GDC '08: LucasArts prioritizing PS3 dev, unleashing Force

Star Wars studio's "new baseline" will be Sony's console; Force Unleashed publicly demoed for first time by publisher--which almost made KOTOR3 instead.

SAN FRANCISCO--In recent months, the PlayStation 3 versions of many multiplatform games have been released after their Xbox 360 counterparts--or canceled outright. Others, like Grand Theft Auto IV, have seen both versions delayed because, having optimized the game first on the 360, the developers encountered difficulties with the PS3 edition.

This week at the 2008 Game Developers Conference, a major studio laid bare the pitfalls of cross-platform development on the current crop of consoles--and talked about how it plans to deal with it in the future. In an expansive and informative lecture, Haden Blackman, project lead for Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, discussed which platform the company's "built from scratch" development team began work on in 2005.

"Multiplatform development was one of our biggest challenges," he told the jam-packed hall in the basement of the Moscone Center. After George Lucas famously urged the studio to "go build that game" upon seeing the first test reels from TFU, they began work straight away on Xbox 360 dev kits in late summer 2005--because that was all the studio had.

"It took a very long time for us to reach a multiplatform mentality," said Blackman. The reason? "Until early 2006," LucasArts had no PS3 dev kits whatsoever and, for the sheer sake of moving the project forward, focused on Microsoft's console. "It took months to get enough dev kits to everyone," rued the developer.

The problem was, once LucasArts finally had enough PS3 dev kits to supply the staff members that required them, 360 development of The Force Unleashed was months ahead. Worse still, the 360-optimized early version of the game "didn't translate well" when ported onto the PS3, given the differences between the hardware architecture of the two consoles and the complexity of PS3 development. This led to more complications and pushed the simultaneous launch of The Force Unleashed back further.

Now, however, the impressive-looking game is on track, and Blackman says that, after some hard-learned lessons, LucasArts now has a strategy for future multiplatform titles--develop the PS3 version first. "Our next project will use the PS3 as the baseline, and then apply that to the Xbox 360," he said. He made no mention of the other versions of The Force Unleashed, which are being developed externally.

Scott Steinberg, Sony Computer Entertainment America's vice president of product marketing, stated that virtually every third-party publisher is now developing for the PS3 first. "They all are now, since it's just easier that way," he told GameSpot. He then referenced his long tenure at Sega of America, saying, "Having recently dealt with this myself from a third-party background, I know this is the case." As of press time, Microsoft had not responded to Steinberg's comments.

The Force Unleashed
While Blackman's discussion of dual-platform development was insightful, it was only a small part of his presentation titled "Star Wars: The Force Unleashed: How LucasArts is Building a Game, a Development Team and a Technology Pipeline...At the Same Time." As the title suggests, the developer cast his oratory net wide, detailing how in 2004, he and others were tasked with the "rebooting" of LucasArts' internal development studio. To further complicate matters, this had to be done during a console transition--and at the same time the entire organization was, along with Lucasfilm and Industrial Light & Magic, relocating to a brand-new San Francisco campus.

As it turns out, having ILM in the same building proved to be a boon for LucasArts. It allowed LucasArts to adapt to the celebrated special-effect house's programming and development framework, code-named Zeno. In fact, the overall goal is for LucasArts, Lucasfilm, and ILM to begin sharing digital art assets, development processes, and effects and animation technology as games approach film in terms of realism.

To make The Force Unleashed as realistic as possible, LucasArts created a new engine code-named Ronin. But while the majority of its technology is proprietary, LucasArts had no hesitation about licensing third-party technology. It acquired Havok's physics engines; NaturalMotion's Euphoria for realistic, AI-driven character animations; and Pixelux's Digital Molecular Matter (DMM), for spectacularly destructible environments.

TFU's first public demo
To show off the technology, LucasArts staged what it asserted was the first live public real-time demo of The Force Unleashed, which will be released this summer. Though Blackman preemptively apologized for bugs, there was no nitpicking by the captivated audience during the next five-odd minutes of gameplay.

Earlier in the presentation, Blackman had said that after much focus-testing the most appealing scenario to gamers was to play as a Jedi Knight. From the TFU demo, it was easy to see why. It begins with the game's protagonist, a secret Jedi apprentice to Darth Vader, being dispatched to kill a Jedi who has taken over a TIE fighter production facility. Vader's instructions are simple: Bring back the Jedi's light saber, and leave no witness.

With carte blanche to wreak destruction, Vader's apprentice entered the bay and immediately began tossing boxes at hapless stormtroopers. Then he cut out the middleman by picking up the white-armor-clad soldiers with his Force Grip power and then tossing them into walls and off ledges with Force Push. Whenever a stormtrooper was hurled particularly far, the camera would zoom in to watch the trooper's realistic struggle, since the Euphoria technology instills them with a futile sense of self-preservation.

The results were often hilarious, with troopers clutching onto anything within arm's length to fend off the inevitable. At the denouement of the final battle with the errant Jedi, Vader's apprentice picked up and tossed the battered warrior into the void below the hangar. He flew toward and then away from the camera, with his death screams bouncing around the hall's sound system.

To display DMM's brawn, Blackman had Vader's apprentice smash open steel doors, which gave off a cloud of dusty smoke as they buckled realistically. Then, it was on to a veritable TIE fighter skeet shoot, with the dark Jedi taking out a half-dozen of the spacecraft with boxes and other heavy objects.

What might have been...
A while after the thunderous post-demo applause had died down, Blackman showed a cinematic from the game, in which Vader's apprentice presents his lord with the defeated Jedi's weapon. "Cinematic" was the operative word, with the scene feeling like it was taken from one of the better installments in the six-part Star Wars film franchise.

Indeed, The Force Unleashed is meant to be a seventh installment in the series, falling between the last of the prequels, Star Wars: Episode III- Revenge of the Sith (2005), and the first of the original films, Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope (1977). To that end, LucasArts is pulling out the stops to make it feel like a blockbuster movie, including recording a two-hour soundtrack with the full San Francisco Symphony at Skywalker Ranch. The developers also recorded dialogue using stage actors acting out scenes together while wearing facial and motion-capture rigs to re-create their performances.

The result looked nearly as realistic as the dialogue scenes in Mass Effect, the recent sci-fi game from BioWare, developer of the celebrated Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic series. Ironically, The Force Unleashed almost was a third KOTOR game. Though Blackman never mentioned the forthcoming BioWare/LucasArts mystery project, he did say that during the conceptual stage, he and his team had considered setting their next project in the KOTOR universe. They had also considered making a smuggling game centered around a Han Solo-like character and even an action game with a Wookie protagonist.

That last idea didn't last long, however. "When we presented that, George [Lucas] just stared at us," said Blackman, before setting up one of the biggest laugh lines of the presentation. "He then said, 'I tell you guys about the importance of dialogue, and you pitch me a game with a hero that can't talk?!"

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631 comments
K-Grogg
K-Grogg

Wow, I am amazed that 360 owners can still be this deluded. It's made blatantly obvious by this article that the PS3 is superior to develop on, their just saying it in a nicer way not to hurt your fragile feelings. =P

geryboti
geryboti

bullsfan769;I wonder too,and hope :D

JoyousOblivion
JoyousOblivion

Don't whine about the extra time it takes to get games as the PS3 version takes longer to develop. The PS3 games usually end up loking nicer as a result. (I have a 360 and PS3, so i'm no t a sony fanboy) I just hope this Star Wars games is awesome, god knows KOTOR set the bar pretty high.

HolteEnder4Life
HolteEnder4Life

hopefully this will mean that us 360 owners will no longer have to wait longer for a multi-platform game Because the PS3 is a b**ch to develop on.

bullsfan769
bullsfan769

looks cool..i wonder if effort will be put in the ps2 version

MaceKhan
MaceKhan

All versions of this game have been pushed back to Q3. NNNNNNOOOOO! :(

ossamesa
ossamesa

screw you ps3, admit defeat and let 360 unleash the force within it XD

ryce5
ryce5

umm...So what about the Wii version is it still good?

Bloodhawk_DX
Bloodhawk_DX

I'm sick of having titles delayed for the X360 because of the PS3. Just release the Xbox 360 versions first. If Sony is losing out, so what? They should have made a more developer friendly console.

EchoEcho
EchoEcho

SpoonHeroSR: "So why did they Delay the game? Wow I hate how games now a days must be on both consoles whatever happened to the good ol' days when for example games like mario would be only for nintendo and games like sonic would only be for Sega you **** like that can tell which console is better **** graphics!!!" Do you know anything about game development, and the difference between "first-party" and "third-party"?

_HAV0C_
_HAV0C_

i would much rather see kotor3 for PC/consoles. Instead they announce this......

djfidelone
djfidelone

@ Goufas_Nation I totally agree.

SpoonHeroSR
SpoonHeroSR

So why did they Delay the game? Wow I hate how games now a days must be on both consoles whatever happened to the good ol' days when for example games like mario would be only for nintendo and games like sonic would only be for Sega you **** like that can tell which console is better **** graphics!!!

MaceKhan
MaceKhan

If they make a KOTOR3 I hope it's not an MMORPG, I don't play MMORPG's so I wouldn't get to play it.

bamfer3
bamfer3

i wish they could make something like KOTOR again, that was the best, and mix it with battlefront

nvfigueiredo
nvfigueiredo

I believe... Some day LucasArts will do a new X-Wing/TIE Fighter game, with glorious multiplayer. How I miss Wing Commander, X-Wing, Tie Fighter, Descent Freespace... :S

MaceKhan
MaceKhan

To Jusik . I'm definitely buying this to, and the force powers are gonna be awesome, I'm just saying that I really want both great force combat and great saber combat that flow well together.

Jusik
Jusik

To MaceKhan, I think you have a point, but theres not many star wars games out there like this one, using the force and all. I somewhat agree whith you there should be at least a decent amount lightsaber combat, but you gotta admit it seems pretty cool. I am definatly Buying it no matter what!

CUDDIE
CUDDIE

yep . this should make things run better. now for them. no more push backs cause the ps3 production time.

Spartan_418
Spartan_418

As long as they don't have to make cutbacks to their 360 games this sounds mostly logical. The only problem I see is that this will lead to early leaks and rumors labeling unnanounced projects as "ps3 exclusives" when they're really just being developed for ps3 first.

redskinStu
redskinStu

Fanboys (Nin, Mic) aren't gonna like this. I wonder if there's some way they report the writer of this story to Gamespot because he wrote something they don't like?

MaceKhan
MaceKhan

To mtt86. I agree, strong force powers have their place. But it needs to be balanced with strong saber combat!

HXCDEW
HXCDEW

PS3 as the lead platform can only benefit the other platforms, as developers will work harder to get the best out of the system so that even when it's ported to 360, it will still be good enough.

CTP035
CTP035

Well it looks like the 360 is not a great system if it can not stand on the same level as ps3, everything has to be dropped down from the ps3 level to the 360 level to work. well i guess microsoft will just have to upgrade and make a new system so you can all buy it and talk about it. the thing is the ps3 is harder to work with at the moment, cause it is new, while the 360 pretty much uses the same dev that the original xbox did. i guess microsoft really did their homework and decided not to advance technology.

Great_Ragnarok
Great_Ragnarok

So the X360 is so balanced that it can easily translate a PS3 base game where the PS3 struggles with an X360 based game.hmmmm is this a planned tactic by Sony????

mtt86
mtt86

Is anyone else worried that this game is going to be too force-power heavy? I hope the lightsaber combat doesn't suck

YukoAsho
YukoAsho

Yeah, wookiee protagonists don't work...

SrTVBR
SrTVBR

Want a advice? Stop with the bull and make the god dammit game already! We want, we need KOTOR 3 in our lives!

jooohnnny
jooohnnny

Stop Flaming people! No where do's this articale say "PS3 is better to work with or how it's way more powerful then the 360, or vice versa. Instead it states what every Dev has been saying from day one " the PS3 is just harder to work with, and more time consuming to get the same end results, PERIOD! I just can't see how that works to anyone favor. If anything you can take away from this is that Sony did a poor job on developing there dev tools and MS really did there home work. But then again this really isn't new knowledge or new facts now is it! But what I cant figure out is how my console is better that yours relevant to this topic in the first place. Kinda sad really.

jphillips1868
jphillips1868

Blackman worked on Star Wars Galaxies (i forget in what position, but it seems like he was a higher up), before that game went in the toilet.

Merl57
Merl57

this game looks good

daxacid
daxacid

All I can say is that I don't care what the base system is, just make the game!!!!!!!!!!!

bochap76
bochap76

This article has no value other than to fan the fires of fan-boy arguments. Who cares how a game is developed, or which system is the base system. This game is going to use the same models, textures, and will feature the same content. Whether you buy it on a 360 or the PS3, you pretty much will get the same game. Look at multi platform games currently on the 360 and PS3. Visually they are the same for the most part, why would anyone expect that to change over the next 2 years. Game publishers have this crazy scheme to sell as many games as possible, making the most profit in the process. Developing a game to be superior on a single platform would be foolish from a sales stand point.

H-A-V-O-K
H-A-V-O-K

dont feel bad tebbit i almost posted the same thing.........almost.

Tebbit
Tebbit

.... .... .... Damn

Luck
Luck

Umm, they just said that in the article Tebbit. No offense.

Tebbit
Tebbit

I'd say the reason for developing for the PS3 first is that since it has such complex architecture, transferring that to the Xbox 360 would be a simplifying process rather than an elaboration process, which would be way way quicker than vice versa.

elagricola
elagricola

Someone agreed with me I'm sooo happy..... hahahaha Although my spelling sucks.... (keep in mind English is my second language) I agree they inted to make games equally good for either system. The only way to do so would be to do both consoles verions from scratch, which will not happen. Like I said before both GPUs' are diferent thus they both have their strenth and weakneses and probaly one's strenths is the others weakness. Look it up I think that article I read it on this site.

darkride66
darkride66

Yuck_Too. When I was referring to warranties expiring en masse, I realize that it's from date of purchase. I was more referring to the bulk of 360's sold in the first couple of years that were more prone to hardware failure. Between this year and next about 10 million consoles will no longer be covered by the warranty, and we know roughly 3 million of those will fail. That's a lot of gamers flying through the air only to discover there's no safety net. Will they all buy new 360's, pay to have them repaired or move on? That's what we have to look forward to this year and next.

vacancy009
vacancy009

Elag I agree. As far as an upper hand is concerned with multi-platform games any "upper-hand" differences are unintentional. Unless of course they are paid for by the console maker. The developers have a vision and want to achieve it and make it consistent across both platforms to maximize sales. So time isn't necessarily spent developing to all of a systems strengths. That is usually left up to the Exclusive titles.

elagricola
elagricola

I think everyone is ignoring the facts. Dev are developing first for the PS3 because it is simpler for them... period. Why is it simpler, because the PS3 is harder to program for. Is that bad? Actually I don't care because I am not doing the programming. This speaks nothing about which console is better. It is a fact that as time passes and Dev get better acquainted with a system they make better games. Look at PS2’s first games and look at recent ones, with the same hardware. There were no firmware updates back then of any kind. If games are better looking on 360 than PS3 (as some people say) then my guess it would be matter of time; it would just be a matter of dev using the PS3 capabilities better. The 360 has an upper hand here because it's easier to develop for, and they have launched first, but if devs are going to program first for the PS3 that could mean a loss for 360ers, just like it could b a loss for PS3ers to have it the other way around. In the end they are going to do what’s best for their business and what’s easier for them.

vacancy009
vacancy009

Dark I agree Microsoft will more than likely stay on a 5 to 7 year cycle. It's a paradox of sorts because while I don't want to shell out money every 5 years for something new I see the added benefit and completely go with it. As far HD-DVD , It is not essential to gaming, nor is it essential to the success of a console. The PS3 did not need BR to survive, BR however did need the PS3. Lastly sales, the US is far from saturated with 303 million people and under 11 million units sold of just the 360 there is plenty of room for growth for all the consoles. We will just have to wait and see what the future brings, but the 360 still has plenty of life left in it assuming Microsoft doesn't want to mix things up.

dannyatkinson
dannyatkinson

I just wish they would make Kotor 3 already.

Yuck_Too
Yuck_Too

--darkride66 -- lol...every company is in business to make money and they love to do it with the "next big thing" MS has already said 6-year cycle for the consoles...same as Sony strangly enough. Hardware changes too quickly (tech doubles every 24-months) so while developers might support older consoles they have hit thier limit and the new ones are far superior. PS1 -> PS2 was 6-years look at the difference PS2 -> PS3 was 6-years look at the difference And while the PS3 will be around 10-years from now no one is going to be bragging about it. There is no such thing as future-proof in tech. Oh...and the 3-year warrenty is from date of purchase...buy one today you got 3-years...not sure what you thought was going to happen but they don't "expire in masse"

darkride66
darkride66

vacancy009. Agreed. It's up to the manufacturer to pull the plug. We're talking MS here. Their whole business is built around marketing and selling the "next best thing" from software to hardware. People who think MS isn't going to pull the plug on the 360 when sales go soft haven't been paying much attention. That and a quickly saturated US market, poor penetration anywhere but North America, developers switching to the PS3 as lead, the downfall of HD-DVD and continued RROD issues (and the 3 year warranties soon to begin expiring en masse), hardware showing it's limitations, and nothing close to the 2007 year in terms of lineup anytime in the foreseeable future all equals a new 360 with Wii-like abilities sometime soon. Really, what choice do they have?

krazykubes
krazykubes

i own a 360 and cant wait for this game! almost considering holding off till it drops on ps3, and i get one

senjutsu
senjutsu

the game is looking hot! :D

vacancy009
vacancy009

@Dark The reality is each console has the ability to last as long as the manufacturer is willing to support it and people purchase the games. That is why PS2's still sell. The original xbox would probably still be selling had all game support and production stopped. Sony says that the PS3 is built for the future and they intend to support it for 10 years. I think they intend to do that, but what they don't tell you is they will watch the competition and be developing in the background themselves. If the need arises they will release a console within the next 6-8 years to compete with whatever it's competitors come out with because technology moves so very fast. They will still support the PS3 but release something new. The PS3 may be around in 7 years but it will not be competing at the same performance level as any of the newly released consoles. Sony says its future proof, I don't care who says it there is just no such thing

jooohnnny
jooohnnny

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]