Blockbuster games have blockbuster budgets. But for all the attention paid to the backstage shenanigans of big-bang movies, few fans know much about what goes into making a triple-A video game.
To peek behind the scenes, and screens, I dropped by the first-ever PSX convention in Vegas—a place where Playstation fans lined up to get first-plays of upcoming hour-blasters. While there, I asked a bunch of on-site developers for their favorite behind-the-scenes secrets. Dear future Wikipedia game-page editors: you’re welcome to use this as reference.
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There’s a hidden, spine-tingling death scene. Until Dawn is ostensibly a playable pastiche of horror films. Part of the appeal: the decisions you make in the game dictate how (and whether) the characters meet their maker (it’s a lot more effective than yelling at a movie screen). “Arguably the most terrifying death-scene in the game is likely to be seen by only about one out of every 100 players, based on the choices they make,” says Pete Samuels, executive producer, Supermassive Games. What is it exactly? Well, they wouldn’t spoil it for us just yet, so you'll have to wait to find out.
It shares a star with Game Of Thrones. Sort of. And it’s one we’re assuming fetches a much smaller salary than Peter Dinklage. “We performance-captured a dog for part of the game that also appeared as a Direwolf in Game of Thrones,” Samuels says.
The Order: 1886
A dwarf took a break from saving Middle Earth to make this game. In this Victorian-era adventure game, a small order of men patrol a world filled with half-human-half-monsters (think: a steampunk Men In Black). Well it turns out that one of the game’s actors is doing double duty saving Middle Earth from Orcs and dragons.“One of our main characters, Sebastian Malory, is played by Graham McTavish; the same guy who played the dwarf Dwalin in The Hobbit,” says Ru Weerasuriya, CEO and creative director of Ready At Dawn Studios. “He was filming all the time in New Zealand, so it was hard to get him for schedule. So every time we shot on the motion capture stage, I took a LEGO figurine of him that they made for The Hobbit, just to make sure Graham was, one way or another, with us. Today, it’s on my desk and literally stares at me most of the time.”
It was modeled with exceedingly old-school tools. Tearaway Unfolded takes place in a paper world with paper physics and paper people. To make sure it felt right, its developers took a page (quite literally) from arts and crafts class, and made physical paper models. “The main thing we’ve learned in trying to make a world out of paper is that you do actually have to make a world out of paper,” says Rex Crowle, creative lead at Media Molecule. “So apart from all the high-end PCs and Playstations, we were surrounded by little paper models—things we’ve made while trying to get the style just right, or created while trying to figure out how to properly simulate what happens when the glue starts to unstick and the folds unfold, or when someone opens a window on a windy day. It causes total chaos, trust us.”
It was made to be a social VR game. Virtual reality. So amazing! So immersive! And so, so isolating (it’s hard to trash-talk your friends when you’re staring into a visor). “We had VR headsets at an event and a crowd was gathered around watching a roller coaster demo and it was absurd,” says Ben Kane, a developer at Steel Crate Games. “So we wanted to create a game where all the people watching could play the game with them.” The final product: this VR party game, which allows two players to team up to diffuse a bomb by solving a series of puzzles. One wears the VR visor, the other walks them through a series of binder-based clues.
Seth Porges is a contributor to Supercompressor.com, Forbes, Maxim, and many others on the intersection of tech, culture, gaming and more. Follow him to freedom on Twitter @SethPorges