Archive for the ‘war stories’ Category

The painstaking, hyper-granular process behind Amazon’s artful Undone

July 16th, 2020

Shot by Justin Wolfson, edited by Jeremy Smolik. Click here for transcript.

Let us be the 47th outlet to say it: Nothing else on TV or streaming looks like Undone. Amazon Prime's animated time-bending sci-fi series centers on a woman named Alma (played by Rosa Salazar, of Alita fame) who suffers an accident that changes her relationship to the world. And as Alma deals with that in-progress 180, she attempts to investigate the mysterious death of her father (played by Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul). The story... well, better to say less and avoid spoilers for any soon-to-be viewers.

Undone's style, however, deserves all the words one can devote. If you heard of the show before, it's likely because it represents the first major streaming series to be done entirely in rotoscope, an animation technique where artists paint over live actors using a variety of methods and styles. (Maybe you've seen the campus shooting documentary Tower or Richard Linkliter's Waking Life; that's rotoscoping in action.) Rotoscoped work can be dreamy,  museum-like, nightmarish, disjointed, or other-worldly—sometimes all at once. In other words, it might be the perfect creative visual choice for a show like Undone. 

Credit for executing this vision goes to a trio of production companies behind the scenes: Tornante in Southern California, Submarine Productions in Amsterdam, and Minnow Mountain in Austin, Texas. If that kind of globe-spanning collaboration doesn't already say it, we will: the process was complicated. But you don't have to take it from us, since Undone director and production designer Hisko Hulsing kindly sat down for our latest entertainment episode of "War Stories" and outlined the laborious process that makes the show seem so effortlessly beautiful to all of us watching at home.

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An extended interview with Star Control creators Fred Ford & Paul Reiche III

July 7th, 2020

Directed by Sean Dacanay, edited by Marcus Niehaus. Click here for transcript.

In December of 2018, Ars was lucky enough to sit down with Fred Ford and Paul Reiche III—a pair of designers who have worked on a ton of amazing games but who are probably known best by geeks of a certain age as the creators of the Star Control series. Paul and Fred (one quickly begins referring to them with a single mashed-together word that kind of sounds like "paulnfred") were extraordinarily generous with their time, hauling out box after box of vintage game design documents, piles of meticulously folded maps and charts, notebooks full of sketches and UX concepts—a treasure trove of Star Control.

As with all of our "War Stories" videos, we had to edit down a few hours' worth of footage into a 10-to-15-ish minute video—that seems to be about the limit that most folks will tolerate when it comes to game design videos on YouTube. And as with all of our "War Stories" videos, we had a huge amount of great footage left over when we were done.

We used a few minutes of that footage to create a second video, titled "Six Degrees of Star Control." As we were discussing the genesis of Star Control, we found a lot of famous and soon-to-be-famous space game designers in the late '80s and early '90s crossed paths quite frequently, and Paul and Fred worked with a lot of big names. This includes folks like Starflight's Greg Johnson, Dungeons and Dragons artist Erol Otis, and Star Wars concept designer Ian McCaig.

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Boomshakalaka: How the original NBA Jam caught fire through chaos

June 16th, 2020

Directed by Justin Wolfson, edited by Aulistar Mark and Jeremy Smolik. Click here for transcript.

How did NBA Jam overcome a rocky launch and become one of the arcade era's all-time biggest hits? How did its developers move past a serious "digitization" screw-up? And where's the legendary original version featuring Michael Jordan and Ken Griffey, Jr?

On the eve of NBA Jam's latest home release—this time as an Arcade1Up cabinet (Best Buy, Walmart) featuring the series' first three arcade versions—we asked series lead programmer and designer Mark Turmell to join us from his home to answer these questions and more. The result is our most "on-fire" War Stories video yet, complete with original development footage provided by Turmell himself.

“Geeking out on digitized graphics”

As he explains in our interview, Turmell's game development history began with early consoles and home computers before he "shifted to the coin-op business" in 1989 with Williams, a Chicago arcade game and pinball manufacturer. (Two years later, the company's arcade division was re-branded "Midway," since Williams had bought Bally/Midway in 1988.) Shortly after his hire, the company began focusing on a trend that would eventually define many of its hits: "We were geeking out on the digitized graphics concept, the new technology, if you will," Turmell says.

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War Stories: Alan Wake’s transformation emerged from a two-month “sauna”

May 14th, 2020

Video directed by Justin Wolfson, edited by Shandor Garrison. Transcript still processing—check back in a few hours.

In 2005, the Finnish game studio Remedy Entertainment was stuck. Its members had been riding high on two mega-smash Max Payne games in a row, but they'd decided to drastically change course with their next series, Alan Wake.

The resulting pitch was ambitious: an open-world, free-roaming adventure with a complicated day/night cycle. But after putting together a flashy demo and landing a publisher in Microsoft, the folks at Remedy had to be honest with themselves: their next game wasn't looking good. Lead writer Sam Lake puts it frankly: "For a long while, we didn't have anything."

A metaphor “for the whole team’s struggle”

In our latest War Stories video feature, embedded above, Lake describes how Alan Wake was born from the studio's desire to distance itself from the rigid structure of its Max Payne games while still making room for the studio's "cinematic" flair. The team eventually pulled it off—we said as much in 2010—but while some of the big ideas from the original pitch survived, many did not.

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How Netflix’s Extraction engineered a 12-minute, one-shot action sequence

April 28th, 2020

Directed by Justin Wolfson, edited by Patrick Biesemans. Shot by Sam Hargrave. Transcript coming soon.

When Joe Russo (of Russo brothers fame) was casting about for just the right person to direct his action thriller Extraction, he opted for a nontraditional choice: Sam Hargrave, a stunt coordinator who had been itching to try his hand at directing.

Granted, it's not the first time a stunt coordinator has made the transition to behind the camera. Chad Stahelski, director of the John Wick franchise, was a former stunt choreographer who worked with Keanu Reeves on The Matrix movies. Hargrave's stunt work has been featured in Avengers: End Game and Captain America: Civil War, for example, as well as The Hunger Games franchise and Atomic Blonde. And like Stahelski, he brought that stuntman's sensibility to the challenge of directing the action-packed Extraction.

"For me, action is a way to tell a story in a dynamic way," says Hargrave. "And if you're not able to see what's happening, if you're not able to experience it as the characters do, then you're missing a lot of the impact of the moment." 

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An extended interview with Homeworld designer Rob Cunningham

April 21st, 2020

Video shot by Justin Wolfson, edited by Aulistar Mark. Transcript coming soon.

You guys have been very vocal in your feedback (thanks to everyone who's taken the time to e-mail!), and we've heard you: you want more War Stories extended interviews, and we're gonna give them to you. So we're happy to present our extended multi-hour chat with Relic's (and now Blackbird Interactive's) Rob Cunningham, co-designer of Homeworld, the great granddaddy of space-based RTS games.

Even if you're not a huge Homeworld fan, Rob's interview contains some wonderful hidden gems—there are lessons here for contemporary game designers, but also for historical observers interested in how game design worked in the late 1990s. Like so many genre-defining titles, it's a game that nearly didn't happen because it was almost too hard to create; the challenge of 3D navigation almost sunk the entire project.

We have several more of these extended interviews in various stages of production—including the long version of our chat with Dead Space's Glen Schofield and Star Control creators Fred Ford and Paul Reiche. Stay tuned!

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War Stories: How Homeworld brought the third dimension to real-time strategy

April 7th, 2020

Video shot by Justin Wolfson, edited by Aulistar Mark. Click here for transcript.

We've gone in-depth on the complexity of real-time strategy with a past War Stories episode—one featuring Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun and focusing on the complexity of pathfinding—but classic space strategy title Homeworld is a bird of another color entirely. Its creation in the late '90s was a drawn-out process that required years of crunch time and repeated requests for additional funding from the publisher—but as any gamer who lived through its release can tell you, the results were spectacular.

Homeworld is one of the most famous examples of the genre, not necessarily because it was the first RTS to move the battleground into space—though it did indeed do that, and well—but because the game's implementation of unit-level combat in a 3D playing field was so well done that the UX and game mechanics fade into the background. Zooming in and out of the game's sensor manager map is a slick experience that manages to pull back your view without pulling you out of the game, and even if wrangling your little spaceships did eventually get awkward late in the game, the interface itself feels like the right kind of interface.

Do more with more

So when we sat down with Relic co-founder and Homeworld designer Rob Cunningham, it was a bit surprising to learn that from his perspective the Homeworld we got in 1999 was less a refined and polished set of ideas and more like a minimum-viable proof-of-concept—what Rob describes as a series of sketches rather than full paintings. The small team, buoyed by Sierra's publishing dollars, pulled together an iconic game and invented new gameplay systems more or less by the seat of their pants, finalizing working concepts without really having the chance to iterate and refine them. Even during a development cycle that took three times as long as originally planned, there just wasn't time to do anything more.

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An extended interview with Crash Bandicoot designer Andy Gavin

March 26th, 2020

Video shot by Sean Dacanay, edited by Jeremy Smolik. Transcript is still processing and should be ready within the next 24 hours.

A few weeks back (which at this point seems like a trillion years ago) we published our "War Stories" interview with Naughty Dog's Andy Gavin, wherein he spilled some fascinating details on the technical tightrope walk necessary to bring Crash Bandicoot to life on the original Playstation. As you might expect, Andy gave us way more info than we could reasonably cram into a short amount of time—he's a brilliant guy with lots of brilliant stories, and it'd be a shame for them not to see the light of day.

Therefore, we've tapped Andy's interview to be the third in our series of "extended" interview videos. We previously published extended chats with Oddworld's Lorne Lanning and Myst's Rand Miller, and Andy's conversation makes a great addition to the collection.

We've heard comments from readers that these extended interviews make for great podcast material, too—they're hosted on YouTube, but the primary draw is the audio component, so if you're stuck at home doing something that doesn't require your full attention, this might be a good thing to toss on in the background to accompany your day. We're planning on running several more of these in the next couple of weeks, too, so stay tuned for even more extended interviews. (The one I'm most looking forward to is our extended chat with Star Control creators Fred Ford and Paul Reiche, which I believe is next in the queue!)

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War Stories: How Prince of Persia slew the Apple II’s memory limitations

March 17th, 2020

We're resurfacing our Prince of Persia war story from last month to coincide with the release of PoP creator Jordan Mechner's book, The Making of Prince of Persia. If you missed the video last month, here's another chance to give it a look! And if you're interested in picking up a copy of Mechner's book, there's a link at the bottom of the piece.

Video shot by Justin Wolfson, edited by Parker Dixon. Click here for transcript.

I remember a lot of things about the summer of 1991 (like sneaking into the theater to watch Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead because my parents absolutely did not approve of movies that so clearly showed teenage disrespect for authority), but the thing I remember most about that summer is spending countless sun-dappled afternoon hours staring at a rotoscoped little dude on my computer screen as he died a million deaths. Sometimes he'd fall. Sometimes he'd be impaled by spikes. Sometimes he'd be chomped in half by giant steel jaws. And sometimes he'd collapse into a bleeding pile after crossing swords with pixellated bad guys.

It was, for me, the summer of Prince of Persia—and I was completely entranced.

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Stuck at home? Binge on some “War Stories” gaming videos!

March 16th, 2020
These violent delights have violent ends—also these guys make awesome games.

Enlarge / These violent delights have violent ends—also these guys make awesome games.

If you're stuck at home looking for distractions to take your mind off of COVID-19—or if you've realized that you don't actually have to pay attention to your department's snooze-inducing staff meeting and you'd rather not watch your boss try and fail for twenty solid minutes to get WebEx desktop sharing to work—I've got a humble suggestion: how about watching some of our "War Stories" videos on game-design challenges?

We started "War Stories" a couple of years ago with the idea being that we'd sit down with some brilliant game designers and get them to describe to us a moment in their work when it felt like they had run up against an unsolvable (or nearly unsolvable) problem, and how they eventually overcame that problem. Over the years we've heard some fascinating tales of programming derring-do from some fascinating folks—people like Sid Meier (Civilization), Paul Neurath (Thief: The Dark Project), Glen Schofield (Dead Space) and even Lord British himself, Richard Garriott (Ultima Online).

(The series is also in active production, and there are two new episodes nearly finished—including one that we'll be publishing tomorrow about a certain rotoscoped prince, and one coming soon about a certain neuroscientist named "Karan.")

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