The Unbelievable Story of 4A Games, the Creators of Metro: Last Light

Former THQ President speaks on behalf of 4A Games, detailing the incredible circumstances that went into creating Metro: Last Light

Despite overwhelming odds, 4A manages to create an incredible game. Why haven’t they received the recognition they deserve?

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Metro: Last Light released May 14th and was greeted with glowing praise around the web. It has quickly racked up score ratings reserved for Triple-A titles such as Gears of War or Call of Duty.

Without a doubt, the game will easily sell a few million copies, and allow publisher Deep Silver to pat themselves on the back for a successful license acquisition.

Unfortunately, new information has come to light from former THQ President Jason Rubin, detailing unfair treatment and lackluster recognition of the Metro franchise’s game developer, 4A Games.

4A is based in Kiev, Ukraine and employs former GSC Game World programmers, who worked on the S.T.A.L.K.E.R series. The small company built their signature 4A game engine, and used it to build the original Metro: 2033.

Being a small foreign studio, they are extremely removed from the spotlight of the gaming industry, and are unable address problems head on. When they voice their concerns, it falls on deaf ears.

In a post submitted to GameIndustry International, Jason Rubin goes on to explain the incredible hurdles 4A overcame to produce such a polished product, and the absence of praise or even acknowledgement that the gaming industry has given them.

Rubin opens his post by saying,

“Let’s be honest: 4A was never playing on a level field. The budget of Last Light is less than some of its competitors spend on cut scenes, a mere 10 percent of the budget of its biggest competitors. Yet it is lauded for its story and atmosphere.  It is built on a completely original and proprietary second-generation engine that competes with sequels that have stopped numbering themselves, with more engineers on their tech than 4A has on the entire project. 

The entire 4A studio would fit easily in the (underutilized) gym at EA Los Angeles’ offices. Yet Last Light’s Metacritic score blows away Medal of Honor Warfighter…At the same time, 4A’s staff sat on folding wedding chairs, literally elbow to elbow at card tables in what looks more like a packed grade school cafeteria than a development studio.”

Further down, he explains the trouble 4A went through every time they tried to obtain necessary components for building the game. Every time they needed something they would have to fly into the US and attempt to sneak it back into the Ukraine to prevent corrupt custom officials from unlawfully seizing it. Any time they needed commodities for their buildings, they would have to ship it from Poland, paying bribes to officials to ensure safe delivery.

Their small studio would often run out of power, and resorted to using construction generators to keep their computers running. Snow and below freezing temperatures halted progress even further.

Jason grimly jokes about the harsh conditions saying,

 “The only thing for which 4A is getting more credit than I think they deserve is the creativity behind the ever frightening, dark, post-apocalyptic environment of the game. I’ve been in Kiev to visit the team, so I know they just stepped outside for reference.”

 

But why should this matter to either us or the industry?

Not only are these men and women at 4A the Rocky of this story to the publisher’s Apollo Creed, they stand as an example and standard developers should strive to live up to.

“If you care about the art of making games then you have to care about more than the final product.  The struggle and the journey becomes part of the story. Like sport, you cheer when the underdog comes from behind, and triumphs in the face of incredible odds… It is a true testament to the raw skill and potential of the team. Ultimately, it is a desire for the recognition of 4A‘s talent that drove me to write this. You may know that I have a history of talking about developer recognition. These guys need recognition.

If 4A had been given a more competitive budget, in a saner environment, hadn’t wasted a year-plus chasing the irrational requirement of THQ‘s original producers to fit multiplayer and co-op into the same deadline and budget(!), hadn’t had to deal with the transition to a new publisher in the crucial few months before final, what could 4A have created?”

Rubin takes a shot not only at his former employer THQ’s insane requirements and management of 4A, but the lack of praise given by the current publisher, Deep Silver.

He called the new backers a “last minute publisher that doesn’t see the upside in doing your team’s publicity, [that] will conspire to keep an incredible story hidden.”

Deep Silver‘s COO Geoff Mulligan was quoted in a Game Informer interview earlier this year saying

“People say, ‘Oh, you acquired Volition and Metro, you’re going to be a triple-A publisher. What separates us from a triple-A publisher is that we don’t really have a desire to be a triple-A publisher. I actually think we’re much better than the Activisions, EAs, and Ubisofts of the world. People say, ‘What do you mean? They are valued at three billion dollars.’ I say the difference is that we make money. [Laughs]… we’re a publisher that, in a difficult and rapidly evolving marketplace, uses guerrilla tactics. We move quickly and we don’t have a public board of directors to answer to. We like what we do and have fun. That’s important! You go to some of these companies – you probably have good friends at some of these companies. You go hang out with them, and they are miserable or they are frightened. I think our people are having a really good time.”

Funnily enough, the refusal to even put 4A’s name or logo on the Metro official website is a crime other publishers would not commit.

Yes, 4A is not even receiving recognition of the game THEY made on the OFFICIAL site.  Aubrey Norris, a current PR rep for Deep Silver, had a spat via Twitter (here) with Jason Rubin concerning this topic.

She claims that THQ did not even include 4A in the site when they passed the title over. She also cites they “barely had time to even get publisher logos switched on”, and explained “When you have to find the four different companies involved with the website, and draft agreements, [it does take time] unfortunately.” She finally acknowledges “4A is awesome. Everyone here knows that. And now that Metro is done and they are not so crazy busy, their story can be told.”

Hopefully this is a sign that 4A will receive the recognition it truly deserves. The smaller studio has gone through so much over its short life, but it has already shipped out amazing products. I look forward not only to playing their most recent game, but anything they will develop in the coming years. Deep Silver would be wise to proudly tout 4A if they want to keep a rich ongoing partnership.

Jason Rubin has told us an amazing story that I am sure would have never reached the masses in the US. However, he knows they want the quality of their work to speak for itself. He says “I know 4A well enough to know that they demand to contest on a level playing field. This isn’t golf, and they don’t need or want a handicap. Their pride and skill demand that Last Light go head to head with competition on even terms, and I am sure they are happy with the response.”


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Lui Galletto
If you are reading this, I have been kidnapped. They are forcing me to play video games against my will. Send help