The Full Story Of Spec Ops: The Line, From Audacious Storytelling To ‘Cancerous’ Publisher-Mandated Multiplayer

The Full Story Of Spec Ops: The Line, From Audacious Storytelling To ‘Cancerous’ Publisher-Mandated Multiplayer

You may or may not have heard this already, but despite outward appearances, Yager’s third-person military shooter Spec Ops: The Line was a surprisingly artful, even audacious game. It wrestled with big ideas like player complicity in onscreen violence, military slaughter of civilians, post-traumatic stress disorder and insanity.

In a new article, Polygon‘s Russ Pitts takes an exceptionally in-depth look at the development of the game, featuring interviews with a number of the Yager’s creative leads. The fact that the game got made at all feels like something of a miracle, considering how hostile the AAA industry can be to fresh or experimental ideas. The developers voice their admiration and thanks to publisher 2K for allowing them to make the game they wanted to make, even while voicing frustrations regarding 2K’s insistence on adding multiplayer.

Lead designer Cory Davis sounded off:

“The multiplayer mode of the Spec Ops: The Line was never a focus of the development,” Davis said, “but the publisher was determined to have it anyway. It was literally a check box that the financial predictions said we needed, and 2K was relentless in making sure that it happened – even at the detriment of the overall project and the perception of the game.”

Against Davis’ wishes, development on the multiplayer component proceeded and was farmed out to Darkside Studios. The result, according to Davis, was a “low-quality Call of Duty clone in third-person,” which “tossed out the creative pillars of the product.” “It sheds a negative light on all of the meaningful things we did in the single-player experience,” Davis said. “The multiplayer game’s tone is entirely different, the game mechanics were raped to make it happen, and it was a waste of money. No one is playing it, and I don’t even feel like it’s part of the overall package – it’s another game rammed onto the disk like a cancerous growth, threatening to destroy the best things about the experience that the team at Yager put their heart and souls into creating.”

Davis is right to be frustrated: In the end, Spec Ops‘ multiplayer felt precisely as tacked on as it obviously was, and stands as perhaps the most inessential multiplayer package I’ve ever seen in an otherwise interesting game.

The article is a monstrous read, and very enjoyable. You’ll get a little ancient history, a lot of insight into the making of a video game, and a little bit of honest developer/publisher straight-talk to cap things off. What more could you ask for?

Don’t be a hero – The full story behind Spec Ops: The Line [Polygon]


  • This is just confirms what everyone already knew about publishers forcing on unnecessary multiplayer.
    It also points out that MP is not a magic bullet to make the game more popular, increase sales or provide a better game experience.
    I hope publishers realize this and not push for a checklist of things a game needs, just think of all the money and resources that could of been used elsewhere in the game instead of this.

  • I finished this game on the weekend and it is amazing. The shooter sections are fairly generic but that story is amazing. Even despite the difficulty ‘brick wall’ that kicks in on the last few levels.

    • I intend the difficulty makes up part of the narrative and it think the Extra Credits guys agree, so be sure to check their Spec Ops discussion video when it goes up this week… They’ll probably do a better job than we can. Last week was a spoiler free vid, this week will be the real discussion.

  • As much as I hate publishers forcing multiplayer into games, in this case they’d already taken a number of risks in green-lighting Spec Ops. I can forgive them for forcing this one piece of marketability on the team.

    • Interestingly enough, if you read the reviews a number of them are critical of the tacked-on multiplayer.

      It makes you wonder – if it was removed, would the game have been reviewed with a higher score?

      • I doubt it would’ve made much difference.
        If MP wasn’t included, reviews would likely lament its absence based on the strength of the campaign, it would follow that players would expect any MP content to be of the same quality. MP was always going to be the weakest part of this game.
        Moreso, the very idea of multiplayer goes entirely against the subtext of the story; that war inflicts horrible physical and mental wounds, and that violence has consequences.
        How can that message be in any way maintained whenever your character dies, they just fucking respawn every 10 seconds?

        • Although the idea of a ‘hardcore’ MP mode might work. Start a character, if you die during a match – no respawns, you’re out. & any weapons / perks you’ve unlocked are gone, you’d have to start a new character.

          yeah. I know that wouldn’t work either.

  • Its amazing that publishers push for MP when you think of some of the biggest games over the past few years that are single player only.

  • I wonder if this explains why there were no achievements / trophies tied to the multiplayer. I think that is pretty decent proof at how little the development team cared about the multiplayer component.

  • The only possibly good multiplayer mode possible for this game is a co-op story multiplayer where your friends play as your squad mates.

  • I also played and finished this game over the weekend; by the end of it I felt physically ill by what the story was delivering and the actions I was making, thinking that the game was forcing me to all these horrible things, and then the game gives me an achievement for it!

    I’m still not over the experience enough that I could play a game that gives the player the power fantasy of wanting to be a hero. Absolutely top notch game, could not recommend it highly enough. BTW, the extra credits guys have just done a 2 week discussion of the game too, so check that out as well.

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