Development Blog
Read the latest on SiN Episodes straight from members of the development team!

June 22, 2006

Giant Update!

Wow, it�s been a long time since I�ve updated this thing. Too long really. We�ve got lots and lots to talk about, so I�m just gonna get right to it.

Upcoming Patch / Update

Now, normally, most people don�t really give two shakes about a patch update. But this is pretty big. The oft mentioned Arena Mode is coming. This is really exciting for us because we�re not only adding an entire new mode to Emergence, but one with a very devoted focus -- replayability.


Screenshot from the new Arena mode
Click to enlarge!

Now, just to stem off any rumors, concerns, or worries, Arena Mode is NOT a replacement for Multiplayer. We�re still hard at work on that, and it�s still slated for a future release.

So, what is Arena? It�s been mentioned in a few places, but I�m not sure if I�ve properly addressed it here. So � here it goes:

Arena Mode, is an all new competitive single player experience where you face off against an onslaught of SinTEK foes. The longer you survive, the higher your score, but this is no ordinary challenge. Every moment you�re in the game, the Personal Challenge System continues to shift the difficulty, keeping the pressure on.

You can translate the PR-Speak into this: It�s an infinitely repayable single player mode where you continually try and beat your high score. The best way I can explain the experience is this. Do you remember the Bank scene from the original Matrix movie? Imagine playing that.

Now, in addition to Arena Mode itself, and a few sundry DirectX 7.0 bugs, the patch will also feature 4 all new Arena Mode maps.

  • Highrise Lobby Arena Map
  • The Office Arena Map
  • Turbine Arena Map
  • U4 Processing Station Arena Map

As I mentioned above, this is a competitive experience. Now, I know. I know, you�re saying, �But Shawn, this is Single Player. How can it be competitive? You suck.� But alas, it is not so. To add some additional fuel to the competitive fire, we have stat tracking in place, so you�ll (in the very near future) be able to see how your scores stack up against others.

Stats

This actually provides a nice transition for me. I want to talk a little bit about our stat tracking. First off, the stats we�re tracking are anonymous, so we�re not tracking any personally identifiable information, secondly � and, frankly, much more exciting � we�re hard at work on a system that will allow all of you to access these anonymous stats online. So, in the case of Arena Mode, you can see what the best score is on any map, or the longest survival time, or best accuracy � heck, even worst accuracy. We�re going to be getting a lot of great data, and we want to make sure it�s available to everyone.

SDK/Wiki Plans

Now, with Arena mode, there�s going to be demand for new maps. Well, very soon, we�re going to be releasing a tools SDK to address that very issue. The SDK will feature everything a budding mod-maker will need to create Single Player or Arena Mode maps. I can�t wait to see what the community does with this, and what kinds of crazy maps will come out. I�m expecting some really wild Arena maps to come out very soon after we release this release.

Related to this, in order to help budding map makers and modders out, we�re going to be putting up a Wiki, where we�ll have all our �how-to�s� and strategies in place so that you guys and gals don�t have to pull your collective hair out trying to figure out how to set up and configure everything. Community support is a big focus for us, and this is one of the ways we�re trying to meet it.

Episode 2

Whew� If you�re still reading this, I commend you. There�s a metric ton of text up there. Anyway, I�ll get to what you�re probably all most interested in � What�s going on with Episode 2?

We�re knee deep in production in Episode 2. There�s a ton of cool stuff on our plate right now, we�re playing with some of the features we trimmed out of Emergence along with some new ideas that already proving pretty promising. I will say the entire team is really psyched right now, the fact that we�re getting to roll right off of one great product onto another with the same great team and same great tech is phenomenal. We really got to the ground running this time, and it�s gonna show. I don�t want to give away everything, but I�d be on the look out for some Episode 2 media in the near future.

Well, after all that, I�m going to hand off to Tom Mustaine, and let him give you the update on what�s shaken out of our E3 showing � Some updates on our E3 girls(hawt), the Vigor competition, and more.

Have at it, Tom.

An E3 update?

Hey Everybody! So E3 2006 was a while ago now, why so long for the update you ask? Well, short and simple answer, we've had our head down cranking away on finalizing the Episode 1 shipping efforts (Germany, SDK, Arena mode, etc...) and working hard on Episode 2. So, onto the (belated) E3 2006 update!

The Show for SiN Episodes


The Vigorgaming Customized machines!

SiN Episodes was in a lot of places on the show floor this year, at the Logitech, Nvidia, and Microsoft booths. Each booth offered a different experience for the game, at Nvidia you would play the game on a 30" Dell monitor, powered by a state of the art customized Vigorgaming Force Recon machine with the latest Nvidia hardware, needless to say, those monitors with that hardware behind it made for an experience where you would need to use your entire peripheral vision to play the game, talk about immersion! Over at Microsoft, we had the Personal Challenge System cranked way up for in the High Rise section of the game, so anybody that gave the game a shot there would get a real taste of what the PCS system had to offer. Finally, over at the Logitech booth, we went all out! You could play the game on 3 SiN Episodes customized Vigorgaming Force Recon machines with Logitech G15 keyboards, two of which were playing the singleplayer game, the other playing our new Arena mode that Shawn talked about above, and of course, we had the REAL Elexis and Jessica there too, Bianca Beauchamp and Cindy Synnett dressed to kill and always surrounded by a giant crowd!

The Vigorgaming SiN Episodes: Arena competition


First Prize was a Vigorgaming SiN Episodes customized computer Force Recon machine!

The folks over at Vigorgaming were kind enough to donate one of the SiN Episodes customized machines to the winner of the SiN Episodes challenge, where players competed for the highest scores in Arena mode. The top 3 winners walked away with prizes, but only the first place winner got the super pimp Vigor machine. The competition was fierce, we had hundreds of contestants test their skills against our Personal Challenge System, but ultimately, a few individuals kept their eye on the prize.

First place: Jason Mohr from NPC Gaming with a score of 4989
Taking home the SiN customized Vigorgaming Force Recon PC
an AMD Athlon 62 X2 4400+ Processors / 2G / GeForce 7900GT
Jason said in an email "The machine is awesome, loving every second of it!"

Second place: Arnold Braxton with a score of 4402
Taking home a Logitech G5 mouse and a copy of SiN Episodes

Third place: Daniel Gowie with a score of 2538
Taking home a Logitech G5 mouse and a copy of SiN Episodes

(Here are the winners from left to right, Jason (With machine), Jason (with girls), Arnold and Daniel)

Congratulations to those guys for winning the competition! Look for a Ritual podcast coming soon with some video footage from both E3 and the SiN Episodes competition.

The REAL Elexis and Jessica!

This was by far the most exciting part of the show for us. Bianca, Cindy, (and Martin, their photographer) did an AMAZING job at the show, drawing an enormous crowd for hours every day. We had people coming by the booth to play the game, and were totally sidetracked by the girls, and others (like a former Guard for the Pittsburgh Steelers) coming by specifically to meet the girls. Either way, Bianca and Cindy put on an amazing show, and in the end, Bianca actually won Babe of Show from G4TV!

For people interested in seeing more of Bianca and Cindy as Elexis and Jessica, head over to Bianca's LatexLair, where this month they are running 105 photos from the SiN Episodes photoshoot, along with 3 videos covering their E3 experience in amazing detail. Click here to view the preview video for Bianca and Cindy at E3. Also, for a more detailed description of the events at E3 from Bianca's perspective, check out her diary at the lair (Select "Diary" under the "Bianca" menu on her site.)

Whew! Shawn wasn't kidding about a GIANT update! Lots of very cool stuff coming down the pipeline for SiN Episodes, so check back soon!

May 24, 2006

Aftermath

All right, I'm back after all the shipping chaos, and ready for a little bit'o'blog. Got a lot to chat about, so you might want to strap in.

First off, I'm very excited about the positive response many people have been giving the game. It's awesome to see people really digging Episodic content, the gameplay, the story, and the characters. I think everyone has commented on the raw "fun" factor that the game possesses. That was our goal from day one, and I think we achieved it. Things are moving really well for us; after a great launch here in America, we've got our European launch starting today; SiN has a lot of fans in Europe, and we're glad to have the game going world-wide.

Now, for the German customers, we haven't forgotten you. Here's what's going on: the initial submission to the German ratings board (USK) failed and the game was refused a rating by the organization - this affects both the Steam and the retail version. We've been working on a localized version of the game for Germany, which will go on sale as soon as it is assigned a rating by the USK. We don't have a timeline for this yet, but we're moving as quickly as possible.

So, I'm sure many of you are wondering - "Okay, Emergence is out . What are they doing now?" Well, I can answer that for you. We're hard at work on Episode 2, taking a critical eye to elements in Emergence and going through all the community feedback we've received to make adjustments to the design. On a more concrete level, we're focused primarily on integrating all the cool new features Valve has added to the source engine into the Emergence code base. It's a pretty hefty chore, those Valve guys have added quite a bit of awesome stuff since our last code merge, things like HDR and the like, so there's a solid amount of work to be done.

Anyway, after the code merge, things get really interesting - especially for all you Emergence players out there. In addition to Episode 2, we're going to focus on three things: SDK, Arena Mode, and Multiplayer - all three of which will be free to Emergence players. We're as anxious to get these things in your hands as you all are to have them. So, everyone can rest assured that we're not going to be abandoning our fans as we press forward on Episode 2 - We've got a lot of good things planned for you guys.

Speaking of fans, we've been getting a tremendous amount of feedback. I'm sure you all have noticed several of us Ritual folks hitting various forums and talking to the community. We're committed to the community and want to use Episodic content to make sure we're giving fans what they want. You guys have already had a significant effect on the design of Episode 2.

One of the things we're doing is adjusting the storyline a little. We're moving to the idea of a "Season" -- just like in TV, in one "Season" players will have a full complete story. Take for example, the series 24. At the end of any season, there's a few questions left unanswered, but the primary conflict has been resolved. That's exactly the model we're going for. So, we've shifted all our focus on Season 1, which will span 3 episodes. This is perfect for us, because 3 episodes maps so nicely with traditional story structure: Beginning, Middle, and End. As many of you know, our storyline and background is much larger than just 3 episodes, but as of now, everything we've got is centered on this single 3 episode arc.

Another thing we've gotten a lot of feedback on is Blade. The storyline for Episode 1 explains why he's not very chatty; plus a silent hero helps with immersion. That being said, we've heard you guys. You want Blade; plain and simple. So, in Episode 2, there's going to be more Blade. We're still figuring out a few implementation things, and I don't want to give away all the details, but I just wanted to let all of you know you do make a difference. You've spoken and we've listened.

Lastly, I want to clarify how we're tackling this idea of Episodic Content. While the overall story line for Season 1 spans 3 episodes, it's not one game split into three parts. We're designing each and every episode to be a standalone game, giving users between 4-8 hours (depending on playstyle) of unique gameplay + replay value + additional content (such as the SDK, Arena Mode, and MP listed above.) Each episode is designed to build on the one before, but offer its own story arcs, features, and specialized content.

I'm going to do another hand off to Tom Mustaine in one of the future updates, so that he can give everyone the E3 wrap up. We had a great experience out there, but I'll save all the details for him.

May 3, 2006

E3 Approaches

E3's coming, and we're going to be on hand, showing off the game. We've got a couple of very cool surprises in store for the show ? so of course, I'm going to talk about that right now!


Stop by the Logitech booth at E3 for a chance to win this customized Vigor PC!
We're unveiling a new game-mode at the show in tandem with a contest to give away a customized SiN Episodes Vigor Gaming Force Recon PC. SiN Arena Mode will debut on the show floor ? showing off the power of the Personal Challenge System ? in a ridiculously addictive, competitive, and infinitely repayable short-form game-mode.

In Arena Mode, the player is locked in a death-match style arena map facing off against an endless supply of dynamically tuned foes. Every second the player is combat, the score increases ? the score change is directly tied to how well the player is playing. So, as the challenge increases ? so does the reward.

Since it uses all the statistics and scoring from our Personal Challenge System, its replayablity is mind-boggling. It's actually hampered our productivity a little since we all keep playing it, looking to increase our scores and obtain smack-talk rights to allow us to humiliate our fellow employees. On a personal note, I'm pretty good ? but we've got some guys here that are like machines. So, sadly I've only been on the receiving end of the above mentioned smack-talk and humiliation. Josh Martel ? one of our programmers ? he made me cry a little.


Get the E3 Wallpaper!
� 1024x768
� 1280x1024
� 1600x1200
� 1680x1050
As I've mentioned in previous updates, Episodic Content combined with Digital Distribution gives us all kinds of freedoms; allowing us to innovate and quickly generate new content. Arena Mode is an example of this, helping us illustrate Ritual's commitment to our community, and showing off our vision of what episodic gaming can really be. Shortly after Emergence is released, we'll be doing an update ? giving everyone a chance to play with this new mode, and adding staggering amount of competitive replayability to the game.

Also, as I'm already talking about the future, multiplayer is coming. I don't want to go into to in too much detail, but the speculations and chatter about Co-Op are actually well founded. We're absolutely investigating different Co-Op options, and Arena Mode is providing a foundation for some of our ideas.

Now, I'm going to do a quick hand off to Tom Mustaine. He's going to be on the actual show floor, and can add his perspective to things. Take it away Tom?

Okay folks, E3 is going to be very exciting for SiN Episodes this year. For those of you attending the show, SiN Episodes will be all over the show with our partners at Logitech (booth #1624), Microsoft (booth #1246), and Nvidia (booth #300)!


Click to see our SiNful E3 schedule!
First, we are excited to announce a partnership between Ritual Entertainment and Vigor Gaming! Come to the Logitech booth (#1624) at E3 to try your hand against the SiN Episodes Personal Challenge System in the Vigor Gaming and Logitech-sponsored SiN Episodes Challenge! Just put in your name and badge number, and play for the highest score in the all-new SiN Episodes Arena mode! The player present on Friday May 12th at 3:15PM with the highest score will walk away with a customized SiN Episodes Vigor Gaming Force Recon PC!

Also at the Logitech booth this year, we are pleased to announce a partnership between Ritual Entertainment and BiancaBeauchamp.com, that you will bring you Elexis Sinclaire and Jessica Cannon live and in person! Cover girl and Playboy model Bianca Beauchamp (Elexis) and Cindy Synette (Jessica) will be appearing at the show floor during these scheduled times - come by and say hello, get your picture taken, and play SiN!

Over the next few weeks, you will see more photographs of Elexis and Jessica on both SinEpisodes.com, and biancabeauchamp.com. Also, post E3, we will be announcing a contest to give away another customized SiN episodes Vigor Gaming Force Recon PC along with a number of other prizes. Keep your eyes on SinEpisodes.com!

April 26, 2006


The SiN Episodes: Emergence gold master! Click to enlarge.
Great Googly Moogly � WE'VE GONE GOLD.

There it is; the retail version of SiN Episodes: Emergence is now officially gold mastered and off to replication, all in time to hit store shelves in early May. As a team, we're all ecstatic to see all the months of hard work finally packaged up and ready to go. We're also glad that all of you, the fans, will finally get a chance to play this thing.

I have to say, though it will undoubtedly come off as a little biased, this game is one of the most fun shooters I've played in a very long time. The action, the story, the art, the gameplay � it all just gels into this tight experience that I still enjoy playing, even now � and trust me, I've played this thing A LOT.

I look back at how far we've come, and I'm just amazed. From the early production, when the team was still learning how to use the technology, seeing the early levels (all blocky and textured in nothing but orange), watching our characters evolve, seeing features come on-line; some getting cut, others making the grade; the entire process is thoroughly mind boggling.

I want to give credit to the team. This is a group of extraordinarily creative, talented, and driven individuals that have poured their heart into their work over the last months, and the results really show. Emergence is polished, beautiful, and fun � but most of all it has a soul, and that only comes when you have a crew dedicated to the vision of what they're creating and unwilling to settle for anything less than outstanding.

So, as Emergence comes to a close, I find myself straddling two worlds. On one side, I'm looking back at Emergence � seeing all that we've accomplished and feeling immensely proud. On the other, I see all that we're going to accomplish with Episode 2, and I'm humbled.

Now that we're sitting on this side of Gold Master, it's a great time to hit Steam and preload the game for free. And remember, if you pre-order before May 10th, you can get 10% off.

In other news, we launched the Ritual Podcast today, which is going to be a regular series of both audio and video content that will enable you guys to get a closer look at how we're doing things here at Ritual. The first episode features our resident audio guru Zak Belica talking about creating one of the many audio cues in the game - it's truly fascinating stuff, so be sure to give it a listen.

Also, Tom Mustaine has set up a kicking, so all you folks with kicking MySpace pages of your own, be sure to add us ;) Lastly, keep an eye out here for some very exciting E3 announcements coming soon.

At any rate, I hope all of you enjoy Emergence as much as I do, and I hope all of you stick around for Episode 2. It's going to be a wild ride.

April 24, 2006

Well, in case any of you were unaware, you can now preload SiN Episodes: Emergence for free. We're set to unlock on May 10th, so now's the time to get everything pulled down.


click to enlarge
As for the rest of our world, production for Episode 2 is well underway. Currently, our coders are working on adding our new technology to the latest version of the Source Engine and already beginning to make adjustments to the Personal Challenge System � we're looking to take this feature even further for Episode 2. They're also making even more adjustments to the AI. We made some cool improvements for Emergence, but we had a number of ideas that got set aside as the design moved forward. Now, we taking those ideas and getting a chance to implement some fantastic stuff. We really want our enemies to feel fluid and dynamic in combat, so this is a big focus for us.

In the Level Design side of things, we've been putting our focus on the environments for Episode 2. The "where" is one of the most critical things for a shooter, as from that you can derive a lot of your gameplay, AI, and weapons � all tailored to work within the world you're building.

Working hand in hand with the Level Design, I've been working to break the story for the episode. Just like in television, we have an over arching story line for the series, but each episode's story needs to be broken (going from outline to fleshed out story � then to full script). This is an interesting process that I will blog about later, but generally we started by looking at where the overall story is going, then began brainstorming cool environments to help facilitate the storytelling. That was an exciting time; there was lots of "back and forth" between story development and environment design. We didn't want to be so ruthless in the story arena that we killed any creativity in our selection and development of environments � after all, we're making a game and we need to make sure that the settings are condusive to a fun experience. Likewise, SiN Episodes is a story driven product line, so we couldn't completely ignore story needs either. I think we've landed on something pretty solid and cool, though nothing is locked in stone.


click to enlarge
On the Game Design front, we're adhering to the philosophical ideals we established in Emergence -- If it isn't fun, it's getting cut. This sounds like a pretty obvious methodology, but trust me, as we learned in Emergence, it's not as cut and dried as it seems. A lot of features get momentum behind them, and the more momentum they get, the harder it becomes to cut them. In the end, though, you have to do what's best for the game, even if it means cutting out your favorite feature � which is always painful to do.

Still, I love this time of the project. We're making steady progress, but we're still exploring ideas. Best of all, we're still incredibly flexible, which is going to be critical in the next couple of months as we start getting feedback from all of you. Honestly, that's one of the things I'm most excited about; really using the fast turnaround of an episodic schedule to adjust the game. We want to make the game you all want to play; after all, we're making it for you.

I'd expect blog updates to come more frequently in the next few weeks. There's going to be lots of exciting "behind the scenes" stuff in terms of how we're designing the next episode.

April 17, 2006

What does episodic gaming mean?


click to enlarge
This is a good question, and I think the idea of episodic gaming varies from developer to developer. Everyone's going to bring something different to the table.

I can tell you how we're approaching it.

From the beginning thoughts on the project, we went round and round on what it means to be "episodic." We looked at a number of models, and tried to see how those models fit for our universe and how we thought the games should fall out.

As we looked at it, we realized that for us, it didn't make sense to simply make "one" game and chop it up into multiple pieces � To me that seemed to negate many of the advantages of being episodic. Specifically the freedom to innovate and evolve.

So, we started thinking about how to structure things. We landed on a high level story concept and spent a lot of time working on the world of SiN itself. From the beginning of the project, I was adamant that every episode serve as a standalone piece of gameplay. Meaning that each episode has the components of a story in and of itself (A beginning, middle, and an end.)

Essentially, for us, SiN Episodes works on two levels. The first level is on an episode specific arena. We want every episode to be a rewarding and satisfactory experience for the player. So, we endeavor to make each episode not a "part" of a game, but a complete game in and of itself. It's an idea of scope, not division.


click to enlarge
Now, there is also a secondary "higher" level as well. While each episode answers questions and tells its own story, it also fits into a larger scale tapestry, asks new questions, and foreshadows events to come. This allows us to have twists and turns in the overall plot.

To give some examples from other media, let's look at two outstanding television shows: X-Files and more recently Lost. In both cases, there's certainly an overarching idea behind both shows � Something that extends beyond any individual episode. So, fans that watch the show episode to episode, season to season, get insights into this overarching idea.

More casual viewers may miss out on some of the high level threads and plot lines, but each episode is written to be a complete experience. They're written to be like bricks in a building, not chapters in a book. There are of course call-backs to previous episodes, there's foreshadowing to future episodes, there's twists, turns, and the occasional cliff-hangar. But, for the most part, the episodes are written so that having knowledge about these elements can enhance your viewing experience, but they're certainly not required to enjoy the story being told.

This is exactly the approach we're taking with our own episodic content.

So, with all that philosophical bru-ha-ha, what does this actually mean to our fans? Well, it means that you can expect each episode of SiN Episodes to introduce something innovative and new into the mix, you can expect to get a satisfying story, and you can expect a rock solid fun experience.

Blog Archives: Q1 2006 | 2005