- Unless you've downloaded the expansion pack to the downloadable PS3 twin-stick shooter "Super Stardust HD," you will have a hard time convincing me that it's not the most graphically-impressive game on Sony's machine.
And, yes, I've played "GTA IV." I've seen "Killzone 2." But nothing quite blows me away like a level of Endless on the $5 "SSHD" expansion called "Solo Pack."
What exactly have the game's Finnish developers at Housemarque accomplished?
They've doubled the base game's output of 10,000 objects on the screen.
They believe they've almost maxed the PS3 graphics chip.
And now they're thinking about making music-based levels and revealing to Multiplayer other expansions they have in the works.
Read on for more on all of that, from a developer that is pushing the PS3 to impressive lengths ...
Multiplayer: The new add-on for "SSHD" has produced the most dazzling display of action on my TV screen – just in the sheer volume of explosions and activity – that I have ever seen. In terms of numerical performance, what exactly are you guys getting out of the PS3 with this add-on? And can you compare the amount of stuff on the screen in, say, a mode of Endless, with the amount of stuff in the most frenzied levels of the original "SSHD"?
Ilari Kuittinen, co-founder Housemarque: We probably draw about twice the number of objects compared to the original game. We are pretty close to maxing out the RSX, but in our next game we will still push the chip more. Currently we do not use SPUs to pre-process the geometry for RSX – that will make a major difference. I estimate that we can further boost the graphics performance by 50%.
[NOTE FROM STEPHEN: I asked what "Twice the number of objects" adds up to. Kuittinen didn't respond by press time, but in an interview with IGN, the "SSHD" creative director said the base game depicted: "over 10,000 active objects with physics and collisions and over 75,000 particles simulated and drawn @60fps."]
Multiplayer: How close did you come to maxing the PS3's capabilities for this type of game, in terms of the amount of objects and effects the system was able to render?
Kuittinen: We got enough stuff going to make the game design a reality and there was no further need to optimize the engine. If we would have needed more stuff on screen we could have done it, but it would have required a fairly major code restructuring and some new engine elements.
Multiplayer: And how much of what you have pulled out of the PS3 for this add-on is the product of having become more familiar with the hardware since making the original "SSHD"?
Kuittinen: PS3 is a deep machine development-wise. You can do stuff in a standard way and get pretty good performance out of it. If you use some of the strengths of the hardware you can get pretty spectacular results. This is where we are now with our engine. For our next game we hope that we will fully utilize the unique strengths of the platform.
Multiplayer: When playing Endless, I swear there are moments when there's essentially nowhere safe for me to fly my ship. From a design perspective, how did you determine whether you had too much stuff on the screen?
Kuittinen: Game design for this kind of game is very iterative. We basically defined few major goals for the mode; it should be shorter and more intensive than the arcade mode, and it should feature lots of variation so every game feels unique. After that it was just creating and tuning the patterns and parameters. The main designer for the mode is a pretty hardcore gamer, so the later phases are tough to beat.
Multiplayer: Do you guys consider the add-on as a case of showing off? I mean this in a good way. Do you feel like it's a way to show off how to the world how much you guys can do with the PS3 hardware and to lay down a challenge to other teams to see if they can do as much?
Kuittinen: Well, not really. We needed to make sure that the new game modes stand out compared to the original ones. The whole idea was to create faster, more intense game modes that you can enjoy in short sessions.
Multiplayer: The word "solo" in the add-on's title implies there's also a "multi" version of the game coming. What can you say about future expansions?
Kuittinen: We are just now finishing off the team pack. It features a split screen Versus Match and Co-Op, ship editor, a true 5.1 orchestral soundtrack, and trophies. We've used a majority of the development time to work on split screen Versus Match. The mode features four "sub" game modes and plenty of options so each gamer can tune the mode to suite their tastes. We also included a "skill balancer" feature so people with different levels of skill can still play against each other.
Multiplayer: When are you guys going to release the "SSHD" extra mode you told me about at the DICE gaming summit? The people need to play this!
Kuittinen: We have been thinking of new and innovative gameplay modes to expand gamers' "SSHD" experience. We have been experimenting with a game mode we call "Twin gun" mode (not disclosing specifics at the moment, maybe you can guess?) and how to make music generated levels, etc. Some ideas need to be saved for later use, so that we can experiment with these concepts more fully rather than put out half-baked versions.
Maybe we'll have these in for the sequel, who knows?