Games what I done wroted

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Dragon
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Games what I done wroted

Post by Dragon »

So back at the beginning of recorded history (or at least around the year 2000) I used to work for a little game company called I-Imagine. They were a privately funded company and developed for the Xbox through the Xbox Incubator Program. They began early enough that at the time there were no Xboxes and the development kits were just similarly spec'd PCs. I arrived (fortunately) only after the real white/green debug/dev kits had been released; remember the Xbox was basically a PC in a box running a slightly modifed version of Windows NT with 64MB of RAM and a Pentium 3 CPU.

Anyway their first game (and the first published game I worked on) was Chase: Hollywood Stunt Driver; a game in which the player had to perform specific stunts on various movie sets.

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Chase was quite a lot of fun; even if development lagged a bit and it was already looking dated by the time it was released. Driving a giant articulated missile truck through chicken coops in a some random South American village was a blast. Sadly this stage wasn't released as it was decided it wasn't challenging (missile truck vs chickens: missile truck wins).

However Chase also had quite an interesting history: it's gameplay document was originally pitched to a company called Infogrames (who happened to own and subsequently re-brand themselves as Atari so, yeah, you know them). Atari stalled I-Imagine's development of Chase for about 6 months with positive comments but not concrete promises whilst they, as it transpired, began development with an in-house team on a stunt driving game. Stuntman by name. Stunman (with it's 90 man dev team) was released three months before Chase (where we were a team of 7) and so Chase rather than Stuntman is generally considered to be the ripoff.

Chase was also the first major game developed by a South African company and one of the only successful Xbox incubator games. Which makes what happened to I-Imagine even sadder. But I'll leave that as a topic for another post...
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Draxas
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Re: Games what I done wroted

Post by Draxas »

Chase actually sounds like a pretty fun game. If I actually had an original XBox I might be tempted to hunt up a copy.
Dragon wrote:However Chase also had quite an interesting history: it's gameplay document was originally pitched to a company called Infogrames (who happened to own and subsequently re-brand themselves as Atari so, yeah, you know them). Atari stalled I-Imagine's development of Chase for about 6 months with positive comments but not concrete promises whilst they, as it transpired, began development with an in-house team on a stunt driving game. Stuntman by name. Stunman (with it's 90 man dev team) was released three months before Chase (where we were a team of 7) and so Chase rather than Stuntman is generally considered to be the ripoff.
Now this is BS. Also sadly common in the industry, from what I've read; I think I've seen a similar story about a completely unrelated game getting shafted by Atari before. It's sad how many creatively bankrupt people work in an industry that is supposed to be all about creativity.
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Dragon
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Re: Games what I done wroted

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Draxas wrote:Now this is BS. Also sadly common in the industry, from what I've read; I think I've seen a similar story about a completely unrelated game getting shafted by Atari before. It's sad how many creatively bankrupt people work in an industry that is supposed to be all about creativity.
By reputation (and also from my experience) the games industry is a pretty nasty place to work - all sorts of dodgy practices go on. But this might not be a fair reputation as I have quite a lot of friends still working in game dev and they love it. Then again (anecdotally) there are too many people who want to work in game dev badly enough - or are inexperienced enough - that they're easy to exploit.

Also a couple of corrections: the Chase team was 10 people, I forgot two of the artists (sorry) and excluded the MD who was no longer really programming at that point. Stuntman was developed by Reflections who specialise in driving games - I'm unsure if Stuntman was original begun in-house or immediately pitched to Reflections.

Moving on. There was another team at I-Imagine - working on the GameBoy Advance. They completed (including localisation into 5 languages) the poorly named game D.A. Dork. For reasons I don't understand it was never published. This becomes important because following the release of Chase I was moved onto an internal project called D.A. Dork 3D targetting the GameCube. It was never a game or even more than a few rendered models - the GameCube was a terrible enough dev environment that the project was scrapped.

The lessons learned from the GameCube were taken to heart (don't build engines from scratch if you want to run a business) and I-Imagine moved to the middle-ware solution RenderWare; opening up development on the PS2 (another terrible dev environment). Shortly after, work on Chase 2 was begun and we succeeded in getting a car driving around a minimal stage. This still very much exploratory technical development and we were learning the foibles of RenderWare which was less platform independent than marketed. However in the wings we had an enormous project set to take on GTA3...
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RTyp06
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Re: Games what I done wroted

Post by RTyp06 »

So what specifically did you work on during that project? Is there anything in that game that you can point to and say "that was all me"?
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Dragon
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Re: Games what I done wroted

Post by Dragon »

RTyp06 wrote:So what specifically did you work on during that project? Is there anything in that game that you can point to and say "that was all me"?
I was the tools guy, generally speaking. I also wrote the game menus (including a rather nifty custom music playlist jobbie). But, no, very little code of mine made it onto store shelves.

I wrote the exporter and plugins for 3dsmax. I also wrote the conversion tool to take the exported data from 3dsmax and turn into into the format that RenderWare required.

Here's how it worked: artists want to be artistic, they want to model and texture and animate. They don't want to be bothered by lengthy export processes or scenes that look different in 3d studio to in-engine. So what I did is write various plugins emulated the in-game graphics engine. I wrote plugins to let the artists swap through different levels of vehicle damage for pieces of the vehicles; all nicely visible where the damage would appear in-game. Setup connections in breakable objects and how they would break (again including various levels of damage and models being swapped in and out). Setup checkpoints, stage boundaries, collision meshes (those irritating things that you drive into when it looks like you should fit between a pair of bollards but you can't). Setup hints for how stages should be cut-up for loading and streaming. Setup what parts of the stage are visible from other parts of the stage. Eventually it got to the point where cars and planes could be built complete with what would be linked to the game controller. For instance the steering wheels (and steering wheel) would all turn to the analogue stick position. Flaps and thrusters on planes could all be set to turn, rotate, move, emit flames/whatever bases on the controller inputs.

My favourite test vehicle (and one that hung around for years) was an 8 wheeler armoured moon truck thing that had incredibly bouncy suspension and every wheel drove and steered. Four wheels to a side: the first pair turned to 100% of input, the second to 50% the third to -50% and the last pair to -100% of input. In the stages designed for testing visibility (canyon types), and levels of detail (vast plains and mountains) driving it was a blast.

Whilst all the above might seem impressive and a lot of work (or not) what I'm truly proud of is the conversion process. It could take the - potentially - gigabyte stages from 3dsmax and optimise them, chop them up and convert them into chunks that could be loaded into the PS2s tiny memory. All whilst maintaining all the effects and gameplay cues that had been added in 3ds (whether or not 3ds should have been used as the gameplay/level editor instead of just used as a modeller is an entirely separate question).

Now back to all the games that the tools I wrote were used in...
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Dragon
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Re: Games what I done wroted

Post by Dragon »

Okay; so Chase had been released, I-Imagine had bought and relocated to a 3 story office block* and lined up it's next big project. That game was an open city driving game broken into territories or blocks - each run by a 'boss' driver. The gameplay was to complete side missions to get cash to buy better cars and upgrades so you could beat the boss drivers and take their territories from them. Not a bad concept but we crunched hard to get this out, which really wasn't necessary. I-Imagine was a success; Chase did extraordinarily well for a first release by an unknown developer.

Named, Driving for a Living: after about a years work it boasted a play area 3 times bigger than GTA3 - supposedly it's big selling point. It ran on the Xbox, PS2 and GameCube. And had it's first missions and bosses.

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I-Imagine pitched it as E3 and... no one wanted it. This shouldn't have been a problem, another years work and polishing and I-Imagine would have had a pretty decent full game; and that would have been much less risky for publishers.

Only not all was well in the company - now about 23 employees. The artists (and programmers to a lesser extent) were hired young, used hard and paid cheaply with the expectation they could be replaced when they burned out. But this was in South Africa and the there was no large pool of artists to hire from. I-Imagine now had all the talented artists in the country, and they were getting upset** and were not afraid to voice it. And at this point I think the higher ups started panicking.

I-Imagine now swung rapidly through a series of projects moving first to Chase 2.

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Another stunt driving game and the successor to Chase: Hollywood Stuntdriver. I may have mis-remembered but I think Chase's publisher asked that I-Imagine begin work immediately on the sequel to Chase but I-Imagine declined. So... actually I don't know what was happening.

Anyway Chase 2 got canned and we moved to a track style racing game based on the Champ Car franchise (kinda like Formula 1 but not really).

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Notably the cars had some truly awesome AI that did not cheat and was unbeatable when cranked to it's hardest setting. It never went anywhere so... moving on.

The movie remake: The Italian Job had just been released and this prompted a change back to Chase 2 but re-written with emphasis on night-time driving and lighting.

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This got scrapped in favour of Chase 2. Uh, sure I realise this isn't making sense any-more but it's what happened. The next Chase 2 introduced water physics and stunts on jet skis. With dinosaurs. This was actually a pretty awesome game and was basically completed. All the menus and player progression existed and there were even a couple of tutorial stages.

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Some of the stunts included avoiding a Tyranosaurous and ski-ing between brachisaurous' legs. Also a subteraean temple with fire traps and heaps of waterfalls - I forget what the player was supposed to do, by this time everything was starting to blur together. We were still in and out of crunch and I'd spent far to many mornings walking home into the rising sun.

Moving on.

I-Imagine was then approached by a publisher to do development on a police chase styled game. By this time the engine was pretty mature and even the PS2 could handle fast driving in densely packed stages.

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Whilst I think we delivered well, the game was nothing more than a track racer with only two cars and I'm guessing the publisher realised this and a deal was never struck.

And this brings me to the end of the list of projects that I-Imagine began and then... just didn't. Obviously few of the original employees who worked on Chase were left (just 2 of us?) and the atmosphere was pretty unhappy. But still I-Imagine had one last grand project left, and for a change, it wasn't strictly a driving game. But... more on that in the next post.

*Look the building was bought cheaply but we practically never filled more than a half of one floor.
**Lots were living with family or in communes to make ends meet and girlfriends and wives were starting to threaten they were leaving.
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Dabir
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Re: Games what I done wroted

Post by Dabir »

The Italian Job PC game by SCi was pretty much the tits even though the free-drive mode was clearly unfinished, with various stunt jumps and race tracks and hidden missions with no purpose at all. A game like that but with better driving and graphics would have been pretty sweet. (I expect such a thing exists but shut up).
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Re: Games what I done wroted

Post by Zeracles »

Dragon wrote:Whilst all the above might seem impressive and a lot of work
Very impressive! Hard work but the output looks gorgeous. I don't know which is most awesome: dinosaurs, roving on the moon or underground temples!
Dragon wrote:don't build engines from scratch if you want to run a business
Or if you want to meet a remake competition deadline ;)-smf
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Dragon
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Re: Games what I done wroted

Post by Dragon »

Zeracles wrote:Or if you want to meet a remake competition deadline ;)-smf
Uh, yeah... 'bout that... Hey! Look over there! *does a runner*.
Seriously though, I'm still working on it but whilst there is lots of activity on my GitHub account there's very little that would be of interest to anyone here. This time around I decided to rewrite the 3dsmax exporter to work with the beautiful new object database I wrote. But, ignoring whatever my latest insane plan is; let's move on once more and look at the last game I worked on as a salaried game developer.

Appropriately named Final Armada it was the final game developed by I-Imagine before they closed doors. It was a vehicle combat themed game set in vast alien landscapes. The core game-play mechanic was transforming drivable vehicles and command-able wingmen.

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I left I-Imagine before the completion of Final Armada but it was, in my opinion, fun and all the core mechanics were in. The demo/test stages I saw built were pretty imaginative and the game was well on it's way to being a contender.

And then... I don't know what happened. The game that I finally saw ship was awfully cut down and bland. The landscapes were bare and the combat was restricted. There used to be mother-ship that launched the vehicles and could be walked around in in 3rd person but it was just gone. There was so much talent wasted on this game that I don't know where to start, it should have been so much better than it's final PS2/PSP release.

And that was the end of I-Imagine. Oh, they've since resurrected but have gone from cutting edge console development with a team that had the talent to produce AAA titles to cell-phone games.

That's that, of all the projects started I can say that I did - at least work - on two released games.
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Draxas
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Re: Games what I done wroted

Post by Draxas »

Dragon wrote:Appropriately named Final Armada it was the final game developed by I-Imagine before they closed doors. It was a vehicle combat themed game set in vast alien landscapes. The core game-play mechanic was transforming drivable vehicles and command-able wingmen.
Between this and the first screenshot I was going to go and try to hunt up a copy... Until I read:
And then... I don't know what happened. The game that I finally saw ship was awfully cut down and bland. The landscapes were bare and the combat was restricted. There used to be mother-ship that launched the vehicles and could be walked around in in 3rd person but it was just gone. There was so much talent wasted on this game that I don't know where to start, it should have been so much better than it's final PS2/PSP release.
This. And that is a damn shame, because the game sounded like it could have been awesome.
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