Monster Jam Steel Titans Launches Today and Was Apparently Made Without Crunch
Monster Jam Steel Titans from Rainbow Studios was seemingly made without a lot of crunch and released today for PC, PS4, and Xbox One.
Phoenix based developer Rainbow Studios and THQ Nordic released Monster Jam Steel Titans for PC, PS4, and Xbox One today. Typically, this is an announcement that would mainly just excite Monster Truck or Rainbow Studios fans; that being said, things become a lot more interesting and impactful for the industry when you learn that Monster Jam Steel Titans was apparently made without much crunch.
DualShockers checked out Monster Jam Steel Titans at E3 2019 and it was about what you’d expect from a skilled off-road racing developer like Rainbow Studios. With tons of modes players to test their skill in, controls that feel accurate to driving a Monster Truck, a lot of settings for players to toggle within each mode, and a big open world that players start in as the game boots up, Monster Jam Steel Titans looks like it will be the monster truck game fans of Monster Jam are looking for. Considering this game was made within only a year and apparently without a lot of crunch, that is pretty impressive.
If case you have missed the rigorous conversation surround crunch, or long overtime hours to meet a deadline, over the past year, the lengthy but tumultuous development of both Red Dead Redemption 2 and Anthem have spurred on a lot of criticism from both inside the industry and out. Many people, myself included, see these practices of insane crunch as highly unsustainable. Rainbow Studios thinks so as well, as CEO Chris Gilbert bluntly told DualShockers. “We found that by eliminating crunch at our studio, we actually figured a lot of other things out and we started to develop healthier, more sustainable production practices. As a result [Monster Jam Steel Titans] was delivered on time and under budget.”
Gilbert then elaborated further on what steps Rainbow Studios was taking to ensure that this was the case “It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s a good idea. It actually helps you do your job better because you start to realize that you have to use your time in a different way. You have to start to create better communication channels with the team and you can’t just absorb all of your mistakes through crunch. This game, for us, is the product on which we have proven that it worked, and it’s a thing we are going to continue to build on in the future.”
I asked how this directly applied to the departments that are hit hardest by crunch like QA, and while Chris Gilbert wouldn’t reveal the Rainbow Studio’s exact strategy, they said “First off, you say ‘No one can work more than this many hours a week.’ Just make that the policy. Also, we set schedules. Sometimes testers come in later and they work a different shift. In the rare cases where we have our internal QA team come in on a weekend, we comp those days. So if you worked on a Saturday, you don’t come in on a Monday.” The Lead Designer in the room backed this up, revealing to DualShockers that he hasn’t worked on a weekend “in well over a year,” a rarity in the games industry.
This is also being done on a game with a shorter development cycle. Monster Jam Steel Titans’ development cycle only lasted about for about a year, and the game was actually feature complete months before that deadline “We actually finished this game three and half months ahead of its release because we had given ourselves the extra time. We’ve been using that extra time to continue to polish the game and have it ready so when it comes out, it’s not an incomplete game that we are rushing to patch, it’s a game that’s already complete where the support patches can be in response to community feedback.” While the impact on the game’s quality remains to be seen, it’s an interesting juxtaposition to Anthem’s rigorous 7 year development that was plagued with crunch.
It also apparently helped Rainbow Studios’ other game that is currently being supported: MX vs. ATV All Out. “After we finished Monster Jam on a Friday, part of building this game without crunch and not having a crazy, burned out team at the end of the cycle was that we came in on Monday and we brought a lot of that team, knowledge, and optimizations that we did on Monster Jam and just immediately put it into MX vs. ATV All Out.” Ultimately, Chris Gilbert just seemed pleased at the symbiotic relationship that can be created between two games when they are on the same team and not stressing out over crunch.
As a disclaimer, DualShockers only talked with CEO Chris Gilbert and a Lead Designer about this topic, so there is a chance other developers at Rainbow Studios think differently. If what they say is true though, Rainbow Studios is setting a great example for other studios to follow. Chris Gilbert ultimately concluded that “this is a growth process, this is not something we are going to solve perfectly in one game. But we’ve done a really good job I think in our first serious attempt at eliminating crunch…We need to start treating the science and evolution of how we build games just as seriously as how we evolve the graphics, or how we evolve the physics,”
“There’s no end to the amount of talks and shared knowledge in the industry when it comes to our artistic and technical aspects, but we don’t evolve our studios the same way. So this continued evolution of our studio…is a thing that’s going to be a process that we constantly have to iterate on and realize how it’s working and how it’s not working.” Monster Jam Steel Titans is available now for PC, PS4, and Xbox One.