The Xbox (1) Live Shutdown and Secret Weapons Over Normandy

A few months ago, Microsoft announced that it would be shutting down the Xbox Live service for the original Xbox on April 15, 2010. I haven’t played an Xbox 1 Live game in years, but this news still makes me a little wistful, because for the first time something that I’ve worked on will essentially no longer be available anywhere. I’m referring to the downloadable content for Secret Weapons Over Normandy – there were three packs, each containing a challenge mission and a new plane. According to this list, there were only 53 games on the original Xbox that even had DLC, and ours was in the earliest 20% or so of that. (Wikipedia doesn’t have a dated list for downloadable content, so I’m merely going by release date of the original game, which may not be accurate – I seem to recall that the Yavin Station DLC for KOTOR only came out after the PC version shipped, which was many months after the Xbox version.) I remember at the time that it was still a novelty for a game to support DLC – I think the only game up until that point for which I personally had downloaded DLC was MechAssault.

At that point, publishers and developers hadn’t really figured out their DLC strategies yet – they tended to come out at odd, uncoordinated times, and since you couldn’t bill users for it, there wasn’t a direct financial motivation for producing it. (I’m guessing Microsoft probably paid LucasArts for the DLC, but I have no real knowledge about this.) In hindsight, it seems a little quaint to produce DLC for a game without Xbox Live multiplayer like SWON when there was no ability to monetize it. Then again, the time investment in producing the DLC was pretty modest – creating and setting up a new plane was a fairly simple process, and we had an awesome mission editor, SLED, that really made it fast and efficient to create new missions. Comparing that process to content generation on current-gen games makes my head spin, to be honest.

The DLC was pretty much ready to go from the launch date – we had spent less time in certification and re-submission than we had planned, and so the DLC content was started and finished sooner than expected. I also seem to recall some feedback from Microsoft that our DLC was the first that had passed cert the first time through – I’m not 100% sure if I’m remembering that right and that we were the first, but passing on the first submission was definitely something that they highlighted and was a nice feather in our cap. Our engine design and the relatively self-contained nature of the DLC definitely helped with that. (Certification in general was actually a breeze on that game – we passed SCEA cert on our first submission, and I think we only had minor fixes for SCEE and for MS. The project schedule was built around the assumption of two resubmissions for each platform/region.) I think the DLC came out one pack at a time, a couple of weeks apart from each other, and all of the game content was out by early-to-mid December 2003.

My involvement in the DLC was pretty peripheral – I just played it a few times and gave a little feedback. At the time, I think I was working on the Japanese localization of the game (for PC and PS2), which needed some additional code and tool work. That version, incidentally, is the “final” version of the game – there were a couple of tiny bug fixes I made that missed the US and European releases, and of course none of the Japanese text and font rendering stuff was in the earlier releases.

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