Saturday, September 15, 2007

¡Hola Vincente!

I'm amazed at how many Voodoo Vince fans have created their own dolls. The resourcefulness and creativity they show is a whole new level of cool. I posted about this phenomenon back in '06.

Over four years after VV's release, they're still at it. This latest Vince doll was created by a player with the tag "DanteNeverDies" from Spain. It certainly ranks among the best!


Monday, August 27, 2007

Voodoo Vince Prehistory

I almost forgot about this.

I've always loved that vaguely creepy rubber hose animation from the 1920's and 30's. I did a little Flash movie back in 2002 showing how Vince may have appeared in an earlier era. The music is from the Zombie Guidance Counselor level of the game and is one of my favorites, as always by the extra super talented Steve Kirk. This doesn't have the scratchy film filter pass I did for the final edit, but that lovely YouTube compression kind of delivers that.


Monday, July 23, 2007

Lions & Tigers & Cthulhu... Oh My!

An ultra cool cartoon by GPG animator Bobby Pontillas

Some of the artists at my new job decided to start a blog where they can have fun, showcase some art and generally goof around. They were nice enough to include me, even though I've contributed squat to the communal art pool. It's called Unleaded Artists. Check it out!

The blog issues periodic art challenges using a random word generator, though the crew can contribute whatever they like. It's a little portal into the twisted minds of some very talented, funny people.


Friday, June 15, 2007

Vince Gets Under Man's Skin

Of all the things Vince fans have done, this has to take the cake. Stuart Howe didn't let the lack of toys and merchandise get him down. Far from it. He now has this awesome 7" Voodoo Vince tattoo on his left forearm. It shouldn't be surprising in this golden age of body art that somebody somewhere would want a Voodoo Vince tattoo. I'm surprised anyway.

The tattoo was done by Jeremy at CMB Tattoo in Huntsville, Alabama, and he did a fantastic job. It's appropriate that the image was created by poking Stuart countless times with a needle. He can now relate to Vince on a whole new level.


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

My Cup Runneth Over... With Gas!

A lot of people have expressed curiosity as to where I ended up in the brave new post-Beep era. By "curiosity" I mean "apathy," and by "a lot" I mean "virtually none." "People" still means "people" but they're strange and different now. They smell funny.

Still, there is bound to be some concern that I might be sprawled in a gutter tilting back a jug of Everclear mixed with soy sauce (which, btw, I call a High Road to China. It's great!). Personal hobbies aside, I have remained in the game industry, firmly clutched to the sweaty bosom of Lady Interactivity. It's probably no surprise that I accepted an offer from Gas Powered Games and started as their Creative Director last March.

I'm really enjoying it. I'm back among some very familiar faces, including my old friend Chris Taylor. There is an interesting cross section of former Cavedog, Beep and Humongous folks here, plus loads of new acquaintances who I'm just starting to meet (there are over 100 employees at GPG). It's a strange, cool sort of time warp... A former cubicle mate from my very first job is down the hall (Kevin Pun). A couple programmers I worked with at Squaresoft are here as well. Most people look like their old selves, but with slightly more tattoos. The computers are much, much spiffier and way less beige.

I'll do some updates on my current projects if time and my NDA allow it. Meanwhile, I'll continue with the flashbacks already in progress.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

A Debt of Gratitude

Brad Kauzlaric in his studio some time during the 1980's.

My dad passed away a couple weeks ago. He was, among other things, an artist. This helped me understand at an early age that it was okay for grown ups to keep their imagination and sense of wonder. Dad never liked this Internet thing, but I figure a few words are in order. This is even vaguely game-related.

Dad loved science fiction. He usually devoured a novel in one sitting. There were always lots of books and magazines around the house, especially Analog during its glory years. I loved looking at those classic covers by Kelly Freas and John Schoenherr when I was a kid. Once I started reading them, I loved them even more. These publications fired my imagination and formed the foundation of my future as an artist and a designer of computer games. As a so-called grown up, I've had the pleasure of working with all sorts of artists, writers and engineers to create imaginary worlds, not unlike the ones depicted on those old covers.

I would be doing something completely different for a living if Dad hadn't left this wonderful stuff laying around the house. I'd probably be a mule skinner or something.


Friday, March 02, 2007

A Worthy Enterprise

Well, it was a fine six or so years, but I decided to hang up the ol' Beep spurs a few months ago. Before the usual sympathy notes and garment rending, I wanted to say that this was a decision that actually felt pretty good. Beep, as I know it, actually ended several years ago with the completion of Voodoo Vince. My efforts since then amounted to a case of serious denial. I kept the hope of a Vince sequel or that next big thing alive, but many of you know what the climate is like out there for new IP's or anything with a hint of humor (For all you non-grizzled game industry vets, it's not good).

Beep Industries was initially created to be an ideal first party developer for Microsoft. I wanted to build games for them from the first day I heard rumors about the Xbox, with the hopes of building a mascot... or at least the mascot's distant cousin once removed. After starting Beep, my partners and I learned everything we could about their process and bent over backwards to be a solid, reliable partner for them.

It worked. I'm told Beep was one of only two developers who never missed a milestone in the history of Microsoft Game Studios. I don't know if that's a fact, but it feels good to believe it. I am immensely proud of what we created. Content always outlives code, and there is some amazing art, stellar music and flat out cool stuff crammed into Voodoo Vince. For that matter, even our code was pretty damn cool. Xbox 360 developers using the Vince.api (and there are many) are still using technology we created during the production of VV.

Above: Company mascots Brenda, Chet and Arichitor. Arichitor got his name from a misspelling of the word "animator" on a magazine subscription my wife used to get at work.

But, future incarnations of Vince were not to be. The market was changing, as was the emphasis on the bottom line. Trapped between these two realities, I guess there was no longer room for a creature like Beep at the table. The fact that all our eggs were in the Xbox basket, and our only game was a wacky little closet hit didn't help when it came to finding a new publisher. The Vince team went their separate ways in 2003, and all but one of my former business partners left the game industry altogether. Two of them are now farmers. I enjoyed my foray into casual games, but I missed that experience of working on something substantial and that particular type of intense teamwork that comes with larger projects.

The good news is, there will be that next big thing, it will just happen under a different roof. I recently accepted a job with a great game studio here in the Seattle area. I'm really excited about it and am looking forward to working on awesome, original games again. I'll post what information I can once things gets rolling there.

I want to heartily thank all the former Beepsters, both pre and post Vince era for their incredible efforts, talent and friendship. I also want to thank the fans of Voodoo Vince who have created a small, but vibrant community around the game. Their enthusiasm and devotion has been a real highlight for me the last few years.


ps: Don't worry -- Ton of Clay will continue to serve as my mental laundry service and dumping ground for pointless, long-winded memories.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

TA-ncient History #9: A New Cave

Okay. Before I get into the whole E3 thing I had some other odds and ends to cover...

The months leading up to E3 in 1997 were what you'd expect. For the first year of work on Total Annihilation I averaged 65 hour work weeks, but this soon went to 75. 80 and 100 hour weeks were common. This isn't a big deal to anyone who has worked in games. This was universal with the whole team on Total Annihilation. It's fair to say that most of the game was created in one type of crunch mode or another.

A screen from June of 1997. This was the last iteration before the look of the UI was finalized.

Features were flying in and my old temporary art was replaced at a steady clip thanks to our ever-growing art team. Units were in decent shape. Clay Corbisier, Mike Fisher and Keven Pun had been making them for almost year at this point. But I was still doing all the background and interface art.

An early, cheesy pass at the mission briefing screen. My layout would remain about the same, though the color and texture was much better in the final version.

By the spring of 1997 we finally added a few background artists and things picked up there as well. Artists John Baron and Mark West started with Bryce template files I supplied, but added plenty of their own ideas along the way. John came up with a handy Photoshop action file which aligned the height map to the rendered images more or less automatically. I was using a crude system with registration marks and basic eyeballing before this came along. Steve Thompson and Casey Burpee rendered a lot of trees, rocks and other planetary decor items.

Help with the background art came along a bit too late. We were barely able to create the custom maps needed for the missions, leaving very little time for modular map sections. This is why there are so many oddball chunks of terrain in the original Total Annihilation map editor. We did a better job planning the map assets for Core Contingency and Kingdoms, but I always wish we'd done more modular, reusable map segments for the original TA. Then again, there are tons of great tilesets thanks to the 3rd party community.

The biggest big change in early 1997 was to our workspace itself. Until then, the Total Annihilation team was scattered throughout the building occupied by Humongous Entertainment. Humongous went through a number of dramatic growth spurts over the years, and the company filled a series of rambling, segmented spaces at the Woodinville West business park as they took over more and more of the building. Except for a few of the programmers, most team members were sprinkled in ones and twos throughout the premises.

The Total Annihilation team was working in nooks and crannies throughout building A.

All this changed when Humongous nabbed yet another suite in building B, across the parking lot. The Total Annihilation team was finally in one place. The air had a strange stank to it. The floors were always kind of springy, but at least we had a cave of our own. The previous tenant had left all their furniture months before and never returned, so most of us finally stopped working on the ubiquitous folding banquet tables that have supported countless computers in the game industry.

The TA team was eventually housed here in building B. A suite on the second floor (other side of the building) is where we finished TA and TA:CC.

A large space downstairs was occupied by an evangelical church whose weeknight activities often spilled into the lobby area. We would carefully tiptoe around groups of kids reciting bible lessons as we made our way back from dinner to continue work on a game about killer robots. The whole thing felt pretty surreal.

TA was no longer the only game in the works for Cavedog. Preproduction for Amen: The Awakening, was underway at yet another office park a few miles north in Canyon Park. Good & Evil was also in the works, only months after we started Total Annihilation. A flying shooter called Glider Wars had already been started and canceled before TA ever made its debut.

Before TA was out the door, Cavedog had all sorts of irons in the fire.

Humongous itself was doing great with its kid's titles and was outgrowing office space faster than it could be leased. The church was nice enough to lend Humongous it's space for its weekly company meeting since the company had grown to over 150 people by this point.

The new space had good and bad sides. It was great to have everybody in one place. I wasn't wearing out a pair of shoes every week just checking in with the art team, and it was easier to pull together for TA's last big push. This definitely helped to cement the team's identity. The down side was that we didn't feel as much a part of Humongous, or even the rest of Cavedog for that matter. I think the fact that Cavedog wasn't so much one company, as a collection of separate fiefdoms would prove harmful to its long term success.

I was no longer sharing a dank little room with Chris, but there was almost no time for the spontaneous brainstorming that characterized our first year on Total Annihilation. We were both managing more people and the game had to get out the door. Working on TA at this point was less about chemistry, and more about just surviving.

The project had plenty of momentum by the middle of 1997. Once we got through E3 it would be time for the final stretch.

Ok... Next up, I'll really talk about E3. Really.


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Fun With Sculpy Chapter 2: Tombstone Serenade

After dealing with RL fun for the last couple of months, it's nice to get back to something meaningful, like posting time wasting diversions on this blog.

Yes, I slowly made my way through the process of finishing the Vince statue I mentioned here 30 or 40 years ago (above). Below is how the statue looked with after the basic sculpting was done. I used some mineral oil to give some surfaces a smoother, more finished look, though the piece is still covered with finger marks and crude details that a better sculptor might have refined and improved. I shoved this in the oven and baked at 275 degrees per quarter inch of Sculpy. The polymer doesn't change much in appearance after it is baked, though it seems to lighten a bit.

Now that the Sculpy was hardened into a plastic-like substance, I broke out my aging liquid acrylic paints. I didn't really have a strong vision for a color scheme, so I went with some basic, unimaginative hues. I did a couple coats of the base colors, then did a couple more coats of dry brush work to give things like the tombstone a bit more texture.

I should have used the macro setting, but here is a fuzzy detail of the flipside of the tombstone.

And that's it. I finally got that sculpting bug out of my system. I did another piece while I was producing this one, but I want it to be a surprise for its recipient. I'll post pics of that one once I ship it and the deed is done.