Thinking BioShock: From Tech to Philosophy
August 8, 2008 Page 3 of 5
Some people argue very passionately for having your own tech, completely, and totally owning it, but I guess it's a big difference if you have a completely dedicated tech division or something like that.
CK: Yeah. Well, it's also -- What are you selling your game on? What's the thing you really want people to get excited about in your game? Do you want them to get excited about the fact that you have your own physics engine? Well, we don't; we want them to be excited about the fact that you can do all these cool things with physics, in the world.
So, for us, we would rather spend our time doing awesome gameplay, awesome narrative, awesome visuals, rather than spending two years just trying to get something that's not even barely equivalent to the kind of middleware that's out on the market right now.
Yeah, I think the rationale is, customizing it to specifically what you need, but then the danger is that you don't always know what you need until you need it, so...
CK: Well the thing that we learned is, you definitely have to take it and run with it; not be afraid to change it. And the critical thing is that you really need -- middleware is not an excuse to skimp on hiring a core technology team.
You still need those hardcore, low-level guys, who can get in there and do what needs to be done to make and support your kind of game. And, luckily, at 2K Australia, we have some of the best guys in the business, and they did a lot of the heavy lifting on BioShock, and that was critical for us.
For you, building this game over multiple years, how did you have to work, with the kind of technology changes that were going on? Because, obviously, you built it as high spec as possible, but over three years, that changes a lot, and expectations change a lot. How much did that influence what you had to do?
CK: Well, luckily, we set our sights pretty high when we started out on BioShock, and we designed our technology assuming that we would be working on a next-gen console of some kind -- and also on PC. Fairly high on PC, because we were starting early, we knew hardware would catch up.
There were some difficulties -- moving towards a multi-core, heavily multi-threaded game engine is a challenge. Even if you use middleware, trying to find the right way to maximize that, on a console and on a PC, is a difficult challenge. And that's why you need some core tech guys who can help you with that.
And there were other curveballs that were thrown our way, like DirectX 10 coming out, and we wanted to show support for that. I think, overall, the challenges were the same challenges as any other project, just different -- like they are every time.
2K Boston/2K Australia's BioShock
In terms of the multi-threading and multi-core stuff, how do you think that you fared? Do you think that there's a long way to go for you guys, in your tech?
CK: Well I think we totally maxed out what we could eke out of our tech on the Xbox 360. There's probably still some room in there, by changing the way that we do things -- and that's what we're working on, on the next title -- but we're pretty happy with what we got working on the 360.
On the PC side... PC is so difficult, because you have to -- everything you design, you have to say, "OK, here's this great, awesome thing we can do, and we can put that in multi-core... Unless the consumer doesn't have that."
So it's like, you always have to be coming up with these awesome visions, and then figure out how you're going to scale them down. That's frustrating. It's liberating, because you know the PC's going to have the top hardware out there at the time, but it introduces a lot of time into the development process, and it can also be a frustrating effort, as well, trying to figure out how to make it scale, so you can hit the whole audience.
Moving Toward a True Shared Medium
While it is indeed true that middleware helps you get started, and that you have to bolt on your own stuff, it does feel like a lot of people are solving the same problems independently. Like, it would be really nice if, at some point -- like with movies, you've got a camera, you've got editing tools, you've got, like, known quantities that anyone that makes movies can use. Do you think that we'll ever get to that stage for games?
CK: You think everyone will be on the same game engine or something?
Not necessarily the same game engine -- well, yeah, I guess, essentially, like, "Alright, this is how my lighting engine will work, because this is how those work."
CK: I think that eventually the technology is going to get to the point where engines can provide enough flexibility to let people work the way they want to work, and people are going to stop worrying as much about the details, and start focusing on the art and the artifice of game development.
And that's really critical; we're going to move more toward what the movies have, where they have one game engine, and it's called "the camera and the editing suite", and what they focus on is creating these emotional experiences. And that's what we should be doing, as developers, is not creating a technological experience, and creating a menu-driven experience; what we want to be doing is creating an emotional experience for the player.
Page 3 of 5