A not-exactly-accurate translation of this video. See also Slides and Subtitles.

Thanks to Ostekake for creating the video.

Video versions:

Official discussion thread

Video from the following game demo after the presentation


Game development "light"

a presentation about game development in Norway

about virtual worlds and how they are made

Presented by Erling Ellingsen Funcom

movie made by Ståle Olsen aka Ostekake

International game development ... in tiny Norway!

Part 1[]

Can you hear me now? Welcome everybody to this small lecture about game development. My name is Erling Ellingsen and I come from Funcom, and Funcom is sort of a Willy Wonka's chocolate factory in Norway, where we make computer games. We're about the only company in Norway that make videogames, so we're kind of special in that regard.

I'll use powerpoint in this presentation, then I'll show some videos and finally I'll play Age of Conan live here.

As i said, i come from Funcom. We're a company established in 1993, and with that we're one of the oldest gaming companies that are still alive. Coincidentally we're also about Norway's only game producer. There are some small companies with some 20-30 employees, but in Funcom we have over 200 employees in, now it's actually 30 different countries, so that slide is a bit wrong.

Funcom is situated in Oslo mainly. We have headquarter in Oslo where around 200 people work. This is where basically all development of the game is done, but we also have offices in USA and China. In china we have artists, and in USA we have testers etc, but basically the whole production is in Oslo. We started to develop games for other people, i.e. Disney came to us to develop Pochahontas.

Around 2000 we started with Anarchy Online, our greatest game so far. Now we're over 200 employees.

At the moment we have two games in production. It's Age of Conan, the game I'll talk a lot about today and show some of to you. And we have another online game called the secret world. It's at the moment very secret, hush hush, but it's an online game that's set in our own time in our own world.

I'll talk some about the gaming industry. It has grown extremely lately, the last years, the gaming industry has be come a multi-billion buissness. The numbers you see are are a bit outdated, videogames has actually grown. Now the videogame industry is around the same size as music, and it's growing to catch up with the movie industry.

Only in norway there are over 500 000 PS2s consoles. Considering we have a bit over 4 million citizens, that's an extreme number. And there are sold over two million games each year over the counter.

Our largest problem in the gaming industry, is piracy. It's somewhat unpopular for a game developer to talk about, but piracy is an extreme problem for the gaming industry. Piracy hurts the sales, and the internet increases access for it. This means that games cost around the same amount as a couple of year ago, but we don't sell any more, we almost sell less, and this gives us less money.

The solution for us, and Funcom in general, is so-called paid subscription online games. MMORPGs, where you pay a subscription to play. You need an account and you have to play on the internet, and this removes the problem of piracy, because you need to play on official servers. This makes piracy impossible, and it gives us a possibility to use more money in production and produce better games.

I expect that most of you here have heard about it before. You pay ~100NOK each month, and log on to a server on the internet to play with other players around the globe. Many of the people you meet around ingame are real people. So, it's a internet world with thousands of people running around together. It's more than a game: it's a world, it's an alternate life. And all the characters you see running around ingame are real people. This is what's so exciting about these kinds of games, it's that everybody you meet ingame are real people, so the line between what's real and what's not is a bit blurry.

Online games are becoming more and more popular, and lately you might have played played World of Warcraft. A game that has over 9 million players, which is an extreme number - if you multiply it with 100 NOK you can imagine what values are at stake here. There are of course many who want a piece of that cake.

What's exciting about the MMO market is that a couple of years ago, we though the top was reached. You had a game called EverQuest, released in 1999 which reached it's peak in ca 2001, with 500 000 gamers. It was a cultural phenomenon, and everybody said the top had been reached and there wouldn't be anymore gamers than this. Some years later, we have World of Warcraft with 9 million gamers .So this is a market that's just growing and growing. Some say the future is only online and we'll all be plugged into machines etc.. and, it's possible, if you see the recent development, more and more of the games are played online.

Everybody wants into the online market. Everquest, WoW, Linage, all these games that have millions of gamers, together. Are there room for more of these MMORPGs? We believe so, and that's why we're creating Age of Conan. Making an online game is extremely difficult, and I'll tell you about how we actually develop online games. Making an online game is totally different from making a SinglePlayer game. A SP game is supposed to be entertaining for maybe 20 hours, maybe 30, while an online game it has to be entertaining for hundreds or thousands of hours.

Taking a look at our own numbers, our own players in Anarcy Online, we can see that some invest years of their life to play these games, so you can imagine how difficult it is to create these games. In normal computer games you follow a certain path, and you only see what you're supposed to see. But when creating an online game, you have to create a world not just a game. You have to take into consideration that you don't know what the people playing the game actually will do. They have many various tools they can use to create their own experience in the game, but we don't actually know what they're going to do. Suddenly they build a building where you weren't supposed to build a building, or they run somewhere they weren't supposed to. All these things make online games so much harder to make. The technical part, for those who are interested in that. You need servers that people connect to that has to handle these thousands of players at the same time, you need support, billing, all these somewhat boring things to talk about here, but it's an extremely large project.

As an example, when Blizzard made WoW (Blizzard is the company that created WoW), they had 200 people that worked on it. Now, some years later they have around 2000 people that work at Blizzard, to keep this game running. Helping people that encounter problems etc.

Now we proceed to development, but before I start talking about how we actually develop the game, I want to show you a small video. We've created what you can call a "behind the scenes video", which is similar to when you take a Hollywood movie and see their behind the scenes parts.

MOVIE: Developers Diary #1

Part 2[]

There you got to see a bit how we work at Funcom, how we work. As you probably understand, this is sort of like going behind the scenes of a large Hollywolld studio. There are 200 people who sit around there who draw and create all these amazing stories etc, so I think I can say with confidence that it's Norways most exciting workplace.

Now, a bit on how we develop games. To develop games is a huge process, a couple of years ago it wasn't that huge. In the 80s and early 90s, four people could sit in a basement and create a game that sold a lot. Now, creating a game is about the same complexity as creating a large Hollywood movie. You need millions of NOK. As an example Age of Conan cost around 200 million NOK to develop. 200 people over 4 years, so you can imagine what a project this is. It's like making The Lion King or Finding Nemo any of these huge movies, and creating a game is even more advanced.

What you need when you develop a game, if you're developing a so-called AAA title, i.e. a game that's going to sell a lot, featured on TV etc, you ned a lot of money. You need technology. You can develop this yourself. The technology, or the codebase, is the foundation of the game. You have to program a codebase to tie the game together. You need tens of programmers that develop this for years, to ensure that it's as good and bug-free as possible.

You can go out and by a 3D-engine, take it into the studio and work with that, or you can create your own from scratch.

Funcom has created it's own technology called DreamWorld. It's a so-called game engine, an engine that handles everything the game has to do, such as display graphics, talk to people ingame, play sounds the relation between mouse and keyboard, etc etc. It's an extremely complex project. You need a lot of people. In Funcom there works over 200 people, we're present in over 30 countries. It's hard to find enough excellent people in Norway, so if anyone here feel you have the call, you should by all means contact us later. So we bring in people from all parts of the world, Australia, India, USA, everywhere.

What you really need when creating a game is a good idea. You might think you can pour a lot of money into it and create something that looks cool, but that doesen't cut it. You need a very, very good idea. As an example, GTA, a game many of you probably have heard about, a game where you drive around and shoot at people (not very nice), but it's a good concept, and it's sold millions of copies.

Super Mario - very simple, extremely easy, jumping over different obstacles, gathering money etc. Very easy to develop, and extremely fun to play. Another example is Tetris, extremely easy, but still fun.

So, you need a good idea, and what we do with Age of Conan is basing it on a lisence. We've contacted those who own the Conan lisence and said we wanted to create an online game, we agreed upon the details, and we sat down to create a game that's fully based on stories about Conan, books, written by Robert E. Howard, comics, films.

Development, like I said, costs a lot of money, here you can see a rough development curve(slide 18), based on the Hitman games, which is an extremely popular lisence as well. In the beginning of 2000, when the first game came out, it cost around 40 million NOK to develop the game.. Now, it's closer to 200 million. This is because the demands increase all the time. People want something new, something that looks better and is more fun. And while the technology moves forward, to create better graphics, better sound etc, we need more people, and the development cost increase.

Why does development costs increase? Well, graphics should look hyper-realistic today. Playing Tetris, it's extremely simple, just some blocks falling down. Today, this isn't enough. You can't release these kind of games unless you have an extremely good idea and get very very lucky. Here you see a character created for Dreamfall. This character takes a very long time to create, weeks, while you have Pacman which is simply a yellow dot.

The worlds should be big, bigger, for example when you play Super Mario you walk on a straight line, jump up and down, doing exactly what the developers want you to do. If you play GTA, you have a whole city to explore. Every little detail of that city is open for you to explore in a 3D environment. Creating worlds like this takes a long long time. It's much simpler to make a line you have to follow than to actually make a world. It's something completely different.

Physics - needs to be very realistic. Physics is for example if you throw a ball, the ball needs to look like it falls in a realistic way. in older games this wasn't a problem, because the graphics were so bad that you didn't notice if the physics were wrong. Today you have games like Half-life 2, where if you shoot at a wall, bits of the wall needs to be blown out and fall realistically about, and should you bump into a table, the table should fall over in a realistic way. This takes an extreme amount of time for our programmers, to program these things into the game.

Animations, voices etc, very important, take a lot of time. Animations today need to be completely realistic. At Funcom we have a so-called motion-capture studio. That means we take real actors, martial artists and so on into that studio, we attach various balls to them, sensors, and they need to stand in a room and perform different moves, and then there are cameras that capture these moves and we interpret it into a computer, put it onto models like this guy here, and they move around realistically. Again, very time-consuming to make. Voices too, it's no longer sufficient with text down in a corner, you actually need actors who talk and make dialogues and really immerse themselves in the acting.

The games needs to be released on different platforms. Releasing it on only PC isn't enough, and developing for different platforms take time.

Music: Earlier, they could make the music for a game by pressing around on a keyboard. Now we need a lot of people, a choir, a composer etc to create good music.

Marketing: Not that fun, but extremely important. It's a cynical business. If you pick up a magazine and see a game on the cover, it probably cost the developers a lot of money to get the game on that cover, and you need to do this to sell games. And you also might want to tie famous actors to your game, etc. And you want a good licence.

Super Mario: 8bit, simple graphics and existing of few elements. They sat down when they made the game and thought: We need a plumber, we need some pipes, some clouds, and they sat down and made that.

Age of Conan looks almost photo-realistic, not quite, but very realistic, and we must make thousands of elements. We need to make the gloves that a person wears, the clouds, the mountains, absolutely everything.

Pac-man: eating white dots and the gameplay-part of the code was simple. In Age of Conan you're living a virtual life, you're entering a world and doing loads of stuff that even developers don't know that you're going to do. So just to program these games is an incredible undertaking.

Commander Keen: Small beeps as sound, while Age of Conan has choir etc.

Development process:

  • Starts with a good idea..
    • When we started Age of Conan we though, "we're going to make a cool online game"
    • We travelled around to find a good license, when we found the Conan lisence we thought, "yes, we'll make this, this is cool" and then we made that.

We then sat down in something called brainstorming meetings, these are among the most fun meetings, they consist of a bunch of adult men who sit around a table in probably hundreds of hours and talk about what they want to see, in the game. Then you hear one guy say "I want to be able to decapitate people" and then we write that down. And there are with hundreds, maybe thousands of pages with just text about what they want in the game. Then we make the Design Bible, a thick book that contains everything we want in the game.

Then there's planning, that's the more boring part of production , we assign roles to everybody, we start with few people, perhaps 30-40 people, for example The Secret World, the game we're making, has around 30-40 employees working on it now. Conan has around 200. That's cause we start very simply with a few people, and increase the number as we get closer to release.

    • Different teams for different parts of the game. You have one team for the sound in the game, one for combat, one for quests, and you have one person who watch over them all to make sure they do what they're supposed to.
  • Production is the fun part.
    • Takes years, you have programmers, graphics people, etc.
    • Reality checks while going through, cutting out stuff you wont be able to implement within a reasonable amount of time. You go through this Design Bible that you should be able to weave hats, then we decide: "no, we don't have time for this" then we cut that.
    • Gathering the pieces. Production is based on programmers programming different parts of the game.
  • Testing
    • All the teams send in their part and it's put together
    • Hope it works, but it doesn't, and it's sent back to the programmers..
    • They have tens of people playing the game all the day, testing the same stuff over and over again for each release

Development: Who do you need?

Designers: Comes with the ideas and get them on paper. Writing down each detail of the game. I.e. Tortage: What colours should the buildings have, what sounds should you hear there, etc etc.. Sets the parameters and defines the rules. Thousands of pages with text.

Graphics: Takes the designers "demands" and realises them visually. Tens of thousands of graphics in different sizes. 3D, 2D, Concept, animation. Works with 3DMax, Photoshop etc. Technical limitations, can't just sit down and design these extreme stuff, keeping the amount of polygons down etc. Motion-capture and animations. You have people working on texture, animations, and concept. Can't be more than "x"-polygons. (explanation of what polygons are) Example, Stygian galley, in the beginning you're here. The concept artist that made this sat around dreaming, this looks good etc.. He draws it down, and takes it to the art-director, who can say "no, it can't look like this, the sails needs to look a bit different", etc. All these squares around the picture can be seens as polygons, and the more you have of them the more detailed you get. The texturing artist takes pictures of real wood on ships and tries to put it on the ship for the game. This is a huge process, and only making that ship can take, say a week.

Developers Diary #3 (Part 1 and 2)

Part 3[]

As you heard, every last detail in the game has to be created. If you want a rock on the ground somewhere, you have to create that rock, if you want a ship you have to create that ship, etc, and in Age of Conan there are hundreds of thousands of different graphical objects and all goes into a database, into the game, so it's almost hard to keep track.

So we go to other people that are a part of the project. The programmers are very important, although maybe not that visible as the graphical team. The programmers are those who get all parts of the game to work. I'll try not to get to technical, but they develop the code, the game code, that makes all the parts of the game to work together, such as enabling you to write on the keyboard and see the mousepointer etc.

We have engine coders, game play coders and the so-called tools coders.

The engine coders are those who program the graphics engine. These are people who are great at math, pyhsics etc, gathered from around the world because they're extremely good at what they do. So we create hundreds of thousands of lines of code, which enables the graphics to be shown.

We had a journalist at Funcom the other day, who asked one of the engine coders "what do you really do?", and the engine coder answered "I basically just makes nice pictures show on the screen 60 times per second", and that's basically basically what the engine coders do. Each picture should be "painted" 60 times per second. Such as the light effects in the game, if a torch burns and you see the light effects on the wall etc, this the coders have programmed, so you can get all these nice visual effects. And they create hundreds of thousands of lines of code to get this to work.

The game play coders do something that's a bit easier to explain; they define everything that can happen in the game. If you press a button, your character should pick his sword up, this they have to program, with different conditions etc, such as that you need to have a sword to pick up. They have to anticipate all of this and program what should happen if you try to do this.

You can imagine that, when we're creating a virtual world, it's like sitting there, if you've seen The Matrix, if you'd push a button to see all the code in the game, it would look like the matrix, loads of code that runs down the screen to show what happenes in the background when you're playing. So, the game play coders program things such as quests, and if you click on a door, the door should open etc.

Then you have the tools coders, who make the different tools in the game. As an example when we create the world we use an editor called Genesis, a sort of editor to create the world, putting out trees etc. The tool coders create, and maintain these tools.

Age of Conan consists of hundreds of thousands of lines of conde. I believe it was Windows, the OS, that consists of one million or a couple of million lines of code, and I think Age of Conan is, if not as much, very very high.

We use programs such as Visual Studio. We code in a programming language called C++, and if this sounds Greek to you(Note: you don't understand what I'm talking about), that's totally understandable because these are very specialised lines of work.

If you're looking for work at Funcom, or other gaming companies, usually it's enough that you're very good at what you do, i.e. if we need a graphics person, if you're good at drawing we don't care what school you went to. Programmers are often very different, these are people with a long education, computer engineers, phycisists, mathematicians etc, a lot more specialized.

You have the content builders, which I believe if I was to work in development, that would be the most fun. These are the ones that actually build the world, take the different graphical elements and tie everything together. A typical content builder is a so-called "world builder", those who actually create the world. They start out with a huge flat area, which can represent maybe 4x4 km, and create mountains, using editors they pull up the ground, create rivers, define that there should be snow at the top of that mountain, playing God. They place trees and roads in the game, build different buildings etc. It's an extremely elaborate process, because we have to create a game people can explore for hundreds of hours, so it can't just be a straight line. If you play Super Mario, the developers know exactly where you'll go, while in Age of Conan we create a world that you can access whenever you want, and you can go to any part of the world.

They work closely with the graphics team. Say they're going to create a bar, they can go to the graphics team and say i need a chair etc, and the content builder place this into the world.

The content builders are also so much more. They create the quests you can do ingame, i.e. if a girl needs help, you have to save hear from a dragon, and then you'll get loads of gold for saving her. Then the content builders have to define what's going to happen when this plays out, i.e. if the dragon dies, what should happen, how hard should the dragon be, how much gold should you get.

Then we use a program called Genesis, as i said. This is what Genesis looks like. What you see here is a dungeon in the game, where you can go in and explore, meet monsters, find stuff and pick it up, wear etc. The content builder started with the flat area you see around it, and he started setting things together, digging tunnels, putting textures on the walls and defining where the lighting should be etc.

Now you see inside the dungeon, we're still in Genesis, the editor. You can see different stuff here that you wont see ingame, but you can see the arrows on the ground. This is defined by the content builder and is used for where the creatures should walk. All the creatures you see in game might look like they're wandering aimlessly around, but when we create the game we actually define exactly where they're supposed to walk, and this you can see here. This is so that we can avoid them walking into the wall or areas they're not supposed to be in, etc. We can do this so that you'll only meet creatures that are of a certain level when you first enter, and they become harder the further inside the dungeon you travel.

This is an extremely fun line of work, you use your creativity to create worlds. This is an image from ingame, this is how it looks like when you load this ingame. Now you can't see all these things you see inside the editor, but how the game is really supposed to look like. To develop this dungeon can take, say a month. During this time, the content builder will work with the graphical team, say needing a rock, a barrel etc.

Sound technicians is very fun work. These are the ones that create all the sounds you hear ingame. They have to think about all the different sounds you're going to need in the game, from the sound of walking on sand, to walking on tree, to taking the sword out the scabbard. If you're drinking, it should play a certain sound. You have different versions of the "same sound", i.e. if you have a sword that hits a person it would sound totally different that it would be if you're hitting a barrel or a wall. They're creating a sound library that consists of thousands and thousands of sounds.

While walking around in the game, you'll be hearing different sounds all the time, even though you might not be aware of it. Say, if you're walking in the forest you'll hear different birds etc. All of this we do to make it seem more realistic when walking through the woods, if you hear the same bird constantly, the illusion will be broken and you'll become more aware that "this is just a game".

We have to create the music. We have our own musician that do this all the time, and he uses his own studio, an orchestra, a choir etc, and he creates music that we put into the game.

The sounds can be created in very funny ways, such as the sound of two swords hitting together in the game is really the sound of two spatula that are hit together in front of a microphone. This might not sound to exciting, but in the game it really is. They take this sound and modify it on their computer so that it sounds a bit different. Say you have a huge monster in the game, a spider that's going to eat you. That sound is really just a 20 year old guy in Oslo screaming into the microphone, then altering it on the computer, so that it sounds like a real monster.

In Age of Conan we also have actors. We have over 100 different actors that lend their voices to different characters in the game. This is a lot of work, because you have to make it believable. If you see a movie, you very quickly understand if an actor is bad, and this is true for games as well. It should feel real, and often when games are reviewed in the media, the journalist can say "this isn't believable" and "this is believable" etc. Funcom, and the games we have made, have gotten extremely good reviews about the sound in our games. So this is extremely important to make it immersive.

Developer Diary #2

Part 4[]

That was a small view of how they work. As you can see, this is an extremely large production (... nvidia sound is to high to hear what he's saying:P).

A bit more about the sound. As you heard, they talked a lot about a sound engine. This is a sort of enigne that's running in the background all the time that chooses what sounds to play. Say you're fighting a demon. If you see an actor fighting against a demon in a movie, you can hear the same sound over and over, because this is only shown 1-2 times, while in a game you might fight the same demon hundreds of times, so you need different sounds. This is done by the sound engine, it selects what sounds to play. Also, the music, if you're fighting against a rat you might hear some low background music, while if you're fighting a dragon, you'll hear much more music with many instruments sounding a lot more epic. So, sound is very important in game development.

Last, but not least, the testers are extremely important. We have testers that play the game all the time. They're told what to play, say they're supposed to play a certain class or in a certain place in the game, and each time they find a bug they use a tool where they record what they were doing when the bug occoured, maybe take a screenshot of the bug, and send it to the programmers. The programmers fix the bug, and send it back to the testers who retests the same thing again, and send back wether it's really fixed or not. This happenes thousands of times, so that when we release the game, the players wont stuff that wasn't supposed to be there. They approve different versions of the game, so that when a version is approved we know this version works, so that when the programmers makes new additions we put this into this version, and new stuff has to be fixed etc.

A part of releasing a game is marketing, it might not be that much fun bit it's very important. For example, how do you keep the media interested in the game for many years. We announced the development of Age of Conan in 2003, i think... No wait, we started development in 2003 and about a year later we announced it.

Now we have to keep people interested all the time, we have to release some information continually, so that people sitting at home are thinking "wow, i really have to play this!" To do this we work with the media, we get visitors from the media to Funcom, and they can play a part of the game, then they go back and write about it and we can be placed on the front page on some magazine etc. Getting the game on the front page is important, as you can see Age of Conan on the front page of "Game Republic" here in Italy. When you have tens of thousands of copies of the magazine around in stores, the game gets attention. The problem is that there might only be 10-12 issues for each magazine each year, and there are hundreds of games released constantly, so we have to fight with tooth and claw to get on the front pages. To do this, we have to give them something interesting, or we have to develop a game that's extremely interesting that the magazine just has to write about.

Marketing also has a lot to do with the community. We're building a community at the moment. Right now there are thousands of people on our forums, talking about the game, what they're going to do when the game is released (oh i'm going to build this and that keep), saying this we like and this we don't like. This community, I believe consists of tens of thousans of people who're at these forums, discussing the game long before it's released. That's very important.

The lisence is very important when you're developing a game. We've chosen the Conan lisence for this game. Many developers choose to use a lisence when they develop games, because they get some extra attention when basing the game on a lisence. It's not accidental that when a new Hollywood movie is released, a game is released at the same time, i.e. Superman, so that each of the products bring more attention to eachother.

A good lisence can sell the game for you, even though the game isn't very good. It's a shame, but that's the way it is, because they're rushing the game to release it at the same time as the movie, which often results in somewhat bad games. For Conan we don't have this problem, there's no certain time it has to be released so we've taken the time we need, so we're hoping to avoid that particular pitfall.

Now I'm going to show you Age of Conan. Age of Conan is based on the Conan lisence, which is mainly based on books written in the 30s by an author called Robert E. Howard who killed himself when he was 30 and his mother died. He was a very interesting person who wrote these amazing stories. Many view Conan only as these comics you can buy at the local store, but in reality it's much older than that (it came before Lord of the Rings). Stephen King said "(Howard was the Thomas Wolfe of fantasy, and most of his)Conan tales seem to almost fall over themselves in their need to get out". And this is good for us as well, we have books, comics and even movies created about Conan, and all of this brings more attention to Age of Conan. If you were to create an online game about life in Tromsø, this might not be too known around the world, while when we say we're creating a game about Conan we have millions of Conan fans around the world who say "oh, this is interesting, i'll follow this".

Before I show you the game i can say a bit about what Age of Conan is. Age of Conan is one of the most anticipated online games in development now. It will be released March next year, and we've already won many international prizes. It's often viewed as one of the 2-3 largest games in development right now, so it's a lot of pressure.

Before I start playing, I'll show you a small video we've had made, by a studio in Hollywood actually, a so-called CG-video, created to make you want to play the game. Enjoy!