Spec Ops: The Line, from Commodore 64 to consoles

By Naren Hooson
25 April 2013 01:53 GMT

Yager, the team behind Spec Ops: The Line, have come from a background of limited access to hardware and software resources to arrive where they are today. Originating in East Berlin, the early days saw the team deep in East Berlin’s piracy scene due to this lack of access.

Managing director Timo Ullman describes the lack of game development in the area to this day. “I think that’s why there are so few developers in Berlin today. When Germany was still divided, there was a division in access to technology and Berlin never had a chance to become a hotspot for this kind of entertainment.” Thanks to Edge, who have more of the interview.

“It was always cracked games in East Berlin,” says Ullmann. “And so there was a point when we got curious about how we’d crack them ourselves, and then a point when we became curious about how we would make them ourselves. When the Wall fell, we visited the famous Chaos Computer Club, but their agenda was very different to ours – they were about hacking and breaking security, and we were more into the idea of using technology to entertain people with music or games or demos.”

Ullman recalls the early days of the team’s development attempts. “We had a shoot ’em up, a rip-off of Bomberman and even some self-created hardware so we could play it with four joysticks. We offered the demos to some West German publishers and they were kind enough to write back and say, you know, ‘We like what you did, but we don’t sell C64 any more.’ We should have moved on to Amiga and PC, but C64 was pretty much all we knew in East Berlin. Uwe, our creative director, was an Atari guy… but the rest of us were programming in assembler on C64. I think it taught us a lesson; even back then, we realised how important it was to push as far as you can when you’re working with very limited computing power.”

“Pushing the technology is still one of our core principles,” says Ullmann. “It’s in our genes! But even that can get you in trouble – while we were developing Spec Ops, we were checking out new technology and it slowed us down. But really we were trying to grab people’s emotions and that’s something we learned making Spec Ops, too. We rewrote the story so often and every change had dramatic consequences in each level. Whenever we changed the story, the dialogue needed to be changed, and that meant we had to rip open the levels to give the characters enough space to talk.”

The next step may see Yager move away from familiar territory though. “What’s surprising to me is that even in 2012 games like Dishonored and Dragon’s Dogma proved that people are interested in new ideas. We’ve never had more platforms and more business models, so it’s a good time for new IP. After a seven-year console lifecycle, people are longing for something new – gamers and publishers, actually – and that suits us fine.”

With Yager recently acquiring a license for Unreal Engine 4, it’s expected they will announce their next-gen title in the coming months.

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