[Extracting from the just-debuted issue of Game Developer magazine, here's some interesting, hopefully instructive info on the creation of the actually slightly slept-on Deadly Creatures from Rainbow/THQ.]

The latest issue of Gamasutra sister publication Game Developer magazine includes a postmortem of Rainbow Studios' Deadly Creatures written by technical director James Comstock.

Best known for its racing titles, THQ-owned, Phoenix-based developer Rainbow Studios decided to take a chance on a unique game idea that that would immerse players in the violent microcosm of the insect world.

The following excerpts from Game Developer magazine's recent postmortem from the Deadly Creatures team would have to overcome a number of significant obstacles along the way to realizing the dark adventure.

As Rainbow's Comstock explained, “First, we planned for the development team to be small and built from the ground up, often through external hires. Second, the title was planned for the Nintendo Wii only, which was a new console at the time and had an unproven controller."

"Third, the title was new IP. Fourth, Rainbow has traditionally made racing games, so the IP was a departure from the core competencies of our personnel and tools. As I often sum it up: new team, new IP, new genre, new platform, new controller.”

Iteration, Iteration, Iteration

Rainbow was moving into new territory and this sense of exploration had a tangible effect on how the project was structured -- as Comstock explained in this excerpt:

“One key decision we made early was to focus on building tools that would minimize content iteration time. We implemented a common framework that allowed content changes within all tools to be synchronized with the game in real time.

At a minimum, any asset saved by a game developer would be automatically propagated to the game. More advanced tools could leverage the framework directly to implement real-time editing features, for example, editing entity properties within the level editor and synchronizing the level editor's camera with the game's camera.

We embraced scripting across all disciplines, which caused a dramatic shift in how we developed the gameplay. Programmers wrote most of the game code in Lua, which allowed us to iterate the AI, control schemes, and so on, in real time. We complemented this with a custom visual scripting system, which was used heavily by all disciplines to create level content, such as tutorials, encounters, boss battles, cut scenes, and objectives.

An unintended benefit of the real-time editing features was that they led to less complex tools. In the past, developers would iterate content extensively without reviewing the updated versions in the game because launching the game was time-consuming.

To compensate for this bottleneck, they would request complex, specialized features that maximized their productivity with a certain tool. But as users became comfortable with real-time iteration, they began to prefer simplicity and stability over depth of features. Most importantly, they didn't perceive the absence of deep editing features as a hindrance.”

Concept Art as Communication

Deadly Creatures has a unique look that takes commonplace environments and twists them into startling unfamiliarity when viewed from the perspective of its insect protagonists. Effectively visualizing this sinister landscape became a major concern for the team.

“In preproduction, we homed in on a painterly art style that complemented our game design and the technical constraints of the Wii. Concept art was the linchpin in communicating the art style, setting standards, and measuring quality throughout development. Our goal was to achieve the look and tone of the concept pieces directly within the game experience.

We used a mix of internal and contract artists to visualize a diverse cross-section of the game's environments. Commissioning work from a wide variety of sources helped us to digest and interpret our vision, and allowed us to generate a large number of concept pieces quickly.

The final concept pieces fed into all aspects of development and helped us set the tone for the game. They inspired ideas for level design, creature design, and story presentation. We used the pieces to communicate our vision to marketing, sales, product development, and the press.

Concept art wasn't just for support and visualization. We continued to use it as a resource throughout production. Our internal concept artists created large and exquisitely detailed texture scripts for every imaginable material: rock, wood, sand, rusted metal. These provided a consistent yet stylized palette from which our artists could pull to add texture to our diverse environments.”

Understanding the Wii Remote

However, designing for the Wii remote presented new challenges, and the team found that their lofty plans for the novel device were often at odds with its technical limitations:

“Leveraging the Wii remote to its full potential was a key design goal. However, we began preproduction before the Wii had been released, and our imaginations led us to devise overly ambitious control schemes. When we were finally able to prototype the control schemes on the Wii and play other Wii titles, we realized that our expectations were beyond the capabilities of the technology.

With the Wii remote in hand, we spent significant time trying to bend it to our will. After much experimentation, we concluded that complex gesture patterns were difficult to recognize with an acceptable level of accuracy. They also required significant design constraints, as recognizing such patterns required that we clearly identify the beginning and end of the gesture.

We eventually defined design constraints to help us avoid creating usage patterns that would punish a user for “mashing” gestures, and to avoid creating control mechanics that could be misinterpreted by our software.

We limited the remote's gestures to cardinal directions—up, down, left, right, forward, backward—and the Wii nunchuk to non-directional shaking, as testing proved that users can make these gestures with a high degree of accuracy.

Then, we created usage scenarios that required a pattern of timed cardinal gestures with ample delay between each gesture. We also tried to map all cardinal directions to a valid input, so if players gesture-mashed, they would still get a satisfying experience during combat.”

Additional Info

The full postmortem for Deadly Creatures explores "What Went Right" and "What Went Wrong" during the course of the game's development, and is now available in the May 2009 issue of Game Developer magazine.

The issue also includes Mark DeLoura's Game Engine Showdown which surveyed nearly 100 decision-makers to ask them what they think of the various game engines on the market; a new method for simplifying asynchronous operations from LucasArt's Javier Blazquez; how to really get ahead in the game business from a variety of industry veterans, and much more.

Worldwide paper-based subscriptions to Game Developer magazine are currently available at the official magazine website, and the Game Developer Digital version of the issue is also now available, with the site offering six months' and a year's subscriptions, alongside access to back issues and PDF downloads of all issues, all for a reduced price. There is now also an opportunity to buy the digital version of May 2009's edition as a single issue.