The production history of EA Montreal's Army of Two
is an interesting one, with the company's decision to delay the game
just before its release widely covered in the media.
And during a Gamasutra-attended lecture at the Montreal International Game Summit, executive producer and franchise manager Reid Schneider delved deeper into the game's development.
He shared a postmortem imparting lessons on quality, process and execution for the game, which garnered mixed reviews
on its early 2008 debut, but has nonetheless reportedly sold robustly.
Refreshingly, Schneider opened his talk not by focusing on his own personal successes, but by describing his biggest failures -- from working on the "first Game Boy Color game to feature partial nudity," Little Nicky
, through Batman: Gotham City Racer
, which he called "little more than a mod of Dukes of Hazzard Racing
, which did not ever need to be modded."
Keeping On Track
On Army of Two
, Schneider explained, the actual production phase was dwarfed by the concepting and pre-production phase, which was "not the right way to do things," even when taking into account the extensive polish phase.
Because Army of Two
was intended to be a new IP from an untested studio and was to include what was (at the time) the new concept of an entirely co-op-focused story mode, the team did not know "the exact boundaries of what they were trying to do" and therefore spent "way too long" testing them out.
Though iterative design can have its place, Schneider warned that producers must keep a tight rein on iteration to keep projects on track. "When you have too much iteration with too many people, it can get expensive and unwieldy very quickly," he said.
Creating a productive team culture can also sometimes be counter-intuitive. Going into the project, the strategy was to "minimize team conflicts," but Schneider would now advocate potentially conflicting discourse -- even that which can be seen as being disruptive can be good in the long run, he said.
"Hiring 'disruptive' people is a really good thing," he said, clarifying making a distinction between "disruptive" staffers and "crazy" staffers. "Hiring crazy people is only going to lead to conflict and frustration."
Brutal Honesty: Can You Make The Deadline Or Not?
Returning to Army of Two
's unusual production schedule, Schneider cited misplaced optimism for the production phase. "The days of honor badges for shipping games in massively compressed schedules are over," he said.
"If you want to make something triple-A, you need to be brutally honest on if you can do it or not. We work in an industry where miracles never happen, so don't expect one to happen to you."
Teams can no longer get away with releasing titles in compressed schedules, he explained, no matter how innovative the ideas, because innovation is not the defining factor that makes a successful game.
"As developers, we tend to live and die on the field of innovation," he said, "but there is no point to innovation without polished execution. Call of Duty 4
's story mode was not focused on innovation, but was executed so superbly it outpaced ours by far.
"When we did a feature-by-feature analysis, we had more and newer features than they did, but their execution was way stronger. Lesson learned."
Feature Lists Won't Win Quality Scores
In fact, it was Schneider's standpoint that execution far outweighs innovation when it comes to a frequently-referenced mark of success -- Metacritic scores.
"Your feature list is not a measure of success," he said. "90-plus Metacritic scores are driven by flawless execution and connecting with your customers in the way that they want." And connecting with customers begins the moment you reveal the project you're developing.
Schneider said that while new IP on next-gen hardware generally has a halo of excitement around it, "you only get one chance to make a first impression. Do not talk about, or show, your new IP unless it is very ready. Because you will end up bruised for the experience."
In closing, the producer reflected on the biggest lessons that he felt he had learned the hard way during Army of Two
's production -- the need for a creative director.
"Two years ago I was arguing against the position, but now I know that triple-A titles need precision creative focus, and even then they still assume a huge amount of risk," Schneider concluded. "A producer can not do it all. You will have too many factors pulling on you."