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Postmortem: Black Rock Studios' MotoGP'07
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Postmortem: Black Rock Studios' MotoGP'07


October 17, 2007 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4
 

What Went Wrong

Cutscenes - The pre- and post-race cutscenes were something our studio hadn't tackled before. A decision we made early on was that we wanted hundreds of people on the grid -- so we were going to concentrate on quantity rather than high polygon count. At the time we didn't have the technology to render perfectly featured faces and hair, so we wanted to keep the camera cuts quick and the character count high.

We had 18 races each with pre- and post-practice, pre- and post-qualify and pre- and post-race cutscenes. That's 108 different scenes. We needed to use the in-game engine for the scenes rather than recording them, so that we'd be able to correctly represent the player's place and team on the grid. We also didn't want a load screen between cutscene and race, so all the assets had to be loaded up front.

The cutscenes were a departure for our studio, and we underestimated the workload. We had a single programmer whose job it was to write all the cutscene art tools and the in-game support and a single animator working with a character artist. The workload for this small team was just way too high and unfortunately we were never able to free up additional resources to help them out.

This meant the team ran late and were subject to unfair amounts of stress. That the cut-scenes turned out so well is testament to their skill and perseverance -- the number of characters on the grid is staggering and it really adds to the sense of immersion.

Builds - The build was in the 'What Went Wrong' section of the MotoGP'06 post-mortem so its indefensible that it appears again. One thing that the game development community is learning is that that building the volume of assets required for 360 and PS3 games is a tough problem.

We made a serious effort to engineer a good build system for MotoGP'07. A system that could check out the code and assets, build the code and assets across multiple build machines for multiple SKUs, run unit tests on the code, run a series of tests on the game to make sure it was operating correctly, email us a status log, build DVD discs, archive a build environment (an archive of all the data, code and tools which was everything you need to build assets and run the game) and if the data was good (i.e. the automated tests had passed) it pushed the new version of the game out to all available devkits. It did this in less than five hours at the push of a single button. Sounds quite good, doesn't it?

Unfortunately it wasn't quite what we had hoped. Fundamentally our build system is built on top of Scons (a replacement for make) and Cygwin (a Linux-like environment for Windows) and it stressed them beyond their limits. In order to get the build time to less than five hours we issue tens of thousands of build commands over a large number of CPUs, and we exposed two rare bugs in the third party software.

Every few thousand times the fork command in Cygwin would fail and similarly Scons would hang. We spent weeks debugging the problem but never managed to solve it, and instead ended up with an unsatisfactory tangle of error-catching and retrying in the hope of getting some good data.

Our Core Technology Department is solving the problem by rewriting the build system using Python rather than Scons and eliminating the need for Cygwin.

Fortunately for us we had an enthusiastic build engineer who was happy to baby-sit the build, often after-hours, tinkering with it until it gave good results. As you can imagine this was far from satisfactory (especially for him!) A poorly-operating build system compromises the quality of the game and costs the team late nights and weekends and it is, therefore, inexcusable.

Conclusion

We've made five versions of MotoGP in the past seven years and although we love the franchise I think we are all ready to move on. For the final game in the series we wanted to tie up all the loose ends, implement all the suggestions from the fans and really step up the graphics and handling to produce a fitting finale. With MotoGP'07 I think we achieved that. We'll miss the races, the riders and the brolly girls but we'll leave the series knowing a lot more about motorbikes than when we started!


Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

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