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Postmortem: Pixelogic's The Italian Job
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Postmortem: Pixelogic's The Italian Job

August 14, 2002 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

Pixelogic Games was founded in 1996 and have been developing successful Playstation Games for over 6 years. Under the management of Bryan Reynolds, Pixelogic has successfully designed and completed three original PSOne titles on time and within budget, our goal is to carry on creating many more great original 'AAA' games.

Armed with a cult film licence and knowing that The Italian Job (TIJ) already had a huge fan base which would mainly interest the general UK public, we could only hope we could produce a game that would not only do the film justice by not disappointing any fans and also come out with a game worth playing.

When developing any title, there are always tendencies to make the game-play too difficult & hardcore, but due to the nature of this title, a decision was made to go down the pick up & play route so the game was more accessible to a larger audience. There are so many serious driving games out on the shelves that cater for the hardcore racing fan; we wanted The Italian Job to be a driving game with a difference rather than just an all out racer.

What Went Right

1. The Getaway The most important part of the game had to be "The Getaway" sequence; to re-create all the stunts from the film was going to be our biggest challenge, the aging PSX is going to have to work overtime to display three detailed Minis, police cars, pedestrians, and general street furniture in a grid locked Turin.

Development of our in-house Continuous Ordered Scenery Streaming (COSS) technology enabled continuous loading of level data that allowed for huge playable cities for the player to freely drive around in. Getting this technology in place early on was a major factor on how the whole development of project would run and how the finished game would play. Once this technology was proven, the artists could then confidently begin to build the vast environments required such as London, Turin and "The Escape Route".

The design and planning that went into "The Escape Route" was probably the best design of all the levels. The art team had the job of re-creating Turin, they started by mapping out the general road layout before positioning all-important landmarks and escape route scenes from the film, then all the extra bits from the movie that were relevant were added and the art team tried to include all of them.

There were so many unknowns to deal with while implementing the actual mission as not everything can be totally designed within a document so one of our favourite techniques which we spend a lot of time on is to design, create and judge game-play 'on-the-fly' during development. Certain memorable scenes of the film would not have necessarily translated to good gameplay, the overall number of scenes in the film was vast and included hiding in car parks, outwitting police on rooftops, and driving down church steps. When analysing the actual film, these scenes of the escape had no connection to each other, it was just a series of stunts performed in minis edited together and most of the stunt sequences weren't even filmed in Turin. We had to fill in the gaps in-between each stunt and scene location to make the whole escape route work as one complete mission. Due to the length of the final route, our initial idea was to break it up into three sections but after more testing and prototyping it was decided that the player was going to have to drive the whole escape route in one sitting in order to recreate the heavy tension from the film of getting out of Turin in three Minis. Carefully positioned cameras were used to capture main action sequences and cinematic scenes while trying to keep it true to the style of the film; the pacing of the whole escape had to be right so numerous cameras were created, moved, removed, recreated and tweaked until the pace of the whole mission began to flow and the final gameplay began to feel like the movie.

Once the route was finalised, the next job was to populate it with a grid locked traffic jam. We ended up having to create a completely new level based on Turin with all the unused parts of the city removed since the amount of polygons onscreen was beginning to grind the game to a halt. As more objects were added, the escape route had to be constantly optimised right through to the end of the project to ensure a good frame rate.

The final Getaway mission consisted of over six minutes of constant gameplay full of real time camera cuts and it was worth all the hard effort; this was going to be our flagship mission so it had to impress. We knew that anyone who plays TIJ will be waiting to get to this famous chase sequence and we could not afford to disappoint, we all still enjoy playing this mission now which must mean something about the amount of effort and time that went into to producing it.

Scene from "The Getaway", the game's key mission.

2. Voiceovers. About halfway into the project, everything was beginning to come together; we were starting to have a good playable game on our hands and were ready to start implementing speech to set the scene for all the missions. Our publishers managed to get hold of Phil Cornwell who has a huge repertoire of impersonations under his belt, mainly know from "Stella Street", a popular comedy sketch series in the UK. Phil also does quite a good impression of the lead character 'Charlie Crocker' from the film. It was important that we had a decent voice for 'Charlie Crocker' as we knew fans of the film would have moaned if this voice was not right.

The voice scripts for the whole game were decided quite early within the initial design document by Bryan and myself and were only slightly reedited to fit into the finished missions. More importantly, Bryan went down to London's famous Air Studios for the voiceover recordings and since he wrote most of the scripts himself, he could therefore explain the context of the scripts and exactly how we intended the lines to be spoken. Also, the foresight on the day to include extra one-liners and generally allowing the voice actors to have a bit of fun and freedom while recording meant we ended up with more speech samples than we bargained for. Some heavy editing was required to fit over 400 long speech samples into memory with all the other general SFX. The extra resources inspired the designers to add extra speech to missions where appropriate and gave a more involving humour throughout game; Lorna chattering about her shopping in the "Mafia Mania" mission is a good example of this.

Scene from "Mafia Mania".

3. Where the crow flies. Our decision to guide the player by only giving them an arrow that pointed in the general direction of each mission goal was derived after much iteration.

Some people like to use maps and some don't and the inclusion of an onscreen map was thrown out due to several other reasons, we were already pushing the onscreen polygon count so it would have caused unwanted slowdown and after watching more and more people play games which included a map, we discovered they generally distracted the player from concentrating on their driving. We wanted to create an instant pick-up and play environment.

We also had grand ideas of subtly colour coding roads and buildings as you drove past but eventually introduced the current arrow system which pointed the player in the direction of 'where the crow flies' This arrow system seemed a bit too simple so we wanted to try and improve upon it and made the arrow point down each individual road, showing the shortest route to any given destination. This new arrow was in place for quite a few months and the game just didn't feel right. People complained about how linear it felt and even though time limits were quite generous and the arrow automatically adjusted if the player missed a turn, the player still thought they were playing the game wrong if they missed any of the turns. Our decision to return back to the original arrow design was the only way to go for the feeling of freedom and simpler game play - as long as we minimised and prevented those annoying moments where you ended up at dead end road, who needs a map or to be told exactly where to go? It may not have satisfied everyone's needs but it suited our style of gameplay and was well received by players.

4. Good marketing relations. It's so important to make sure that any product you work on is portrayed to the public in the correct way. Our publishers marketing department already had some knowledge of TIJ and most of them have watched the film, they just needed to be convinced about the game in development. We supplied them with hundreds of in-game screen shots, level data, art resources and early playable missions to project our vision of the finalised product. This proved to be a lengthy but worthy exercise as the more information and data that was sent to them during development, the more enthusiastic they became about the game and the better they did of marketing. This also worked the other way, as more decent press was released, the more it boosted the teams morale when the going got tough and added more pressure to produce a great game and live up to the expectations of previews and general press.

A marketing budget was put aside by our publishers which allowed for posters, t-shirts, key fobs, bags, and PR involving sweet talking journalists, etc which created enough hype that TIJ soon became one of the most anticipated games on the PSOne. Even young kids who knew nothing about the film were anticipating the game release, the only thing that could let it down now was a delay in development or a badly executed game on release.

One major market we had to satisfy was the mini owners community, this involved good research and even getting the thumbs up from the Mini Owners Club on final vehicle models and handling characteristics. One person even sent an email after our first screen shots were released stating that they were pleased to see that we had the correct number of spot lamps on the front of the minis.

5. Team dynamics. One of the main obstacles while developing any game is how the team works with each other, you can't allow any one individual get disheartened as it will begin to spread throughout the team and soon enough, morale will drop. There were a few lows during TIJ involving reiterating work and throwing a lot of it away, this is part of the development process and you can begin to lose sight of the main goal although ideally this should be avoided. Since the core members had a few years under their belts working together, we already knew the most basic thing we could do to prevent low morale was to back each other up, not to slag other peoples work off, find ways of making good out of the bad and generally use good communication skills to solve any problems. Unfortunately, not everyone has the ability to communicate sensibly but you can always fall back on keeping it professional while working. Importantly, and it is encouraged, especially with the newest members is to join in the out of work socials down the pub; here we can talk about things and discuss problems, a sort of group therapy session, some of our best design ideas come from a pub gathering. It became more and more important that everyone worked efficiently together or meeting milestones would require late nights, however we did hit all our deadlines except for a small accident in the later stages, which is explained later.

Our work ethics at Pixelogic is to get everyone involved where possible, all ideas are important, especially at the initial stages and as the project developed, people began to stay more within their own areas of expertise, it was good as we all respected each other opinions and working with talented hardworking individuals pushes you to do your best and more, this also has an impact on quality control.

Forging good relations with the publisher and having a project leader who backs you up when your work might not live up to specifications of the milestone agreement, which could be due to many different reasons such as unfinished technologies or other requirements were more important during that month, etc. The main objective was to avoid doing work for something which wasn't ready to be implemented, this is partly to blame on scheduling but you cannot foresee everything and some things in milestones will need reshuffling during the project, for example, do we need all the vehicles modelled before car handling is finished?

A breather space in the middle of the project was scheduled in, where we all sat back and analysed what we had achieved and what was the way forward, this proved to be extremely valuable as car handling and physics came across as the weakest link to gaining good game play and therefore an extra couple of months of programming time was arranged to correct this. The outcome of the new handling technology improved the game no end, we now could have highly customised handling characteristics, and all 14 vehicles that feature in the game realistically behaved differently to each other, which helped to mould the whole game.

Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

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