Some people think working on video games consists of playing any game you want for hours at a time. Nothing could be further from the truth. It's a labor of love that can be all consuming. It is also extremely rewarding when you are part of a team creating an epic game such as Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver. I've never worked with such a talented and cohesive group of individuals in my life. After spending most of my waking hours for the past 2 years with these folks, we've become more of a family than a team. Sometimes you find out more about a person than you really need to know.Anyway, enough of the heartfelt retrospective. Time to get on with the game. T-minus 2 weeks and counting. We're currently riding the bug fixing rollercoaster and it's an exhilarating experience. Some might even say it's an "E" ticket ride. This is the pressure packed time in game development when you are so close to the end of a project that you can taste it. You see the light at the end of the tunnel, but you can't quite reach it soon enough.
Our programmers, artists, and designers are trying to cram 30 hours of work into a 24-hour day. This makes for a harrowing experience for everyone involved. We are working to reach milestones so that the gamers may enjoy this game as much as we have for the past 2 years.We just finished debugging the Skinner boss and he looks great. If I were playing this boss in a dark room in the dead of night, I might be a bit frightened. His skin is made up of patches of skin from his victims including their tortured faces. A little inside information, the faces on the Skinner boss' body are composites of the team members' faces. They really DO look tortured. Better than his appearance is his voice. Jeez, it's creepy. It has that resonance of terror that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. His patchwork body scared me enough, but when combined with the voice, he becomes truly terrifying. One of our funniest bugs in this area so far is this menacing beast sometimes takes on the colors of the rainbow rendering him as scary as an episode of Teletubbies. Well, maybe Sesame Street.
This is also the time of some serious play balancing. This balancing act will continue until the very day that we submit to Sony. You don't want to make the game so easy that someone can finish it in a couple of hours. However, you also don't want to make it so difficult that a player loses interest. Of course, we can't add anything to the game as code is frozen, however, we can add or remove enemies or objects if the area is too difficult to pass through. To increase the difficulty, we can also adjust the hit point system accordingly.We've run the game through some additional play testing and the biggest surprise has been the depth of the puzzles and the sheer amount of puzzle solving that is in the game. In earlier versions, the action oriented areas were more playable and therefore received more attention from the online and magazine editors. In reality, the game is uniquely balanced with a ton of puzzles. Our testing group have been playing some of the puzzles that appear earlier in the game, many of which require over 30 minutes to execute. This has caused us to really hone in on testing the intuitiveness of the puzzle's clues to ensure that players know 'what to do' and 'when'. A specific example of this happened when we built a puzzle that required the careful manipulation of burning concrete urns to enable the destruction of an overhead wooden structure which gives the player access to one of Kain's lieutenants - Raziel's first boss encounter. Our first layout did not have the concrete urn tracks that lead the player to burn the different wooden timbers. We found that consumers did not understand that the urns could be moved without introducing a track that lead each urn to a specific timber. Once introduced, the puzzle transitioned from impossible to a engaging brainteaser.
The best game scheduler in the world can't predict the "X" factor. For the Soul Reaver project, the "X" factor was the release of Episode 1. Several members of the team are fanatical about Star Wars. The release of the movie and the heaps of collectible merchandise have both buoyed the team's spirits in crunch-time, but also have become a little bit of a distraction. Whether it's contributing to the "kill jar jar" web sites, or getting on ebay and buying action figures, Star Wars had a definite impact to the schedule.To combat 'the force', we imported some fantastic Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver energy drinks from our German office. This was a promotion that partnered Eidos Germany with Red Bull Energy Drinks and branded a Soul Reaver version of caffeine laden beverage. Working in 17 and 18 hour shifts, the team busted through 3 cases in one week. The marketing guys have promised to airship another couple of cases from Germany to Menlo Park. I hope they hurry. Right now we've got several programmers willing to sell their souls for a couple of cans.