Tech Retrospective: Super Stardust HD • Page 3

The behind-the-scenes story of PlayStation 3's first great shooter.

Split-screen was also added in a separate expansion pack, which allowed players to move to completely different areas of the sphere to independently continue their blasting. If there's a reason we don't see such multiplayer modes that much during this console generation, it's because the processing overheads involved multiply dramatically.

"Retrofitting a split-screen mode wasn't easy and maybe we shouldn't have tried it," muses Tikkanen. "To keep the development cycle as short as possible we could not fit the time in to do it originally - yet I always felt that it would be the right way to do the co-op mode. When we got it running we realised that we were more vertex-bound that we had expected and basically we had to process twice the amount of vertices in the split-screen mode. So with the current content we could not make the game run 60FPS without major engine changes. Also at that time we had already moved to develop the next major revision of our engine so we felt that it was not efficient to go back to older revisions and make major changes."

Housemarque also kept in touch with the community playing its game, and singled out ace Finnish hyper-gamer Tlo-Mek to visit their studio and show them how he played as they finalised the expansion packs.

"It was absolutely unbelievable to watch this guy play the game," remembers Kuittinen. "He aimed to maximise the score in every possible occasion and he had figured out all the possible ways to do so... we invited him over to test the new game modes for the DLC and we learned many things, like the modes that were meant to be short needed to get insanely hard as he was playing them without dying even at difficulty levels we had presumed no one could survive in!"

The team still keep a close eye on the Super Stardust high-score tables, and are staggered at the gameplay skill of a hardcore element of the userbase.

"We originally thought that breaking 500 million points in the main arcade mode would be nearly impossible," says Kuittinen. "However, after only a couple of weeks we had a leading score of over one billion and we were totally astonished, but today the top score is even more unbelievable as it is close to 1.75 billion played by a gamer with an alias 'Bridy'. Even today, breaking the 500-million score barrier is so tough that only 110 players out of over 322,000 have done that. This told us that there are huge differences in gaming abilities between players, and how hard it is to develop a game that offers truly hardcore challenges to the elite gamers without forgetting about the people that have reflexes and the hand-eye coordination of a normal person, rather than a super-human."

Moving forward, the Housemarque team is eyeing up the resurgent portable gaming sector and has a lot of heritage in that department, having previously produced several games for the likes of N-Gage, the Palm OS-based Zodiac and even the Gizmondo (!). However, the team is perhaps best known for its well-received port of Super Stardust on PSP.

"Scheduling-wise it seemed that we would not have time to reinvent the whole experience for PSP, so we went for a modified port and added a new 'Impact' game mode," says Tikkanen. "We kept all the levels, enemies, bosses and tuned them to fit the small screen. I feel that the experience is as close it can be and it's even running at 60FPS."

With the PSP seemingly on the cusp of a comeback with new hardcore and triple-A titles such as Gran Turismo and Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, Housemarque is also keen on returning to the fray and has plenty of praise for the hardware.

"We believed that the PSP has great potential even before the platform was launched," says Ilari Kuittinen. "It is highly likely that we are going to be developing something for this platform, but I really don't have anything to announce at this point."

"PSP is a solid piece of hardware, and it's easy to develop for," adds Tikkanen. "I'm still amazed how fast the rasteriser is for a portable device - it can fill the screen tens of times over at 60 frames-per-second."

In terms of the mobile phone market, the team has an interesting outlook on game-making for handsets and is intrigued the potential of the iPhone and iPod Touch.

"We have a history with mobile games as we founded a spin-off company specialising in mobile game development with the help of investment money back in 2000," says Kuittinen. "We found out that mobile games markets were too fragmented and under-developed in order to make interesting games, or to sustain a viable business for a developer like us. The value of the development side of things was in making the game work with hundreds of different phone configurations rather than concentrating on making a great game that would look and play well. The iPhone is a solution to many of the problems of the industry as it is a single platform combined with efficient distribution and a viable business model for developers as well, although the App Store's open-door policy has its own problems. It is certainly something we are taking a closer look at and hopefully we'll have creative opportunities that make sense for us in the future."

The emphasis in the here and now however is on something that PS3 owners should be getting very excited about...

"We are currently concentrating on new game projects and I am happy to say that we will be announcing something at gamescom in Cologne," revealed Kuittinen. "All I can say right now is that it is a PS3 PSN exclusive title we have been working on quite a while now, and yes... shooting is an integral part of the game..."

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About the author

Richard Leadbetter

Richard Leadbetter

Technology Editor, Digital Foundry

Rich has been a games journalist since the days of 16-bit and specialises in technical analysis. He's commonly known around Eurogamer as the Blacksmith of the Future.


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