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Postmortem: Saber Interactive's TimeShift
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Postmortem: Saber Interactive's TimeShift

April 4, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 8 Next

2. Thinking Big. It was in September of 2006 when Sierra made the decision to give the project an extra year. Everyone at Saber was in a state of shock from the decision. At the time, the game was nearly done, and it was looking really good.

We took it through two QA passes at Microsoft and were down to seven open bugs -- that was all that we had to do to get the game on the shelves. We were at the end of a long marathon of sleepless nights, everyone was tired, the finish line was so close... and bam!, here comes the extension. We all had to take a deep breath and gear up for another long year.

After having some time to reflect, we realized we were given a rare opportunity to really take the game to the next level of quality and polish, as well as to put it out on another major SKU, PlayStation 3.

Of course, as a young independent developer it is important to prove that you can deliver a game on time (which we had) and to get the game out on the shelves, but in the overall scheme of things, the ability to put the game on the PS3 and to improve the overall quality across all platforms outweighed the delay in shipping the game.

The primary question posed by the extension was what to do to stay competitive in this crowded genre a year later. We were very fortunate that we had visionary people on the team who could think big.

In the course of a year, the entire rendering engine was redone by Anton Krupkin, Denis Sladkov, and our rendering team, adding a large number of cutting-edge features such as dynamic shadow maps and a sophisticated material system. Our lead animators Alexander Myala and Sergey Boginsky traveled to LA to House of Moves and replaced thousands of hand-animations with mocapped ones.

The story was rewritten by Michael Hall -- a professional writer with Hollywood credentials. Rewriting the story obviously required redoing all the VOs (therefore the lines recorded by Nick Chinlund and Dennis Quaid were gone), FMVs and localization assets. Our HUD and menus were redesigned from scratch.

Our multiplayer team led by Stas Zainchkovskiy completely rewrote our networking system coming up with a state-of-the-art client-server / peer-to-peer engine; Pavel Rusin (a member of Russian Unreal II pro team turned pro programmer) spent the year balancing and tweaking multiplayer gameplay code.

The art and scripting teams led by Dmitry Kholodov and Sergey Larionov completely redid the beginning and ending of the game, meticulously recreating the atmosphere of Krone Era (needless to say, all characters, weapons and vehicles were redone as well).

Finally, Anton Lomakin, our SFX Guru, came up with some amazing rain effects which were highly praised by the gaming press -- imagine stopping time and seeing individual rain droplets frozen in mid-air, complete with distortion and refraction effects. This is something that was never done before.

This effort paid off well. By the time we shipped, TimeShift did not feel like a game with a "facelift" -- it was an entirely new game. The public's reaction to the new TimeShift was extremely positive.

3. Scheduling. Sierra fully embraced the changes we suggested during the planning phase and they were very supportive of us. However, we knew that even though the game was becoming much better, we still needed to hit a Fall 2007 release date, on all three SKUs. Missing holiday sales simply wasn't an option.

A full year of extension seems like a lot of time in the planning stages. However, we quickly realized that if we wanted to ship a stable quality product we needed to hit Alpha by March 2007, and Beta by June. All said and done, we only had a few months to do a near-complete overhaul of the product.

We all felt fairly confident we could hit our dates on the Xbox 360 and PC, but whether or not the PS3 version would be on time remained a question. We got our first kits around November 2006, and we had a relatively slow start.

It took us about three months just to set up the hardware, compile the code on a new compiler, master the dev tools and render the first polygon. However, we realized that releasing TimeShift on PS3 in 2007 was a great opportunity, so we kept adding more senior engineering resources onto it. The challenge was that the PS3 version of the game was not a port -- all three SKUs were being developed at the same time, with new assets and technologies coming online as the PS3 engine matured. Things were moving, but moving slowly.

In early June, at a meeting in our St. Petersburg offices with Sierra's senior management, we were asked to give the probability of us hitting on time on different SKUs. The Xbox 360 and PC were estimated at 90%, but we could not give the PS3 version more than a 60% chance. We had a host of technical issues to resolve with the SKU, ranging from fitting into memory, performance, and technical requirements (TRCs).

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 8 Next

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