Evan Bell from Edge of Reality - Cipher Complex
|Tracy: Let’s start off with some background. What is your educational background?
Evan: After high school I went to college. At first I thought about majoring in English because I had math phobia. I knew I wanted to make games, but was being a wimp. After 2 semesters I changed my major to computer science. I graduated from Weber State University in 1999 with a degree in Computer Science and a minor in Math. During my undergrad education I spent a year at the University of Utah.
Tracy: How long have you been working at Edge of Reality and what’s your job title?
Evan: I have been with Edge since I graduated, so that makes it 8 years as of October 2007. My title is “Senior Game Programmer”. While not conveyed in my title, I do have a lot of management duties since I am a squad lead.
Tracy: How many production titles have you worked on and list their names if possible?
Evan: I have worked directly on 5 shipped titles: Tony Hawk Pro Skater(N64), Spider-man(N64), Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2(N64), Pitfall: The Lost Expedition and Shark Tale. Beyond those games I contributed to The Sims, Over the Hedge and two titles that were canceled before completion.
Tracy: So I hear you are now working on an original game called Cipher Complex. What are the differences you’ve seen in working on a game brought down by a publisher vs. one made independently like this one?
Evan: Two of the big differences are scheduling and final approval. When working on a title owned and initiated by a publisher, the developer works on the publisher’s schedule to hit the ideal ship date. For licensed titles this is often determined by a movie’s release date or expected competition in the market. It can also be influenced by quarterly profit schedules since most publishers are public companies. As for final approval, the publisher has ultimate authority about what can go into a game. When developing a self funded title, this approval system does not exist, for better and sometimes worse.
Tracy: Cipher Complex is slated for release on the Xbox 360 and the PS3. Since this site if mainly for programmers what I really wanted to do in this interview is talk about some of the challenges faced while developing for two next gen system. On both machines you have multiple processor cores. How has this enhanced the quality of the game and what kind of issues has it created?
Evan: Correction, Cipher Complex will ship for high end PCs as well.
A big challenge is finding a way to exploit the available processors. Many game engines from the last generation, while multi-threaded, did a lot of work in one primary thread. To properly exploit the new processor architectures we need to parallelize work that used to be executed serially. It can be very challenging to adapt an existing game engine. It is even more challenging on the PS3. The Xbox 360 is composed of multipurpose processors. The PS3 has one primary multipurpose processor and 6 specialized processors. Meaning that code written to work for one processor type will not automatically work on another processor type. This is an added challenge for a game that must work on multiple platforms. We ideally want to write the code once and have it run on all platforms, keeping the platform specific code to a minimum. In this generation, it is much harder to do that and it requires a lot of planning or reworking of existing code. This is why the PS3 has suffered had some really nasty ports.
Tracy: What about the Blue-Ray in the PS3. Are you able to take advantage of the extra storage capabilities or has this not been an issue. Also with the Xbox 360 only having a DVD drive with both versions be the same or will the PS3 Version have more textures, levels, etc.?
Evan: In the past disk space has not been a major issue for Edge of Reality. With the exception of localized versions, because we sometimes ship multiple languages on a single disk for Europe. From the game developer perspective, the only thing Blu-Ray has is extra storage. It is hard to exploit this in a cross platform game. Large games like RPGs will benefit because they can fit on a single disk. But transfer times from a Blu-Ray disk are comparable to a standard DVD. So it is like eating a steak through a straw. I don’t expect Cipher Complex will have any extra content on the PS3 alone. Perhaps we could do more extras like interviews with the team and publisher side producers. That would be cool. But game play content? Why would be spend more money to make content for the platform with the smallest installed base? We are much more likely to add content after shipping the game that can be downloaded via Xbox Live or the Playstation Network.
Tracy: With both systems having internet access have yall been able to take advantage of this feature for multiplayer gaming. If so what complications do the two different architectures provide.
Evan: The Hulk team is including a multi-player portion for the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of the game. For Cipher Complex, this is an open issue that I am not at liberty to discuss. As for differences, Xbox Live is a much more mature online platform and it is highly functional. The PS3 network is lagging a little bit in quality features but it may close the gap significantly in the next year. From a programming perspective, it is very similar. We use networking protocols which are cross platform. Most of the porting issues emerge in user interface and different behavior requirements. Xbox Live has a strict set of guidelines that your game must conform to before it can be approved for manufacturing. The Playstation Network has a different set of guidelines. The PC has no guidelines.
Tracy: While there are many other subjects we could cover in this interview we will hold off those questions for a later time. Before we go is there any specific subject that you would like to address to our audience?
Evan: I prefer to answer direct questions instead of lecturing from my soapbox. Thanks for the opportunity.
Tracy: Thanks so much for your interview I know our readers will enjoy.