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Sights and Sounds: Making UbiArt with Neil Devine
If you’ve ever watched Rayman jet down a zip-line, or played god in From Dust, odds are you’ve experienced just one of the many games made in part by Neil Devine. Veteran of such titles as Rayman Legends, Beowulf: The Game, and Scooby Doo: Unmasked! to name a few, Devine’s made and played plenty by ear as one of the first audio programmers behind the earliest titles to be released on Ubisoft’s famous UbiArt Framework engine.
Fresh off his latest work with Child of Light, Devine took the time to talk with us about hist latest work and just a bit about making the art behind UbiArt.
How long have you worked on video games and how long have you been playing them?
I’ve been working in video games for close to 10 years now, previously I worked for a commercial flight simulator manufacturer for 4 years. My first encounter with video games was when my father brought home a ZX Spectrum for christmas when I was about 5, so it has been …ugh 33 years… now you made me feel old 🙂
Tell us a little bit about your background in audio programming. Does your work involve recording original sound effects or creating digital ones?
I was in a band in my teens and I was always fascinated by the different effect pedals and how they could modify sound, I got to explore this more when took my electronic and computer engineering degree, I always made sure my course projects were related to sound in some way.
After university I got a job at CAE, which is a commercial flight simulator manufacturer, in the sound group. Flight simulators have different levels of simulation quality, at the top level the simulator should behave, look and sound exactly like the real aircraft. The quality of the simulation was tested and certified by external authorities like the FAA. The sound group’s job was to make sure the simulator sounded exactly like aircraft.
To do this we performed aircraft recordings, processed them and then integrated them within our internal sound engine. It was quite interesting because the sounds were made from a mix of recordings and procedural synthesis. After CAE I got my first job in the game industry at Artificial Mind and Movement ( now called Behavior Interactive I believe ) as a sound engine programmer. I kept this title a few years, through The Collective (Double Helix) and the Ubisoft.
After a while I realized I really wanted to be on the game team and not on the engine team anymore, at that time there were no sound programmers in game teams, so I was allowed to join the From Dust team as a gameplay programmer. However having been a sound programmer for so long I still ended up doing some sound work.
The closest thing to creating digital sounds I got to was on From Dust. It was really interesting for it’s entirely procedural setting, one never knew what configuration the water or lava configuration could be in at any time. We ended creating a procedural system combined with some old fashioned sounds.
The last real sound programmer work I did was writing the first implementation of the sound engine.
What initially intrigued you about Child of Light, artistically or otherwise?
I worked quite a long time on UbiArt and am convinced by the quality of games we can produce with it. I am always eager to say what else we can do with this engine, after 2 platformers when I saw that an RPG was being made I jumped on the occasion. I was intrigued about how different an art style to Rayman we could pull off, and Child of Light turned out pretty different. I also have a list of game genres I would like to work on, and I hadn’t yet crossed off RPG.
Child of Light is among the latest games to be developed on the Ubi Art Framework. How large of an endeavor was it to program for and how does it, in Michel Ancel’s words, “limit the repetitive tasks” of making a game?
When I came onto the project, there was a year of development left, we were only around 40 and no one had experience with UbiArt. Considering the quality and amount of content in Child of Light I think it is a fantastic achievement. We had almost no engine changes to make, so the entire programming team was there for the game only.
UbiArt doesn’t limit repetitive tasks for programmers so much but they love it for its lightness and speed for programming, it’s the artists that get all the fun, they are able to get enormous quantities of art in the game in no time. There is no importing step, or in most cases hidden to the user, when they bring an asset into the game we try to make it come in as is, so the artists don’t have to worry about exporters and formats.
Every asset can be hot reloaded in real time and the result seen immediately while the engine is running, this saves a lot of time. And you can also edit the game while it is running, no need to restart the engine or a level.
The active time battle system in Child of Light is most often compared to Final Fantasy’s and Game Arts’ Grandia RPG series. Were these or any other games influences?
I think most RPGs were in some way an inspiration, a lot of the people on the team were RPG fans.
Is there any word of a sequel in store for Child of Light anytime soon?
I am not aware of any of Ubisoft’s plan’s for Child of Light.
You’ve also worked on the Rayman series, starting with Rayman Origins, programming enemy AI, among other features. From darktoons to grannies, which were some of your favorite enemies to spend time with?
Honestly they were all fun, we had fantastic character artists and animators, it was always a surprise when you get to open a character’s animations for the first time. In Legends I really liked working with the sentries, they really brought a new gameplay to the table.
For Rayman Legends, you got to work with its original Wii U version. What would you say the system’s touch-screen and gyroscope gameplay brought to the experience?
They brought Murphy! In Rayman Legends you can play the game in a different way with Murphy, and at a different difficulty level, it’s great way to play with your kids or any person less gamer than you are and enjoy the game together.
From what I understand, you came to work on a cancelled Dirty Harry game commissioned by Warner Bros. Interactive. What can you tell us about its original conception?
Not much it was a long time ago, but it had great music, set in the 70s, with a cop that gets things done. I definitely would have liked playing that game.
There’s been talk about a Prince of Persia title being made on the Ubi Art Framework. Are there any series you’d like to see in a similar 2D style?
I could make a very long list of all the classics I used to play at the arcade or at home, the thing is you can probably take any 2D classic and wonder what it would look like in UbiArt. And any of those would be fun. I am a big fan of Street Fighter so definitely a fighting game could be cool (another to cross off my list)
Are there any projects of yours on the horizon?
I have a couple of things in progress but nothing remotely close to being shown yet. I’ll let you know 🙂
Child of Light is out everywhere games are sold for Wii U, Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3, Playstation Vita, and Windows for PC. We thought it was “a thing of beauty” ourselves. Stay tuned for more on your favorite games, movies, books, and entertainment of many more forms right here at Leviathyn.