Power Cuts And Responsibility: Making Metro: Last Light

By Craig Pearson on May 16th, 2013 at 2:00 pm.


We’ve yet to WiT Metro: Last Light on RPS, thanks to the review code not working, but its recent release has prompted ex-THQ boss Jason Rubin to write an astonishing article on the development of the game. Over at GamesIndustry.biz, Rubin has written an incendiary post on the daily struggles that Kiev-based dev team 4A Games faced, calling their game “a stunning achievement”, and asking for more recognition of their abilities. If accurate, he paints a team building a game with a tiny budget, in a country where implied corruption necessitates smuggling higher-end equipment past customs officials, for a company he describes as “irrational”. I’m British, so my monocle is currently on the floor.

Rubin joined THQ as company president in May of 2012, so he was there for the final eight months of the game’s development. He claims he wrote the post because: “A combination of a complex and secretive industry, a press that lags the movie and music press in calling attention to the stories behind the games, a dysfunctional and ever-changing sequence of producers causing confusion, the inevitable anonymity that comes from being an Eastern European developer, and a new, last minute publisher that doesn’t see the upside in doing your team’s publicity, will conspire to keep an incredible story hidden.”

So what were those challenges? According to Rubin the working conditions of the team were “appalling”, with the team working on folding chairs, and when he tried to change that the expensive chairs he’d hoped to provide were too big for the offices. He also said the game’s development studio would easily fit inside EA LA’s gym, while the budget for the game was, “a mere 10 percent of the budget of its biggest competitors.”

Tough times, but Rubin also claims that the country’s infrastructure compounded the problems: frequent blackouts would disturb the developers and shut off heating in the sub-zero winters; gangsters threw a producer out of his flat with a day’s notice; and “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.”

It’s an incredible post, particularly when it gets down to THQ’s role in all this: “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?”

He also has a prod at the game’s new publishers Deep Silver, claiming they should be outing the story he’s telling. It’s a strange point to make, given they picked up a nearly complete game and he didn’t do any of this in the eight months that he was in charge. He was in charge of a sinking ship, but if it was a story he believed in and had offered access to the press, there’s no way it would have been turned down. Access to an Eastern-European developer in a country as corrupt as the one he paints isn’t something that’s easily got.

Even so, the full article is definitely worth a look at.

We’re told Deep Silver are preparing a statement. And they’ve already kicked off on Twitter.

Metro: Last Light is already out in the USA, and will be out in Europe tomorrow.

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68 Comments »

  1. engion3 says:

    Sometimes my office chair randomly shrinks to the lowest setting and I have to stand up and fix it. I know exactly what they’re going through.

    • Eonfge says:

      I sometimes forget that I had tea, and by the time I remember, it’s all cold. No central heating can limit such a suffering.

      But in all honesty, I hope that the project worked out. I’ve not played it but the first reviews I’ve read were mixed.

      • solidsquid says:

        Central heating no, but you *could* pick up a USB mug warmer to put your tea on instead of a coaster (you are using a coaster I assume?) to avoid the problem

        • sunkillmoon says:

          but then you’d have to travel to the USA to get a USB cup warmer.

          • MentatYP says:

            Which you would then have to smuggle into the country in your backpack lest it be seized by thieving customs officials.

          • darkChozo says:

            This is starting to sound like a particularly convoluted fetch quest.

          • WrenBoy says:

            My chair is quite comfortable but I once played a videogame which contained a fetch quest.

          • Twitchity says:

            After repairing the BROKEN UNICYCLE with the BENDY STRAW, use it to travel to Medyka, then POUR the bottle of CHERRY SYRUP on the BLACK CAT to create a MOUSTACHE. USE the MOUSTACHE on the DRUNK in the railway car (assuming you OFFERED him the BOX OF RUM BALLS). While the border guards are beating up the drunk for having a cat glued to his upper lip, OPEN the EMERGENCY EXIT with the BLUE DUCK. If you have obtained the JUG OF PETROL to use on the ANCIENT GENERATOR, you can now USE the USB HEATER on the DESKTOP to keep your MUG warm. However, a bug in the game means that even if you purchased the PACKET OF YORKSHIRE GOLD from the MYSTERIOUS TROUBADOUR, you cannot remove it from your inventory.

          • scatterlogical says:

            Don’t forget to use WAX LIPS on MOOSE.

        • Sparkasaurusmex says:

          you could make a fire in a bucket

  2. SAeN says:

    Proof that it’s good work ethic, not piles of money that make a good game. Western developers could learn a thing or two.

    • djriverside says:

      The reviews for this game imply the game could’ve been a lot better with better AI and sneaking mechanics: this story might be proof that even a great dev team is limited by poor working conditions and a tiny budget.

    • Thurgret says:

      Wouldn’t say it’s a good game just yet, though I did rather enjoy Metro 2033.

      I’m waiting for the RPS verdict, but there is, as far as I can tell, universal agreement among the numbers-based critics that the artificial intelligence is just lacking. Others argue that the story just falls flat after a point. Also, only ten hours long– it better be a damn brilliant ten hours if I’m to shell out the release price for it (unless I find it cheaper than €50).

      • NimbusTLD says:

        I bought a legit Steam key for £22 (€26) from http://www.simplycdkeys.com/steam/metro-last-light

        Sourced from Savygamer.co.uk, that site is a money saver!

        • KDR_11k says:

          Define legit: Merely working or do you know how they got that key?

          • VelvetFistIronGlove says:

            I also got a key from them. And it worked. But I don’t know how they got them. They’re clearly not sticking to the £35 retail price that all the other retailers have somehow agreed on. My guess is they’re selling them at a very low margin above the wholesale price they paid.

        • Guttsy911 says:

          I know for a fact that some PC builders snatch keys from new nvidia cards they install in computers (buy a card get Metro (or another top title) 4 free) and sell the keys cheap without giving the PC customer the key.

      • scatterlogical says:

        I’ve just been playing this, about 4 hours in, and I’m finding it to be a top-notch and very entertaining game, bar a couple of technical qualms. It’s better since the FOV patch – but I do wish they’d have more GFX options. That aside, 4A really are proving themselves to be a talented bunch.

  3. RProxyOnly says:

    “Metro: Last Light is already out in the USA, and will be out in Europe tomorrow. ”

    Metro: Last Light is already out in the USA, and because of that people already have it in Europe. (fixed)

    Staggered releases in this day and age is just stupid and self defeating. It’s as if QS want this to fail.

  4. Sardonic says:

    Art through adversity, if I ever saw it.

  5. golem09 says:

    So what we see in game is basically their development environment?

    • phelix says:

      In the grim darkness of the future, game developers work long hours in dank metro stations, for a slice of barely edible bread, to create the games that their mutant overlords desire, all eternity long.

  6. DarkLiberator says:

    I take it Deep Silver don’t like what that former THQ guy said?

  7. The_Hunter says:

    I contacted 4A on facebook after reading this story yesterday…

    “Hi! Our conditions not 5 stars for sure, but still it’s quite acceptable. It’s kind a big garage band. We have fun and friendly atmosphere. It’s not a drama. At the same time we are grateful to Jason for support.
    Thanks! ”

    So…are they just so used to the shit conditions that they’ve become thick-skinned or are things not so bad?

    In other news THE PATCH IS HERE! FOV and no more flicker!

    • rei says:

      Well, the word ‘garage’ suggests the former.

    • SIDD says:

      “So…are they just so used to the shit conditions that they’ve become thick-skinned or are things not so bad?”

      From my experience with a dev team based in Kiev they’re pretty much used to it, don’t complain and just grind on.
      Managing these teams also take a quite different approach from the typical “western mentality” because the way things are done are just fundamentally different so output may not be great initially, but once the gears snaps into place, they get sh*t done like you wouldn’t believe!

    • Don Reba says:

      If you read the comments to that article, Rubin himself admits that his writing was a bit of a hyperbole.

  8. Stevostin says:

    I am picturing their studio as in an Emir Kusturica movie now

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LtMj4S1nWhg

  9. chaosprime says:

    That seems like a heartwarming story, and the game looked interesting enough to pre-order. Then I noticed that Deep Silver was touching it, so I cancelled.

    • NimbusTLD says:

      Why exactly? They became involved with the game only months ago.

    • povu says:

      Yeah seriously, Deep Silver hasn’t really done anything. The game was already nearly finished. Would’ve been nice if they had backed out of that whole Ranger mode pre-order exclusive deal (but AFAIK they didn’t come up with that to begin with, it was already planned by THQ earlier,) but other than that there’s no reason to avoid it because Deep Silver is publishing it.

      • elmo.dudd says:

        But they did manage to get their name, ahead of 4A, in the trailer as part of the environment… …but they never did update the website.

  10. Lagwolf says:

    Well they are gouging people for the right to play it as it should be played ($5 DLC), there is no save function, no FOV slider, it is v. short (10 hours must be at hardest difficult/most anal playthrough) and the story-line is laughably cliche’.

    On the other hand… it is gorgeous to look at it, v. atmospheric and the gun-play is miles better than Bioshock Infinity.

    Is it worth full price? Not really no…

  11. CobraLad says:

    Yeah, idiotic sovietic bureacracy and horrible managers is why you dont want to make business in Ukraine, but its clearly an american person culture shock from standart ukrainian environment.
    I dont know where 4A office is, but Im certain tha there are lots of modern sportcars parked nearby and maybe some rich people restaurants. Thats what happens when your entartainment industry grows with all the world, but infrastructure is from 30s.

  12. Kaira- says:

    Yes, this looks SO horrible. I mean, man, how could they ever have survived working on games in horrible conditions like this?

    Or in other words: hyperbole, ho!

    • darkChozo says:

      To be fair, most of the problems are more studio issues than bad working conditions. Frequent blackouts in particular sounds like it could be killer.

      EDIT: Also, after thinking about it, corporate videos always tend paint their workplaces in the best light possible. It’s quite possible that the video is just showing their nicest dev area and that the folding chair scenario was expansion seating in another place.

    • solidsquid says:

      That… looks nothing like what he was describing. Seriously, where are the folding chairs he mentioned and the people working elbow to elbow?

    • Mo6eB says:

      That is definitely a normal office. Maybe not fit for an oil tycoon, it might not hurt to be larger and so on, but it’s far from inhuman conditions. Still, the general poor infrastructure and corruption are the bigger obstacle in this case

  13. ResonanceCascade says:

    I could easily forgive the shabby AI if the game weren’t COD-levels of linear. It has a lot of good qualities, and I’m not sad I bought it, but these guys could make legitimately great games if they’d just let me play the damn things. I didn’t pay for a movie.

    • philbot says:

      Yes, It is a bit linear, I will agree. But in my current playthrough of it, it isn’t even bothering me. If developers were going to make a game linear, LL is certainly one to learn from.

    • elmo.dudd says:

      Not played Last Light, but 2033 I found to be more linear than CoD.

      • Arglebargle says:

        2033: Great atmosphere, but horribly linear, and with QTEs! Once I realized all that, I quit and deleted, but fortunately only wasted $7 or so. Sounds like the sequel is indeed a sequel.

        • greg_ritter says:

          I for one thought that linearity of this game is it’s strength. They wanted to tell a linear story and they did it great. Don’t see the problem there.

          • Pray For Death says:

            Exactly, why is everyone all of a sudden opposed to linear, atmospheric shooters? Far Cry 3 is fun, but that doesn’t mean every shooter should copy it.

          • darkChozo says:

            A lot of people seem to think that linearity in itself is bad, when it’s really just one design decision among many. It has advantages and disadvantages (leads to a more controlled experience which can mean better pacing, etc, but limits player agency), and you can prefer one style over another, but doing so is more liking preferring FPS to TPS than preferring high-res textures to low-res textures (well, that can be a design decision in some circumstances, but I digress…).

            Probably has something to do with linear games being easier to make but harder to make well than open world games. Player agency is rather compelling, so if you’re sacrificing it you have to do so to make other improvements — story, atmosphere, challenge, spectacle, pacing, etc — and those tend to be harder to do well than just placing stuff in an open world and having the player pull levers and push buttons.

          • ResonanceCascade says:

            I guess I should clarify beyond “linearity,” which maybe wasn’t the best wording on my part. Half-Life 2 is very linear and it isn’t a problem. The problem is that it’s linear AND constantly pulls control away from the player, which is why I mentioned COD. Every time I start to get into a groove with the gameplay, I’m suddenly left watching the game play itself again.

  14. AlienMind says:

    Does the game require STEAM?

  15. Donjo says:

    Get your damn review code working RPS.

  16. PC-GAMER-4LIFE says:

    4A earnt about €1 per hour EACH what are they moaning about its good clean work beats picking fruit in England surely….. but seriously that is why publishers turn to the cheaper labour regions its cheap to get the work done look at most PC ports they are outsourced to either Eastern Europe or Canada & the QA is usually done in Asia or Canada.

    The gameplay feels as though it was created in poor conditions its a lesser Metro 2033 apart from the GFX they are slightly better but the gameplay belongs in the Gulag comrade!

  17. Radiant says:

    This guy is on some Hero of the Republic type shit.

  18. greg_ritter says:

    Too much hyperboles.
    I’m from Russia myself and I visit Ukraine from time to time.
    Look, there is no doubt that working conditions of western world are better than ours. But those stories – they look like sob-stories about failed african states. Sure, there are blackouts, but they are nowhere near to frequent. Sure, there are sub-zero winters, but that’s not such big a deal. Ukraine is warmer than Russia, and in Russia we cope with winter all right. Sure, both countries have problems with heating, but not in it’s respectful capitals. Kiev is a quite sunny and warm city.
    As for the customs – yep, those guys a corrupted bunch of bloodsucking vermin.

  19. PopeRatzo says:

    Oh my, they want recognition. They want to be stroked and cuddled!

    OK, Deep Silver, there’s a clever boy. And so well-mannered! Good job! And under such difficult conditions!

    It’s not like they’re a business or anything, or as if they were charging $55 for the game (with the additional $5 “difficult” mode). They want praise too.

    Do they think maybe there would be more praise forthcoming if their game actually worked on AMD video hardware? I understand how important these sponsorship deals are, but have we reached a point where to get NVIDIA’s sponsorship they have to release a game that is broken on AMD? Thank goodness there are only two manufacturers of video cards or there would be even more disappointed consumers.

    • Don Reba says:

      It is not “they”, but just one man, who headed THQ for a short time when it was going bankrupt.

    • Sparkasaurusmex says:

      You’ve misunderstood a bit.
      Deep Silver is the last minute publisher, and also a (small) target of ridicule in this piece by the former (last minute?) head of THQ.
      He wants the developers, 4A, to receive more recognition.

    • PopeBob says:

      My fellow Papal Magnificence, I do believe you’ve misread the story in its entirety.

  20. HadToLogin says:

    Looking forward for Wot John Think. Post-apocalypse+Woman with Makeup should make great read in comments.

  21. Lagwolf says:

    I was fortunate enough that my review code worked… and here is my review of the game.

  22. Homercleese says:

    Just reading the twitter back-and-forth; who the balls is ‘Gamer Hivemind’? Not that I’d be surprised to hear he’s a games journalist from some generic mag/website/whatever but is he a complete cretin? A public/professional spat and the most constructive thing he can come up with is a comment about the children?

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