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.
Increasing the number of polygons doesn't automatically give you great
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.
Communication difficulties with two publishers and the original development
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.
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
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.
"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.
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
or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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