A screenshot from the leaked video. The image quality is not indicative of our current visual fidelity.
A piece of our “next gen” video from the game has been leaked! This means that anyone who’s been waiting for a chance can finally see at least a fragment of what we’re doing and judge whether it’s worthwhile keeping an eye on us or not. To pre-empt any rumours and misinterpretations of this tiny bit of the environment on show, taken out of the context of an hour-long presentation at a game industry conference, it’s best to clarify just what’s going on here and how our game is looking, and to recapitulate on the development so far, which I wanted to do anyway. So here we go.
Last weekend there was a small gaming conference for developers and students in Prague, Czech Republic, where we have our HQ. Alongside colleagues from 2K Czech, Disney, CD Projekt RED, Cauldron and others, we were also amongst the speakers and we had a whole five presentations on the agenda. The Czech game scene is small and development needs support, so we took it from the ground up and described the work on all aspects of a modern game from a purely practical perspective. I gave a talk on game design and tried to describe as accurately as possible how it proceeds. So as not to just blandly theorize, I showed our design documents. Viktor Bocan followed up with a description of how the game design is brought to life by means of the script and Roman Zawada, our main technical graphic designer, demonstrated how the stuff that has been designed is fleshed out in the form of 3D graphics, which he illustrated using the very piece of terrain that was leaked in the video. Michal Hapala, one of our programmers, then described the work of the programmers with a licensed engine and showed everything we were customizing for our game (and there’s lots), while Martin Klíma described how we function on an organizational level.
The author, talking about the lengths a designer has to go to in order to get experience he needs.
The video clip, which you can find on the internet and which, to our great (and pleasant) surprise, has attracted an unexpected amount of attention worldwide, is not in reality a demonstration of next gen graphics so much as a typical workup of the model in a quality sufficient for our game (and yes, our game is supposed to run on next gen consoles as well). This is more or less what a 200x200 metre area of the story’s several square kilometre setting might look like. It’s in no way all we’ve got, it doesn’t have the final lighting and there are no effects in it. It’s simply an example of the environment. All of this was said in the presentation.
To call it ‘next gen’ is also somewhat misleading, considering that we showed it on a two-year-old laptop with a mobile GeForce 555M, which is not exactly state-of-the-art PC or next gen Xbox. Obviously, the machine wouldn’t have fared so well with the whole several square kilometre terrain we have, especially if it had to run the game itself, AI and the full world simulation and not just a preview in the editor. However, the game runs fairly OK on present day average PCs, and we haven’t yet even started seriously optimizing.
Our next-gen hardware.
WHAT IS NEXT GEN?
A whole series of interesting contributions started to appear under the clip about whether or not it what it showed was next gen and in general about to expect from next gen hardware. Leaving aside the fact that our video was not at all originally intended officially to support the claim that “this is what next gen should look like” and given that a blurry, shaky cam is not much of a basis for judging the fine detail of next gen graphics, I feel I should throw a little light on the issue.
There are certainly lots of games that look great today. For example, The Last of Us and other contemporary games have superb figures that leave very little room for improvement, while other games have great interiors with fantastic lighting and detail. Will next gen games look substantially better? Well, that depends on how you look at it. It’s a little unfair to compare a figure from a linear shooter with a few levels to a character from an open world game wearing several layers of clothing he can change at will, who is animated in real time and who moves around the scene with another fifty similar characters. The Assassins Creed III characters look worse on the same Xbox than those in The Last of Us, with, however, the “minor” difference that in Assassins Creed (and Hitman Absolution) there are dozens of such characters in view at any given time, while in TLOU there are five. We can deduce from this that in next gen hardware the characters will look like the best of the current generation, but in much greater numbers on the screen at the same time.
The same applies to the world. It’s easy to create for PS3 a beautifully lit, highly detailed location, as long as I know that nothing can be done with the lights, nothing can be moved and there will only be two characters moving around the scene. Of course, if I want to do a game that looks the same, but where the lights are real time, everything can be smashed and there's dozens of people milling around the scene, then I'll probably need PS4 (and even then some bright spark will come along and say the game XYZ looked better on PS2)
Our goal, then, was not to show how our game looks just now – for that we’d have shown something quite different (we certainly have plenty to choose from) and instead of the editor we'd have shown the actual game and not just the graphics taken out of context, because the game is now playable, has a GUI, animations and the foundations of all the main playing mechanisims. But we don’t want to show it yet, because it would be very premature.
In any case, more than a year after establishment of the studio it’s worth recapitulating a little what we’ve been up to so far for everyone interested in knowing what a demanding, time-consuming process developing a triple A game is.
In August 2011 we started with nine people. Since then, the studio has grown to a stable of 24, plus several external collaborators. For the first few months we were dealing with technology. We evaluated practically all the engines available at the moment, as well as a whole series of middleware technologies, and in the end we selected CryEngine 3 as the best candidate.
After that, for a relatively long time everything was settling down and people were getting used to each other. We sorted out the best work methods etc. A few people had to leave us during this time, or chose to, because it wasn't working out between us, but others came to reinforce the ranks.
At the outset we were a bit crestfallen at how slowly the graphics were progressing, but now it’s turned around and we have a whole city and a huge chunk of landscape done, more than I had anticipated right at the beginning, and I must say it looks pretty good. Obviously, not everything is yet optimized and there’s a whole bunch of interiors still wanting. Nevertheless, in comparison with the “average RPG”, on which dozens of graphic artists work, it’s a worthy feat.
We developed a number of the complicated game systems needed for creating an RPG. Our combat, dialog and dressing systems are truly unique and I’m duly proud of them. Lots of other, smaller systems are slowly starting to function, too (I have to admit I’m clueless about the purpose of some of them). We’re also finalizing one of many minigames). All of it for the time being is still in a more-or-less sketchy state and we’re putting together at this point the first sample quest script, which is proving a relatively complicated birth.
In October we also mo-capped some experienced fencers (who even have a few Hollywood movies under their belts) for combat and for all NPCs in the first quest. We also recorded all the dubbing in Shakespearean English and facial animation (more on that later), so we’re putting the first animated scenes and branched dialogues into the game.
A photo from the motion capture session with our fencers.
Many people might be surprised that I still haven’t written a full story, only a rough outline, which I am still working on and which I am going over with a number of distinguished historians and experts on the period in question. That’s because from the outset we’ve been focusing mainly on the creation of design documentation for the rest of it and the compilation of comprehensive rules for the game, from which we subsequently have to extract the story, while making use of the rules. All the design documents at the moment amount to more than 400 pages and we still have a few things to work out.
What is possibly more important is the fact that with all that’s going on we’re still more-or-less keeping up with the original, albeit slightly tweaked, plan and even managing to stick to the set budget, even though not everything has gone quite the way we imagined.
All of that is peachy, of course, but the truth still remains that our fate, like that of all start-ups and creative firms, is absolutely dependent on the reactions of our potential partners (and the reaction of our investor to them), i.e. whether someone has the same taste as we do. So we’re still taking a very clear-headed approach. There’s no such thing as certaintity in this field.
So right now we’re fine-tuning our prototype, which we’re planning to show very soon to our potential partners. At that moment, ourt future will be decided upon and the future of our/your game will depend on the results of these presentations.
One more comment to wind up. It’s quite clear to me that most of you who are following us are bursting with impatience waiting for us to finally release more information. Maybe the unofficial video will give you all at least a little satisfaction and point your expectations in the right direction. Believe me, I'm not happy about this secrecy either, because writing about something when I can’t even say what it is leaves a lot to be desired. Unfortunately, though, there’s no way round it. Given the stage of development, we’re already releasing more information about it than is customary. That’s because we decided to go a completely different route than Brian Fargo or Chris Roberts, who get money on the basis of an announcement and then “don’t need” any more publicity or money and can keep the fans up to date. We’re not looking for development money (for now) and so it wouldn't be too smart to shoot off all our ammo prematurely (and lose the moment of surprise of presenting something new). If things go the way we imagine them, then we can maybe announce our game in the first half of next year. Maybe.
Dan Vavra, Creative Director