Hocking Joins LucasArts

By Alec Meer on August 9th, 2010 at 7:12 pm.

Splinter Cell 3 and Far Cry 2 lead Clint Hocking stood down from Ubisoft Montreal back in May, citing a need to challenge himself and to leave comfortable habits behind. The newly-announced upshot of that is that he’s moving to LucasArts, to be creative director on an unannounced project.

In the light of this, it’s worth looking over the man’s open (and excellent) letter regarding his resignation. Notably this bit:

“In the 451 weeks that I have been here, I have adopted many new habits. It has taken tremendous effort to prevent those habits from atrophying into bad ones. Pride burns into hubris. Willingness wilts into desperation. Confidence slows to stubbornness. Passion boils into anger. Each of these faults and others – without care and constant self-examination – risk becoming habits.

I am too comfortable. I am too content. And I know where that can lead for me.

Fortunately, for the first time in my life, I know the way forward. The way forward lies in my having the courage that I did not know I had a decade ago to bid farewell to those tragically comforting habits. I need to walk on hot coals and sleep on a bed of nails. I need to chew on broken glass. I need to drink paint.”

LucasArts, then. Iiiiinteresting. It’s difficult to determine what this suggests in terms of creative opportunities. On the one hand, it’s the Star Wars company, and big licenses can often be less than conducive to original thinking. On the other hand, inserting wild ideas into something that is resistant to it: now that’s definitely a challenge, and quite possibly a highly-motivating one.

On the other hand again, there have been recent signs of interesting throbbing from that old Lucasian brain. Pseudo-indie puzzle-platformer Lucidity may have been disappointing, but it was a nonetheless bold and appreciated attempt to move out of a well-worn comfort zone. The Monkey Island renaissance (to whit, both a remake and a new series helmed by an external studio), meanwhile, did for all its IP-leveraging involve a fair degree of risk-taking. It implies a changed way of thinking.

All told, I’d say this is a peculiar but highly appealing move for a developer who has always seemed bound for something truly fascinating. Can’t wait to see what comes out of it.

(Also: a number of news sites have drawn attention to the fact that LucasArts has seen a number of high-profile, did-they-jump-or-were-they-pushed departures in recent months, and have implied this means something is rotten in the state of Tatooine. It’s possible. It could also be coincidence or purely business. I’m not convinced speculating it has any bearing on Mr Hocking’s new gig is a worthwhile pursuit, though).

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49 Comments »

  1. DJ Phantoon says:

    “I’m not convinced speculating it has any bearing on Mr Hocking’s new gig is a worthwhile pursuit, though”

    Mostly because he’s just not handsome enough to pursue this.

  2. Freud says:

    Surely a protest against the DRM of Ubisoft!

    • Navagon says:

      Another enraged Ubisoft employee that left hated the DRM, but left because of the total focus on graphics at the expense of everything else. I’d imagine that for people working there, the monotony and lack of creativity are bigger problems than the DRM they personally don’t have to concern themselves with.

  3. stevehatesyou says:

    Hocking seems to be one of the few high-profile, big-studio designers who seems genuinely interested in moving the medium forward. So hearing that he’s joining the Star Wars shovelware company is a little disappointing. I really hope he’s working on a unique project, rather than something like Force Unleashed 2.

  4. Jim Rossignol says:

    I did a fantastic interview with Mr Hocking last year, an interview which the dictaphone failed to capture. He was genuinely interesting and enthusiastic, and made me see Far Cry 2 in a new light. Speaking of which, we should probably revisit that game.

    • Freud says:

      I think it would be more appropriate if Ubisoft revisit it and fix it so it becomes as good as it could be.

    • Alexander Norris says:

      Far Cry 2 remains one of the few games that are so damn close to greatness they make me angry. It’s a damn shame that an otherwise interesting and fun game was pretty much ruined by those checkpoints, when adding a single way of bypassing them (whether allowing you to fast-travel to unlocked safehouses so those safehouses could actually serve a purpose on the PC version, which would have the downside of meaning you don’t see the lovely landscape, or much preferably, a system whereby you can steal faction-branded vehicles and use them to drive through checkpoints in the right faction’s territory unhindered).

      I really can’t fathom why someone like Hocking, who’s gone on record saying his primary shtick is total immersion, would have missed this. It’s funny, because I watched most of that hour-and-a-half lecture of his that was linked a couple of weeks ago and he mentioned how medkits are immersion-breakers because they make you do maths about your hit points – when FC2′s checkpoints are probably one of the most violent and annoying immersion breakers (in an otherwise extremely immersive game) because they force you to plan stupid, annoying detours whenever you need to go anywhere (and consequently make your trips as short and repetitive as possible, and miss a great deal of that lovely countryside).

    • Jimbo says:

      Far Cry 2 was one of the more ambitious games of this generation I’d say, especially for a multi-plat title. There wasn’t a whole lot of genuine open-world FPS out there for them to use as a template. I thought it was brilliant. I’m surprised we haven’t heard about a sequel, because most of the complaints about FC2 seemed like easy enough fixes next time around (similar to Assassin’s Creed).

      ^^ I think dismissing LucasArts as the Star Wars shovelware company is a little harsh. A lot of the Star Wars branded games are better than they have any right to be (granted, plenty aren’t), and they’ve put out plenty of great non-Star Wars titles in their time too.

      I have no idea what this game could be, but I have high hopes.

    • mlaskus says:

      Oh damn right, those bloody, respawning checkpoints. The game would be so much better without them. The other thing that irritated me, was how everyone shot you on sight outside of towns. They even had the nerve to tease you with an intro sequence in a taxi that wasn’t shot at even once. Later, realizing that outside of towns everyone shoots at you was incredibly disappointing.

    • Kadayi says:

      Far Cry 2 is a frustrating title. Mechanistically I thought it was up there with Half-life in terms of immersion (the pop up journal being the weak point), and the combat was exciting enough, it was just a shame that the bland storyline and plot concessions to the limited AI made it such a dull game in the end.

      Not too sure what to think about this one. Hocking is certainly a talented designer (I’ve enjoyed his talks even if they are rambling), but lucasarts don’t strike me as a great fit at the end of the day. Here is hoping that if he’s doing anything for them it’s on a new IP of his own devising rather than any of that Star Wars bollocks (I gave up with that shit when the ewoks beat the imperial elite on the moon of Endor).

    • Vinraith says:

      I really enjoyed Far Cry 2, but I can understand why others would find the respawn rate of the checkpoints unacceptably high. Still, for immersion, for atmosphere, and for sheer freedom in an FPS game it was pretty unbeatable IMO. I likd the weapon system, greatly enjoyed some of the missions (the character missions in particular), and was very impressed by the way the game ended as well.

      All that said, the most infuriating thing about Far Cry 2 is that it didn’t have a mod toolset. The game is so incredibly ripe for modding, from the ability to change the checkpoints and other issues people found irritating all the way up to being able to build entirely new adventures in a fantastic engine, it’s a tragic waste of great potential that Ubi chose to lock it down.

    • Premium User Badge

      jaheira says:

      I’d love for RPS to re-visit Far Cry 2 as, IMO, it’s the 2nd best best FPS ever made (after HL2 obv.) The buddy system, the incredible sun graphics, fire simulation, manic jeep battles, awesome repeating grenade launcher, epic chains of explosions, best map ever, wildlife, and superb ending etc added up to one hell of a game. I actually liked the checkpoints – they were a problem you could approach in many different ways.

    • Kadayi says:

      @jaheira

      No one disputes the immersive elements, or the games combat. The problem comes when you try and reconcile the storyline with what’s actually happening in the game world. Save for a select few areas, pretty much everybody hates you (unless your on a Bus it seems) and your missions are so secretive that your bosses don’t even let their own people know to not shoot at you. When everyone’s your enemy, there’s not much to root for.

    • Premium User Badge

      jaheira says:

      @ Kadayi

      Yeah I sort of understand that that, but t just didn’t bother me that everyone was an enemy. I know it wasn’t realistic but FC2 wasn’t trying to be a sim, it’s a shooter. If everyone hates me, well then…good I get to kill ‘em!

    • Kadayi says:

      @jaheira

      I don’t think it needed to be a Sim (in fact I’m trying to figure out how it could be), but open world action RPG would of been a far better thing to go for.

    • Richard Clayton says:

      @Kadayi: indeed. or just some consistency of approach. That opening “on rails” intro has to be one of the best openers for a FPS ever but it’s promisses quickly disolved into a fairly basic shooter within action bubbles. If there was ever to be a FC3 (which is increasingly more unlikely, I suppose) I would have wanted them to spend all that extra development time on AI, faction allegiances, a world in which your actions had consequences etc (and the story that envelopes you). It fell short of greatness in these regards, I feel. As we’ve discussed before I would love to know what Hocking’s intentions were with these aspects even if they, ultimately, had to be shelved.

    • Arglebargle says:

      Argg! FarCry2 Boss. So sad. Great engine, cool looks, abysmal story and those stooopid respawns. IIRC Hocking even mentioned that the respawn issue was brought to him by his QA or Beta people, but they just couldn’t change it, too late. Which tells me he’s some sort of ijit not to realize how game breaking that would end up.

      The characters were pointless, without an inch of difference between them, aside from the portrait. The story consisted of ‘You hate this guy ’cause we say so. He runs guns to Mercs!’ This in a game were you are constantly trying to get money to go buy more guns for your merc.

      So, there’s little for me here clap about. Maybe he won’t screw up the next one.

    • Lilliput King says:

      “Far Cry 2 was one of the more ambitious games of this generation I’d say, especially for a multi-plat title. There wasn’t a whole lot of genuine open-world FPS out there for them to use as a template.”

      Well, there was STALKER, which did the open world thing a hell of a lot better and was apparently ignored. That was around for well over a year by the time of release.

    • terry says:

      These responses sum up how I feel about FC2 almost exactly. I loved the intro bumping alone the road in the jeep, the babbling guy who meets you. It really felt like I was there sweating like a bastard, eyeballs pulsating with delicious malaria. Then I encountered those goddamn checkpoints, the braindead AI and the horrible, horrible map system and a thousand other annoyances that made it more of a chore to get anywhere rather than making me want to explore. It seems a great framework to let modders loose upon but I guess Ubi screwed the pooch locking it down so completely, so it’ll remain a big empty gun sandbox for me much like FUEL is a big empty driving sandbox.

      I respect Hocking and his explanations for why it is the way it is, but it was so almost a great game that playing it now is all the more frustrating.

    • Jimbo says:

      Yeah there was Stalker, and Boiling Point I guess, but I’d assume they were a fair way into development on FC2 by the time Stalker shipped. I don’t think Stalker turned out all that well at all to be honest, at least initially – perhaps it’s improved since I played it.

      Either way, it still wasn’t a well established genre and they had to figure a lot of stuff out as they went. It wasn’t perfect, but it felt fresh to me and I think they made a good job of it.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      It’s interesting that the “fix” for Far Cry 2 seems to almost universally consist in changing the way the enemies aggro. Surely – had Ubi included any real mod possibility – that could be modded up fairly easily? I mean, it’s basically giving the AI from the towns to the checkpoint AI, right?

    • Jimbo says:

      Pretty much, or just make it so you have to stop and bribe your way past if you don’t want them to flip out (a bit like the toll booths in GTA 4). Personally, I didn’t really have an issue with it, but enough people did that they should have picked up on it in development. Perhaps they were concerned their shooter would have ended up with a lack of shooting.

      I’d love to see them take another swing at this style of game, and it’s not like Far Cry 2 flopped or anything.

    • Richard Clayton says:

      @Jim: Do you have any information regarding the possibility of Far Cry 3? There was this http://www.vg247.com/2008/08/27/third-far-cry-game-confirmed-dev-team-has-commitment-to-the-african-setting/ at the time of FC2′s release but nothing since.

      And yes a revisit would be interesting! Lots of strong feelings about this game.

  5. Xercies says:

    No amount of recisting far cry 2 can make it a great game…it had flashes of brilliance but the whole thing was mired by its own boring and tedious gameplay..and horrible respawning. I would have loved it if the respawning was less…the two factions were actually out there in the world and there were civilians so you could feel the full impact of what ou were doing in the country.

    • Xercies says:

      Also the AI was smarter, the stealth wasn’t broken and the missions weren’t so bloody samey.

  6. Justin Teague says:

    It’s worth pouting out that though Star Wars is certainly the most well-known franchise, LucasArts has a rich history in innovatove gaming: SCUMM, Loom, Grim Fandango, Full Throttle, etc. I think there is a lot of potential with the right person at the helm.

    • Freud says:

      I don’t think Lucasarts hire someone like Hocking to do Lego Starwars: Ewok Edition.

    • sfury says:

      They have a rich history, alright, HISTORY.

      Unless they make some shake-ups and try something original again, I’m not very interested.

    • Paul B says:

      Yes, I think it’s interesting that the newest of those innovative games you mention, was made fifteen years ago (Full Throttle). What innovation has LucasArts shown in its own games (not its licences) in the past ten years? Not much. And has it made a truly brilliant game in the last decade – I can’t think of one off the top of my head.

    • Paul B says:

      (Okay Grim Fandango was made 12 years ago, but the point still stands).

    • sfury says:

      Also lots of the people that were behind “SCUMM, Loom, Grim Fandango, Full Throttle, etc.” have long left Lucas Arts so that leaves them with the IPs not the talant that made them (hence they outsorce so many titles – Sam&Max, Monkey Island to Telltale, even Star Wars titles to BioWare and Obsidian, and I just found out even the LEGOs are only published by them).

      If they team him up with the people who made Lucidity though (also they’re hiring new people – https://www.lucasfilm.apply2jobs.com/ProfExt/index.cfm?fuseaction=mExternal.returnToResults&sortBy=3&sortOrder=ASC&CurrentPage=3) and go for something new – I’m all for this.

  7. Schadenfreude says:

    Far Cry 2′s voice acting was mental. It’s like Ubi realised that the actor’s charged by the hour so got them to get through the script as quickly as they could. Never seen a collection of people speak so quickly in my life.

    • Thants says:

      WhatareyoutalkingaboutIthoughtheytalkedperfectlynormal.

    • Grey_Ghost says:

      Actually the problem was it being too authentic. I remember watching something on TV not too long ago with interviews from some African country, and I was surprised that they were speaking English in that super fast pace that FC2 voice actors did. Seriously!

      They should have just hired actors to do fake accents that we could understand.

    • James T says:

      Were you accidentally watching it at 1.5x speed, GG? I’ve met plenty of folks hailing from all over Africa who all speak English at the conventional rate. And in any case, the hyper-fast-talking characters typically weren’t African…

  8. WiPa says:

    I hope for more sneakery and less press-one-button-to-kill-everyone-ery.

  9. Jonas says:

    I demand that Clint Hocking be put to work on a sequel to Republic Commando.

    I DEMAND IT ;-)

    • Vadermath says:

      I SUPPORT THIS.

      Though there are other projects that would be nice to see. I’m kinda torn between what I’d like more; A new Jedi Knight game, or a new adventure game like in the days of old.

  10. Justin Keverne says:

    Been hearing that Joe McDonagh, former Director of Creative Development at Irrational Games has recently joined Lusac Arts as well.

    • jeremypeel says:

      Really? Wow. Maybe something spectacular is happening at LucasArts.

  11. Justin Keverne says:

    Oh and in similar news, Chris “The Wizard” Remo former Editor -at-large for Gamasutra, is now heading to Irrational Games.

  12. Jimbo says:

    Patrice Desilets (Assassin’s Creed creative director) also left Ubisoft for similarly vague reasons, right after Clint Hocking left. Intriguing.

    Ubisoft lost money last year, so maybe they’re gearing up to Activision all of their franchises into the ground and these guys didn’t want to stick around for it.

    • Shocked says:

      Ubisoft lose money?
      How is this possible!

      They followed all imagineable roads to success!
      Completely lock down your product so nobody can steal or play it, make no risky innovative or new game, but follow up on old stuff that totally “works” and be totally honest and up-front publically when addressing your own DRM and piracy!

      I just can’t understand it!

  13. Lars BR says:

    Outlaws 2!

    A sandbox western game with respawning checkpoints!

  14. jeremypeel says:

    The first time I heard of Hocking was reading his open resignation letter, and thought he sounded like an inspired and potentially inspiring guy. LucasArts isn’t the kind of home I’d expect him to head for, but he certainly seems to like a challenge and I’m sure wouldn’t have been tempted to join them without promises of serious artistic endevour and a good amount of creative control. One would imagine the Splinter Cell creative lead would have some bargaining power at least.

    Whatever LucasArts have become, they seem to be making a covert effort towards more interesting ends and with Hocking at the helm, I’ll be eagerly awaiting more news.

    Part of what makes Hocking such an interesting figure is that he’s such a strong advocate of innovative and immersive games but doesn’t work at one of the usual suspects (Irrational, Arkane, other Looking Glass grads). Kinda like Rod Humble, he takes hugely complex and wonderful ideas and pretty successfully applies them to mass gaming culture; I guess LucasArts is just another more extreme step along this road.

  15. Navagon says:

    I like the idea of a major shake up at Lucasarts. Hopefully this will mean good things. It’s way too much to hope for a return to the glory days of Lucasarts, but I’m certain they’ve got many a good title left in them with the right people leading such endeavours.

  16. terry says:

    X-wing, please!

  17. bill says:

    I used to love lucasarts so much that I still remember their ’97 era website.
    Shame they haven’t made a good game since X-wing alliance. sigh.

    Clint seems like a very clever designer who could make some great games at a studio where he had the freedom to do so. I suspect lucasarts isn’t that.

  18. Culprititus says:

    I really enjoyed most of my time with FC2. I think the checkpoints really encouraged the use of boats to get around. The general hostility of the game drove home the oppressive nature of the game world. It still had some flaws, but it was pretty ambitious. I really liked how the player’s HP and vehicles’ HP and other game elements were pleasantly obfuscated for your enjoyment. The limited weapon loadouts really made you feel like a merc trying to determine your optimal kit for a job.

    The MP was also equally brilliant and flawed. It was mostly a sniper-fest, grenade launchers weren’t exactly balanced, no ded servers, etc. The lush environs and destruction however were wonderfully intense for stalking other players . FC2 and Red Faction: Guerrilla both seem to have similar greatness diminished by a few bad choices in design. Some sort of merger of the two with dedicated servers and mod-tools would have been immensely satisfying to behold.