Entry #1 - 12/21/01
By Jamie King
Director of Development, Rockstar Games NYC
The original concept and design for a game based on urban rioting was conceived in 1998 in the dank dungeon of the VIS Entertainment in Dumferline, Scotland. Inspiration? First and foremost, English soccer matches! I have been in the middle of a few myself, and I have never been pummeled. But perhaps the lunatics at VIS took a few beatings to the head at a few games...I think brain damage may explain how they thought up State of Emergency. Then again, Toxtead, Brixton, Birmingham, Bradford, and the Poll Tax Riots were also contributors to our exposure to rioting as we grew up.
At first, we tried a darker, more realistic game with a top-down point of view. But once we started playing it, we realized the game simply wasn't as fun as we wanted it to be. It felt like you were getting chased the whole time, but not doing enough brawling. Who wants a video game that feels like a marathon? And it felt so serious! It was obvious that a lifelike "riot simulator" was not much fun. We had to rethink at this point, as our goal was a game concept that would immerse players in the action, rather than remove them from it. Being huge fans of old-school beat-'em-ups, and loving the Dreamcast and lamenting its demise, we decided on a fast-paced arcade-style fighting game with a very fun, over-the-top, and bright visual style--all the while keeping the riots intact and providing the essential tongue-in-cheek approach.
The riots were tricky--but it was the announcement of the PS2 that convinced us that we finally had a console powerful enough to display more than 250 people on the screen at any given moment. We also felt that the software library for the PS2 could do with a game like this. As soon as we got our grubby hands on the dev tools, we took the black hole, um, I mean box, apart and started from scratch. The entire engine was written specifically for the PS2, after we had sussed out the processors and vector units and how the hell they worked. The character and animation renderer are hardware coded and were written after we knew how the machine worked and what it could handle. This was definitely challenging, as it was VIS's first development on the PS2, but the results speak for themselves! The performance goal for the engine was simple: squeeze as much performance out of the system as possible. The capabilities ended up far better than we anticipated, particularly after a couple of runs through Sony's performance analyzer. The final result is mind-blowing--VIS managed to get 250 characters onscreen at once and process more than 50 AI paths simultaneously in each map.
We had to be very careful with the design of the characters in order to maximize the use of available texture memory to allow for huge numbers of them with extensive interaction--and dismemberment! Using palatized textures with 256 colors, we were able to create the rich, colorful look while maximizing performance. With the large number of AIs we had to display, we had to find extremely efficient ways of clipping and dealing with the staggering number of collisions. Implementation of the pathfinding also had to be thought out very carefully, in order to realistically convey varied behaviors in the riot while minimizing the impact on processing time and frame rate. Because SOE is such a dynamic character-based game with extensive combat, we also had to provide a robust animation system that could give us the variety of movements we were after.
Now that we are in the final stages of completing development, I can safely say that SOE looks and plays unlike anything gamers have ever seen. When people see the crowds of people for the first time, their jaws literally drop. The best way to describe this game is to use the word crazy whilst slapping my forehead to convey just how crazy this game is. Nuts is a good word too.