The Art of Game Polish: Developers Speak

Obsidian Entertainment's Twitter feed is pointing to a "The Art of Game Polish" article on Gamasutra, where several team members from both Obsidian and BioWare weigh in on what defines a polished video game. Some interesting feedback to be found, here:
In a general sense, our group of developers defined a polished game as one that lacks issues that pull the player out of the gaming experience. But there is a lot of room for variance under that broad umbrella.

"To me, what defines polish in a game is a consistency of experience," says BioWare's Mark Darrah, executive producer of the Dragon Age franchise. "If you can play a game that has really great graphics but terrible balance, and that's not a very well-polished game because there's something that's pulling you out of the experience. Polish is when everything comes together in a cohesive whole."


"For me, polish has always been fixing multiple small issues and adding tiny features that really smooth off the edges of gameplay," says Dan Rubalcalba, programmer on Obsidian's upcoming Alpha Protocol. "I say 'small' in that each issue on their own might not be noticed, but it is the summation of many of them that turns something interesting into something great.

"Also I say 'small' as I consider polish getting a system from 90 percent to 100 percent. But really, that last 10 percent takes just as long as the first 90. Polish is no small task; it is just about small unseen things." Alpha Protocol's lead programmer Frank Kowalkowski added, "Polish is often adding things nobody will ever notice, comment on, or appreciate, but will notice, comment on and appreciate when they aren't there."


"I don't have to go into the merits of stability," says Gardner. "We have some very sophisticated tools for checking and predicting stability, better than any other project in BioWare history. I think Dragon Age is our most stable game so far. But it's harder to get a game stable when you're still making changes. At some point you have to restrict your major performance changes, your memory changes or whatever it is, and start just locking things down and fixing stability issues."

In BioWare's case, the technical director is responsible for making that decision to lock down development and begin optimization.

"We might make it as a leads group. We have a core leads group, the executive producer, project director, the lead designer, the art director, the lead QA, the online producer," says Gardner. "The core leads group consults on that decision, but essentially it's my responsibility to say that the memory's good enough, and we don't need to work on it anymore.


Performance and compatibility are two big issues to resolve in the final months, says Frank Kowalkowski, Lead Programmer on Obsidian's Alpha Protocol.

"This is generally the point where we are optimizing code and assets to meet the memory constraints of a console or the performance standards required to be compatible with the minimum system requirements on a PC. There are also the technical checklists required by Sony and Microsoft which are thankfully much less stringent in this generation of consoles.

"This is where you'll often find some of your hardest decision making," says Kowalkowski. "In getting Neverwinter Nights 2 out the door, we had to make the decision to remove support for our 3.0 shader pipeline and support for HDR. Both those decisions were the right ones and helped both programming and art work with a single, common hardware target to get the game done.