From Concept to Console

How do game developers turn their ideas into big Triple-A releases?
21 January 2019
Presented by Chris Berrow, Georgia Mills
Production by Chris Berrow.


A levitation PlayStation controller


A brand new podcast looking at gaming news and the latest releases, with Chris Berrow and Georgia Mills. The highly anticipated Red Dead Redemption 2 is finally out, but there were comments that some of the team worked 100 hour weeks in the days before it was finished - so how do game cycles actually work? We'll hear from the developers of The Room series, and Far Cry: New Dawn, who explain how it works. Plus ZOMBIES! why are we fascinated by them? As for new releases - we review Human: Fall Flat and Hearthstone's latest expansion Rastakhan's Rumble. And we’re going old school with “Retro Revival”... starting with the Spyro Reignited Trilogy! 

In this episode

Person working at a computer to a deadline

05:11 - To create a masterpiece, work a 100 hour week

Far Cry: New Dawn's art director reacts to Rockstar's 100 hour working week...

To create a masterpiece, work a 100 hour week
Isaac Papismado, Art Director at Ubisoft

Red Dead Redemption 2 has been released on PS4 and Xbox One. It was the best selling game of 2018. And just before it came out it's one of the co-founders Dan Houser said his senior writing team spent the last three weeks of the release cycle working 100 hour weeks. So is that normal? Chris Berrow caught up with Isaac Papismado, the art director and a developer with the Far Cry series from Ubisoft. It's one of the most popular series of first person shooter games of all time, and he started by asking him how long it takes to get a game from initial concept to release...

Isaac - So you know it really varies from party to project. We are Ubisoft. It's not about really the timing of how long it takes us but the quality that we put out. We're really lucky Ubisoft to have the support of different development studios. So really it's about getting that quality product out there and we're not so stressed about how long it takes.

Chris - What are some of the challenges of the process.

Isaac - So for me specifically as our director Ubisoft What's most challenging for me is really coming up with a vision that will surprise players. I would really want to give something to the players that they haven't seen before. So for example if I can't be done bringing far cry to the poster like I'm setting we really wanted to avoid all the cliché environments that people are used to whether for movies or books or from their favorite video games. And we wanted to avoid the dark and gloomy atmosphere as we really wanted to mix it up a bit. And for me that was super important is how do we surprise our players and give them something refreshing to play with a game like Far Cry.

Chris - Once you've made one game two subsequent games take less time to make from start to finish?

Isaac - Yeah you know it really varies from game to game but in Far Cry New Dawn we chose to stay in Hope County to continue that story of the post collapse although 17 years later did go by we really wanted to completely transform whole county. We really wanted to feel different but at the same time familiar to those people coming back from Starcraft 5 and the same time we also have what we call expeditions where we transport our players to different locations across America whether it's Louisiana whether it's the West Coast or Arizona in the desert. So it's something we're really excited about is really giving the players different areas to explore and always be surprised with what he's going to see.

Voiceover - They said it was supposed to be the end of everything but for us it was just the beginning. Now we were better than that. This new world. Had a lot to do. We took on. That's how we came out on top. That's how we got here. That's how we found you.

Chris - What are the last few months before the actual release date. Like I imagine they're quite stressful.

Isaac - For me it's most exciting part of the production. It's where all the magic happens and where we get the Polish and we really get to you know put that final touch on all the creative decisions that we took. And as our director especially on the outside that time production is really to polish and really to craft the precise experience we want to give to our players.

Chris - How do you relax during that time?

Isaac - For me the most relaxing thing is actually to play the build to play the game. Seeing how the world has evolved is the best thing that ever happened to me. So really when I play the game when I explore the world and seeing all the hard work of the team that's as finally coming into the bill and looking amazing. That really for me is kind of like a destresser and it kind of makes me happy with exactly what we achieved in our development cycle.

Chris - Is a game ever finished or does that support have to carry on after which you know downloadable content for example which is huge nowadays.

Isaac - Nothing's ever finished. Artists are perfectionists and I'm sure you've heard that cliche before but we're really happy with far any done and this state that it's in and I'm super excited for players to finally get their hands on it.

A mobile game being played on a phone

10:09 - Making a mobile game on a budget

How do you turn an idea for a mobile game into a best-seller?

Making a mobile game on a budget
Barry Meade, Commercial Director of Fireproof Games

Nowadays mobile gaming is big business, so how different a process is it when it comes to releasing games on the small screen? Chris Berrow spoke to Barry Meade who's the commercial director of Fireproof Games. They developed The Room series, and their latest release is The Room: Old Sins. So how does a game like The Room goes from first inception to the finished product?

Barry - Well The Room it's I mean the game would have developed over that time we were developing it if you know what I mean. We would have started with a much simpler idea. And so in the case of The Room we started with the idea of trying to recreate on an iPad screen what it feels like to play are to manipulate Chinese puzzle boxes. Are you aware what they are?

Chris - Absolutely. I've seen them yeah.

Barry - So they're basically like if you imagine a jewelry box but instead of just having a lock and a key you have maybe 50 or 100 different manipulations you have to do to open the box. It's a sort of a it's just a puzzle effectively. And we thought the touchscreen was very tactile so we wanted to make a very tactile game which was something we thought was being overlooked about the touch screen. So we we we basically decided we wanted to make a game that was very sympathetic to how people use their phones which is through the touch screen.

Chris - I suppose that was cutting edge when you know The Room 1 was first released was that there weren't so many games like that available on the market. I mean nowadays there are but you were kind of one of the first in my experience.

Barry - Yeah. I think we were one of the first to take the touch screen as a sort of central component of the game and take that very seriously. I mean I wouldn't say that we were definitely were the first to make a good touch touchscreen game. Far from it. And it was just something that we thought was missing really most video games on on mobile at the time were either sort of carry over Facebook free to play games which are just about clicking things or they were really bad parts from PlayStation or PC where you had terrible control systems and trying to be shoehorned into mobile games which we thought was kind of crazy. So we wanted to if we were making a pass for a game yeah we would try and make sure that that game sang on the piece for and we wanted to take the same approach to Mobile where we wanted to make something that was. By about and for mobile devices but yet wasn't a free to play highly monetized game like most mobile games were at the time.

Chris - It's a brilliant initial concept but I'm interested to know how that then goes on to develop because I guess when you first started you didn't know how long that was going to take from start to finish at all.

Barry - No I mean well we yes we did in one way and didn't in another. No we didn't know. No because we didn't actually know what the game was we were making. We just wanted to try to recreate that feeling. And so we started off with a very simple box and a very simple shapes on it and just sort of kept adding different ideas to it. So those boxes became more and more complicated I guess you'd say. And then the actual game The Room which if you played is quite a creepy sort of atmospheric game all of that was made up as we went along. Like we we just added that in as flavor. And so what ended up as the room was very much not what we started off with. We just you know we knew that our job was to turn it into a real game over the time you were developing us but we didn't know what that game was when we started this.

Chris - Well that's that's really interesting because I imagine that when you work as part of a team and I know that you do that it's hard to make sure that things aren't designed by committee and that actually you have that kind of overall vision. So does that mean you have to work with people who share your kind of point of view?

Barry - I think it really helps. I think we like Fireproof Studios we all met working for a different games company called Criterion Studios who were part of E.A. And so we had worked there for five years together. So we were a very well school team very used to how each other worked. And we Yeah I mean we left and formed our own company specifically because we all got on well and we all sort of wanted the same things and we had the same standards which I think is important and very similar tastes. But really we had the same standards. We wanted to make really great games you know and I think we've been helped no end over the years by that fact. I think it's much harder for people who don't know each other and have never worked together to start a company and because they have to go through so much learning about each other just to even get to the point where they can talk about creative aspects and what the business is for. And so I think yeah we really benefited from that completely. But I should say just to go back to your other point and the way we we didn't know how long the game was take was because we only had money to last us for nine months. So basically we were an outsourcing. We were making artists or freelance artwork for other games companies that was our business. We were making the room on the side with only two of our 10 staff on that game and then the other eight was was was you know paying the bills effectively. And so we had about a hundred I don't know between 80 and one hundred thousand pounds in the bank which would have laughs which would basically pay for those two people to work on that game for about eight or nine months and then we were done. We had no money left. So irrespective of anything we had to finish the game in in eight months eight to nine months. And so that's what we did. So we didn't know how long it would take. And the fact is you know the game was formed around those limitations right. The Room is shaped the way it is and looks the way it is. Because we had to make very practical decisions as we were developing us as to what we could achieve in nine months.

Chris - Can I ask you then about the subsequent games because you obviously with the success of the first one you might have a bit more time a bit more money to spend on the sequels that there are available now. Did you have more time and more money.

Barry - It was infinitely different. Yes it was infinitely different. I mean The Room was such a hit that we we very much listened to what people had said about the first one. We made a very short simple game with The Room. So the first thing that we did when we finished it was we created a DLC pack which people could download for free which basically expanded the game by about 30 percent in length and added in a lot more content. And then and then we made that free for everybody and then we went on to The Room 2 after that and the room to give an example probably cost about 10 to 15 times more to make than one.

Chris - But then I say you can invest that into The Room 2 because people know what they're gonna get but they want bigger and better I suppose is always the case with the sequel.

Barry - That's true. Yes that's all true. I mean but it was also ourselves we wanted to do much better right. We we had so many limitations when we made the room one we had so many ideas we couldn't put in. So with the room to you know it was also ourselves we wanted to completely ace it and just make something that was on every level better than your previous game. I mean one one thing you're not really aware of unnecessary in the games industry is if you have a hit if you make a first game in it and it hits it's incredibly hard to recreate that in the second game doesn't matter how big you make it or how swanky or have evolved it is or how much better the graphics are. What you're missing is the surprise of something novel. Right. So that's gone and that novelty is what really people love about a game when when they when it first arrives and it's not like anything else. So you're you're on a losing battle by creating a sequel. And we knew that we you know we've been in games long enough to know that it's incredibly hard to keep that same level of interest. So we had to knock at the park right. We had to do everything and bigger and better basically and just just. And that's only to keep the same level of interest. We never expected The Room 2 to be bigger than the Room is. And we just wanted to get back to where we were effectively. But we knew that we had to try five 10 times harder in order to get that back. So.

Chris - So when you bring it on to The Room 3 which is also out and then The Room: Old Sins as well you you creating a rod for your own back here!

Barry - We are indeed yes. But that's what it's like. You know if you get success you want you don't want to go backwards. Right? You just it seems pointless to go backwards so he always wants to do better always with each one.

Chris - Is there a kind of crunch time because you've probably heard in the games industry big kind of blockbuster Triple A releases like Red Dead Redemption. There was talk of you know you've got to get it out by the deadline. It doesn't really matter just at all hands to the pump. I imagine that with the kind of game that you're making in a smaller team it might not be quite the same but just give me some insight into kind of those those final months and weeks what's it like when it gets towards release.

Barry - Yeah I mean you would be busier for sure and a bit more nerve racking. I mean we're not the company that crunches. We don't believe in it we've had to do it so much in our own previous professional careers. We basically we just don't do it at all in our in our company and if our game takes longer and we have to pay more money then that's what we do. But not everyone can do that right. Not everyone can afford to be in that position. I mean there are small teams of one or two or three people who have no money to begin with and who are still trying to make a game and they have to work their asses off to get it done. Do you know. And so it's not just big companies it's it's kind of everywhere. I guess just big companies historically have used crunch as a crutch right for being cheap or being bad at management and that's usually you know that's very often what happens people can get to use torture and it just becomes power part of the you know the fabric of working in a games company and that's what you have to reject right just as a sort of. You have to reject that from your culture overtly like. It's hard to but you say look we're just not going to have this. So it's it's a choice for every company I guess. But yeah I'd say it's. I'd say it was a lot worse ten years ago. I think it's much reduced now.

A xombie

20:48 - Why are we so fascinated by zombies?

Why do so many video games feature the walking dead?

Why are we so fascinated by zombies?
Dr. Hank Davis, University of Guelph

Georgia Mills looks at why we're so fascinated with zombies.

Georgia - It's an undeniable mainstay of the gaming industry whether it's horror survival or first person shooter the humble zombie is the butt of much videogame violence. But why do we love to take a hammer AK 47 or indeed any kind of offensive weapon to the polls on be other than the fact that they're trying to eat our brains. Well many of us love being scared. It's like riding a roller coaster. You give your fear circuits a little test drive and get a boost of adrenaline all while knowing you're in a safe environment. Horror films theme parks haunted houses. They're all popular because of this. But why zombies are so scary. Well according to Dr. Hank Davis from the University of Guelph there are three powerful triggers of fear that are a result of our evolution.

Hank - The first is a fear of being chomped on which arises from being very much part of the food chain. We're very sensitive to things that prey on us to a sense of being stalked to a sense of menace. The second is a fear of the disgusting and gory. We are very very aware of. Rotting bodies Gore and it's very good that we avoid these things because they do harbour. Nasty bacteria that can kill us. So rotting organic matter is not something you want to play with or eat. And finally a fear of the uncanny. A person who violates our sense of what a person actually is. The biggest reason is that you can't reason with it more than any other species on the planet. Ours uses reason we reason with each other we are a very very social species.

Georgia - And guess what. Zombies take all three skyboxes.

Hank - Zombies are also good because they're predators. They carry deep contagion. They themselves are dead bodies so you don't want to get too close to them. And finally they want to reason with us.

Georgia - So there you have it. Zombies are the ultimate spooks and it could also be argued zombies provide those of us who feel slightly weird about gruesomely murdering a fellow human even if they are computer generated a guilt free monster to blow to smithereens.

A playstation controller

Review - Human: Fall Flat

Chris and Georgia review Human: Fall Flat

Voiceover - I saw a sign. I had no clue what it tried telling me keep the dreams of falling by solving puzzles and using only your wits and physics. Human with zero superpowers given the right tools can do a lot. Explore some real dream escapes. Riddled with puzzles and distractions. A game where every rule can be bad. And every solution is welcome. Will you try to open that mysterious door. Or would you rather see how far you can throw a speaker set out the window.

Georgia - This is something I just came across in the Playstation shop while I was on holiday with my housemates and it's so weird. And that's what makes it so brilliant. So you're all these little horrible fleshy dough people while running around in this kind of weird abstract environment and all you can really do is run around and hold things. And if you if you if you're holding something you can lift it up or drop it. That's pretty much the entire game.

Chris - so that's all you can do. You can just grab stuff and drop stuff in the end.

Georgia - Yeah and you can jump.

Chris - Oh great.

Georgia - There's the two thing. But they thought really really hard about this and there's loads of different puzzles where you need to pick things up and drop things or grab things and move things around and just use the sort of physics mechanisms to try and get through different areas. And it's just kind of weirdly surreal and relaxing. You're running around you can also co-op which is always good always fuck up your friend and throw them off the map and they fall back down or you can like maybe there's a door you have to get through and you actually have to pick up a rock and drop it on the lock which breaks it or there's a catapult that you have to get in and launch the mechanism so there's like loads of loads of different things they've thought of. There's really really basic mechanic and it's just great.

Chris - Is it a bit like Little Big Planet when because you mentioned co-op and I was just thinking of it in some of the controls there. You know the character starts to sort of you know like ragdoll around the place and stuff and it sounds like it's co-op as well. It got that kind of feel to it.

Georgia - You know what I was actually looking for a little big planet really or to fly because I remembered really enjoying that uni and I couldn't find it. I did find this one and I thought it looked exactly the same kind of stupid foolin around getting into trouble kind of game and yeah it is quite similar but you don't have Stephen Fry's dulcet tones narrating. I mean you can’t have everything.

Chris - So what you reckon it sounds like is the game that is best played in co-op maybe.

Georgia Mills - I tend to think that about all games. I really like games where you can have a pal on the sofa and just try and solve it together. I think you can play on your own but it helps. It helps with the puzzles to have a buddy there who maybe you think slightly differently to you and you I think you can have up to eight people play WoW once which sounds like chaos. I may be a case of too many doughboys spoil the puzzle.

Chris - So give it a score out of 10 then what's your feeling.

Georgia - 8 out 10!

A playstation controller

27:30 - Review - Hearthstone: Rastakhan's Rumble

Chris & Georgia review Hearthstone: Rastakhan's Rumble

Review - Hearthstone: Rastakhan's Rumble

Chris and Georgia review Hearthstone: Rastakhan’s Rumble

Chris - Even though I bought this Xbox One X recently I don't feel like I can honestly say I've been playing it that much. I mean I've been trying but really what's been taking up most of my time is an expansion so I think that's kind of fair game. This is at Hearthstone which is a card game which a lot of people will be aware of you your mobile you can play it in loads of different varieties. This is called Rastakhan's Rumble which is like an expansion of the existing Hearthstone universe is one hundred thirty five new cards and every time this comes round it's about you know the two three or four expansions per year. It changes everything. Suddenly it's like a whole brand new game.

Voiceover - I like. To buy any. Green and buy. The only team. So real true desire. To smash center smash. Bros. And maybe make.

Chris - I've never really been into card games like Magic The Gathering never really appealed to me. I played a bit of Pokemon cards at school and a bit of Yugio which is probably the kind of the nerdy-est I've gone when it comes to card games. But for some reason I'm just absolutely addicted to this at the moment so I've been you know not spending any money because it's free to play. You can earn gold by destroying other people at this card game and it. It's just really really addictive. It's not we're sort one of the best expansions they've dunks it doesn't totally change what they call like the matter game which is essentially the sorts of decks that people are playing you know like 90 percent of people who are paying one thing you can sort of take your one and try and destroy them. But I've been really really enjoying it. I'd say it's taken up most of my gaming time so I don't know Hearthstone it's like a game that keeps on giving for me and this new expansion I've really enjoyed. So it's kind of been consuming me.

Georgia - I mean half the words you said. You may as well have been speaking a language. Did you say Rasta rumble?

Chris - Rastakhan’s Rumble. I know that all the names of their expansions are kind of crazy.

Georgia - And when you said a card game I was thinking of like a normal deck of cards but I'm now getting the impression that not.

Chris - No so this is this is like a computerized card game so it's like instead of rolling dice which you might do in a card game and like playing down your physical cards. This is like an online on your mobile phone kind of card game. Imagine like poker online except with crazy Warcraft heroes destroying each other. That's kind of what it is.

Georgia - Okay so you could flip like... I don't know an orc that eats up the neighbouring player's card of a goblin.

Chris - Exactly. You've got it. You haven't played before but it's really good. Just if you haven't played Hearthstone before and you don't want to spend any money just to start off with there's really good training modes in it as well as the single player options available. You'd have to spend any actual money and it's properly good. This expansion itself is probably going to get six out of 10 from me but every time they come round it's like an exciting couple of weeks for me which I’m right in the middle of at the moment.

A group of retro game characters including Space Invaders

30:35 - Retro Revival - Spyro Reignited Trilogy

Can the remake of Spyro the Dragon live up to the hype?

Retro Revival - Spyro Reignited Trilogy

Chris & Georgia review Spyro Reignited Trilogy.

Voiceover - I think guys smell a barbecue. Looks like I've got some. Spyro Spyro. Spy row. Spy row spy row spy row spy row spy row spy row. I'm getting a little winded. That's me all right.

Chris - We've both been playing probably more than an acceptable adult should play. How did you find it. Playing along.

Georgia - I mean yeah I'm a sucker for anything that reminds me of like those early Playstation 1 games. This is so nice to just play the games again but then I kind of think if these like I would maybe just rather be playing the original picture here. The graphics look great but the gameplay and the sort of rubbish graphics are kind of part of the charm. Yeah there's this sort of weird blocky quality to everything which is really nice and then they change things and I don't like change.

Wow it's like a philistine view. How dare they improve graphics.

Chris - I know what you mean by that because I was you know and I I had this exact situation that you were talking about earlier where I used to go round to a friend's house who had Spyro the dragon because I never had a Playstation 1 and I went round and played Spyro and I loved it and never talked to this friend ever and I just totally played their Playstation. I went back to play as an adult. This is why I was so keen to get it and I know it's like 30 quid. You know when it was released I was really keen to play. I thought right finally my own copy of Spyro the Dragon but the graphics are almost too good. You know what I mean by that.

Georgia - Yeah. So polished less charming. It's like there's old Disney animations where you can see all the hand on pencil lines. That's part of the charm and they lose that with all the sort of the swanky computer animation.

Chris -  Do you think the basic gameplay because I mean it is more basic compared to some of the games you play nowadays do you think that it's actually a good thing though compared to really complicated games and you know really you know you didn't really have to use all the buttons inspire a team that's part of what made it such a good game.

Georgia - I mean another one they rejigged was Crash Bandicoot and that was again very very basic. Just kind of running along and jumping and it's fun. Like there are dips there are bits that are really really hard and I feel like with modern games often it's just either a bit too easy or so much focusing on this like amazing graphics and look at this world we've created that the gameplay itself is just a bit more.

Chris - Yeah. Can I also say that I did play a tiny bit of crash the relaunched version and I absolutely suck at it. I really suck hard at crash so I'm furious that I haven't really touched that one as much as my partner did. I did enjoy playing Spyro and it did feel like I was reliving my childhood and getting a copy of that game which I never fully owned as a kid and you know I've managed to find about 30 dragons so far in game number one of the trilogy and I get quite a lot of your money here 30 drag out of how many things are hundreds maybe hundreds.

Georgia - Chris you got a lot of work to do.

Chris - So I gotta go. Gotta go.

Georgia - I have one tiny gripe not to mention about this game. So they're bringing Spyro back for the modern age and hooray it's all been updated but I found the controls and the camera angles really really irritating and hard to use and I don't know if it was like that in the original game. I feel like when you're doing something like this you gotta get it right. Really like there's no excuse. And I looked online and seems like a lot of people were having similar complaints and looking for an update. So it feels like they haven't quite polished all the edges.

Chris - I still enjoyed it anyway but yeah

Georgia - this game about a purple dragon it's totally unrealistic. I demand some more realism.


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