Game Development Production P2

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Why Make Games? B.C. China where Emperor Shun supposedly used the game to train his son for assuming leadership of the state. Chess has a rich history throughout the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and through to modern times as the most celebrated game of strategic thinking.

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  1. 8 Chapter 2: Why Make Games? B.C. China where Emperor Shun sup- Longer histories of games are posedly used the game to train his son available; the point I am making here is for assuming leadership of the state. that games have held an intimate role Chess has a rich history throughout the in our intellectual growth from the ear- Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and liest ages. We modern game makers are through to modern times as the most carrying on an honorable, historic role. celebrated game of strategic thinking. Game Genres Satisfy Different Appetites Electronic games are usually Y described by their genre—strat- egy, adventure, role-playing, action, and simulation. These genres are a direct reflection of the source material for the game. FL AM Military and sports simulations; gambling, parlor, and puzzle games; storytelling; toys; and TE children’s games comprise some of the major branches of influ- ence for the creation of electronic games. Modern computer games have a rich history; some of the earliest games (1970s) were text adventure games such as Adven- ture, crude arcade games like Pong, and a little later, multi- player games such as NetTrek. These early games explored sto- rytelling, strategy, tactics, and the player’s hand-eye coordina- tion. The sophistication of these games was, of course, limited by technology—a limit that is con- stantly being pushed back. Background and influences on modern game genres Gambling, Puzzle, and Parlor Games cards. Games like Parcheesi and Scrab- Games evolved from elegant board ble took solid form during the 1800s games full of culture to a wide variety and early 1900s. Parcheesi is the father of wagering games involving dice or of board games and requires the players Team-Fly®
  2. Chapter 2: Why Make Games? 9 to navigate their tokens around the Entertainment ( board like Monopoly and Candy Land. have taken the concept of spades and These games themselves have been hearts and have crafted the finest ver- directly ported as electronic games, but sions of these games, complete with a it is the fast-paced puzzle games like rich set of features for social interaction Tetris that have developed new ground including chat, ratings, and blasting in this genre. your opponents with fireballs. As I type these words, over One of the coolest parlors (in my 110,000 people are playing straightfor- opinion) happening right now is the ward conversions of the classic card and Internet Chess Club (http://www.chess- board games online at Microsoft MSN with over 1,000 players Gaming Zone ( currently connected and 26 Grand Mas- These games have entertained families ters and International Masters playing and friends throughout the ages and online. The ICC boasts an impressive teach deduction, probability, and social chat system, automated tournaments, skills. The folks at Silver Creek over 30 flavors of chess, anytime con- trol, and impressive library and game examination features. Automated chess courses are broadcast throughout the day, and many titled players turn their mastery into cash by teaching chess using the shekel—the unit of currency on the ICC. It is an exciting place where you have the choice of watching GMs and IMs or playing in tourna- ments around the clock. Instead of dusty annotated chess columns in the newspaper, try some three-minute blitz action with the best players in the world. A partial listing of games and gamers on Microsoft’s A dwarf and a fireball from Silver Creek Entertainment’s Gaming Zone Hardwood Spades
  3. 10 Chapter 2: Why Make Games? the obligatory features of impressive 3D plane graph- ics, great looking scenery, and a realistic flight model, the truly impressive features of X-Plane involve its expandability. Hundreds of planes and other features created by devoted fans are available for X-Plane, includ- ing real-time weather that is downloaded to your computer while flying! The author put Various windows of the Blitz interface to the Internet Chess Club his time into creating the first simulation of what it would Military and Sports Simulations be like to fly on Mars: real flight with the gravity, air density, and Games have long been providing simu- inertia models of flight on Mars. lations of real-life experiences that many of us do not get to experience in daily life. There are simulations for white-water kayaking, racing minivans at night on the streets of Tokyo, fantas- tic-looking detailed professional football simulations, skateboarding simulators, star fighter sims; in short, any sport, military action, or transportation method is a good candidate for an elec- tronic simulation. Flight simulators have been the staple of computer simulations since the early ’80s. Microsoft enjoys the #1 spot with Microsoft Flight Simulator, which they release new versions of A screen shot collage from X-Plane every even-numbered year—the latest being FS 2002 ( Through the ’70s and ’80s Avalon games/fs2002). Microsoft Flight Simulator Hill produced a vast array of detailed has a huge following including hun- military board games that covered all dreds of virtual airlines and air traffic aspects of war making from the Bronze controllers, and half a dozen or so Age to the Jet Age. Avalon Hill’s crown- books are available for Flight Simulator. ing achievement is perhaps the most Austin Meyer of Laminar Research detailed board game ever created: is the author of the most realistic and Advanced Squad Leader (ASL). ASL is user-extensible flight simulator, X- also the most detailed squad-level mili- Plane (http:// Aside from tary board game simulation ever
  4. Chapter 2: Why Make Games? 11 My company, Taldren, was founded on the success of our team’s Starfleet Command game, which is a 3D real- time interpretation of the rule set of Star Fleet Battles from Amarillo Design Bureau. Star Fleet Battles is a detailed simulation of starship naval combat based on the Star Trek televi- sion show and was created by Steven Cole. The board game translated well into a real-time 3D strategy game in part because the pen and paper board game itself broke the turns of the game into 32 “impulses” of partial turns to A screen shot from the real-time weather display for X-Plane achieve a serviceable form of real-time simulation. The game itself was usually played as a sce- nario re-enacting a “historical” battle between star empires of the Star Trek universe. The game was so detailed in its mechanics a simple cruiser-on-cruiser skirmish could take two to fours hours to resolve, and a fleet Virtual airlines from X-Plane action such as a base assault was a project for developed. Countless modules expand the entire weekend and a bucket of caf- the game and the rules to take into feine. We developed the Starfleet account the differences of individual Command series that draws upon this operations in World War II. There are rich heritage and delivers a compelling zillions of rules (and errata!) for every- career in one of eight star empires or thing from ammo types to night combat pirate cartels. As the players get caught rules. Military buffs have been playing up in epic struggles between the star war games for hundreds of years, but empires, they earn prestige points for the developments that led to ASL car- successful completion of their missions, ried forward into electronic gaming. which can be used to repair their ships, Currently there is a rage going on buy supplies, and upgrade to heavier about WWII squad games such as class starships. This electronic game Microsoft’s Close Combat and Cor- blends a television show telling the nered Rat’s World War II: Online. The story of exploring the galaxy with the most hardcore of them all is Combat detail of a war game. Mission: Barbarossa to Berlin by Bat-
  5. 12 Chapter 2: Why Make Games? Car racing has been a staple of second half of the twentieth century to games from the days of Monaco GP become the dominant market of fiction. and Pole Position in the arcade to the Reading a novel is wonderful, but state-of-the-art Gran Turismo 3 by would it not be better to slay the Sony. Gran Turismo 3 features hun- dragon yourself and take the loot home dreds of hours of gameplay, the most to your castle? In the early ’70s, Gary realistic driving physics model, and Gygax created Dungeons and Dragons graphics so compelling you can feel the and showed us how to slay the dragon. sunlight filtered through the pine trees. Dungeons and Dragons was very spe- Electronic Arts, the largest soft- cial because you did not compete ware company in the games business, against the other players; rather you sells about $3 billion in games a year. acted or role-played a character in a fan- Electronic Arts is both publisher and tasy world. You wrote a backstory for developer of countless games dating your elven ranger, what motivated him, back to the early ’80s. EA has done why he must slay the orcs of the Fell very well across all platforms and all Lands. You then joined up with the genres; however, it is the simulation of characters of your friends and role- sports—professional sports—that is played through an adventure run by EA’s cash cow. Madden NFL Football your Dungeon Master, or referee. ( has been pub- Dungeons and Dragons has been lished for years and has been released played by virtually everyone in the on every major platform including the game industry, and it is a keystone of PC, PlayStation, PlayStation 2, N64, the role-playing game genre. Text Game Boy Color, GameCube, and Xbox. adventures such as Zork and graphic adventures such as the King’s Quest Role-Playing Games series gave us choices for how the No discussion of game making could be story would turn out. As capabilities complete without discussing storytell- expanded, breakthrough games such as ing. Sitting around a fire and spinning a Bard’s Tale, written by the infant Inter- tale is one of the oldest forms of enter- play and published by Electronic Arts, tainment. Shamans acted out roles as were later followed up by important gods, animals, and warriors to explain games like the Ultima and Wizardry our world, teach us history, and to fuel series. Role-playing games took a brief our imaginations after the sun went slumber in the early ’80s when first- down. With the advent of writing, person shooters dominated the PC authors could now tell stories across market, and the format of the computer time—longer, deeper stories than a sin- RPG remained fairly stale in the early gle dry throat could repeat. J.R.R. ’90s. Starting around 1997 role-playing Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy: Here games made a big comeback in the we drank wine with nearly immortal form of three hugely important games: elves, fought epic battles with orcs, and Baldur’s Gate developed by BioWare, saved the world from ultimate evil Diablo developed by Blizzard, and through careful use of a ring. Science Ultima Online developed by Origin. fiction and fantasy exploded in the Baldur’s Gate brought us a gorgeous game with intuitive controls and
  6. Chapter 2: Why Make Games? 13 mechanics and lavish production values BioWare, where the tools of game mas- that brought the Dungeons and tering are part of the game. Scores of Dragons world of the Forgotten Realms players will participate together in to life. Diablo stunned the game indus- user-created adventures online. These try with the simple and addictive game- online role-playing games are fantastic play of the tight user interface and in scope compared to the multi-user online multiplayer dungeon hacking. Dungeons available on Unix systems on Ultima Online was the first commer- the Internet, but the story experience cially viable massively multiplayer is just as compelling. I look forward to role-playing game. I spent probably 80 seeing the massively multiplayer vir- hours of my life there, mining virtual tual reality games as depicted in Tad iron ore to get ahead in a virtual econ- Williams’ Otherland fiction series, omy where I paid a real $10 a month for where we become true avatars. Gas the privilege of exploring my mining Powered Games’ release of Dungeon fantasies. Siege, building on the groundbreaking Looking back to pen and paper immediacy of Diablo, will be the slick- role-playing games and fantasy fiction, I est action/RPG today with breathtaking am excited to see the future of role- 3D graphics and strong online playing games with the release of multiplayer matchmaking that will sat- Neverwinter Nights developed by isfy the dungeoneer in all of us. Youth Making Games You have to have the bug to make game. In eighth grade my friend Elliott games. The talent usually begins at a Einbinder and I created a wireframe, young age. Like countless other game first-person maze game; you used the developers who made goofy games on keyboard to navigate through the maze. early computers, I had a Commodore A most embarrassing flaw was in our Vic20 and C64 on which I created text maze game: We could not figure out adventure games and crude bitmap how to prevent the player from cheat- graphic maze adventures. In fourth ing and walking through the walls! We grade I produced a fairly elaborate kept asking our computer science board game series that involved adven- teacher how we could query the video turing through a hostile, medieval display to find out if we drew a wall. We fantasy world with various characters had no concept of a world model and a very similar to the Talisman board display model! On Money In this whole discussion I have not game. In all art forms, excellence is talked about the money to be made in always truth. making games. Game making is both an Honesty, truth, and clarity are all art and a science. If you are honest with interrelated, and they are important not yourself, your team, the customer, and because of moral standards; they are to the game, you will make a great important because only with the
  7. 14 Chapter 2: Why Make Games? ruthless pursuit of a clean, tight game money. That being said, look deeper can you hope to make a great game. and understand that I am helping you The rest of this book will focus on realize the true goals for your game how to get maximum value for your project and to reach these goals as effi- development dollars with outsourcing, ciently as possible. how to decide which features to cut, Great games sell just fine, and the and how to track your tasks; all these money will come naturally enough; activities are heavily involved with focus on making a great game. Why Make Games? You should make games because you challenges you have crafted for their love to. Making a game should be a enjoyment. You should make games if great source of creative release for you. there is something fun you can visual- You love to see people enthralled by ize in your mind, something fun you your game, playing it over and over, would like to experience, and you want totally immersed in the world and the to share that experience with others.
  8. Chapter 3: What Makes Game Development Hard? 15 Chapter 3 > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > What Makes Game Development Hard? The Importance of Planning What does it take to make great games? Blizzard. The size of your project or Brilliantly optimized graphics code? your role does not matter; you still Stunning sound effects, clever artificial need a plan to create your game. intelligence routines, lush artwork, or Why must you have a plan? With simply irresistible gameplay? Well, you the smallest of projects the plan will need all of that of course, with game- likely be to get a prototype of the game play one of the most important factors. going as soon as possible and then just However, behind the scenes you are iterating and playing with the game going to need a trail guide and a map to until it is done. This method works well get there. if the game you are making is a hobby You might be working alone on a project, or your company is funded by a great mod to a commercial game, or seemingly unlimited supply of someone you might be working with an artist on else’s money and you are not holding a cool online card game, or you might yourself financially accountable. be the director of development at Very Few Titles Are Profitable Many people do not realize how few games are profitable. In 2001 over 3,000 games were released for the PC platform; it is likely only 100 or so of those titles turned a profit, and of those only the top 50 made significant money for the developers and publishers. In 2000 an established developer in North America would likely receive between $1 million and $3 million in advances paid out over 12 to 36 months for the development of a game. The typical publisher will spend between The darkened boxes represent the number of $250,000 and $1.5 million in marketing successful games published each year.
  9. 16 Chapter 3: What Makes Game Development Hard? and sales development (“sales develop- 500,000 Units to Break Even? ment” is the euphemistic term for the Take a long hard look at Table 2. Notice money the publisher must spend to get that not until 500,000 units have been the game actually on the shelf at the sold does the developer see a royalty retailer and well positioned). The box, check. This is a $75,000 check that is CDs, maps, manual, and other materials likely to be issued to you between 9 in the box cost between $1.50 and and 18 months after release of the title. $4.00 collectively. The royalties an The conclusion from this is that royal- established developer could expect ties alone will not feed you and your vary widely, from 10 to 30 percent, team post-release. “No problem,” you depending on many factors including think, “my title will sell millions!” how much of the financial risk the Unfortunately, even good games don’t developer is assuming and the types of always sell many units. As an example, deductions to the wholesale price. Let’s the excellent developer Raven sold a take a look at what these numbers little over 30,000 units of the strong mean for a game that has an average game Hexen II. Messiah, the long- retail price of $35 over the life of sales anticipated edgy first-person shooter, in the first 12 to 24 months after saw fewer than 10,000 units sold in its release. Table 1 summarizes the finan- first three months (most games make cial assumptions behind this the large bulk of their sales in the first hypothetical project. 90 days of release). Fallout 1 enjoyed a Table 1—PC Game Project Financial Basics loyal fan following and strong critical Average Retail Price $35.00 reviews and sold a little more than Wholesale Price $21.00 120,000 units in its first year. The Developer Advance $1,500,000 author’s Starfleet Command 1 sold over 350,000 units its first year without Developer Royalty 15% counting the Gold Edition and the Neu- Table 2—Game Project Payoffs at Various Sales tral Zone expansion. However, the Targets sequel, Starfleet Command 2, has sold Units Royalty Less Advance 120,000 units in its first six months of release. Sure, Diablo II from Blizzard 10,000 $ 31,500 $ (1,468,500) enjoyed over 2 million units of orders 30,000 $ 94,500 $ (1,405,500) on day one of release, and The Sims 100,000 $ 315,000 $ (1,185,000) has been in the top 3 of PC Data for 200,000 $ 630,000 $ (870,000) almost a year and a half. These titles 300,000 $ 945,000 $ (555,000) have clearly made a ton of money. In 500,000 $ 1,575,000 $ 75,000 fact, those orders that Blizzard had for 1,000,000 $ 3,150,000 $ 1,650,000 Diablo II on day 1 had a value that 2,000,000 $ 6,300,000 $ 4,800,000 exceeds the market capitalization of
  10. Chapter 3: What Makes Game Development Hard? 17 Interplay Entertainment1—a publisher competitive game business with overly with a rich publishing history spanning optimistic promises of future royalty over 15 years. payments. These promises are mean- ingless in many cases: After the Employee Compensation and employees crunch through develop- Royalties ment and release and even during Table 2 has other implications. Many post-release, supporting the fans, these development houses share royalties expectations of monetary rewards for they receive with their employees by their labor turn out to be false. Then some fraction. Many developers go these employees turn from energetic, even further and offset the often highly productive creative developers too-low salaries paid in the highly to disenfranchised employees looking for a new job. What Are the Financial Expectations for Your Game? A recurring theme throughout this developers required to create the game book is managing expectations of all and how long it will take is established. project stakeholders through high- This estimate should then be compared quality communication that is clear and to the financial goals one more time to honest. That is why I am presenting establish a baseline for cost, time, and this sobering information so early in scope. this book. You must be clear about why you are creating your game. Do you The Scope of the Game Must expect to make a profit? Are you Match Financial Parameters depending on the royalties (or direct Most game projects fail to meet their sales in the case of software sold as financial expectations because the shareware or by other direct sales developers fail to articulate clearly and methods) to support yourself and your honestly what the implications of their development staff? Is this project only a expectations are. This is such an obvi- hobby and any money it produces a ous statement, but virtually every happy bonus? Is a publisher funding the game project I know of suffers from a project or do you have an investor disparity between what the expecta- backing your project? tions are for the project and the Knowing your financial expecta- resources and time allocated to the pro- tions—not your hopes and dreams—for ject. Some of the very well-endowed your game project is critical to achiev- developers such as Blizzard, BioWare, ing success. Establishing these expec- and id are famous for the “When it’s tations will determine the scope of the done” mantra. There is little doubt that project. With the scope of the project in a project from Blizzard, BioWare, or id mind, an estimation of the number of will be of the highest quality and most 1 This statement sounded a lot more impressive when I wrote it in the summer of 2001; as of October 2002 Interplay has been delisted from NASDAQ.
  11. 18 Chapter 3: What Makes Game Development Hard? undoubtedly be very profitable. How- time and money to work with, so what ever, Blizzard, BioWare, and id also you need to do is figure out what is the have a large amount of working capital “best” game you can make within bud- on hand and have dedicated that work- get. Remember, id founders once ing capital to making killer games. created games for $6 an hour for a If you do not have an unlimited long-forgotten publisher, SoftDisk, and supply of working capital on hand, then Blizzard once worked as a developer for I strongly suggest you take on a differ- Interplay. There are steppingstones on ent mantra than “When it’s done.” the way to greatness; too many devel- Most likely you have a budget of both opers try to take the gaming world by storm in one ambitious step. Y Why Your Game Should Profit how we take these baselines and FL Part II, How to Make a Game, will show unforeseen events. Profit allows you more tactical and strategic maneuver- AM develop a project plan and then execute ing room for your game company. This the development of a game project. store of capital enables you to make Beyond just running a single game pro- more ambitious games in the future, TE ject, I will discuss how your game retain employees, hire new talent, and project should fit into a greater plan of make capital improvements to your growth for yourself, your company, workplace for greater efficiency. Too and/or your team. The dot-com era has many game developers pour their heart distorted many people’s expectations of and soul into game projects that have what it takes to make a business. Too no real likelihood of making a profit. many dot-coms were based on business Maybe you do not care about profit. plans about gaining “mind share” or Maybe it is of secondary or even ter- “market presence,” or were just plain tiary importance to you. I still urge you hype. Many overnight millionaires to run your game project with the rigor were made, so this style of business and the earnestness of a small business creation certainly worked for some, but that needs to deliver on expectations, for the vast majority of dot-coms, bank- on budget, and on time. ruptcy and bust was the end. These Following are two unprofitable dot-coms failed to create a product or attitudes when approaching game service that people would actually pay development. money for and be able to deliver it in such a manner that they could make a Feature Storm profit. Making a profit is not an evil Attitude #1: “Hey! What about quality? thing to do for a bunch of creative game You are leaving me cold here, Erik. My developers. Making a profit enables you game is going to rock; it is going to be to store up capital to handle the period massively multiplayer, with magic, mar- of time between projects. A capital tial arts, and small arms combat. I am reserve allows you to respond more going to have vehicles, and you can go gracefully to project slippage due to to any planet you want and even fly a unexpected turnover or other starship to get there! Erik, you dork, of Team-Fly®
  12. Chapter 3: What Makes Game Development Hard? 19 course my game is going to make a ton execution of starfighter combat. Other- of money; people are going to lay down wise you will end up creating a bunch of $10 a month to play it, and I will port it open expectations that you will not be over to the PS2 and Xbox and pick up able to fulfill. The market will crush the juicy console money too. Sheesh! you for creating unmet hype. Making a profit, that is going to be a side effect of my vision, Erik. I do not If the Game Is Worth Making, Make need to worry about that!” It Excellent What is wrong with attitude #1 is Attitude #2: “I am just making a little that the designer has not looked into spades game to get my feet wet. I am the costs for developing every feature never going to show it to anyone, and under the sun. There is a reason why no one is going to play it, so who cares Warcraft is a tight game about manag- if I make a profit?” ing humans and orcs gathering stone, The problem with attitude #2 is gold, and wood. There is a reason why that it ignores the strong wisdom that Quake is a tight game about first-per- says if something is worth doing, it is son combat. Creating a game that worth doing well. A weak demonstra- people want to play means fully deliver- tion of your programming skills will ing on every expectation you create in demonstrate that you are a weak pro- your game design. If your game design grammer. An incomplete game design has martial arts combat, then your fans document will demonstrate that you will want a very playable martial arts make incomplete designs. Art that does simulation. If you also have starfighters not appear competitive shows that you to pilot in your game, your game better do not have the artistic talent to be competitive with FreeSpace 2 in its compete. Excellence in Spades Take a look at Hardwood Spades from but sell their games direct to the con- Silver Creek Entertainment (http:www.sil- sumer online. They have slowly built This is by far the most pol- up a following over the years and are ished execution of spades the world has now quietly selling hundreds of units a ever seen. A core team of just three month for each of their titles. I have the developers has put out an incredible utmost respect for these folks. They series of classic card games, where the had a vision for creating the highest quality of the executed games is way quality classic card games on the planet over the top. They have added a ton of and have executed that dream step-by- small, tight features and improvements step, building up their capital, fan base, to the playing of spades such as casting and quality level as they went. Notice a fireball or a shower of flowers at that they did not pitch the idea of the another player. This spades game is world’s most gorgeous card games for multiplayer and is played 24x7 on serv- $2 million up front to a publisher and ers hosted by these folks. They do not then go find an artist, programmer, take advance money from a publisher game designer, and fan base. Instead,
  13. 20 Chapter 3: What Makes Game Development Hard? they released their first game, Hard- successful brand, and are now in the wood Solitaire, in 1997, which had powerful position of continuing to build moderate success and enabled them to up their brand and products, licensing build upon this experience. I have no their products for a distribution deal, or idea what their future plans are, but perhaps selling themselves in whole to notice that they have built up a strong a larger company to lock in a strong collection of popular titles and a return on their years of investment. Game Making Is a Long Race of Many Game Projects Investing over time is what it takes to has come from taking the time to ana- make it big in the game industry. It is a lyze what happened and discussions very long race in a very small world; do with my teammates and other game not burn any bridges, and try to make developers to figure out what went as many friends as possible along the wrong and how we could have done way. better. In many ways this book repre- Some of you may be familiar with sents a field manual of essential game the games I have produced—the Star- production that I would have appreci- fleet Command series. Some of you ated reading when I started leading might say, “Hey, Erik, didn’t SFC1 and game projects. Throughout this book I SFC2 have a bit too many bugs? How will discuss the Starfleet Command do you account for that? Oh, and didn’t series and the decisions I have made SFC2 not ship with a functional along the way as a producer. You will Dynaverse 2, the hyped, massively be able to run shotgun and role-play an multiplayer-lite metagame? If you are armchair executive producer! so wise, Erik, explain what happened.” There are books out there that will No problem, hang on a moment and attempt to teach you to design and pro- listen to what I have to say. gram a real-time strategy game or write This is a book wrought from my the rasterizer for a software first-per- experience and the experience of other son shooter. You can also find books developers—experience of both success telling you how to design and architect and failure. your game, and some books have made What I have to share with you in strong efforts as a resource guide for this book is not wisdom I received in finding sources of art, music, and code. college, nor did my boss train me when However, these books do not address I first led a game project. This is how to make a game. hands-on, face-the-challenges-as-you- go advice. Much of what I have learned
  14. Chapter 3: What Makes Game Development Hard? 21 A Brief History of Software Development How to make a game, I believe, is the his own workstation where he edited, most elusive question in the game ran, and debugged code. During the late industry. In fact, the software industry ’80s and early ’90s the leading edge of at large is relatively open and up-front the software development community about how immature the software engi- got charged with the efficacy of object- neering processes are as a whole. Take oriented programming and the large- a look at After the Gold Rush by Steve project strength of C++. Improve- McConnell for an excellent discussion ments continued with integrated of the much-needed maturation in the editors, debuggers, and profilers. Opti- software industry. Much development mizing compilers have almost made in the software engineering community assembly programming obsolete, and is going into improving the process of visual interface layout tools have made how we go about making software. programming rather pleasant for busi- During the ’60s and ’70s great strides ness applications. With all of these were made in increasing the strength of fantastic improvements to the software the programming languages from For- development process, software project tran and COBOL to C. During the ’80s budgets have only gotten larger and the microcomputer created tremendous have only slipped by longer amounts of improvements in the programming time and by greater numbers. workplace. Each developer could have Overly Long Game Projects Are Disastrous Take a look at Table 3 listing game pro- Table 3—Long Game Projects jects, how long they took to release, Stonekeep 1 5 years of Weak sales and the outcome. development This table is a Who’s Who of games Daikatana 4 years of Weak sales that have run horribly over budget, and development, only two games on that list have made fantastic cost overruns significant money: The Sims and Baldur’s Gate. The best-selling game Messiah 5 years of Weak sales development on the list, The Sims, has made and is continuing to make a huge fortune for Max Payne 5 years of Just released development Electronic Arts. Why is it that The The Sims 5 years of Amazing sales Sims has made the most money on that development list? Because Electronic Arts was very Baldur’s Gate 3+ years of Very strong fortunate that no one else (that state- development sales ment is worth repeating) no one in the Duke Nukem 5+ years of Yet to be entire PC game industry of some 3,000 Forever development released titles a year for five years in a row has Stonekeep 2 5 years of Project released a title even remotely competi- development cancelled tive to The Sims, filling a vastly Ultima Online 2 4 years of Project development cancelled
  15. 22 Chapter 3: What Makes Game Development Hard? underserved market of women who are As for the rest of the titles, they consumers waiting for games to be were simply too-little too-late titles designed for them. And with the right that had to compete against stronger title EA can make tons of money due to games that were produced faster and its marketing and sales strength; this for less money. Or in the case of cannot be underestimated. Stonekeep 2 and Ultima Online 2, there Also note that Maxis released were millions of dollars of game devel- something like ten games in the sims opment and even the hype of game genre and only two of these, SimCity magazine covers that the publishers and The Sims, have generated great had to walk away from when the games returns over ten years. The rest of the were cancelled! sim-type games were relatively poor sellers. This is something that seems What Late Games Do to Publishers to be forgotten by a lot of people—that When projects run over, even by less Will Wright has been experimenting than three years, they hurt the industry with this type of game for ten+ years at large. Consumers are tired of being before hitting a home run with The frustrated by overly hyped games that Sims. are late. The publishers are constantly Max Payne has just been released, attempting to make realistic financial and we need a little time to see how the projections to manage their cash flow market will respond to this adventure and maintain investor confidence. With shooter with amazing graphics (I expect poor cash flow or low investor confi- this game to do well). The other suc- dence, a publisher is often forced into cessful title on the list, Baldur’s Gate, publishing more titles. More titles had a number of delays and develop- mean each receives less attention at ment extensions but ultimately was every stage of development. This in still successful: The Baldur’s Gate turn weakens the publisher more, as series (BG with its expansion pack and titles begin to ship before they are sequel/expansion pack) has sold nearly ready in order to fill gaps in the quarter. 4 million units worldwide. It came at This creates a vicious feedback cycle the right time for role-playing games that pressures the publisher to publish and was a quality title with a strong even more titles. license (Advanced Dungeons and Dragons) behind it. Our Project Plan Behind Starfleet Command Interplay was impressed with our quick running Starfleet Command and the execution of Caesars Palace W95 while opportunity to work with Sean, Zach, working for another developer, and and other folks I had worked with after doing various contracting and before. We jumped at the opportunity working on our own demo of a game, to work on a big title at a big publisher. we joined Interplay in the summer of When we got into it, we realized that 1998. Interplay presented me with Interplay was a big company with many
  16. Chapter 3: What Makes Game Development Hard? 23 to earn Interplay’s respect so that they would trust us enough to fund a future game concept of ours. SFC itself was an exciting title for us to work on, but for every game project you must know why you are doing it. For Starfleet Command our goal was to create the most faithful, highest fidelity modeling of naval starship combat set in the Star Trek universe. We were not trying to make a Star Trek game, we were not trying to make a 3D game, and we were Starfleet Command not trying to make a real-time strategy game like StarCraft. As we worked on different games in production. Our sis- our vision statement, we developed the ter project, Klingon Academy, was term real-time tactical to describe our making impressive success in the dam- gameplay. Our game was all about tacti- age effects of its 3D engine and its cine- cal starship combat. We did not send matic cut scenes. Starfleet Command, teams down to planets, we did not have on the other hand, was considered a the player act as a courier and carry niche game appealing only to the most goods across the galaxy, and we did not hardcore of game players—fans of Star allow the scavenging of enemy vessels Fleet Battles. This turned out to be a to build a Frankenstein ship. No, great advantage on several different instead you were a naval officer in one levels at the same time. The first benefit is that Brian Fargo, the founder and CEO of the company, left the project’s vision entirely in my hands while Klingon Academy received more of Interplay’s attention. The other benefit was of course the built-in base of Star Fleet Battles fans who had waited 20 years for a com- puterized version of their favorite, ultra-detailed naval starship simulation set in the The vessel library screen from Starfleet Command original series’ Star Trek universe. of six star empires carrying out combat missions on behalf of your empire. The Vision for Starfleet Command Over 1,000 starships were modeled Starfleet Command was my first big in our game, with over 100 missions to title to manage; I was very excited and test your tactics and strategy. The determined to do a good job. I wanted player role-played a captain enjoying a
  17. 24 Chapter 3: What Makes Game Development Hard? career of over 30 years in the service of Command was about, that was our goal, his empire. That was what Starfleet and we delivered on that. Constraints Give Much Needed Focus Starfleet Command went on to be a depended on movies. Instead we devel- stunning success. The press at the time oped a random mission/campaign was stunned to see a Star Trek game generator with linear story missions that was actually fun. The secret to our embedded like raisins in pudding. You success was following our vision. We must look at every constraint on your had no budget for fancy movies to tell a project as an opportunity to focus your story, so we did not try to create a game on its key features. game with a linear story line that On Bugs Shipped in Starfleet Command High-quality games with ultra-low bug quality standard software must have in counts like Quake and Diablo sell very order to work on anyone’s computer, in well. However, Quake and Diablo sell any manner the user could come up strongly for quite a few good reasons with. We did have to ship with known working together. We had a fixed bugs though, and the consumers had to timeline; in fact, the Starfleet Com- deal with those too. We were fast with mand project was already late before I the patches, and altogether the public took it over. After reviewing where the enjoyed a game that was original and project was for two months, I decided fun to play. Starfleet Command went on on a delivery date of summer 1999 to sell over 350,000 units in its first given a lot of extra programming and year, and at that time at Interplay, SFC art resources. Interplay granted the was the second most successful title, resources but in turn needed the date behind Baldur’s Gate developed by to be unmoving. We had a project with a BioWare. Also it is a fact that there are flexible feature set but a fixed timeline. more bugs inherent to games with We essentially put too many features in more complex systems; for example, the game and coded too late into the SFC is much more complex and production process. We were still cod- detailed than Quake and therefore ing heavily two weeks from final master needs additional QA attention. Role- and worked on the first patch all the playing games like BG are also more way through manufacturing. We fixed complicated and required additional QA so many bugs in the last three months time and completely different QA pro- of development that we honestly cesses. Treating all games in an identi- thought we had a game with a fairly low cal manner from a QA perspective is bug count and a ton of features. After a just plain wrong (but it happens all the week of it being on the street, I devel- time). oped a new realization of how high a
  18. Chapter 3: What Makes Game Development Hard? 25 Well-Met Goals Enable Future Successes Based on the success of Starfleet Com- independent developer. See Chapter mand, Interplay’s management was 27 to see how we set up as Taldren very receptive to our pitch to do and how we structured our company Starfleet Command 2 as a wholly for the development of Starfleet Command 2. Strong Game Developers Have Strong Foundations A small chronicle of great games The above figure chronicles just a few games over the years. of the most successful and influential The Tension between Preproduction and Production Bridges for the most part stoically sup- routinely go over budget, take too port their loads across their spans. long, and generally underperform or Dams rarely burst, flooding entire cit- are just buggy? The difference is in ies. Why do civil engineering projects process and methodologies. Per- seem to be routinely successful when forming something complex that software engineering projects requires the efforts of many skilled
  19. 26 Chapter 3: What Makes Game Development Hard? humans over an extended period of around these risks. Finally the plan time necessitates breaking up the needs to be presented to all stake- large, complex task into a series of holders including the development small, achievable, measurable tasks. team, the publisher, and the marketing, Ideally, figuring out what you are doing press relations, and sales forces. should come before you do it; the game Games are big productions, and industry term for this phase of work is successful games require the full effort preproduction, or the vision or design of many individuals spanning many phase. We have a name for it sure companies. In my opinion, preproduc- enough, but too many projects violate tion is the most important stage of the their preproduction phases and move project. I would like to see the day straight to production. Twenty years when a project spends a full 25 to 40 ago preproduction would have been a percent of its overall prerelease time in sketch of the game screen on a napkin preproduction. During production there and a couple of experimental routines should be relatively few surprises. The to get the idea straight. Ten years ago developers should be able to work eight preproduction was largely about the art hours a day, take vacations, and pick up of the proposed game. Now prepro- their children from school. Instead, the duction is usually a playable demo. industry responds to the intense com- True preproduction would be the petition by compressing preproduction distillation of all the game’s require- into the shortest period of time possi- ments, an analysis stage to determine ble. There is no hype, celebration, the implications of these requirements, visibility, or honor in the game industry a culling stage to meet the business as a whole for preproduction. In my parameters, and a detailed game, art, opinion, everyone would make a lot audio, and technical design to detail the more money if instead of 3,000 game requirements. Preproduction would projects being launched a year, 4,000 or still not be done, however, for these 5,000 game projects could receive two detailed game, art, audio, and technical to nine months of preproduction and get designs would uncover new details cancelled, and only the top 400 to 800 about the project requiring another would get produced and released. Pub- revision of the feature set to meet the lishers’ net revenues would be five to business requirements. ten times higher if their hit projects Any risky areas of the project need were not bogged down by four to ten to be explicitly called out, and alterna- failed projects. tive plans need to be formulated to get The Power of the Console The console side of the business does approve. A console title must be pre- manage itself a lot stronger than the PC sented to the hardware vendor several world in this regard. The answer lies in times along the way and can be sent the hardware vendors; they do not back for revision or altogether cancel- allow a title to be released unless they led by the hardware vendor with no
  20. Chapter 3: What Makes Game Development Hard? 27 recourse for the publisher except to be produced, but the net revenues work harder. This added rigor in the across all console titles are reported to console world allows far fewer titles to be seven times more profitable. Why Aren’t All Publishers Using Preproduction? If preproduction is so compelling, why eye candy are appropriate, but the eye isn’t every publisher using it? Actually candy should be presented in the con- publishers have a twist on this process, text of an overall production plan. If this called green-light meetings. Some pro- level of rigor were followed, we would jects have only one at the beginning of all be making stronger games resulting a project; other companies have a in much stronger sales and much saner series of green-light meetings acting as schedules. Unfortunately the experts gates that the project must pass you would need to employ would have through. However, these meetings are to be so skilled that they would most just meetings. There are a bunch of likely be art directors or technical executives with too much work to do directors, or running their own devel- trying to figure out if they should can- opment company. The usual process is cel a project or not. To help them make that game projects are ignored by the a positive decision, the developers, pro- executives in the early stages when ducers, and executive producers at the there are other more pressing fires to publishing house spend a lot of devel- be put out, or the executives tend to opment energy making bits of software focus on what they see in the form of and art that hopefully make a striking eye candy. impression on the executive’s mind. This is accurately enough called “eye The Process Is Changing candy.” The game development process is one of the hotter topics that publishers now JARGON: A green-light meeting is a meeting at which a body of decision look for in a developer. Microsoft, for makers at the publisher decide whether instance, sends a solid team of experts or not to publish a game. down to a prospective developer and interviews the house for a day or two. Instead of one of these green-light Microsoft also appears to be the pub- meetings, I think each game project lisher that respects preproduction the should undergo a green-light mini- most by giving each project at least two phase where each portion of the pro- or three months of real, funded ject, such as art, game design, and preproduction. The actual presentation technical, present their detailed plan on to the executives of the preproduction how to get their job done to one or is more of a team affair involving the more experts in that field. It should be developer, the producers, as well as the composite findings of these experts early reports of something called that is shown to the executives. It could usability. be that diagrams, charts, concept Having far less development sketches, and even demonstrations of resources to tap than Microsoft, Eidos
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