August 14, 2010 12:00 PM | Simon Carless
[Extracting from sister Game Developer magazine's postmortem of Access Games' Deadly Premonition, creator SWERY reveals how the studio overcame numerous development challenges to produce a cult hit.]
The latest issue of Game Developer magazine, available for subscribers and for digital purchase now, includes a postmortem of Access Games' Deadly Premonition, written by a group of the game’s key staff.
Deadly Premonition is a bizarre action adventure game that endured numerous development problems, but eventually became an underground hit, thanks to its freeform nature, odd narrative, and quirky design decisions.
Ignition Entertainment published the game in the U.S. for Xbox 360 on November 1, 2009, and it has just been confirmed for European release this Autumn via Rising Star Games.
These excerpts from the August 2010 issue of Game Developer magazine reveal various "What Went Right" and "What Went Wrong" highlights from throughout the creation of the game, revealing how the game endured multiple cancellations and development hiccups but eventually achieved surprising success.
Character Building And Backstory (Especially York And Zach)
Deadly Premonition’s protagonist, Francis York Morgan, is noted as one of the game’s most unique and enjoyable quirks, and game director SWERY describes the thought and care that went into creating such a relatable character:
”We believe our greatest success in Deadly Premonition was the establishment of our main character. Many different types of protagonists have been created—and loved—in the history of video games, so our primary mission was to devise a type of hero that had never existed before.
Deadly Premonition is essentially a mystery, and although quality peripheral characters are crucial in good mysteries, the main character is especially important. I believe players pick up on the fact that while York may appear very handsome, he’s a true eccentric inside.
York speaks his mind with no regard for the feelings of those around him while constantly muttering to himself ... In other circumstances, it would be no surprise if players grew to dislike him, wondering, “Who the hell is Zach?” [York has a second personality, named Zach, living within his mind.] There is a strong argument to be made for Zach being “the player.”
Yet everyone who plays the game seems to love him. Why? Perhaps it’s because players recognize that he’s extremely charming and reliable—a friend worthy of admiration. Of course, we don’t think we gained that recognition for free. There’s an important device at work: the invention of the “Zach as Player” relationship. Agent York pursues his murder investigation in Greenvale, the player munches popcorn in his living room, and Zach is the bridge between them.”
Memory Allocation And Processing Speed
Wataru Nishide (lead level artist) and J’s Kataoka describe the myriad of technical issues the team ran into when developing for current hardware:
"Deadly Premonition was our first stab at next-generation development, so we began the project astounded by the vast amount of RAM available—much more than any previous consumer hardware had offered. Astonishment gave rise to overconfidence, and eventually to the worst-case scenario: our data management became sloppy.
Attempting to work on memory allocation in such a state was very dangerous, but we went into production unaware of the risk. The result was a constant struggle with remaining RAM. This was glaringly evident with the motion data in particular—it ended up occupying a truly massive chunk of memory, which led to system restructuring further down the line.
In addition, we set far too many objects in our outdoor scenes, and could not process them all effectively. Dealing with trees and shrubs was especially trying. With that said, cutting too many objects would have reduced the object density of our expansive outdoor map to unacceptable levels, so we had to keep both the optimization of code and the appearance of our world constantly in mind.
Many other similar issues can be cited: our water ripple effect, refraction effects, and reflections in mirrors. We do think memory management on this project was an exceptionally useful learning experience, but from the perspective of development, it must be considered a failure. When considering the impact memory allocation has on a game, it goes without saying that this aspect was one of the least successful on the entire project.”
Schedule Management and Motivation
SWERY ultimately notes that his dedication to the game and lack of technical expertise may have left the game with some rough edges despite its sense of authorship.
“I would say that the final and greatest “Wrong” on Deadly Premonition was schedule management. The ideal director is supposed to be able to handle both game quality and project progress, but that was a very difficult proposition for me at the time.
I regret forcing my development team to work longer and harder than was necessary. It may be true that the lack of technical expertise covered above contributed to schedule delays, but as the man surveying the entire scene, the greatest responsibility lies with me.
I have no intention of criticizing a game I obsessed about deeply, and poured my soul into. Those were good things, in fact. However, managing team motivation so that such games can actually be realized is equally important.
On this project, I worked myself to the bone, single-mindedly absorbed in production to the point of blindness, unable to see the people around me—which may be why Deadly Premonition has such a strong sense of “authorship.” In the future, however, I want to forge a game production path in which both schedule and motivation management are properly implemented.”
The full postmortem of Deadly Premonition explores more of "What Went Right" and "What Went Wrong" during the course of the game's development, and is now available in the August 2010 issue of Game Developer magazine.
The issue also includes a feature on Zynga’s development process, a piece that explores how to make a memorable character, and an interview with Another World’s Eric Chahi regarding Project: DUST, as well as our regular monthly columns on design, art, music, programming, and humor.
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 August 2010's magazine as a single issue.]