Hello, I’m lead programmer on Vanquish, Kiyohiko Sakata.
It’s been about a month since Vanquish hit the streets; is everyone is having fun with the game?
I wanted to write this blog entry about what it is like to work as a game programmer. I think that people have a vague idea of what game programming is like, as some sort of difficult job where you just write a whole bunch of code that makes the computer work.
Of course, they are right. Most of the job is staring at a computer screen and writing code. If we consider what sort of code gets written, there is a nearly endless list of different types, and in making a game, these stretch from the tools needed for artists to the development environment needed for game designers to create the game itself. There really is code is in every direction.
But to accomplish an endless list of work, you have to establish a set of clear goals. If you try to pour all of your strength into everything at the same time, all you will end up making is some wishy-washy junk, so you have to figure out where to focus your efforts and what challenges you want to step up to. Doing this allows you to create something of incredibly high quality. Also, if you have too many goals, it won’t work out, as many failed projects fail because they either did a poor job of setting the bar or they were simply too ambitious.
We had two goals for Vanquish. One was to make a true-to-form third person shooter. The other was to develop this game as a multiplatform title for PS3 and Xbox 360.
Since we are a company that has created many action games, we didn’t really have a collective knowledge on how to make a TPS, so we approached initial production as an extension of creating an action game. However, we quickly found this wasn’t going to pound out. The way AI works in a shooter is a different beast, so we played all the major titles made overseas as research, read white papers written by foreign developers, and even talked with some of them directly during development of the game. Each individual enemy’s AI is important in the overall scope of a TPS’s AI, but so is situational awareness of the stage and scene that is playing out. To strengthen this, we created a system that gave us minute control over the situations in the game, making the effort put into the tool chain and development on Vanquish far greater than the norm for us.
Of course, the foundation for the AI lies in our core of our action game skills, so while the game is a “real” TPS, you can also enjoy an action-game-esque feeling, which I am proud to say makes our game a fun experience that is probably something that you don’t see elsewhere.
As for multiplatform development on the PS3 and Xbox 360, the most difficult part about making the same game for two platforms is the technical differences between those two pieces of hardware. Both systems have places where they excel and are deficient, and even if you set out to make exactly the same game on both, you may end up developing to the least common denominator and ending up with a mediocre game on both platforms.
This isn’t a problem if you can fit everything you wanted to make into this lowest common denominator, but we wanted to do a lot with Vanquish, and this type of development quickly showed its limits, so we had to make some decisions on how to move forward. We decided to work on the places where the hardware exceled, then we put a huge amount of energy towards compensating for the places where each piece of hardware is lacking, remembering that the most important thing was to maintain the same visual look and feeling to the gameplay.
This was the hardest goal we set for Vanquish, and with the title being our first shot at PS3 development (we had no prior know how in this area), I was honestly worried as to whether the bar was set too high. We had a really talented staff on the game, but even then, we still had to go outside the company to some really talented engineers at SEGA and elsewhere to help us make up for any areas where our technical expertise was lacking. They stayed with us for a few months, and thanks to their help, we were able to finish up production. As a result, we ended up meeting our goals with a very high quality product, and I feel we were able to pass on that product to gamers around the world.
Finally, I wanted to thank each and every one of you who have played Vanquish. For those who haven’t played it yet, you obviously have some interest if you are on this blog, so I really hope you give the game a shot. At the very least, I am confident in recommending the game as something you will not regret playing, so definitely give it a try!