Metro: Last Light Devs 4A Games Endured Horrific Working Conditions, Says Ex-THQ President
Written Thursday, May 16, 2013 By Lee BradleyView author's profile
Former THQ president Jason Rubin has revealed the tough working conditions 4A Games endured while working on Metro: Last Light, in a statement published on GamesIndustry.biz.
Rubin took over control at THQ towards the end of the publisher’s life, at a time when the writing was already on the wall. Within a matter of months the company had collapsed.
One of the studios Rubin oversaw during that period was Ukrainian outfit 4A Games, which was working on Metro: Last Light, a game subsequently picked up by Deep Silver.
Apparently, during development the studio endured power cuts, poor equipment, poor guidance from THQ and a small budget. They also had to smuggle dev kits and expensive tech into the country.
“It is unfortunate that Prof [Creative Director Andrew Prokhorov], Dean Sharpe, and the rest of the team at 4A won't receive appropriate credit for their achievement in releasing Metro: Last Light,” said Rubin.
“Let's be honest: 4A was never playing on a level field. The budget of Last Light is less than some of its competitors spend on cut scenes, a mere 10 percent of the budget of its biggest competitors. Yet it is lauded for its story and atmosphere.
“It is built on a completely original and proprietary second-generation engine that competes with sequels that have stopped numbering themselves, with more engineers on their tech than 4A has on the entire project. Yet its tech chops are never in question.
“And all of this is compounded by the conditions this Ukrainian team works under in Kiev. The entire 4A studio would fit easily in the (underutilized) gym at EA Los Angeles' offices. Yet Last Light's Metacritic score blows away Medal of Honor: Warfighter.
“As undeniably fantastic as competitor BioShock Infinite may be, the team was given whatever resources they needed to make the title. At the same time, 4A's staff sat on folding wedding chairs, literally elbow to elbow at card tables in what looks more like a packed grade school cafeteria than a development studio.
“When 4A needed another dev kit, or high-end PC, or whatever, someone from 4A had to fly to the States and sneak it back to the Ukraine in a backpack lest it be ‘seized’ at the border by thieving customs officials.”
According to Rubin, he even failed to buy some decent chairs for 4A, thanks to the unfortunate conditions in Ukraine.
“Our only option was to pack a truck in Poland and try to find an ‘expediter’ to help bribe its way down to Kiev,” he said.
“We gave up not because this tripled the cost, but because we realized that the wider Aeron chairs would require spreading out people and computers, which would lead to extra desks, and that ultimately would have required bigger offices. Yes, really.
“I truly enjoyed Far Cry 3, which deserved its great reviews. But how many times did Ubisoft Montreal lose power for hours or days during development? Power outages are the norm for 4A.
“Montreal is cold, but when it gets cold in Kiev it's different,” he continued. “That's because the government provides all of the heating through a central coal burning facility that pipes hot water to homes and offices. Unfortunately, it breaks down reliably a few times a year for a week at a time.
“Then 4A works in their parkas and struggles to keep their fingers warm in temperatures well below freezing. That is unless it snows and they get stuck home for a few days at a time because snow clearing isn't up to Western standards."
“The only thing for which 4A is getting more credit than I think they deserve is the creativity behind the ever frightening, dark, post apocalyptic environment of the game," said Rubin. "I've been in Kiev to visit the team, so I know they just stepped outside for reference.
“That last paragraph is a humorous exaggeration, of course, but there's truth behind the lie.
“One evening when Dean Sharpe arrived at his apartment after a long day at the office a dangerous looking Georgian man and his three-car armed entourage greeted him. Dean was told that, lease be damned, he had a day to clear out and find a new apartment.”
Rubin also pointed towards the “irrational requirements” of THQ, including instructing 4A to include a co-op and multiplayer mode in Last Light within the same small budget.
“If 4A had been given a more competitive budget, in a saner environment, hadn't wasted a year-plus chasing the irrational requirement of THQ's original producers to fit multiplayer and co-op into the same deadline and budget, hadn't had to deal with the transition to a new publisher in the crucial few months before final, what could 4A have created?
“I can only imagine, and I am looking forward to playing it.”
Rubin concluded by saying, “4A is to developers what the Jamaican Bobsledding team is to Olympic sport. The Jamaicans may not have won the gold in 1994, but they beat the Americans who had far more going for them... like winter coats and bobsledding tracks to train on.”
“It is a true testament to the raw skill and potential of the team. Ultimately, it is a desire for the recognition of 4A's talent that drove me to write this. You may know that I have a history of talking about developer recognition. These guys need recognition.”
You can read our Metro: Last Light review, in which we question the influence of THQ on the game, here.