Alf’s Inhabitants Anonymous – July 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.
Avid: Non-linear editing system.
Gibs: When enemies blow up into chunks and stuff.
NPCs: Non-playable characters
EA: Electronic Arts, Oddworld’s new publisher.


This is the part of the race where the muscles start to ache. But because the fans want this game real bad, plus so much time and energy has been put into it, and it could quite possibly rock, the PROGRAMMERS keep slogging into work early (okay, some of them not so early), and staying late (okay, some of them really late). They valiantly resist the temptations of Tetris Attack, Texas Hold’em, Ultimate Frisbee, and political kung fu. Well, most of the time.

Last month’s entry should’ve mentioned a member of the team-the resident Effects system guy, and tools GUI champion, Drew. As you know, the effects system (rocks, dust, electricity, etc…) does a lot to set the tone of a game. This game is very rich in visual effects, and a lot of that is because of Drew’s hard work.

Everyone is pretty much crushing gameplay bugs as they come up at this point, and addressing issues in flow, balance and fun. There’s more sound and feedback in the NPCs. It’s been pretty impressive how well this engine has held up under what the artists and designers have thrown at it. It has that good, solid feel that usually found in a luxury sports car.

This is a really exciting time to see everything come together especially in the REALTIME department. John and Matt are finishing up the ingame cinematics and doing some final tweaks to the NPC animations. Brad is adding some final areas to region three. Raj is tweaking out some weapon upgrades. Marke, Rob and Jeremy are finishing up the last bits of region 6, doing lighting tweaks and adding all sorts of cool details. Ryan has been wrapping up some smaller effects details like gibs and sniper effects.

GAME DESIGN has been splitting time between polish and demos. They’re now going back and making changes to some of the levels, bosses, and ammos so that they play and “read” better. (So that they make more sense.) During the last couple of weeks, quite a bit of time was also spent on the overall difficulty of the game. This includes things like ammo availability, NPC toughness and accuracy, item cost, player settings, etc. The designers will continue along this same path until the game is finally done.

Getting close to the end of the production schedule means lots of late nights for the COMPUTER GRAPHICS team, but it’s great to see all the hard work come together. Now that the bulk of the work is done on the cinematics they can revisit the shots, adding the final five percent of the details that really make the sequences come to life. It’s a great feeling to fill in the blanks and have time to stand back from the work, take the most objective look possible at what’s finished, and figure out what can make it better. Rich can see the light at the end of the tunnel, with only a handful of shots to complete, and Iain is snapping up the completed animation for final renders as it becomes available. The final movie will show the fans a different approach to cinematics at oddworld, and has been a great learning experience for the CG team.

The PRODUCTION DESIGNERS have been contributing to the art book. After ten years in existence, Oddworld is, at long last, publishing a book that reveals the process behind its polished artistic exterior. The artwork of production design is rarely, if ever, seen outside of the confines of the company office. For the most part, rightly so, as it is an inspirational and explorational step on the road towards the final product. Yet, seeing the pages of drawings, paintings and stills from many years as an Oddworld artist leaves one feeling a little exposed, but more proud than anything else. Raymond is currently in the process of finishing up a few new pieces of art for the book, including the cover. The centerpiece of the cover is an intricate mechanical version of the Oddworld Inhabitants logo that was designed a few years back, while the remainder of the image is a chronological, almost astrological, pattern that represents the cycle of time, hence, the first ten years. Raymond states, “Seamlessly combining old artwork with new artwork helps me understand what I appreciate so much about all of the art of Oddworld. Whether it was created yesterday or ten years ago, a consistent and steady vision ties it all together”.

Looking at the drawings for the Oddworld art book, and trying to write comments for it, Silvio says his mind can’t help but wander off with thoughts like, “What if we combine early designs and concepts into new even more expressive ideas!” And, “We should have had more screen time with this character he was so funny, or this one … terrifying!” Or, “I need to pay even more attention to the functionality of the sets and designs.” And then, “Good thing we stuck with this one a few more days of explorations, if we stopped this character early he would have been so un-Oddworldly!”

But in the end, he says, “It is amazing to see how Oddworld; its cultures and characters evolve, yet always keep a very unique quality that ties them together. The humor, darkness with hopefulness, light sarcasm, and just sheer oddness … all wrapped up in humanity.”

Because of (positive) technology changes for this game in comparison to MO, our SOUND Designer/ Composer Michael is able to create music that’s in the realm of cinematic quality. This music has more depth and is more true to the intended emotional experience. One look at this smiling Inhabitant and you can plainly see he’s happy with how it’s all turning out. His influences come from a myriad of musical (and also non-musical) sources. Once he’s diligently added his own twist on those influences, the sound is pretty original and Oddworldian. Right now he’s composing music for the latter part of the game. The latest CG movies look incredible and the sound designers can’t wait to get their hands (and ears!) on them. Jamie has been concentrating on sound design for the last region, and Nick is in the midst of some audio content management in prep for localization.

The PRODUCERS Scot and Josh have been keeping communication between production and the execs through the weekly leads meeting. Josh has been editing together a 2 minute story reel of Stranger for the EA execs to see. Everyone in the office can hear Michael’s music booming from the Avid, and they always wander back to see what’s up. Scot has been keeping busy with his EA counterparts. EA has been visiting the studio bringing all their depts. (PR, Marketing, biz dev. Producers etc.) to observed the Oddworld way. Our AQ boys, John and Adam keep playing levels looking for bugs too.

It’s been a busy month for the ADMIN. team. They’re running lean, in search of a new receptionist. Michelle was a wonderful receptionist but has decided to stay at home with her lovely new baby. Catherine has been doing a great job covering the front desk despite the rest of the craziness … helping out with printing projects, travel reservations, and other administration tasks that keep the department running. Jen is covering both her administration job and parts of the PA position so that Nick can assist the sound designers. They are a busy group, and need to wear many hats, but there is a constant buzz at the end of production- they actually enjoy the excitement toward the end of the project! They can’t wait to see the final product on the shelves. Support in the form of food, beverages, and cheer seem flow without ceasing to the hard working production team. It keeps them motivated and well fed in the final sprint to the end of the game.

SYSTEMS is trying to upgrade the versioning control system’s (perforce) hardware to new hardware for additional speed and diskspace. They’ve been working with EA to connect to their bug tracking software. Most recently our external website was modified to support Mozilla/Netscape browsers.

Sunny just joined the Inhabitants in the HR department. We asked her what her first impressions of Oddworld were. The following is her response: “So far my impressions of Oddworld could be summed in one word …wow! I have never seen so many people in a workplace that are so driven toward one common goal! There is a real sense of camaraderie around the office that is contagious. These guys live and breath videogames and it is neat to come to work where people honestly love what they do. Mike has kept me busy by giving me projects that have involved getting to know the company and all of the employees. I am very lucky that this position was left in such an organized condition, so the learning process has gone very smooth so far. I am really looking forward to my continuous training and all of the HR challenges that are bound to come my way.”

Cathy in CREATIVE SERVICES has been working extensively on the Art of Oddworld book. Her brain is like an Oddworld Inhabitants time capsule, chronicling all of the little known factoids about the company, and this is her opportunity to commit it all to print. Working on the book is a labor of love but a whole lotta pain too. She’s been looking through the archives at old images and doing a lot of reminiscing. “It’s hard not to include every image in our first book. We have enough to fill 10 books!” she says. “It’s not the usual ‘art of’ book. It’s a mixture of production art, computer graphics and gamescreens.” The theme is a ten-year anniversary timeline. Throughout the book specific dates are called out with tidbits about Oddworld. Everyone has their opinion of what the book should be but the only opinions that matter are the bosses, Lorne and Sherry. Now, if only they can agree! It’s not the end-all, ultimate Oddworld art book, but hopefully the first of many from Oddworld!

Finally, MARKETING is in full swing again! There are new tee shirts for the Inhabitants and “honorary Inhabitants’ alike. The shirt features the new ‘live ammo’ on the front, and they’re super soft and comfy … the shirts, that is! The first outside of Oddworld to receive them were the marketing folks from EA, when they came down to visit and get the Odd treatment. It’s great to have a group with such experience and creativity dedicated to this project. It’s an exciting time, as the unveiling of Stranger approaches. The marketing department worked for a long time preparing for a new publisher and hopes that the concepts and ideas they’ve shared with EA marketing are useful in the search for the right selling points to our new favorite Inhabitant, “Stranger.” Making a campaign out of an entertainment product with anti-consumerism themes is a bit of a paradox, and no easy task, but EA and Oddworld may be just the right pair to get the job done!