Quote from Sulphuric (DE developer) who posted this on AoEH:
posted 12-09-18 09:53 PM ET (US) 10 / 12
So here’s a little bit of background on DE’s production from my personal perspective as a “firefighting” programmer on the title. It should help give you an idea how troubled the production was, mostly on the engineering and production side. (I’m leaving a lot out.) I also worked at Ensemble on rendering/optimization for Age 3, the engine behind Halo Wars, and the rendering/graphics on Portal2/DotA2/CS:GO.
I helped out on DE because I didn’t want to see an Age title be canceled, and because I was personal friends with one of the engineers who was critical for getting DE to be made at all. I don’t work in the game business any more, so this is all ancient history to me now:
From what I understand, Microsoft Studios took forever to strike the contract with FE. It was a tough negotiation and it almost didn’t happen. Money was always very tight, and milestone payments were sometimes late.
I did some small graphics/rendering/optimization work on DE once it officially began production (on tiny week-long contracts), but I wasn’t involved full-time until mid '17. It was very cool to work on Age again, and I also enjoyed learning more about the original Age engine. Also, the artists at FE did an utterly amazing job - true pros. Of all the work done on FE, I think the artists set a new bar. Nonetheless, I seriously regret working on it full-time.
I was brought in full-time to help finish a title that was basically going to be cancelled in mid '17. The key event that caused the project to go completely sideways: The original network programmer spent many months doing basically nothing. Eventually, MS engineers rightfully noticed that nothing at all was being done on MP and threw a massive shitfit, which is when I and other firefighters at MS got tossed into the mix to fix up the MP, matchmaking, and UWP code. (How this person wound up on the credits, even after pretty much wrecking the project is beyond me.)
Obviously, FE engineering should have noticed in late '16 or early '17 that they were in way over their heads before MS had to yank the carpet out and pull in dozens of firefighters. I was not involved in the production at all during this time apart from some very short shader effect/optimization contracts in late '16 and early '17. (I mention this in case anyone at MS reads this. I had almost nothing to do with DE until mid '17, after the ■■■■ hit the fan so to speak. I was busy with two other projects.)
I think the change in unit box sizes may have screwed up the pathfinding.
Yes, this was definitely part of the problem. Introducing the multiple facing angles and allowing units to move in any direction to their waypoints also changed things up enough that the original (very brittle) pathing code just didn’t work at all anymore. When I got started on pathing, it just didn’t function because other devs had busted the code while adding other features. The pathing and movement code even in Age 1 is surprisingly complex and is easily broken in obscure ways.
It didn’t help that MS came in and started literally hacking up the pathing/movement code and basically breaking it. 95% of their changes had to be isolated to a branch and then removed because they didn’t work - at all. The game wasn’t playable for weeks at a time in late '17 because of this nonsense. This obviously slowed down production, because we couldn’t properly test or play the game. Really, MS Studios made matter worse on pathing/movement.
This was a troubled, extremely stressful production and it’s a small miracle DE shipped at all. Once the preorders had to be returned (because it was late by a few months) it was all downhill. Looking back, FE underestimated how many skilled engineers needed to be hired to work on multiple complex systems. What wound up happening was that all the very difficult, showstopper, or tricky problems got thrown onto a tiny handful of developer’s plates, which caused them to task switch constantly. They also underestimated how much MS would push for late minute changes (such as passthrough villagers) and how complex these changes would be to implement and test. This should have been contractually just not possible, but the contract was too much in MS’s favor (in spite of themselves). Finally, FE lost control over the code repo, which is death for a project like this because MS dropped in endless temporary programmers to hack things - which in many cases made things worse and slowed down production even more.
(I’m walking a fine balancing act here. These events occured over a year ago now. I’m writing this to help prevent others from working for a big publisher like MS Studios and making the same mistakes. Make sure your contract protects you well!)