CANADIAN DE­VEL­OPER FO­CUS: EA CANADA

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Canada runs rich with tal­ent on pretty much ev­ery front, but as one of the most pro­lific and im­por­tant na­tions in the world when it comes to game devel­op­ment, we’ve got a jump on prac­ti­cally ev­ery other coun­try in the world. Whether that’s down to smart man­age­ment and gov­ern­ment in­cen­tives, the fact that we all re­ally, re­ally love video games or sim­ply that

we’re awe­some at pretty much ev­ery­thing we turn our hands to is up for de­bate, but the fact is that we’re real game devel­op­ment power houses and

we’re go­ing nowhere any­time soon! To cel­e­brate the devel­op­ment tal­ent found in our fair land, we’ve de­cided to start a new regular fea­ture that looks at some of the big­gest, and most im­por­tant names in the lo­cal game devel­op­ment scene, start­ing with

Van­cou­ver’s EA Canada.

Housed within the glo­ri­ous EA Burn­aby cam­pus, EA Canada is one of Elec­tronic Arts’ long­est and most en­dur­ing devel­op­ment teams. With well over a hun­dred ti­tles un­der its belt over the course of al­most 25 years, it’s also one of the most pro­lific stu­dios in the gam­ing world, and it’s re­spon­si­ble for some of the big­gest names on the EA ros­ter, in­clud­ing ar­guably the two most im­por­tant fran­chises for the EA Sports brand: FIFA and NHL.

The stu­dio be­gan life as Dis­tinc­tive Soft­ware, founded by Don Mat­trick ( who you might re­mem­ber from his time at Mi­crosoft) and Jeff Sem­ber, be­fore be­ing taken over by Elec­tronic Arts in 1991 in a deal worth around $ 11m. At that time Elec­tronic Arts was far from the mon­ster it is to­day, but it had been go­ing about things the right way, build­ing an everexpanding con­sumer base and pi­o­neer­ing a unique way of deal­ing with re­tail­ers - opt­ing to sell di­rectly rather than go­ing through the stan­dard dis­tri­bu­tion chan­nels. This ap­proach en­sured that EA gained an in­ti­mate level of knowl­edge of the in­dus­try, al­low­ing for some shrewd moves and in­vest­ments, one of which be­ing the ac­qui­si­tion of Dis­tinc­tive from un­der the noses of Ac­co­lade, then a ma­jor pub­lish­ing power. In 1994 EA Canada rolled out its first re­lease, NHL 94, es­tab­lish­ing the first links be­tween the stu­dio and the sport­ing world, and fol­lowed that up with the PlaySta­tion port of 3DO ti­tle The Need for Speed, a racer that had gar­nered wide­spread crit­i­cal ac­claim, and would go on to be­come one of Elec­tronic Arts’ most high pro­file fran­chises, even spawn­ing a movie in 2014 ( which, depend­ing on who you speak to, was ei­ther dread­ful or, at best, okay). The early to mid 00s saw the stu­dio come un­der fire from both gamers and the gam­ing me­dia, how­ever, for its sheer vol­ume of out­put and a per­ceived lack of orig­i­nal­ity, as high­lighted by the fact that, by 2007’ s end, EA Canada had a re­lease list com­pris­ing of no fewer than 16 (!) bas­ket­ball games, 13 in­stall­ments in the Need for Speed se­ries and 9 NHL ti­tles. At that time, the gam­ing public held a par­tic­u­larly neg­a­tive view of EA’s re­lease prac­tices, and the pro­lific re­lease of it­er­a­tive up­dates to key fran­chises, par­tic­u­larly those com­ing from EA Canada’s halls, cer­tainly didn’t help, but a wind of change was about to blow through the Burn­aby cam­pus. Sud­denly it felt as though there was

a sense of pride about the stu­dio again. The games still came thick and fast, but they fea­tured a lot more than mere ros­ter up­dates and mi­nor en­gine tweaks - they ac­tu­ally at­tempted to make sweep­ing im­prove­ments year af­ter year, and with the PlaySta­tion 3 and Xbox 360 fi­nally start­ing to find their feet and show what they were ca­pa­ble of, there could hardly have been a bet­ter time to start turn­ing things around. The most ob­vi­ous change in tack came via the FIFA se­ries. Es­tab­lished in 1993, FIFA Soc­cer had since fallen a long way be­hind its only real com­peti­tor, the Kon­ami- de­vel­oped Pro Evo­lu­tion Soc­cer ( for­merly In­ter­na­tional Su­per­star Soc­cer). While the Ja­panese ti­tle lacked the real- life li­censes of the FIFA se­ries, it had grown to of­fer a much su­pe­rior game­play ex­pe­ri­ence, rel­e­gat­ing FIFA to the side­lines as an also- ran in the eyes of soc­cer purists. With the 2008 ver­sion of the game, how­ever, there were signs of life once again. Com­plete over­hauls of the game en­gine were im­ple­mented in a bid to go toe- to- toe with Kon­ami and, over time, it all started to come to­gether - with the Ja­panese stu­dio tak­ing its eye off the ball and fail­ing to cap­i­tal­ize on its pre­vi­ous suc­cess, al­low­ing the EA Canada team to reestab­lish the FIFA brand as a real fan favourite, thanks in no small part to a more well- rounded un­der­stand­ing of the needs of a new gen­er­a­tion of con­nected gamers. Sim­i­lar changes could be seen, too, in the NHL fran­chise. Old and tired en­gines were turfed out ac­ri­mo­niously and re­placed by more in­tel­li­gent, re­al­is­tic and func­tional physics- based mod­els, cre­at­ing a level of un­prece­dented re­al­ism that grew with each it­er­a­tion. Even though NHL has no Pro Evo to go head to head with, the devel­op­ment team nev­er­the­less set out to over­haul ev­ery as­pect of the game, and they con­tinue to im­prove the se­ries an­nu­ally, last year’s mi­nor mis­step aside.

It hasn’t all been hockey, soc­cer and rac­ing games for EA Canada, though. While the stu­dio’s out­put might be a lit­tle limited in scope for some gamers, let’s not for­get that, in the past decade, it has been re­spon­si­ble for the likes of the Skate se­ries ( with EA Black Box, a part of EA Canada, look­ing af­ter devel­op­ment du­ties fol­low­ing EA’s ac­qui­si­tion of Black Box in 2002 - the stu­dio was closed as part of an in­ter­nal reshuf­fling in 2013), as well as the awe­some Grand Slam Ten­nis, Fight Night Round 4 and Cham­pion, and the re­boot­ing of old favourite NBA Jam. Em­ploy­ing around 1,700 staff at the stu­dio’s Burn­aby com­plex, which in­cludes sev­eral cut­ting- edge fa­cil­i­ties used for full body mo­tion cap­ture, sound de­sign and more, EA Canada is a ma­jor part of the Canadian games in­dus­try, and while its ti­tles may not be to ev­ery­one’s taste, you can be sure that, come Au­gust/ Septem­ber each year, Cana­di­ans will be lining up around the coun­try to get their hands on the stu­dio’s lat­est in­stall­ment in the long stand­ing NHL fran­chise.

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