4. Getting used to the differences between the PSP and PS2.
When we first got wind of the upcoming PSP we became incredibly excited. A portable with the power of a PlayStation 2! Our initial assessment wasn’t quite accurate. The PSP is truly a remarkable device, but developing on it does come with a price.
First, never underestimate the value of a second thumbstick. Making 3D games in a third-person environment is very challenging if your ability to control the camera is limited. Many of us in console development don’t realize the effort that is required to implement a truly independent camera that doesn’t frustrate the player. We worked on this camera for months and came up with a system that works. There are definitely some areas that could have been better, but all in all it works quite well.
Another challenge when developing for the PSP is the slower-than-advertised CPU speed. Sony has finally unleashed the full power of the CPU in a recent update, but up until the last week of development on this game we were developing on the slower mode. A device that can render almost as much as a PS2, but doesn’t have the CPU power to back it up, is truly a nightmare. In the end, we were able to optimize the engine to great effect, but there were one or two slow areas we were still concerned about. Luckily the Sony update solved those problems for us! If only we had known about the CPU upgrade sooner, we could have populated the game even more than it is now.
The lack of hardware clipping is another issue that caused us numerous headaches over the course of development. While the PSP can really throw out a lot of polygons, we had to tessellate the world to a higher degree to solve clipping issues. This caused us to have more polygons than typically needed in many simple surfaces like floors and walls. We experimented with some software clipping solutions, but they took up too much processor time. On the plus side, the additional tessellation did help make our environments look great after being processed by our lighting solution.
5. Making the PSP our sole console for the game.
One of the main reasons we decided to make Fred exclusive to the PSP was that we were about to launch ourselves into the middleware market, including support for the PSP. It was also a strategic move to get our company over the hurdle that occurs every five years or so -- the changing console marketplace. For developers, bridging the gap from old consoles to new consoles is a very dangerous time. We thought it would help our company if we focused on the PSP since it was a new platform. We were right. It helped a lot. We promoted the tech at GDC that year and it got a lot of attention. We figured we were making the right choice.
Fred was to be our flagship title for the PSP -- proof of what our engine could do on the platform. This would have made a positive impact on our PSP engine sales if we would have launched Fred in a timely manner. We were supposed to ship the game in early Q1 of 2007, and of course that didn’t happen. (Actually, Fred’s delayed release could help its sales. We now have the potential to sell to the new PSP owners who have bought systems due to the price reduction, and those who are planning to buy the new PSP Slim & Lite.)
We also firmly believed in supporting the PSP market with a new intellectual property. Many of the PSP games on the market were ports from other systems, and they didn’t show off the system to its full potential. If more publishers took a chance early on, then the PSP software lineup would have been deeper and more impactful. Of course, it turned out that PSP didn’t make as big of an impact as everyone had hoped. It’s doing well... but the DS is doing better.
Looking back on it, it probably would have been a good idea to go multi-platform just for more exposure, sales potential and retail penetration. However, we ultimately don’t regret the decision. We have created a great, original game for the PSP and there aren’t too many developers that can say that. And, of course, thanks to our cross-platform technology, with a few months of work, Fred can make the jump to PS2 or even Xbox Live Arcade if D3 decides to go that route.
When all is said and done, our experiences with Fred were all good ones because we can learn from our mistakes and turn them into positives the next time around. There is a lot we can improve on when we start a new intellectual property -- procedures, attention to scope, nailing down the design early, and so on. Fred was a daunting task for us. It was a big game, an ambitious design, a new property and a new platform.
Even when things went wrong, we refused to give up on an idea that we firmly believed in. Game developers don’t get too many opportunities to develop a dream. Dead Head Fred was a blast to make. We just hope everyone enjoys playing it as much as we enjoyed creating it.
Developer: Vicious Cycle Software, Inc.
Publisher: D3Publisher of America
Release Date: August 28, 2007
Development time: 22 months
Number of full time developers at peak: 45
Software Used: Vicious Engine Editor, Photoshop, 3DS Max,
Collaborate (internal bug tracking software), Pro Tools, Sound Forge,
Infinity, Waves, GRM Tools, TL Space, Premiere, Visual Studio 2005,
Perforce, SNSystems ProDG
Technology: Vicious Engine
Lines of code: 300,000 lines of code
Lines of script: 669,837 lines of script