Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Last week of school!

The rest of the God of War 2 team started a break about 2 weeks ago, but for a few 'lucky' select individuals the fun continues for a bit longer. A bunch of the programmers, the european producer, the HUD and Shell guy ... we all get to carry on working on the PAL version. I see lots of post on the boards from Europeans wondering why they always get the shaft on release dates so I though it might be interesting to explain what happens for the Euro release and why it takes us a bit longer. If your easily bored by an overabundance of tech detail, this might not be the blog post for you, so be warned!

For GOW2, our Gold date was about 3 weeks later for the euro version than the US. This is already a lot better than the original God of War. In that case Europe dragged its heels on some decisions so we ended up all having our break before we even started. This time we made a decision to try and get PAL done asap. So what is involved?

First, PAL TV's run at 50Hz compared to 60Hz in the US. All of the movies needs to be converted from the 60Hz (30 Movies Frames Per Sec) to 50Hz (25 Movie Frames Per Sec).

Second, you have to hope your programmers made allowances for multiple languages. Fortunately on this score we are working with some mature tech and we already did this for GOW1. However, there are always some wrinkles.

For a PAL release you have to do the EFIGS languages. This stands for English, French, Italian, German and Spanish. That covers the majority of the major Euro market with obvious apologies to the Benelux countries. Look on the bright side Benelux, you all speak amazing english from an early age and make English people like me, with crappy language skills, very jealous. On this occasion Sony Europe asked us for one extra language, Russian! That is a fun one, it has a completely different alphabet and is completely illegible and unintelligible to westerners. Its more like doing Korean or Japanese in that sense. So all the text has to be translated. In many cases the German for a particular phrase will be much longer than the original English, so all the formatting has to be worked out again. In fact this can lead to the HUD needing to be re-laid out and this actually just happened on GOW2 today.

On GOW1 we picked the language that the game ran in by looking at the language setup of the PS2. But with the addition of Russian, we couldn't do this. Since when the PS2 was made 7 years ago, they didn't include Russian. So a language selection screen had to be added at the start.

Next comes all the voice overs and spoken dialogue. God of War has lots of actors, earnestly speaking their lines. Because its a very story driven game we chose to translate these properly, no subtitles here. This means that we have to fit 6 times the amount of spoken audio on the disc compared to the US version. So lots of re-compressing of movies and relaying out of the disc gets done, to make everything fit and still have the seemless loading work. And of course, our musicians and audio guys didn't actually finish the mix and voiceover work until the end of January, so some of the final translation recording couldn't be done til then.

Last game we had to make content changes to the game for Sony Europe, as they were a bit uncomfortable with some of the scenes. The guy in the cage was the main problem, for anyone who played it. This time no changes were requested, which was cool, so this didn't slow us down.

Which brings us to some of the subtle technical crap that we have to do. PAL TV's operate at a different resolution and frame rate than US TV's. So we have to make allowances for this. This means bigger screen buffers and a re-arrangement of video ram. Also PAL runs at 50fps instead of 60, so we have to make sure this doesn't introduce any issues.

And then we get to testing. Obviously we already went through test for the US version, but now all the new translations need to be tested. Plus any given set of 40 odd people playing the game will find new stuff.

The final disc should go off to Europe tomorrow *fingers crossed*. So in about 6 weeks or so (I don't actually know the exact date) you should be able to play GOW2 in Europe compared to 2 weeks from now for the US. As a Euro type, I feel bad .... but *hooray* 2 more days and I get to go on holiday! Whoo hooo.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Times have changed, but much stays the same.

Its nice to finally be done with God of War 2, it really was sucking up all my time towards the end there. I am now getting a chance to catch up on some other projects within the Sony Family. Today I got a chance to talk to the programmers from 'That Game Company', they just finished a great little game called 'Flow'. It goes live on the Playstation Store tomorrow.

None of them has made a commercial game before as far as I know. They are fresh University Grads who got a deal based on a some Flash Games they made while at USC. They have the same enthusiasm and creativity that I remember from the demo scene 15+ years ago. What is amazing is that they got here via a university course that actually appears to be making a reasonable job of getting people into the games industry.

In 1989, at my parents behest, I went to university to get a computer degree. By the time I went I already knew that I wanted to make games for a living. It didn't look like a very viable career though and I took my parents advice and went to Manchester University to get my 'back up plan' degree in case it didn't work out. The University certainly had no respect or time for video games, I had to do stuff that interested me disguised as something sensible in order to get good grades. My final project was 'Simulation of Insect Vision', I did it because it let me use the only machines in the department with decent graphics capabilities.

The demo scene, not university, got me my start in video games. A couple of people from the Atari ST demo scene started a company in Germany called Thalion Software. As a way of paying my way through university, I wrote a game for them called 'A Prehistoric Tale'. It wasn't very good, or very original. But I was totally hooked. As for the university degree, it came in very very useful over the years. But most useful of all when I wanted to move to the US. That H1B visa would have been a damn sight harder to get without it.

Its cool that people like the Flow team can make a proper start, doing things they really love, at university. Games are not looked down upon in quite the same way any more. Many parents now will go on the web and look up game careers and find that their kids could make a good go of it. I got a chance to speak about God of War to a games theory class at USC last week. I am not sure if it was exactly the same class that the Flow guys came out of, but it was in the School of Cinematic Arts at USC, so probably similar. It was fun, talking to the students in that class as well as to the Flow guys, has somewhat renewed my faith that games are gonna keep going in some interesting directions and there are more ways than ever of getting your start.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Bright Shiny Object Syndrome

It seems reasonable that my very first real post on this blog is to explain the name. 'Bright Shiny Object Syndrome' is a term used to explain the process that I've observed in a number of different game designers I've worked with. BSOS is where the sufferer comes into work on any given morning and is utterly convinced of some feature or change that has occurred to them while ... playing a game ... watching TV ... going to the movies .... reading a book .. a comic..

Suddenly everything is clear!

If they are in a lead role and have any kind of sway they can put into motion tasks, changes, R&D and all the things that a well oiled team will do to support an idea.... The only problem is that often this will be replaced by another good idea or just wither and die, at the point which the sufferer notices another bright shiny object in something else.

Obviously in amongst all these bright shiny objects are some real true gems. Games don't get made by accident and someone, often multiple people, had to think of every single feature in any game you play.

Its become pretty obvious to me that developing ways to support this random creativity without letting it get so out of control that the project falls into mediocrity is the way to go in game development. I did a talk on this at GDC 2006 called 'God of War: How the Left and Right brain learned to love one another'

Link to my 2006 GDC talk.

Its a set of power point slides that describe the tools we used and the realizations we came to while making the original God of War.

It seems like it might be a good name for this blog, since I would imagine that I'm probably gonna do a bit of rambling on whatever seems important when I get up in the morning.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Joining the 21st Century

So I finally made a blog... I think its the end of project blues thats got me. I don't seem to know what to do in the evenings when I get home.

Its been an interesting little nostalgia trip putting together the links on the sidebar here. I got my start in programming making demos on the Atari ST. Believe it or not, someone has archived all these and you can still download them and run them on emulators. There were demos that I don't even really remember writing. I guess I shouldn't feel bad, it was 20 years ago!

I am not really sure whether this blog is going to have a point or if its just gonna be a collection of ramblings, who knows. But at least I finally managed to join the 21st century.