There are two types of hunting games on the market, the simulator and the arcade shooter. The Deer Hunter franchise is the former, a hardcore simulator where player’s will spend many hours finding, tracking, calling and finally shooting an animal they find. The games focus on realism over fast action. Don’t be surprised if it takes you real human hours before you even see your first deer or bird. Players inexperienced with actual hunting may find it hard to drop into any entry of this franchise, which explains why Cabela’s hunting franchises have been more successful at entering the console game market than the Deer Hunter franchise; they are faster to the action, but far less of a simulator.
Deer Hunter and Bird Hunter are the first games that I built levels for professionally. The games were built on the Serious Engine. To date it is still one of my favorite engines that I have worked with. There were some camera navigation and hot key tricks that were very unique and which I have yet to see implemented in any other commercial editor. Each unique environment was 4 square kilometers. The unique assets per world type were pretty limited, especially when compared to previous versions in the franchise. Look at any version that came out prior to 2003 and you’ll see a fairly lush environment. Unfortunately the engine and scale of the environments for the 2003 releases, and the limitations of the new engine made building environments that were on par with the previous versions much more difficult, all of the AI and game mechanics had to be built from scratch, throwing away years of work that had been built up with the previous engine. I wasn’t present for the start of the projects so I don’t know how or why the decision to use the Serious Engine over the older engine (prism I think?) was made.
As can be expected, the game was not able to match the previous entries.
Game Development Lesson: Changing too many variables of a team’s development process can have a significant impact on the team’s ability to deliver on quality.
The team had a new engine, new tools and no AI or game mechanics in place. For a value title with a small budget and a relatively short development cycle, changing that many variables can quickly break the project. Additionally it felt like many of the original developers of the earlier hunting franchises were no longer there, so the team was not only battling all of these new variables, they were an inexperienced team with the genre being developed. As a grunt I had little to no control over these decisions. It was my first job in the industry and I did what I was told. I found areas that I could own such as supporting the DH and BH modding communities by providing tutorials and template maps and environments, but felt I had no ability to influence the decisions that ultimately proved the downfall of Sunstorm Interactive and the franchise as a whole. Additionally developing value titles (20$ to 30$ games) was certainly not a glamorous proposition. You’ll often hear developers joke about never wanting to work on Barbie Horse Adventures, and I’m sure hunting franchises would fall close in line with that. I would not be surprised if many of the developers on these games had a hard time getting invested in what they were making. Developers who aren’t invested tend to show less passion and less creativity and are less likely to want to make a quality product. These were my first games so I had a natural excitement for working on anything!
Game Development Lesson: Without passion there is no creativity. Without personal investment there is no quality.
The lessons I learned and am posting here have come up in some form or other at every studio I’ve worked at. Experiencing some of these things in the first year of my career was both discouraging and extremely educational, and honestly significantly changed how I approached which jobs I would consider taking going forward. There is nothing more important for a game’s development than having a team that is excited and passionate about what they are working on. Passion breeds personal investment and a drive to build something better, of higher quality and generally more creative. Which leads me to…
Game Development Lesson: You rarely get to work on what you want, but working on something you never expected to will give you unique and invaluable experience that will be applicable for any other product you may work on.
I know developers who have only worked on 1 franchise, or 1 genre for their entire career. My personal opinion is that this hurts your ability to actually work outside of the constraints of said genre/franchise and actually innovate. Many will say that they play other genres to get an idea of works well and what didn’t, and what would translate well into the game they are currently working on, and I agree that this helps, to an extent. Unfortunately they miss out entirely on the development aspect which to me is the most important part. I am without a doubt a developer obsessed with improving tools and processes, so maybe that’s why experiencing the development cycle on multiple genres is so important to me. This blog covers some of the things I’ve learned over the many genres and franchises that I’ve worked on, so expect extrapolated experiences to be highlighted in the future.
When I first got into this business, I thought I only wanted to work on FPS games. I was completely wrong. Deer Hunter is certainly a First-Person-Shooter, but besides that its a life simulator in a giant open world. While the game was ultimately a failure, both in quality and in sales, there are still elements that I am extremely proud of and skills I learned that I still use today. My experience building open worlds helped land me my next job at 2015 on Men of Valor, which showcased dense jungle environments.
If you are interested in experiencing a modern interpretation of the hunting franchise check out Deer Hunter Online by Atari, released as a Free-to-Play game in 2012. Go in with an open mind and no expectations and see if there’s something you can learn from this storied franchise.