I’d like to preface this with an apology (EDIT: and add another at the closing): I’m probably more comfortable playing with words than people, and I’m sorry for some of my wall-of-text posts… and perhaps a hint of didactism. Now, where’s my thesaurus?
So, I’ll dive right in… I feel there’s maybe some uncertainty about the role of “the devs” in building games. We know that PG, as “the devs”, did such an amazing job with FH3 they were bought by Microsoft in 2018. However, Microsoft announced the release of FH4 at the same time, so it’s reasonable to believe they were an influence in its development.
I think that’s why it feels a game of two parts, maybe best summed up by the expansion packs: Fortune Island and then Lego SC. The first to be developed seemed like a natural inclusion in Horizon, the second niggled at me; it felt more like a marketing exercise. To some, the Lego expansion was a natural successor to Hot Wheels, but I loved that Hot Wheels was caning about sans physics on plastic tracks in the sky, while Lego seemed to deliver only a (partial) skin designed to introduce the Accolade system.
Aah yes, the dreaded “make work”. PG has been increasingly focused on this since FH4, and I’ve a sneaking suspicion where this influence might come from…
Let’s imagine I’m an executive at some fictional company where I build racing games and my new corporate boss comes in and says ‘We love the work you’re doing with the racing side, but we think it’s equally important to increase player “engagement”’. If I don’t agree the “make work” model is a good fit with the franchise, then I’m no longer a good fit with the franchise, and I’ll be replaced with someone who’ll find ways to deliver the expected player engagement.
This seems like the time to mention that PG co-founder Gavin Raeburn left this month. There’s any number of personal reasons why Gavin may have made this decision, but the timing of his departure suggests the FH5 rollout played a part. (https://www.windowscentral.com/playground-games-co-founder-trevor-williams-set-replace-gavin-raeburn-studio-head). Regardless, it’s just another disruption for PG as they work to resolve the game’s issues.
When trying to make sense of FH5’s shaky start, the inclination to blame “the devs” for everything wrong with the game is understandable but maybe misplaced. The staff at PG (with a few exceptions) are probably paid industry standard, and have spent the last three years working long hours under increasing stress. Software development in any field can be notoriously cutthroat and unkind to staff, and while PG may be the exception, the state of the game on release shows the pressure to meet deadlines is very real.
When committing to embrace the player engagement model, I believe PG bit off more than they could chew. I think they underestimated the work required to deliver a game in the mould of Horizon’s past while fulfilling Microsoft’s objectives, then throw in the pandemic, more and more “suggestions” from the corporate boss and voila… we get the overbaked and undercooked FH5.
What’s telling is the map is glorious, and the driving mechanics are sensational; approach it with an open mind, race it as much I have, and then tell me I’m wrong (I know this a common and subjective argument, but it’s the most heartfelt I can offer). It feels to me this is where “the devs” love has gone. Now compare this to the buggy state of the Accolades, and we’ll debate whether the same effort has been applied.
I’m reminded of an interview with multi-Academy award winning, sound engineer Ben Burtt where he jokes ‘films aren’t released, they escape’. What he meant was the work is NEVER finished, there’s always something to do technically, something else you’re unhappy with artistically. However, commercially, the film is done when the studio tells him it is.
FH5 was being released November 5 no matter what. PG has had tremendous success, but it still lacks the influence within Microsoft to steer its own course. Joseph Staten (ex Bungie maestro, now hailed as the saviour of 343) lobbied to delay the Halo Infinite release (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-12-08/how-microsoft-s-halo-infinite-went-from-disaster-to-triumph), but there would be no extra 12 months for PG. In fact, they’d already had it, because the previous schedule was every two years and they’d been given three. Still, the game wasn’t ready and maybe that’s why it appeared on Game Pass, just like Halo Infinite when it finally arrived a month later. The two aren’t remotely comparable in terms of bugs (Halo is rock solid. Damn it’s good), but Halo is also unfinished with its co-op and map building features due later this year.
So why am I bothering with this post?
Because to my mind, the people who can fix the franchise that I admire so much are those we band under the moniker “the devs”. PG are responsible for doing the work, putting in the love, and we know they’re doing it under difficult circumstances. And maybe, there’s influences outside their control propelling the franchise in directions they’re struggling to reconcile with their own vision of the game.
Whatever the internal machinations, we want the “the devs” on OUR side. We need the entire team at PG, from top to bottom, thinking ‘I’m fixing the game because we’ve got the greatest player base’. We want to provide the encouragement to drown out the less supportive noise. Our best isn’t always good enough, but when someone tells me I’ve not tried, I think ‘forget you, guy’…
I’m not a FH5 cheerleader, blind to the state of the game. I’ve a half dozen outstanding tickets, including several for bugs carried into FH5 from FH3 (…), and these are only for things that I’ve not seen others talking about; I could log more that I encounter everytime I play that already appear on the “Known Issues” list. However, setting aside my frustrations, I’ve eight years of enjoyment from the Horizon franchise that convinces me PG can deliver FH5 into greatness, and I think their ongoing efforts should be recognised. Maybe we should call them “our devs”, not “the devs”.
So I’ll keep logging my tickets, (try my best to) be polite, and play the game, because I want Microsoft to give PG more money to swell the ranks of “our devs”.
Now… commence (EDIT: resume) the flaming! Or ignore this. Or have a think about it.
But whatever you do, come race on FH5. It’s awesome. By all means, spend time playing with your friends on FH4, but race for yourself on FH5.
EDIT: Goodness. That was a busy 24 hours, and I’ve been thinking on my post and the responses. Thanks to everyone who took the time to comment. As a result I’ve made a few edits; I’ve tried to remove emotive (and naive) oversimplifications, correct my errors on the FH5 vs. Halo Infinite releases, clarify my understanding of PG’s business structure, and take a more even tone generally. I hope it’s better as a result, and causes a few less shaken heads.
After all, my goal was to provide a rallying point, while advocating consideration of how our contributions affect others. Which just goes to show: any initial release can be a bumpy one, and good intentions don’t guarantee good results. For that failure, I’m sorry. But, please, still come race with me on FH5.