2009-11-11 10:36 by Amrita Valecha
2009 saw the launch of Hanuman: Boy Warrior, a PlayStation 2 title developed by Aurona Technologies, Hyderabad, which was the first ever console title to be developed completely in India and also the first ever console title to be developed on Indian content.
Pramod Sahoo who was Producer at Aurona back then and currently the Studio head at Immersive Games shared with the audience the development process and challenges that the team at Aurona faced during the making of Hanuman Boy Warrior along with Shahid Ahmad, Publisher & Developer Relations, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe.
Made at tight schedule of 9 months, with 25-40 artists working on the game, Sony was delighted with the effort produced by Aurona. Shahid said, “Indian consumers are as discerning as any in the world, so we had to come up with something really appealing. And thankfully we found the company that delivered at the first attempt. We are happy to have worked with Aurona and look forward to working with many more Indian companies producing Indian content in the future. We had reasonable expectations from Hanuman Boy Warrior and we were surprised at the results. In just 6 months, Hanuman: Boy Warrior sold in excess of 7,000 copies, which compares favorably with top selling titles like God of War, which do from 8-10,000 units a year in India. We’ve now sold over 65,000 units of the game, which has been a pleasant surprise for us. This success demonstrates that India does have an appetite for Indian games. The success of the title has proven that the Indian market will embrace console games that cater to its tastes.”
Pramod shared with the audiences the various experiences that team Aurona went through while developing the game. He emphasized the USP of the game, Sony's support, why a myth-based game, the reasons for taking Hanuman as the central character, development challenges, game design and level design, concept art and related challenges, QA and submission, what went well and what could have been better.
Starting with the USP he said, "The game had 9 epic levels of jaw dropping material and it was an innovation of 'Life force mechanics'. It has 8 hours of exciting game play with the story telling by Harish Bhimani. The game is based on the culture more that 3500 years ago that comes to life in glorious detail for the first time on PS2."
He further shared that Sony's enthusiasm for the first Indian PS2 title was superlative right from the first meeting between Sachin Naik (who was then with Aurona), Sony's Jim Ryan and Atindriya Bose. Pramod added, "From the concept submission stage, Shahid and his team in London wholeheartedly supported and advised us. After the Gold Master submission, Sony's PlayStation team in India took over and promoted the title extremely well, supported by a TV campaign."
Aurona had initially made 3 game concepts. One was a modern Adventure game, another was an Action game, and the third was a mythology based game on the early adventures of Hanuman. The game was targeted at 7+ and hence the violence element had to be removed from the concept. "We wanted to go for a 'good wins over evil' theme which appealed to families with children. Mythology has the widest appeal and recognition in India. The intention was to focus on Hanuman's early days so we have an option for sequels based on his later years in the future."
"The reason why Hanuman was chosen as the hero was because of the unique hero and monsters in the story. It had a larger than life setting which would be appealing to children. I would also like to add here that since the very beginning whenever a new medium was invented Mythology was always the first choice to be adopted for that medium. Whether it is sculpture, painting, calendar art, print, TV, live films, animated films and now consoles. And I think that there are still plenty of mediums waiting to be exploited by Mythological themes. For example we still don't have a movie of hanuman flying in the theater being watched through the 3d glasses of IMAX. Except PS2 all other consoles are still inviting mythology games. So Mythology is not saturated yet." he added.
After agreeing upon the concept the biggest challenge for Aurona's team was to complete the entire game in 9 months. He further shared, "There were no programmers who had shipped a PS2 title from India before, although a few had worked on a PS2 title before." After the studio evaluated a few game engines, Gamebryo was chosen. This was a good choice for the studio except the fact that they had to build their own collision systems.
"Learning everything through trial and error was not an option for us since we were working on a tight schedule. So we brought in a lead programmer from UK to guide the programmers. This really helped the team to work with exemplary discipline," he added.
Hanuman's story is extremely popular and almost every Indian will know it. This poses several challenges in terms of creative freedom available given the overall familiarity of the story and how deeply it is rooted in the target audience's mind. Pramod shared, "We decided to focus on a time period of Hanuman's life of which very little is known, the 'growing up' years i.e., childhood to teens."
Aurona wanted to maintain a similar look and feel which has been in the minds of the people in India through movies and print. At the same time the studio had to strike a balance between traditional art and the requirement of the game engine and game play.
So what did Aurona do? Pramod's answer, "There are lot of statues, idols and figures when we talk of Indian mythology. That is what we tried to do with the shapes and forms. We filled the environment with a lot of low poly figures of human and animal Gods and a lot of manmade architecture. We decided to play with a lot of colors and non realistic hand painted textures. We didn't want to have a rustic look as most of the games have these days. So we went ahead with pleasant and welcoming saturation except for the cave levels which we had to make dark because the story demanded it."
The studio was satisfied with the great job done by the art team, but when the work was put into the engine, the Toon shading did not work as well as expected. "The sizes of the cut scene and their loading times could have been reduced to give a smoother game play. Animation system of the engine didn't give us a good result with variable frame rate. So the animators would always complain that the same animation which looks great in the 3D software isn't looking good in the game. We surely believe that we could have improved on the animation if we would have been given more time," he admitted.
The studio focused a lot on testing. They arranged for a group testing to make sure that the target group is able to play the game without supervision. The Gold Master of the game was approved on the 2nd attempt.
For the programmers, designers and artists of Aurona the project was a great opportunity to learn the full development cycle for a PS2 title. For Sony the good thing was that the game was shipped on time, within budget and Sony was able to launch it ahead of the summer vacations of school children.
Pramod concluded, "We could have paid more attention to detail on the interface between the game engine, the programming and the art assests to ensure that the art looks as good inside the game as it is outside the game. We could have worked more on the animation and developed shorter cut-scenes for quicker loading. We could have secured higher budgets for the development so that more man power could have been allocated for the project. A tighter management of task allocation and completion could have been arranged and managed from the beginning. But all in all the game did really well, it has already sold significantly more units than what was originally forecast."