Visceral Games

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Visceral Games
Formerly called
EA Redwood Shores (1998–2009)
Subsidiary
Industry Computer and video games
Interactive entertainment
Founded 1998; 20 years ago (1998)
Defunct October 17, 2017; 2 months ago (2017-10-17)
Headquarters Redwood City, California, United States
Key people
Scott Probst (general manager)
Amy Hennig (creative director)
Products Dead Space (2008–13)
Owner Electronic Arts
Website www.visceralgames.com

Visceral Games (formerly EA Redwood Shores[1]) was an American video game development studio owned by Electronic Arts. The studio is best known for the Dead Space series.[2]

History[edit]

As EA Redwood Shores (1998–2009)[edit]

In 1998, Electronic Arts (EA) moved from San Mateo, California to a new corporate headquarters building that they had constructed in Redwood Shores, California.[3] In this move, they founded a studio at this location, named EA Redwood Shores, which operated under the general "EA Games" division.

EA Redwood Shores' initial title was Future Cop: LAPD, released in 1998. Subsequent games through 2008 were generally licensed tie-ins with movies and other properties.[4] According to designers Ben Wanat and Wright Bagwell, EA had not been keen on producing original intellectual property (IP) during this time, but the studio was pursuing an idea of making a second sequel to System Shock, and Vice President and General Manager Glen Schofield had been trying to coax EA's executives to let them pursue this. While they had some gameplay and ideas set for this game, the title changed upon the release of Capcom's Resident Evil 4 in 2005, which received high critical praise and commercial success. According to Wanat and Bagwell, not only did Resident Evil 4 alter their ideas for the System Shock game, but it also helped Schofield to convince EA's management to let them pursue a new title. The game became known as Dead Space.[5]

As Visceral Games (2009–2017)[edit]

Dead Space was a critical success, leading the studio to be rebranded to Visceral Games in 2009.[4] Along with this, the studio was moved out from EA Games and became its own division under EA, being the first "genre" studio within the company, with the focus of developing third-person action games in the same vein as Dead Space.[6] Alongside the rebranding, two sister studios, Visceral Montreal in Montreal, Quebec alongside EA Montreal, and Visceral Melbourne in Melbourne, Australia were established.[7]

Alongside its work for Dante's Inferno, inspired by the Divine Comedy, Visceral had announced plans in 2009 for a title called The Ripper, which was inspired by Jack the Ripper.[4] The Ripper was confirmed to have been cancelled, potentially as early as 2009,[8] but industry rumors suggested that a spin-out of that title Blood Dust had been at work at the Visceral Melbourne studio before the project was cancelled. The Visceral Melbourne studio was closed down on September 19, 2011.[9]

On its release in 2010, Dante's Inferno received mixed reviews, and the studio subsequently returned to Dead Space with its sequel Dead Space 2, released in 2011.[4] The sequel has similar critical success, but in 2017, it was revealed that the game was considered a financial disappointment with EA; following the studio's closure, former level design Zach Wilson estimated that with development costs around $47M and an equivalent marketing budget, EA did not recoup enough costs on 4 million in sales.[10][4]

Visceral continued working on the next title, Dead Space 3, which they wanted to make in the same vein as the first title, but according to Wanat, there was concern from EA about this approach, and among other large changes, had the team introduce co-operative play into the game.[11] Wanat described that there was pressure to make the game play faster and appeal to a broader audience, an approach that was at odds with the roots of the series in the horror genre.[5] Though the game still had generally positives on its release in 2013, it sold far less than Dead Space 2.[5] EA's VP Patrick Söderlund said in a July 2013 interview, following Dead Space 3's that while they still valued the franchise, Visceral was not working on a fourth title, and instead had been assigned to two new projects.[12]

Visceral had also been developing Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel with the Visceral Montreal studio. Upon its completion, EA let go of the whole of Visceral Montreal on February 21, 2013.[13]

One of the two projects that Visceral started working on in 2013 was Battlefield Hardline, a "Cops and Robbers" variation on the previous Battlefield games.[4] A smaller team then started working on a project called Jamaica, a pirate-themed game.[14]

Ragtag[edit]

In early 2013, Disney had acquired Lucasfilm and shut down its game development studio LucasArts. EA quickly made a deal to help develop lucrative Star Wars games through three of its studios, including Visceral. [14] Furthermore, Ubisoft had announced Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, which also was based on a pirate theme.[14] EA cancelled the Jamaica project in favor of a Star Wars game. The studio opted to pitch a third-person action game that maintained the spirit of Jamaica, having players play as "space scoundrels" in an open-world-style Star Wars universe, and code-named this project as Yuma.[14] Amy Hennig, the writer for the first three Uncharted games from Naughty Dog, was brought into EA for Visceral as creative lead and to help write the story for Yuma.[14]

Battlefield Hardline became a company-wide priority for the studio as its development became troubled in 2014. The switch to a different engine, style of gameplay, and narrative caused Yuma's production to stall, and by the time Hardline was released, Hennig no longer wanted to do a non-linear game but instead return to a strongly linear narrative game.[4][14] This effectively became a new game, maintaining the "space scoundrel" approach and making it about a large-scale heist, taking place in the wake of events of Star Wars IV: A New Hope. This title became known as Ragtag.[14] The game would have allowed players to control multiple characters to set up and execute crimes, but several of the former Visceral employees called the game's goal's "lofty", and there was significant trouble in adapting the Frostbite engine for third-person shooters. They also stated that there were several creative gates they had to pass with Disney/Lucasfilm for character design and art assets, and described internal conflicts with Hennig, believing that she wanted strong creative control of the game.[14]

After Hardline finally shipped in 2015, EA let go of Visceral's General Manager Steve Papoutsis and replaced him with Larry Probst's son, Scott.[15] Wanat and Bagwell left as well in 2015 to co-found Outpost Games.[16][14] EA further flattened the structure at Visceral to give the creative leads more power, mirroring the structure at Naughty Dog. Half of the team was assigned to Ragtag, and the rest to downloadable content for Hardline.[14] At the time that pre-production started on Ragtag in mid-2015, about 30 employees were assigned to it, with plans to bring the remaining 30 aboard once they completed Hardline. Such numbers were too small for a large game, and to avoid having to lure in more programmers to the San Francisco area and its high cost-of-living, they established Motive Studios in Montreal, led by Jade Raymond, the original producer of the Assassin's Creed series, with their first project to work with Visceral on the Star Wars title.[17][14] This added an additional 70 people to Ragtag's development team.[14] Around that time, tensions between Visceral and EA arose over the direction of the game on two issues: the lack of any recognized Star Wars characters or Jedi force powers despite having been given creative freedom to create new characters from Disney/Lucasfilm, and the expectation that Ragtag would be a critically praised game with a high Metacritic score as to challenge the upcoming Uncharted 4.[14]

EA released Star Wars Battlefront in November 2015, which was extremely successful.[14] Because of this, Visceral found that EA started to draw away from Ragtag, and instead funnel more of its studios into Battlefront's sequel, Star Wars Battlefront II; Motive Studio were taken off Ragtag, and Visceral was not allowed to hire additional staff.[14] During 2016, EA laid off some of Visceral's staff, and others left for other positions, leaving Ragtag's development stalled. Visceral knew they had to make a good game demo to get further development funding from EA, and began work on this in 2016. Part of this demo was shown at E3 2016 in June of that year.[18] With more of Visceral's staff leaving, EA opted to bring its EA Vancouver team to help with Ragtag's development.[14] While this provided extra man-power to expand the demo, the new structure enforced in Visceral made it seem to the developers that EA was positioning EA Vancouver to take over the project.[14]

The team presented its internal demo to EA for a gate review in April 2017, and were given the green light to continue development, with expectations to have another review six months later.[14] Visceral worked to get the demo in place, and showed it to EA in mid-October 2017, but based on the state of the demo EA made the decision to close down Visceral days later on October 17, 2017.[14] EA reassigned the Star Wars game to its EA Worldwide Studios, led by EA Vancouver, and said they will revamp the gameplay, which had been described as a linear, story-heavy title, into "a broader experience that allows for more variety and player agency".[19] The closure of Visceral was seen as a sign of the waning interest in publishers in making games that are strictly single player, as many of Visceral's games had been.[4][20][21][22] In light of these concerns, EA's CEO Andrew Wilson stated that the reason for Visceral's closure wasn't a single-play versus multiplayer game issue, but instead one based on listening to player feedback and following marketplace trends. The company felt that the current design of Ragtag wasn't fitting these changes and that the closure of Visceral and reassignment to another studio was because "we needed to pivot the design".[23] EA's CFO Blake Jorgensen further said that their company found the game was too linear for what they felt consumers were looking for and towards EA's goal of pushing the game "to the next level". At the time of Visceral's closure, the studio was down to about 80 staff after losing several over the years, which Jorgensen said was a "sub-scale nature" that required them to assign EA's Vancouver and Montreal studios to help, and that the closure was primarily a business, cost-saving measure.[24]

Games developed[edit]

Year Game Platform(s)
as EA Redwood Shores
1998 Future Cop: LAPD Mac OS, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation1
1999 CyberTiger PlayStation1
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2000
2000 NASCAR Rumble
Road Rash: Jailbreak
2001 007: Agent Under Fire GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox
Rumble Racing PlayStation 2
2002 Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003 PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube, Microsoft Windows
2003 Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2004 PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube, Microsoft Windows
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube, Microsoft Windows
2004 James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox
The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age
2005 James Bond 007: From Russia with Love
2006 The Godfather PlayStation 3, Wii
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07 Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox, Xbox 360
2007 MySims Microsoft Windows, Wii
The Simpsons Game PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
2008 Dead Space Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
MySims Kingdom Wii
2009 The Godfather II Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
as Visceral Games
2009 Dead Space: Extraction PlayStation 3, Wii
2010 Dante's Inferno PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
The Sims 3: Ambitions Microsoft Windows, OS X
2011 Dead Space 2[25] Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
2013 Dead Space 3
Battlefield 3: End Game[26]
Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
2015 Battlefield Hardline Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One

References[edit]

  1. ^ McWhertor, Michael (2009-05-04). "Dead Space Devs Change Their Name To Visceral Games". Kotaku. Retrieved 2009-12-12. 
  2. ^ "Dead Space for Xbox 360 Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 2012-08-04. 
  3. ^ Simon, Mark (February 23, 1995). "EA Plans To Leave San Mateo / Game company moving to Redwood Shores". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved October 19, 2017. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h McCarthy, Caty (October 19, 2017). "The Rise and Fall of Visceral Games". US Gamer. Retrieved October 20, 2017. 
  5. ^ a b c Paget, Mat (January 15, 2017). "How Resident Evil 4 turned System Shock 3 into Dead Space". PC Gamer. Retrieved October 20, 2017. 
  6. ^ Nutt, Christopher (February 10, 2010). "A Distinct Vision: Nick Earl And Visceral Games". Gamasutra. Retrieved October 20, 2017. 
  7. ^ Alexander, Leigh (October 13, 2010). "Interview: Earl Reveals EA's Expansion Of Visceral Label". Gamasutra. Retrieved October 20, 2017. 
  8. ^ Conduit, Jessica (February 24, 2012). "All clues point to concept art for Visceral's canned Jack the Ripper title". Engadget. Retrieved October 20, 2017. 
  9. ^ Reilly, Luke (2011-09-18). "Visceral Games Melbourne Shut Down". IGN. Retrieved 2012-08-04. 
  10. ^ Chalk, Andy (October 18, 2017). "Former Visceral designer says Dead Space 2 cost $60 million and 'underperformed'". PC Gamer. Retrieved October 20, 2017. 
  11. ^ Bratt, Chris (February 23, 2017). "The Dead Space 3 the developers wanted to make". Eurogamer. Retrieved October 20, 2017. 
  12. ^ Makuch, Eddie (June 18, 2013). "Dead Space series not killed". GameSpot. Retrieved October 20, 2017. 
  13. ^ Marchiafava, Jeff (February 21, 2013). "Update #2: Visceral Montreal Employee Confirms Entire Staff Let Go". Game Informer. Retrieved October 20, 2017. 
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Schreier, Jason (October 27, 2017). "The Collapse Of Visceral's Ambitious Star Wars Game". Kotaku. Retrieved October 28, 2017. 
  15. ^ Schreier, Jason (April 8, 2015). "Management shake-up at Battlefield Hardline developer Visceral Games". Kotaku. Retrieved April 10, 2015. 
  16. ^ Nutt, Christopher (July 23, 2015). "Outpost Games nets $6.2 million for games that are 'fun to watch'". Gamasutra. Retrieved October 20, 2017. 
  17. ^ Karmali, Luke (July 13, 2015). "Jade Raymond Starts New Studio To Work On Amy Hennig's Star Wars Game". IGN. Retrieved September 27, 2015. 
  18. ^ Purchase, Robert (June 12, 2016). "In-game footage of Visceral and Amy Hennig's Star Wars shown". Eurogamer. Retrieved October 17, 2017. 
  19. ^ Wales, Matt (October 17, 2017). "EA has shut down Visceral Games". Eurogamer. Retrieved October 17, 2017. 
  20. ^ Sarkar, Samit (October 18, 2017). "EA's Star Wars 'pivot' is a vote of no confidence in single-player games". Polygon. Retrieved October 20, 2017. 
  21. ^ Staff (October 19, 2017). "Does Visceral's closure prove AAA single-player games are dying?". Gamasutra. Retrieved October 20, 2017. 
  22. ^ Klepek, Patrick (October 17, 2017). "Today's Star Wars News Makes the Future of Single-Player Look Very Messy". Vice. Retrieved October 20, 2017. 
  23. ^ Chalk, Andy (November 1, 2017). "EA CEO says Visceral closure and 'Ragtag' cancellation wasn't about single vs. multiplayer". PC Gamer. Retrieved November 1, 2017. 
  24. ^ Kerr, Chris (November 29, 2017). "EA: Visceral's canned Star Wars project too linear for modern tastes". Gamasutra. Retrieved November 29, 2017. 
  25. ^ "EA Brings the Terror to Space in Dead Space 2". Electronic Arts. 2009-12-07. Retrieved 2009-12-08. 
  26. ^ "Visceral made the End Game DLC for Battlefield 3". Reddit. Retrieved 2014-06-27. 

External links[edit]