Battle Realms Designer Diary #9

The game is almost complete, and Liquid president Ed Del Castillo describes what the last two years have been like at his company.

Entry #9 - 07/11/01

 
By Ed Del Castillo
President, Liquid Entertainment

We're only a couple of months away from our ship date--two short months in a development cycle that's lasted just over two years. How far we've come! It seems like just yesterday that the original "Liquid Twelve" moved into our first cramped office space and started designing the game that would eventually become Battle Realms.

In the project's darkest hours, we sometimes wondered if we were really up to the task. A triple-A RTS was a big mouthful for a new game company to swallow. With a third of the budget and half the team, we were competing with titles made by the "big boys." Battle Realms was a risk, but Liquid was never about playing it safe.

We've gone through a lot since those heady first days in the old office--three game-name changes, two offices, dozens of logo ideas, and gallons of blood, sweat, and tears. But there have been constants, too. Our excellent relationship with our publisher has survived the test of time, Battle Realms always made steady progress toward the game's ship date, and, most importantly, the core of our original design has been realized. Throughout all the changes, we stayed "Liquid." It's been a long road, but the end is in sight. We've started to reflect on what's gone before. We're remembering our successes, learning from our mistakes, and looking ahead to Liquid's post-Battle Realms future.

Though the Liquid team had a lot of shipped titles under our collective belt, we had always been supported by the infrastructure of a larger company in our creative efforts. Until May of 1999, there was no Liquid infrastructure, and even after that first May, we ran a minimalist shop for several months. Our first office was small--one big open space and a tiny corner room for meetings--but being together in one room forged tight bonds between team members who for the most part had never worked together before.

Battle Realms has obviously benefited from having its own 3D engine

In the beginning, we had a few growing pains. We spent a month exploring a third-party engine that turned out to not be suitable for Battle Realms. When we bit the bullet and started creating our own 3D engine, we faced many difficult questions. How would our animation system function--would we rely on mesh animations or a skeletal system? What would our map editor look like? How would the renderer work? Would we try to make Battle Realms scalable, so that players with both high-end and low-end machines could enjoy it? In the end, even though it created extra work for us, building our own engine was unquestionably the right decision.

Some of our choices would come back to bite us over the course of the next two years. Early on, we locked down what we thought were reasonable polygon counts and texture limits so the artists could get to work. As it turned out, we locked ourselves too early and ended up having to redo much of the art over the course of the project. Fortunately, our art team shined and managed to get the most out of the strict limits they were operating under. The final product is visually stunning.

Making the Right Game

One of the earliest challenges we faced as a team was locking down the high design concepts for the game. When we formed Liquid, all we knew for sure was that our game was going to be an RTS in an Asian-themed fantasy world. Several basic ideas were proposed--everything from a generic RTS clone with samurai instead of tanks to a complex hard-core title with a detailed strategic overgame.

All of the game's early elements have finally come together

It didn't take long to agree on the key features of the game that would eventually become Battle Realms. We all wanted something that would appeal to fans of classic RTS games, but at the same time, we wanted to innovate. We also hoped to move the genre's gameplay from its traditional production-based foundations to a structure more focused on combat. Once the team reached agreement on the basic principles, the rest of the early design process went smoothly. Our unique training hierarchy, our low unit cap, and the living resource system all developed naturally from the original design foundation.

As the design developed over the course of the first year, new features were added to give the game the depth that RTS fans craved. The battle gear system, which is such a crucial part of what makes Battle Realms exciting to play, was a relatively late addition. Early on, our units were simple and far too one-dimensional for a product that was intended to focus the player on combat rather than production. Once we decided to add battle gear, we knew it was the right call; the idea fit perfectly with the high goals we had set for the game's design.

As a team, we can look back on the last two years with pride. Battle Realms was truly developed as a "Liquid" title. We were flexible and adaptive, and we were willing to change our systems and features when they didn't work, but we always stayed true to our original vision.

Now, as we get ready to burn a CD candidate for our open beta, the vision is reality. The game was received extremely well at E3, and made many "best of show" lists, including GameSpot's. Excitement is building and the message boards are hopping; fans are already arguing about which clan is the best. In a couple of months, we'll step back and say, "It's done. Ship it." Our baby is sprouting wings--it's time to push it out of the nest and see if it flies.

Next time, I'll tell you all about those last two crazy months, and what changes we've made to the game as a result of feedback received during the open beta process.

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