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Postmortem: Myst IV - Revelation


April 21, 2005 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 2
 

What Went Wrong

Big pre-production team. Myst IV: Revelation was the first pre-rendered adventure game ever produced by the Montreal Ubisoft studio and our lack of experience in pre-rendered games soon hit us very hard. To accelerate pre-production and train our employees for the production, we hired more than 50 new employees. The A.L.I.V.E. engine was barely working, tools did not initially exist, the story was not final, artistic direction was not well established, and no real level design was ready when all these people joined up the project. Extra pressure was put on game designers and programmers to feed the modeling team and a lot of the artists started to feel frustrated about not being busy enough, not receiving clear goals, and having embryonic tools. A bad mood was established between the game designers, programmers and modelers that only decreased slightly in the last few months of the project when the swat teams where created and everybody started to work together. Less than eight employees from the original pre-production team finished the project. With this high turnover rate we lost precious experience. We learned the hard way that in pre-production you must have a very small dedicated team and you should never start game production before the story, the design, artistic direction and technologies are ready and fully tested. A creative director and a production manager with strong power and vision at the beginning of the project would have helped clarify the focus of the game and the processes as well. - Nicolas Beaudette, Lead Programmer

Animations integration. Myst IV: Revelation is a game where the main effort is put on creating a beautiful landscape. We could only do final animation on final and approved sets. The lighting was done at the end but was prepared in order to light the sets but not the animations. This caused the animations to have to adapt themselves to the sets and not the other way around like in movies. - Gilles Monteil, Animation Director

Tracking changes. No unified system or format was established to track and communicate the changes to assets required between all members of the team. It really became a nightmare to follow the completion of critical tasks and to have an accurate up-to-date perspective of overall planning. A lot of work was trashed because of the inefficiency in tracking production assets. This was only resolved in the last ten months of production, by the introduction of a database tracking the assets and validations.
- Nicolas Beaudette, Lead Programmer


Myst IV 's world come to life.



Lack of time to integrate the secondary animations
. Integration of the secondary animations (created just to give life to the environments) was late and we had to close the game, so at the end of production we had to cut some of what was previously planned. However, it was impossible to cut into the story, or into the bulk of the gameplay, (except for some stand-alone puzzles) and cutting sets would have cause more trouble than just leaving them like they were. So it was animation (and especially panels: animation rendering) that were cut out, replaced most of the time by real-time effects in order not to lose our goal, which was to have Myst IV: Revelation “come to life.” - Gilles Monteil, Animation Director

Defining a new production pipeline. Myst IV: Revelation's A.L.I.V.E. engine uses 360-degree bubble, mixing a lot of videos with alpha and real-time 3D effects. Myst III was already using this kind of technology but we chose to expand the concept much deeper. From the engine point of view, it was not so difficult to integrate the technologies together but the tools and production pipeline were a lot harder. We spent a lot of time finding good tool combinations and procedures, whereas before the effect simply looked slapped on top of things. - Nicolas Beaudette, Lead Programmer

Dual layer DVD. Myst IV: Revelation was one of the first games to use the DVD9 format. It quickly appeared that a lot of the DVD readers were not able to read the dual layers copies despite assurance from manufacturing that we would experience no problems. Worst of all, some problematic readers didn't have any available firmware upgrades ... Customers were complaining about our game not working on their systems but we could do nothing except putting some pressure on DVD manufacturers to make the firmware available. We also bought a wider array of DVD drives to upgrade our chances of finding non-compatible drives in the future and improve customer support.
- Nicolas Beaudette, Lead Programmer

Conclusion

When I arrived on the project, there was a year left of production, which totaled three years all together. The first thing I did was to pass through the concept as it was. As a Myst fan, I was very impressed about the fact that the team had succeeded in keeping all that makes a true Myst game, while improving all that could be improved.

However, it was soon clear to me that we were not going to meet our deadline. Ideally, I would have liked to stop production for three months in order to complete the tools that were still missing and reorganize the pipeline and validation process but of course we had no such time with E3 coming fast. With the help of a very thorough audit by our technology group, the changes described above were implemented (Implementation of a database, redesign of the pipeline, implementation of task groups, etc.).

However, one aspect that has not been covered much in the sections above, even though I believe it to be crucial, was the team spirit between key team members. To address this, the following personnel modifications were implemented:

  • Empowerment of the key employees who were functional in their posts, pushing down the decision process to the right levels. This allowed me to keep an eye on problematic issues while maintaining a strategic view of the production (It is my belief that the industry is still often stunted by a producer hand-in approach that is not appropriate to the size of our current teams.).
  • Switch of duties, or reinforcement, for those who were inefficient in their current posts.
  • Total suppression of the weekly team-leads meeting which had turned into griping sessions.

These are all personal-related issues, which might seem unimportant on the surface but deeply affected the decision and communication process of the team.

All the changes described in this post mortem helped but were not enough in themselves, and it has to be said that if Myst IV: Revelation came out in time and with zero critical bugs, it is due to the relentless work and ingenuity of most members of the team who, knowing they were working on a legendary brand, compensated for all the difficulties of the project.

 


Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Length of development: 3 years
Release Date: September 30, 2004 (PC, Mac)
Target Platform: PC, Mac, Xbox

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Article Start Previous Page 2 of 2

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