Every mysterious death calls out for an autopsy, right? Questions need answering, motives need scrutinizing and lives need examining. All of that’s true, even if the deceased is a video game.
For everyone wondering why such a high-profile project like “LMNO” got canned, 1UP exhumes the corpse of the now-cancelled game and offers intriguing tidbits on its gestation. The title–which was being developed at EA’s Los Angeles studio as part of a much-ballyhooed partnership with Steven Spielberg–was shrouded in mystery for most of its development cycle.
1UP contributor Matt Leone’s write-up sheds light on Spielberg’s level of involvement, the game mechanics that the team was trying to create and elements of the title’s sci-fi thriller story:
On the surface, it was a first-person action/adventure PS3/360/PC game set in modern times. Players would split their time between light role-playing objectives like talking to characters to uncover information, and action sequences featuring a lot of what the team referred to as “escape gameplay” where the player would run from approaching helicopters and FBI-style agents too overwhelming to fight face-to-face. That meant hand-to-hand combat and leaping over objects with parkour-style movement to get around, but the key to everything was the relationship between the main character Lincoln and an alien-looking girl named Eve.
The player controlled Lincoln in first-person, and he didn’t speak much along the lines of Gordon Freeman in Half-Life. As the game began, he found himself drawn to an Area 51-styled military base to break Eve out without really knowing why. From then on, the two would be on the run, “escaping the government, discovering what’s going on,” according to one team member, with the idea being they would end up in San Francisco.
“The point of LMNO was to basically take all the AI that would go into a normal Sims title, and compress that down into one character that could learn and remember and change the way you play the game on the fly, and not be totally scripted,” says another former team member.
“One of the dynamics was kind of ‘Who’s in charge?,'” says someone close to the game. “It was like the domination dynamic, so if the player was kind of like, ‘I rush ahead, I open the doors, I choose what to do, when to go,’ then maybe she would shy back and act less on her own. Or if the player was hesitant, or if the player failed a bunch, she might be like, ‘Screw you, I’m gonna be in charge here. I’m going to take charge and run over and beat up these guys. And then I’m gonna be pissed at you for not being much help.'”
Apparently, “LMNO” was the source of internal tension as part of its free-running gameplay closely resembled what later became “Mirror’s Edge.” Controversy also arose from a proposed plan to make the game super-short but very replayable.
“To be honest, they were given a lot of time,” says someone close to the project. “So when people talk about this game at EA — people who don’t really know about it — they’re like, ‘What happened?’ They had two, two and a half years to dick around, and they really had nothing to show for it.”
What the team had focused on was a prototype scene that took place in a ’50s-style roadside diner.
“The way [EA works is] they have their X-slice, and that’s ostensibly supposed to be like two/three minutes of as fully realized gameplay as possible,” explains a former team member. “The problem is, with a game like this — and any open-ended game; either an open-world game like Godfather, or an open-ended mechanically game like ours, where our levels wouldn’t necessarily be like huge streaming cities but you could do a lot of different things with them — EA’s methodology always kind of breaks down. In Godfather’s case, it made them swell up to like 200 people. In our case, we had this level that was supposed to be two/three minutes, but you could actually play it for like 45. You could play it for quite awhile and do a bunch of different things. The difficulty we were having was we were trying to coalesce all those different systems into like, ‘Here’s five minutes of play that’s representative.’ When you can do so many things, it’s hard to say ‘that’s representative.'”
The piece also reveals that “LMNO” died two deaths, with the first one in 2008 coming after Neil Young–the game’s original shepherd left EA–for greener pastures. Even though every source quoted in the piece is anonymous, it’s for understandable reasons. It doesn’t really matter as all their stories have the ring of truth and paint a picture of ambition that perhaps reached too far.