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06 February, 2012

Leaving Relic

So, time has come again, and today was my last day at Relic Entertainment. As I did when I left EA, I want to write a bit about my experience with the Relicans and why I left (but not where I'm going, it's not a big secret but I always keep that from the public of this blog to avoid spam in the comments).
Relic and EA(C) are almost polar opposites. The latter latter being the world biggest videogame studio, shipping iterations every year or less (Fifa...), relies on a very refined (even if still suprisingly flexible) production methodology, while Relic still feels like an Indie studio even after the acquisition by THQ. Relic works by distilling talent into games, it's really about people over processes.
One of the kitchens, with free pop. Donuts on Friday, I'm too fat...
And oh boy if they do have plenty of talent... It was truly a pleasure working among them!
By the way, I don't mean that the folks at EA are not bright, quite the opposite, it takes a lot of genius to make NHL, Fifa, Fight Night and all the other franchises there at the studio, but it's a rather different situation, it's a matter of priorities I guess. Working at Relic feels less constrained, sometimes scaringly so. It's a more hands on approach where great hackers can make a bigger difference, and they do.
Space Marine
I should have started my job at Relic on a title which is still unannounced today, but as it often happens things change from the interview to your first day in the office and I was immediately reassigned to Space Marines, and I stayed there until it shipped. And with my help it become the third worst game (in terms of metacritic) of Relic's history (actually, the worst game if we look at the PS3 metacritic only)...
What happened? 

I wouldn't know, really. I'm a gamer and a technician. I enjoy games and do everything that is required to make them visually beautiful, and that's all. I've seen too many people who are not experienced in my own craft saying so much... inaccurate things (and I was among them ten-ish years ago) about it that I don't really love talking about fields which are not my own.
But... If I have to tell you my own perspective... Nothing really happened. It went they way it probably had to. It was the company's first big console title, it was the company's first third-persons action shooter, the first multiplatform game. It started from zero and it was pitted against one of the biggest franchises ever (and I'm guessing here but I'd bet... spending less money to make it, and much less to market it for sure). Moreover, it intended to be a Hollywood production made by people who were really well known for their indie-art titles.

There were mistakes, sure. There was plenty of overtime.... Could it really have ended much differently? With the same people, the same culture, the same resources and amount of support I would say not. 

An area were part of the SM team was that has not been reassigned yet
You can see Relic behind Space Marine... I'm not a fan of the genre but I can tell that the core gameplay is incredibly well done (and remember, company's first shooter!). I had fun with the multiplayer, and I don't play multiplayer! And the rendering is much more accomplished than it seems, and its consistency really surprised me. The amount of features these geniuses managed to cram in the development cycle of something that basically started from scratch is amazing. What it lacks its the production, is the depth and breadth.
The table-tennis room. No day went by without a 2vs2 match
Anyhow it doesn't really matter, and surely what I write on the argument does not matter. I'm sure that Relic will make new and really great games, the ones I saw in development are... exciting, really. 
New, great games will come.
Unfortunately, they are not the kind of projects that I'm personally, for my career, needing, and there was nothing I or them could do about that obviously. We just become not matched for each other, and it sucks, but it happens. Goodbye and best luck to all Relicans and be proud of Space Marine!


Anonymous said...

I would say Space Marine could be a great game but weak story, too linear gameplay without any tactics, lack of details, weak voicing(W40K:DOW has much better voicing), disbalance in late levels, final boss killed it. But it has potential at least.

MaciejS said...

Wow, that was quick... Good luck with your future endeavours!

DEADC0DE said...

Lol MaciejS, I just noticed that you were among the first to comment on my "leaving EA" post too :) Yes, it was "quick" but if you follow the game industry (I don't usually) then you might have noticed some recent trends... Long story short, I don't have faith in THQ and in its plans, so not only I didn't love the current situation but I didn't have much faith it will go towards the direction I personally wanted anytime soon. That's not to say that Relic won't keep going on and ship great stuff, I believe that will be the case, but I didn't have faith it will work on stuff that I personally would love to work on.

Anonymous said...

You said "And the rendering is much more accomplished than it seems". Can you elaborate on this more? I've come across many fellow programmers that have similar comments, what prevented SM from showing off the rendering to it's full potential?

DEADC0DE said...

Well, first of all the best rendering is the one that does not obviously show its effects, so there are tricks that are quite unique in the code that will probably always remain secret or so. And that is good... We made an engine that moves quite a large world (and a large number of effects and particles...) it's pretty competent when compared to the state of the art and that alone is quite a feat for our first console engine. That said, it could have been even better, sm production was not super smooth to say the least and we probably packed more features than we even needed or had the experience to be able to use at their best. It could have in my opinion looked even better with less, and it could still move even more stuff but in my eyes its in absolute value very competent and good looking, and all things considered a great accomplishment.

DEADC0DE said...

Also... Look at the screenshot in the post. Not bad at all... And if you are a renderer with a very crtitical eye you could maybe spot a thing or two... Or maybe not. But one problem is that its not always consistent (in terms of quality, not framerate) and that happens usually because of production issues and lack of experience. I think SM is an amazing foundation, at its core it could rival any other game (even if its real core... Well but I digress) but we didn't manage to build a product on top of that core that is really as epic as we should and wanted to

PaddyWagon said...

"the best rendering is the one that does not obviously show its effects"

And this is why I try to keep up with your blog here and it's a very important point for anyone doing outward-facing work like rendering or GUIs. Best of luck to you!

Anonymous said...

Hi, just found your blog via last year's Skin post you made. What do you think of Jimenez's work? I'm not a graphic programmer, but I'm reading and researching it to learn more and I found a few of your posts interesting.

Good luck with all really

DEADC0DE said...

I don't know, I didn't delve into the sourcecode and there is no published technique out. The video looks good but really who cares? Techniques are useful tools in our libary, and each and every is useful (or almost). Understanding what we need when is the key.