"The bloodiest, sickest game from EA"

On Wednesday we hung out at Electronic Arts all day long getting to know the team of Dead Space, a new horror survival shooter-style game that has already won a bunch of awards at industry conferences (it won best new action/adventure game at the recent E3 conference).

I recorded a couple of videos with my cell phone, but the really good stuff will come in about two weeks (we’ll be headed out to New York next week to meet with FastCompany team members). Unfortunately getting a cell phone video out of EA was very hard, I hear Qik.com has a new version coming soon that’ll fix the problems when you are in a low-bit-rate situation like I was on Wednesday.

Here’s a talk with team members while they watch the first group test the game (there were a bunch of game industry journalists and bloggers there to play the game for the first time). Love it when they say “this is the bloodiest, sickest game from EA.”

When one of the key technologies is a “dismemberment algorithm” you know this is a scary game.

This tester, a gaming journalist for GamingBits.com, said that the audio is “just scary.” You get to see him play a little bit of the game in this video, where he died for the seventh time in a row in the same spot.

Some things I learned.

1. Artist Ben Wanat is one demented dude. I wonder what his nightmares are like. Cause the drawings he was showing us were pretty damn scary! (He did a lot of the original art that turned into what you see on screen). In this video Ben comes on and gives you some of his thinking behind the art. Sorry it’s so poor quality video, but I only had my cell phone ready for this and only had an 80 kbps connection to get video out.

2. They have a new lighting engine that lets them have many more light sources than any other game they’ve done. The technology behind that is pretty interesting. One thing I learned: the average movie has six hours PER FRAME of computer time to render a movie, but in a video game they have about 30 milliseconds to render a frame.

3. The process of making a game, getting it sold to executives, and built out is an interesting one. First a small team of artists and creative people get together and build the concept of the game. Draw out a ton of art to show what the feel and look of the game will be. Then they build a prototype for a small slice of the game to give executives a sense of what the game will do and the market it’ll go after. Only then do they get a green light to build the game out totally and take it to market.

4. This is a big game with about 100 people working on it. They wouldn’t give me investment figures, but when I worked at Microsoft I heard that a game of this calibre could cost about $10 million or more to produce.

5. This is the first game that I’ve seen where humans are starting to look good in the game. They said they spent a lot of time in image capture (where an actor wears a suit that digitizes movement) to get that part right.

6. Dead Space is aimed at an older crowd, not a game for young kids. It is very scary and lots of Alien-style creatures.

7. They say that a game of this calibre can only be done in a few places in the world because they need a combination of both entertainment expertise as well as geeks who can build the technology underneath the game.

8. I asked several EA employees about working conditions (and even got rid of the PR people to have some good conversations) and they say that the attitude of management toward work hours has dramatically improved but still could be improved more. For those who don’t know, an anonymous blogger called EA Spouse, wrote that she never saw her husband because he was asked to work so many hours. That led to a lawsuit and changes inside the company. I even heard that the test team has a bet with the dev team that they won’t be forced to pull an all-nighter to get the game out. Nice to see that a little attention out here on the blogs led to what seems to be major changes internally. I also really appreciate being able to hang out for more than a day with all sorts of employees without having PR accompanying us everywhere, that’s a testament to how things are going too.

Anyway, looking forward to showing you more when we get our editing done.

Comments

  1. “in a video game they have about 30 nanoseconds to render a frame.”

    That would mean that the game runs at over 33 million frames per second.

    I think you (or they) meant 30 milliseconds. Still, only a couple of orders of magnitude out, eh? :-)

  2. “in a video game they have about 30 nanoseconds to render a frame.”

    That would mean that the game runs at over 33 million frames per second.

    I think you (or they) meant 30 milliseconds. Still, only a couple of orders of magnitude out, eh? :-)

  3. There’s got to be an idea in that 30 milliseconds/6hour render gap worth pursuing. Faster rendering for Webisodes that want CGI effects?

  4. There’s got to be an idea in that 30 milliseconds/6hour render gap worth pursuing. Faster rendering for Webisodes that want CGI effects?

  5. 6. Dead Space is aimed at an older crowd, not a game for young kids.

    Bloodiest, sickest game ever. Yeah, young kids won’t get their hands on that.

  6. 6. Dead Space is aimed at an older crowd, not a game for young kids.

    Bloodiest, sickest game ever. Yeah, young kids won’t get their hands on that.

  7. Third-person BioShockish, HL2ish, RE4ish, Doomish, System Shockish survival-horror deep-space mining-station “gruesome-psychological chills-outer-space-mutants” copycat. Wheee. Haven’t seen anything like this before. And oh, kill the HUD and multiplayer.

    Pluuuuuze this is just EA sticking foot in in sci-fi horror waters, Schofield trying to create a franchise, with all sorts of “scary” marketing. And now that they are reaching out to bloggers and other non-gamer fodder, it’s doomed. Well, the Warren Ellis fans might give a little push, and hence the narrative might be better than usual (not that it worked for the hackneyed Hostile Waters), but it’s still a goner.

    Bros in Arms, Hell’s Highway, now that’s a hell, worth looking forward to.

  8. Third-person BioShockish, HL2ish, RE4ish, Doomish, System Shockish survival-horror deep-space mining-station “gruesome-psychological chills-outer-space-mutants” copycat. Wheee. Haven’t seen anything like this before. And oh, kill the HUD and multiplayer.

    Pluuuuuze this is just EA sticking foot in in sci-fi horror waters, Schofield trying to create a franchise, with all sorts of “scary” marketing. And now that they are reaching out to bloggers and other non-gamer fodder, it’s doomed. Well, the Warren Ellis fans might give a little push, and hence the narrative might be better than usual (not that it worked for the hackneyed Hostile Waters), but it’s still a goner.

    Bros in Arms, Hell’s Highway, now that’s a hell, worth looking forward to.

  9. “Third-person BioShockish, HL2ish, RE4ish, Doomish, System Shockish survival-horror deep-space mining-station “gruesome-psychological chills-outer-space-mutants” copycat. Wheee. Haven’t seen anything like this before. And oh, kill the HUD and multiplayer.

    Pluuuuuze this is just EA sticking foot in in sci-fi horror waters, Schofield trying to create a franchise, with all sorts of “scary” marketing. And now that they are reaching out to bloggers and other non-gamer fodder, it’s doomed. Well, the Warren Ellis fans might give a little push, and hence the narrative might be better than usual (not that it worked for the hackneyed Hostile Waters), but it’s still a goner.

    Bros in Arms, Hell’s Highway, now that’s a hell, worth looking forward to.”

    Ok, lets fight flame with flames……

    Yeah, world war 2 games haven’t been done in decades, good thinking! Bros in Arms, Hell’s Highway…..Call of Dutyish, Hidden & Dangerousish, Medal of Honorish, Battlefieldish, Wolfensteinish, Day of Defeatish…the list goes on. See how insightful your arguement is now? The team made extra efforts to set their game apart. “Strategic Dismemberment” is pretty fun and I can’t recall seeing it in any of the games you mentioned. The way they portay data that you need without the HUD is awesome, inventive and immersive. But oh, why would they want to use “scary” marketing to advertise a horror game? That’s just silly! Why would anyone want to create a franchise? Success is for capitalist, Boooo! Why on Earth would you bring in journalist from horror sites and gaming enthusiasts to a survival/horror game’s community day? Guess they should have invited you, right? Pluuuuuze (<- w/e that is), this is just YOU sticking foot in your mouth. Think before you post negative Nancy……..

  10. “Third-person BioShockish, HL2ish, RE4ish, Doomish, System Shockish survival-horror deep-space mining-station “gruesome-psychological chills-outer-space-mutants” copycat. Wheee. Haven’t seen anything like this before. And oh, kill the HUD and multiplayer.

    Pluuuuuze this is just EA sticking foot in in sci-fi horror waters, Schofield trying to create a franchise, with all sorts of “scary” marketing. And now that they are reaching out to bloggers and other non-gamer fodder, it’s doomed. Well, the Warren Ellis fans might give a little push, and hence the narrative might be better than usual (not that it worked for the hackneyed Hostile Waters), but it’s still a goner.

    Bros in Arms, Hell’s Highway, now that’s a hell, worth looking forward to.”

    Ok, lets fight flame with flames……

    Yeah, world war 2 games haven’t been done in decades, good thinking! Bros in Arms, Hell’s Highway…..Call of Dutyish, Hidden & Dangerousish, Medal of Honorish, Battlefieldish, Wolfensteinish, Day of Defeatish…the list goes on. See how insightful your arguement is now? The team made extra efforts to set their game apart. “Strategic Dismemberment” is pretty fun and I can’t recall seeing it in any of the games you mentioned. The way they portay data that you need without the HUD is awesome, inventive and immersive. But oh, why would they want to use “scary” marketing to advertise a horror game? That’s just silly! Why would anyone want to create a franchise? Success is for capitalist, Boooo! Why on Earth would you bring in journalist from horror sites and gaming enthusiasts to a survival/horror game’s community day? Guess they should have invited you, right? Pluuuuuze (<- w/e that is), this is just YOU sticking foot in your mouth. Think before you post negative Nancy……..

  11. I don’t get the ’6 hours per frame’ part either. 30 frames per second in a 93 minutes movie makes 10 million frames per movie. Multiply that by 6 hours, and the result is that it would take a computer almost 7,000 years to render a feature length movie.

  12. I don’t get the ’6 hours per frame’ part either. 30 frames per second in a 93 minutes movie makes 10 million frames per movie. Multiply that by 6 hours, and the result is that it would take a computer almost 7,000 years to render a feature length movie.

  13. Jaap: most movies don’t do CGI through the entire movie. He’s talking about processor time. Most computers have four processor cores in them now. Shrek was processed in a data center that had hundreds of machines.

  14. Jaap: most movies don’t do CGI through the entire movie. He’s talking about processor time. Most computers have four processor cores in them now. Shrek was processed in a data center that had hundreds of machines.

  15. Dave from Dead Space here…

    I gave the presentation at EA regarding the lighting / rendering tech. It can be a bit confusing as we dropped a “bomb load” of information on some unsuspecting civilians. Hopefully I can help clarify this topic regarding rendering time without making things worse.

    Before we get started… There are two very different types of rendering methods being discussed here: One is “pre-rendered” or “non-realtime” rendering used when making a film like Shrek. The other is “real-time” rendering used for making video games like Dead Space.

    When I worked at PDI / Dreamworks the average frame took about 6 hours to render on a single remote processor. This is an educated guess as some frames render very quickly while others would take much longer. We submitted these frames in batches to a massive render farm which resulted in many images being computed at the same time across hundreds / thousands of machines. My “back of the napkin” math works out like this: Film is 24 fps * 2 hour film = 172,800 frames * 6 hrs avg per frame = 1,036,800 hrs total rendering time. This number is scary… but the equalizer is that if you run this across 1200 processors it ends up being about 36 days of rendering time.

    In games we need to render things in real-time as the player has control of the camera / game play / etc. In film… all aspects such as motion / lighting / camera angles don’t change so there is no requirement to render in real-time.

    In Dead Space we are using a deferred rendering method. My lighting team was allocated the budget of around 8 milliseconds out of a 26-33 millisecond range to ensure the game plays at a solid 30 fps. Lots of other things comprise this 26-33 ms total time… we just have a small slice of the pie.

  16. Dave from Dead Space here…

    I gave the presentation at EA regarding the lighting / rendering tech. It can be a bit confusing as we dropped a “bomb load” of information on some unsuspecting civilians. Hopefully I can help clarify this topic regarding rendering time without making things worse.

    Before we get started… There are two very different types of rendering methods being discussed here: One is “pre-rendered” or “non-realtime” rendering used when making a film like Shrek. The other is “real-time” rendering used for making video games like Dead Space.

    When I worked at PDI / Dreamworks the average frame took about 6 hours to render on a single remote processor. This is an educated guess as some frames render very quickly while others would take much longer. We submitted these frames in batches to a massive render farm which resulted in many images being computed at the same time across hundreds / thousands of machines. My “back of the napkin” math works out like this: Film is 24 fps * 2 hour film = 172,800 frames * 6 hrs avg per frame = 1,036,800 hrs total rendering time. This number is scary… but the equalizer is that if you run this across 1200 processors it ends up being about 36 days of rendering time.

    In games we need to render things in real-time as the player has control of the camera / game play / etc. In film… all aspects such as motion / lighting / camera angles don’t change so there is no requirement to render in real-time.

    In Dead Space we are using a deferred rendering method. My lighting team was allocated the budget of around 8 milliseconds out of a 26-33 millisecond range to ensure the game plays at a solid 30 fps. Lots of other things comprise this 26-33 ms total time… we just have a small slice of the pie.

  17. almost 7,000 years to render

    You can’t be that dense. Render farms, geesh, parallelizable RedHat boxes times two thousand, 3 to 4 pack of racks with 500+ cpu’s, throwing a few Panasas’ in for storage.

  18. almost 7,000 years to render

    You can’t be that dense. Render farms, geesh, parallelizable RedHat boxes times two thousand, 3 to 4 pack of racks with 500+ cpu’s, throwing a few Panasas’ in for storage.