You may or may not have heard this already, but despite outward appearances, Yager's third-person military shooter Spec Ops: The Line was a surprisingly artful, even audacious game. It wrestled with big ideas like player complicity in onscreen violence, military slaughter of civilians, post-traumatic stress disorder and insanity.
In a new article, Polygon's Russ Pitts takes an exceptionally in-depth look at the development of the game, featuring interviews with a number of the Yager's creative leads. The fact that the game got made at all feels like something of a miracle, considering how hostile the AAA industry can be to fresh or experimental ideas. The developers voice their admiration and thanks to publisher 2K for allowing them to make the game they wanted to make, even while voicing frustrations regarding 2K's insistence on adding multiplayer.
Lead designer Cory Davis sounded off:
"The multiplayer mode of the Spec Ops: The Line was never a focus of the development," Davis said, "but the publisher was determined to have it anyway. It was literally a check box that the financial predictions said we needed, and 2K was relentless in making sure that it happened - even at the detriment of the overall project and the perception of the game."
Against Davis' wishes, development on the multiplayer component proceeded and was farmed out to Darkside Studios. The result, according to Davis, was a "low-quality Call of Duty clone in third-person," which "tossed out the creative pillars of the product." "It sheds a negative light on all of the meaningful things we did in the single-player experience," Davis said. "The multiplayer game's tone is entirely different, the game mechanics were raped to make it happen, and it was a waste of money. No one is playing it, and I don't even feel like it's part of the overall package - it's another game rammed onto the disk like a cancerous growth, threatening to destroy the best things about the experience that the team at Yager put their heart and souls into creating."
Davis is right to be frustrated: In the end, Spec Ops' multiplayer felt precisely as tacked on as it obviously was, and stands as perhaps the most inessential multiplayer package I've ever seen in an otherwise interesting game.
The article is a monstrous read, and very enjoyable. You'll get a little ancient history, a lot of insight into the making of a video game, and a little bit of honest developer/publisher straight-talk to cap things off. What more could you ask for?