So you guys, did you internally develop all three SKUs?
AI: Yes, we do.
Did you have any challenges, moving your technology across three different platforms? They all have their own quirks.
AI: Working on three SKUs at the same time is really hard. We had to do a significant redesign of the engine to take full advantage of next-gen capabilities of high-end PCs, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 hardware, doing things like native multithreading in the engine, and doing things like supporting all these multicore, multi-CPU hardware. It's challenging, but I believe we did a good job of harnessing the power of all three SKUs. I believe that it is what it is.
This game has an interesting development history, in that you started out with a different publisher, and the title was picked up and moved over. The development cycle was greatly extended from the original plan, wasn't it?
AI: It was extended over and over again. A brief history of the title that was published: it was picked up in 2004 by Atari, and by that time, we already had a fully functional prototype with time-control mechanics fully working. It was like a complete vertical slice of the game, and it wasn't bad. It had two or three good levels with really good visual quality and fully gameplay mechanics in there. It was picked up opportunistically by Atari.
Was that just on PC at that time?
AI: It was on PC only. The original plan was to put it out on PC and Xbox -- the first Xbox. Saber was a relatively small company coming from somewhere in Eastern Europe, and nobody really knew where Russia was.
But as the project matured, it was
rising up in the ranks at Atari, and at some point, they realized they
had something bigger than they originally thought, so they refocused
it from PC and Xbox to high-end PCs and Xbox 360.
Unfortunately, in 2006, Atari ran out of money, so they decided to sell the title to somebody. There were a number of publishers bidding for the title and Vivendi eventually acquired the title. They liked it. It was an opportunistic pick-up for Vivendi, because something that was big for Atari wasn't so big for Vivendi anymore.
But just like with Atari, the title kept rising in the ranks, and eventually, the guys in power realized that they had something bigger than this. They gave us another year, and they expanded the title from PC and Xbox 360 to PlayStation 3 as well. A year later, we have a title we're releasing on three SKUs. It's completely redesigned in terms of graphics, in terms of gameplay, and now it's fully a next-gen title.
The title's changed a lot over the
course of its development, from its original plan until where it's arrived
at now. Can you talk about some of the processes you went through and
what you learned when you were dealing with that situation?
AI: The first, big-ticket item that changed was the visual style, from steampunk to a much more mass-market gritty "destroyed beauty" type of thing. I think we really succeeded in building this universe, which fits the title. The main gameplay mechanics were tweaked over and over again until we arrived at what we currently have, which is really feasible, which is really easy to get into.
Which is really important on consoles, because the title started on PC and Xbox, and now it's Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC. To nail down the time-control mechanics to make it challenging, but it's an easy learning curve. The switch to the console mentality was really important to us.
Do you feel the game is better than it would have been if it had followed that original plan in its development, coming out back when Atari had it?
AI: Yeah, definitely. The quality of
the game was significantly improved over the course of the years. We
were fortunate enough to work with some of the more experienced people
in the industry -- people like Chris Miller, who produced F.E.A.R.
and N.O.L.F. and other games. Working with those people, they
brought a lot to the mix of an already talented team, and helped us
to bring the quality of the game really to where it belongs.
It's interesting. The one thing I would say is that you've got a lot of time to improve the title, but by the time it's come to market, the playing field is a little bit different, on the Xbox 360 particularly. There's a lot of shooters. How do you feel about that aspect of it?
AI: I believe that even last year, we didn't have a bad game. It was a good game. At the time, it was a good game, and people were considering it to be one of the better-looking Xbox 360 games a year ago.
Clearly, when the decision was made to extend the title, the first question we asked ourselves, as well as Vivendi, was how to stay competitive a year from now. The decision was to to do a complete overhaul on a lot of engine technologies, such as rendering. We really upped the ante in terms of the things we were doing.
Things like shadow maps -- it's something
that nobody else was doing. Maybe Crysis was doing it, but that's
only one SKU right now. Things like a host of rendering technologies,
like detailed normal maps, and next generation physics, and post-processing
effects and per-pixel effects. These are things we are doing but nobody
else is doing. Graphics-wise, we are definitely where everybody else
is, and maybe a little bit... we're definitely keeping up with the pace
of competition, and in many respects, we are better than other games.