By Derek Smart
By January of 1993, I was without a publisher and my assistant 3D developer had departed. Those moves cost me eighteen months of development time and an unusable 3D black box. THE GAME would, however, be completed, so I went searching for a replacement. Was I disillusioned? Absolutely not, I was determined to finish my game regardless of what I had to go through.
In February of 1993, after a providing a demo for another potential publisher, I received another nice letter, of course, turning the project down. Tell me if you are beginning to see a pattern here: your product is quiet impressive and we believe it will do well on the market, but we do not think we are the right publisher due to our staffing and other product commitments. We could not give you the attention, both development and marketing, which your product will require to maximize its market success. Remember Matt? Yeah, you remember him. Well, I contacted him - again – and told him about my misfortune. He then suggested that I talk to another contact in the game of games to see if they would be interested in doing my game. I did and a few days later had a new publisher. Well the publisher had problems of its own and a few months later, the key players went separate ways. With that split, I decided to stick with one group, Matt and Tom Ptak, who then formed Mission Studios with Battlecruiser:3000 AD as the first product. Talk about taking risks with a developer claiming to be the creator of THE GAME.
I bet you thought that was the end of the tale. As much as I thought and later wished it was, THE GAME was still far from finding its way to those patiently awaiting its release. I had managed to assemble together a ghost team of one more 3D programmer, an artist, an animator and a support programmer and we continued working. Chasing technology can be a dangerous thing with limited resources and an ambitious objective. This industry creates it's own standards, in part, in response to what you, the ultimate arbiter of what constitutes a quality game, demand. Jumping on the bandwagon of a contemporary marketable concept is as simple as finding the talent and money to do it. In my opinion, technology will no longer cut it, however, in terms of producing something that has the potential to occupy hard drives or CD caddies for years to come. Everyone has the basic tools that technology yields. Texture mapping, gouraud shading, 2D/3D graphics manipulation, great sound fx and music, stunning animation etc.
Without being overly critical and in an attempt to avoid sounding arrogant, a game without the 'gameplay' is like a cheap thrill-here today, nothing but fragments of erased files when the next piece of eye-candy or trendy stuff hits the shelves tomorrow. That kind of software pays the bills, attracts many (though it may leave many disappointed) and has some positive gameplay aspects in addition to the "gee whiz" technology, but it is not the heart and soul of any great game, let alone that of THE GAME.
For three years I was chasing technology. Great games came and went and Battlecruiser: 3000 AD was still in development. Review followed review, still no game in sight. By late 1994, the delays, slips and technical difficulties finally put a strain on the limited financial resources of Mission Studios. In the interest of all concerned, we agreed that I would find a new publisher to purchase the publishing rights to Battlecruiser:3000 AD.
Several companies expressed an interest, but true to prior form none of the deals panned out. In March 1995, came the next publisher. Invigorated by a recent acquisition of one of those publishers that had already made me the beneficiary of one of those lovely ding letters, my new publisher now expressed an interest in acquiring the same game that the acquired company may have erred in dropping from its stable of titles. This deal fell apart quicker than one would imagine for a project that really was demonstrably close to completion. Two months after the ink had dried on the contract, I was without a publisher again! That stunt cost me two months of development time and attorney fees I did not have to incur (but gladly paid because I'm that kind of guy and my attorney made me say that). In the end, I got my game back. I'm sure you've probably read about the circumstances in one of the computer gaming magazines. I won't go into any details here.
Anyway, one bright afternoon I was buried deep in code (never say die, Dr. Smart, the Tooth Fairy got your message and will see you immediately!!!) when the phone rang and I found myself speaking to Ryan Brant at Take 2 Interactive Software, who I didn't know from a hole in the wall. Apparently, he had read about the incident with my prior publisher in the press and expressed an interest in the game. A few days later, armed with what I thought was a top notch support team and a dedicated publisher Battlecruiser: 3000 AD was finally headed for the shelves. Take Two purchased the rights from Mission Studios and went to work providing whatever assistance the development needed to ensure its timely completion.
It was the deal that has changed my life and all but ruined my career. For all of you out there with questions about why this development has taken this long and what has Derek Smart been doing, now you know. The answer to whether it was worth the wait and whether Battlecruiser: 3000 AD is anywhere close to the epitome of gaming that I worked so hard to at least try to achieve, lies in the box and awaits your judgment. Now that you've opened it, install it, play it and determine whether it is THE GAME or any reasonable facsimile thereof. Whatever your conclusion is, I have truly expended all efforts to attempt what may be as impossible as writing the Great American Novel. Most of all, do what I'll be doing post-release, have some fun!!
THE DOWNHILL SYNDROME....
Talking about Take Two's mistake causes me nothing but aggravation and turmoil because I trusted them. When they [Take Two] came calling right after the Intracorp deal fell through, I really knew that this time, the game would reach the shelves. They were more concerned that the project would never get finished and wanted a little 'assurance' that it would not be the case. Of course, they wanted me to pay my own way. Naturally.
I was more concerned that since the inception of my idea in 1989, I had gone though three publishers. Three Sixty Pacific went out of business shortly after a deal was signed. Mission Studios could no longer afford the project due to other project financial commitments. Intracorp had requirements I was not prepared to meet, including the modification of my design specs. With these issues in mind, I was not prepared to lose another publisher and as such, was determined to do whatever I could in my power to make the game happen and complete it once and for all.
Three things happened in May of 1996 as a result of the project not shipping for Christmas 1995 as was suggested. 1. I was asked to leave Miami and go to Latrobe, PA to 'work with' their team on finishing the project. 2. Take Two wanted me to give them release rights as a guarantee that I would not stifle the final release of the game. 3. I was to take a royalty cut to pay for their investment that included paying Intracorp and Mission Studios for their expenses and providing me with monthly development funding. That royalty cut meant not being paid for 100,000 thousand units. Think about it. 100,000 units. Most games don't even sell 50,000 units. Based on the figures that I had been sold, I was confident that indeed the title would sell several hundred thousand units worldwide. Because of this, I didn't care about the royalty cuts especially since, effectively, the game was paying for itself as it always had in the past.
I did #1 as instructed and went up there in April 1996. At the same time my contract was modified to support #2 and #3. It went downhill from there. Now that they had release rights and the project had been brought 'in house', they felt they could chop 'n ship the game. Boy were they wrong on that one. This nonsense people are saying about them not seeing the code, is what it is, utter nonsense. The only code I did not make them privy to, for obvious reason, was my artificial intelligence engine. They had libraries for that. Besides, that engine required no modifications. With an assigned project scheduler, an entire art team, a sound fx team and two programmers, we set to work. It went downhill from there a few weeks later when it became obvious that BC3K would not be ready to ship for Christmas '96 though I already knew that it would not happen and had requested more time. The extension was rejected and they set out on tasks aimed at having something to ship. They hurriedly replaced my dynamics engine with some chase dogfighting code that didn't work. The artwork and models done by the artists were fine because let's face it, these guys are all from the art institute in PA, one of the best in the country. I had already done, and paid for all my sound fx, only new MIDI sequences were added. Programming assistance for the core game engine was pretty much non-existent because the gentleman assigned to me spent more time taking orders from the NY head office about what 'he' needed to do, than to listen to me who was the project leader, designer and producer of the title. He spent most of his time figuring out how to merge the chase engine with my dynamics engine something I told them could not be done. I told them that dogfighting was part of the things to do and needed to get done right but they felt that it was one less thing for 3000AD to do. Fair enough.
|Credits: Guest Editorial logo illustrated and is © 1999 Dan Zalkus. This Guest Editorial is © 1999 Derek Smart. All other content is © 1999 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited and not nice.|