Announced over four years ago, Midway’s This is Vegas boasted one of the biggest budgets in video game history. With interiors that were “way beyond” anything seen in open world games and an “incredible AI simulation” the $50m budgeted game from the minds of Surreal Software had the potential to become as popular as RockStar’s Gran Theft Auto.
So what went wrong?
In a six page feature in the September issue of Play UK, This is Vegas senior producer Chris Klimecky spoke publicly about the numerous issues that would ultimately seal the game’s fate.
On his mission to push Midway Games out of the arcade age once and for all, company CEO David Zucker purchased Surreal Software in mid-2004.
“He was on a buying spree of indie developers,” stated Klimecky. ”Part of Zucker’s ‘grand plan’ regarding acquisition of all these studios was to unite them under a single technology. One engine to rule them all.”
But according to Klimecky this move was one of the early nails in This is Vegas’ coffin.
One of the side effects of using the Unreal Engine 3 at the time would mean that they would have to focus on Microsoft’s XBox 360, not the PS3 for the “foreseeable future.” All other titles developed within Midway would also have to use the same engine ( from Mortal Kombat to Wheelman ).
“The development delays and tech challenges created by this were staggering. The time spent on both the tech team and the production team side -entire groups of every studio, plus a dedicated engine team in Austin [Texas] had to be devoted to it- was likely many decades of man-years of effort.”
By February/March 2009 Midway’s financial turmoil was unfolding around Surreal Software as the studio was moving forward to a “do-or-die milestone” with This is Vegas. Despite news of bankruptcy spreading like wildfire, Surreal was reassured by Midway Senior Vice President Matt Booty and Surreal Software co-founder, Alan Patmore that the studio would be sold and This is Vegas would continue.
Unfortunately, after Surreal Studios was sold to Warner Brothers in July of 2009 the plug was pulled on This is Vegas. In the magazine Klimecky described that when the tech team tore the engine apart [yet again] to optimise it, This is Vegas took a dip in progress after alpha, causing some of the higher ups to panic.
During a meeting Samantha Ryan ( Warner Brother’s Senior VP of product and development ) insisted that Klimecky and his team ship the game, she didn’t care about quality. “Quality is under the floor!” she yelled after doing a physical comparison of priorities.
“There was noway it was going to work,” Klimecky explained to Play UK, ”Even at the lowest quality we could string together at that point, it would take us another six to eight months to be shippable at all.Easily another 12 months to get where we would feel good about it.”
After that meeting Klimecky knew it was over.
Soon Warner Brothers began peeling Surreal apart, with Klimecky being transferred to Snowblind to work on Lord of the Rings: War of the North. In the same year Surreal Studio attempted to release a mini game compilation of This is Vegas and a possible tie in with the Hollywood hit, The Hangover, but those plans never come into fruition as many were laid off or absorbed into other studios.
The demise of This is Vegas was “bittersweet” with plenty of finger pointing to be had. Despite the negative criticism the game garnered after it’s first and only public showing, Klimecky still believes that This is Vegas could have been tremendous success, even topping Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto in a variety of ways.
Read Chris Klimecky’s full This is Vegas interview in the pages of Play Magazine, issue 221.