Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
Postmortem: Monolith's No One Lives Forever
View All     RSS
September 18, 2018
arrowPress Releases
September 18, 2018
Games Press
View All     RSS
  • Editor-In-Chief:
    Kris Graft
  • Editor:
    Alex Wawro
  • Contributors:
    Chris Kerr
    Alissa McAloon
    Emma Kidwell
    Bryant Francis
    Katherine Cross
  • Advertising:
    Libby Kruse






If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:


 

Postmortem: Monolith's No One Lives Forever


June 8, 2001 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next
 

What Went Right

1. Mission statement. Once the contract for No One Lives Forever was finally signed-an extremely trying process I'll elaborate on shortly-our vision of the finished product was well-defined. We drafted a clear, concise mission statement to make sure we wouldn't lose sight of our goals. This vision guided us through the entire development cycle, serving as a focus whenever the scope of the project began to blur. It was our intention that every feature, task, and ounce of effort would ultimately either support the vision or end up on the cutting room floor.

Our primary aim was to make the player feel like the hero of a 60s action/adventure/espionage movie. We came up with a list of the characteristics we felt were necessary to achieve our objective. The game must have a strong narrative, with twists and turns in the spirit of Charade or Where Eagles Dare. It must feature a fiercely competent hero and an assortment of despicable villains. The hero must have access to an impressive arsenal of weapons and gadgets worthy of Our Man Flint, Danger: Diabolik, or Get Smart. There must be memorable, death-defying situations, opportunities for stealth as well as all-out action, and a variety of exotic locales to explore. Finally, every aspect of the presentation must convincingly evoke the era.

Our primary aim was to make the player feel like the hero of a 60s action/adventure/espionage movie.

The mission statement was a constant reminder of our original design goals. By sticking to these goals, we were generally able to avoid squandering time on peripheral and extraneous features and content.

2. Flexible systems. In order to streamline the development process, we designed flexible game systems that allowed artists and designers to get content into the game as quickly as possible without the involvement of an engineer. In NOLF, adding a fully functional new weapon is a matter of updating some text files. There's no compiling or programming involved. The same applies to many aspects of the game, from adjusting player movement speeds to adding new surface types with unique footstep sounds and weapon impact special effects.

Likewise, our event and object handling systems give level designers the freedom to create relatively elaborate situations without relying on special engineering. For example, the airliner, sinking freighter, and disintegrating space station sequences in NOLF were primarily developed by level designers and artists. The relatively small amount of engineering support was focused on polish and bug fixes rather than facilitating things like buckling the hull of the freighter, pummeling the space station umbilicus with meteors, tearing off the tail section of the airliner, and dropping the player from 30,000 feet with enemy paratroopers in pursuit.

Our world editor not only lets us create, texture, and light geometry, but also includes a keyframing system, an interface for setting surface types and rendering properties on textures, and a hierarchical node tree that lets us arrange and manage every component of a world the same way you organize files in Windows. Our proprietary model tool lets us adjust animation speeds, add and position model attachments such as a hat on a character or a silencer on a weapon, and even send messages from a specific keyframe in an animation. Footstep sounds are perfectly synched to animations instead of triggered arbitrarily in code. Likewise, events and camera moves during in-game cinematics are frequently controlled by the animations themselves, which both helps to keep everything synchronized and also allows for precise, deliberate pacing.

There were certainly disadvantages to this degree of flexibility, particularly in terms of the complexity of certain systems and the sometimes unwieldy interface for interacting with them, but the payoff more than justified the expense.

3. Team cohesion. Although we were well into the project before we were fully staffed, we ended up with an amazingly cohesive team, which kept morale stable and productivity high even during the darkest moments of the project. In the course of the interviewing process, we learned to focus as much on how someone would fit the team as we did on the person's skill level or experience. We discovered the hard way how vital it is that everybody have the ability to communicate effectively and weather criticism without taking it personally. Strong technical aptitude is meaningless if you can't cooperate with your peers.

The No One Lives Forever team.

When you're planning a project, it's easy to underestimate the importance of good teamwork. Perhaps it's because many people think in terms of what needs to be done without considering how it's going to get done and by whom. Needless to say, there are numerous ways to solve a given problem, and some solutions are guaranteed to create new problems for someone else on the team. If your team isn't united in its purpose and naturally inclined to collaborate, such misunderstandings may happen frequently and produce unnecessary tension.

Frankly, the strength of our team was more a matter of luck than anything else, but it was a huge factor both in the success of NOLF from a development perspective as well as the overall quality of the game.

4. Good scheduling. It's a common myth that game development is more an art than a science and therefore can't be scheduled effectively. Numerous developers adopt a "when it's done" attitude or advocate a strictly organic design process. Sadly, very few companies have such luxuries. For most of us, going a month over schedule means digging into our own pockets to fund additional development time, which can rapidly put a company out of business. Just read the gaming news headlines for lists of casualties.

Therefore, unless you have obscene funding (yes, I'm jealous) or a corporate death wish, effective scheduling is vitally important. Monolith learned these lessons the hard way on Blood, Shogo, and various other titles. Certainly any long-term project can run into unforeseen complications, but the development of NOLF proved to us that it's both feasible and desirable to build a realistic schedule and stick to it. The scheduling wasn't perfect, due to some oversights in planning for demos and so on, but it was tremendously beneficial in steering us away from the sorts of catastrophic mistakes we had made in the past.

5. Realistic expectations. We didn't have any illusions about what NOLF would be. Given our budget, team size, and development cycle, the best we could hope to do was to create a fun, engaging 60s espionage game that would make up in presentation what it lacked in innovation. It's simply naïve to think you can compete directly with a production like Terminator 2 when you have the budget of Reservoir Dogs. The key is to focus on your strengths and not overextend yourself.

The best we could hope to do was to create a fun, engaging 60s espionage game that would make up in presentation what it lacked in innovation.

In retrospect, we were definitely still too ambitious with NOLF in many ways, but it was such an immeasurable improvement over previous projects that it's hard to complain. The favorable reviews and various awards certainly seem to indicate that we're moving in the right direction.


Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

Related Jobs

New York University Tisch School of the Arts
New York University Tisch School of the Arts — New York, New York, United States
[09.17.18]

Assistant Arts Professor, NYU Game Center
Deep Silver Volition
Deep Silver Volition — Champaign, Illinois, United States
[09.17.18]

Technical Designer
Deep Silver Volition
Deep Silver Volition — Champaign, Illinois, United States
[09.14.18]

Senior Writer
Velan Studios
Velan Studios — Troy, New York, United States
[09.14.18]

UI/UX Designer





Loading Comments

loader image