EA's Software Artists

Electronic Arts is a lumbering corporate megalith today, pumping out yearly game franchise after yearly game franchise. It's easy to forget that EA was present at the very beginning of the computer game industry, innovating and blazing a trail for everyone to follow. Gamasutra's article We See Farther: A History of Electronic Arts reminded me how instrumental EA was to the early history of computer gaming.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at: http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2007/04/eas-software-artists.html

I fondly remember those old EA games - Archon (one of my favorite games of all time), MULE, Bard’s Tale. I’m disappointed that the article failed to chart the point at which EA sadly became evil. I’m guessing it’s when they shifted to consoles and focused on multi-platform yearly franchise releases. Or perhaps it was when they “flogged the developers to release 3 games a month for a year”.

EA were masters at building an additive, intelligent and visually appealing game in the 80’s using a meager 16 - 64kb of memory (in most cases). This is both a talent and work of art. Humm, lean and clean code is something that is extremely rare these days.

Great post. It sure is funny how EA has gone from the hip, cool edgy independent game studio to the monstrosity it is today. EA helped invent the game industry as we know it today; both the good and the bad.

There is place for people with romantic view on things: teh scene. Demoscene, Art scene etcetera.

They doing it all for fun, not for money.

EA now producing a lot of games, but I cant sense a touch of art there. But sell millions of titles. Cash generation company.

Now, there’s something in between: Will Wright, Peter Moulinex titles, lots of Japanese stuff. It has a touch of imagination, and it sells.

Sometimes games with a huge artistic base just fail.

Business and art - two different things. Art is not for everyone.

When it comes to code - dunno. Should we call Carmac’s Doom code - code poetry? Dunno.

Archon - man, I loved that game. Almost as much as nethack.

The last game I bought was an EA game. And it’s the last EA game I’ll ever buy. EVER EVER EVER.

A genre hasn’t hit “A New Low” until EA makes a game for it. I think they release patches with such frequency for Command Conquer 3, that it boggles the mind.

I pity EA programmers and the “paint by numbers” approach to creativity.

“We’re providing a special environment…”

Just walking into their offices a few years back would take you past huge statues of characters from their games, formula one cars from the previous season, etc. Now I have to dodge forklift trucks on my way into the offices of an automotive client…a world apart - but I don’t have to put in as many hours as they do!

Artistry: “a superior skill that you can learn by study and practice and observation.”

Art: “the making of objects, images, music, etc. that are beautiful or that express feelings or ideas.”

From these definitions I think artistry is alive in the games industry, but new examples of unique art are not as abundant. The technical skills are obviously there, but being employed on the next generation of “safe” franchise titles, rather than new innovative ideas. Just too many copies of “greats” by “old masters”.

Yeah, thanks for reminding me of Archon. I used to love that game on the Apple IIe. Very good stuff indeed.

I bet the Madden programmers don’t get this kind of love:


I wasted more hours on One-on-One than I care to discuss… that and Olympic Decathalon were the ruination of a couple AppleIIe keyboards.

I don’t know what happened to EA. They just seem to have forgotten who they were once upon a time. I remember when there were certain companies who, if their logo appeared on the game box, assured you of a fantastic game.

These days diverse and interesting game play comes from the indie scene, where people are deploying across proven business models. A lot of folks that later go on to be cogs in the corporate machine first start off as indie developers who had vision.

One of the most interesting things to see was homebrewing on the console. One of the first consoles to really support this -though it was never intended to be that way- was the SEGA Dreamcast. The first one to really go out of its way to support homebrewing is the X-Box 360, which uses Microsoft’s XNA framework, built right on top of .NET. You can even use most of your X-Box 360 controllers with your PC to help test it, and deploy a game across both Windows and X-Box platforms with very little effort. A major bonus, but still inhibited by the cost of the X-Box 360.

Ultimately, when it comes down to it… big software corporations are not the heart and soul of the industry anymore. They’re just the ones that we can rely on when we really need that next iteration of NFL games.

i think the artwork in “need for speed most wanted” is pretty darn cool.

EA changed from a developer to a distributor. That’s what went wrong…

Having just purchased CC 3 - Tibirium Wars, I can definately add to the testament that there is no art involved longer. The whole online purchase experience was buggy, cumbersome and apart from the updated graphics there is nothing new in the gameplay. In fact, count yourself lucky if you get to play 5min before being rushed/tank-spammed by your opponent.

I hope the upcoming Unreal Tournament 2007 will be a better experience.

Man, where can I get my hands on Archon! I absolutely loved that game and Dr J vs Larry Bird. Especially when you broke the backboard and the janitor complains about having to clean it up.

But I wonder what happened to the grandiose sentiments
The biggest thing that happened is that the team sizes got bigger. When one or two people worked on a game, it’s easy to justify putting their names on the front cover. When that number is 10 (or 150 like it is today) it’s not so easy. Sid Meier is really the only game designer that gets on the cover now.

Very ironic, actually, given their whole sweatshop reputation today. There were some other things promoting that idea during the 80s too, actually, like “Wargames,” that movie.

EA bought Origin and not capable to produce games comparable quality
EA bought Westwood Studios and had to shoutdown Earth and Beyond, also CC Generals quality not nearly there.IMHO they just missmanaged a few companies.
After Earth and Beyound discontinued I decided to stop buying from them.


You can use all of your XBox 360 controllers on your PC if you buy the wireless dongle.