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Double Fine COO Recalls 'Demoralizing'  Brutal Legend  Challenges

Double Fine COO Recalls 'Demoralizing' Brutal Legend Challenges

March 25, 2010 | By Staff

March 25, 2010 | By Staff
More: Console/PC

Double Fine's Brutal Legend is an epic tale of big hair and heavy metal, but perhaps the true epic was the creation and challenging launch of the game, which was hindered by a change of publishers and a subsequent lawsuit.

Vivendi Games was Brutal Legend's original publisher, but when Activision and Vivendi announced their merger in 2007, the game didn't fit into Activision's publishing plans. Double Fine learned about the uncertain future of Brutal Legend the same way that most gamers found out.

"We learned Activision was not going to be publishing Brutal Legend through an official press announcement issued by Activision that listed the games they would be shipping, with ours conspicuously absent," said Caroline Esmurdoc in a major Game Developer magazine postmortem now available on Gamasutra.

"The team was abuzz with anxiety -- and the official hunt for a new publisher began, distracting Tim [Schafer, Double Fine founder], myself, and various team leads during an already intense development period."

That official Activision/Vivendi press announcement only confirmed what Double Fine had feared during the prior few months. "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," said Esmurdoc.

"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," she said.

"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," the COO added.

In December 2008, however, publisher Electronic Arts announced that it had picked up Brutal Legend and would be releasing the game via its EA Partners third-party distribution division. But that good news would be tainted by a lawsuit that Activision later filed against Double Fine in an attempt to block the game's release. Activision claimed it still owned the rights to the game, despite Double Fine's deal with EA.

"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," said Esmurdoc. "But Double Fine's leadership was not, and the distraction and stress took its toll on individuals and on our deliverables."

She added, "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."

This highlight section is extracted from the full postmortem of Double Fine's Brutal Legend, which originally appeared in Game Developer magazine late last year, and is now available to read on Gamasutra.

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