Q: Game quality on a variety of systems?

Taking advantage of asking me anything, Steve says:
If one writes a book, the reader gets exactly what the writer put across.  Doesn't matter what format they read it in - it's basically the same experience.
 
But with video games, everyone’s machines are different, from ancient to cutting edge. With all the variables of OS, RAM, video cards, and everything else thrown in as well.  Which have changed since you began the project and will have changed again by the time it comes out.
 
So my question is, how do you design a product that will have the best quality when played on such a wide spectrum of equipment?  Is there some kind of statistical system requirement formula for reaching the greatest number of gamers? Or do you just go for the best game you can design, and hope people’s computers will catch up to it in time?
 
Note that this is uniquely a PC problem. Console games also benefit in that if a game works on one XBox, it works on all of them the same (basically).
 
So it's certainly a trick. Although we do try to keep things optimized as we go, we're generally more focused on getting the game working first, and then getting it working fast.
 
Most of our developer boxes are semi-high end for this reason. If the developer's build of the game starts slowing down on a computer, it's usually easier to upgrade the computer than to slow down development while we figure out how to optimize whatever's slowing things down.
 
Though some optimizations do occur as development goes along. If we toss ten NPCs into a scene, and everybody's machines slow down, that's something we need to figure out (especially if we know we're going to need more than ten NPCs in our scenes!).
 
That only talks around your question though. To answer it more directly:

Step #1: Get the game playable. Period.
 
Step #2: Figure out what configuration of machine, level, and graphics quality things start to slow down.
 
Step #3: Figure out what's causing the slowdown and fix those spots. For example, if 10 NPCs is slowing down a scene, is it slowing the scene down because there are too many polygons? Too many light sources and lighting calculations? Too many shadows? Transparency? These things can be fixed globally to improve the game on all systems (for example by creating NPC models with fewer polygons).
 
Step #4: Identify features that can be scaled based on the user's system specs. For example, maybe there are three levels of NPC models: high, medium, and low. And each level has a different polygon count. These features then go into Game Options for the user to adjust the graphics to the quality/speed balance they are willing to put up with.

Then we run the game on various systems to determine our recommend system specs (which can run the game with all options turned up and no slow down) and our minimum system specs. Large developers have QA departments to do this for them. A small-to-midsize developer like inXile can do some QA, but also benefits hugely from public alpha and beta testing. The more folks we have banging at the game, the better the final product will be.

Of course we aim for the lowest system specs we can, so that as many people as possible can play the game. But there's always a certain threshold at which the work required to optimize the game cannot be justified by the number of customers we gain with those optimizations.

On Torment, we benefit from using Obsidian's technology for Pillars of Eternity, which lets us create high quality backgrounds without requiring more power from the system. That doesn't mean everything can be at a higher quality (NPCs and light sources still require a fair amount of processing power), but it gives us a lot more leeway than if we were making the game entirely in 3D.
 
Sorry for the hugely long answer, but I'm glad you asked the question. Among other things, this is why we can never give a straight answer when people ask us what our target system specs are going to see. The answer is invariably, "As low as we can make them."

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Got a question? Ask me anything.



The Patch Man is up at Paizo.com

My latest short story, "The Patch Man," is up at paizo.com (at least the first chapter is -- the rest will come soon). It takes place in the world of the Pathfinder RPG which, if you're not familiar with it, is very similar to D&D, but with a lot of its own twists. "The Patch Man" is about a half-fiend named Blit who makes a living cleaning up evidence for the less-reputable guilds in Pathfinder's largest city, until he starts getting in over his head.

This marks the second short story I've sold in *mumbles* years of writing. At this rate, you can expect a published novel from me by 2040. Oh well. In the meantime, I'll just get back to work on the most anticipated RPG of 2015.

Rough, right?

Anyway, enjoy the story. Did I mention it's free?


5 Weird Facts About 2015

These facts are weird to me, at least. Most of these are true this year. All are recently true.

(1) We've lived in Chiang Mai longer than we had lived in San Diego.

San Diego's our home, man. At least it used to be. But we've been living in a place where all TV shows are geo-blocked (and also available down the street for $1/disc), and where Sprite is pronounced "sapai," for more years than any place I've lived in except the place I was born.

(2) We've been attending our current church longer than we had attended our supporting church.
Equally strange. The friends and family who support our foster work have been going to church without us longer than they went to church with us. Heck, most of them don't even go to that church anymore.

Corollary weirdness (but also extremely cool): Our support hasn't dropped off a bit in ten years.

(3) I've been working for inXile longer than I worked for Black Isle.
With the notoriety of Planescape: Torment and the subsequent Kickstarter, one would think I worked at Black Isle for years and years, but really I was only there for about eighteen months. I played Fallout in college, joined up for most of PST's production and the beginnings of TORN, and then I left. Now I'm like a Design Lead or something.

And I live in Thailand. I mean, my commute was pretty bad before, but my current commute is sixteen times worse.

(4) We've been married with kids longer than we've been married without.
This probably shouldn't be weird, but it is. I don't remember what we did without kids. Well, yes I do: we played Settlers and Ticket to Ride and Mario Tennis and SSX Tricky until we remembered that we had to go to work in that nebulous future thing called "tomorrow morning." What I don't remember is how we did that.

(5) I've known my wife longer than I haven't known her.
This also falls under the "extremely cool" category, but it's strange to think that I've known Cindy for most of my life, yet I grew up without her. How is that even possible? Surely I loved her from afar in Junior High, or spent fourth grade staring at the back of her head, or became pretend-engaged to her in Kindergarten. And I definitely walked her home in highschool, stressing about whether I should ask her out or not the whole way. Except I didn't do any of those things. I didn't even meet her until college, but it definitely doesn't feel that way.

Maybe I'll feel better if I photoshop her into some of my school photos, to match what's in my head.

How to Get Schooled by a 4-Year-Old

My daughter Anica is beautiful, ruthless, and ridiculously smart. She embodies every connotation of the word precocious.

In this chapter, she and I play a game called "I'm Thinking of an Animal" -- kind of a kindergarten version of Twenty Questions. (I designed it myself. I'm so very smart.)

Sometimes, Anica gets bored and messes with me.
 

But that's just her playing around. Recently, she got ruthless.

Trying to outsmart her is futile.

Even when she takes pity on me.

Even when it's my turn.


At least my daughter still has one shred of compassion.

My only hope, at this point, is to curry favor for when she rules the world.


Q&A: Gold Novella available anywhere else?

Bester says:
Sigh... Are you planning on selling "From the Depths" on any site at all, separately from other guys?

Not at this time.

So first, the Gold novella was written as a work-for-hire, which means all the rights to it belong to inXile and not to me. So "I" (Adam) will not be selling the novella anywhere because contractually I cannot.

"We" (inXile) do not currently have any plans to sell the Gold novella -- nor the other novellas in the From the Depths compilation -- in any way beyond how you can get them now. That doesn't mean we won't sell them on Amazon or something after Torment ships, it just means there are currently no plans to.

I will say that $15 for seven novellas is a pretty good deal, especially with some of the authors involved. If you're at all interested in Torment or in Numenera, I'd say (biased though I am) that it's well worth it.

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Got a question? Ask me anything.


From the Depths: Gold now available

As part of the Kickstarter campaign for Torment, we offered a series of give novellas called From the Depths. The novella I wrote (the Gold one, with super secret hidden title Gate to the Abyss) has been published and is available now.

This marks the second time I've been published (for anything greater than 25 words, that is). Still no novel, but I'm working my way up there! And look: I have two fans!

The enemy of your enemy can still kill you.

After the destruction of Shuenha, Luthiya and the other survivors take refuge in a dessicated land of churning volcanoes and eternal night—the ruins of Ossiphagan. They endure, but barely. So everyday they search the ruins, hoping to find some powerful artifact that will avenge them against the bloodthirsty Tabaht.

Luthiya discovers the fire wights, an ancient race both beautiful and powerful. She's afraid of them, but when the wights scare off a Tabaht scouting party, the other refugees believe they've found their redemption. But are the wights all they seem? Can they be reasoned with or are they bloodthirsty animals?

More importantly, are they working alone?

If you pledged for a reward level that includes the novellas, you can log into our website and download the novella right now.

At this moment, pledging towards Torment is the only way to get the novella. If you'd like to do that, you can pledge toward any of the reward levels that include the novella compilation (the cheapest being just the novella compilation at $15.00). You can do that on the Torment website as well.