Tag Archives: Surreal

Rival Blog alert!

Don Hertzfeldt - HatMy first Blog on This is Vegas is now running at IGN, check it out here.  The IGN series won’t just be a soapbox for me, I just kicked it off…  We’ll be working to get as many different Surreal folk represented as possible there, more in the spirit of the sadly departed SurrealGameDesign (of course it will center mostly much around TIV, but I hope our minds can wander a bit).  This particular article covers some of the vision-oriented stuff on Vegas, and hopefully kicks off the TIV coverage with something at least mildly interesting.

We’re going to Vegas next week to show off the game (as well as check out other Midway titles), so you should see some good coverage very soon.  We don’t want to reveal too much too soon, but I am confident that the upcoming showing should answer many questions for people who don’t know what our game is about.

Short update today, sorry I’ve been slammed.  Meanwhile, enjoy some Don Hertzfeldt.

More This is Vegas coverage

This is Spegas!Over the past few weeks there have been a bunch of great references to This is Vegas.  Forgive me while I plug them for a minute. 🙂

Links

Video

One last edit:

My list of coverage can’t even approach this person’s…  Read the very first This Is Vegas blog.

This is Vegas!

So over the past two and a half years, we’ve been laboring at Surreal over a game that is really a different sort of game than those I’ve worked on in the past.  The cool thing is that we’ve been able to apply all our knowledge from a multitude of past action games into a completely new experience.  Overall it’s been an enriching experience, making me think of new ways to tackle old problems, as well as come up with solutions to entirely new challenges.  If anything it’s a fantastic breather from “shooter of the month”.

But I can’t say that the silence has been easy to endure.  “So Pat, what’re you’re working on?” my industry friends would casually ask as we munched awesome, giant slices of pizza…  The answer used to be so easy…  “Military shooter” or “Star Wars game!”  Those chats were easy, and would elicit a knowing nod…  Little else needed to be discussed.  Maybe talk about a new weapon or multiplayer mode, or gripe about problems with the technology, but not much else.  Lately it’s been a struggle:  “Well, it’s an open-world action game, but it’s got this sort of lifestyle component…” They’d stop, and give me a puzzled stare.  “I can’t really say anything else, but it’s pretty different.  It’ll be announced soon I think.”.  As they turned back to their slice, they mumbled: “Uh, sure, sounds cool.  Can’t wait.”

Well, after an eternity, it’s finally announced.  It’s called This is Vegas.

There’s only a thimble-full of information, so until more gameplay is revealed publicly I’ll have to continue to wave my hands at our monthly pizza ritual, but at least I can point you in the direction of some of the early coverage:

On IGN:

  • Announcement, including our teaser trailer.
  • Full Preview, this is one of the better overviews
  • Entertainment, featuring a tourist map written by the ever-awesome Jay Pinkerton.
  • Gigs, touching on a number of the side missions you’ll undertake throughout Vegas.
  • Suits, providing an overview on the factions and communities that you’ll get to know.

The Teaser Trailer:

Alive and Kickin’

All right enough of this…  I miss the whole blog thing.  SurrealGameDesign was a great chance for me to collect all my various thoughts and collect them into (hopefully) a compelling or at least comprehensible package.  It was healthy as a designer and kept me sharp.  I pretty much starved this blog at the time so that I could maintain SGD, but it was worth it.

While eventually things got complicated enough that I couldn’t keep it going, I consider the blog an overall successful venture.  Last summer, I was growing frustrated with the lack of exposure that Surreal had in the game industry, since it had not been visible to the public since The Suffering: Ties that Bind shipped in September 2005.  I knew also that our new game would not be announced until early this year.  If anything, it made recruitment difficult, which makes it tough to build the best department I possibly could.  In addition, I was encouraging my designers to broaden their horizons by playing and talking about new types of games.  The blog’s mission was to both build outside awareness of the culture at Surreal, but also to build a team spirit and grow the perspectives of the design department at large.

By late fall, SGD was getting some great momentum, with several thousand visits a day and some notice from some cooler mainstream-y places like N’Gai Croal’s Levelup blog and Stephen Totilo’s Multiplayer blog.  Not bad for a studio with no visibility for two years and an unannounced game on its plate.  It might be resurrected in some form in the future, but for now I’ve archived the contents at a site called GamesGoneFeral.

So moving forward, this is the place that I’ll come to talk about my current efforts, and reveal perspectives on my past (and perhaps even my future).  Some of my compatriots have also carved out their own corners of the internet, as can be evidenced in the Surreal Network on the sidebar.  We’ll be responding to each other and encouraging others to join the (loosely organized) fold.  We’ll see where all this leads, but regardless, it’ll be a journey worth taking.

Why yes, we DO play Team Fortress 2…

We sit in the aftermath of Surreal’s big TF2 LAN showdown. At the studio we’ve been getting pretty competitive in our matches of Team Fortress 2. Discussions on strategies such as where to place sentry turrets, and how to cap the middle point of Granary are common fare in the offices. However, in the past few weeks it got more and more difficult to squeeze in matches at lunch as we approached last Friday’s big milestone, so we planned a LAN blowout for the day after. Leading up to the big day we had a competition to choose two captains, who each proceeded to forge a team in the fires of Mount Doom. We were destined to meet on the field of battle, and on Saturday, November 10, the milestone was in the can and it was on.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Teams consisted of Laser Jesus, led by Dan Osborn, versus JSM, led by Gameplay Programmer Austin McGee. No, I won’t explain the team names. 🙂

JSMvsLJ

The official matches were played from 4PM to 11PM, with lingering skirmishes continuing into the wee hours. The results had JSM take the win home, with five victories out of six:

  • Well: Laser Jesus 0, JSM 2
  • Granary: Laser Jesus 1, JSM 2
  • Dustbowl: Laser Jesus 1, JSM 1 (Tie)
  • 2Fort: Laser Jesus 0, JSM 2
  • Hydro: Laser Jesus 0, JSM 2
  • Gravel Pit: Laser Jesus 1, JSM 3

Surreal TF2 Steam LogoThis is all a warm-up, though, because across the Seattle area, the TF2 showdown has crossed studio boundaries in the Valve-hosted TF2 Studio Rumble 2007. So far Surreal has defeated two contenders, and unless Zombie pulls out an upset tonight, we’ll be going up against the dreaded forces of Valve itself next week. Wish us luck!

I put up a “Games We Play” page for this sort of thing if you want any details on our teams.

Gallery:

 

Getting Set UpDistributed Power SystemThe MazeGamer FuelNeed beer… Lots and lots of beer.JSM Gearing UpLaser Jesus Gearing UpDeep Strategy SessionLaser Jesus Laying PlansIt’s On!Bring itFinal Score

Spectator Shorts

WCGThis weekend I spent some time at the World Cyber Games at the Qwest Field Event Center. I was manning a booth for Surreal, as part of an special section of the event hosted by local game school Digipen. They were holding a series of presentations, most notably a Symposium for Women in Gaming that included our own Brigitte Samson, who gave a presentation on the growing role of the technical artist in game development. There were booths from other local developers there too, so it was great to get a chance to talk to folks from Zombie, Flying Lab, Monolith and Valve while at the show.

The booth, which we had to whip together sort of last-minute, was purposed as somewhere between education and recruiting. Unfortunately we didn’t have an announced title to talk about or show, so the theme of our booth was more about Midway overall than specifically about the Surreal studio. Luckily, we had some nice materials from Blacksite and Stranglehold… and since we share technology and even assets with those groups (our kick-ass artists and FX group have contributed some great work on those games as well), we consider them to all be part of the same family, so it was cool to represent our peeps nonetheless.

Anyway, this since this was the World Cyber Games, there were of course matches going on all day, so while I was mainly walking around to check out some of the playable games on the floor, I couldn’t help but get a big dose of the craziness that is competitive gaming.

There was a huge screen at one end of the hall, with good-sized audience sitting and watching these matches over the course of the multi-day event. It wasn’t a sold-out standing-room-only type of event, but it was fairly lively. These contests had the trappings of a full-fledged championship-level event, the competitors sitting in soundproof booths, the announcers introducing contestants and calling out the events onscreen…

Honestly, the idea of watching a bunch of people I don’t know play Starcraft really had no appeal to me, so I focused my attention on the kiosks for Left 4 Dead and Crysis. However, while I was waiting for a chance to play, I couldn’t help but catch a dose of what was going on in the competition… and as the announcer excitedly described one competitor’s gutsy push through the enemy’s defensive line, I got a bit hooked.

romeroI’ve always felt that the attempts to legitimize gaming as a “sport” (no doubt to be spoken in the same breath as baseball and football) was something of a joke, much as I wished otherwise… The “gaming pros” are hard to give the same level of respect for people who play videogames as we do sports athletes who achieve so much physically… (C’mon, who can you name besides maybe Thresh? I’ll give you a hint). That’s too bad, because for an pastime that still evoked images of closeted nerds, hyperactive 14-year-olds and bong-hitting college students, we could still use some heroes with more mainstream appeal (like a certain Dallas developer achieved a bit of 10 years ago).

Back at Raven I worked on a lot of games that supported online multiplayer, and during the development of every one I got calls from people who hoped to turn online matches into a spectator sport… but nothing ever really happened. One problem is that these guys were always starting with a game in development and asking for support (such as special camera controls) so that it would be “broadcast-worthy” (a tall order for a dev team working to hit a deadline). What they thought they could do is create the competition and the people would come regardless of the featured game… but the audience didn’t bite.

StarcraftRTSScreenShotPeople want to watch games that they play themselves, or at least games they appreciate and understand. The problem with most online games is that there never are enough players to build a critical mass of people that are familiar enough to understand the strategy and drama behind it. Even fairly successful games like Battlefield 1942 are not as widely-played as something like Starcraft. It seems like every PC gamer on the planet has tried it… While it’s ten years old, it’s certain to be a standby (although perhaps replaced by Starcraft 2) for many years to come. You’d think that the games would update with the times, but you certainly don’t expect football to (significantly) change its ruleset every year the way gamers chew through new titles.

Maybe breakthrough titles like Halo could carry a similar audience, but there are few games out there that can. One thing that might increase the level of competition and get widely-publicized competitions some momentum is the evolution in shooters that we are seeing lately… With competitive games like Call of Duty 4 and Team Fortress 2 evolving to create meta-game elements like rankings, statistics, achievements and character-building, these games are going to be more competitive than ever. A player’s handle will be more than what he logs in as, it will be something that has an identity, complete with bragging rights. The top players will get more exposure as rankings become more prominently featured in these titles. Reputation and glory will become a major factor…

God knows that Korea is ten steps ahead of the rest of us. When the top Korean players appeared during WCG, those guys were rock stars! Perhaps it’s harder to find a charismatic gamer who measures up to a charming athlete, but somewhere down the line, competitive gaming will become accepted by the mainstream, and the industry will get those heroes that they are looking for.

Making the Rules: The Scale of a Game

Lately I’ve been working on both Surreal’s current game as well as concepts for future games, and this issue has come up a few times. As you may have guessed from previous articles, the concept of “more for the sake of more” is not something I subscribe to. Game development is always about the allocation of resources and determining where those resources are best made use of. So when it comes to adding details, sometimes there are tough conversations to have about the scope of a game, along with its sibling, the scale of a game.

Gettin' phat and fat in GTA San AndreasThink of the large, open-world of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. In this world, the player can travel around 10 miles end-to-end (representing a geographical space around 100 simulated miles long) You can drive along mountain roads, and enter cities and visit a few selected buildings. The game is primarily about getting in a vehicle and driving. When you deal with people at all, it is generally with a group or crowd. Enemies can be dispatched in 1-2 shots and can be destroyed several at a time. Aside from story moments, most of the player’s interaction level is in terms of streets, with objectives that take the player to “that building”. Sure, there are moments inside of buildings such as shootouts, but if we had to give an arbitrary scale to the game, we could say that there is perhaps 20 meters between items of interest in GTA.

Stranglehold-Patch_2Now look at Stranglehold, a game with a much denser environment. Each level is a few hundred meters in length, but the world is much denser. You cannot drive, but you can run from alley to alley and enter more detailed buildings The game is primarily about shooting it out with a half-dozen or less enemies at a time. When you deal with individuals, they take 4-5 shots and sometimes can be dispatched in elaborate ways. The interactive objects, such as pillars that can be destroyed and tables that can be slid across, are much denser in placement. If we had to give an arbitrary scale to the game, we could say that there are about 2 meters between items of interest in Stranglehold.

Now, there is almost no technical reason why Stranglehold could not have had driving, or why GTA couldn’t have had dense, destructible rooms, aside from those teams choosing where to devote their performance, memory and manpower resources. Sometimes gamers looking for the ubiquitous “more” or even aspiring game developers don’t realize that these choices of scale are very real and deliberate. Even the giant team at Rockstar North realizes that if they lavish attention into a single room or cluster of rooms, that can very easily take resources away from making the game better at the scale it was meant to be played… in a car.

Moments where the scale of interaction changes abruptly can often stand out as going against the pace of the game. If the player is cruising through GTA, blowing up entire crowds of people with grenades, when suddenly he has to close in and complete a 2-minute Tekken-style fight with a single bad guy, it’s going to stand out and completely change the feel of the game. Worse yet, to the developers this would probably be an entirely new game mode (and practically a new game), and as a result, be difficult to deliver at the same quality as the main free-roaming game is delivered.

Similarly, if Stranglehold were to suddenly have an area where the player jumps into a car, there would most likely have to be serious sacrifices to the interactivity of that drivable area. That driving sequence would also have difficulty living up to the experience provided in a driving-centric game like GTA.

Sims 2 Changing the type of gameplay can also be jarring when it affects the pace. What if we could walk up to any of the 30 individuals on a GTA sidewalk and start a conversation with him… learn of his likes and dislikes, and perhaps form a friendship or animosity to that individual based on your actions? Cool eh? But is it worth the development time to make that interesting when people are generally cast aside like tissue paper?

However, it is also very valuable to have what Harvey calls “alternation of gameplay”. This can often break the scale rule, such as Blacksite: Area 51 thrusting the player into a helicopter gunner position after a period of time prowling alleys with your squad of three. This is cool, but is often modal, so that detail can be placed at the appropriate scale for the action. Pillars may explode when you shoot them with your rifle from 5 meters away, but when you are firing an emplaced minigun at a building from 200 meters, you’d better see some larger scale destruction.

Games that let you significantly change scale are rare, but often are modal in their own right. The most prominent example of this is Spore, where you start as an amoeba and ultimately represent an entire race as they colonize the entire galaxy. However, it seems clear that as you progress from single-cell life to the actions of an entire civilization that you rather quickly leave the basic activities of feeding and mating behind. This follows, because it is unreasonable to expect the player to care about a single grain of sand once there is an entire beach to explore…

Stranglehold and Art of Midway

John-Woo-Presents-Stranglehold-PS3We’d like to congratulate the team at Midway Chicago for completing Stranglehold for the Xbox 360! It’s been spotted on store shelves around here, so obviously that’s the official sign! We’ve been playing a lot of it as it approached completion, and it’s a really fun game. They really executed well… It isn’t just about mass destruction, but about using the world around you and gaining the high ground and playing with style. The game rewards you for being the coolest you can be.

We should also call out the incredible work of the Surreal FX team that appears in the game. Every column, chair, and statue all have all been translated into a visual symphony. Perhaps the game isn’t just about mass destruction, but in Stranglehold, even fruit can be capable of dazzling moments. Check it out!

art of midwayAlso, if you dig the visuals of Stranglehold, or if you liked the creepy vibe of The Suffering, you should check out the new Art of Midway book now available! This is concept art on overdrive, including some incredible work from our own Garrett Smith and Ben Olson. These guys create entire worlds with the sweep of their pens (or mice). This is only a sampling of what we see everyday… Thanks also to the Midway art directors for putting this together. Fantastic stuff.