for delivering delicious concepts, not solid gameplay, and you can't have EVERYTHING perfect

Andrea Bambury
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@dario, I can imagine that. I also think making it an RTS hybrid was a bad idea, but this is obviously subjective. I just can't justify this:

- an Evil Publisher™ (taken for granted, alhough EA are turning into the good guys, in theory)

- most game reviewers (unsurprising, still sucks)

- Schafer and Double Fine (surprising, considering the guy's background and reputation)

all teaming up to run what I would personally call a scam. And they basically got away with it.

You want to design a game in a way that won't be liked by many people and won't sell much? Go ahead, it's your choice. Just stick with it and don't wrap it in a deceiving package for sale.

r marc
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I think a Parody of God of War with Eddie AKA Jack Black returning to do battle against the force's of Techno or some other musical Genre would be a great idea, Add more humour and some wicked combat set pieces aimed firmly at the 18 to 30's with more epic music and you are on a winner. Double Fine, contact me if you think this idea rocks!

I have a whole stack more.


Ron Marc

Daniel Galarza
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I have a solution for those who don't like the amazing hybrid of action and RTS.

1. If you take away the amazing RTS elements, you have Nintey Nine Nights.

2. Play Nintey Nine Nights. You will be bored in one hour.

3. Go back to Brutal Legend.

Why can I figure out the controls and so many can't?

David Peterson
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As much as I love Tim & DF, Brutal Legend lost me when it turned into an RTS. I think this is largely because the whole game prior had not been and RTS, and I wasn't really expecting it. That, and I've kind of moved on from that genre anyway. Not because it's bad, just my tastes have changed.

Anyway, looking forward to seeing what they come up with next. I liked the universe, just couldn't finish the game...

Daniel Galarza
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Dario, the same could be said about people dropping Brutal Legend when they find out they have to press Up on the d-pad to make the Headbangers attack.

The entire Action/RTS thing is not new either. Natural Selection, Battlezone and Sacrifice are all the same thing. Brutal Legend just did it on a console. If EA were cherished this instead of hid it, say by having a multiplayer demo with a simple tutorial, giving people time to learn and experiment with the advanced gameplay mechanics, the game wouldn't be getting the "lol RTS" complaints it would now. Instead all the marketing revolved around Jackie. I'm certain somewhere along Double Fine would have liked people to know they made their first multiplayer game. A demo showing both single player and multiplayer.

The game tends to click with people better when they fully upgrade and summon the Hindenburg on top of their enemies.

ken sato
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The game tends to click with people better when they fully upgrade and summon the Hindenburg on top of their enemies.

That comment just made my day. (Dozoyoroshiku.)

Daniel Galarza
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Thank you. I like your first comment.

"Finally, if you chose option 1, you have a future as a game reviewer."

Too true. I'll never forget Yatzhee, who is a big fan of Tim Schafer (but not enough to learn his game). The moment the game resembled an RTS in his eyes, he immediately dropped it in a panic and asked his "RTS expert" to evaluate it and tell him it was bad. Nope, suddenly he cant tell it apart from Halo Wars (but he's pretty sure it's therefore not good).

Ironically, the reviews for BL are quite high. Metacritic holds at 82. Tim Schafer said this in an interview...

"When we showed the game to EA, they were interested but wanted to test the concept. In focus tests, the stage battles rated high. What's interesting is the people in those groups aren't told anything about the game and have no expectations for it. One of the things you notice looking at Metacritic ratings is that the highest scores come from those who really enjoyed the stage battles, and when you get down to the critics who didn't like the stage battles those reviews often center around their expectations about what we were going to make, instead of looking at the stage battles for what they are in a fresh way. "