Creating Today's Winning Games
Ball says, "We've got a lot of developers that have worked on games for years and skills they used — memory handling, writing efficient code and so on — still apply. I think developers who've forgotten the value of those techniques are going to find it hard on the next-gen platforms."
Speaking in the new issue of Edge, he says, "Some developers are frightened by new technology, and they'll work on the simpler consoles or on mobile phones or Xbox Live Arcade games. Those are seen as a return to traditional gaming values and there will be some really nice stuff there.
"But there are others who are really embracing the next generation and saying 'let's get on with it'. Each generation change has brought its own challenges but in retrospect the changes you actually make are quite simple. I'm sure we'll be sitting here in a couple of years looking back and saying 'What was the panic all about?'"
However, he says Ninja Theory is happy to take advantage of the benefits offered by PS3's processing power. "Certainly PS3 hardware affords a bit of luxury. We had some of the development team saying 'but we're spending half of the CPU's processing power just on [the main character's] hair'. But we're arguing 'the hair's a really important part of her character, it's what makes her beautiful, striking and feminine.'
"The SPUs have exceeded our expectations in terms of power that's available for things like procedural animation and geometry. You can get great results by moving something on to one of those processors, but the maturity will come from learning how to really use them intelligently and to think of cool new uses for them."
Expectations for the game have sourced since E3, where it shone through as one of the stand-out PS3 titles. "We've always been quietly confident of what we can produce," says Ball. "The game, the combat system, the rendering technology have been great for a long time and it's still evolving — the screenshots from a year ago have aged quite a bit. We started development so early that our concern is keeping that head-start going, rather than needing to catch up with anyone else."
He adds, "It's always been quite difficult for us whenever we are asked to produce a demo because we're not specifically focussing on technology for it's own sake. So many factors only really come across when you're playing it. Like seeing the facial performance in the game as opposed to a talking head in a tech demo. When you're fighting a group of 30 guys we've got a system called Chatterbox that lets pairs of soldiers talk to each other — two might be marked as friends and when one dies the other reacts to that. It's not really in your face bit it adds a lot to the game's feeling.
The game's chief designer Tameem Antoniades says the game's value is coming to light now that people have been given a chance to play. "The problem with just telling everyone your combat system is great or that you've got some of the best facial performances in a game ever, just draws scepticism. It smacks of hot air. That response is natural but the proof is in the pudding.
He says PS3 is allowing developers to really get to grips with character. "The problem with emotion in games has been that the technology has been limited. If you can't create believable characters they can't express believable emotion. That for us is the biggest difference between next-gen and previous generations.I think we're on the cusp of a new format for adventure games and telling stories in them."
The company's ambition is to put to rest the idea that only Asia can produce great third-person fighting games. "We've done what we're good at and when people play the game the whole argument about western developers not being able to do third-person combat will go away. Internally Japanese staff have been really surprised by how good the combat looks — and how different it looks from Japanese games. It's not aping their style."
He agrees that, while PS3 is a complex system, traditional game development skills are still valuable. "A title like Heavenly Sword has so many different sub-systems that each one is like developing a smaller game. The combat system is vast in its diversity, but it's formed from elements that were developed independently then brought together. It's an iterative process and I think next-gen doesn't need to be a monolithic process. It can be like developing those old games."