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Postmortem City: Uncharted 2 And Borderlands

GDC 2010, Day 3: Diversity Or Fragmentation?
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It’s always fun to sit in on game postmortems. You get a real glimpse under the hood of the “sausage factory,” and it’s always illuminating to see just how much clever and creative effort goes into making really good games.

Richard Lemarchand, the co-lead game designer of the blockbuster Playstation 3 title Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, walked the audience through the effort to make the game. The overall vision was to build a game that felt like a blockbuster summer action movie. If sales and critical acclaim are any indication, Lemarchand and the team at Naughty Dog succeeded.

One of the primary goals was to make the story character-driven, rather than plot-driven, something fairly unusual in these types of action games. The pre-production phase took about six months, ending in the final “macro design” for the game. While many game companies create a big bible for the game, commonly called a design document, the macro design is really just a spreadsheet--and not all that large a spreadsheet. The macro design contained overviews of levels, encounters, enemies, and characters.

One of the intriguing tech bits was the use of hand-optimized code for the Cell processor in the graphics engine. In fact, unlike many PS3 titles, Uncharted 2 uses the Cell SPUs for vertex and pixel processing, while other shaders would run on the Nvidia-designed RSX GPU.

The one feature that did rise up and bite them hard was the action set-pieces, which Naughty Dog tends to prefer over QTEs (quick time events) prevalent in similar games. These set-pieces would play out similarly, though with some variety each time, and create memorable encounters during the game. However, they consumed substantially more time and resources than initially allocated, resulting in a long period of heavy “crunch time” in order to ship the game.

Borderlands Art Direction Postmortem

The initial vision for Gearbox’s first person shooter-RPG hybrid was “Halo meets Diablo.” Set on the planet Pandora, Borderlands is mostly a first person shooter, but incorporates RPG elements through a combination of diverse skill trees for each character type, plus hundreds of thousands of procedurally created guns, each with different capabilities.

The game started out as a realistic looking, Gears-of-War style shooter--what Brian Martel of Gearbox liked to call the game’s “Brown Period.” The color brown not only reflected the look, which was similar to games like Gears of War and Fallout 3, but the approach to the game--an entertaining, but somewhat by-the-numbers shooter.

The problem was that the game felt good, the various game systems worked well, but the over-the-top action seemed a mismatch compared to the gritty, realistic look. So, the graphical design was changed. The change to the new look--a cel-shading over texture map appearance that gives the game a graphic novel feel--came nearly 3/4 through the schedule.

A major alteration like this would have derailed many games, but Gearbox’s artists and developers took to it like a duck to water. When the “brown look” was washed away, the level and game designers also felt freed up to do crazy stuff. For example, the soldier has a wacky power where if they shoot their friends, they heal them. A shotgun blast might do some healing, while a headshot with a sniper rifle might restore all of their hit points. Animations, particularly death animations, are now over the top, with graphic gib effects, not to mention sometimes melting into a puddle of goo. Odd weapons, like the psycho’s “extreme pizza cutter of death” also emerged.

As one of the Gearbox artists noted, the change in art style not only made the game stand out from a crowd of gritty, realistic titles, but also allowed them to “break our plausibility shackles.”

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Top Comments
  • 18 Hide
    aethm , March 15, 2010 1:28 AM
    Please no more Farmville... I get 20 requests a day as it is!
Other Comments
  • 18 Hide
    aethm , March 15, 2010 1:28 AM
    Please no more Farmville... I get 20 requests a day as it is!
  • 5 Hide
    requiemsallure , March 15, 2010 1:28 AM
    Im interested to find out more about CIV V
  • -1 Hide
    stridervm , March 15, 2010 2:10 AM
    Civilization Network could work with me, if it works like Tetris Online, the one with real multiplayer. =)
  • 5 Hide
    dco , March 15, 2010 2:39 AM
    Quote:
    DirectX 11 will be a big benefit for users, even if they don’t have DX11 capable hardware.


    But if you don't have dx11 hardware how can you make use of it??
  • 3 Hide
    requiemsallure , March 15, 2010 3:28 AM
    Quote:
    Quote:
    DirectX 11 will be a big benefit for users, even if they don’t have DX11 capable hardware.


    But if you don't have dx11 hardware how can you make use of it??


    because it will add useless data to their HDD :p 

    in all honesty that's a good question.
  • 3 Hide
    Kelavarus , March 15, 2010 3:34 AM
    Basically Sid Meier says people are idiots, and don't understand ratios.

    Haha. Nice.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , March 15, 2010 4:11 AM
    I think it is possible to use the DX 11 API but still make your code backward compatible with older cards; just means older cards won't use some of the features you programed in.


    I am a bit surprised though that one could code using DX 11 API and still be backward compatible, considering the tessellation requirement. Either Microsoft did a very good job with the API, the game developers need to do a lot of work to make it backward compatible, or I am wrong and it cannot be backwards compatible.
  • 0 Hide
    Shin-san , March 15, 2010 4:31 AM
    dcoBut if you don't have dx11 hardware how can you make use of it??

    DirectX 11 has enhanced multithreading support, meaning it depends more on your CPU.
  • 1 Hide
    kokin , March 15, 2010 9:55 AM
    Some DX11 features were already on GPUs prior to the 5000series/GTX400 (notably ATI cards), like tessalation. They were not utilized, but the features were developed and implemented years ago.

    Anyone playing the new Borderlands DLC? Those assassin chicks are kicking my ass.
  • 0 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , March 15, 2010 1:17 PM
    aethmPlease no more Farmville... I get 20 requests a day as it is!

    just block the app! click the farmville name (instead of rejecting or accepting) - click the name again - in the left upper corner click 'block this application'
  • 3 Hide
    TheGreatGrapeApe , March 15, 2010 1:48 PM
    Quote:
    Quote:
    DirectX 11 will be a big benefit for users, even if they don’t have DX11 capable hardware.


    But if you don't have dx11 hardware how can you make use of it??


    Because they are talking about the API as a whole, not just the D3D 11 chunk of DX11, and it's not limited to just the latest hardware. It adds and drops support for features on older hardware to improve the overall interface command & control.

    They added legacy support for DX9 and DX10 hardware by updating some methods, and most importantly also better threading support as mentioned by Shin-san.
  • 7 Hide
    greeve , March 15, 2010 2:25 PM
    If farmville is the future of gaming well then i quit
  • 2 Hide
    MxM , March 15, 2010 2:59 PM
    "Basically Sid Meier says people are idiots, and don't understand ratios."

    No, he said that our intuition about what numbers represent is different from simple ratio. Who said in the first place that combat is more likely to be represented as ratio in our mind? It is probably some other mathematical relationship than dimple ratio, as Sid has found.

    And yes, it does feel that 200 to 100 should win with higher probability than 2 to 1, because mentally you think about 200 people versus 100 people, and while there could be a single guy who takes two just by chance, at larger numbers it should average out.
  • 1 Hide
    Bolbi , March 15, 2010 10:36 PM
    So, will Civ5 be able to take full advantage of DX11? (I hope so!) I currently play Civ4 and really like it. I'll have to read the reviews once Civ5 comes out, but so far the changes sound great.
  • 1 Hide
    requiemsallure , March 16, 2010 3:59 AM
    they need to do something about the 20 archers being able to take out a tank thing... that is a little strange.