Azurik & Adrenium Games
XboxAddict.com had a chance talk to Adrenium Games' Stephen White about their Xbox launch title called Azurik
Q: XBA: Who are some of the staff of Adrenium and what are there roles?
A: AG: There are 29 people in Adrenium - it's divided like this: 4 programmers (most other advanced console projects have 8-10 but our guys are super-productive!); 4 designers; 7 level artists; 2 character artists (meshes and skins); 2 in-game animators; 2 cutscene animators; 4 testers; one producer; 2 sound guys; and music by Jeremy Soule.
Q: XBA: What tools have you been using to create games at Adrenium?
A: AG: We use Maya and Photoshop and C++. That's about it! It's very cool - all of our in-game "events" (moving platforms, doors, keys, locks, power-ups, mini-games, particles, and world objects and terrain) are created in Maya. All of the characters and their animations are created in Maya. We have a custom exporter that converts the Maya stuff into game console format and can convert a typical level in a few minutes. The programmers have been awesome at keeping the game engine running smoothly so that all of the others know (usually!) that things will be working when they show up for work. If things aren't working, there are 20 people complaining about it!
We also use a big pile of sound tools, and Jeremy Soule used an 88 piece orchestral! Interestingly, our sound designers also use Maya, the 3D modeling package. Xbox has such a powerful sound system, with up to 64 simultaneous 3D sounds, that the sound designers have to place and tweak their sounds using the same tools the level designers use. Sonically, it's a very rich game.
Q: XBA: How did the concept of Azurik come about?
A: AG: The "high concept", if you will, was jointly selected by ourselves and Microsoft from five concepts that Matthew Stipes and Russell Sanchez had previously developed. Even though the "Earth Air Fire Water" approach to a game has been done before, we thought we could take it to another level.
Q: XBA: How has the Xbox been to develop for?
A: AG: The Xbox is definitely not a PC, but because of the clever way the "XSS" (X System Software) works, you can program parts of the game as if it were a PC. Of course, this only affects the programming - PC games and console games have very different sensibilities, which is why we had everyone on the team looking at the game on TVs as soon as possible.
Q: XBA: How did you and Microsoft team up?
A: AG: Microsoft - actually Matt and Russ - were working in the hardware group and looking to "jump start" the development of a game before the rest of the MS organization kicked into high gear. I believe we are in fact the earliest game to start production specifically for Xbox. They wanted a developer that was flexible enough to focus 100% on Xbox.
Q: XBA: How has the transition been between alpha and beta hardware?
A: AG: Sweet! The XSS layer of the Xbox is one of the most amazing bits of software ever developed for a console system. The biggest change from the Alpha hardware to the Beta hardware was, well, all the hardware changed! The PC form-factor (you know, the big silver PC cabinet) went away replaced with a single board with everything on it and all new electronics! But from our point-of-view, developing the game, we switched over to the beta hardware in less than a day. That was truly amazing.
Q: XBA: We've seen a video of Azurik and the motion of your character is very smooth. Did you use motion capture or did you just animate it right off the computer? What have you done to get the motion just right?
A: AG: We decided to avoid motion capture. Why? Because it costs a lot of money to produce lots of animation that is very hard to modify (although the tools are getting better in this regard). Our animation is tweaked to exactly match the way the code works and that's currently hard to do with mo-cap. The animators worked closely with the programmers to make sure the animations and the interactive code matched up. This is very important for getting the look and the feel right and takes a bit of trial and error.
Q: XBA: I understand that you have a composer developing with your team. What can the XBox allow him to do that he can't do elsewhere? What type of music can we expect in Azurik?
A: AG: Jeremy Soule is an amazing talent - he can perform, with dynamics, all the pieces of the orchestra on his synth setup. His synth setup has gigabytes of custom samples lovingly recorded by his brother Julian. Once Jeremy has performed the piece, he sends it to an orchestrator who makes sure the piece is playable by real people with real instruments (sometimes the "fingering" can get quite complicated on a real violin vs. a synth violin, for example). The orchestrator also adds additional parts (not too many in my experience, but some). Jeremy supervises the orchestral recording - but he's not done yet! He adds more parts! He can add choir, synth effects, and other special processing. It's amazing. It takes amazing discipline to compose for the orchestra and Jeremy's got it. Because of the architecture of the Xbox, we can play back the full recording with complete fidelity. It's awesome.
Q: XBA: Level design can make or break a game. How are you planning to make levels interesting and non-confusing in Azurik?
A: AG: Level design can definitely make or break the game. In some ways it combines production design with editing. It's production design because the level designers basically map out the basic format of the level and all of the events in the level. Then, it's editing because they are the ones that make sure it is "tight." Plus they have the task of integrating all the various tools from the programmers, much of the art, and their own events into one cohesive whole. We've done lots of testing to see where people get lost or confused and by clever "editing" with the camera, pop-ups, and voice-overs which help them along, without taking out the challenge.
Q: XBA: Is their another game coming from Adrenium in the near future? Any concepts?
A: AG: We actually have about a half-dozen concepts we are exploring right now, but nothing I can talk about.
Q: XBA: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A: AG: For Adrenium, it's been a terrific opportunity to build an organization from the ground up dedicated to making games on a grand scale. One of my goals for this project was to make "twice the game" by sticking to the design; doing things in the right order; making mistakes early on small things thus avoiding lots of rework, and giving people the tools they need to do the job. I think when people get a chance to sit down and play the game they will be blown away by the scope of the entire game. I'm grateful for the hard work of the Adrenium staff and the support of Microsoft that has made this game possible.
Thank you for letting us conduct this little Q&A and also I'd like to wish you good luck with Azurik and any other games you create in the future.