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by Jamie Fristom
Gamasutra
June 28, 2000

 

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Contents

Staffing Up

What Went Right

What Went Wrong

What Went Wrong

1. Not enough QA on the project after we were feature-complete.
When QA begins you can measure how quickly bugs are being reported and howquickly they are being fixed. This data can be used to give you a rough estimate of how long it will take to finish the product. For example, you might find that QA is averaging 20 bug reports a day and your programmers are fixing 10. If there are 400 bugs, it will take roughly 20 days to find them all and 40 days to fix them. In our case, we discovered that we were fixing bugs faster than QA was reporting them; we had a backlog of internally reported bugs to keep us busy, but eventually we were going to catch up to QA. Greg screamed at Crave for more QA, but there were plenty of days when the programming staff was idle while we waited for bugs to trickle in. QA became the bottleneck on our schedule; if they had found the bugs sooner we could have shipped sooner. QA was lacking in both quantity and quality because there were not enough guys on the project and they were not covering the game adequately.

2. Increasing the number of polygons doesn't automatically give you great results.
We tripled the number of polygons in the skater models but this ended up making the skinning at the joints look more noticeably wrong, and didn't improve the look of the characters much. Sometimes we couldn't even tell whether we were playing with Neversoft's original low-definition skaters or our new high-definition ones. (Although looking closely at the skateboard made it a dead giveaway; ours had nicely modeled trucks and theirs used flatcards.) With new power comes new responsibilities, such as fully taking advantage of all those polygons by implementing extra joints in the characters (at the shoulders and necks for example), weighted vertices, and cloth and hair systems. Our other Dreamcast games have these features but we were locked into the animations from the Playstation version of Tony Hawk so we couldn't add shoulders nor could we move pivots for more natural bends. And the skaters in Tony Hawk go into extreme poses while performing stunts. For instance, when they crouch really low on their skateboards their knees get pointy, and when they put their arms over their heads their shoulders dip and they look like balloon animals. We did the best we could by hacking in weighted vertices on the knees but the hack made the shoulders look even worse so we left them the way they were.

3. Communication difficulties with two publishers and the original development team.
Because Activision sold the rights to Crave, to obtain assets or anything else we had to ask Crave, who in turn would ask Activision, who in turn would ask Neversoft. When we would suddenly discover we were missing something, it took forever to do anything about it. For example, when we needed the raw sound files it was days before we actually got a CD with the files on it, and the CD wasn't exhaustive. We had similar problems with tools -- we never did fully understand Neversoft's Max plug-in and were limited in what we could do to improve the levels because of it -- as well as with some of the source code.

4. We didn't try to export everything right away.
Neversoft's El Pluggo plug-in exported a Playstation file and this was the model format that the game read in, Neversoft's proprietary binary mesh format. We were given source to El Pluggo so we could modify it as we saw fit but our mistake was that we only tried exporting levels on an as-needed basis. (We already had all of Neversoft's Playstation files and we were originally we were running the game with these pre-exported levels.)

We discovered this problem the hard way when we got to one of the last levels and it didn't export correctly. It turned out we somehow had ended up with an obsolete version of the El Pluggo source. It took a couple of days to rectify this problem, because the turnaround for getting deliverables from Neversoft was so slow, and because we had to integrate our changes into their new plug-in. If we had tried exporting every single level at the start of the project we would have gotten the correct source before we started modifying it.

5. "What do you mean the game hasn't been localized?"
Localizations turned out to be a slap in the face. Looking through the code at the beginning of the project we saw that they had localizations for various European languages, so we thought we were covered. Later on in the project we realized that for some reason when we activated the localizations a lot of the English text wasn't being translated. It turned out that localization code we were looking at was for Apocalypse and that the Playstation version of Tony Hawk had never been localized. It could have taken weeks to get all their text translated. The only thing we could do was to skip the localizations.

A Slam Dunk

TreyarchThis morning, as I put the finishing touches on this article, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater for Dreamcast is hitting the shelves, and due to preorders it's already the number-one Dreamcast title at EB World. We all expect it to do very well. I never thought I would enjoy doing a port because I didn't think it would allow for creativity or give me the same sense of accomplishment that working on an original title does. In actuality, the ratio of feeling accomplishment to the time spent on the project is actually higher than for original titles; you only spend a few weeks on it and suddenly you have a functional game. And a few months later, you get to ship! It feels great and I highly recommend it (unless you're going from a Playstation to a Nintendo 64).

Jamie has been programming games in Los Angeles and San Diego for nine years. He still makes a lot of mistakes. Check out his website at http://jfristrom.home.mindspring.com/ or e-mail him at jfristrom@iname.com.

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