Edge (UK): living the vida coder [2002]

Date: December 2002

Source: Edge (UK Edition), Issue 117, pp. 56-57

living the vida coder

What do game developers do when they’re not developing videogames? Edge pries into the private lives of eleven industry figures. And makes some weird discoveries…

Here’s the stereotype: development staff work 16 hours a day, every day, go home, slump in front of state-of-the-art entertainment systems, watch cult sci-fi, then go to bed. We thought: there must be more to it than this. The dark, twisted ideas behind Deus Ex, Oddworld and Project Ego surely don’t come from lounging about on slack-sprung sofa beds every night watching ‘Farscape’ and slurping Super Noodles. At the same time, there must be a few people in this industry who get better exercise than lifting a multi-function remote controller. Sure enough, it didn’t take much poking around to confirm Edge‘s suspicions. And yet, of course, there often remains something unnervingly dark and obsessive about the game development mind. Remember that the next time you fire off a vitriolic complaint to one of their Websites…

(p. 65)

Lorne Lanning

president – Oddworld Inhabitants – skeleton collector

It started with fossils. In his early 20s, Lorne Lanning acquired “some relatively common pieces,” a tooth from a prehistoric white shark, a mammoth’s molar (“I’d hold these pieces in my hand and just enjoy the attempt at comprehending them”). From there, he moved on to the complete skeletons of contemporary species. The Oddworld Inhabitants founder now has about 24 skeletons, including snakes, a toad, a chicken, different species of lizard and a trigger fish. They are displayed in frames around his home.

His reason for collection skeletons is part scientific curiosity, part aesthetic appreciation. But there’s also a practical element, “At the time I started collecting, I was an animation/film student with a special interest in computer graphics. I wasn’t interested in squash and stretch animation, I was interested in bringing new creatures to life and in animating them in a more realistic ways. I discovered that by studying skeletal structures I gained a great deal more insight into the movements and behaviours of most living things.” Lanning is also convinced his interested has helped with game development, improving him as a designer, animator and director.

So where do these things come from? “Sometimes I’m lucky to find them in odd shops that we stumble upon while travelling,” he explains. “I have a few favourite stores in New York and San Francisco. I also have some contacts on the Net that keep me posted on interesting pieces.” At the moment, his favourite pieces are the chicken (“truly astounding to look at”) and trigger fish (“pretty incredible, in an alien sort of way”), but he would love to get hold of a humming bird. Edge was interested in finding out whether Lanning has ever worked on the raw materials himself – finding a body, boiling the bones, that kind of thing. “I recently saw a crow fly into a powerline and watched as it fell dead into the road,” he responds. “I took it home with me and gave it a place on the property. The bugs are still working on it and in the end it will probably take me a good nine months to go from full bird to perfect skeletal mount. I look forward to posing it in a very natural motion, like a single frame of animation that embodies the natural movement of the life from which it came.” Well, we did ask…

Suggested materials:

“The Museum of Natural History in New York is incredible. The Peabody Museum in Connecticut is also excellent. I used to spend hours upon hours, wandering through the displays. It’s a pretty cheap way to kill a day if you’re a struggling student in such an expensive city. Aquariums are also great places to spot such biology. The Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, California is one of my favourites.

“There are a few stores around the States that carry mounted skeletons. There is Maxilla and Mandible in uptown New York on Columbus Avenue and there is The Bone Store in San Francisco. Both great places.”

Edge also recommends the Natural History Museum of London