General: Redguard Behind the Scenes Interview
Many of the readers I communicate with have a lot of questions regarding the development process of a major game, like Redguard. Many of you have aspirations to be in the game field, others of you are just game junkies looking to get any bit of insider information. Then there are the techies, the people devoted to the latest time-demo results, which engine is better this week, and what new 3Dfx drivers are out there that will change your life. If any of this sounds vaguely familiar, sit yourself down, grab a cold one, and enjoy a sit-n-spell I had with Todd Howard and Ashley Cheng from Bethesda Softworks.
AVault: How did you get into computer games?
Todd Howard: I’m a total geek. The greatest day of my life (other than my wedding day) was when we went to Atlantic City and my mom gave us a bucket of quarters. We weren’t old enough to go into the casino and the adults had to do something with us kids. Man we were in heaven - this was a big bucket of quarters. I’ve been hooked ever since.
Ashley Cheng: I’m an avid gamer. I’ve been a fan of adventure games for a long time. I did some non-profit work for some game companies in the past. It’s a real passion for me; I just can’t explain it.
AVault: How did you get your job at Bethesda Softworks? What did you do before working for Bethesda?
Todd Howard: I got involved with Bethesda because I’m on the east coast. I did the California thing but didn’t like it much. This is my home so when I decided to work for a game company, and at that time there were only two companies on the east coast, Microprose and Bethesda, I chose Bethesda. They were making the kind of games I enjoyed so it seemed like a good fit. I’ve been here for a long time. I started on a lot of small projects. I then did Future Shock, Skynet and even worked onDaggerfall.
Ashley Cheng: I’m the Public Relations Manager for Redguard. After doing the school thing I did quite a few different things. I‘ve wanted to work for Bethesda for a long time; I just kept applying.
AVault: What type of marketing plans are there for Redguard? How many units do you expect to sell?
Ashley Cheng: Redguard will launch with over 150,000 units, which is probably our biggest title ever. Redguard is more accessible than our previous titles so we are hoping for a lot of success.
AVault: Bethesda didn’t attend E3 this year? Can you tell us why? Do you play on attending in the future?
Ashley Cheng: Yes, we plan on attending E3 in the future. This year we didn’t attend due to cost-related issues. Atlanta isn’t the best venue for us. We did a lot of press tours instead this year; it just made sense to do it that way. We did have a suite in Atlanta -- we just didn’t exhibit.
AVault: What advice would you give to someone that wants to do what you do, to start their career in computer games?
Todd Howard: First, you have to have a passion for games, but that’s not enough. You have to be very adept at creativity, know your math skills, take programming classes, and then apply with Bethesda Softworks (laughs). You really have to be the type of individual that likes to know how things work; you have to really be able to get in there and understand the language. It helps to be able to write kick-ass code.
Ashley Cheng: Honestly, it’s a lot of luck. There is no set path to getting into the industry; for marketing, take a lot of communication courses and work hard. Before this I dealt with the normal press; in the computer game industry it’s more important to have the ability to not only work hard but have fun doing it.
AVault: Being involved so deeply in the design aspects of a game, do you ever get time to play games? Which ones and what is your favorite?
Todd Howard: I play a lot of games. Gaming is not only my job, it’s also my hobby, so yes I play them. I really like sports games. I was into FPS Football for a long time. I play a lot of Fallout right now, and I enjoy multiplayer games of Starcraft. They did a phenomenal job in managing those 3 races; I appreciate the time and effort it took to make them so different and yet so balanced. That game is polished. My favorite game of all time is Ultima VII.... I used to spend time in the shower thinking about what I was doing in that game. I used to think about my life in that game more than I did my real one.
Ashley Cheng: I do but not as much as I would like. I’ve been playing a lot of Starcraft.Redguard is elegant; I think it will be my favorite. It’s too bad that I already know the whole story. There’s a big part of me that wishes I didn’t so I could experience the beauty of Redguard like everyone else.
AVault: What game was the biggest influence for you in designing Redguard?
Todd Howard: Mostly our own stuff, the TES games. I really enjoy our games; we’ve done some good stuff. The other influence, and this may seem like a weird answer, but Star Control 2. That game mixed genres better than any game I’ve played. You had strategy, exploration, and action all intermixed seamlessly into one game. The other main influence has been Ultima VII because it had a good story and wasn’t linear.
AVault: When did the Redguard project start?
Todd Howard: Over two years ago.
AVault: What has taken so long? If it started two years ago, then how was Battlespire completed so quickly?
Todd Howard: Well, that’s a two-part question. Let me answer the last part first. Redguard is a bigger, much more involved game than Battlespire.
Ashley Cheng: Not to take anything away from Battlespire, but it wasn’t intended to be a premiere title for us. Redguard is. We had different goals for each project. Battlespire is a niche product and did as well as we expected. We are expecting a lot more from Redguard.
Todd Howard: It’s important to note also that Redguard is taking us into Morrowind, so we needed to make sure we did everything right.
AVault: Tell us a little about the project's origins. How do you begin a project like Redguard?
Todd Howard: Wow, big question. We get our project ideas usually toward the end of an existing project. There are always tons of ideas floating around. A game is never thought up by just one person; it’s a team effort. We first figure out who’s available to work on the game. Once we get the idea, we enter the design phase, using mostly paper, storyboards, artwork, and pictures. At the same time the technology designers start working on the engine and depending on the game that may mean writing a new one or modifying an existing one. It’s then my responsibility to turn all this into a game. We all get together and it just happens. In the design process there are lots of changes; dealing with new hardware is just one of the considerations you have to deal with. It really just depends on the size and scope of the project, but that’s a good overall idea.
AVault: Any ideas on the costs associated with a title like Redguard?
Ashley Cheng: In general, a game that’s this big of a production...well, let’s just say it’s in the millions. Our games, which are mostly RPGs, take a long time to make. TakeMorrowind for example - it’s a three-year project; that’s a lot of money. You need to have titles in between that make money to fuel the main project’s development. Just look at any game’s list of credits; remember all those people have to be paid. This is an expensive process.
AVault: Okay, lets get technical. What engine is being used for Redguard? How does it differ from the other Bethesda games?
Todd Howard: The Xngine is an open-ended rendering engine that’s capable of doing about anything you want to do that is associated with polygons. For Redguard, since it will be supporting a full line of Voodoo and Voodoo 2 cards, we’ve had to do an entire rework of the engine. In software-rendering mode the display is 8-bit, in 3Dfx mode, or course, it’s full 16-bit. You’re going to be impressed withRedguard’s graphics; the attention to detail is mind boggling. Just imagine all of the effort made towards making Daggerfall vast; we’ve taken that approach toRedguard’s look and feel.
AVault: What makes the engine so cool? What can it do that others cannot? How do you feel it compares to Unreal, Quake 2, and Tomb Raider 2?
Todd Howard: This version of the Xngine can display and render more polygons than most other engines. NPCs range from 400-600 polygons each; buildings are at least in the 100s of polygons each and no two are alike. Some of the great effects are full fog layers, and multiple cloud layers that the sun can break through. We’ll have colored lighting. We’re really moving a lot of objects in the game. Our script language is really powerful. Redguard’s look and feel are one in the same. The game looks real because it feels real; the game feels real because it looks real.
AVault: What hardware will you be taking advantage of?
Todd Howard: Voodoo stuff, Voodoo 2...it provides the best alternative for what we want to do. At the time that we started development D3D wasn’t far along enough for what we wanted to do. I’ve looked at DirectX 6 and we’ll be using that. But for now 3Dfx is doing the things that fit within our design.
AVault: How does the engine handle dead bodies? Do they disappear or stay there? What about chinks out of the wall, etc.?
Todd Howard: Dead bodies are removed after a series or time. Right now this process is under debate; we might be changing how this works. You can’t take chinks out of the walls, but they are static and they do make sounds when you hit them.
AVault: Are there weather effects, nighttime, day time? How does the game handle the passage of time? How much time will progress during the course of the game?
Todd Howard: The game takes place over two and a half days. Completing certain elements of the game will cause time to progress. There are time-related effects such as dawn, dusk, and nighttime. However, you could have Cyrus standing on the bridge for two weeks but time would not progress. The passage of time will occur as the game’s story is realized.
AVault: You all have taken a lot of heat over game bugs, especially in the TES line, and rightfully so. What can you tell us about quality assurance at Bethesda Softworks? What are you doing to fix it?
Todd Howard: This is a much tighter game. When you design a game that creates itself on the fly, like Daggerfall, you open yourself up to a testing nightmare. Think about it - how many games are as open-ended and are on as a scale as Daggerfall? With an estimated gameplay time of 200 hours and 300 if you do everything, how can you test for that? However, I know we deserved our hits for Daggerfall and Arena; it’s not fair for customers to have that many patches. Fixing this problem has been a major company focus. Redguard is a much tighter game. It’s been playable over a year so we’ve really been able to work out the bugs; we’ve been testing it as a full game for a long time.
AVault: The gameplay in Redguard is best described as combinations of what two games?
Todd Howard: The action in Prince of Persia with the adventure and scope of Ultima VII.
AVault: How many people worked on the project? How many programmers, designers, artists, and marketing people?
Todd Howard: It’s pretty big; our core team is ten people. Over the course of the project we’ve had three programmers, five to seven artists, two designers, and three people just working on 3Dfx. It changes over time and in addition to them we had five to six animators, voice-over talent, lots of testers, and marketing. It’s a lot like making a movie.
AVault: What’s been the biggest challenge faced during this project?
Todd Howard: Living up to our expectations in the size of the game and the level of detail we wanted. Our game is gigantic and making it as polished as we imagined has been difficult.
AVault: Have there been any features, gameplay stuff that you weren’t able to add to the game that you wanted to?
Todd Howard: We wanted Cyrus to ride a horse, but after trying to implement this process we found it would not work. Because if Cyrus is able to ride a horse, then everybody needs to be able to ride a horse. Then we started to ask ourselves [if he would] be able to sword fight on a horse. Then we got into collision detection problems, etc. It just wasn’t practical. Every other feature made it into the game.
AVault: When is the expected release date? Can we quote you on that?
Ashley Cheng: October first, yes.
AVault: How many CDs will come with the game? What’s the packaging like?
Todd Howard: Two CDs will come with the game but you will never need to switch them. The first CD installs about 350MB, the second CD runs the game. There will also be a map -- I love maps from my Ultima days -- a beefy manual, and the pocket guide. I’m also throwing around the idea of putting some sand in the box. In fact, maybe we’ll bury the entire contents in sand; it would be like real pirates. People could dig for their treasure. That’s a cool idea. Ashley!
Ashley Cheng: He didn’t really say that did he?
AVault: What are your plans for the future? What’s your next project?
Todd Howard: We are in late alpha right now. Beta will be here in a week. We are really strict on what we call alpha and beta. Beta means that the game has everything in it, and just needs a tweak or two. After the game is done, I’m going on vacation.
Ashley Cheng: We have another racing title in the works, which we will announce in the near future.
AVault: Can you give us anything on TES: Morrowind...PLEASE!
Todd Howard: The only thing I can say is that it’s been a long time coming, because we’ve put a lot into the development, story, and design of this game. You haven’t seen anything yet.
Ashley Cheng: It’s coming....
Julian Lefay: Unavailable for comment -- it is rumored that he has been locked away in a dungeon in Almalexia.