All PR is good PR?

GameSpy: The Annual E3 Awards: 2005:

"Justin: Gears of War is one of those poster-boy games that will no doubt be used to sell gamers on the Xbox 360. It's damn sure a better choice than Azurik or Blinx were for the original 'box. Even at its present state (running on alpha hardware and all), you don't need to squint to see that Gears has all the makings of a blockbuster. "

Sigh. I produced and directed Azurik. Years later it still gets reamed.

Azurik was a strange experience - we were heroes with great buzz right up until E3 2001 when everything went to hell. Then little side-bars started appearing in magazines saying, "Azurik isn't shaping up the way Microsoft thought." I can only imagine where that kind of information would come from. Up until E3, we as developers had been very involved with explaining the vision to the press. At E3, we were kept away from the press, and our PR was handled by a guy that used to sell sportswear. I kid you not.

Azurik had three main flaws, in terms of actual gameplay:

1) Worlds too big without enough in-level help.
2) Not enough save points. This actually is the biggest problem.
3) Did I mention not enough save points?

The fact that monsters respawned was annoying too. Well, I wanted more save points, and I wanted smaller levels, and I wanted most monsters to stay dead, but I was overruled on those points. The best I could do was to sneak in the 'save anywhere' cheat rather late in the process. Without the 'save anywhere' cheat, the game is very, very hard.

Azurik, amazingly and wonderfully, had a strong core of support from people that actually like big sprawling adventure games. We got a lot of fanmail. When Azurik came out, despite the negative press, it was one of the most talked-about games on the Microsoft chat boards - much more than Oddworld and second only to Halo.

Azurik is a big sprawling wonderful game that should be played with an on-line walkthrough nearby. It's beautiful and imaginative and in some places simply jaw-dropping in the level design and level art.

Azurik was the only game developed from scratch for Xbox launch. All other games were ports from some other platform. Azurik was the only game that used the hard drive in real-time and had nearly no load times between these huge levels. The sound design was great, the music by Jeremy Soule (performed by a live orchestra) was great, the level design was brilliant... It was just too hard to get into - it ramped up slowly as you gained elemental powers but it was a good three hours before you got to a point where you felt your powers and started to enjoy them! That gets back to the 'game too big' problem.

Oh well. I had a lot of fun making it. Jeff Petkau, Jon Mavor, William Lott, and Josh Taylor were the only programmers on the project. The tech they built from scratch was amazing! Most Xbox games had eight programmers (at least) on them. In the 20 months of the project we had to build everything and hire a team of designers and artists! So, it was an amazing experience, even if people still make fun of it. And just so you know (and this will amaze you, since nobody seems to know this), Azurik is in the top 30% of all Xbox game sales!

© 2005 Stephen Clarke-Willson - All Rights Reserved