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Postmortem: Insomniac's Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction
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Postmortem: Insomniac's Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction


December 22, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 4 Next
 

4. Lessons from the past.

One of the biggest aids to RCF production was the experience gained on Resistance. We were now working on a second-generation PS3 title, and we benefited greatly from working on a game engine that survived the rigors of launch title production. Meanwhile, our technology continued to develop.

RCF included a new form of texture streaming that allowed us to add great variety and lushness to our surfaces and further optimizations meant we could target 60 frames per second instead of 30.

By shipping a game on PS3 we proved to ourselves we could do it successfully and gained the kind of understanding that only comes by doing. We did not know everything to expect, but we had a good head start.

5. First party relationship.

Another big help was our "first party" developer/producer relationship with Sony. On all fronts we received support that was immeasurable. At a time when PS3 development kits were scarce, we had 150 of them in our studio. Sony Europe and Japan provided localization support for 13 languages, and our game was tested throughout America, Europe, and Asia.

Creating a basic structure and organization of RCF's development didn't require any rocket science -- though there's plenty of it in our code base.

The most important lesson we learned was that using the above measures helped put our team in a position where we could succeed on a very ambitious production. Once we realized this, we believed that we would succeed, and achievement no longer became an assignment. It became our expectation.

What Went Wrong

1. New-gen scale.

In general, we were unprepared for the natural challenges that came with working on a new-generation title, even during pre-production. Everything seemed to take longer than we wanted it to, and making changes was not as simple as it had once been.

Establishing a design for Ratchet proved especially challenging as we considered redefining the character. He went through numerous iterations before we felt we got him right (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: Early character studies for a next-generation Ratchet.

At the same time, we were still months away from the PS3 hardware launch, so technical stability was inconsistent at best. With these problems and the resulting lack of in-game feedback, it was especially difficult to lay out level designs.

Progress was slow, but we were still making some. By the end of preproduction we had one semi-complete level that was functional but not very stable. This would eventually become "Kerchu City" (see Figure 4).

Figure 4: Kerchu City as it appeared at the end of preproduction, fall 2006.

In addition to a level, we gained our first production experience that enabled us (or so we thought) to look at our overall macro design to determine if we had enough time and resources to complete it. We did not.

At the end of preproduction RCF's design called for 25 unique planets, 5 space combat missions, 1 hour of cinematic cut scenes, a hazily-defined co-op mode, and an even more ambiguous online component.

We wanted the game experience to last about 15 hours -- and we achieved this -- but the final scope of our game was 16 planets, 3 space combat missions, 45 minutes of cinematic animation, and single player mode only.

When we scaled back, it was not a popular decision but it represented a turning point in the project. We now had a design that the production team felt was achievable (though still ambitious), and we had removed content from the game before it ever went into production. Nothing was "cut," and during actual production no work was ever discarded.

We had spent almost one year piecing together a single level of our game. With less than a year to go, and 18 levels left to create, we remained optimistic because we now had a plan that we believed in.

2. Launch titles are not production benchmarks.

As noted above, our knowledge gained from building a preproduction level and shipping Resistance was an invaluable aid to our planning process. Without this data many of our production estimates would have been way off. What we failed to realize, and what hurt us at the end, was our lack of understanding in terms of what it took to finish a game of this scope.

Our launch title experience did not (and could not) provide measurable production benchmarks. It was a sprint to the very end and involved many unknown variables. There really was not a true post production period as Resistance development continued right up to its launch.

Working on a simulated level during preproduction was also inaccurate since we did not account for many of the issues that need to be dealt with when shipping a real game (such as memory and frame rate optimizations, obscure crash bugs, and localization errors).

We gave ourselves eight weeks from our project alpha date to "polish" our game and get it out the door. This was the same amount of time used on our PS2 titles, which had been loosely based on our PS1 model. Needless to say, it got a little crazy at the end of the project, and we've learned to add additional post production time to our future efforts.


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