Smith On Blacksite

Wired magazine’s blogging wing are running a postmortem of Blacksite: Area 51, which provoked a widespread ‘meh’ response from critics. (Some even went so far as to ‘pff’). The piece is based around a chat with design lead Harvey Smith at the Montreal Games Summit 2007:

The first time Harvey Smith came to Montreal he had just finished his work as lead designer on the acclaimed classic, Deus Ex. On this trip, his last game was Blacksite: Area 51, a game published by Midway which one critic called “a major disappointment.”

“This project was so fucked up,” said Smith, by way of explanation.



  1. Kieron Gillen says:

    I love Harvey.


  2. Lou says:

    Didn’t the game just come out (if at all on all platforms)? That’s pretty early for such an honest postmortem.

  3. essell says:

    Aye. I’d love to see more developers be more open about this kind of thing.

  4. ImperialCreed says:

    I admire his honesty, even though the game may well turn out to be a bit of a dud I respect him just that little bit more.

  5. Evo says:

    Does he mean the game was a fucked up concept or the dev. process was fucked?

  6. schizoslayer says:

    Eidos announces Deus Ex 3, Harvey burns bridges with Midway…

    I’m not saying anything but tis a pair of might big coincidences.

  7. drunkymonkey says:

    @Evo: considering he’s nattering about a sequel, I’d wager on the latter.

  8. terry says:

    ouch. seems like the big publisher wrangles the developer, vol 21447

  9. schizoslayer says:

    Further fuel on the conspiracy: This post-mortom was at the MONTREAL Games Summit. Montreal. Home of the new Deus Ex 3.

  10. Craig Gilmore says:

    I spoke to Harvey at an event in London a couple months ago, and he did tell me he wants to make a Deus Ex-like immersive sim after having made a straight (and in my opinion fun) shooter.

    More fuel for the fire.

  11. Radiant says:

    But you can understand it from a publisher’s point of view.

    Have game, make sure it hits all the marketing check boxes, that it runs well and looks nice.
    Market it and sell it.

    It really doesn’t matter if the game is any good nor whether the game play is polished; so long as it’s executed competently people will buy it.

    Assassins Creed is a prime example of this.

    Also this dude Smith gets the dills I don’t see why anyone would work with him again.
    What a complete disservice to the people he worked with [for what two years?].

    Deus Ex was a rubbish shooter [although an interesting game] and is nearly 8 years old.
    He needs to stop feeling himself so hard..

  12. Alec Meer says:

    “After describing one scene in which the player fights back a horde of military veterans turned to monsters by the United States, all of them under a banner reading, “Veterans Memorial,” Smith asked, “how can you look at all these elements and not think this is super fucking subversive?”


  13. schizoslayer says:

    “After describing one scene in which the player fights back a horde of military veterans turned to monsters by the United States, all of them under a banner reading, “Veterans Memorial,” Smith asked, “how can you look at all these elements and not think this is super fucking subversive?”

    Because people are thinking: “Shoot the monster!” not “Wow look at how subversive this game is. I’m really digging the political undertone of this combat scenario.”

    Just a guess like.

  14. Hump says:

    I appreciate his honesty but then to turn around and claim the game deserves an “80” is just laughable. It is a dreadful piece of shit by any standards.

  15. Chis says:

    Deus Ex was a rubbish shooter

    Bloody hell, I thought I was the only one that thought this.

  16. Radiant says:

    He says it’s an 80 because people will still buy an 8/10 game.
    No one buys a seven but an eight puts it on peoples also buy list.
    A seven makes it a pride thing.

    Seven out of ten bananas of course.

  17. Jim Rossignol says:

    DX was a rubbish shooter. Lucky it did some other stuff, eh?

  18. phuzz says:

    None of the (admittedly not many) reviews I saw seem quite as down on it as he seems to make out, granted they weren’t raving about it, and I didn’t look at the scores (what’s the point?) but it didn’t get a slating (see ‘Catwomen’ the game for a proper slating :)

  19. kuddles says:

    I guess it’s appreciative that a developer would admit those things, but then again, it’s easier to say that now that it came out and looks like it’s flopping. He says things were going horribly now, but he had no problem making rather positive assertions over how well it was shaping out to be in the past year. I wonder if the reception to the game was more positive and sales were good, would he still be saying making it was a mess, or would he say “I knew this would happen”? Not to say it’s still not ballsy, I’m sure Midway isn’t happy about someone trashing a game that came out two weeks ago.

    Also, I think the disjointed perception of review scores and their meaning rearing it’s head in that interview. He wasn’t that into working on the game, the game went straight from alpha to final, there were tons of problems he wasn’t happy with, yet he still says reviewers should have given it an 80?

    Also, I don’t know if he can totally put all the blame on the publisher. All of the negativity in the reviews are focused on it being a mediocre shooter with no interesting gameplay and boring level design, not about a bunch of bugs or performance issues.

  20. CrashT says:

    The reviews I read basically say it’s not shit, just pretty generic. Like phuzz I haven’t seen anybody actively slating it.

    And the demo wasn’t terrible either.

  21. Kieron Gillen says:

    kruddles: And to be really fair, if you read the full piece he states that this stuff is aimed at him as much as anyone else and it’s a personal responsibility thing.


  22. TychoCelchuuu says:

    You can make a shooter as subversive as you want, but that’s not going to make it more fun. Deus Ex’s story was good (depending on your tolerance of conspiracy theory stuff showing up left and right), but if it hadn’t been paired with all the other things that made it great, we wouldn’t remember it. When you release within a few months of stuff like Halo 3, Unreal Tournament 3, Bioshock, The Orange Box, etc., pointing out your awesome story isn’t going to make people have fun with a boring shooter.

    Of course, he acknowledges that the game’s got problems and that he’s at fault, so it’s not like he’s just saying “THE STORY IS GREAT SO SHUT UP AND BUY IT.” I’m sympathetic. Maybe he’s jumping ship for DX3 like everyone’s hypothesizing :D

  23. Joe says:

    “Everyone was forced to share tech. It took eight months to get one thing working.” He wouldn’t specify what that one thing was, but did note that technical problems set the team back, time and time again. Another of Smith’s complaints was “the fact that we had four days to orange box something,” meaning to fix and polish a level. Smith called this “completely reprehensible.”
    Think about what his team think of this. The people he works with. The guy is a complete dick. He really is.
    Bullshit he’s taking personal accountability. He’s just whining.

  24. Joe says:

    In fact, he’s just a designer blaming the tech guys.
    That’s what they always do, it’s just some of them think enough of their fellow employees not to do it in a public forum.
    He just wants to get fired, collect his severance check and go work on Deus Ex 3. He’ll get a lot more money that way.
    I hope Midway demote him for doing a shitty job. He can script some levels on whatever they’re doing next.

  25. CrashT says:

    Joe, how does that make him a dick? It’s entirely possible the team agree with him.

    He’s on the record from a while back saying how Blacksite was using technology developed for other Midway titles, such as Stranglehold, that sounds like a pretty corporate decision and not one he’d or his team would have any real control over. You can’t guarentee that tech is going to work in the way you might want without substantial tweaking, but the chances are that tweaking time isn’t available as the whole reason you were given that tech to use was to save time and money in the first place.

  26. Joe says:

    Right, sorry – I wish I could edit the post and take out the unnecessary personal attack, but I’m annoyed.
    The fact is, he’s working for a company which as you say, may have this policy of sharing. So what? That’s their policy, you work for them. If you don’t like it, leave. Don’t go on record saying the game is shit and moaning about all the reasons why BEFORE IT’S EVEN GONE ON SALE IN EUROPE. (I don’t know if it’s on sale in the US or not yet.)
    If he’s seriously wanting to stay at Midway, you’d assume he’d care about their title’s sales.
    As it is, he may well have just managed to blow a LOT of sales of this title. I’m sure his team are really happy he’s just publicly slated their game and done immeasurable harm to the prospects. Yeah, nice one Harv, you the man.

  27. CrashT says:

    I think it’s been on sale in the US for nearly three weeks now (Nov 12th release I believe), and if a game doesn’t get particularly good sales in that time it’s basically doomed. It’ll lose shelf space to newer and more popular titles and within a few weeks it’ll be bargin bin material.

    So at that point you’ve really got a choice of saying nothing and then nobody even remembers your name. Saying all the reviewers are wrong (Hello Dave Jaffe, hello Jeff Minter) and people generally think you’re acting like a spoilt child. Or saying “Yeah we fucked up, sorry.” and hoping people will remember your honesty when the next game comes along and be willing to give you the benefit of the doubt.

  28. Joe says:

    The fact is there is a huge difference between something being on sale in the US and UK. They’re different markets. He’s not even given it a chance with this. You don’t doom the sales of your game in the vain (yes, both meanings of the word) hope that your adoring public will forgive you. I can’t believe you’re preaching the value of keeping your name in the public eye. A much more effective way of doing that is fucking off for 18 months, making a bloody good game and then coming back and letting it do the work for you.

    At the end of the day, I completely disagree with you (about from Minter being a cock), but that’s what the internet is for, right?

  29. Joe says:

    By the way: is there a FULL transcript (or recording / filming) of the whole thing anywhere? I hate forming an opinion from quotes, because they’re usually so skewed it’s impossible to get the whole story.

  30. Radiant says:

    DX was a rubbish shooter. Lucky it did some other stuff, eh?

    But first and foremost it’s a shooter.

    My issue with DX was that it had good ideas but never fully realised any of them; including it’s core conceit as a shooter.

  31. Frank says:

    For some reason, Harvey Smith always reminds me of Eddie Murphy’s “Randy Watson” character in Coming to America.

    Singing his heart out while annoying the hell out of everyone, then at the end screaming “Sexual Chocolate!”, stomping his feet before dropping the mic and running back offstage.

  32. drunkymonkey says:

    And now reportedly he’s left the company.

  33. Sören Höglund says:

    But first and foremost it’s a shooter.

    My issue with DX was that it had good ideas but never fully realised any of them; including it’s core conceit as a shooter.

    The shooty bits are pretty crap, I agree, but I wouldn’t call it a shooter anymore than I’d call it a stealth game. You can complete it and only ever kill one or two people if you really want to, after all.

    And yeah, looks like he’s gone. Next destination, Eidos Montreal?

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  35. Namagem says:

    I’d hardly say the shooter component was “rubbish”. I’m part of the online community. As a shooter game.

    Actually, what’s much more fun, is modding deus ex; it seems much more moddably accessable than unreal, which it’s based off of.

    Still; DX; Shooter; Not rubbish.

  36. Garth says:

    My issue with DX was that it had good ideas but never fully realised any of them; including it’s core conceit as a shooter.
    I’d argue the same thing about Half Life 2. I don’t think I had fun with the actual combat for pretty much the whole game. The story in HL2 was, let’s be honest, pretty half-assed. It’s also totally on rails, and the enemy A.I. isn’t much beyond custers charge. The ‘friendly’ NPC A.I.? Wow…

    That said, there are things in Half Life 2 I liked — the art was great; the levels had (usually, anyway) a good flow to them. There were some snags (the endless boat ride, for one), but when that ended I was off exploring another city.

    Deus Ex has such a rabid fanbase largely because the amount of things Deus Ex did well; the combat was mediocre, but once you got into the game it felt natural. The fact that you really aren’t pushed into fighting Five Guys In This Room Where The Door Shuts Behind You was a huge boon to the combat, as you could be quite selective about where combat went down. Surrounding all this combat though was an immersive and gripping story, and tiny bits of random fact you could learn.

    Going beyond this was the ‘RPG’ elements of the game, where you could heavily modify one gun, or tweak all of them. You could play the entire game using only the pistol, or constantly upgrade to heavier weapons. Hell, you could pretty much beat the game using only the knife.

    When it comes down to it, the heaviest draw Deus Ex had was how much YOU controlled how the game went, instead of: Enemy A must be killed with Plasma Weaponry, whereas Enemy Z requires a bullet through his visor at exactly six feet, and you have to do it inside this 10×10 foot room.

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