Into Production!

21 Sep Into Production!

Whoops!  We caused a bit of confusion today with the following tweet:

 

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We’d like to apologise for creating a little alarm today.   We are committed to being open to our followers and supporters in the hope that we can prove that the independent AAA development model can work for the videogames industry at large.

Ordinarily, the development process is undertaken under a veil of secrecy and both the public and press are hidden away from progress until the last 3 months of development.  Whereas we are showing how things develop from the very beginning, and the process we go through to final game.

Few developers  do this as so many things can and do go wrong along the way and there is always the risk that you will be judged against other games that are near-finished but we feel confident the benefits of being open outweigh any bumps along the way.

The onus is on us to make sure that we clarify our process and take you through the journey through thick and thin, from ugly duckling to beautiful swan (we hope!).

So here is where we are at:

Way back, I covered the broad phases of production we work by:

  • Concept Phase – The idea behind the game with supporting art.
  • Prototype Phase – Experimenting with game mechanics, art styles, processes.
  • Vertical Slice – A small section or two of the game that brings together the prototypes into a demo that looks like a finished game (but obviously isn’t a finished game).
  • Consolidation – We take a month out to simply plan the approach, scope and build the pipelines needed to make the full game.
  • Production Phase– This is where we put our heads down and make the bulk of the game. By the end of this, the whole game is playable from start to finish. We have just begun this phase.
  • Polish – This is where we nail down the story, VO, cutscenes, as well as playtesting the hell out of the game to give the best possible experience.
  • Mastering – Bug-fixing, optimization, platform compliance.

 

A couple of months ago we finished our Vertical Slice which brought together our various prototypes into a first playable demo that was about 10-15 minutes long. This video diary covers the making of it:

 

The vertical slice is an industry-wide practice that serves to explore ideas and test them out to see if the game you have designed on paper works in practice.  Once a vertical slice is complete, we take time out to consolidate our findings and plan the rest of production.

We have completed our consolidation phase and just begun production of the game proper.  So what happens to the vertical slice once you start production?

You throw it away. Always.

This may come as a surprise to people who are not in development (and some within development) but it is simply good practice and how we have always done things.

The value of the vertical slice is not the assets you build, it’s about discovering what the game is and how you go about building it.   You have to answer questions like:

  • How will combat feel in the context of a level?
  • How do we tell the story?
  • What is the non-combat gameplay?
  • How long will it take us to build stuff?
  • How much detail can you have in models and materials?
  • How much memory do you need to run the game?
  • What are the performance issues with your choices?
  • How do you handle streaming?
  • How will you navigate the world?
  • ….near endless list of questions continues…

 

There are hundreds of questions that really can only answered by actually building it and testing your assumptions.  But if there is one assumption you can bank on, it’s that your assumptions will mostly be wrong.

So you start a vertical slice accepting that what you build will not make it into the final game but that the knowledge you gain will allow you to make the game.

Since we created the vertical slice, we have answered most of our pressing questions and feel confident enough to build the game correctly, taking our successes forward while leaving the failed experiments behind.

This is how many top-end game development studios work and how we have always produced our games.  It is what we mean when we say that we are “starting production afresh”.  It doesn’t mean we are going back a year and starting again!  Quite the opposite.  We are ready to move forward.

Right now, we all in full production on all fronts and will probably cover the areas we are tackling in the next diary or two but here’s a few highlights of what we are doing:

Rebuilding and extending combat – the combat in the VS was focused on areas which were new ground for us such as directional combat and the ground-based injured combat.  We are now rebuilding the combat engine to better handle future expansion into a broader set of combat actions and deepening the system we had prototyped thus far.

Rebuilding and Improving Senua – While the opening cinematic of the VS showed we could create our own performance capture set up and shoot in it, we think we can do better with the actual Senua model.  She is the heart and soul of the game and we felt she wasn’t quite as believable as we intended.  We have experimented with some innovative scanning technologies and new improved facial systems as well as remodeling and retexturing her in far more detail.

Improved World – In the VS the atmosphere and world you navigate in was one of the highlights.  So we feel we can invest further in this area and make more of it.  We are now building large chunks of the game with this in mind working on both grey-box gameplay levels and much improved art style maps.

There are many other things going on at the moment in terms of story and mechanics but rest assured that we have moved out of our preproduction phase which was centered around testing ideas and are now making the full game in earnest.

Take care and sorry about the mixed messages!

Tameem

4 Comments
  • Clark
    Posted at 20:01h, 01 October Reply

    As with any other creative medium, I’m sure there are always highs and lows in game development – bumps in the road, false starts, etc. It is very bold for all of you to be working in such a transparent fashion. For fans, gaming enthusiasts, aspiring developers, or otherwise would-be game creators, there is so much to be learned!

  • TigerPrincess
    Posted at 01:36h, 07 August Reply

    Thank you so much! 🙂

  • Julian Kish
    Posted at 05:03h, 29 November Reply

    Again, fantastic information and insight into minds behind hellblade. I’m still in the concept phase (lol). One day my game will be fully realized. Really love ninja theory’s approach to hellblade and have appreciation and thanks riding my hype train to your (ninja theory) door.

  • Aaron Seet
    Posted at 15:17h, 05 August Reply

    “You throw it away. Always.”

    Gosh. How I wish the majority of the IT industry would indeed throw away their radioactive Proof-of-Concepts or prototypes to really build business systems properly……. but……

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