It's never been official, but we've always sort of known it. Activision's interferance and committee thinking hurt the now sadly defunct Bizarre Creations in the run up to the much-loved studio's closure. Shut down by the house of CoD following the poor performance of its last two titles, Blur and James Bond: Blood Stone, Bizarre's studio atmosphere and creativity were gradually steamrollered once Activision bought it and started calling the shots.
Looking at the kind of game Blur turned into and reading between the lines, I've always suspected this to be the case, but now we have it straight from the horse's mouth, via a new interview with some of the studio's key figures. Sometimes it's crap being right.
Speaking in this month's issue of Edge Magazine, former Commercial Director Sarah Chudley explains that Activision thrust its nose into every bit of the long-respected developer's affairs during the making of Blur, "from design meetings through feature choices, locations" and the name and branding - "a big change from what we'd seen in the past".
How badly did it affect morale and creativity? Former Managing Director Martyn Chudley brings the sad news.
"We weren't an independent studio making 'our' games anymore - we were making games to fill slots. Although we did believe in them, they were more the products of committees and analysts. The culture we’d worked on for so long gradually eroded just enough so that it wasn’t ‘ours’ anymore."
So, a trustworthy and highly creative developer flattened by suit-driven meddling. Not exactly a new story, but of course a very sad indeed given the eventual outcome. Following Blur's less-than-exceptional performance, Bizarre was shunted onto the poison chalice of the Bond license with Blood Stone, an arguable waste of its talents after the Metropolis Street Racer, Project Gotham Racing and Geometry Wars series. After Blood Stone sold disappointingly, Bizarre was finished, cast out by Activision and unable to find another buyer. The studio was apparently offered a chance to buy itself back, but by that point Bizarre had grown too big to manage itself without outside help.
Above: Despite it all, Blur was great. It was just a little too schizophrenic to find an audience
Looking at Blur, the committee thinking is clear.
"Hey, the kids like Mario Kart, but Gran Turismo is big as well. So let's Make Mario Kart with real cars! That's got to work, right?"
"Yeah, and the kids also like Facebook and urban things and nightclubs and neon and stuff. So that's the interface sorted!"
"And Call of Duty multiplayer is huge and it has load-outs and perks, so all multiplayer needs load-outs and perks, regardless of genre. Put them in! If it's got those we'll barely even need to market it or come up with a title that explains anything about it!"
And lo, there was high-fiving and bonuses and everyone went off golfing, and a confused, tricky-to-market game with an abstract name went out to the back yard with only a shotgun and an unclear ad campaign for company. And you know the rest.
Above: Geometry Wars 2. NEVER FORGET!
Saddest part of it? Sarah Chudley's comment on how the experience of working at Bizarre had changed by the end.
"I suppose it's a telling thing that in the last weeks, many people were saying they would never work anywhere like Bizarre again".
Sad times, friends, sad times.
April 6th, 2011