So you've got to find these certain bite-sized areas that you can optimize?
JE: Yeah. You need to find all of these systems, and you need to pre-design systems. We found that out rather early on in a nasty way with the collisions. We assumed our collision system wouldn't be done on SPUs, and that was a big mistake. We designed it around general access and not small chunks.
We had to completely kick that out the door and redo it. We realized that we should look out for that in the future, and every single system which would even remotely lend itself to that was designed like that from the beginning.
How close is it to release?
JE: We're releasing in July. The state of the game we're in right now is alpha. Alpha means that we've got all of the levels in final memory, which was our biggest push. Now that all of the features are in, we start optimizing, tweaking, and bug fixing.
Can you tell me more about the progressive mesh? I noticed that things were being generated on the fly, and mountains were just kind of popping up. It's cool in a way, but it probably shouldn't happen.
JE: In the end it comes down to tweaking, and we're probably going to tweak the progressive mesh until the last day. Somebody who is running on a 1080p system and who is really accustomed to look for stuff like that will probably see a little bit of growth here and there. Then again, at least we can do something like that. Without progressive mesh, I don't think that the thing would have been possible, quite frankly.
Are those mountains generated differently each time? What is important about progressive mesh?
JE: Progressive mesh is not only the mountains. Every single thing you can see on screen is running through the SPUs' progressive mesh code. On the landscape, it's basically using more traditional techniques. It is progressive mesh, but we've had landscape generation since the GameCube days. We never had a CPU which was strong enough to do it for the whole world, though. It's really cool.
The big thing on the landscape is the detail level. I don't think any landscape has been done with that level of detail. Back in the day for the GameCube landscapes, the typical approach was to tediously hand-texture everything on the landscape. What the RSX does in Lair is we give the graphics chip a pixel-shader program which is actually a rule set. That makes texturing of landscapes an extremely quick thing.
Why draw from the movie world for your script and score? Obviously they have established good work there, but it's a different industry from ours. What is important about that Hollywood feel versus the game feel?
JE: I don't think that there's a Hollywood feel when it comes to music. I think music is something universal, and I think that we simply don't get the best composers. It has nothing to do with Hollywood, per se. It's just the attraction for someone who writes a good orchestral score, and has a choice between working with movies and games. I still think, sadly enough, that most people choose to work in movies.
The deal with John [Debney] was very unique in the sense that when we thought about using somebody who has mostly been working in movies, I was really afraid of it. On the one hand it was a matter of who can deliver something like John Williams, but on the other hand there was the matter that all of the guys who can do that are probably not interested in games, which means that we're going to get this half-baked soundtrack that doesn't have much to do with the game, and to work with them will be a real pain.
The cool thing about John was when he really started asking the right questions. I think his son had gotten him into video games just a couple of months before we contacted him. He was playing, and he was wondering about the medium. John has an interesting history, because before he became the John Debney we know nowadays, he was actually at Disney and was composing songs for the theme parks.
He was very much an on-staff composer back in the '70s. So he has dabbled in the media, because the requirements for theme park music are quite different for what you do for a movie score. He actually tapped back into that experience when he was working on Lair.
We explained that we needed to have pieces which can quickly fade from one piece to another; we can't have long, drawn-out tracks. Normally, every composer would just say, "Come on, you guys, I'll compose you something and you figure it out for your game thing." John really said, "Ah, interesting. Okay, then let's figure this out." It wasn't the Hollywood thing with him specifically.
That's good, because a lot of the time when you get Hollywood composers it ends up like that. It's a game, so obviously the music should be somewhat interactive.
JE: You know how interactive our Star Wars games were. Basically the best example of that is probably when you're landing on the ground. There's drums setting in, in addition to the piece. The whole mood is changing. That was actually created on huge boards which we did with John and our music director. They really mapped out for what motion and what branches are possible at certain moments in the game and in the level.
John really looked at it in his score and said, "I can give you three types of that general theme." The general theme is important, because it's this overall arc that goes through the whole game. But some moments you need something where drums can come in and more tension is created, or it can fade down. He really did all of that collaboratively. It wasn't something that we had to suck out of the material at the very end. That was really cool.