Alf’s Inhabitants Anonymous – May 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
R & D: Research and Development
RT: Real Time
GDC: Game Developer’s Conference
Cert: Certification
Hero: The “final” or the best out of a long series of iterations.
Region: A placeholder name for an area of gameplay.

Computer Graphics:
The pressure is on in the CG department! They’re on to the end movie for the most part now, except for poor Iain, who’s stuck rendering shots from a movie that was finished last month! It seems PDD has changed the design for the Minions again (dang artists!). Rich is working hard on a scene where Stranger witnesses a death. “You want to show how anybody would feel in that situation, but if Stranger is this Clint Eastwood tough guy type, how much do you show without breaking character? He’s not going to babble like an idiot but he’s got to show some sort of emotion.” The dam scene is another big challenge. Water is one of the hardest things to do in CG and there isn’t really time to R & D it. On top of all that, the hero shot for the box cover has to be rendered. Action, something that says action. Nah, that looks too “posed”. Something with more action. Never enough time in the day!

In the Game Design Department, things are wrapping up quickly. Every space of the game has been built and they are going through both RT and Design 2nd passes. Quite a bit of time is being spent working with the audio department on implementing the hundreds and hundreds of sound cues they’ve been creating, in addition to working on several of the bounty battles. They should be at the end of the new feature phase of the production cycle, but the programmers always find ways to sneak in cool new additions! They’re also ramping up to the balance/polish phase, which will continue until the game is pried loose from the collective cold, dead hands of the department.

Production Design:
With most of the real design work done, realizing the fine details and peripherals of the game are the lion’s share of the work in Production Design. Raymond just nailed down a decent pass at the packaging art, but he’ll probably be polishing that for a while. The last handful of character texture maps for real time are well on their way to finish, but the current priority is to create a number of highly detailed matte paintings for the end movie. The scope of the environments in these matte paintings represent a return to the expansive style that was developed in the course of building the opening movie. Ideally the look and artistry of the opening and ending movies will create a sense of “bookends” for the gameplay and storytelling that come between.

Meanwhile, Silvio is going between a series of normal and texture maps for the last Boss character, and sketching industrial props. These props give the player a more lived in feel when he/she experiences the game. The props are actually used by a certain type of species, revealing how their physical makeup would influence the design, and how their behavior towards office work would reflect in the use or misuse of a particular object. So for example a drinking fountain by itself it’s an ok prop, but it should tell a little more about the guys working there. Maybe there is an empty case of brew bottles stacked against it and on top. They actually replaced the water with brew, and that in a water bottling plant… what could that mean? Things like that can convey little fun information about a place and its characters. Unfortunately, many of these unique props never make it to the end product due to time and polygon count, but they still help provide depth for the story and characters.

Whoa! This week has been crazy in Real time. Lots of artwork is flying around as the levels get wrapped up. The last region has been coming along nicely. The guys are doing a good job making the main facility look huge and menacing. Ryan is working on some more weapon effects this week. Brad is squashing some early level bugs and making sure that region three runs smooth, hooking up portals and general fixes. The animators are hard at work doing cinematics and also working on the final boss and his minions. Should be pretty cool. Raj is finishing up the crossbow upgrades and starting on more weapon upgrades. Marke and Rob are working hard on the last level and should be done soon.

Josh just picked up the final bronze cast sculptures of the main character Monday. They turned out great! This was the end of a long process, but it was worth it. Now what’s he up to? “Hmmm just working away trying to wrap up the final movie along with a bunch-O-stuff.”
Scot is working on trying to close out the tasks for the next milestone. Making adjustments to the schedule based on task difficulty and the amount of time that is left.

The last phases of developing a game are always very difficult but also very rewarding. There’s lots of pressure from art and design to finish all the features they need, and everything has to be ready for cert, running from a real DVD, optimizing the frame rate, and all that internal stuff that makes a game done.On the plus side, lots of cool features finally come to completion, and you get to see them actually working in the game. Mark is putting the finishing touches on the automatic lip sync stuff; all the characters in the games will talk along with the audio, and there’s just tons of audio content so there’s no way the animators could hand-animate all that speech. Aaron is putting some polish on our weapons and adding some new upgrade ammo types. A lot of our work is going towards memory use and our paging system. We’ve got a ton of content, and we continuously stream it as you run around the world. So, the paging system needs to pack the data up tightly and everything needs to be very small in memory.

Sound Design:
They’ve been working on music for one of the CG movies. Also making a bunch of sound cues, playing the didgeridoo for fun, and tripping’ out on Michael’s screen saver.

There’s been a steady stream of requests from all over the world. Right now a presentation for Lorne at the 3D festival is being facilitated. Also, work has been submitted to onedotzero, the 3D International Festival, Spectrum, Expose 2 … the list goes on! The Outlaw trading cards created for GDC went over great and now new ways to use those are being considered, as well as possibly creating more. That was a fun project with a positive outcome, so it’d be cool to take it a step further. Creative Services is working night and day on a project the fans are going to “flip” over … sorry that’s all we can tell you this week! Also, there was some recent press in Animation Magazine, and in a racy UK magazine called “Streetfighters” where one of the fans, Bob, showcases a bike with OWI images all over it. Smokin’!!!! Anything else? Just keeping our noses to the grindstone, and holding ourselves back from the marketing maelstrom we are secretly dying to release on the world!!!!