Alf’s Inhabitants Anonymous – June 2004

Up ’til now, we’ve done a pretty good job of keeping quiet about the next game. (Well, except for that one loose-lipped Inhabitant, but we stitched him up right! We sho’ did!) But we’re all still dying to blab about this project! So we racked our brains and came up with this safe haven for our Inhabitants to spill their proverbial guts. This is the dirt, straight from the source about what production is working on now. This isn’t news or gossip; it’s what we’re doing and how we feel about it. We’re going to keep you updated on a regular basis, so check back for fresh info!

For your convenience: The Geek-to-English Dictionary
CG: Computer Graphics
TD: Technical Director
PDD: Production Design Department
RT: Real-Time
GUI: Graphical User Interface. This is the loading screen and menu system for the game.
Bug: Code that does not do what a programmer thinks it does
AI: Artificial Intelligence. The code and data that control what the non-player characters in the game do.
Region: A placeholder name for an area of gameplay.
E3: Electronic Entertainment Expo held in Los Angeles every May.
PA: Production Assistant
Combustion: Software by Discreet

Aaron says the coders are working like madmen to hit their next deadline. All the cool features they’ve written over the last couple years are getting straightened out, streamlined, and ‘made good’. One of the best parts is when a feature that has great potential is suddenly pounced on by the artists, who make it look incredible. This is also the part of the game where complex interactions between the objects in the game become apparent, and all kinds of unusual behavioral combinations arise. Mostly these are a good thing. There’s a lot of work to be done, and everyone is tired, but happy that the completion of the game is in sight.

One big task has been finishing the many crazy weapon types in this game. They are strange and wonderful, and as a group they’re something that gamers have probably not seen before. Dave and Thatcher have been smashing on many of the grungy utility bits, like making sure the game runs nice off the DVD, keeping the art pipeline humming, and making it possible for the GUI to do wild and crazy things. These seem to be going really smoothly so far. It’s nice to not have to panic about those at this point in the project.

Charles is generally stomping on bugs and fixing problems all over the place, and massaging some of the boss characters to ensure they are suitably awesome. Every once in a while he gets that wild look in his eyes, and an hour later, a cool new feature is ready to go. Lately, Marc has been smoothing out some of the more complex AI systems, and keeping everything looking smart. The new guy Andy has ramped up really quickly, and has done a bunch of new rendering work. Thanks to Mark’s persistence, the audio system continues to get more robust and feature rich. ‘Wait till you see this game. It’s pretty wild what we’ve done,’ says Aaron.

It’s been an extra busy month for the Designers. More polishing and bug fixing, not to mention the latest addition to the design department: Kian Durall was born to Sarah and Jameson a few weeks back. Congratulations to the Duralls! Erik expects to see Kian at work building levels by Monday! Additionally they have been spending time on some weapons upgrades, music, and save/load scripting. The last few cinematics are almost done and the boys claim to be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Production Design:
Silvio’s been busy on fun paintings of the characters in this game, for use in magazines, game booklets, PR etc. They give him a chance to exaggerate individual characteristics, facial expressions, details and props, lending to a deeper back-story. Those will also evolve into some ‘Wanted’ posters and icons for the menu and Bounty store. This stage of the production design doesn’t involve to much new idea searching, so you keep it fun, by lovingly abusing the characters; food stains on shirts, underwear shows a little, bad dental hygiene, drooling mouth. This stuff works well on the rude and obnoxious types of characters.

As the game levels are polished and honed to produce the maximum dramatic effect for the player, the time comes for us to squeeze in the last little threads to tie all the story elements together. In order to communicate a subtle sense of history for the inhabitants of the river, Raymond is designing rock art that is scrawled on the walls of catacombs and canyons. This seemingly prehistoric graffiti describes the dark forces that, long ago, descended on the life of the river as perceived by the presumably superstitious natives. Cryptic depictions of the struggle for survival read like riddles that seem to bring up more questions than they answer. Ultimately, these clues are merely pieces of the overall puzzle and represent one more tool for deepening our storytelling experience. And they look kinda’ cool.

Well things are still crazy around the Real-time dept. They are currently in the process of doing a ‘polish’ pass on all the game regions. Region 2 is done and we are cranking on region 4 currently. It takes a little while to add all the detail maps! Marke is adding a few more details to the cave, such as greenery and torches, plus lots of webs in the catacombs. Raj is cleaning up some of the boss characters and doing a few prop odds and ends. Animators John and Matt areworking hard on finishing up the cinematics while Ryan is doing some particle effect things and working on some in-game foliage. Brad is polishing up the docks and animating a wolvark vehicle while Jeremy and Loc continue cranking out some props and collectibles. Rob is finishing up the docks interior and ‘oddifying’ by adding flies around all the lamps.

Computer Graphics:
Da boys got their final schedules today and it’s going to be tight getting everything done in the next month or two. They got 61 seconds of animation signed off yesterday, but still have another two and a half minutes to go! The water effects Iain is working on are really cool. “Combustion” is turning out to be a good tool but it’s pretty buggy and has been crashing a lot lately. Rich is busy animating Townsfolk and the Natives enjoying their newly formed river. Rich is a die-hard Calgary Flames fan and is thrilled that they are in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Besides eating a lot of sushi, Josh has the CG team working hard to wrap up the final movie for Stranger. It has a bunch of FX that make it challenging to work on. It is looking good, but has quite a bit of work to do before it is complete. He’s also been working on capturing real-time cinematics for Michael, so he can do the sound design for them. Scot stays on top of the production schedule and working with our in-studio testers.

Sound Design:
Michael is working on in-game music for a number of battle sequences and also many of the RT cinematics. Also trying to lock down one of the CG movies and finish it. Jamie is knocking out sfx for environments for a few of the regions.

The studio is buzzing with activity and the Administration department is working in overdrive to keep the office running smoothly so the team can concentrate on the game. Amy reports that caffeine consumption has skyrocketed, as expected during crunch, but the hot coffee is always in supply! They keep the hard working inhabitants fed during the late nights of work so they can keep up their energy and reach the finish line.

Besides the food and coffee, Cat and Jennie are busy with all of the normal studio activities such as front desk management, ordering supplies, managing the cleaning company, and keeping the facilities running smoothly. ‘Our aim is to keep our inhabitants happy and focused so we keep our activities low key and out of the way’ says Amy. The monthly birthday party is a time where the studio can get together and celebrate over appetizers, cold beverages, and music. It’s good to have a little fun in between the crazy work schedule. In the spirit of ‘all hands on deck’ our ever multitasking PA Nick is helping out on the production side of the building with audio tasks.

Systems is busy trying to get some light mapping rack mount servers setup . They’re also trying to get CG’s use of Discreet’s “Combustion” usable in a render farm situation using Windows. And of course finding the best local service for the executive gadgets. Just last week, instead of going to E3, Eli went to Network+Interop in Las Vegas to check out the latest networking gear and gadgets first hand. Other than that, just trying to support the staff with friendly smiles and quick service.

Well Mike reports that Human Resources has finally dug themselves out from all the submissions received at the Game Developers Conference in San Jose and boy did they see some cool work! The Outlaw trading cards were a hit and quite a crowd gathered for the OWI jacket giveaway on Thursday. Although it’s impossible to interview even a fraction of the people we meet, we make it a point to send every candidate a letter. This takes a little while so if anyone reading this received one of our letters, thank you for your patience.

Now HR is in the throws of crunch time so the focus has turned from staffing to help address any issues that might get in the way of making a great game. These can range from health insurance concerns to questions about how to reply to a jury duty summons. At this point in production it’s often the little things that make a big difference.

This was a fun year for marketing at E3, as the main objective was to enjoy the show and nothing else! Kristin was KO-ed in the Kentia Hall by Cathy in a fierce Kung-fu battle. Despite massive amounts of carbs and fountain soda foam, both survived the convention center food with no problems. Back at marketing central, Jenny tended her inbox like a meticulously manicured garden.

Later in the week, ‘Abe Babe,’ (fansite-webmistress extraordinaire) stopped by the studio for a visit. She was able to hang out with the Inhabitants and view our most top-secret oddities! Don’t even try and break her, people, she’s bound by a high moral code (and a legally binding non-disclosure agreement!) Some of you may have seen her on Odd chat with Alf and his wiley assistant. These days the marketeers are churning out a new production art shirt. The shirts are used for promotional use only, but dream of one day being bid on at a popular auction website!