VIGS Technology: Adapting your pipeline to Multi Technology Platforms

24 May

May 23rd, 2008, by Adrian Audet

Wednesday afternoon provided a chance to discover and learn some of the technological challenges facing AAA title developers. The panel of industry veterans, comprised of Mark James, Senior Technical Director, Radical Entertainment, Jorge Freitas, Director, Technology, Propaganda Games, and Harold Chaput, representing on behalf of the absent Julian Walshaw-Vaughan, Group Technical Director, Soccer – FIFA franchise, EA. The panel was well prepared, as each member brought detailed slide presentations and plenty of answers for the crowd.

Moderating the panel was Mark James of Radical, who described the important factors to focus on with technical challenges. He pointed out several times that people are the most important part of tech development. When dealing with multiple platforms such as Xbox 360 and PS3 while developing a title, James emphasized the need to address your most difficult platform first, and optimize from that point onwards. He pointed out that often employees will use the software and tools that they feel most comfortable with by nature, and this is where the biggest problems can occur. He encouraged the audience to find creative ways to maintain efficiency and morale when asking a team to buckle down and handle truly difficult problems during development. He repeated that with so many people working on different parts, it’s vital to make sure everyone is constantly aware and feels accountable for finding solutions to the most difficult problems facing the entire team, not just the ones they are tasked with.

When Propaganda faced its first major title on a next gen platform with Turok, Jorge Freitas explained that a middleware solution, such as the Unreal 3 engine, and the help of Epic’s support team was the route they decided to follow. Freitas was open and candid about the many problems they constantly faced, learning as they went. He explained in detail how the team felt about the preferred 360 version versus the PS3 during development, citing the controls and online support as major factors in favor of the Xbox 360 and Xbox Live. The team decided to develop the PC and 360 versions first, and then port over to the PS3.

Harold Chaput of EA, described the game as the platform, and that a methodology of ‘Create once, use many’ was the plan from the start of development of FIFA 06, which was their first attempt at a multiplatform next gen release at the time. The team realized they needed multiprocessor power for all their plans, they carefully mapped out how the 360 and PS3 CPU usage was going to be used. Not wanting to reproduce content twice for both platforms, they focused on using the same code, art, and audio on both platforms. Chaput also underlined that this decision was to reduce costs, improve efficiency as well as maintain the quality between the two releases.

Although each presentation was scant on actual pipeline development details, the methodologies and insights were profound and resonated with the crowd. When the audience asked about trying to develop for all three platforms, Freitas replied, “A Technical Director’s nightmare is to have a producer come up to you and ask if we can develop on the Wii.” To which Chaput added, “Adding all platforms might not always be the solution for a title, as the target audience might not be that same.”

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