Entry #4 - 02/28/01
By Daniel Achterman
Hello, everyone. It's been a long time since the last Myst III: Exile Designer Diary here on GameSpot, but as is often the case in this industry, other things (such as game development) often distract the well-intentioned diarist. However, there's no time like the present to start playing catch-up.
So how far along is Myst III these days? With an on-shelf release date of May 7, we're getting very close. All the live-action blue-screen footage has been merged into the game environments, and the visual effects in those sequences are complete. The modeling, texturing, and lighting for all the ages are almost done, and the animators are working absurd hours to bring those worlds to life. In a hidden room at Presto's secret complex, there are stacks of powerful computers actually rendering the images for the environments and animations. How powerful, you ask? Try dual Pentium III 933 PCs with more than 1GB of RAM apiece. Powerful--trust me.
The engine behind the game is rock solid, which has been a huge benefit. Presto has not had to concern itself with developing a game and an engine simultaneously, which has been a huge boon to production. The engine is capable of some pretty impressive features. For example, Myst III: Exile will ship with four languages on the CD, and you can choose which elements of the game appear in what language. Want to hear the acting in French but read English subtitles so that you know what's going on? Go for it. Dutch voices with German subtitles? You're in control.
With everything so far along, what's keeping the folks at Presto busy? In one word: scripting.
Scripting is the step that turns all these disconnected video sequences, animations, and world renders into a game. These days, I work with Presto producers Greg Uhler and Dave Flanagan, spending nearly every waking hour assembling the graphics into their final format and writing scripts to tell the engine how to interpret them as a seamless, involving world. As part of his job, a scripter must specify which images make up each of more than 1,000 locations in the game; define "hotspots," places within the game where characters can click to interact with the game (sometimes there are as many as 10 in a single location); consider every possible state the gameworld can be in and make sure it appears correctly; and place every animation in the appropriate location and make sure it matches up to the pixel with the background.
Game States and Hotspots
As you can guess, we have our work cut out for us. Of course, scripting is a significant component of any major game, but creating a prerendered game of this level of detail presents particular challenges. Consider, for example, a single location in the game--say, a room somewhere. Maybe the lights in this room can be on or off. Graphics have to be created for both states, and the engine must be programmed to load the correct state based on what the user has done. Suppose that there is a screen door that can be open or closed. With the light, that makes four room states. Suppose there is an object behind that door that can be present or missing. Accommodating all these variables makes 2x2x2, or 8 states for a single location! Since there can even be multiple locations inside that room, you can see how the work piles up.
The above is a mild example. Dave scripted one location with 13 distinct states (each with its own graphics and animations) and more than 40 hotspots! I just got a call from Greg, the producer, who boasted that one of his locations has more than 33 movies. My most complicated location has just five states and 14 movies. I'm going to have to get cracking--or these guys will leave me behind.
Of course, many users won't even notice the attention to detail that goes into scripting the game. When they watch a creature moving through the world and then step forward and see the creature in the same position from their new location, they don't see the detailed frame tracking, state updates, and animation searching, all of which go on behind the scenes. All they see is a creature moving in a seamless, consistent world.
These are very exciting times to be working on this game. For those of you following such things, we just announced the names of the different ages that players will be able to explore. We also posted several pictures of each at www.myst3.com. Don't worry, though, there's nothing that will give the game away. We're still hiding 999/1000ths of this game until it's actually on the shelves. Keep checking back here on GameSpot and at the official site for more Myst III: Exile news as we get closer to the final release.