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Agent before Agent, a lost Rockstar San Diego project

In 2009, Jack Tretton, as CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment America, published a game called Agent.

"For over a decade, Rockstar Games has delivered unparalleled interactive experiences to fans all over the world," said Thirteen. "Grand Theft Auto, Bully, Midnight Club and Manhunt all started on PlayStation. Today we would like to announce a new property from Rockstar North. It's called Agent . And it will be exclusive to PlayStation 3." 19659003] It should be that Rockstar co-founder Sam Houser put it in a press release, the "ultimate action game."

"The game that everything from Rockstar North will be very, very cool," said Ben Feder, then CEO for Rockstar owns Take-Two Interactive, for GamesIndustry.biz. "It will push the edge, it will be refinancing, and it will be a whole new way of experiencing video games that we have not really seen before."

And beyond Take-Two, 201

0 and 2011 confirm that the game was still evolving, Agent disappeared largely from the public eye. In the best part of a decade many wondered about and / or when the game would see the light of day. Neither Rockstar nor Take-Two commented on their status and instead focused on supporting their other blockbusters: 2013's Grand Theft Auto 5 and 2018's Red Dead Redemption 2. [19659006] An answer may finally have come on November 19, 2018, when Take-Two gave up the trademark Agent . While neither Rockstar nor Take-Two announced anything about the game's status for this, so many it as proof that they would never play Rockstar's missing game.

Before Thirteen arrived on stage, however, another Rockstar studio, Rockstar San Diego, had its own version of Agent . A project full of ambitions and different philosophies. A PlayStation 2 / Xbox generation project that some in the studio thought would be the next major release from Rockstar. A project whose parts were partially resumed in the first Red Dead Redemption .

Speaking to eight former Rockstar employees, we recently merged the story of Agent 's phase in San Diego. This is not the complete story and in many ways the story of Rockstar San Diego's early days is a study. It's a story that involves a work environment that some call toxic.

Every person we interviewed for this story, except one, spoke anonymously, with some terrible consequences from Rockstar. Rockstar refused to comment on this article.

Culture clash

Agent did not start as other projects in the studio. Team members describe it as a test.

Rockstar bought Angel Studios in 2002, having worked with the company for several years at Smuggler's Run and Midnight Club series, changing the name of the studio to Rockstar San Diego. With this acquisition all the company's talent and technology came. It also led Rockstar to Red Dead Revolver, the first game in the Red Dead series, which was originally under development at Angel Studios for Capcom. Angel Game Engine continued to become RAGE, Rockstar Advanced Game Engine.

According to former Angel Studios team members, founder Diego Angel originally ran his company as a family. They say they were well compensated and given plenty of vacation time. On Friday, Angel would pass tequila shots to his employees.

Then the purchase happened, and many say that the studio's family culture changed.

According to former employees talking about this story, many in the team felt that Rockstar leaders, including Sam Houser and Dan Houser, wanted the team in San Diego to prove its worth. And Rockstar approached the studio with a new game idea to give them the chance: Agent .

"If I understand it, there was a clash within Rockstar about buying Angel Studios," a former team-captain says. "The collision was pretty much about how much they paid for Angel Studios and was it worth it? I think the project Agent was:" Evidence to us that you were worth all the money. ""

"I heard that Agent was supposed to be the project for us to prove that we were a "Rockstar Studio", says a team member of the project, echoing that Agent was a test for Rockstar's latest study.

Agent under San Diego, was to be an open spy game in the British criminal drama's veins Professionals said to be a favorite with the Houser brothers and James Bond movies. and gadgets at their disposal, such as a briefcase that would double as a rideable go-kart and "a camera drone type t "as a developer calls it which players can throw and use to take pictures.

Rockstar appointed his latest study to make a demo, a prototype of what the game could be, with producer Luis Gigliotti heading up the project. The game's wires were composed of which developer Gigliotti's "team" had worked together on other projects, such as 2001 Sports Sports Game Transworld Surf.

"We just dumped everything we did and we started it," says a designer referring to a Justice League game that never passed the conceptual stage. But as the developers soon found out, the development of Agent would not be what they were used to.

For Angel Studios, the project management meeting at the beginning had a typical development cycle for the project. Find out gameplay, technology and schedules. Then they would build a production crew member as the development went together and the staff up to see the game through. But Agent was not. From day 1, the demo had the one a developer calls a "full-fledged crew".

The hold size was not the only thing typical of Agent Development ; From the start, the team was crushed on the demo. Rockstar told his latest study that it had little time to get the project started and that everyone needed to put everything they had into it.

"In fact, everyone is expected to stay at work for as long as possible," said a former artist. "The idea was," No matter, you don't go home until it's time to sleep. ""

Some developers from the Angel Studios days say they found that the shift in cultures is abrupt. Before the takeover, after launching a project, the studio typically gave developers a week or twice. So if they crushed long hours to get something out of the door, they were rewarded with time away from the office.

"Rockstar ended all that," says a former developer. "Even after milestones you know we will crunch and then [the studio would] give us the next day or two to breathe. [Rockstar] never did. We wanted crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch and they would expect us sometimes the next day – even though it was a weekend – to ease things. "

Despite these pressures, many in the team were excited about the demo; it was more cinematic than other Rockstar games at that time, focusing on set pieces and historical accuracy. The demo had a level where the player was chased by a helicopter, with buildings exploding, rocket boots blowing doors of structures and hanging gliding lands on the roof of the White House.

"[Our demo] was a very highly polished, full-fledged game level with a full mission," says an artist from the team. "It was much more than you would expect from a prototype."

Team members say the demo impressed Housers, who gave the studio the green light to go into full production.

  Rockstar & WORK & ART art on an army of computer screens

In the early days of Rockstar San Diego, many employees felt overtime due to long periods of crunch time.

Building the Game

Originally, the idea of ​​doing as an artist on a team was telling it, "at least three" levels of the agent. However, the only two that the team ended up working on were an open Washington hub and a smaller, more linear level in Cairo. To achieve a level of authenticity, team members from San Diego visited both cities and took reference material.

On the way, the staff were detained for taking pictures in both D.C. and Cairo.

In DC, the event passed quickly, while in Cairo, the situation became a complicated trial between Rockstar staff and police who worried some homes.

"It was really exciting in the studio for a long time" a developer says.

When the teams made it home safely from every turn, developers at Rockstar San Diego were working to build building materials from the reference material.

Combining photos from tours with historical images of Washington from the 1970s, the team built the open world level, so the largest open area team had worked on. It was the only level the team was close to completing.

"Basically, the core of DC fully modeled, "said the artist about the level." It was all pretty accurate – and it was even quite accurate in the 1970s time period. "

The idea was that Washington would serve as the main hub for the player, with other cities around if in the world that serves as linear-piece-oriented levels the player would fly to during the campaign's campaign.

Building an ambitious open game was a battle for Rockstar San Diego, narrators tell Polygon. world games before, such as the racing games Midtown Madness and Midnight Club but none with the scale of Agent an open-world action game. And as the studio tried to iron out technology and gameplay, sources say the Rockstar's New York City headquarters have constantly been calling for the team to work on the game's history and adding the team's stress.

"Designers k if in, since level designers had to adjust the suspension on vehicles because none of the things really existed, a designer says, adding that the team was working at levels while basically playing gameplay mechanics, such as hand-to-hand combat, Was still in the concept. "We just built this engine, we built this battle engine, we built this battle engine. And meanwhile, the guys in New York are like: & When is the story done? & # 39; It was just quite chaotic. & # 39;

According to those who spoke for this story, Rockstar New York continually switched gear with what they wanted from the game and its history, and despite the great crisis for many team members, some in San Diego did not always have much to do on when things changed and changed, as the game was a fully staffed project from the start.

Developers we spoke to say that the New York office's constantly changing desires for Agent led to many problems As they tell it, Housers asked for changes faster than the team could follow, the team did not nail down the story, it did not nail down the gameplay, and progress began to stand, nevertheless, everyone was studying crunching. [19659048] "They just gave me enough time, "says a developer. "We worked really hard on what was basically a full crew member on it, and even though we were staying all day and all night, we couldn't get the change fast enough."

"We just did a lot," says another. "I mean just like every day, we worked weekends and 16-hour days. We were just scattered so thin."

Health issues persistent at Rockstar San Diego at present also sources tell polygon, some of which may no longer work due to stress.

According to developers, we talked to working at Rockstar San Diego meant these days to buy Rockstar's culture, whether you wanted to.

A developer who spoke for this story told us the day before his interview to ask if he was concerned about any legal disturbances that might come from talking about the project.

When asked why he was worried, he replied, "[They] scare me a little."

"I would say that there was definitely a culture of fear," a former Rockstar says higher. "If you have leadership that believes that everyone is interchangeable except for them, and everyone's life has to revolve around work, it's not a good way for modern first-world people to live."

Working under these conditions raises the question: Why stay? Some developers we spoke to said it came down to love making games and being married to their work. A developer also adds that they felt a desire to feel like part of Rockstar, even when it didn't work: "We just loved what we did and wanted to be accepted."

It was at this time that the study worked on Red Dead Revolver and Agent, as some developers say that the working environment at Rockstar San Diego became toxic – partly because of the above problems and partly because of the thirty deaths of three people who had worked in the studio.

In the mid-2000s, three people with close ties to Rockstar San Diego briefly died: one, Mike Haynes, while working there and two, Carlos Hernandez and Bill Purvis, after leaving the company . While the circumstances varied for each, it is something even today that is hard to talk to some developers interviewed for this story.

After a year of working on Agent, game producer Luis Gigliotti, left Rockstar, continues to become general manager of Concrete Games, a THQ study closed in 2008 before getting one games out the door. Shortly after he left, a large number came Agent 's leaders – Gigliotti & # 39; s hold – also to Concrete.

To compensate for this, Rockstar moved many of the leaders from Red Dead Revolver, launched on May 4, 2004, on Agent .

House of Cards

When the new leaders took over Agent in San Diego, some say the game was not so far in development as it had been shown. They say that the demo that originally impressed Housers looked good, but used too many "smoke and mirrors" tricks to be a stable starting point for a complete game.

A source from the team disagrees with this assessment and says that the demo was rough around the edges but a good start. But in the end, the team ended up spending the next year focusing on the game's engine and improving the tools needed to create an open action game while working a little on the game itself.

Under this new direction, Rockstar San Diego worked on Agent for about a year. A source of the project says it was a battle for the new leads, but who did not "get" what Houser brothers wanted from the game. After going back and forth with Sam Houser about his vision of Agent, they just didn't grip, he says.

"You know, Professionals was a British show, Siger a team member on the project. "It is very British. It is like the late 1970s, the 80s in Britain. Neither of us was really connecting it. [Rockstar’s headquarters in] New York was frustrated that we didn't get it. The technology was good. The part we got and it went well, but the game part we didn't really get. "

After a year's work, we got the game engine to a place where it could make open-world games, Agent as a Rockstar San Diego game became less and less of a reality. -the-hood technology would not be deleted. It was still used – just for something else. The sequel to Red Dead Revolver : Red Dead Redemption.

"I don't know how much it was that we tried to convince them, or Sam knew he would do the Red Dead anyway, but somehow it was decided to celebrate Agent and take all the work that we had done and start Red Dead Redemption, "says a team member." Because you know the technology was usable [on] either project – and probably maybe even more suited to Red Dead Redemption . "[19659070] The transition between the two games was immediate according to a developer. "We have the floor," Hello, we must be western. Collect all assets, bottom them up. Start creating the Western things now, right away, "the person says.

For some people lower in the study hierarchy, the news came as a shock. Much on the team felt Agent was to be the next big Rockstar property. told by a developer that in addition to supporting Red Dead Redemption with Rockstar San Diego's technology, Rockstar Games would use some of the technology for future Grand Theft Auto games.

Work on Redemption began in 2005, when the game was released in 2010. It was considered one of the biggest games of all time

  Rockstar Agent / & # 39; Redemption & # 39; artwork [19659074] After the team at Rockstar San Diego ended his work on <em> Agent </em> (shown here as a representative work of art, not an official asset of the project), it used some of the technology from the project to develop <em> Red Dead Redemption </em>. [19659075] What Happened Next </strong></h2>
<p id= Tough work conditions turned out to be a constant problem across both Rockstar San Diego's early projects. After working on Agent Red Dead Redemption also proved to be a demanding project for the study.

This became public in two ways. First, a group of anonymous employees and family members began to talk about the company's demanding schedules.

On January 7, 2010, a collective claiming to be "Certainly Devoted Wives of the Rockstar San Diego Employees", a gaming industry news site, Gamasutra, chastises Rockstar for its extreme working conditions and says the worst button began in March 2009, just over a year before the San Diego study launched


"Currently working conditions sic ] deteriorate as employees are manipulated by certain hands that govern sic ] in power in Rockstar San Diego," reads the post. "Moreover, the extent of degradation workers has been affected by their quality of life and their family members."

"Recently, there have been physical manifestations caused by stress that make health a concern," continues the post. "It is known that some employees have been diagnosed with depression symptoms, and at least one of them is recognized for having suicidal tendencies. These will not be improved with a full-time massage and will only worsen if no changes to improved conditions take sic ] place and leaders continue with their dishonesty with deadlines. "

Former employees who speak for this story, backs up these claims, and notes: "I can remember days when I didn't want to go home – or would the bulk of the team – and we just wanted to ride through to the next working day and finish the work day before we got home "I was young again so I didn't care about it."

In 2006, Rockstar also ran into a $ 2.75 million trial filed by former employees Garrett Flynn and Te rri-Kim Chuckry on behalf of more than 100 current and former employees of Rockstar San Diego, accuses Rockstar Games of unpaid overtime, both when the company was contracted with Angel Studios and after the acquisition.

The suit remained unresolved for more than two years until Rockstar agreed to pay for a full 2.75 million. $ November 2008, although the company denied any breach of settlement. According to the agreement, the company "concluded ongoing legal proceedings to be lengthy and expensive for all parties and that settlement is desirable."

Since the end of 2018, Rockstar's relationship with long working hours has been examined under a new microscope, partly due to comments from Rockstar co-founder Dan Houser in a vulture interview and to a study of the company's "crunch culture" by Kotaku.

In the vulture interview, Houser mentioned that there were times when team members worked "100 hours weeks" on the company's latest games, Red Dead Redemption 2 . He later added that he talked specifically about his four-person writing team in a short time and not the whole team for longer runs. But the discussion on the subject presented various current and former Rockstar employees, some of whom painted a less than – an ideal image of the pressure the company had put on employees. [19659087] For the Kotaku report, some current and former employees, where they found their work on Red Dead Redemption 2 told, and were "happy to work on Rockstar" while others said development was a "difficult experience that cost them friendships, family time and mental health."

As part of Rockstar's response to the claims in the Kotaku story, publisher Jennifer Kolbe referred to the early days of Rockstar San Diego as a particularly hard time for the company problems with crunch and say she believes that the company has since improved in this regard.

"We probably looked at Red Dead 1 and what came out of it and knew we wouldn't get back to such a situation," she said. "Of course, I think, as the team has grown in their work practices together, we've made improvements to how the teams run."


We do not know the current state .

After the game's time in San Diego, Jack Tretton's E3 2009 release revealed that Agent was under development at Rockstar North. At that time in Rockstar's history, the company took a leap to spreading the development of its games across multiple studies, and we do not know to what extent Agent became a Rockstar North project specifically. 19659094] A source says that Rockstar Leeds in the UK also worked on Agent and retrieved the relay, as Rockstar North attracted people to work on Grand Theft Auto 5 . Source says that Rockstar North took San Diego's Agent assets, but worked on the game with another engine. He recalls seeing a demonstration from the north around the time of the transition between Agent and Red Dead Redemption as he says, overshadowed much of San Diego's work.

"Rockstar North got hold of some ideas and things. They made a little test demo that blew something we'd done out of the water," he says. "When we saw the Rockstar North demo – I think they had a car that became a submarine or something, and some other things – we were like," Holy smoker! & # 39; "

And two sources say that certain aspects of Rockstar Nord's work on Agent – specific sites and missions – ended in Grand Theft Auto 5 .

Take-Two Interactive renewed Agent's trademark on December 5, 2016, allowing the publisher to retain the rights to the game's name and logo for three and a half years. But just after two years after the brand renewal, Take-Two officially abandoned on November 19, 2018. Agent is still listed on the Rockstar's website and the game's official website remains online. Both mention the game coming to PlayStation 3.

It is now almost 15 years since Rockstar San Diego started working on the project, and nearly a decade after the Thirteen, the E3 took the stage to announce the game. Rockstar has not said anything public about Agent this year. Subsequent periods of ambition and struggle and speculation may be the closest to playing Agent can only start up Red Dead Redemption or Grand Theft Auto 5 .

If you have more information about Agent or have other tips, we would like to hear from you. Please feel free to contact us at tips@polygon.com .

Special thanks: Aron Garst

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