PLUS MORE GAMING SECRETS AND RUMOURS: The bizarre origins of Remember Me, and the most mysterious Xbox game studio in North America.
A team at EA Canada is working on an open-world Star Wars title, according to several recent job postings for the studio.
An animation director job posting from last month reveals that EA Canada has a Star Wars team developing “a major new next gen open world action game.” That does not appear to be a typo: while tweeting a link to a combat designer posting for a mysterious open-world title in September, the studio’s then-recruiter said the unnamed game was indeed a Star Wars project.
EA Canada is the third studio known to be working on a Star Wars game under Electronic Arts’ current decade-long licensing deal with Disney. The other two studios, DICE and EA Redwood Shores (aka Visceral Games), are developing on a new Battlefront, and unknown title in the early stages of production, respectively.
The EA Canada Star Wars game may be the same as the one in production at Visceral Games. The copy on the animation director posting says EA Canada wants someone who has experience with “multi-site development.” And another EA Canada Star Wars opening — for an executive producer — is a near-exact copy of another Star Wars executive producer posting at Redwood Shores, save for a few words about the studio’s location. AAA open-world games are also massive endeavours, and EA Canada has downsized its non-sports development staff in recent years. EA Canada would have to staff up significantly if it were leading development on the project, and the three aforementioned openings are the only ones for this Star Wars title.
Although the Star Wars franchise has basically encompassed every genre imaginable, an open-world Star Wars game has yet to make it to store shelves, though there have been several other attempts at one. Most notably, the ill-fated Star Wars 1313 was initially a gritty open-world role-playing game connected to the HBO-esque Star Wars television series Underworld. Additionally, Just Cause creators Avalanche Studios nearly struck a deal with LucasArts for an open-world Star Wars game.
While DICE’s forthcoming Battlefront revival falls firmly within what we have seen before, an open-world Star Wars game suggests EA is interested in branching beyond past territory.
A little-seen French-language behind-the-scenes documentary uploaded onto YouTube last month provides a great deal of fascinating insight into one of this year’s most distinct AAA titles, Remember Me. It also contains a wealth of previously unseen footage from past iterations of the title. (Although the documentary is in French, English subtitles are available for non-Francophones.)
As the documentary explains, Remember Me originally carried the name Adrift, and the first prototype of Adrift was a science-fiction wakeboarding action game set in a flooded future Paris wherein the player chased various other vehicles. Though it is rather far removed from the game we eventually saw, it might not be that much of a surprise when considering that Dontnod cofounder Oskar Guilbert previously came from famed racing game studio Criterion Software.
However, Adrift quickly moved away from future wakeboarding and turned into a more normal combat-heavy action-adventure title with some degree of Remember Me‘s unique memory remixing. After spending months looking for a publisher, Dontnod struck a deal with Sony in early 2010. Sony wanted Dontnod to turn Adrift into more of a role-playing game, and Dontnod created a vertical slice of an action-RPG level that was a futuristic take on Paris’ Place Saint Michel. Like standard RPGs, this version of Adrift contained levelling up and various quests; Adrift‘s main quests tasked players with stealing memories from particular people, and the side quests had players taking memories from the minds of common citizens.
Unfortunately for Dontnod, Adrift was one of a dozen titles Sony either dropped or cancelled in early 2011. Being dropped by Sony gave Dontnod a chance to revisit the game and eschew the RPG elements in favour of a more traditional action-adventure. Dontnod also changed the game’s style, integrating more of a contemporary influence into the game’s aesthetic. These changes eventually led to Capcom signing the game, and Adrift becoming Remember Me.
As to what Dontnod is working on now: following Remember Me‘s June release, Dontnod’s creative director said the studio was pursuing “two new [possible] projects,” one of which was likely a potential Remember Me sequel. But given Remember Me‘s mixed critical reception and tepid commercial performance, a sequel does not appear to be in the cards.
Early last month, Gamekult, a French gaming site, noted that Dontnod appeared on a recent list of French government fund recipients from this past spring, receiving 200,000 euros to develop a concept called “What If?” This is not the first time Dontnod received government funding: the company estimates governmental support amounted to one-eighth of Remember Me‘s budget, a figure likely in the millions of euros.
Microsoft has launched several new studios in the past few years, but perhaps none has gone as under the radar as Microsoft Studios Victoria, which opened in early 2012. Located in Victoria, British Columbia, Microsoft Studios Victoria was heralded as “a major game design studio” in press reports of its announcement. One obscure local news story from mid-2012 claimed the studio could potentially grow to 150 people, but that has evidently not come to pass. Since its opening, however, the studio has operated with nary a peep, though bits scattered around the internet seem to somewhat clarify the studio’s opaque activities.
Although Microsoft Victoria commonly appears on Xbox fans’ lists of first-party Xbox game developers, the studio does not seem to be a full-fledged game developer, but rather more of a R&D team for Microsoft’s device business. On their resume, an engineer at the studio describes working with the incubatory Microsoft team “responsible for Kinect” on “the design and development of a number of prototypes in a variety of areas, including: computer vision, gameplay systems, user-interaction frameworks, and low-level technology in the context of a tight-knit, highly-functioning team.” A Microsoft Victoria game designer describes their role as “[leading design of] games and user experiences for selected projects on an emergent future platform.” And the only real hint of something that unequivocally sounds like development of a shippable game comes from the CV of Microsoft Victoria’s design lead, who says they “Created and balanced character types, weapons, and attributes on an unreleased project.”
Former Xbox boss Don Mattrick was instrumental in bringing a Microsoft studio to Victoria, and with his departure to Zynga, I wouldn’t be surprised if Microsoft Victoria continues to exist in complete obscurity.
Superannuation is a self-described “internet extraordinaire” residing somewhere in the Pacific timezone. He tweets and can be reached at heyheymayday AT gmail DOT com.
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