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Postmortem: HyperBole Studios' The X-Files
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Postmortem: HyperBole Studios' The X-Files

December 3, 1999 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 5 Next

What Went Right

1. QuickTime & FPQ

QuickTime is the most widely used method for video display on the PC and Macintosh, and for good reason. It is relatively flexible, reasonably well-documented, and Apple has done the most onerous coding for you. By using QuickTime we ensured the widest number of computers would be able to play the game video with minimal problems. Most importantly, using QuickTime allowed us to concentrate on core game engine and database issues, instead of spending precious resources trying to get the video to play or track down driver incompatibilities.

QuickTime was the playback format
of choice.

The same benefits were realized from using the FPQ video playback middleware from Pterodactyl Software: someone else stayed up late to get beyond the 16-bit video playback limitations of the Playstation. What we ended up with was simply stunning 24-bit full-screen video playback at single-speed compression, which allowed us to put 4 hours of gorgeous video on 4 discs, a significant feat for the Playstation.

In general, the technology decisions made by the developers were solid, and paid off well in generally trouble-free engine performance.

2. Professional Film Crew

The production professionals hired to shoot the film are the ones ultimately responsible for why the game looks as good as it does. A crew accustomed to high network standards will light, block and shoot a scene to those standards, and the results speak for themselves.

On the set, everyone held themselves to professional standards of behavior, and production followed accordingly. The shoot on the whole went smoothly, even with the added complexity of having a film crew that knew next to nothing about making interactive entertainment when they began. While their time was costly, there is no question that the investment paid off as it was intended to.

3. Strong Development Team Dynamics

The development team for this project came together exceptionally well. All concerned believed strongly in the idea of the game, and devoted themselves to doing their highest level of work. The team's standards of quality were very high, and no one was willing to settle for a hack when a real solution could be had in a reasonable time frame. Communication between team members and between departments was strong. Developers tried to anticipate problems before they arose and offer solutions, even in the darkest and most sleep-deprived hours.

There were a total of six programmers, three artists, and three editors at the height of development, each with varied backgrounds. Some had game experience, some did not, but all had a great enthusiasm for the project, and believed that we were working on something special.

4. Jettisoning Old Code

At a key juncture in the project, the team was faced with the difficult decision to throw out code that would present insurmountable problems in the future, but would basically invalidate a year's worth of development time. This was the code base created by a subcontractor who had come on to port the project to the Playstation. At this time, the PC/Mac version had already shipped, and members of that team had moved on to the port, and had discovered that the other side of the project was in a shambles.

The team did their best to develop with what they had inherited, but it quickly became clear that what had been produced wasn't tenable code. The engine was very unstable, and a close examination of the code revealed huge holes in the basic design assumptions that had been used. After much deliberation and verification that it was in fact unusable, the new team jettisoned the whole of the prior work, and started fresh.

In hindsight, this was the only reasonable choice. At several points in the development of the new port, it became clear that if we had used the existing engine we would have hit one impassable design wall after another. One of our developers said early on, "I've never regretted throwing away bad code," and that was certainly the case here.

5. The License

The X-Files is certainly a major phenomenon. It seems to be winding down, but in the summer of '98 it was huge. Participating in that sort of an immense event was both thrilling for the developers and beneficial for the product. A license like this doesn't come around often, and every member of the team, both at Fox and at HyperBole, did his or her best to use the hype to good advantage.

By good fortune, the PC/Mac version shipped just one month after The X-Files movie hit theaters. This turned out to be ideal, and it made the summer of 1998 an X-Files summer. We had also shown a viable demo at E3 that year, and arranging for Gillian Anderson to personally demonstrate the game at E3 was an unqualified hit. The next day, her face was on the cover of every newspaper in the country.

Not surprisingly, the game met with mixed reviews. Reviewers had a tendency to either love it or hate it, with very little middle ground. Even so, it sold well, and was on the top-10-bestseller lists in most territories it shipped to. Our strongest markets were Europe and Japan, where The X-Files is an even larger phenomenon than it is here in the states, reinforcing the power of the license.

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 5 Next

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