Amy Hennig knows more about triple-A development than most, having steered the Uncharted ship for so long as the series' creative director and head writer, before leaving for pastures new prior to the release of Uncharted 4.
After stepping away from Naughty Dog, Hennig joined up with Visceral Games to serve as creative director on the studio's top secret Star Wars project. But despite having made a name for herself in the realm of triple-A game dev, Hennig isn't exactly smitten with the "unwinnable" lifestyle it imposes on developers.
"There were people who, y'know, collapsed, or had to go and check themselves in somewhere when one of these games were done. Or they got divorced. That's not okay, any of that. None of this is worth that. It's an arms race that is unwinnable and is destroying people."
So, how do you sold a problem like triple-A? As it stands, there isn't a quick fix, and according to Hennig there isn't even a clear long-term solution. Sure, studios could ask for more time and resources, but that'd inevitably be offset by the pressure to make their blockbuster game bigger, better, and even more lucrative.
It's pressure that rolls downhill and piles onto those behind the industry's biggest releases, forcing them to go above and beyond to meet rapidly approaching deadlines.
"Trying to finish a game like that [Uncharted 3] in two years is insane, especially when you're saying that the two years is everything: pre-production, production," Hennig elaborated, explaining why crunch is still part-and-parcel of triple-A development.
"Time is a huge one, but then everyone is racing with cost versus time. So could we do it with smaller teams longer? Sure, but then we tend to throw people at these things and burn money fast. We've all seen games that took too long and they kind of got lapped. We're definitely at the point where something's got to give."
Hennig's interview has prompted other triple-A developers to share their own experiences. Writing on Reddit, an anonymous Scottish designer, who claims to have had stints at Rockstar and another Edinburgh studio, explained crunch time and over-expectant publishers are "killing the triple-A industry."
"I work with a couple of people who have been doing this since the late '80s and they look remarkably older than they are. Going into a smaller studio was the best thing I ever did, we still make triple-A games but it's so much more manageable," they wrote.
"In roughly seven or so months in the midst of crunch, while working 12-20 hour shifts, seven days a week, I lost about 70 pounds," they revealed. "On the days when I didn't just crash on the couch in the waiting room, I'd go home, fall asleep, wake up, immediately go back to work."
"I saw the project through to the end and left the industry. Maybe I just wasn't passionate enough about games, but nothing really seemed worth that to me."
To hear more from Hennig you can listen to the Designer Notes podcast, which is hosted by Mohawk Games founder Soren Johnson and, sometimes, Finji co-founder Adam Saltsman, right here. You can also see what other Reddit users thought of the interview by clicking here.