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Postmortem: Monolith's No One Lives Forever

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"Postmortem: Monolith's No One Lives Forever" [1] is a reflective article about the development of The Operative: No One Lives Forever written by NOLF series game designer Craig Hubbard of Monolith Productions, and published on the video game developer website Gamasutra on June 8, 2001. (NOLF was released in 2000.)

IntroductionEdit

On the article's first page, Hubbard describes how Monolith's previous release, Shogo: Mobile Armor Division fell short to original design goals and ambitions. In comparison, Hubbard writes that for NOLF they set the polish of the game as having grave importance. The team "felt it was better to release a comparatively humble game that got all the details right than an ambitious one that fell short in numerous areas", and NOLF "was a monumental improvement over previous efforts".

What Went RightEdit

The second page of the article goes on to describe what went right in terms of planning and production.

In this list of successes, Hubbard mentions having a clear mission statement helped the team to focus on what needed to be included the game, and what needed to be left out. The developers' "primary aim was to make the player feel like the hero of a 60s action/adventure/espionage movie". The team has also developed a list of important characteristics neccesary to achieve their goal, which Hubbard presents, with some specific sources of influences.

Another thing that helped in NOLF's development was the use of flexible systems, which were designed so that designers and artists could get their material into the game without needing an engineer's assistance. Hubbard mentions specific special environments from the game ("[f]or example, the airliner, sinking freighter, and disintegrating space station sequences") as having been primarily developed by level designers and artists.

Team cohesion was, Hubbard claims, "more a matter of luck than anything else, but it was a huge factor both in the success of NOLF from a development perspective as well as the overall quality of the game." He emphasizes the importance of good teamwork, and mentions that how a person will fit into the team is almost equally as important as their technical experience.

The next point is concerned with good scheduling, and how important it is for a normal development company to plan effectively.

Finally, Hubbard concludes this section with the fact that they tried to have realistic expectations. "Given our budget, team size, and development cycle, the best we could hope to do was to create a fun, engaging 60s espionage game that would make up in presentation what it lacked in innovation." He asserts that having greater ambitions would be similar to having the budget of Reservoir Dogs and trying to compete with the production of Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

What Went WrongEdit

In the final section of the postmortem, Hubbard draws up the list of 'what went wrong during the course of developing NOLF.

Signing the deal took a considerable time. Hubbard writes that only months into the development they had a signed contract for NOLF, even though the project has been greenlighted four times before that by various publishers. He describes how the project changed significantly due to the wants of the different producers and marketing departments: "The game actually started off as a mission-based, anime-inspired, paramilitary action thriller intended as a spiritual sequel to Shogo and ended up as a 60s spy adventure in the tradition of Our Man Flint and countless other 60s spy movies and shows." After they could finally settle with the final idea, they could write up the previously mentioned mission statement.

Another negative aspect was the long time they needed for fleshing out the team. A stable team could only be achieved by the time Monolith had a signed contract. Hubbard describes the any losses in employees, as well as some of the difficulties when it came to hiring new ones.

The aforementioned uncertainty surrounding the project in its early stages lent itself to inefficient pre-production. While there was a "tremendous amount of research" done, it wasn't focused effectively – this was especially the case with the game environments. The continuous fluctuation in scheduling also caused some features not be fully speced, which meant extra work during the final weeks of the development.

The development team was waiting on technology for certain gameplay aspects, which meant that these features and areas could only be finished later than they originally expected. Specifically, Hubbard mentions "the terrain system, the animation system, and the vehicles" as being the most problemmatic areas, since these weren't investigated thoroughly before agreeing to them.

Hubbard goes on to a point which "is admittedly a bit self indulgent" – the cinematic overload. While he is "generally pleased with the understated camerawork and shot composition", and proud of some scenes, he identifies a few problems in this area. He categorizes some of the problems as technical difficulties, which included having to give up some cutaways from cutscenes, and the technical issues that arise from trying to make a scene look more natural. Another category of problems – the biggest ones, Hubbard adds – are conceptual flaws. He says that he misguidedly tried to deviate from his "understanding of scene structure and exposition in film", which resulted in the idea that the game player would need more information than a passive audience. Hubbard admits to have deviated "from standard screenplay format, which made it impossible to gauge the duration of a given scene", and therefore the script became much more dense than a normal screenplay. He adds, "[t]he problem is that what flows on the page tends to drag on screen."

Applying the LessonsEdit

In this final section, Craig Hubbard summarizes the article. He recounts how "Monolith has always been brilliant at making mistakes", but they also learned from each of them. Finally, he sums up how the experiences of NOLF have already improved several aspects of the company, and mentions in passing how game development expenses are getting higher, and how a company can stay in the business.

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit

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