Publisher EA has challenged the narrative that it cancelled Visceral’s Star Wars game because it was a single-player experience.
Speaking to Kotaku in a wide-ranging peace about the development struggles endured by the title, executive vice president Patrick Söderlund said: “This truly isn’t about the death of single-player games — I love single-player, by the way — or story and character-driven games. Storytelling has always been part of who we are, and single-player games will of course continue.
“This also isn’t about needing a game that monetizes in a certain way. Those are both important topics, but that’s not what this is. At the end of the day, this was a creative decision. Our job is to give people a deep enough experience and story, and it’s also to push the boundaries forward. We just didn’t think we were getting it quite right.”
Many have argued that EA cancelled the unnamed Star Wars game as it would be hard to monetise on an ongoing basis in the way that Destiny is. Indeed, EA’s own statement seems to allude to that. However, Kotaku’s report suggests that there were a multitude of factors at play leading up to the decision to ditch the title and close the studio.
After the disappointing commercial performance of Visceral’s Dead Space 3, the team was split in two – one was put in charge of shooter Battlefield Hardline and the other started work on a pirate title code-named Jamaica. The latter was abandoned once EA acquired the Star Wars license, and instead work began on a new Star Wars game code-named Yuma. Progress on this slowed to a crawl, however, as more and more staff were moved onto Hardline. Even new EA recruit and former Uncharted developer Amy Hennig was made to work on the shooter.
Eventually Yuma itself was cancelled in favour of a new narrative game helmed by Hennig. Going by the name Ragtag, it saw players assume the role of a dark Han Solo type in a tale set in darker corners of the Star Wars universe. It took place between episodes IV and V and saw the galaxy coming to terms with the destruction of Alderaan.
Not long after Hardline was shipped, much of Visceral’s management was stripped so as to construct a new flat management structure, as Hennig experienced at Naughty Dog. However, the number of developers working on Ragtag was never really sufficient, and the high cost of San Francisco development meant EA was reluctant to invest more in the studio, especially when hiring at locations such as Montreal and Vancouver was much cheaper thanks to the tax benefits afforded to devs.
Lots of other complicating factors contributed – the Frostbite engine was a struggle; Ragtag was too large in scope for such a small team; the license was owned by a different company; Ragtag’s vision was at odds with EA’s Star Wars focus testing (where are the Jedi?); unease about the game’s lack of a ‘big innovation’; tensions within the team; development being split between Visceral and Jade Raymond’s EA Motive studio.
Eventually all the lead roles were passed over to staff at Vancouver, many of whom expressed frustration at Visceral’s progress. While the game just scraped through its scheduled checks by EA management, some expressed little surprise at its eventual cancellation. Indeed, one developer described it as a “mercy killing”. Some even argue that it should have been cancelled earlier.
EA Vancouver has now started work on what is effectively a brand new EA project. It’s not yet clear whether Hennig will play any sort of role.