Developing for the Xbox 360 Panel Recap

A group of developers making games exclusively for the Xbox 360 get together and talk about working with Microsoft's console.

Who Was There: Taking part in this panel were a number of game developers currently working on projects exclusive to the Xbox 360 (in terms of console exclusivity; a few of these games are appearing on the PC as well). From Ubisoft was Splinter Cell: Conviction producer Alex Parizeau, Left 4 Dead 2 writer Chet Faliszek of Valve, Mass Effect 2 project director Casey Hudson of BioWare, Bungie design director Paul Bertone (currently overseeing Halo 3: ODST), and Epic design director Cliff Bleszinski (most recently of Gears of War 2).

What They Talked About: A pessimist would summarize this panel in two sentences: “How awesome is it developing for Xbox 360? So awesome.” Part of that has to do with the fact that the panel was moderated by Microsoft’s own Larry “Major Nelson” Hryb, so, of course the discussion is going to keep the Xbox maker in a positive light. But at the same time, it managed to be a pretty interesting panel because of some of the insights into the development process offered by all these developers.

When asked what they enjoy most about developing for Xbox 360, most of the panel mentioned Microsoft’s extensive usability department. If you weren’t aware, Microsoft maintains a pretty huge user testing department complete with two-way mirrors so they can study the reactions players have to games down to the most minute eye movements as a way of gauging what they like and dislike about specific parts of games. For developers, this sort of research and feedback comes in very handy when making important decisions on which parts of their games need to be kept, altered, or done away with altogether.

Another interesting question dealt with the difference between developing for the Xbox 360 versus the original Xbox. The short answer is that it requires much bigger teams and much more resources. Casey Hudson mentioned the increased workload going from characters made of 2,000 polygons to millions of them. Parizeau said it forced artists and engineers to become even more specialized and narrowly focused because of how much more detail goes into the graphics. Bleszinski mentioned cost as a huge factor, saying it now takes six to eight weeks to complete a new character. That becomes a huge concern if a writer wants to add a minor character to the story that might not justify the two month’s salary it would cost someone to make him or her.

Hryb then asked the group about the work that goes into balancing technology and art. Paul Bertone said it’s critical to maintain open communication between artists and engineers so that neither team is forcing the other into doing something they can’t, such as an artist making characters with too many polygons, which forces the rest of the team to put fewer people in a scene than they wanted because of memory limitations. Alex Parizeau said when it comes to art in games, even small ideas can have huge effects, offering an example of a Ubisoft staffer who happened to see the movie Man on Fire on TV one day and how that inspired the projection-based visual style of Splinter Cell: Conviction.

They finished the main discussion by talking about what sort of fan feedback they receive. Bleszinksi mentioned he loves reading things about his games on the Internet, even the terrible comments, because it means people are playing the games and care about them. Bertone said there’s a fan that routinely sends cake to the Bungie offices and managed to scare some of the other panelists when he admitted that they eat this mystery cake and it’s actually really good. Chet Faliszek said he responds to every e-mail he receives (including the mountain of fan e-mail forwarded to him by Valve managing director Gabe Newell), though he’s not always the fastest about doing so. He says he’s up to early June on his fan correspondence right now.

Best Audience Question: One audience member, claiming he represents the small minority of left-handed gamers, asked when we’re finally going to see fully customizable controls on consoles. In other words, the ability to completely remap every button on the controller. Bertone admitted that’s always an idea they have at the beginning of a development cycle, but eventually, they find a way to “cop out” because of how context sensitive their controls have become, requiring various forms of tapping, double-tapping, holding, and so on.

Worst Audience Question: There were no really bad audience questions during this panel. No one managed to make a fool of themselves as you tend to see at least once in most panels. In terms of least informative questions, one guest asked Casey Hudson how many elevators are in Mass Effect 2, to which he replied, “We now have the fastest elevators in gaming history,” but that was actually pretty funny.

The Takeaway: There are certainly advantages to developing games exclusively for the Xbox 360. But at the same time, BioWare, Ubisoft, and Epic are all making or have recently made games for the PlayStation 3, so a lot of what was said during this panel had to be taken with a grain of salt. Still, it was an engaging discussion on game design as a whole and managed to produce a lot of interesting information and anecdotes. It’s rare to see so many high-profile development studios represented in a single panel, which made this one a real treat.

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35 comments
AameeShah
AameeShah

Damn Shaun! Thats not "Worst Audience Question". It totally makes sense! it was really troublesome 2 wait in those Elevators for 2-3 mins.

mabbb
mabbb

Some very good games of past and recent years should be produced for the 360 . Mechwarrior 4 ,mercenaries and 1997 War of the Worlds , strategy .

noobst3R
noobst3R

Nothing usefull in this text... :/ Only about the panel, not the games

ISuPrEmAcY32I
ISuPrEmAcY32I

Would have liked to hear more questions and answers, rather than just an informative article about the panel.

vomer
vomer

Phaselinear - One of the main advantages of consoles over PCs is that you're not forced to keep shelling out for new parts just to play new games. You buy the console and that's it, forever. The games still get consistently better, as projects get bigger budgets and devs learn how to make better use of the hardware you've got. I wish PC devs did the same thing, instead of just assuming that all PC gamers have a bottomless pit of cash to spend on upgrades.

gamegod172003
gamegod172003

@Phaselinear thats the stupidest thing I've herd, now think about what you said long and hard and maybe you will see what I mean.... have it yet? I'll tell you then, if you didn't or can't afford to updated your console for new games that require it then you can't play them. yeah then what your shi7 out of luck and the 360 library would be all out of wack Microsoft would loose sales for games that cant be played unless you upgrade its just a horrible idea.

okgenuine
okgenuine

I wish they had videos of this stuff.

Tygraph
Tygraph

“We now have the fastest elevators in gaming history,” Thank God. I surely won't miss those 30 minute elevator rides :)

joevit
joevit

@76qc. What did you want to know? No is going to tell you the one system is better over the other or info about the good and bad for the 3 system out now. If they came out and told every one that The 360 was better over all then Sony would tell them all to go to hell and they are done making games for them. Same works with the 360. It's all about money. How ever, there was 2 dev's out there that did take a shot at the PS3. Do you know who?

D3A7HJ0K3R
D3A7HJ0K3R

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

Phaselinear
Phaselinear

It's a shame Microsoft is so F'n selfish. The could have easily have design the 360 to have it's system up-datable by the owner every so often. It would have been along the lines of PC gamers who update their video cards every year etc. Game developers would then be afforded the opportunity to consistently expand their games as the system improved each year.

Sannerkind
Sannerkind

Am I the only one that can't help thinking, what It would be like If they all worked together to make a game? :)

Beastcake
Beastcake

A bunch of brilliant minds all in one room. Awesome.

daveg1
daveg1

well i learned absolutly nothing about 360 dev from that..nothing..

RecklessSlayerX
RecklessSlayerX

@ OhsNosIsBeenHit, Shiny5, and Hellfire704: I fourth that... If that even makes sense.

parhar67
parhar67

Sweet i always wanted to read an article relating to developing you really never get to see the game makers talk about the console more than the game itself :) good job major nelson!

dynomitemasta
dynomitemasta

Okay, is it me or am I the only one that took NO information away from this article? lol I thought there would be a little bit more meat and potatoes... anyway, just glad to see everyone getting along and knowing that the devs do read the forums and fan mail... can't lose touch with your base, the moment you do that is the moment your games stop selling.

ascalon94
ascalon94

Gears 3 will mostl likely come out fall/winter of next year or early 2011

Dante2710
Dante2710

interesting, im looking forward to L4D2, lets just hope Valve makes it work 60 bucks up front, even though i played L4D for over 100+ hours (and im still playing it), it didnt feel lik i got my money`s worth as far as content goes.

Hailfire704
Hailfire704

@ OhsNosIsBeenHit and Shiny5, I third that.

Duke_51
Duke_51

I don't know why asking how many elevators in Mass Effect 2 was considered a "bad" question at all... seems like a good one to me. IMO, that's the ONLY thing wrong with Mass Effect. Can't wait for ME2.

shiny5
shiny5

yeah i want KOTOR 3 too!!!

ChidoriBoyU
ChidoriBoyU

nice, yeah the 360 is a great device i love it but when is gears 3 coming? is it EVER gonna come? no rumors no nothing about the game

macker33
macker33

I like mass effects elevators

snakes3425
snakes3425

Here's my question: When's Gears 3 coming out?

sandwichking91
sandwichking91

i think the elevator question was a brilliant one

geedotherodian
geedotherodian

@alexkn64 Now that you mention it the Splinter Cell story does resemble the Man on Fire novel/movie, even if it is a very shallow resemblemce

thenephariouson
thenephariouson

The only question i would have asked is: To Chet Faliszek of Valve: Where the heck is HL:Episode 3 : ) Nice interview, would love to have been there, wonder if GS recorded it, would love to see it.

ChAoS_UNLEASHD
ChAoS_UNLEASHD

ya, conviction has officially pulled me into the splinter cell series, ME2 looks awesome its nearly putting ME1 to shame(although it was good), and ODST looks good I guess but Halo just feels like it's getting a little old, after Halo Reach I'm never buying another halo game again like come on, its been around for 8 years(2001?) and they still wanna keep squeezing out games.

alexkn64
alexkn64

Wait, so the new Splinter Cell game draws inspiration from Man on Fire? That's my favorite movie of all time...I may just have to pick up Conviction since that's the case.

mcspaddin
mcspaddin

yeah that is really cool, it would be amazing to sit and talk with these people and this is about as close as any of us will ever get

-HCMF-
-HCMF-

Good stuff, it is nice to see the makers of so many grreat games talking about and colaberating upon the work that they do. Kudos.