iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






Questions for Rebelmind

May 29, 2003

1. Let's try something easy. =) Could you tell us Rebelmind history?

That's what you call an easy beginning? ;) All right. I'll try to keep this short, but I make no promises ;). We started developing games by the end of 1994. Back then we were just 3 guys doing what we were most excited about - coding, drawing, making music. After few months of work we finished our first line of games: a DynaBlaster inspired game - Mega Blast, an arcade shooter - Dark Moon and a platform game -- Treasure Island. Yeah… those were cool times - making games was so much cheaper and simpler than it is now. ;)

Then got involved in cooperation with Metropolis and worked on Gorky 17 with them. You know this game. It was localized and published by our friends from Snowball Interactive. When the project was over, key-members of the team decided to join Rebelmind. That marked a new era for us. We have quickly released a game for children - Timothy and started seeking publisher for our next, major title - Grom. Well, I guess you know the rest - ultimately CDV picked the project and it was successfully released last year.

That's more less the whole history. Right now we're finishing a new game - Great Journey which will be published in Russia very soon by Snowball Interactive. These guys are even more than publishers. They really help us. I think we'll make a great game together. :)

2. Who is working for Rebelmind? Which colleges did you all graduate from? And why did you decide to develop games? =)

We decided to work on games because it was our passion since we were little kids (those were days when ZX Spectrum was the most powerful computer in the world J). It's a great privilege to be able to get up in the morning, do the work you love and make a pretty good money in the process too!

As for colleges, we don't pay so much attention to formal education - passion, talent and possibly experience is what we're looking for and I don't know any college that could give you these. Having a nice school finished is a good start and certainly a plus, but has no real value in itself.

3. What challenges did Rebelmind face and which challenges are still to be faced?

That's a good question! I'd say that the first challenge for a young developer is to finish their first game and stay alive long enough to release the second one ;). Fortunately we have this behind us now. However, one of the hardest process is a transition from a team of individuals making games together into a full blown company - the one with a business strategy, a long term vision, financial management, real sales and other "boring" stuff.

In short: turn into a healthy, self-sufficient organization. We're in the middle of this process right now and it really is a big challenge.

4. What is the source of your inspiration? Do you get ideas from books, movies or do you use something else?

Everything is an inspiration, books and movies too. You have to keep your eyes open for things that surround you, because you never know what would give a beginning to a new, great idea. Interestingly, games themselves and other game-related material are not a best source of inspiration since they tend to bind you to the same old patterns of thinking, therefore limiting your creativity.

5. Game development isn't easy business. And what's the most difficult problem for you?

I think that would be to balance business and creative side of the development. I mean - to keep the wild inspiration and passion in your people and at the same time put everything in control and keep an eye on financial stability. That's a challenge!

6. What is the most important part of each game for you: perfect code, AI, level design or something else?

Everything is important, but there's this one thing that has to "click". It's more of a general impression, a feeling that the game is "cool" and everyone in the team is eager to play it. It's important for us that to make the kind of games we understand and would like to play ourselves. And we make such games (Great Journey with Snowball Interactive:).

Ultimately I believe it's design that makes or breaks the game. Design and successful marketing. If you have these two perfected, then you're on a good way.

7. What are the stages of game development? Which of them is the most difficult and laborious?

This thing is different in every company, but in general there are:

  • preproduction -a general design of the game is being laid out, design document is being written, development plan and schedule are constructed, and quite often a small part of the team is working on a prototype of the most crucial/innovative parts of the game.

  • production - the real development starts and everyone works on the assets specified in the schedule from preproduction

  • alpha - major parts of the game are completed now - that's the moment when first real playable demos of the game become available, everyone can see now what is the project turning into and give feedback to developers whether the direction is good or not

  • beta - the game is almost completed, only minor elements are missing - now it's a time to start serious bug hunting

  • master - the game is completed and sent to publisher for approval

I'm sure that every other developer out there agree with me that the most difficult part of the production is actually finishing the game, which usually starts right before beta and lasts till master. It often turns into a so-called "crunch mode", which in reality is a race against the clock and means that developers spend some serious overtime working on the game.

8. Could you rank these parts of each game: sound, graphics, storyline, AI, multiplayer? And could you explain why do you think so?

I don't think it's possible to say which one is most important, because it's highly contextual and depends on the kind of game you're making. Chess do fine with poor sound but you'd better have a good AI, while on the other hand Parappa The Rapper doesn't care about AI, but sound is what matters most.

9. Do you position your games for international market or you are the patriots? =)

Ha ha… Definitely we make games with international market in mind. Of course, sometimes we try to put in few local touches (like for example the fact that main character of Grom is Polish), but we always give extra care and make sure that the game is easy to understand for everyone in the world.

10. Are you satisfied with tech support from hardware manufacturers? Do you cooperate with some of them?

Actually most of our games are targeted at pretty regular machines, so since we're not chasing after newest and coolest features we rarely have any need to work with hardware manufacturers directly. This may change in the future, but so far we've always been pretty happy with their general, public support available on the internet.

11. What tools and technologies for game development are absent on market? We mean hardware.

I can't think of any specific hardware at this moment. Well, we could probably use more of these faster and cheaper processors, but I guess that's what obvious… ;)

12. People argue constantly: what API is the best - OpenGL or Direct3D? What do you think?

I'm not a graphics programmer so I can't answer this question precisely, however I believe it's a matter of practical choices these days. If you want to have a portable engine that works on various OS'es, then OpenGL is for you. If you do games for both PC and consoles, then Direct3D is probably better, because of Xbox. At Rebelmind we are using Direct3D because it was better suited for the kind of games we're making.

13. What games do you think have the best gameplay and commercial success?

I'm not sure exactly what you mean, so I'd tell you which game I consider to be the best. It's simple - everything from Shigeru Miyamoto. Zelda and Mario series especially. He has this amazing ability to make a very complex game and at the same time keep it so easy to get into and control. Also unlike many PC hits, his games can be equally appreciated by casual as well as hard-core players which is pretty rare.

14. There were a lot of nice games in 2002. Which of them do you like most of all? Which game do you wait?

Ha! That's an easy one. The best one was GTA3. It's been a long time since I had so much fun. The game is a perfect mix of action and adventure and the feeling of its enormous, open world is unequalled. So, what am I waiting for now? GTA3 Vice City of course! ;)

15. Don't you think that great power of modern PCs make game developers not to optimize their products?

Maybe in some part that's true, but in general I have to disagree. Let me give you an example. Let's say you play an RTS game, WarCraft for example. When you have 2 or 3 units you can go into a battle and successfully micromanage them. Retreat when their health get low, heal and nurse them, make sure they have good stats, etc. Now, when you have 100 units in a battle that's a whole different story ;). Now you don't pay attention to a single unit, but care more about a proper balance of characters (short/long range weapons, healers, magicians, etc.), general tactics and high-level goals. As a result you're not optimizing for a single unit because now you have a whole lot more to worry about and if you focus on single characters you would definitely loose the battle.

The same thing is true with game development. Few years ago games were far less complicated and computers were slower so we could care more about optimizing. Nowadays we still have critical parts that need to be optimized (like high-level scene rendering, physics, pathfinding, etc.) but for most of the code that is being written it's more important to have it properly structured so the development is easier, rather than heavily optimized. Our priority is to deliver bigger, more complex worlds using pretty much the same resources we had few years ago, so we have to focus on the big picture instead of micromanaging things.

16. The most of modern games are developed for consoles and only then they are going to PC. Don't you think that PC market is crisis-ridden? Do you think the situation can be changed?

Ahh… I don't really perceive it as a "crisis". It's a pretty healthy and natural thing. Market has a tendency to balance itself and I think that in the end it is an approximation of clients' needs. If PC keeps being useful then it will stay in the market, but if people find out that there are better ways to satisfy their needs - well, so long PC! ;) Seriously, I don't think there's any need to be worried about any platform in particular. I have few consoles at home and can't imagine playing Metal Gear Solid, Mario or Zelda on PC. On the other hand I think that GTA3 works better on PC (mainly because of mouse/keyboard control). Also, I don't imagine players to gather in communities, work on custom levels, WWW pages, share stuff on the internet, etc. using consoles. So in short: I don't think PC is going to die anytime soon, but I'm not going to support it if it becomes unnecessary either.

17. What tendencies do you see in game development?

I see that developers started to understand we're not an island, that we have a lot of common with other industries ("regular" software, movies, etc.) and there's a vast amount of knowledge and experience we can gain by learning from their successes and mistakes. Also, most of the developers seem to understand that making games is first of all a business and is ruled by the same principles that every other business out there. Instead of reinventing the wheel over and over again we seem to start to embrace this knowledge and learn from other people's experiences, which is a great tendency.

18. You are in game development for about 10 years. Did your perception of game market change? And how did it change?

Definitely. As I explained in this interview, the biggest change for me was that I actually started seeing a market. In the beginning, and I'm pretty sure it's the case with many young developers, you don't really see the "market", just a cool game idea you'd like to do. It's like you create the game for yourself to play and don't really care about all the other people. It takes time to start designing game with a full consciousness of how you expect it to "behave" in the market.

19. How's going work over your current projects?

At this moment we're finishing development of Great Journey with helping hand of Snowball Interactive, a very cool adventure/action title targeted at young players. The game follows adventures of Tony, a young traveler on his mission to give some serious whooping and save a lot of ice in the process. Chasing a bad guy he visits lots of vibrant sceneries - from small port towns, through hot, sandy deserts and damp, colorful jungle, all the way to the snow of Antarctica. Built on the technology from Grom, with beautiful prerendered backgrounds and smoothly animated, real-time 3D characters - the game certainly looks and feels different than other kid titles available on the market.

Great Journey will be released in Russia soon by Snowball Interactive. Watch their web site for further details.

20. What do you plan for Rebelmind in the nearest future? Do you have some secret information you'd like to share? =)

Well, they are secret and we can't share them! However I'll lift the veil a little bit and tell you that at this moment we're working on an RPG title targeted at teen/mature audience. We will be releasing more info about the game in few months so stay tuned!

21. Thanks for your time!

You're welcome! Thanks for the interview - those were definitely the most interesting questions I had in last years!

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