SIN is an original first-person shooter based on the Quake II engine with enhancements. Our previous effort here at Ritual Entertainment had been the highly acclaimed Quake Mission Pack #1 – Scourge of Armagon. SIN’s story was developed during the completion of the Scourge of Armagon, and the main level design started in earnest immediately after the release of the mission pack.
SIN’s focus was on its story and characters; we wanted to breathe new life into the first-person genre. Instead of being a mindless shooter that simply progresses from level to level, Sin has interactivity beyond that of many shooters. One of our primary design goals was to implement Action-Based Outcomes (ABOs), meaning that a player’s actions on certain levels will have an effect in later levels. From the outset, we decided to license the Quake engine and get started right away, and later integrate the Quake II source code to gain the benefits that it brought.
We displayed the initial prototype of SIN at the 1997 E3 in Atlanta, Georgia. The demo showed off the Geothermal Plant level, some of the original weapons, and the original monster design. We proceeded to flesh out the game design by describing all of the locations that the SIN world would encompass. Sin’s initial design featured over 40 levels, 31 of which made it into the final game.
SIN’s interactivity and ABOs represented a big part of the development effort. We spent a total of about three weeks behind closed doors just brainstorming each level’s interactive features — features that had essentially no effect on the game’s final outcome. We would play through a single level in the morning, then after lunch we’d bombard the level designer with ideas for making the level in question more interactive. Once, while playing through the bank level over and over, someone came up with the idea of placing an ATM machine in the level where players could access certain character’s accounts. This detail turned out to be one of the most notable things in the game. We also discussed the possibility of blowing up the dam level, but in the end we scrapped the idea due to the amount of extra work we would have to do to get the level to look right. We also spent about four hours hammering out how SIN was going to end. These meetings were no holds barred, and we had to be careful not to stomp all over other people’s work.
We had completed most of the initial level design by December 1997. With the game’s design fully realized, we began to add the major content. Then all hell broke loose — we got the Quake II source code. So, with the source in hand, we began to rewrite of the game. We didn’t really intend to rewrite the game, it just sort of happened. The Quake II engine’s new capabilities and features allowed us to add lots of new ideas. Our animation system with bones and nodes allowed us to attach any weapon or object to any character. This feature let us have many different grunts/soldiers by attaching different weapons to the same model. The surface system that we added let us have context-specific footsteps and ricochet sounds depending on the material types. We also added an interactive music system that changed moods during action segments of the game.
Finally, our scripting system let us add some internally developed features fairly late in the development cycle. A level designer might, for instance, need a special command to perform a particular type of interactive element in his level. Because it was so easy to add commands to the scripting language, the programmer would usually oblige. We added two to three commands to the scripting language daily. In the end, we had over 400 script commands total. So, while we did experience some feature creep, and though these last minute details did push our release date back even farther, we were able to add a lot of detail near the end of SIN’s development cycle.
For about three months before the release, deathmatch tuning took place about two nights a week. We would play the most recently created level, and then the e-mail flood would begin. Change this, change that, and so on…. During the final weeks before the game’s release, we’d spend about 12 hours a day working on single-player functionality, and about 3 hours a day on multiplayer. Once multiplayer functionality was to our liking, we froze it. We didn’t change a single bit of multiplayer during the last couple of weeks. We did keep playing it to make sure that anything we did for the single-player portion didn’t break any of the multiplayer stuff.