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Star Wars: The Old Republic Forum » General Discussion » GDC - James Ohlen - Voiceovers didn't drive the cost up, it was getting the engine to work right that drove costs (through the roof)

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205 posts found
  simplius

Novice Member

Joined: 12/12/12
Posts: 978

4/09/13 12:26:05 AM#121
Originally posted by Vorthanion
Originally posted by Quizzical
Originally posted by Vorthanion
Originally posted by Quizzical
Originally posted by Vorthanion
Heh, I had serious doubts about the Hero engine from the very start, but kept getting shouted down by supposed "armchair expert programmers" on this very site.  I had read previously that the Hero engine was not well suited for MMOs.  In fact, many of the current engines meet that sad criteria, such as the one that keeps getting regurgitated by Cryptic Studios.

You know why Cryptic's engine works for their games?  Because they made their own engine for the express purpose of making the sort of games that they wanted to make.  If EA had tried to use Cryptic's engine to make SWTOR, it's far from guaranteed that it would have worked out any better than using the Hero Engine.  It could easily have turned out much worse.  That's not a knock on Cryptic; their engine was built for Champions Online, Star Trek Online, and Neverwinter, but not for SWTOR.  If it wouldn't have worked for SWTOR, well then, maybe that's because it was never intended to.

As for Hero Engine, yes, it was built with MMORPGs in mind.  The original game was Hero's Journey, which may or may not have since been cancelled.  The problem is that you can build an engine to do what you want to do in one particular game, but you can't build it to efficiently do everything that any MMORPG could ever want.

How's it feeling there in that armchair?

Saying that it might have been better or it might have been worse isn't a very strong statement.

We've seen how Cryptic's engine worked for Cryptic's games, but not how it would have worked for any other games.  Cryptic had no need to implement functionality that they didn't need in their own games, even if a large fraction of other MMORPGs would have needed it.  So for other companies to try to use Cryptic's engine could easily have had catastrophically bad results.  Or it might not have.  We don't know.

I'm sorry, but where do you get the impression that I said they might have been better off using an engine like Cryptic's?  I merely used the Cryptic engine as another example of how there are many game engines out there that do not make for good MMOs.  They take the massively multiplayer out of the equation with their ultra-instancing of the game world / lobby and the serious inability to support more than a hundred or so people per instance.  I don't understand how engines used in games like EQ and Acheron's Call could handle thousands of people per server without instancing, yet they cannot or choose not to in games like SWTOR or just about any Cryptic game.  Just because they want to make a more arcade style game doesn't mean players want to be isolated from each other in multiple instances.

you want to put thousands of todays mmo players in the same zone? give me a warning first , please

even if any engine could do that, with todays fluff,,imagine ironforge late night chat, but 1000 times worse

those times are gone

  ignore_me

Apprentice Member

Joined: 7/04/11
Posts: 2034

4/09/13 3:04:23 AM#122
I think the problem was actually a bad motivator.

Survivor of the great MMORPG Famine of 2011

  observer

Elite Member

Joined: 2/17/05
Posts: 2100

First came pride, then envy.

4/09/13 3:14:01 AM#123
Originally posted by KaiserPhoenix
imagine how great swtor would've been if they made it on the Unreal Engine 3...

The game engine was only one of many things wrong with swtor.  The core game design was flawed in many ways, and this is something Ohlen doesn't bring up, and instead, he wants to blame everything else.

  ignore_me

Apprentice Member

Joined: 7/04/11
Posts: 2034

4/09/13 3:23:16 AM#124
Originally posted by observer
Originally posted by KaiserPhoenix
imagine how great swtor would've been if they made it on the Unreal Engine 3...

The game engine was only one of many things wrong with swtor.  The core game design was flawed in many ways, and this is something Ohlen doesn't bring up, and instead, he wants to blame everything else.

Yeah I think that's the best summation. There was no way the thing was not going to blow once they had their initial design set in stone. It might have looked better or had more players in an instance, but would still have been fatally flawed.

Ohlen can't say that, so the tech aspect gets the focus.

Ignore the cutscene behind the curtain, it was those Hero guys, and those meth-head content locusts!

Survivor of the great MMORPG Famine of 2011

  tiefighter25

Novice Member

Joined: 7/30/12
Posts: 949

4/09/13 3:30:56 AM#125

To be fair, if the engine was as gimped as they say (and appears to have been) then all of a sudden designers are doing less designing and instead coming up with creative workarounds. (And creating an "ethos" for them).

I.E. Remove chat bubbles (who wants that clutter?) Add fleets. Mess with and kil Ilum. No combat log, because those are l33t. No add-ons. No cross-server functionality (That would ruin server community), Animal mounts are immersion breaking, space was always meant as a mini game (leak a super secret 3d space project) etc.

  Vorthanion

Elite Member

Joined: 7/02/11
Posts: 1893

4/09/13 8:33:29 AM#126
Originally posted by tiefighter25

It's was a hot topic for TESO (Hero Engine). Because of the bad press from SWTOR, Zenimax had to issue statements that Hero was only used for rough blocking. (I believe them when they say they built their own engine, their game will support Macs from launch, Hero doesn't do MAC.)

As to SWTOR and Hero, there is a ton of disconnect of some sort going on.

Simutronics stated Gordon Walton had to have the Hero engine despite their warnings that the engine was still, for lack of a better term, "Alpha". According to Simtronics, Walton stated that he had to have it specifically so hundreds of developers could work on the game simultaneously. As to the "Alpha-ness" of the engine, Walton said Bioware (not EA yet) had enough engineers to handle any blips that might come up. This was at the begining of a 6 year development process.

Now, according to Ohlen, Bioware's version of the Hero engine didn't let multiple teams work on the game at once for 5 years. (which was supposed to be the entire point of using Hero in the first place.)

Ohlen further states that the bulk of Bioware's effort (which would eventually include EA's deep pockets), which included over 300 engineers, were spending their time trying to alter and optimize the engine for SWTOR's needs.

For further head scratching, Ohlen statees that Bioware/EA had 300 engineers working on the engine problems (with what I think most can agree with lackluster results) whereas Simutronics, in the same time, came out with their commercial ready to go Hero engine 2.0, with their 25 full time employees and 100 contractors in the entire company.

Either the truth is being twisted somewhere, or ToR's development is more tragedy then anything else.

Yet they have admitted that there will be heavy use of instancing in TESO.  Not something I like to hear in regards to an MMO.

  lizardbones

Elite Member

Joined: 6/11/08
Posts: 10417

I've become dependent upon spell check. My apologies for stupid grammatical errors.

4/09/13 8:55:51 AM#127


Originally posted by Quizzical

Originally posted by lizardbones  

Originally posted by Quizzical

Originally posted by Xthos It seems like a huge mistake, I mean this is one of the biggest gaming companies, with veteran people, they should of known what they needed.....But I also do not believe much of what they say, they mislead/lied so much during TOR, about so many things that at this point, does it really matter?   I guess if they blame the engine, it makes it even worse, because that may also mean their is no 'fixing' things, and it is basically what it is.  You may be able to optimize things a little here and there, but it may never be what you want.     I also wonder if this is why they went away from having a more open game, that a developer was talking about, well before release?  Maybe the functionality of things prohibited that also?
What do you do if you're working on a game that is already halfway done when you realize that a lot of things that you still want to do are incompatible with the half that you've already done?  Chopping out the things that you can't do without scrapping a lot of what you've already done means you lose much of what could have made the game fun.   There really isn't a good answer to it.  Your basic choices are: 1)  Cancel the project and eat whatever you've already spent on it as a loss, 2)  Press on and do the best you can, while realizing that the end result isn't going to be very good, or 3)  Delay the project by years and spend many millions of dollars more to scrap and redo a ton of things that you had already done, and hope that at the end of that, you're not in essentially the same situation as before with only a different set of things that you still wanted to do now incompatible with what you've already done. Taking choice (3) isn't very common, and is a bad idea unless you have strong reason to believe that you really can fix the problems.  The only MMORPGs that I'm aware of to essentially do (3) are Tabula Rasa, Darkfall, and Final Fantasy XIV.  It didn't work out very well for Tabula Rasa and doesn't look likely to work much better for Darkfall.
OOOOH! I can answer this one! Standard procedure is to keep going, even if the product is going to be horrible. Even with a horrible product, something can be recouped from the investment, which isn't as bad as losing everything.  
It actually depends.  If you've spent $10 million on a game so far, figure it would cost another $10 million to finish the game and bring it to market, and you'd only get $1 million in revenue, then you cancel the game.  It's better to lose $10 million than $19 million.

Maybe you try to cut costs dramatically on what's left and shove the game out the door, but if you can't bring the costs for the rest of the project below what you expect to make by selling it, you cancel the game.




I do not work in the game industry, so I can't really speak specifically for game developers. I am also not a decision maker in any IT hierarchy, so I do not know the reasoning behind why these types of decisions are made. I just assumed the bit about getting something for a game project rather than nothing because it's the only logical reason I can think of to release some of the things that get released.

However, after nearly twenty years of working in IT, watching large scale projects get started, watching them stumble and not get canceled, I feel that I can say with some accuracy that once started, the larger the project is, the less likely the people who started it are going to cancel it. It seems to be even less likely that a project will get canceled if someone else become responsible for it. The project might turn into a zombie, never really going anywhere and never really dying, but they don't get cancelled.

To me, SWToR definitely falls into this category. It's was a huge project. It had some very obvious problems to the people inside the project, but it just kept going. Key things that could have improved the project like writing a game engine, or switching to a newer version of the game engine did not happen. They just kept running with what they had. As I said, I do not know the real reasons why they did this, and really, neither does anyone outside the project regardless of what gets said in interviews after the fact*. I just know that what they did, if things are being presented accurately, was not out of the ordinary. "Standard Procedure" is you just keep going, no matter what.

To see this in action, look at how many games get cancelled before going live, compared to how many games get published, removing those games that get cancelled because the company itself gets tanked. Compare the size of the companies and the size of the game projects themselves. The larger the game project, the less likely the game will be cancelled.

* Humans really are the worst source of information when you're trying to get to facts. Human memory and human perception are malleable to a pretty shocking degree, especially if someone wants to avoid responsibility or blame for something, like a game's performance.

For every large, complex problem, there is a simple, clear solution that also happens to be absolutely wrong.

  Hatefull

Hard Core Member

Joined: 6/09/04
Posts: 745

Your tears make my gun work better.

4/09/13 9:07:22 AM#128
Originally posted by Karteli

This article is directed at SW people-in-the-know, or Gamebreaker watchers.

 

Gamebreaker had an interesting portion with Larry, in which stuff was said at GDC (via James Ohlen) to indicate that the high pricetag of SWTOR was not because of voiceovers, but because EA had to deal with the game engine which was unsupportive of multiplayer activity from the start.  I can find references to the event where Ohlen references EA's purchase of Hero's engine as "untested"; thats common knowledge, so no need to bring that up again (Google search will direct you). But OK (http://raidwarning.com/bioware-creative-director-details-swtor-development-issues/)

 

Stuff was said to indicate that even just a year before release, SWTOR was incapable of being played in a massive environment (more than 6-10 players even).  Tweaks were made to allow the bare minimum .. which I think speaks volumes to the horrid performance the graphics engine delivers.  It was tweaked further later.

 

I skipped to that section of the episode, for your consideration (It's a building conversation, so watch for a few mins):

 

Gamebreaker: Star Wars: The Republic, episode 131

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=j5dLULLpJhU#t=462s

 

I'm curious as to what Larry was speaking of, about the severe limitations of SWTOR just a year prior to release.  Does anyone have a link to the 6-10 player cap?

 

Also, if anyone has a transcript of GDC 2013 with James Ohlen, that would also be helpful.  I could not find one, or a complete video.

 

I'm not looking to focus on how the engine was procured, but rather what needed to be done to make it somewhat playable.

 

What was done? well they had to finish the engine...as you said common knowledge.  BW rushed to procure the engine before it was complete, didn't complete it, then they pushed a shite product out the door, way too early and way over- hyped.  Keeping with the norm for Triple A titles recently.

This debacle, for lack of a better term, rests sqarly on BW's shoulders.  Thay can make any excuse they want, and I am sure they have several lined up however, they had the opportunity and they flushed it in order to make the quick buck.

This is a great study on how not to produce/market a MMO.  A truly amateur, poorly planned and lead endevour.

If you want a new idea, go read an old book.

  Quizzical

Guide

Joined: 12/11/08
Posts: 13169

4/09/13 9:32:53 AM#129
Originally posted by tiefighter25

For further head scratching, Ohlen statees that Bioware/EA had 300 engineers working on the engine problems (with what I think most can agree with lackluster results) whereas Simutronics, in the same time, came out with their commercial ready to go Hero engine 2.0, with their 25 full time employees and 100 contractors in the entire company.

Even if EA had been able to license the new Hero Engine as it exists today, they'd still have had to heavily modify it to do what they want.

  Torvaldr

Elite Member

Joined: 6/10/09
Posts: 5575

4/09/13 9:42:34 AM#130
Originally posted by Quizzical
Originally posted by tiefighter25

For further head scratching, Ohlen statees that Bioware/EA had 300 engineers working on the engine problems (with what I think most can agree with lackluster results) whereas Simutronics, in the same time, came out with their commercial ready to go Hero engine 2.0, with their 25 full time employees and 100 contractors in the entire company.

Even if EA had been able to license the new Hero Engine as it exists today, they'd still have had to heavily modify it to do what they want.

To me that screams lack of experience and poor oversight.  It's a poor excuse to say, oh it cost us a lot to modify the game engine.  Maybe they should have picked a different engine.  Maybe they should have grown their own.  At the very least they should have been realistic about what it takes and the costs involved.  Blaming it on the engine is just rookie.

It looks to me that someone with very old school development philosophies tried to miracle man month the project and proved why that metaphor holds truth.

I think a mind wipe so people could play an mmo like it was their first time again, would be easier to build than a new mmo people here would actually like. - DamonVile

  Quizzical

Guide

Joined: 12/11/08
Posts: 13169

4/09/13 10:42:37 AM#131
You always have to modify a game engine to do what you want if you're trying to make a serious game.  Game engine designers can't anticipate everything that any game will ever want to do.  They try to build in a lot of capabilities that they think a lot of games might want, but they can't do everything conceivable.  And even if they could, it wouldn't be desirable to do so, as that would give you massively bloated code.
  ignore_me

Apprentice Member

Joined: 7/04/11
Posts: 2034

4/09/13 10:59:32 AM#132
Is "Engine" really a good name for that software? It almost sounds as if it would have been better called the "chassis," or "Frame." Engine to me is analgous to car design, and there the engine makes the thing go, and determines the overall performance. Seems like from what Quizzical is saying, the engine is more of a primordial component.  

Survivor of the great MMORPG Famine of 2011

  ktanner3

Master

Joined: 3/19/06
Posts: 4143

Trolls will be ignored

4/09/13 11:16:13 AM#133
Originally posted by Quizzical
You always have to modify a game engine to do what you want if you're trying to make a serious game.  Game engine designers can't anticipate everything that any game will ever want to do.  They try to build in a lot of capabilities that they think a lot of games might want, but they can't do everything conceivable.  And even if they could, it wouldn't be desirable to do so, as that would give you massively bloated code.

True. I think my biggest issue with the way this game was designed was the time wasted on tacking on that space part. I don't see how anyone could have thought that would be passable and it would have been better to leave that for an expansion. All that time spent on making the space shooter could have been used making sure things like Ilum and Legacy were ready for launch. Just my thoughts on the subject. 

Currently Playing: Star Wars The Old Republic

  Quizzical

Guide

Joined: 12/11/08
Posts: 13169

4/09/13 1:00:48 PM#134
Originally posted by ignore_me
Is "Engine" really a good name for that software? It almost sounds as if it would have been better called the "chassis," or "Frame." Engine to me is analgous to car design, and there the engine makes the thing go, and determines the overall performance. Seems like from what Quizzical is saying, the engine is more of a primordial component.  

Suppose that you had the full source code to WoW, but none of the content.  So you wouldn't have art assets, quest text, and so forth; or perhaps rather, you'd have only token amounts of them that you can use to see how the code works.  But you're trying to create SWTOR, and can use whatever you want from WoW's source code to help you create your game.

If SWTOR wanted to do the same thing in the same way that WoW did, you could just grab the relevant chunk of source code and use it.  But anything that SWTOR wanted to do differently from WoW would require either modifying some of the code from WoW or else scrapping the relevant code and creating your own from scratch.  If SWTOR wanted to implement a feature that WoW simply didn't have, then you'd definitely have to create your own code from scratch.  If WoW had a feature that SWTOR didn't want, then you'd toss out the relevant code that implemented it in WoW.

While an imperfect comparison, that's kind of like what licensing a game engine does for you.  Whoever built the game engine tries to provide a bunch of stuff that would be useful for a lot of games.  But they'll inevitably implement a bunch of things that you don't want, while not implementing a bunch of things that you do, simply because different games have different feature sets.  Even if the game engine implements a feature and you want to implement the "same" feature at a high level, if you want to implement it differently, then you're going to have to change some things.  Sometimes you have to change so many things that it's easier to just toss out the entire section of code and write your own from scratch.

One drawback of using WoW's source code as a starting point for SWTOR is that it would push SWTOR to make their game more like WoW.  If WoW implemented something and SWTOR wanted to implement something kind of similar, it's more work to write their own than to simply use the source code from WoW directly.  If they would have kind of liked to do it differently for SWTOR, but didn't particularly care, then they likely just use the WoW source code because they already have that, which makes it easier.

Now, obviously EA did not and does not have access to the full source code for WoW.  But if a bunch of different games use the same game engine, and that game engine is set up to do things in a particular way, you can easily get a bunch of different games doing the same thing in the same way because it's what the game engine is set up for.  That's not always a bad thing; if a bunch of different games have a login authentication system that works in exactly the same way because it's using exactly the same source code, so what?  But when it comes to game mechanics were some variety is desirable, this can become more problematic.

  LogicLester

Apprentice Member

Joined: 3/30/13
Posts: 67

4/09/13 1:32:15 PM#135
Originally posted by ignore_me
Is "Engine" really a good name for that software? It almost sounds as if it would have been better called the "chassis," or "Frame." Engine to me is analgous to car design, and there the engine makes the thing go, and determines the overall performance. Seems like from what Quizzical is saying, the engine is more of a primordial component.  

Yes, because it does determine the overall performance of the final product.  This isn't to say that a powerful game engine can't be bogged down, but it's no different than how a powerful car engine can be bogged down by a heavy body, power loss in the drivetrain, starved of fuel/air, or choked by too many accessories.  So in some ways it's a fairly apt analogy.

 

But really game engines are more of a framework of features you build your game around, so more akin to a drivetrain rather than just the engine I suppose if you really want to use that metaphor.

 

In the case of the Hero engine from what I've read it sounds like they also included a large amount of built-in development tools.  This isn't always the case though with a game engine, some just include compatibility with the more common development tools.

  Torvaldr

Elite Member

Joined: 6/10/09
Posts: 5575

4/09/13 2:15:46 PM#136
Originally posted by Quizzical
You always have to modify a game engine to do what you want if you're trying to make a serious game.  Game engine designers can't anticipate everything that any game will ever want to do.  They try to build in a lot of capabilities that they think a lot of games might want, but they can't do everything conceivable.  And even if they could, it wouldn't be desirable to do so, as that would give you massively bloated code.

I understand that each engine needs modification and that the more specialized the features the more modification is required.  If they mad ea bad engine choice then they should have just said that.  There are a lot of engine out now and there is always the homegrown solution.

I'm not saying they don't have a real and reasonable expense in platform customization.  I'm saying it looks like they're pointing fingers instead of taking responsbility for their incompetence.  Many other dev studios use and modify theeir game engines, but none of those projects run $350M+ and then blame it on engine modification.

What I see here is what I've seen out of them for a long time: mismanagement, inexperience, excuses, and a refusal to take ownership of that.  They always have a scapegoat as to why it's the fault lay with something else whether it be homophones, whiney madden fans, their players, the game engine, the market, and so on.

In short I do think engine modification is expensive and time consuming.  That's not where the real problem exists though in my opinion.

I think a mind wipe so people could play an mmo like it was their first time again, would be easier to build than a new mmo people here would actually like. - DamonVile

  User Deleted
4/10/13 4:52:26 AM#137
Originally posted by Quizzical
You always have to modify a game engine to do what you want if you're trying to make a serious game.  Game engine designers can't anticipate everything that any game will ever want to do.  They try to build in a lot of capabilities that they think a lot of games might want, but they can't do everything conceivable.  And even if they could, it wouldn't be desirable to do so, as that would give you massively bloated code.

So if you set out to create "full voiced story driven MMO" (core stuff), you dont pick engine (or suddenly dicsover 5 years in development with bajillion of people) that your (modified engine) completely sucks exactly in "fully voiced story driven MMO" part.

Seems that devs twiddled their thumbs for 5 years until someone on dev team dared to finally mention (aka pointing enourmous pink elephant in the room everyone ignored) "but engine sucks bigtime", of course, by their claims it seems it was "too late" already because they already built half of the game.

Seems they now have only bloated code, not for any gains but because of incompetence, they probably fired devs who worked on engine, so now they dont even have anyone that can actually fix it so they just let it slide.

The extra funny part, those problems were obvious from beta, but whenever someone mentioned bad performance/probelms in any context he had pack of rabid fanbois on his back saying that "game works flawless even on toaster"

And, whoever mentioned Space Game debacle, that was outsourced (like most of stuff in SWTOR anyway).

  moguy2

Apprentice Member

Joined: 9/20/12
Posts: 363

Wish I had something positive to say =(

4/10/13 5:06:58 AM#138
I have a couple other dead horses that need beaten if any of yall wanna do that as well. 
  Caldrin

Hard Core Member

Joined: 10/02/04
Posts: 4067

4/10/13 5:12:11 AM#139
Originally posted by ignore_me
Is "Engine" really a good name for that software? It almost sounds as if it would have been better called the "chassis," or "Frame." Engine to me is analgous to car design, and there the engine makes the thing go, and determines the overall performance. Seems like from what Quizzical is saying, the engine is more of a primordial component.  

Well Heroengine is a game engine.. you need to build the game around it but without it the game would not go.. so yes it is like a car engine..

the issue was that they picked the engine up very early on in its development and they ran into issues with that version.

Either way they cant move the blame from themeselves they made a very boring game that hardly passes for an MMO.. They chose an engine that was not ready for commercial use adn they knew that..

 

heroengine today its a totally different beast you just need to look at the repopulation for that..

My 3D models
http://dragon3d.webs.com/

  Ralstlin

Novice Member

Joined: 1/09/10
Posts: 243

4/10/13 5:18:32 AM#140

they should just remake the game like Square-Enix is doing with FFXIV...

new FFXIV client is capable to show up 100 characters around you, only limited by graphic card. Some companies should take care of their products, Star Wars is something big.. you cant drop it so bad..

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