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The ‘D’ word

On December 17th last year, Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway disappeared. Having been lined up for a pre-Christmas and then first quarter release, it appeared on Ubisoft’s weekly schedule for the last time on the 12th, never to be seen again. Where’s it gone? What’s happened to it? Has it been, dare I say, delayed?

Not the ‘D’ word!

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Whenever the dreaded announcement comes, people usually express a mixture of disappointment and cautious optimism. It won’t be out just yet, but maybe it’ll be better for it. Yet the strangest emotion gamers show is surprise. It’s as if a release date is set in stone, an unshakeable marker which excitement must be increased in anticipation of.

This perennial disbelief is another sign that people simply don’t understand what goes into making games and the factors that can go wrong in the process. We don’t seem to comprehend the fact that videogames are just another form of software, a medium which is notoriously difficult to manage the creation of.

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Software is invisible at the point of creation, a figment of imagination in a designer’s mind. Its complexity and intricacies are impossible to imagine, let alone the potential problems which lie ahead. As a result, two things are certain; that a project will either go over budget, over deadline or very probably both. In fact, the best practice in the software industry is to multiply whatever time or cost estimation you make by two and a half times to compensate.

The fact that initial deadlines are wildly optimistic has been known for decades, but it doesn’t seem that anyone told the marketing department, particularly in the videogames industry. How many times have we heard of a game being hyped up with teasers and promises, only for hopes to be dashed?

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The difficulty of creating videogames in the first place doesn’t help either. Managing such a multi-disciplinary project must be close to impossible and once problems begin to show up, they can quickly snowball. Take a look at Blacksite: Area 51, a game whose development “was so f***ed up”, according to its lead designer. “There were long delays just getting Blacksite playable”, and once it was, “it went straight from alpha to final.”

Like many people, I was really looking forward to Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway last year, but to be honest I wasn’t surprised at all that it was delayed. I’m not even worried that we’ve heard nothing of it for four months. What’s going on at Ubisoft? Oh yeah, they’re making a game.

The author of this fine article

is the Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in November 2000. Get in touch on Twitter @PhilipMorton.

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