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Folklore : Development Process

I’m getting incredibly close to finishing Folklore for the Playstation 3, so I felt it was time I did a review on it. However, rather than presenting a typical review, here is more of an in-depth look at how they actually made the game, and how these practices should be used more in the game industry. Now, this is all purely speculation, but by applying industry experience to it, I think some of my speculations should be fairly accurate.

Folklore : The Perfect Example of an Average Developer

If you look at Folklore analytically, you’ll notice that the production of this game is not nearly as high a budget or as graphically superior as say, Gears of War or Halo 3. However Folklore is still able to hold its own incredibly well with a high amount of content, an interesting story, and overall fun gameplay. All of which other triple A titles have, but most likely a fraction of the costs in development. The reason I chose Folklore is because it’s such a great game. It meets the criteria of good content, good story, and good gameplay, all of which are based upon a few key ingredients that are recycled throughout the game. Several shortcuts were taken, I’m sure, in order to create what is now Folklore. In order to achieve this you need:

  • A well thought out plan of the production cycle from beginning to end
  • Good managers, leads, producers to execute that plan and follow the schedule
  • Well utilized preproduction/prototype phase
  • A game design that works within the limits of the resources available
  • A consistent and easy to follow art style that fits within the resources available
  • proper technical limits defined, explored, and set

The Planning Phase – Figuring Out What We Can and Can’t Do

Programming, Design, and Art (I refer to these as their “departments”) all need to work together in a concentrated method in what should be considered one of the most important phases in a production cycle – the prototype phase. This small time frame is where the team will be able to learn the most of what they can and cannot do. It’s highly reliant on tech and art to figure this out, and for design to suggest what they want to get across.

Design is usually the first to start in coming up with a concept for a game. In Folklore’s case, it’s as simple as “Travel through faerytale realms, capture mythical creatures and utilize their abilities.” At that point, Art and design figure out things such as how many creatures can be created in the time-frame and resources, how many animations/attacks each creature should have and start crunching numbers.

Design also has to work with programming to determine tech functionality. Things like whether or not enemies can shoot projectiles, how they react to things, what type of AI patterns can be used, collision detection, how many enemies can be displayed on screen at one time, etc etc.

Art also has to work with programming in determining things such as polygon limitations, particle limitations, animation limitations, types of rigs, etc etc. This is still all high level writing on paper stuff. Nothing has actually been made yet. In the end of all this planning, the team pretty much has to know what they’re about to do for the rest of the project within their estimated hrs:

  • How many levels to make
  • How big these levels will be (rough time estimate, size estimate, and polycount, texture sizes)
  • How many character models will be in the game, total
  • How the character rigs will be set up
  • How many character animations will be made
  • How many special effects will be needed
  • What the polygon budget will be
  • What the texture budget will be
  • What the art style will be

Prototype – Testing Now for Future Problems

At this point in time, these numbers are put to the test in the prototype phase. A vertical slice scenario is set up to see how close to the estimates it will be, and how close tech and art will be able to create what is needed. In Folklore’s case, I would assume that their prototype would be very close to the design concept of “Travel through faerytale realms, capture mythical creatures and utilize their abilities.”. The process would be simple and pretty linear :

  1. Art first provides a prototype model environment – maybe a box with a grid texture on it, a prototype character model that is rigged, with a simple texture, and a few basic looking animations. This is so the programmers have something to work with in working in the engine and trying to get these objects to display and animate.
  2. While programming is busy, Art begins a “production run” of a sample character to see how close they are to their time estimates. It wouldn’t be final work, but it should be a fairly decent quality that meets most of the guidelines.
  3. Programming takes those finished assets and drops them in their engine. Behaviors and functions should already be set up by this time, and some basic actions should be performable, such as attacking with an ability with a character, the character reacting to the attack, and finally, the most crucial in this, absorbing the creature’s ability and utilizing it’s ability.

During this time, Design is usually fleshing out the story, and some game design concepts, seeking approval from art, programming, and production. Such things include scenario setups, specific creatures for certain moments, cut-scenes, specific characters’ look and feel, etc.

Once these concepts have been approved, they get dropped into the second phase of the prototype. Things start happening here – polygon and texture budgets are tested, traveling from room to room is tested, the “draw out” of creature souls functionality is tested in its basic form, which may include some special effects. I’m sure it was discussed in length between all three disciplines on how this should be presented. I’m also certain that because of the important role this feature played in the game, programming had to implement whatever was conceptualized in the end.

Folklore’s unique Soul Steal ability.

Post Prototype – NOW We Start

Once all this is done, the time estimates and budgets are tallied up and adjustments are made to the design. Perhaps after the tests, they find that there are too many creatures to make, so they have to cut that down, or cut out a level or something. Maybe a certain functionality cannot be implemented because of lack of knowledge. Usually the compromises start here. Design starts trimming back, and reworking certain details, certain functionalities or features are either modified to work within the constraints, or outright cut. If time permits, another prototype is done to test these new adjustments, but it’s typically tech issues that need to be ironed out. From the art standpoint, they can start going into production. The aspects of the art assets that are guaranteed keeps are the ones that go into production first. From playing the first Folklore demo, I would assume that this would be the Faery Realm. There are several reasons why I think this is so, which I will delve into in the next post and start getting into the art aspects of it. Stay tuned!

Glossary of Terms

For the benefit of the people not knowing what the game industry is about, here is a list of terms used in the post that may shed light on what I’m talking about:

  • Geometry – 3d models. Geometry is composed of multitudes of polygons.
  • Polygons – a surface created by joining three points. The triangle it forms is the surface of a polygon.
  • Polycount – a count of how many polygons a piece of geometry or a scene has. Used for determining limitations.
  • Grey Box – Literally a grey box. It can have a few details in it, such as a grid texture, or some other primative stuff. It’s mainly used so the programmers and designers have something they can test with, without it being too costly in creating elaborate art. This means that changes made are also very low risk, as then you’re only throwing a way a stupid box, rather than a sprawling vista. Grey boxes can be applied to anything.
  • Polygon Limit – the number of polygons that can be displayed on screen at any given moment. If the geometry exceeds that limit, bad things could happen.
  • Texture – an image applied to a polygon. Typically, polygons are just grey. The reason textures are used is because not all objects can be represented entirely through polygons. (it would break the polygon limit pretty quickly) so things like wrinkles, pockets, buttons, etc. are all painted onto an image and mapped to the polygons.
  • Production Cycle – the amount of time it takes to produce a game from beginning to end.
  • Preproduction – the period before a production cycle starts
  • Prototype – a proof of concept test of hardware, software, concepts, art, etc.
  • Art Style – a unified “look and feel” of a game. These are expressed through concept art, and documents.
  • Art Bible – A collection of concept art and documents pertaining to the art style, as well as technical documentation on how an artist needs to do certain things to fit within engine limitations
  • Engine – A library of code designed to perform various functions, such as rendering.
  • Rendering – Computational calculations of drawing geometry onto a screen.
  • Collision Detection – Objects in 3d space can pass through other objects in 3d space unless parameters are set for them not to. Collision detection is when the player runs against a wall, and the player cannot pass through it. Likewise, it is also used for attacks and other things. When the player walks up against an enemy, they collide, but no damage is done. When the player hits attack, a “hit box” is turned on. If the box overlaps the collision box of the enemy, a hit is registered, the enemy plays his injure animation, and appropriate stats are calculated.
  • Hit Box/Collision Box – the area defined as collidable. This can be a sphere, a box, a cylinder, or the actual geometry. The reason why simple shapes are used instead is because it’s easier for the engine to calculate. Complicated collision causes slowdown.
  • Rig – a skeleton hooked up to a character model. Animators animate the rigs that drive the geometry to move.
  • Vertical Slice – like the slice of a cake – a sample of what the whole cake is like. The rest of the cake is still being made, but you can sample this piece of cake and know the whole cake will be just like this. Replace “cake” with “game”.
  • Asset – a created piece of art. A character would be considered an art asset. A button would too.

Jump To:

  1. Development Process
  2. Art Production
  3. Industry Shortcuts
  4. Specific Shortcutting Strategies
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  1. January 20, 2008 at 10:32 pm

    Good read about development process, learned alot šŸ˜€

    for the game itself, I find that folklore is abit lacking in the gameplay hours department.. considering that this one is subclassed into RPG (30+ hours is common for RPGs). my only complain for folklore ^^

  2. January 20, 2008 at 10:40 pm

    I wouldn’t actually consider Folklore an RPG. It’s more like an action game with some RPG elements. Very similar in vein to Devil May Cry. Collecting orbs to purchase skills or buy more HP. Same concept, really.

    I think the RPG element was added to the game not only as a lengthener, but it does give the game more variety, goals, and it actually does make things a bit easier.

    With today’s gaming world, kids have short attention spans, adults have less time to play games, and development costs are too high to produce lengthy games with high unique content. I think Folklore does a good job attempting to balance all of these aspects into one good experience. Be sure to check back for more on the development process!

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