Letter to the CIC - August 11, 2006 - Erin Roberts
This year, we're celebrating more than just our success and the amazing quality of our community: 2006 also marks the tenth anniversary of one of the greatest games of all time, Privateer 2: The Darkening... In honor of this event we have asked Erin Roberts, the man in charge of Privateer 2 and the brother of series creator Chris Roberts', to say a few words about the game and his work. Here's Erin:
I was pleasantly surprised when I found out that WC News was having a 10th anniversary celebration for Privateer2. Unlike all the other Origin titles I had worked on before (Wing Commander, Strike Commander and Privateer) this project was the first real project that I produced and directed from start to finish. Before P2, I worked with my brother on WC and SC as a designer / Associate Producer, and although I took over the role of Producer on the original Privateer in it's last year, my job was more to polish and get it into a box then really creatively design. So anyway as a filler I thought I'd give you a brief history of what was going on during that time. (If it gets a little boring feel free to stop reading)
It was only a couple of months after Privateer shipped that I transferred to work in the UK with Electronic Arts who had acquired Origin a few months before, and here, with a few of the guys who Chris and I used to develop with in the UK, the idea for Privateer 2 was hatched. To be clear, when we first started working on the game it was only known as the "Darkening", not Privateer 2, that was to come later. We wanted to create a game which expanded on the premise of Privateer, allowing players to travel where they wanted, garner wealth and build up and buy bigger and better ships. We also wanted to give the player a much larger selection of missions, as well as a Wing Commander style driven story, driving the player through the game.
At the beginning we had no real plans to go with FMV, but that all changed with the success of Wing Commander 3, and with a studio wide re-org at EA. Development in the UK came under the same umbrella as Origin. Robert Garriott (Origin's CEO) was put in charge, and we were given the resources to film our FMV sequences ($4 Million budget). Due to the increase in our development costs, it was decided (by people outside the development team and to be fair many at Origin also) that the Darkening had to be tied into the Wing Commander Universe. Although I did not especially agree with this decision, I could see why with the increased expense, senior management / marketing wanted to alleviate some of their risk through branding the title in the WC / Privateer Universe. Although P2 was not set in WC space, we created a number of tie ins through missions and rumours to connect the two universes, to allow the new branding to take place.
All the film sequences were shot in Pinewood Studios next to the now burnt down 007 Stage. And as we hit that magical time, when actors were interested in this new interactive digital medium, we were very lucky to solicit the help of some of my favourite actors, balancing the main cast between the US, Europe and the UK. The shoot took 7 weeks, and involved a crew of well over 100 and if I remember at least 30 actors and over 50 extras... It was probably the most stressful 7 weeks of my life, mistakes are very costly when you are going through $100,000 a day, but I must say also probably one of the best experiences also. The crew were great and the actors, especially Clive Owen and John Hurt were really nice guys.
The game was developed 200 miles north of Pinewood Studios near the city of Manchester, in a little suburb called Poynton. The main team was made up of myself, three programmers and seven artists, who also towards the end of the project took on the responsibility of designing many of the text based missions. To be fair it was a big learning experience for all of us, and I think it would be fair to say that we had our fair share of issues / personality conflicts to deal with during this time. In fact once the project finished, there was a complete melt down at the office, which led to many people (including myself) going our different ways... I went back to Austin to join my brother in forming Digital Anvil, along with a number of the guys from Poynton, some guys stayed at EA and moved down south, and another group created a new team and formed a company called 'Warthog", which you will recognise as the developers who I worked with on 'Starlancer'.
On the whole, I think Privateer 2 was a sort of coming of age for me. It was the first real time I was solely responsible from ground up for such a large project and budget, and not only was I trying to direct and design and help push the game to where it needed to be, but I had to manage people and attempt to get the best out of them. (A task which I failed at on more then one occasion). Some times it felt like a fight to get us to where we needed to be, (and sometimes it was) but in the end I think everyone who worked on the project looks back with a lot of pride in what we achieved, especially given the challenges we faced, not least in our own naivety, as many of us learned on the job.
On behalf of everyone who's worked on the WC universe, thanks for your support, it's great that there is still a community out there supporting WC which we've spent many a happy hour helping to build, and forms personally the best memories of my working life.
Take care, Erin