These days, FPS games need to be stuffed with content. Single-player campaigns, multiplayer maps, and a list of ever expanding equipment and weapons. In reimagining Gameloft’s sci-fi shooter for N.O.V.A. Legacy, all of this was needed – and it had to fit into 20MB. It was an ambitious goal that Jairo Canales, Lead Online Programmer, talked to us about achieving.
The download is 20MB. Why and how?
Jairo: There is a niche in the current games market for smaller games. But, to address this situation, a complex development is needed. Designers needed to think of the best ways to hide the fact that the game could be missing some elements. At the same time, artists have to work to constraints in creating their 3D environments and assets. And finally programmers had to optimize every byte of code while controlling the whole asset integration.
We used many state-of-the-art techniques to optimize the size. For example, we used procedural textures which changed the pipeline for integrating assets, but reduced the size of the textures a lot. There were also extreme optimizations made on how 3D environments were being packed.
One of the main challenges of the project was control - ensuring nothing was added that wasn't needed. We had to study every single byte, removing the unnecessary and compressing everything else. This eventually allowed us to reach a size that we thought would be impossible at the beginning.
Were there any hard decisions or cuts?
Jairo: It was an extremely challenging experience. We managed to fit an HD game into less than 20MB. This was a difficult task and a focus from the beginning of the project: making it small and amazing at the same time.
But, occasionally, it limited our creativity slightly. We couldn't place as many elements in the scenarios as we may have liked. However, the artists did a great job implementing high-quality textures to keep the spaces looking busy and detailed.
What other challenges did you face?
Jairo: The project was part of Gameloft’s Pocket HD department. This meant that the game had to run on low-end devices that had an acceptable ability to run an FPS. So, even though the game looks and plays really well on a wide variety of devices, these restrictions were always a challenge to overcome.
This focus on accessibility meant that the whole single-player game also had to be able to run offline.
But, behind all of this, the most complex task was hiding all of these optimizations from the players. Making sure the game looked and felt like a premium shooter experience by masking all of the complex behaviors achieving this quality.
What’s working with the Legacy team like?
Jairo: Finishing a challenging project like this is an experience that we will never forget. By the end, the whole team had learned a lot. Developing a game is always hard – but with all restrictions of this project, we had to work through a lot of creative obstacles together.
There were many different profiles on the team: some were senior and had participated in AAA development, while some others had never worked on a game professionally. Everybody bought something different to the table. It was a huge personal success for each of us to complete the project, and now we all feel like we could fit any game in to 20MB (after a short vacation).