"Unfortunately, [Golden Axe] was a bit shit."
- Game developer Belinda Heywood, reflecting on her work as a producer on 2008's Golden Axe: Beast Rider.
Back in 2008 Sega and the now-defunct game studio Secret Level released Golden Axe: Beast Rider, an attempt to revive the Golden Axe franchise (in 3D!) that earned a lukewarm reception from both critics and customers.
Now, nearly a decade later, the folks at Variety have published an interesting feature about the game's ~$15 million development which includes a lot of eye-opening input from some of the original dev team.
It's an intriguing read, even if you feel like you've heard this tale a few times before: ambitious studio pitches an ambitious project, overscopes, then desperately chops a bunch of stuff out and pours in loads of overtime in an attempt to make something playable in time to ship.
What really stands out is how much time the devs remember spending in crunch: multiple folks told Variety they remember working overtime seven days a week for months on end, to the point that they would take a break on weekend evenings to go out and party, then come back to the office to sleep it off and continue working.
"We’d work from 10 to 7. Then we’d go out, and drink, then come back and work some more," said producer Belinda Heywood. "We did it for six months. Everybody did. And Saturday and Sunday as well, seven days a week."
Deeply troubled, the project reportedly saw a lot of turnover, and Variety's sources paint a picture of a studio that fostered both enduring camaraderie and progress-killing disputes over seemingly trivial matters like who gets to write the shaders. With less than a year before it was scheduled to release, Dedan Anderson signed on as the new lead designer and was tasked with bringing it all together into a shippable product.
"That was a firefighting exercise," he told Variety. "There was a lot of crunches. I blocked that out. That was my last crunch project. That took the crunch out of me. I’m not doing crunches anymore."
Unsurprisingly, crunching didn't make the game good. However, in an effort to end on an upbeat note Variety's feature helps shed more light on why teams crunch, and what keeps them going: a feeling of camaraderie and teamwork in solving huge problems.
"I think it's my best game," said art director Matthew Butler. "Not in the way of gameplay or anything like that, but just in the team, the situation. The whole team was great. I think I had one of the best times I’ve ever had creating anything. We weren’t satisfied with what we did, but we had the most fun, or I did."
"The last 13 months were some of the most challenging crunch I’ve ever experienced in my over 10 years in the games industry,” added Boccieri. “I was one of the people that made it a point I needed to leave the office from time to time, but there was a team of at least 20 to 30 core staff that were some of the most dedicated people I’ve ever worked with who brought the game over the line."
In the end, a game envisioned as what we might now call an open-world RPG replete with multiplayer and a cast of playable characters shipped as a pretty linear single-player game starring a scantily-clad woman. The rest of Variety's story about how that happened is well worth reading in full, as is Gamasutra's extract of the Beast Rider postmortem published in a 2009 issue of (the also now-defunct) Game Developer Magazine.