Entries in Dev Life (21)


The long days of summer

Wow.  I just realized it's been months since we posted anything up here in the old Vector Unit blog.  Sorry for the extended downtime -- we've been craaaazzzy busy.

What have we been busy with?

Well there's Riptide GP for one.  We haven't really made any official announcements, but I don't think it's any surprise at this point that Riptide GP is on its way to iPhone, iPad, and non-Tegra Android phones and tablets.  We've been hard at work porting the game over and testing it to make sure the game is as fast and fun as possible on a whole range of new devices.  

We've also been working on a brand new game which we're really excited about.  I won't say too much about it, except that it involves water.  And moonshine.  And chickens.  Stay tuned for an announcement sometime in October.

OK well that's enough time in the blogosphere.  Gotta get back to work!  


The tech behind Riptide GP

You would think that converting a current-gen console game engine to a phone would be a daunting task.  I’m happy to report that this is not the case!  This year’s crop of smartphones with their multiple CPU cores and competent GPUs are definitely up to the task.

When we started developing Riptide GP for Tegra 2, we had certain expectations of the performance we could squeeze out of these devices.  The GPU (graphics) more or less met our expectations, so we were able to hit our graphics quality and rendering performance targets by optimizing the fragment shaders and doing more work per vertex.  However, we were completely blown away by the CPU (computation).  The dual-core ARM Coretex A9 is an amazing piece of silicon.  What’s running in Riptide GP is the same underlying water simulation that powered our previous game on the Xbox 360!

Besides our internal tech there are three key components that made Riptide GP possible:  The Android NDK, Bullet Physics, and FMOD Sound System.  The NDK allows us to write native C++ code which is then optimized for the ARM architecture.  Bullet Physics, which we use for collision detection and rigid body simulation, just worked out of the box.  FMOD Sound System released an Android version of their SDK just in time, which has been working flawlessly since the first release.



An embarrassment of riches

One of the great things about being a game developer, is people send you free hardware -- game consoles, dev kits, phones, tablets -- to work with, so you get to try out all the latest cool devices.

The most recent addition to our small but growing collection of Tegra2 stuff is 4 brand new, shiny LG G2X phones, courtesy of the good people at T-Mobile.  We're not actually holding on to these:  We're pre-installing copies of Riptide GP, and loaning them out to game review sites that don't have Tegra2 devices to play the game on.

Even though these are just passing through, I couldn't resist taking a picture of these four awesome phones, all charged up and running Riptide GP in parallel.  As I said, we've had the opportunity to try a lot of Tegra2 hardware, and although they each have their relative strengths, the G2X is one of our favorites.  It's a good size, it's nice and light, and like all Tegra2 phones it's awesome for games.

If only I could keep one for myself ... :-)



Ahh, Memorial Day weekend is here, the sun is FINALLY shining, and Riptide GP is out there in the Android Market doing it's thing.

We started work on RGP right at the start of January, and finished it in about four and a half months.  That's pretty quick for a game of this type -- by comparison, Hydro Thunder Hurricane took us about a year to finish, not counting the initial prototype.  

Riptide was definitely a push.  We put in some long hours and weekends.  But it seemed to go pretty fast.  We were totally excited about the idea the whole time we were working on it, and the long hours went by in a blur, because we were working hard to make the game better, trying to squeeze in as much polish as we could in the time we had.  It's a lot easier to work hard when you're pumped on what you're doing, instead of working hard just to barely scrape by.

When we started, the goal was to basically just create a super simple water racing game that would show off the graphical power of the Tegra 2 hardware.  But as we got more into it, we decided to add additional features:  the Championship mode, the reverse tracks, all the OpenFeint stuff.  

The whole stunt/boost mechanic got added on a whim in a couple of days right around GDC.  The game was pretty fun at that point but it needed something more, and we figured as long as we have the characters on those hydro jets, we might as well do something interesting with them.  As soon as we got them in there, with the swipe gestures, we knew it had to be a part of the game.

So now it's done and people seem to be enjoying it, and that feels really, really good.  Now we have a chance to take a breath and figure out what comes next.  I took a short vacation last week to NYC, and Ralf is going to sunny Mexico next week for some well deserved margarita therapy.

As for what comes next...... well, we have some ideas.  In fact one idea in particular that we're pretty excited about.  But that's for another post.


The 5 most literate video games

Yesterday I spoke to a group of English undergrads at UC Berkeley about my career in video games, about the (sometimes unexpected) ways in which my English degree has helped me in the industry.

One of the great questions that came up during the Q&A afterwards was, "If you were going to teach an English class on video games, what 5 games would be in your syllabus?"

The thing I like about this question is that, although I've spent lots of time thinking about my favorite games from a gameplay standpoint, I haven't really thought that deeply about which were my favorite from a literary standpoint.  Which ones told the best stories or had the best writing?  Which stretched our ideas of how interactive storytelling might differ from written storytelling?

Unfortunately because I hadn't previously thought about games this way I kind of whiffed on the answer and only came up with two:  Valve's Portal and Infocom's Planetfall.  Well I've thought about it some more now, and here's what I would have answered:

Planetfall (Infocom)

As text adventures go this wasn't necessarily the best-written or the cleverest.  But I love it still for the way it blended comedy with a sense of isolation, and particularly the manner in which it drove both of those home in the character of Floyd, the service robot who befriends and ultimately gives his "life" so your character can survive.  

Halflife (Valve)

All of the Halflife games are great, but I'd probably pick the first one for the fact that it broke new ground in immersive storytelling.  Who knew you could tell a compelling story in the midst of a fluid and exciting action-game experience without taking a player out of that experience with lame non-interactive cut-scenes and cinematics?

Portal (Valve)

Maybe it's not cool to have two games by the same company in the top five, but Portal really took the immersive storytelling pioneered in Halflife to the next level.  As you first begin to play through the inventive puzzles in Portal you almost don't even realize there's a narrative at all, but Valve reveals a rich backstory and, in GLaDOS, one of the most complex, funny and terrifying characters ever imagined in any medium.

Shadow of the Colossus (Team Ico)

I actually liked Ico better than SotC, but I think SotC tells a more compelling story.  As you seek out and methodically destroy the enigmatic Colossi, your relationship to them evolves in surprising ways.  At first it feels heroic and exciting.  But as one Colossus after another collapses and falls under your sword, you begin to wonder -- why am I doing this?  What did these things ever do to me?  Who's really the victim?  Best of all, the game never provides a tidy explanation at the end, leaving it to you to work out the answers to these questions for yourself.

Grim Fandango (Lucas Arts)

I'd have to include one game written by Tim Schafer, because I think he's pretty much the single best writer working in the game industry.   On one level Grim Fandango is no more literate than a 50's pulp detective novel.  But the way it stretches those pulp conventions with tight storytelling, clever dialog, memorable characters, and of course the surprising and delightful mashup of genre fiction and Mexican Day of the Dead iconography makes this game hold up even after all these years.


Honestly I'm still not completely satisfied with this list.   There are dozens of games I thought about including and didn't -- Bioshock, the Fallout series, LimboIndigo Prophecy... I really wanted to include one of the GTA series, because the quality of Rockstar's storytelling and dialog often surprises people who just think of them as violent panderers.  And there are probably a dozen more games that should be in here that are slipping my mind.

Ah well.  Consider it a work in progress.