Outfitting the Future

The business of next-generation.

by Ronald Diemicke

When we think of ‘the next-generation of gaming’, we look toward the horizon and see a console with games that are the bleeding edge of what technology can achieve. In actuality, the process begins much earlier. Rewind to a couple of years ago: The Xbox 360 was out there in the idea that it was ‘coming soon’ and Relic was in the early design process for their first next-generation console title. The product? An action/strategy spin-off of the forthcoming ‘Company of Heroes’ real-time strategy game. Adrian Crook, who had previously worked for EA and other smaller companies, joined Relic early on in The Outfit’s life. It was at this point that the game really started to take shape. Rather than going the route of historically-realistic games such as Call of Duty or Medal of Honor, The Outfit was to be more of a fast-paced, fun, and humorous look at World War 2 with big personalities and big action. “We ended up deciding we wanted to be more MTV than the History Channel,” Crook said. But this also meant that it was a tougher sell as well.

With the aim on the next generation of hardware, it meant being able to do more and a brand new market to aim at. Crook said that the main reason against developing for the PC was the 3rd-person action game market was a declining entity. On the other hand, current generation consoles didn’t seem to be powerful enough: They all lacked the robust physics model and level of environmental destruction.

Rather then trying to repurpose people from Relic’s PC development teams, Relic went through the entire process of creating a new development team made up of people highly experienced in working with console games. The lead designer came from the Oddworld development team; the lead programmer was a veteran from Ubisoft who’d worked on their Batman title and various Tom Clancy games; the art director, previously from EA, was from the Need for Speed team. This helped them get up and running quickly because they had all worked with consoles before.

Going with the Xbox 360 was also good timing for Relic. “Microsoft stacks things better in terms of developer support.” Adrian said. Up until this point, Adrian had just worked with Sony on their Playstation systems, but he said that it’s clear that Sony is a hardware maker and Microsoft makes software. The way he puts it, its clear that when Sony makes a system they make the system and then expect others to figure out how to get the most out of it. Compare this with Microsoft, who has other people make the hardware, then writes the software for it while trying to cater to the developer as much as possible. The benefit is that Microsoft has dedicated people to help developers. When asked about Microsoft’s XNA initiative, Adrian made it clear that, while it sounds good on paper, the actuality of Microsoft’s tool set is that it only saves time if you don’t have your own tools, don’t intend to build or buy them, and don’t want to be multiplatform beyond the PC and 360. Instead of going the route of buying multiplatform tools, Relic made their own and just adapted them for use on the 360.

Continued: Late to the show?

Table of Contents: Outfitting the Future