Living On The Edge: DICE's Owen O'Brien Speaks
June 6, 2008 Page 1 of 5
All this year, world's largest publisher Electronic Arts has been messaging that it has changed -- but the proof is in the words of its developers, and the quality of its upcoming games. While the jury is still out on that, as most of them aren't due until later this year, we do have the words of the creative teams.
Here, we present a discussion with DICE's Owen O'Brien, senior producer on Mirror's Edge, an unusual title for the Swedish-headquartered company best known for its long-running Battlefield team-based combat series.
Mirror's Edge is a first-person adventure title with an intriguing context-sensitive, dynamic action set, as showcased in a recent trailer for the game, and notable inspirations from parkour.
The title is "...set in a conformist dystopia in which communication is heavily monitored by a totalitarian regime, and so a network of runners, including the main character, Faith, are used to transmit messages while evading government surveillance."
In this in-depth Gamasutra interview, he discusses everything from its creative inspiration, to designing a HUD-free game, to how the team's use of Scrum methodologies has allowed for unexpected gameplay iterations.
The thing that I want to say is, I'm extremely jaded, and I actually was still impressed by the Mirror's Edge demo.
Owen O'Brien: Well that's good!
I was just talking to Ben [Cousins], who's working on Battlefield Heroes. I was at the DICE Summit, and I saw John Riccitiello do his city-state speech [advocating greater independence for individual EA studios], and Ben said that Battlefield Heroes couldn't have happened, and Mirror's Edge couldn't have happened, without the new EA city-state mentality.
OO: I think the city-state mentality is there to encourage things like Mirror's Edge and Battlefield Heroes; I think it's there to allow studios the freedom to try things. So we've got Mirror's Edge now, which is an amazing game -- of course I would say that -- but trailing behind that, there were lots of other ideas that were killed.
So it was a product of a lot of trial and error, and, you know, trial and error is expensive, and the company's got to be behind you and say, "OK, you know what, that didn't work. We'll kill it and we won't fire you for it."
So, trial and error. Do you do a lot of prototyping? Do you do a lot of just sitting in rooms, coming up with concepts? How does that phase of things go?
OO: Yeah, I mean, basically when I joined DICE two and a half years ago, from EA, I came into a team that had an idea, there was a game in development, or idea in development, we kind of rambled with that for a little while, then we decided it just wasn't going to work. It was too far outside our realm of expertise as well, so we decided to get back to doing what we do best, which is first person.
So the, sort of the genesis of Mirror's Edge is, we had the idea, and then everybody went, "You're crazy." So the first thing we did was, we literally just did pencil sketches of what we would see on the screen.
We did that, then we turned those into an animatic, then we did an animation test -- you know, just running in Maya. After we got that, we kind of looked at it and went, "OK, if we could actually do this, it would work." And then we basically built a rough prototype, and we've been iterating on that ever since.
EA DICE's Mirror's Edge
When it comes to development methods, do you do more agile-style development, where you iterate quickly?
OO: On the team, we've been running agile development for 18 months now? Maybe two years. So yeah, we're using a system called Scrum. It's fast, agile development.
Your meetings, when you work on this project, how do they go?
OO: The sprint reviews? They go pretty well. I mean, I think initially, people were kind of a little bit hesitant about it, kind of like, "Can't you just tell me what to do, and I'll do it, and I'll give it to you?" But then, they've become more and more interactive, and more and more. It's almost like an entertainment system now; all the teams put together movies of their work, and they've started adding music to it, and we've got a whole load of great behind-the-scenes footage of fun stuff that people would be working on. So they have really embraced it.
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