BioWare @ IGDA Montreal

A week on Wednesday two of Edmonton’s finest, Dusty and Corey, will be flying into town to give an updated version of their GDC talk on our production process, part of which uses one of the cutscenes we did here in Montreal last year to help illustrate the various stages of iteration in our levels’ development.

Above is the poster I drew up for the event using the IGDA template, (click for the hi-res), exclusively featuring the first actual screenshot of the game released to the public. If you’re in Montreal on the 20th why not drop by and make a night of it – details in the poster.

Mario’s Planet?

I finally concede defeat – I’ve played a Wii game that isn’t shit. Despite being a huge fan of the Zelda series, I found even the Wii launch title Zelda to fall flat on its face after just an hour’s play and has never been touched since. I did, however, receive a copy of Mario Galaxy for Christmas this year and actually found myself laughing while playing. On reflection though this wasn’t because of enjoyment of the game, which is fun in an old-fashioned, time-killing kind of way, but instead an appreciation of Nintendo’s genius behind such a no-risk design.

Mario Galaxy

In the game, each and every level merely consists of a connected series of “planets”, (or rather floating platforms tethered together by splines on which Mario can travel). These planets feel like a series of unrelated test-levels where the designers were free to come up with various unique gameplay mechanics that would never have any adverse effect on each other. A safe, non-cohesive progression like this must have allowed for great experimentation at the Kyoto-based developer without fear of a quota of levels to hit. I imagine a minimum of 100 stars was laid down and 10 times that many were created, with only the best retained in the final game.

The non-linear order of level completion is unhindered by something so complex as a story, and as such the designers were free to create a game where good old-fashioned gameplay and fun take precedence over innovation. I’ve spoken to several colleagues that hail Call of Duty 4’s often one-time uses of game mechanics, with the downside only being game-length, (as re-use is a given standard in game design), but I imagine Infinity Ward were not afforded the same freedom as Nintendo due to the necessity for a cohesive linear narrative.

The reason I write this is that, while clever, it seems that every new challenge we face in bringing gaming to a more mature level is all but undermined by Nintendo. From consoles aimed squarely at children and non-gamers to consistently immature games sporting vacuous subject matter that conform to many a critic’s interpretation – is this really where games should be going?

Basics: Flashback Case Study

Developed by the late French developer Delphine Software, this spiritual successor (not a sequel) to their 1991 hit Out of This World (Another World in PAL territories) was initially released on the Commodore Amiga in 1992, and for DOS and the 16-Bit era consoles a year later.

You guide amnesiac Conrad B. Hart in his quest to escape the planet Titan, and later foil the plans of an alien race plotting the destruction of humanity. Like Out of This World, this is achieved by navigating obstacles and puzzles via some very realistic and fluid rotoscoped animation, using polygons rather than the sprite method of the day for memory efficiency due to the sheer number of frames required for the fluid motion.

Flashback Title

The reason the alsoran would like to concentrate on this decade+ old game is that a lot of the design related to the animation is still relevant today when creating games using 3D assets. For an example, just play any of the Tomb Raider series to see how similar the animation and level-design mechanics are to Flashback, with its standardized jump distances and set points for animation interruptibility.
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