IN­SIDE DE­VEL­OP­MENT

The hid­den tricks bring­ing game worlds to life.

PC GAMER (UK) - - CONTENTS - By Xalavier Nel­son Jr

De­vel­op­ment tricks re­vealed.

In­die stu­dio Na­tional In­se­cu­ri­ties was well on its way to com­plet­ing its lat­est first-per­son mur­der mys­tery par­ody, 2000:1: A Space Felony. It had an eye-catch­ing name, a pub­lisher, and a rock-solid vis­ual and the­matic base it could use to play off au­di­ence ex­pec­ta­tions. There was just one prob­lem: the cen­trifuge didn’t work.

An as­tro­naut jogs around a stark cen­trifuge, punch­ing the air as he trav­els in an end­less loop. This scene, from 2001: A Space Odyssey, is one of the most iconic in film history. And Na­tional In­se­cu­ri­ties’ par­ody couldn’t repli­cate it. No mat­ter what it did, the team couldn’t find a re­li­able, smooth way for the player to run along the cen­trifuge as it spi­ralled through space. Then lead de­vel­oper, Lau­ren Filby had an idea.

Rather than at­tempt­ing to cre­ate a spe­cial case for the player to be able to travel around the cen­trifuge while it was mov­ing, she bent space around the player. When the player was out­side the cen­trifuge, it would ro­tate as nor­mal. How­ever, as soon as the player en­tered the cen­trifuge, ev­ery­thing else in the game world would be­gin to ro­tate to en­sure con­sis­tency of move­ment. This leap of logic is com­mon to game de­vel­op­ment. Sur­pris­ing in its re­quire­ments, be­wil­der­ing in its util­i­sa­tion, and es­sen­tial to in­creas­ing the fidelity of a game’s world.

Keep­ing up Ap­pear­ances

Raigan Burns tells me about Me­tanet Soft­ware’s quest to make N++ repli­cate the “smooth, clean look” of print graphic de­sign in a plat­former. “The main chal­lenge we faced was the res­o­lu­tion of our vis­ual medium,” Burns says. “Print looks so smooth in part be­cause it op­er­ates at a very high res­o­lu­tion, typ­i­cally at least 1,000 ‘pix­els’ per inch [PPI], while com­puter mon­i­tors typ­i­cally have fewer than 100 PPI. This was a pretty huge gap to cross, qual­ity-wise, and the main rea­son why print de­sign is so dif­fer­ent from what you typ­i­cally see on a screen.” At­tempt­ing to cross this gap in qual­ity led Me­tanet Soft­ware co­founders Raigan Burns and Mare Sheppard to develop a ren­der­ing en­gine for their game, where ev­ery shape dis­played is pure maths. “This means that all of the an­i­ma­tions and graph­ics in the game had to be pro­grammed line-by-line into the game’s source code,” Burns says. One of the most cut­ting-edge ren­der­ing so­lu­tions in gam­ing hides in the code of a 2D plat­former.

Gen­tle com­edy adventure game York­shire Gub­bins has a dy­namic mu­sic sys­tem di­rectly in­spired by clas­sic Lu­casArts adventure games, made pos­si­ble by the re­cent ex­pi­ra­tion of a patent. Char­lotte Gore com­posed the game’s themes, then a se­ries of four-beat tran­si­tions to con­nect ev­ery­thing to­gether. A sub­sys­tem in the game eval­u­ates what’s hap­pen­ing at any time, what piece of mu­sic is needed, and the best tran­si­tion to con­nect it to the pre­vi­ous piece. The re­sult is a seam­less, flow­ing score that echoes film al­most as much as it does games past.

Early Ac­cess 4X strat­egy game Pre­des­ti­na­tion con­tains spher­i­cal plan­ets cov­ered in hex grids. Putting a hex grid on a spher­i­cal sur­face is, ap­par­ently, im­pos­si­ble. Which is good, be­cause the plan­ets in Pre­des­ti­na­tion aren’t spher­i­cal at all. They’re flat. “They wrap around on the X axis so you can ro­tate all the way around the planet and it ap­pears to be a con­tin­u­ous sphere,” says lead de­vel­oper Bren­dan Drain. “This doesn’t work on the Y axis, so you can’t have plan­e­tary poles. To solve this, we just lock the cam­era so you can only scroll up and down within cer­tain lim­its and then the pro­ce­dural gen­er­a­tion al­go­rithm places ter­rain at the top and bot­tom of the map to vis­ually sim­u­late po­lar re­gions.” The re­sult is that play­ers can ro­tate be­liev­ably shaped plan­ets, zoom down, and place struc­tures on their hex grid sur­faces.

James Earl Cox III, co­founder of You Must be 18 or Older to En­ter de­vel­oper Seem­ingly Point­less, found him­self with an odd prob­lem for his hor­ror game about view­ing porn as a kid in the early days of the in­ter­net. “Peo­ple used to talk about how the images loaded too fast,” Cox says. Rather than ar­ti­fi­cially lim­it­ing the speed at which the ‘com­puter’ can load images, how­ever, Cox took ad­van­tage of the monochro­matic na­ture of the early hard­ware. “There are black squares lay­ered on top of each image that slowly delete them­selves over time to cre­ate the ap­pear­ance of slow con­nec­tion speed,” Cox says.

These are just a few of the many ex­am­ples of the chal­lenges sur­mounted to make some­thing work ‘as in­tended’. Chal­lenges solved by tricks. Tricks that, mostly, stay in­vis­i­ble. How­ever, the more you learn about these tricks, the more ap­par­ent their im­por­tance be­comes. Au­then­tic game worlds aren’t cre­ated de­spite these tricks. They’re cre­ated be­cause of them.

One of the most cut­ting-edge so­lu­tions in gam­ing hides in the code of a 2D plat­former

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