It looks like another round of bad PR is set for local developer, Team Bondi, with a new article published by IGN that focuses on the work conditions and development issues at the Sydney based games developer during the seven year long stint on their critically acclaimed detective thriller game, L.A Noire.
The long hour crunch times, employee churn rates, and development issues at Team Bondi have been been raised a fair few times in our own comments areas on tsumea. Inspired by those comments, Freelance writer, Andrew McMillen, sought to seek out and compile the insights of eleven anonymous ex-Team Bondi developers on their personal experiences working at Team Bondi, as well as getting a response from the Team Bondi founder himself, Brendan McNamara, to get a closer look at the realities of games development at Team Bondi.
The result is a remarkable set of polarised view points. On one side it has the employees raising many issues, including the harsh working conditions, from the expected long work hours, continual crunch times, and weekend overtime, to the unreasonable demands and verbal abuse from the boss, the lack of direction in the early stages of development, and the high staff turn over rates which had a measurable effect on development as new staff were handed the work of those who had left to figure out. From IGN...
(anonymous Team Bondi programmer) I inherited all their stuff to work with. And of course, once that happens, I'm quite unproductive for, like, a month, trying to figure out which way's up. That happened to me three or four times; I ended up inheriting four peoples' stuff...
But when I left, I handed all those four things on to somebody else, and they hired some new people, and just kept going. If they'd maintained their talent, they'd operate a lot more efficiently, and it wouldn't have taken them so long."
The other viewpoint is from a strongly opinionated and nonchalant McNamara who surprisingly does little to deny any of the allegations and is rather dismissive of them all. He explains how many don't have realistic expectations of games development or just weren't up to the task, and this gruelling method of games development is something he's gone through many times in the past with his previous titles, such as The Getaway. It's simply how these types of games are done, he says. McNamara has also expressed doubts that he would consider Sydney if he had the chance to the project all over again...
(McNamara) The expectation is slightly weird here, that you can do this stuff without killing yourself; well, you can't, whether it's in London or New York or wherever; you're competing against the best people in the world at what they do, and you just have to be prepared to do what you have to do to compete against those people. The expectation is slightly different.
For the longest time, many in the local industry have been yearning for that one world class triple-A title developed here that would propel Australia's reputation as a capable game developing nation. But with L.A Noire, it seems to have opened a whole lot of triple A issues and quality-of-life concerns that we normally are used to reading from overseas developers.
Andrew McMillen has written an exceptional piece for IGN, and there's a whole lot more to the story than what was summarised here, so I do encourage you all to head on over to IGN for the full feature.
"Unfortunately, it does seem to amount to a huge project being given to a person who did not have a track record of being able to deliver on that scale. These projects are extremely complex, which is why the successful ones rely not on an individual's expertise in delivery, but a leadership team -- technology, art, game design. It also sounds like they put their money on an idea guy, not a game designer."
Sounds about right I'd say. It does seem that getting our first world class triple-A title developed here has come at a cost. I guess the real question now is whether that cost was a reasonable amount to pay.
Based on playing the game, it's not what it is made out to be by some fan-boy reviewers. It's a solid game, but, has some serious faults. In particular I find the action sequences say a lot about the game, in that it is clear from playing them that up until a year prior to it's release, they had NO action gameplay to speak of. It feels like they finally got their proof-of-concept action gameplay and ran out of time evolving it towards a better fit for LA Noire -- much feels too GTA about it.
I can't see how this game, new tech and all, warrants 7 (or 8) years of development. The final product just does not show it. I know many would say it is in the story, but honestly, that has some serious issues as well in way of structure, mission design and diversity of gameplay.
It something I've said before, they had a vision but didn't have much of an idea of how to practically turn that vision into a game. That is, until Rockstar showed up on the scene and took over much of the gameplay development side of things.