Development Blog Archive - 2005

Blog Archives: Latest | Q1 2006 | 2005

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

November 16, 2005

The voice recording is done. Next stop - choreography town.

Last week we got the VO (voice over) work done, and it came out fantastic. The experience was amazing - as were the actors. Now, I'll take credit for the words. I put a lot of work into those. But I'm not going to even pretend that my direction helped the actors that much - they really didn't need it.

This was my first time working with actors like this, and I think I got extremely lucky to work with such an incredible group. These guys and gals just nailed it. I would continue gushing, but I already sound like some half-crazed fanboy, so I'll hold my tongue for now. Besides, all the proof you'll need will come when this thing is released.

I'm sure by now you've seen some of the new screenshots; I believe all are from one environment, you'll be seeing more as we continue pushing out media. So, basically, you can consider those shots an appetizer.

The art is really coming along in all the levels - we're rapidly hitting all the remaining "dev" textures and placeholders that are still in place. Beyond that we're continuing to polish gameplay. There's a couple of AI characters and some gameplay sequences that need some tweaking before I'll be satisfied with them, but for the most part the dust is settling on the design front leaving us in a real polish phase.

Our next big big focus, now that the VO is recorded, is to get all the choreography elements in the game. This is a big milestone for us. Once these scenes are in place, the story will really pop, and the entire game will take on a rough form of its final incarnation.

October 26, 2005

Ah ha! Two updates in a month. Bet you weren't expecting that.

Approaching Alpha

Things are really cooking here; we're so close to Alpha that you can taste the blood in the water - or some other analogy that's far more lucid and apt. At this point we're trying to get the final assets in the game, continue to art the levels, and iron out the last few design wrinkles that have reared their heads in the last few weeks. The upside is that we're starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Before I get any further though, I want to talk about the team working on this thing. These guys are some of the most dedicated and talented guys I've ever worked with. They're putting in re-dumb-donkulious hours right now as we make the final push towards Alpha. The effort is really paying off too, the game is really starting to look and play great. Many times as I'm playing through our current build preparing feedback, looking for issues, or generally doing any of the other hundred things I do in the game while not actually "playing" it, I find myself slipping into "gamer" mode, simply enjoying the experience. This team is busting everything they got, but it's really making a difference. I feel this is one of the best games we've ever made.

Scripted Drama

I have finished the heavy-lifting on the script now, I've still got a few straggling lines I need to address but for the most part that beast has been slain. I've written the scripts for a few other games, and this was by far one of the most interesting and challenging I've ever done. The fact that there are no "cut scenes" makes conveying story a delicate operation. Nonetheless, I think it works out pretty well. It keeps everything very very immersive, allowing you to really feel like you are Blade, instead of just playing Blade.

State of the Media

We should have new media very very soon. Yeah, yeah, I know we've been saying that for a week or so, but it's coming. Overall, we're on track and teamwide everyone's shifting into "completion" mode. B, C, and "wishlist" items are getting sliced away and we're focusing everything on tightening and polishing the gameplay.

October 12, 2005

It's alive!

Okay, so it's been a while - Sorry about that, but here it is. The latest and greatest.

We're making steady progress, and it's unbelievable watching everything coming together. Of course, we're going with a real iterative design process this time around so sometimes it feels like we're taking two steps forward and one, two, or even three steps back.

That's really starting to taper off, though. With our last big review of the game, we picked up some real solid forward momentum, so, as I mentioned, things are really starting to progress.

Dynamic Difficulty

One thing that's really starting to take off is our dynamic difficulty system. There's been some mention of it on FAQs and whatnot, but nobody's really seen what this thing can do yet. I want to give a big kudorific hats off bow down to our lead programmer Ken Harward for both coming up with the idea for the system and spearheading its implementation.

Now, for the curious, this isn't just a run-of-the-mill autobalancer. This thing is incredible. We're polling statistical data on just about everything: When a player shoots, when a player jumps, how long a player's idle, when a player "uses" something, all kinds of in-game interactions. We'll use some of this to balance the game on the fly to a degree never seen before; that way we can ensure a solid challenging experience for the entire episode.

Playtesting - With a Twist

Where things get really interesting though, is during playtests. We're able to generate a file that the LDs (Level Designers) can pull into the level editor and actually see all the major player actions for a particular run. With that data we essentially have an unbiased timeline of exactly what happened. We can then use that data to further tune the level. It's unbelievable.

I can't overestimate the value of fresh playtester eyes on the product. As developers we look at the thing all day everyday, and to be honest, we lose perspective. When we're able to watch a new "fresh to the game" player run through the game, you get to see the game play out in a whole new way. You get to see when the stuff is good, but more importantly, you can't hide from something that's just not working. You're forced to face it and fix it - All which leads to a stronger product.

August 31, 2005

Gameplay Complete!

Well, as of a couple days ago, all the levels for Episode 1 are gameplay complete. However, there's still a big chasm between that and "done." There's all kinds of art that needs to be added and additional polish and balancing that will continue to occur until we lock down right before shipping. Even still, it's a very exciting milestone.

Balancing the Game's Script

In a few days, I'm going to be writing the second draft of the dialog script for the game. I'm looking forward to this, as the dialog is my way of contributing real content to the game. Programmers get to add features, Artists get to add models, Level Designers get to add levels and gameplay. I get to add the story and dialog.

There's a lot to a game script. I'm sure many of you out there have seen a movie script, or are at least familiar with how they look. If not, you can use the inter-google to find some. At any rate, when I write a game script, I start with something like a movie script. This is what I call the Narrative. Basically, it's the key sequences and dialog that tell the story.

Of course, there's always A LOT more dialog than just that. For SiN Episodes, I'm also on tap for providing the "use" dialog, ancillary conversations, and all the dialog for our Context Look system. But it's that stuff that makes the game world feel like a living place. And that's why I'm excited to do it.

One issue that's tough to crack though, is dialog length. Gameplayers are playing the game to PLAY THE GAME! They want story, but most don't care to hear characters drone on in endless exposition. So, more than even screenplays, Game Scripts have a very very tight economy of words. In every case, the message must be conveyed in the fewest possible syllables. Of course, it has to be more than, "Blade, go to the tower!" Each character needs to be an actual character, meaning they need their own way of speaking. These opposing requirements make for some very interesting writing challenges.

August 19, 2005

Gameplay Complete?

Well, it's an interesting time to begin a design journal. We're due to have all the levels gameplay complete by the end of this month. We've got a work cut out for us, but I think we'll make it.

Some of you may be wondering, what the hell does "gameplay complete" mean? Well, it doesn't mean "done," not in the sense of what you would see in a store. What it means is that the levels are playable - all the enemies, pick-ups, puzzles, and everything else are placed. It's sort of the first-draft of the game; we'll spend a lot of time polishing and perfecting it after that, but for the most part the game is playable.

Iterative Design

I've played through all the levels we have "under construction" at the moment, and I've got to tell all the readers out there, this is going to be something cool. We're taking a new (at least to us) approach to the level design, working up the levels in smaller sections planning out everything, and then testing and reworking it until it's fun. We, as designers, want to ensure that the entire experience is going to be great, and we're well on the path to that right now.

There's a multi-disciplined group that meets (usually twice a day) to review where the levels are and to design out where they are going. Any of you aspiring developers out there, be prepared, design is all about meetings. In this case, the meetings are well worth the time, though. Everyone (Art, Level Design, Programming, and Game Design/Production) is all on the same page.

Fighting Feature Creep

This method is also helping us fight off feature creep. We haven't defeated that particular monster yet, but any features we're discussing now are directly applicable to the gameplay at hand.

Feature Creep, for the readers out there, is a Software Development term that basically means that the project keeps getting delayed or bloated because features keep getting added to the product. Now, I realize from the above definition it seems like it would be an easy thing to stop. The problem is, Feature Creep can be both subtle and seductive - Especially when you're working on your own project. There's an intense desire to keep adding elements to your product, some of these elements are small, but they do add up - That's the subtly. Also, many of the features you want to add are really great ideas, so it's hard to let those great ideas go, and honestly, sometimes you don't - That's the seduction.

At any rate, it's always better to go for depth rather than breadth; meaning pick your core gameplay features and polish, polish, polish. It ends up being much more fun for the game player, and that's the audience we need to please.

Designing Bosses

Like everything in game development, designing bosses is always more difficult than it sounds. We had a long discussion regarding the functionality of our boss character today, the meeting was a success in that we walked away with a good idea of the approach we are going to take including putting in hooks for additional behavior that may or may not come online.

Here's the thing about bosses, it's so easy to overcomplicate them. Many times the character themselves or their environment will lead to an avalanche of good ideas, so you start piling one atop another and eventually instead of good cool boss you have an over-designed, bloated mess. In our meeting we went down this path - I'll admit it - but thankfully we realized the error of our ways and pulled back, but pulled back in such away that we're allowing ourselves some growing room. This, at least at the moment, appears to be the best methodology.