Posts Tagged ‘Making-Of’

Making Of: Laser Squad Nemesis

[This is an odd one. This was the first of these I wrote for PCF, and is really a very different format – there’s a large box-out where I go through Gollop’s entire history of games, for example, which I’ve lost here. It’s also a straight transcript and – spookily – written in a much more sober style. I’ve had a quick kick at it to get rid of some of the stiffness, but it does sit a little oddly with its usual tone…]

lsn1

This isn’t really a post-mortem. From a development side the single most noticeable feature of Laser Squad Nemesis is that it’s constantly being updated and its development cycle is, abstractly, endless. This means that rather than an examination of something in the past, we’re cutting apart something still living: vivisection rather than post-mortem.

LSN was was Codo Technologies first game, for themselves. The Gollop brothers’ previous studio, Mythos games, closed after the ambitious Dreamlands game was cancelled. Disheartened by how they were treated by major publishers, Laser Squad Nemesis was them stepping outside the mainstream system to forge a new path. But what to do?

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Making of: Arx Fatalis

[An unusual one this. Normally I interview the Project Lead or Lead Designer or similar. In this case, I was actually interviewing Christophe Carrier, who was Sound lead at Arkane on this Ultima Underworld-inspired RPG (Christophe, when asked for inspirations, simply stated “We wanted to make Ultima Underworld 3”). This was done when I was visiting Arkane before Dark Messiah of Might And Magic hit. And since I’m in Paris today, seems as good a time as any to repost it.]

Arx puns probably would be a good idea here.

How does a development team start? Where do they come from? How are they begat? They happen because of one thing: people decide that, actually, we’d like to do it our way for once. People coming together from different places, meeting and going forth. Arkane’s Christophe Carrier had worked in the games industry for most of the nineties, when not in bands. His first experience was in Quality Assurance (QA) “I was working for Electronic Arts as a QA person – fixing things, organising the testing, going to England to test games,” he recalls, on things like Bullfrog’s Theme Park. Then he moved into areas more relevant to his talents. That is, working primarily in the field of sonics. “I did all the sound for a game called Hexplore for Infogrames,” remembers Christophe, “Before a game for the PS1, which was where I met Raphael and we worked together.” That is, Raphael Colantonio, the future charismatic CEO of Arkane, it was the sort of fateful meeting which helps form a country. “He decided to do this game,” Cristophe says, “He created this company and I put money into it, and I worked on our first game. I made the sound and the SFX… and then got into the design”.

“This game” was a little thing called Arx Fatalis.
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The Making Of: City of Heroes

[I was rooting around my hard-drive, trying to find the Freedom Force post-mortem which I swear to God I wrote, and I hit on something else similarly spandex-clad. The interview was done with Jack Emmert towards the end of 2004, so bear that in mind for some of the comments made.]

The Class of '04

City of Heroes was the surprise Massively-Multiplayer game hit of the year. Yes, World of Warcraft dominated… but the surprise wasn’t that it was a success, but the sheer scale of it. For a game to come from a team no-one had heard of, about a topic that had oft seemed commercially unviable, and to quietly revolutionise the genre with a stripped-down action-RPG… well, that’s a twist ending. No-one saw this one coming, True Believer.

We take a few minutes to secure an audience with the public face of City of Heroes, at publisher NCSoft’s recent European launch. He’s the Statesman, the defender of truth, justice and reasonable ping. But no-one’s seen him in the same room at the time with mild-mannered Lead Designer Jack Emmert. Could these two figures be connected?

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Making Of: The Longest Journey

[While a fun one to do, it’s always a little odd taking on one of someone else’s Totemic Games. It’s a little like having sex with someone else’s wife, I guess. Anyway! Ragnar is, of course, incredibly lovely. Expect a longer interview with Ragnar in the not-too-distant future, from Mr “Future Mrs Tørnquist” Walker. Oh: The interview was done just before Dreamfall hit.]

We have both kind of gameplay. Point AND click.

The Longest Journey is now an established classic. While everyone else was wrapping up the history books of the genre, Ragnar Tørnquist and his team at Funcom were making what would prove to be the bookend of an era. Yes, the Longest Journey, from the start, it was destined to be that last great… er… Platform Game?

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Making Of: Settlers II: Veni, Vidi, Vici

[This interview was done with Thomas Hauser circa the 10 year anniversary edition of Settlers II. The interview was fairly tricky one to do, partially due to Thomas having to do it in a second language, partially by the phone line and partially, as evidenced by the following text, it was a long time ago and Thomas had forgot a load of stuff. I think that added a human quality to it. I dunno. You tell me.]

Some little people.

We’ve all played armchair designer. Sitting and playing the latest game and thinking “You know, this is pretty neat, but if I was in charge I’d have done this and this and of course THAT” before going off and getting on with our lives. Except, there was a time when if you were in the right place at the right time you could put your ideas where your idle whimsy was. Take Thomas Hauser, who has always been primarily a programmer. He certainly resists being labeled a programmer/designer. “I started as a programmer,” he argues, “I would much more say I’m a programmer than a designer. I very much like games, and game play and design problems… but I wouldn’t describe myself as a game designer.”

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Making Of: Operation Flashpoint

[Flashpoint has the dual appeal of being simultaneously one of the most realistic takes on the Soldier game the medium has ever seen and the only one where you can engage in the sport of Tractor hunting in an attack chopper. I’ve interviewed Marek and his brother a few times over the years, and they’re one of the more gloriously eccentric and constantly enthusiastic developers I’ve met. Last time I was over there, talking about Armed Assault we had a lengthy discussion about how they were programming Butterflies. They develop incredibly militaristic games and they obsess over butterflies. It’s hard not to love them.]

The first casulaty of war is polygon counts.

Before Bohemia released their classic Soldier-Sim, I had a chance to chat to director Marek Spanel about his life growing up as a games devotee in the Czech Republic. He described sneaking their first computer into the country after a trip to Switzerland. And then, realising there was no way to load or save data, jury-rigging cables to perform the task with their tape recorders. And then learning to program games so, finally, they could achieve their objective of playing a game.

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The Making Of: Cannon Fodder 2

[This time we’re going retro, and UK-retro at that. On our blighted isle, Cannon Fodder was one of the more iconic games in a generation of software with one of the greatest theme tunes of all time. For the making of the sequel, I talk to Stuart Campbell, the designer. Stuart is better known for his games writing, where he remains the most controversial journalist the UK has ever produced. That is, a lot of people hate him, which is always a sign you’re doing something right. If you like this, Stuart has gone into enormous detail on each level of the game over at his site. CF2 is also available on The Underdogs.]

I'm sorry, but this is as classic as it gets.

Cannon Fodder had everything. A pixel-perfect blend of action and strategy with a small squad of men versus intricately designed levels. The greatest game theme tune of all time in the form of the lazy skank of “War’s Never Been So Much Fun”. A splash of controversy over its use of the military poppy, with national outcry from the tabloids over its insult at the old boys. Ironic, when you consider that Cannon Fodder was one of the most anti-military wargames of all time. How do you follow all that?

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The Making Of Thief: Deadly Shadows

[This time we turn our attention to the development of the third Thief game. It’s worth noting this is the first making of where the person I interviewed wasn’t the effective Project Lead. This leads to a very different interview. I’m speaking to Jordan Thomas, who’s got a way with a quote. I’ve interviewed Jordan a few times before: here’s him on the Cradle and here’s him on lighting in Bioshock. EDIT: When I was putting the article online, I somehow snipped a whole paragraph and a half when formatting it. It was the bit after the word “Academic”, and actually one of the key sections of the whole interview. Excuse? Er… I was deeply hungover. Will that do?]

When Looking Glass shattered, your correspondent, along with the vast majority of Thief’s sizable, fanatic fanbase, got more than a little despondent. Was there any hope for a continuation of the greatest stealth game the world had ever seen? Well, yes, there was, as otherwise we wouldn’t be doing a post-mortem of Thief III and instead continuing to weep hot tears into our foaming mead. The game arrived in the hands of Ion Storm Austin, fresh from their success in making the original Deus Ex. With a new team, mixing veterans of Looking Glass and new staff, they faced the challenge of matching their forefathers.

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The Making Of: A Tale In The Desert

[Since we’ve been right in the mainstream of the industry for the last few, thought it would be worthwhlie moving towards the periphery. A Tale In the Desert is the Kingdom-of-Egypt-’em-up MMO which people who don’t really understand describe as a co-operative game. It’s only a co-operative game in the same way the House of Commons is a co-operative game to run Britain as well as possible. With such an interesting game to talk about, Andrew Tepper gave a great interview, which I often mention bits of when interviewing other developers. This interview was done just at the close of the First Telling incarnation of the game, when they were about to launch its second. It’s now on its third.]

Dinner for two, on the banks of the Nile. Sexy!

From the first second you logged onto A Tale In the Desert, it was clear that it wasn’t just another massively-multiplayer game. For a start, it did the unimaginable in the videogame world and entirely removed direct combat. However, it wasn’t the Sims Online’s glorified chat-room. In this ancient Egypt challenges awaited for you to overcome. While initially it seemed to be about constructing in a grand co-operative venture – kind of a game of Settlers where you played one of the eponymous characters – players soon discovered that it was a far more political game than a world of simple, happy worker ants. Social puzzles abound, which had to be overcome, with personal gain faced off against group success. It’s a game that challenged its player base in a way that no other game was even attempting. “A tale in the desert was the game I always wanted to play – and it’s kind of ironic that it’s the one game that I can’t play,” ruefully notes Andrew Tepper, President of eGenesis, “Obviously, that wouldn’t be fair.”

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The Making Of: Dungeon Siege

[When thinking about which post-mortem to lob up when I was away, this one struck me as most appropriate. Since I’ll actually be at Gas Powered games during my awayness, Dungeon Siege seems like a good idea. I give a little of the context in the piece itself, but it was wayyyy into the evening and the booze was getting to both Chris and myself, crouched around the Dictaphone and both saying things we really shouldn’t (very few of which had anything to do with videogames). Chris Taylor is an effusive bloke, to say the least. Worth noting that this was done prior to DS2’s launch, and before Supreme Commander was even vaguely revealed.]

Ker-zap!

We find ourselves at a glamorous Microsoft press-event in San Francisco. “Glamorous” being code-words for “There is alcohol here”. They’ve gathered their sharpest minds to introduce their typically polished portfolio for the next twelve months, so are presented to the gregarious and effusive Chris Taylor. We start getting nervous, with images of epic mechanical destruction clouding our otherwise purely objective minds.

We try to leave before we start gushing about how much we loved Total Annihilation, only to see Brian “Rise of Nations” Reynolds in the opposite direction. Oh no. Pincered by two genuinely great RTS developers. There’s only one thing for it: start asking questions about how Dungeon Siege came to be and what he learned from it. Because while it’s an undeniably splendid game, it’s also a game that which we’re slightly more capable of keeping a little journalistic distance. An interview about how CUTE the Commander is won’t be of much use to anyone.

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The Making of: Sacrifice

[Another of my Making Of’s from the vault. I was pleased that I got a chance to do this too – it’s much easier to get a developer to talk about their previous game when it’s one in a series which they’ve making a sequel to. It just ties into the whole PR cycle. Trying to get an interview just about something outside of that is a little trickier, and Eric Flannum was enormously gracious with his time. This is a slightly expanded version from PC Format’s original, with some extra material. I replayed it last year actually, and lobbed my piece on Sacrifice’s merits over on my blog a while back. If you like this, you may like that too.]

Sacrifice is one of the most distant landmarks in the PC gaming atlas, in an area marked “Here Be Dragons”. While spectacular, few people went there, and those who did came back reciting fantastical tales of strange vistas, genre-blending RTS/Action mechanics and a frankly wicked sense of humour. To game historians looking back from the far future, it’s going to prove as mystifying as Stonehenge is to archaeologists. How on earth did they build this?

Sexy!

Well, like everything, it started with an idea. “The inspiration was originally from our lead programmer, Martin Brownlow,” Eric Flannum, now at Arenanet tells, us, “He got the opportunity to start a team at Shiny, and basically able to make any game he wanted to. He’d also had the idea for the Sacrifice terrain engine”. The game he wanted was, essentially, a radical update of ancient Julian-Gollop spectrum classic Chaos, but in 3D.

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The Making of: Shogun: Total War

[Another postmortem from the vaults. I’ve actually got a lot of these – about twenty. For a couple of years on PC Format, I did one a month for them. The idea was simply to chat to a developer about one of their previous games for a couple of pages, in kind of a more casual, laid back version of the sort of thing Gamasutra do so well. I’ll be sticking them up here, one every Friday, until I run out. With the announcement of Empire: Total War, I thought it a good idea to start with Mike Simpson of Creative Assembly looking back at Shogun. This was a fun one – Simpson was completely self deprecating at all times, even in the face of the most ludicrous flattery.]

TOTAL WAR!!!!

Shogun was an epic game that changed everything, rejuvenating the real-time strategy game at a time when it seemed that it was just going to be a tank rushing eternally down a game-design cul-de-sac. With its unique, atmospheric setting and its groundbreaking marriage of mass-scale battle scenes and high-level Risk-style strategic management, you presume that it was always destined for greatness. After all, this sort of thing couldn’t just happen without a plan. And you’d be wrong.

“It actually started when I joined the company,” reveals Creative Assembly’s Creative Director Mike Simpson, “Then there were five people, doing a sports game. A rugby game. We were looking at setting up a second team, and wanted to find something which was relatively safe and not very challenging, unsurprisingly. At that point, Command and Conquer clones had come out. Things like Kill Krush and Destroy. We looked at them and thought “These are easy to do!”. It’s fairly formulaic and you can’t really go wrong. And they’re selling bucketloads.”

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Outcast (Reprise)


Originally written for the UK’s resplendent Edge magazine, this look at action adventure masterwork Outcast features a handful of retrospective comments from one of the key developers from the project, Yves Grolet. Mr Grolet was one of the founders of French Belgian development house Appeal, and was one of the key proponents of third-dimension bearing pixel, the voxel. Grolet is now a senior games bloke at the dubiously named 10Tacle Studios.

I’ve given the original text a spruce up by replaying Outcast, and erasing almost everything I originally submitted… Because there’s nothing quite like rewriting history. Read the entire thing by clinking that the link, down there. Yep.
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