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Call of Duty - The Lawsuit

Zonk posted more than 7 years ago | from the my-favorite-part-is-when-the-lawyer-filed-a-motion dept.

The Courts 21

Gamasutra is running a follow-up to their annotated contract piece from last month. As you may recall, the contract became public knowledge because of a court case between Spark unlimited and Activision regarding the title Call of Duty : Finest Hour. The article also covers a legal dispute between Spark/Activision and EA during the formation of the troubled development house. Now, the site is running an in-depth look at their legal dispute. The article explores some of the problems that can face any developer/publisher relationship, and how the legal case has affected that already strained situation. "A constant source of friction was Activision's desire to see a fully functioning game early in the development process. 'At Electronic Arts', he wrote, 'the level vision was able to be constructed without the constraints of frame rate, or memory to get the body of the game in and working,' a process which left polish until the end of the development cycle. 'However, under the more risk-averse Activision system, polish happens through the entirety of the process and there is a consistent desire to have the game playable on disc and running at 30 fps.'"

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Wonderful story (-1, Offtopic)

Mipoti Gusundar (1028156) | more than 7 years ago | (#18124044)

Nothing seen here, plaeas to be moving along now!

In regards to the quote in the summary... (4, Informative)

Wilson_6500 (896824) | more than 7 years ago | (#18124258)

EA's method causes the game to get released without the polish, period. If any shows up, it comes in patches later on, most of which we will probably have to buy in the future.

Activision's method causes stress on the designers, and perhaps contributes to an "anything for 30" mentality--consoles don't have adjustable system parameters, so those who're designing for a console must sacrifice everything and anything to get the magic FPS number. This is only a problem if the game is developed _for_ consoles to be ported to PC, or developed concurrently with the PC version--because then the PC version will be hamstrung for the sake of the console version. If you're going to release to the PC crowd, do it right: these people have computing power and can generally get more if they need it--or can turn down some options if they don't want it.

Re:In regards to the quote in the summary... (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 7 years ago | (#18125256)

How meny games for windows will end the same way when m$ trys to push live for pc games

Agile Game Development (3, Insightful)

JoelMartinez (916445) | more than 7 years ago | (#18124264)

... to see a fully functioning game early in the development process
Agile game development people ... learn it, love it. IMO, constructing the "level vision" without regards to performance might help get the game approved by management, but will yield more difficulties in the future than it will solve.

Re:Agile Game Development (4, Insightful)

HappySqurriel (1010623) | more than 7 years ago | (#18124370)

Way back in the day (when I was a game developer, before I 'burnt out') I used to argue that it would make more sense to build a rough prototype of every level in the game (using assets that wouldn't even look good for a Playstation game) and then to work in short iterations to improve the overall quality of the game. I argued that, although early versions of the game would not be useful for public consumption, the overall quality of the game should be better in the end ...

I don't know if I was correct, but I have been hearing that the basic principles of my idea are being used by more and more development houses because it allows for far more parallel development (meaning you can have a larger team rather than a longer development cycle).

Re:Agile Game Development (4, Interesting)

mikael (484) | more than 7 years ago | (#18124652)

Thats the way I used to develop and write software - identify and solve the hardest problems first, then go to town on the rest of the project. For game programming this would mean getting the AI to work first with placeholder graphics, then work on improving the visual effects and gameplay.

Unfortunately, this philosophy has the risk of being abused by management who try and pigeonhole you into solving hard problems all the time ('we thought you were happy') and giving the interesting work to their mates. Since everyone is also thinking about what they are going to be doing on the next project, this usually means the visual effects get done first and the gameplay/AI is left to the last minute.

Re:Agile Game Development (2, Insightful)

nasch (598556) | more than 7 years ago | (#18127478)

Unfortunately, this philosophy has the risk of being abused by management who try and pigeonhole you into solving hard problems all the time ('we thought you were happy') and giving the interesting work to their mates.
I thought the hard problems were the interesting work. Then again I'm not a games developer, so maybe it's different there.

Re:Agile Game Development (1)

mikael (484) | more than 7 years ago | (#18131438)

For most game programmers, working with rendering is the interesting and fun stuff - the rewards are instantaneous, as you can immediately see the effect of the changes that you have added to the game. And most graphics techniques are documented publicly (research papers, books, course notes...) Management can instantly see that you have made progress - Select a material, and render some polygons. Also, for systems like the PS2, the rendering component of the game usually ends up taking up most of the vector processors.

As AI is considered more of a bolt-on, this means the AI programmer gets constrained by what clock cycles remain between rendering each scene frame and the vertical blank, the data representation of the game and what memory space remains. It always been like this - writing Chess playing games in BASIC was the big challenge back in the late 1970's - Atari came out with a version of Chess that used only 4K of memory [atariage.com] . Such strategy games may require a thread running in the background to do MiniMax tree searches. And the AI for each game is unique - rendering a Tennis game will be identical to rendering a Snooker game, but the AI will be completely different. Failing to get the AI working properly could force the development of a title to be cancelled. So the pressure is fairly intense for an AI programmer.

Re:Agile Game Development (4, Informative)

mypalmike (454265) | more than 7 years ago | (#18125552)

Back before I 'burnt out', the good games I worked on usually followed the pattern you describe. The bad ones usually did not. Depending primarily on budget, game levels were either cranked out and quickly QA-ed (to make sure the level could be completed without crashing) before shipping, or several iterations of real playtesting were used to hone the levels from rough prototypes to finely detailed crafts. In most cases, only a couple of major iterations were needed, with many smaller ones.

I recall one game that almost ended up a total failure. About two weeks before we went gold, 75% of the levels were just plain bad. QA had been so focused on tracking down bugs that little time was put to deciding what was "fun". The lead programmer put his foot down and made everyone on the team (programmers, artists, etc.) just play the game for a couple days to provide gameplay feedback. Within a week, the level design changes from that feedback helped the game become something we could be proud of, and it ended up being fairly successful. In game development, it is sometimes possible to polish a turd.

Re:Agile Game Development (1)

Cheapy (809643) | more than 7 years ago | (#18138912)

What game was this?

Am I following this right? (4, Interesting)

Brigade (974884) | more than 7 years ago | (#18124266)

Former EA employess decide to create game studio (Spark)
Spark signs deal with Activision for 3 games and US$1M advance
Spark hires other EA employees for art/development
EA sues Spark over ghost and zip files (theft), Spark says it's EA IT's fault (incompetence)
EA/Spark settle for nothing.
Activision advances Spark cash to cover legal fees.

That's just getting the studio off the ground. At this juncture, I feel bad for Spark and angry with EA ('course, who needs much reason these days to be angry @EA). Also, Activision is acting cool (or protecting their investment) and helping bail them out of trouble.

Spark starts development work on "a AAA title" for Activision (CoD)
Development crawls, Activision gets antsy
Activision outsources a lot of the dev work for game, and sends over contractors to help
Activision advances more money to Spark for development
Spark CTO quits and sues Spark(?) (unclear in article, assumed)
Game finishes, ships, and sells pretty well

Ok .. so fiasco over. Activision got their game, Spark got it done (amidst great turmoil)everyone happy right?

Spark proposes another game to Activision
Activision thinks it sucks and tells Spark to take off, contract released
Spark gets pissy and demands a cancellation fee (US$500K)

WTF is wrong with these guys? I can't stand most publishers (EA or Activision), but this little dev studio that could who was plagued by drama (and got bailed out, pretty clean to boot) decides to bite the hand that fed em? I say let em' burn (unless this isn't the WHOLE story)

Re:Am I following this right? (1)

nomadic (141991) | more than 7 years ago | (#18124374)

'course, who needs much reason these days to be angry @EA
These days? I'm still angry over their sinking of Origin Systems...

Re:Am I following this right? (2, Insightful)

LingNoi (1066278) | more than 7 years ago | (#18125312)

It looks like Spark entered this deal on trust from their ex-employers and got royally screwed on the first game they produced and are trying to get out of the deal while not ending up bankrupt because of the mess EA has put them in.

Just goes to show that you got to make sure that contacts are bullet proof by a lawyer (wow I guess they are useful after all) before signing anything.

I don't blame spark at all because if I was reading that agreement I would also just think it was "ok" and sign it. I guess it also shows that even though your an ex-EA employee they can still screw you over.

As a game programming student even if EA offered me a job I wouldn't take it based on everything I have heard and read these last two years.

Re:Am I following this right? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18126590)

I've worked at EA for 4 years and it beats the hell out of the various studios I was at for 5 years prior. It was pretty rough here the first year or so before the major changes that occured after easpouse.

About a year and a half ago, on a whim, I did some interviews at some other studios (Sony, Activision, and some independents) just to test the waters. The work environments I saw, and general hours and other procedures that were explained to me, were like EA PRIOR to the easpouse deal. The pay and benefits weren't as good, either. I've had friends come back to EA after leaving for various other companies, because it's better here.

The way it's portrayed in the gamer media and among gamers in general is not reality anymore. People still talk about EA as if there are horrendous working conditions; we weren't the only ones at the time to put up with some pretty bad BS (I put up with worse at independent developers who had nothing to lose), but while we've changed, many other companies haven't.

You're gonna reap just what you sow (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18130290)

Maybe EA *have* improved a lot, but they reaped what they sowed. Reputations aren't built or changed overnight, and if they hadn't treated the employees like crap in the first place they wouldn't have to work so hard now (assuming that they are...) to regain theirs. Maybe someone will learn a lesson from that, but probably not. I'm glad that I've never had the desire to work in the games industry, because it appears to be a sick and evil perversion of the fun and attractive prospect that naive kids might believe it to be.

If Activision is like you say it is, it's ironic... Activision was formed by ex-employees of Atari sick of being treated like garbage and denied credit for their work.

Re:Am I following this right? (1)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 7 years ago | (#18128382)

If you haven't read "JPod" by Doug Coupland, it's a really clever novel about a game company. I've got issues with other work by Coupland, but "JPod" was enjoyable and hit a nice tone, as well as having pretty rich veins of humanity in it. If you have interest in TFA, and you like to read novels (Google "novel" if you're unfamiliar with the term) you might like to check this one out. It's quick, easy reading, too, despite some rather corny touches like 10pages worth of Pi.

writing code: easy.. making a game: tough! (2, Interesting)

mabhatter654 (561290) | more than 7 years ago | (#18124538)

This really shows how tough the game industry is... it's a lot of work and discipline to get stuff done on time and on budget. Worse is that the best programmers and artists are usually very undisciplined outside their art ... very good ones can have no shred of business sense. Unlike the usual industry stories this one sounds pretty positive... Activision seem to have worked really hard to make the business work.. they got the first product out almost on time!! Unfortunately, it looks like Activision took too much of a hit and didn't want to continue the relationship... it happens.


Most game companies are based on "labor of love" in that the core "owners" usually have the tools and projects lined up on their own dime and want to sell it. That makes the hard stuff like code and content management, bug tracking and all the "busywork" of making a game at least partly taken care of. Spark was selling only their work... their ability to get projects done... and they didn't deliver. After millions of extra dollars from activision to settle lawsuits and cost overruns they still didn't have their act together. They sold themselves as a content house.. with minimal programming then tried to reinvent the programming wheel and lost focus.


As far as Activision requiring playable games why not? 80% of the work in a modern game is content, not coding. Any house worth it's salt should be able to have a playable test bed in a reasonable time frame. That's a business choice Activision wanted...deal with it. EA might allow "pie in the sky" development of the content, but if you get to the end and have to cut features it's a disappointment. Activision has a much more solid plan to get the basics working and build on it... you can always trim cost on textures, models, levels, etc... That's what the customer wanted... it's a hard lesson to learn to do your work how somebody else wants it... as opposed to being owned by the guys paying for the game... but that's business.


Sounds like they need some boring business analysts in there to straighten them out! When you have to comply with SOX, ISO, HIPAA, IRS, big 3 auto, TS, banking, EDI, etc. you spend most 75% of your time following other people's rules and about 25% doing actual work! Sounds like gaming is finally ready for grown ups to run the place!!! That sounds like FUN!!!

Re:writing code: easy.. making a game: tough! (1)

Forrest Kyle (955623) | more than 7 years ago | (#18132336)

"80% of the work in a modern game is content, not coding"

I once heard a quote: "No game has ever failed to ship because the art wasn't done."

Games are difficult because of the programming. They don't spend months in QA because people are trying to decide if they like the textures or not. A videogame is a horrifyingly complex state machine, and it is basically impossible to eliminate all potential bugs in a modern 3D title.

Game production stalls for technical reasons a majority of the time.

Re:writing code: easy.. making a game: tough! (1)

mabhatter654 (561290) | more than 7 years ago | (#18149736)

but the MONEY is going to extra art, music, sound and level design staff, not to programmers. In this particular case the shop was founded on the idea they would make GAMES out of existing engines, not spend much time rewriting their own. The cost of engines like Unreal or Quake4 is entirely realistic and cheap when you're talking employing programmers at 75k+ a year. Perhaps it's a waste of valuable resources to keep reinventing game engines or even trying to hack an engine to do what you need. In that case even, the publisher knows techinical issues take more time and pushed hard to start making the game useable and playable sooner than later... that way you can find more bugs and not introduce more as the game grows.

That's why I'd say it's offically moved to the "real business" side rather than the "arts" side of the game. It's a BUSINESS that lays out a plan, then says STOP when the plan is not being achived or is suffering too much feature creep. I've worked in several factories that have the exact same issues... everybody wants the machines to do "one more thing" and it's going to be great. The same with business software. In the factory setting, there's a guy paying the bills and he expects widgets to start pumping ASAP. I know gaming, movies, music, etc are "art", but on the other hand there is so much waste in the system that needs to be brutally culled. Feature creep seems to be the bane of most games out there today. There are several ways to handle that... rent game engines that have the features you want, if not pay the ENGINE writers to add the feature, they know it better than you. Also, story, gameplay and scope seem to be HUGE issues, these publisher have hundreds of games under their belts, they should have scheduling and work resources under control by now...leading to. Lastly, perhaps games should be more modular, more story driven, it would seem game design takes so long that it's "out of fashion" before it's done. If that's the case they need to change the business model, shorter games, more sequals that truely extend the original, and lower prices to get higher turns on their money. Perhaps they should look at how many players finish these massive games without cheats and dial it down a little. Those are all BUSINESS decisions, not related to engineering or art...

Best Game Ever (2, Funny)

Rydia (556444) | more than 7 years ago | (#18124634)

Sniper in the petit jury! Second Chair down! Repeat, second chair down! Can't count on the judge- he's 12 and his mom called him down for dinner!

Re:Best Game Ever (1)

ab0mb88 (541388) | more than 7 years ago | (#18124710)

I will think about this game as soon as the Lee Harvey Oswald map is released.
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