Condemned: Criminal Origins Designer Diary 1

Condemned producer Dave Hasle talks about the technology behind this upcoming psychological thriller for the Xbox 360.


Currently in development at Monolith Productions, Condemned: Criminal Origins is a first-person action game in which you'll assume the role of an FBI agent named Ethan Thomas. As Thomas, you'll be tasked with pursuing and bringing to justice a number of serial killers, using careful detective work and, of course, lightning-fast reflexes. According to Sega, Condemned is a game that will be best played with the lights off--a recommendation that will almost go without saying by the time you reach the end of this, producer David Hasle's first, designer diary.

Condemned Technology

By David Hasle

The moody and realistic lighting comes courtesy of Monolith's new graphics engine.
The moody and realistic lighting comes courtesy of Monolith's new graphics engine.

Condemned: Criminal Origins is a psychological thriller that confronts you with brutal, up-close combat, cutting-edge next-generation graphics, and high-tech forensic investigation. Set in a gritty urban environment, Condemned puts you in the shoes of Ethan Thomas, a member of the FBI Serial Crimes Unit who has been assigned to track down a serial killer. The development goal of Condemned was to create the most immersive action/horror experience we could, utilizing the new technological opportunities available with the next-generation hardware. Specific areas of technological focus included lighting and shadows, weapon and combat effects, realistic physics, and devious artificial intelligence.

The lighting of Condemned is given depth and power by Monolith's new graphics engine. Players will move through the environments with fully dynamic per-pixel lighting and shadows. There is absolutely no static lighting in Condemned. Static lighting places light sources in the world and then calculates the shadows that correspond to that light source. The shadows are then burned onto the world and cannot be manipulated. Thus, when a light source is changed, or when something interacts with that object, the shadow does not change accordingly. Creating natural light and shadow movement is important to creating and maintaining a frightening and tense mood. While much of the shadowy world is deliberately set up to create uncertainty, there are instances in which a shadow will give you the drop on an unsuspecting opponent.

The entire game is normal-mapped, which means that when light hits a surface it will show realistic light reflection. Condemned also features numerous unique and carefully crafted shaders. Shaders essentially involve the layering of several textures that react to a light source to create a specific surface reflection. Specular qualities in metal (shininess) and soft light-diffusion of cloth are achieved through this method. These features are highlighted through the use of several stylized screen effects, such as film grain, bleach bypass, and dark shader effects. Screen effects can be utilized to emphasize story events, punctuate tension, and create a stylish cinematic quality that has never been seen before in a video game.

Condemned is described as a psychological thriller, but there'll be no shortage of blood here.
Condemned is described as a psychological thriller, but there'll be no shortage of blood here.

A further level of immersion is achieved by the use of impact decals in concert with an advanced physics system and "devious" AI. When you shoot or strike a player, there will be physical feedback in the form of blood or damage in the area where they were struck. The decals vary, depending on the weapon and location of the inflicted damage. There is definitely blood involved when you get a good headshot in on an enemy. There is the spitting out of broken teeth, the vomiting of blood, and a slew of other blood splatterings... The enemy reaction when attacked, threatened, or wounded all differ in accordance with the situation and personality of the character. You may wail on one opponent and he will either lose his confidence and head for the hills, go for a buddy, or maybe drop his weapon and pull a stronger one from the environment. They will try to ambush you, come up from behind, run, or maybe even knock out a light to make the area darker; this is not your typical mindless zombie enemy.

Condemned heralds the coming of next-generation consoles with a frightening presentation of psychological horror. The next-gen Xbox lets us create detail, atmosphere, and game systems that approach a level of realism previously unattainable. For example, in our game, we have an enemy who berserk attacks at an extremely close range. The detail in his face, the spit and blood flying from his mouth, and his hands with dirty fingers clawing into your eyes is really something to experience and is quite disturbing--but in a good way!

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