The X Factor: Inside Microsoft’s Xbox

The X Factor: Inside Microsoft's Xbox

Date: 20/06/2003

Description: FilmOasis, Inc., a Los Angeles-based production company exposes what it takes to make a game for Microsoft in their one hour Discovery Channel program, The X FACTOR: Inside Microsoft's Xbox, part of Discovery Channel's "On the Inside" series premiering Friday, June 20, 2003, at 8 PM (ET/PT). Going where no cameras have ever gone before, The X FACTOR program reveals never-before-seen footage of Microsoft and three game studios all racing to complete the next big Xbox blockbuster game. Inside these studios, the effort to build the next million-selling game is intense. Will the next Xbox superstar be Microsoft's Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge, Oddworld Inhabitants' tightly held secret (the fourth game in their ongoing series), or Bungie's Halo 2? The X FACTOR lets viewers decide for themselves by following these three games in development and the teams creating them through many phases of the game production process, and by offering exclusive interviews with Microsoft's vice president of its game studios, Ed Fries; Bungie's project lead, Jason Jones; the design lead of Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge, Jim Deal; the president/creative director of Oddworld Inhabitants, Lorne Lanning; and many more.

Ed Fries:
Now we’re finally getting to the point where we can do real 3D scenes that are starting to look like movie scenes. We can place characters within these scenes and they can have expressions. That’s the start of doing so much more with this business than we’ve done before.

Narrator:
There are many teams trying to build the next big game for Microsoft. From one independent studio, it’s all about building a world, an Oddworld.

Lorne Lanning:
In games, every story needs great gameplay, because if you look at games that succeed, some of them have just god-awful stories, but the gameplay can be great, and they’ll win. It’s really about the play. If you really wanna integrate the story to gameplay, which is what Oddworld has been about from the beginning. It’s a complicated weaving of technology, artistry, storytelling, character development, all of these things. And, in Munch, we didn’t get a lot of what it was supposed to be. And it got acclaimed, and it won awards, and different things of that nature. But that doesn’t mean it was what we wanted it to be, and that doesn’t mean we were happy with it. You know, for me it was a devastating experience. I wanted it to be so much more, and you knew it could be so much more. But, being able to manifest what you see, is a whole different game. And so I thought the wisest thing to do, and the most exciting thing to do, was to give Abe and Munch a good vacation. You know, treat ’em well, say, “look guys, you get some time off.” And then go “okay, you know, Steef you’re in the picture now.”

Raymond Swanland:
I think the Steef is definitely capable of being both very, very frightening, and also being very loveable and almost vulnerable in a way.

Lorne Lanning:
Let’s start with like a horse body, and more of a gorilla upper body, and lets start there.

Raymond Swanland:
And we start picking in his start with a general short of expression, where he’s playing his poker face.

Lorne Lanning:
And then what you found was something kind of traditional, coming outta that. Let’s cut out his whole mid section, shorten the legs, and between the front legs and the back legs, and let’s make the torso more human, but the arms more gorilla, and the head more like Clint gene-spliced at birth, cross-fertilised with a lion-gorilla. Okay, so Clint, lion, gorilla. Let’s come up with a face that matches this guy. And he’s gotta have horns.

Raymond Swanland:
What we’ve done with the Steef is, we’ve taken aspects of something as stately as a lion, and started applying things that were almost like a surfer-bum to his, hairstyle, and to his piercing blue eyes. And then we’ve done this, once again, Clint.

Lorne Lanning:
And then you figure out a point in time, which you call the prototype. At what point in time can we demonstrate a good feeling for what this game will be, even though it won’t be complete.

Raymond Swanland:
And then we start, and we start giving him slightly more empathy in his eyes. And then you start really bringing out what he’s starting to feel. But he’s still, with a sense of trying to hide it. And occasionally, brief outbursts of emotion will come out. But then he goes straight back to his poker face.

Narrator:
For most characters, most games never make it into the stores. With their green light meeting approaching fast, the question for Oddworld is whether Steef will make it from an intriguing prototype into an actual game.


Narrator:
Meanwhile, another Oddworld is about to be born.

Lorne Lanning:
This is kinda like the first, semi-formal kick off for this new production you guys have been working on a long time. So what I wanna talk about is how we’re breaking this up. And what the fundamental paradigm shift is, in this storytelling game, from the last games that we made. In the last games that we made, what we had was, we had story, which always took place in CG. And then we had gameplay. Which in itself, never told a story. So they were very separate, and this time is different, because we have the story, which can be told in CG, then we have inside the game engine, we can tell a story too. Wow, they’ve done it man, they’ve crossed that border, between movies and games. You know, “I’m having fun, I’m having fun, and then I feel like I’m watching shots out of a movie. But it’s my movie, cause that’s my guy that I’m the guardian angel of. You know, that I’m pushing through this experience.” You have to have stable technology running, before you can actually build a game. Because you need to know how it feels, and how it plays. All of us game developers are in the same boat. We’re all thinking about that. Because it’s really technology based, and the gameplay is going “I want the latest now! You know, and if I saw something really cool in that last game I bought last week, I don’t care that you’ve been working on a game for five years, and you’re delivering next month. It didn’t have the cool thing that I saw last week, I want that now!”

Narrator:
For this game to get to the next level, Lorne and his team will need to get a green light from Microsoft.

Ed Fries:
They’ve been keeping this one secret from me for a while. From everybody.

Lorne Lanning:
You have very few people that are going “I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is, and I wanna see new, creative, different stuff, and I’m willing to pay for it.” There’s very few of those people out there, and Ed Fries is one of those people. Munch was like, the heartbreak of my life. It was like, first of all, just looking at the character. I thought we were in danger of being perceived as Oddworld, the ones who create the underpowered heroes. So when we first start encountering Steef, we find a guy who seems like he’s inspired by Sergio Leoni and the man with no name series.

Ed Fries:
Yeah, I saw some really, really pencil sketches, and this is different.

Lorne Lanning:
It’s Clint Eastwood in many ways, of his persona, of the subtlety, of the facial expressions doing most of the dialogue. And what he is by trade, is he hunts bounties. But what he has, is he has a crossbow. So he’ll walk around and it’s all folded up into a device on his wrist. And then when he wants, it folds out. You know, you gotta prove it’s fun. I mean, that’s the inescapable goal of the interactive business. If it’s not fun, you’re dead. It has to be able to get someone like Ed Fries in five minutes to go “I see how you’re gonna build twenty hours of fun outta this one.”

Ed Fries:
What he’s saying is, “I’m gonna shift from sort of a jumping, puzzle solving mechanic, to more of a exploring and shooting mechanic. I think he really wanted to make a western. That’s what I think. I think he really wanted to, I know getting into this, that cause I know the ideas he was experimenting with, I know he wanted to do a heroes quest.

Lorne Lanning:
“He’s something else entirely. Here’s the realtime database that we’ll be running around, right, so that’s the same guy. This is like after he grew horns, and the horns we’re still not completely finalised on. Like we’ll do some testing on it.”

Ed Fries:
They’ve got plenty of ideas; they’ve got more than enough to make a great game there. But can they make that game.

Lorne Lanning:
So I think part of what you have to do, is you have to convince someone like Ed Fries that you believe it. This is going to be this. And then there’s an element of trust that has to carry along with that.

Ed Fries:
One thing I am a little concerned about, the Steef out of disguise. If he gets too alien he looses the kinda human quality to it. That makes you kinda relate to him, maybe. I don’t know what, I’m not sure exactly what it is.

Lorne Lanning:
What I wanted, was for the audience to get connected to something before they found out what it really was.

Ed Fries:
It reminds me why I like to work with you, I mean, cause I sit through so many pictures where there’s just no ideas there. And you have almost the opposite problem.

Lorne Lanning:
You’ve got a publisher that’s giving you a lot of money to make something that they expect on time, so you need to appease that and say “we are on the right track, we are doing well.”

Ed Fries:
There are real limitations to that, how long projects can go, and how much money we can spend on them, and what makes sense, right. I wanted a way to explain to him why I think he’s had some trouble in the past. He just kept piling ideas on. And not focusing on deciding what’s in and what’s out. And what we have time for, and what we don’t. What’s good and what’s bad. The game won’t get, it won’t turn into something that works. now is kinda the time, it’s like a year before release. We have to start making those painful decisions, and those are painful, really painful for someone like him, who’s got all these ideas.

Lorne Lanning:
He’s excited about it, that’s good. In our goal he needs to be excited about it, and at the same time he’s concerned it might be a little ambitious. That’s good, that’s a better concern than feeling like it might not be ambitious enough. You hope that your track record helps shine light that it’s not insane, no, but at the same time, there’s a little bit of a mad man at the wheel. And that’s what you need to win these crazy races.

Ed Fries:
I thought I was gonna have another game in the Munch series, and I walk outta here with a first-person western. But with tonnes of great, new ideas, and I’m really excited about it. Really nice.


Narrator:
But the bar keeps getting raised. The delivery dates for the Halo and Oddworld teams have been pushed back into 2004. A sign of increased pressure, increased expectations.