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Tuesday, 08 December 2009 07:55

GCAP09: How an award winning game can fall from the sky

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The general feel of the Game Connect Asia Pacific 2009 conference is one of guarded optimising for the future.  The final day has kicked off with a frank discussion from Transmission Games former senior producer Justin Halliday.  Halliday spoke about the chequered development process for the award winning WWII flyer game Heroes Over Europe.

Transmission Games is no more, a victim of trying to fly through a dangerous storm laden economic sky.

One of the last products to emerge from the Melbourne based studio was Heroes Over Europe, an arcade WWII themed flying game with a pedigree of former games such as Heroes Over The Pacific to build upon.

As the last day of Game Connect Asia Pacific (GCAP) kicks off, senior producer Justin Halliday spoke of the tribulations during the 44 months of the games development.  It as a story of high ambition, improper technical decisions, staff turnover, bad timing and basic bad luck, though the resultant game was pretty good.

Halliday set the scene with conference delegates; it was clear from the beginning that Heroes Over Europe (HOE) was going to struggle.  Halliday  spoke of Blue-Sky ambition, a game making the jump to next-generation platform needed to have more of everything, more planes, more missions, larger textures and shinier graphics.

But the scope far out-weighed the allocated budget, which was little more than that given to the previous generation title Heroes Over The Pacific (HOTP).  The team also made an early decision to throw away much of the work they had done on HOTP to start from scratch.  This meant throwing out the AI, art assets and so on, things that subsequently took two years to recreate.

Timing issues caused the early abandonment of engine and art tools with the laborious task of rebuilding these over the development course.  This decision was exacerbated by an overarching situation that Transmission Games found itself in at the time.  Red Mile Entertainment were discussing a buy-out bid with the developer, as an Australian subsidiary of the company, this meant the development team could through a little caution to the wind as far as the games budget was concerned.

However, after some 21 months development (just one month shy of the total development for HOTP) HOE was still only in a rudimentary stage.  HOE needed to be re-scoped, this occurred in September 2007 with the mission numbers cut by a whopping 40 percent (From 26 down to 10).  Multiplayer was removed completely and a decision was made to introduce a PC version (or SKU) of the game to increase potential revenue.

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After the Game Developers Conference in March 2008 the development team had spent 90 percent of the allocated budget, luckily a renegotiation with Red Mile saw the budget leap 60 percent to US$8 million dollars.

Halliday pointed out how staff turnover was also a factor in the games development.  116 staff over the course of the project with a churn rate of 12 percent, quite low by the industry’s standard, but given those that left were quite senior (2 producers, 3 assistant producers, 2 lead artists, 2 lead programmers and 3 technical directors) the affect on the games development was marked.

Finally in August 2008 the game reached alpha stage, a review showed that the project was tracking 12 weeks late and as a result the scope was again reassessed.  This time around the core game lost another 2 missions (subsequently released, along with multiplayer code as download content), an entire terrain set, the non-linear mission structure and the 3D front end.

In early 2009, not long from release the game was rejected by Sony during stage two acceptance of the project, this required a lot of hard work by the developers to solve 6 major issues.  It was at this point that the team understood the need to switch the core rendering technique from Deferred to Forward Rendering.  The former technique is great for a First Person Shooter game with multiple light sources, but just too slow for a game where the sun is the only source of light and draw distances get into the tens-of-kilometres.

The end result was that the next generation game that was Heroes Over Europe, whilst bigger in scope, did not deliver more than its predecessor.  Halliday put much of this problem down to the labour intensiveness of the project as well as bad decisions on outsourcing and tools selection.

Ultimately, after further turmoil with publishers a budget and time blow-out of 100 percent the game was released in September 2009.  In October 2009 Transmission Games closed its doors.

Heroes Over Europe won three awards during GCAP0
9; Best Console Game, Best Graphics and Best Audio.
   


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Mike Bantick

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Having failed to grow up Bantick continues to pursue his childish passions for creative writing, interactive entertainment and showing-off through adulthood. In 1994 Bantick began doing radio at Melbourne’s 102.7 3RRRFM, in 1997 transferring to become a core member of the technology show Byte Into It. In 2003 he wrote briefly for the The Age newspaper’s Green Guide, providing video game reviews. In 2004 Bantick wrote the news section of PC GameZone magazine. Since 2006 Bantick has provided gaming and tech lifestyle stories for iTWire.com, including interviews and opinion in the RadioactivIT section.

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