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Stuck at home? Binge on some “War Stories” gaming videos!

These violent delights have violent ends—also these guys make awesome games.
Enlarge / These violent delights have violent ends—also these guys make awesome games.

If you’re stuck at home looking for distractions to take your mind off of COVID-19—or if you’ve realized that you don’t actually have to pay attention to your department’s snooze-inducing staff meeting and you’d rather not watch your boss try and fail for twenty solid minutes to get WebEx desktop sharing to work—I’ve got a humble suggestion: how about watching some of our “War Stories” videos on game-design challenges?

We started “War Stories” a couple of years ago with the idea being that we’d sit down with some brilliant game designers and get them to describe to us a moment in their work when it felt like they had run up against an unsolvable (or nearly unsolvable) problem, and how they eventually overcame that problem. Over the years we’ve heard some fascinating tales of programming derring-do from some fascinating folks—people like Sid Meier (Civilization), Paul Neurath (Thief: The Dark Project), Glen Schofield (Dead Space) and even Lord British himself, Richard Garriott (Ultima Online).

(The series is also in active production, and there are two new episodes nearly finished—including one that we’ll be publishing tomorrow about a certain rotoscoped prince, and one coming soon about a certain neuroscientist named “Karan.”)

If you’d just like to click through and explore things yourself, you can jump right into the “War Stories” playlist on Youtube. But if you’d like a little more information first, here’s the complete list of “War Stories” videos and a brief bit of explanation about each one. All in all, there’s about five hours of content to chew through, so this should last you through at least a couple of meetings!

Lord British created an ecology for Ultima Online, but no one saw it

Video shot by Joe Pickard with Justin Wolfson, edited by Lee Manansala. Click here for transcript.

Featuring game dev godfather and world-famous haunted house owner Richard Garriott, the very first “War Stories” video shows how no design survives contact with the enemy players.

How Thief‘s intuitive stealth system wasn’t intuitive to design

Video shot by Justin Wolfson, edited by Lee Manansala. Click here for transcript.

Looking Glass Studios founder Paul Neurath explains just how difficult it was to add sound-based sneaking to a PC game way back in 1998.

How poor memory management almost crippled Stardock’s Elemental: War of Magic

Video shot and edited by Justin Wolfson. Click here for transcript.

Stardock founder Brad Wardell shows us that sometimes you get the memory error, and sometimes the memory error gets you.

How Serious Sam‘s demo (and crates galore) saved the game from extinction

Video shot by Nikola Mosettig and edited by Lee Manansala. Click here for transcript. Ars would also like to extend special thanks to Croteam members Davor Hunski and Damjan Mravunac, who were instrumental in helping this video project come together.

Davor Hunski of Croteam on how sometimes you gotta throw a Hail Mary pass and hope for the best—and sometimes, things work out. Also, crates. So many crates.

How Star Control II was almost too realistic

Video shot by Sean Dacanay and edited by Evan Watkin. Click here for transcript.

This one’s my personal favorite, because I’ve idolized Toys For Bob founders Fred Ford and Paul Reiche III since I was about twelve years old. Their description of what it took to bring Star Control II to life, and how they almost overcomplicated the crap out of it, is excellent. Also, they’re fun guys!

How an 11th-hour design decision made Aliens Versus Predators a classic

Video shot by Justin Wolfson and edited by Lee Manansala. Click here for transcript.

Sometimes, in spite of how hard you try, a game just isn’t coming together right—the pieces all seem to be there, but they’re not gelling into a coherent whole. That can lead to taking risks with large design changes late in the project—and occasionally you strike gold.

Total War: Rome II’s devs built all of Europe—and the AI ignored most of it

Shot and edited by Justin Wolfson. Motion graphics by John Cappello. Click here for transcript.

Lead battlefield artist Pawel Wojs on how Total War II‘s design scope was so vast that it seemed impossible, and how they rose to the challenge.

How Dead Space‘s scariest scene almost dragged down the entire project

Video directed by Sean Dacanay, edited by Jeremy Smolik. Click here for transcript. Special thanks to Glen Schofield and Chris Stone for assistance gathering footage.

Creator Glen Schofield is clearly a man who loves his creations, and his methodical explanation of the difficulty behind implementing the game’s “Drag Tentacle” monster is excellent because it highlights how much game design involves not just creating individual components, but integrating them into a coherent whole. Also, Glen’s a talented artist, and we did a whole separate video just focusing on his art.

To make 1997’s Blade Runner, Westwood first had to create the universe

Shot by Sean Dacanay and edited by Justin Wolfson. VFX by John Cappello. Click here for transcript. And if you want a close-up peek at the awesome Ladd-style logo Aurich cooked up for this video, you can get that right here.

Westwood Studios co-founder Louis Castle on the odd feast-and-famine problem presented by early CD-ROM drives—sure, you’ve suddenly got hundreds of megabytes to play with, but how do you effectively use them through a 150Kbps straw? (It’s also worth pointing out that the game is getting a 2020 remaster soon!)

How Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun (sort of) solved pathfinding

Video directed by Sean Dacanay, edited by Paul Isackson. Click here for transcript.

Louis returns for a second video on another difficult problem: in an open-map RTS game with deformable terrain, how do you make all your dudes go where you want them to go? It turns out that pathfinding is a hell of a hard problem to truly solve.

Taming the player-murdering machine that was MechWarrior 5’s level generator

Video shot by Sean Dacanay, edited by John Cappello. Click here for transcript. Special thank you to Piranha Games for providing MechWarrior 5 development footage.

Honestly, this one’s worth watching just for the blooper videos of mechs going crazy.

ARS T

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