During the DICE Summit, The Order: 1886 Creative Director Ru Weerasuriya held a speech titled “The Last of the Independents,” talking about Ready at Dawn’s history and philosophy, and their work on the upcoming PS4 exclusive. The speech also fit quite snugly in the “Development Without Borders” theme of the summit.
Weerasuriya mentioned that all Ready at Dawn has done before was in preparation for The Order: 1886. He grew up in Switzerland and started his career at Blizzard, and he explained that the house of Starcraft taught him that he could accomplished everything.
He was the first foreigner at Blizzard back then, but the borders have now been broken, and at Ready at Dawn they hire from all over the world, reaching the sizable number of 130 developers.
Yet, the studio found out that they couldn’t locate all the talent they needed in the US, because the country seems to have partly lost its way for education, which looks more about increasing the size of the industry and its capitals instead of imparting knowledge to students.
Weerasuriya also explained that RaD broke the boundaries of what could be done on handhelds with the God of War games on PSP. In fact, when they first pitched the idea to Sony Santa Monica, David Jaffe said that it’d be great to make a 2D side-scroller. Weerasuriya and his team had to prove that they could create a true God of War game on Sony’s portable console.
By doing so, though, they created more boundaries for themselves, as they gradually became “the PSP developer.” Everyone was looking at Ready at Dawn as a developer able to do only handheld games.
They needed to find a way to break those boundaries, and that’s why they pitched The Order: 1886 on PS4, to show what “next-generation” meant and what the platform could really do.
Unfortunately the game had its challenges. Weerasuriya had written the game’s story. He had written many games’ scripts, but he wasn’t sure if he could write the script of this game. That’s why he went to Hollywood, hiring an old-school scriptwriter, Kirk Ellis, breaking the boundaries of the gaming industry. He came into the job without having written a single game, or even played or seen one.
That proved to be one of the best partnerships ever.
The Order: 1886 is Ready at Dawn’s first PS4 production, so they had to take many risks in technology, storytelling and motion capture (which at that time was mostly unknown at the studio). They had to build things that were never seen in the previous generation, and do mocap in a completely different way, and approach writing and acting differently.
They also had to go beyond boundaries in graphical fidelity, to do things like characters in-game that look as detailed as those in cinematics, creating things that are getting closer and closer to reality.
Weerasuriya feels that it is amazing that we’re just at the beginning of the generation, and there’s so much more to go in the next few years, getting “closer and closer to something that almost feels real.”
In pursuit of realism they created systems like the physics system in the game, approaching physics in a completely different way. Their soft body physics system differs from the rigid body systems out there, not because they wanted to showcase technology, but because they wanted to show people how cool it could be if they could replicate things that we see in the real world, since everything in the real world is soft. Weerasuriya hopes that people who will play the game will perceive that this is about making things feel real.
With this kind of fidelity in mind, he’s looking forward to see how far it can go, especially with the steps the industry is taking in virtual reality, with Oculus Rift and Morpheus, because realism is needed to make VR an actual part of the industry and not just a gimmick.
Weerasuriya also feels that education is one of the biggest challenges for the future, as the more can be imparted on the future generations of developers, the more chances there are for the industry not to stagnate.
Another challenge is dealing with criticism. Everyone is a critic this day. Bloggers, Youtubers, everyone has a voice. It’s good because that dialog is needed, but it’s also scary because the smallest voice can drive the biggest controversy, and this has happened many times in the industry, when a little thing is said and it becomes bigger than it needs to be. At times the scrutiny can be disruptive to development.
Developers are also constantly in the cycle of reinventing the wheel with each generation of platforms. Technology has to be retaught in order to deliver a sound gaming experience. The camera is an example, and it’s comparable to telling a director “go film something, but before you have to re-invent the camera.” That’s what’s done in gaming with technology.
While he isn’t complaining about that, if the industry was able to homogenize technology, without so many differences, developers could rely on tech with a longer life cycle, allowing developers to create more games and less technology. And that’s something important for Weerasuriya, because he wants to spend more time creating games and less creating tech.
The finance model for the industry is also changing. External investors are coming, but without guidance from the inside it could easily be a trainwreck. On the other hand distributors need to be more involved with the creation pf games like Netflix did for video content.
While Weerasuriya would love to think about the industry as without borders, it isn’t, because it needs borders. Those borders represent the goals that need to be overcome. Every time developers break boundaries they should be willing and ready to embrace those they set for tomorrow, because they’ll grow the ecosystem and the industry.
Lastly he feels that as the industry break boundaries, it tends to stagnate in the field of games as culture and art. While the US is the most influential country in the gaming industry, it’s still difficult to have an open and constructive discussion about games in culture. That’s probably the biggest boundary to cross.
In Switzerland, in 2008, the government was working hand-in-hand with universities, incubating talent and promoting game development around the world. The ministry of culture was having an open dialog about culture in games and games as art. They even had a foundation called Pro Helvetia promoting that dialog around the world.
In 2007 Roger Ebert said that games are not art, and they’ll never be art, in some ways, for Weerasuriya the question no longer exists. Games are art. At least, they are in a small country nestled in the middle of the alps.