2K Wanted BioShock on Phones, Here’s How One Dev Team Pulled it Off

The mid to late 2000s featured a very prevalent pattern of extending a recreation’s attain by porting it to as many platforms as doable, no matter whether or not or not these platforms have been a superb match. Games like Need for Speed: Most Wanted, 007: Quantum of Solace, and Cars 2, alongside so many extra, noticed releases on consoles and PC, as anticipated, but in addition noticed downgraded or drastically totally different variations hit handhelds just like the PSP, Nintendo DS, and even cellphones.

The pattern hit plenty of main console and PC video games of the period. Perhaps, most surprisingly, the acclaimed first-person journey BioShock noticed the discharge of a cellular port referred to as BioShock 3D. Though there’s a bent to wave away the hand held or cellular variations of console video games like BioShock, its cellular improvement is an interesting instance of the work that went into such an adaptation. According to Tridev, the developers of BioShock 3D who spoke to IGN about its creation, such a port included any variety of technical, inventive, and bureaucratic challenges that exhibit the difficulties of constructing a triple-A recreation run on a telephone barely in a position to play Brick Breaker.

And no, this isn’t the port of BioShock to mobile, nor the notorious Bioshock game announced exclusively for the PS Vita at Sony’s 2011 E3 press convention, which was never officially cancelled (however was completely cancelled). This is a remake of the primary Bioshock recreation designed to run on Javascript-capable flip telephones, and its builders supplied us a glimpse of what it’s wish to carry one in all gaming’s most beloved tales to a platform it was by no means initially supposed for.

Expectations vs. Reality

The first problem Vijay Venkatramani, Tridev’s studio supervisor on the time, informed us the workforce confronted was deciding what the precise scope of BioShock 3D must be in comparison with the unique recreation.

“This was hard considering all the limitations we had to work with back then,” he stated. “In the end, we decided to split the game into two parts. That way people wouldn’t be put off by larger download times; the download speeds [at the time] were slow. The second reason was production time. When development [began] we were told that we had 6 months to get something to market; a scary deadline for a project this big. We would be spending a lot of time repurposing tools from [Predator: The Duel 3D, the game that proved the team’s technical expertise and landed them the BioShock 3D project] and adapting them to Bioshock’s gameplay. In short, there was no way we could get the whole game out [as one product].”

Tridev had loads of cellular expertise to drag from in making an attempt such a feat on such a brief timeline, however they nonetheless needed to construct BioShock 3D from scratch and take care of weighty expectations coming off of the beloved reception of the unique.

“One of the challenges was squeezing the scale of the game to fit the crummy mobile phones back then,” recalled Arjun Nair, BioShock 3D’s producer. “2K Games had assigned an external producer to work with us to ensure that the final game matched their expectations of a BioShock game. Them coming from a console background and our reality of working with mobile phones led to a lot of friction initially. They wanted a literal port of the game, but we knew we had to cut down on not only art, but also some elements of the game if we had any hope of getting the game out on a phone.

“It’s important to note that we didn’t get any code or technical design documents from [2K] – we had to design and write all the tech stuff from scratch. The initial expectation from the management was to do a ‘quick’ mobile port in less than 6 months. The actual game took a year to complete and ship. To do all that in a year is, frankly, amazing, and a testament to the skill and motivation of everyone on the team – design, art, code [and] QA.”

Learning How To Kill 2K’s Darlings

Designing and rebuilding such a beloved recreation from scratch for much less highly effective machines can be no small endeavor itself. But Tridev additionally continued to butt heads with 2K relating to problems with scope even after deciding on the 2 half cut up, in response to the Tridev builders we spoke to. One of the most important factors of rivalry was how the workforce needed to chop some ranges they deemed non-essential for the cellular model, comparable to Arcadia and Return to Arcadia.

“From the design side of things, I had actually cut down a few levels that weren’t contributing to the main storyline,” stated Poornima Seetharaman, BioShock 3D’s lead designer. “Initially the 2K team wasn’t aligned to it. I insisted on having a chat with them and explaining the reason behind it – that went well and we managed to cut a few levels.”

BioShock 3D Screenshots

Mobile telephones of the time, among the hottest being the iPhone 4 and HTC Desire, merely didn’t have the reminiscence or graphical processing energy to ship a direct port of BioShock, so the workforce employed intelligent tips to get it to run in any respect, not to mention easily.

“The large level maps were literally rendered as a semi-voxel map,” Venkatramani defined. “If you were seeing a large floor, it was [actually] just one polygonal asset tiled to create the entire floor. Any perceived variations were just clever tiling and UV mapping. We couldn’t use very large assets for the levels because most of that poly/texture budget was taken up by all the characters. We had to constantly fight to push resource budgets for each part of each level.”

“[It took] some mathemagic to make it all happen,” Nair added.

Tridev finally acquired the unique recreation design doc from 2K, however couldn’t use the high-poly fashions because of the lack of GPUs on cellphones.

“If you were seeing a large floor, it was [actually] just one polygonal asset tiled to create the entire floor.”

“We had to intelligently cut down levels just so that they retained their flavor and identity while still being able to fit in memory,” Nair stated.

And regardless of all these technical hurdles, a partial playthrough of BioShock 3D on Youtube showcases not simply how totally different the cellular model appears, however how intently it captures the essence of the unique. That clear reverence for BioShock’s world got here from a examine of the console model so intense Venkatramani stated he finally grew sick of it.

“We bought the Xbox 360, got the game, took over one of the meeting rooms and made that into a gaming roo- ahem, research room,” he stated. “Then we played each aspect of the game over and over and over again till we would appreciate every nuance. We also got sick of it. I personally didn’t play any of the subsequent BioShock games.”

“I had to play through BioShock so many times to take notes, photos, and videos to get a complete breakdown of it – I don’t think I got the time to sit back and enjoy the game at all,” Seetharaman stated.

The Sounds of the Sea

Once the general scope of BioShock 3D had been determined and the workforce knew the unique BioShock from Arcadia to Point Prometheus and in every single place in between, the problem of distilling the mechanics and environment of the console recreation into cellphones needed to be tackled. Critics and gamers alike hailed BioShock for the deep immersion gamers skilled whereas exploring the underwater metropolis of Rapture. The sounds of creaking partitions and dripping water have been key elements of that, however most audio information from the unique BioShock have been far too large for the restricted reminiscence and space for storing out there on outdated telephones. Tough selections needed to be made in adapting BioShock to its cellular kind, because the workforce labored to convey the sort of information the unique’s sound did, with out taking on an inordinate quantity of valuable reminiscence.

“The console game had amazing spatial audio that helps you locate enemies in a level,” Nair stated. “Our game, in contrast, had to make do with very little audio. Since we could not use audio to help locate enemies, we decided to use visual indicators to tell players where enemies could be coming from.”

“I really wished we could squeeze in more sounds for the sake of immersion, but we had to make those tough calls,” Venkatramani added.

Further sound-related cuts included changing BioShock’s beloved audio diaries into text-based variations, and the changes to essential story components didn’t cease there.

“Some important reveals were converted to 2D cutscenes instead of interactive ones,” Seetharaman stated. “We worked extensively with the tech team to get entire levels done based on triggers so that we can spawn enemies [and] open or close doors depending on the player’s position – not just for the surprise element, but to help with [performance] as well.”

As effectively as having to transform cutscenes into slideshows – comparable to the long-lasting bathysphere descent into Rapture – many separate components of the unique needed to be tailored to fulfill the restricted capabilities of cellphones of the time. Limiting how a lot of a stage was seen at one time vastly helped the workforce maintain the degrees as near the originals as doable.

“I really wished we could squeeze in more sounds for the sake of immersion, but we had to make those tough calls.”

“All the doors in the game were opaque unlike the original,” Seetharaman stated “We also added doors where [they] didn’t exist originally, so that we didn’t have to render the entire level. The whole level design implementation was an immense effort from art, tech, and design.”

It wasn’t simply sufficient to retrofit the degrees in order that the telephones might deal with them, Tridev had to make sure individuals might comfortably play by means of them on a variety of units.

“The phones we were targeting back then were not fragmented just on screen size, processing power, and memory specifications, [but also] we had to map different control schemes for different devices,” Venkatramani stated. “They all had buttons back then and some of those configurations weren’t standard. Also, every device had its own set of issues with memory management and rendering. We had our own in-house engine – ICE 3D – built to handle most of these considerations.”

“We had auto-aim enabled, as it was hard to make accurate movements and aim with the different mobile controls – even things like reducing or removing the kickback on the machine gun [helped],” Seetharaman stated.

What 2K needed for BioShock 3D merely wasn’t doable on the time, and everybody at Tridev knew that. Even although their cellular port might by no means be an actual reproduction of the unique, the workforce made good, vital cuts to carry probably the most genuine model of BioShock to cellphones that they may. In spite of some inventive and company clashes, Seetharaman, Nair, Venkatramani, and the remainder of the Tridev workforce managed to develop BioShock 3D rapidly, from scratch, and so they’re pleased with the sport they dropped at life.

“When I do look back at what we had to work with back then, I still find it hard to believe that we pulled it off,” Venkatramani stated. “I’m glad it’s over, but I do have fond memories of those days. I did some of my best game development work back then and made some very good friends along the way.”

“This is one of my career bests and will always be,” Seetharaman stated. “The workforce labored so laborious on this and, whereas it was laborious, it made us all stage up in our profession a lot quicker! We all really feel amazingly proud about it! I want we had preserved it higher and realized the improvements we did. Back then, it was us simply doing our job.

“I feel we have been at our inventive greatest then, arising with distinctive options to work with these limitations.

Issy van der Velde is a contract author for IGN.


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