From an art perspective, how did you go about creating this new look, and deciding that was the way you wanted to go?
CG: You know what? Red Faction Guerilla, they did everything they could… real world Mars. If you play the game, it is what it is. It's what Mars would look like --
If it were somewhat terraformed.
CG: Exactly, and as great as that was, it was hours and hours of gameplay of red rock Mars. We didn't want to continue that visual palette. Going underground, we were able to look at things that could be, might be.
No one's ever been beneath the planet to say there's not lava, or ice in these areas. We started there, and said, "Let's have a journey of visual variety. Let's keep things interesting for the player so they aren't going through the same color palette."
Some of the lava caves and lava cities you're going to see in there, and ice caves, and natural rock… Visually, that's exciting because you come around the corner and you see some red glow on the wall and you've never been to a lava cave and you're like, "What the heck is that?" And it's this red glow, and you come in and there are these gorgeous looking lava waterfalls, stalactites, the rock formations have changed. That was a lot of fun.
Another thing is lighting; in Red Faction: Guerilla, we had one light source: the sun. In Red Faction: Armageddon, we literally have caves and missions that have over 4,000 dynamic, interactive lighting. One of the things that I'm proud of and like to give a shout out to -- imagine a building comes crumbling down in Red Faction: Armageddon, the lighting is dynamic and interactive.
If it had neon signs and stuff attached to it, as it comes crashing down, the lights go out -- they literally flicker, buzz, and go out. What that means is that you're shaping the world and light around you through destruction. You can take out almost every single building in a cave and almost go to that Hollywood night dark. We actually have flares and spotlights that are going to be able to be used to help the player through, or they can repair the structure.
When you're going from a standing building to destruction, how do you manage the polygon count? As you're destroying a lot of things, do you have to remove some stuff? You obviously can't have it littering the ground forever, either.
CG: Absolutely. What we do is first off, none of our polygons -- we have invisible shards that are in the buildings that don't get activated until destruction has happened, so we're able to keep around a really high-res version but not have to be at the cost of the shards. Once destruction enacts, we basically unhide all of the shards, and then the shards become -- you have to take into account how much memory, and framerate performance issues are happening.
We do have to be careful with shard size; we had it once where shard size was so dense you could write your name into the wall, and that made hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of polys, and you learn from that, and you go, "Okay! I can't do that. What can we do?" Then we have different shard sizes, so concrete will have a different size from fiberglass, so each of them are managed that way. After doing Guerilla, we really learned a lot, so a lot of that stuff is part of our production process.
Speaking of destruction limits, when you have four player mode, does that change things further?
CG: You definitely have to look at the single player experience as how much you can pack into an area as far as memory and framerate. When you get more people and simultaneous destruction, you do have to consider it, but I think when you see our multiplayer levels, I don't think there's that much of a visual difference, if any. They're still full of destruction and everything.
A lot of it has to do with visibility occlusion and how you lay the levels out, so you don't stream out areas you aren't seeing. That actually is a big thing for us. Not only do we go underground to bring everything in, but we can literally have a cave that has sixteen tunnels going off of it, which gives you all kinds of choices and places to explore. Because you're in a tunnel, we predictably know which direction the player is going, so we can stream out and stream in, and always have high quality visuals. I fact, that's given us almost linear game graphics in our game.
How do you control and QA the massive destruction stuff? Does it give you extra QA challenges there?
CG: Absolutely. Our guys do all kinds of crazy stuff to try to break things, or this polygon didn't disappear, or did disappear, or this whole area is stuck in the wall -- we'll go into it and find out it was world anchored but it shouldn't have been. World anchoring basically has to do with what stays around and what doesn't after destruction.
There's a ton of challenges. Everything has to be broken up and blown up in QA from every angle, with every weapon, in any instance -- you know, what happens if I run through it with the exoskeleton from this angle? What happens if I run through it and jump up? We get some crazy bugs that are hard to reproduce or ones that are head scratchers.