Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Last Guardian

Wow! So what started as a simple tribute piece when the HD remake came out, turned into quite the artistic endeavor!

I've been asked "why Guardian Heroes" and that made me think about what this game means to me.

It's kind of funny now that I think about it but once again I remember going with my friend Carmine (see my "Game that got away" post) to buy this game. We went to FuncoLand which for those of you who may not know; started the whole used game selling and buying thing. At least to my knowledge. Now this was back in 95-96 I believe and I couldn't drive yet so we got a ride from my mom and we busted into the store. he picked up Doom for the Playstation, and I knew what I wanted: Guardian Heroes!

I remember seeing and article in Game Fan prior to the games release. It just captured my imagination. I was a huge fantasy buff (being the nerd I was). But outside of roleplaying games in those days finding ANYTHING fantasy in games was actually kind of difficult.

But this simply wasn't a high fantasy Tolkien retread, this had a style all its own. Anime was still new to me. I don't think I had even watched an Anime film at this point. So seeing this style was a breath of fresh air.

I popped it in once I got home, my older brother Chris (who I shared a bedroom with) was still sleeping as I had gone in the morning while my mom ran errands to pick it up. The opening cartoon struck me immediately, the music the characters, just the overall sense of adventure.

Starting the game I of course picked the warrior Han and started to play. I wrote about this a few posts back when I started this project (Undead Hero), but when the Undead Warrior finally makes his appearance at the end of the first stage I knew this game was something special. At this point Chris had woke up and when the UW screamed out even Chris was like: dude this game looks bad ass! Or something like that, cut me some slack it's been like 17 years!

Over the next weeks and months I played the game almost everyday. Trying play EVERY SINGLE path in the game (at the end of each level the game gives you a choice of where to go next). I even tried to chart the branching paths in my sketch book.

People always talk about getting lost in books or movies as a form of escapism, and that's what I think this game (among countless others) was for me. It was a bright vibrant world that although dangerous was one that I could succeed and triumph in. For a fat kid who got picked on in school, that was priceless.

Anyway. I still pull out Guardian Heroes from time to time (on my Sega Saturn) and play through it. I was REALLY excited when I found out that it was getting a re-release, but REALLY bummed when I found out that it was coming out only on the XBOX 360 (for now). But even more exciting is that I read that Treasure the company behind GH wants to do a proper sequel. I say proper because we're not going to count that shitty Gameboy Advance version.

So that's a long winded reason as to why I felt the need to pay tribute to this game. It's not as creative or inspiring to me as say OddWolrd, or Shadow of the Colossus. But it was a part of my life when I needed it most. I look back on the times I spent playing it by myself, and with my brothers very fondly. THAT alone makes it something special.

I hope you enjoy this piece as much as I enjoyed making it! I learned a lot while working on it and I'm pretty happy with how it turned out. The graphic design elements were inspired by one of my favorite contemporary artists Marko Djurdjevic who uses graphic design to great effect on a lot of his covers for Marvel.

"The Last Guardian (Hero)"

Monday, January 9, 2012

Race to the finish line!

I am soooo close to finishing! I'm excited, and I wish it was the weekend so I could just devote an entire day to to this but oh well.

Everything is modeled, textured and rigged! I just need to compose my scene, bring it into UDK, create the shaders, and render it out!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The game that got away...

It's 2am on a Tuesday morning. I have to be up for work at 8... but I can't sleep. I'm no stranger to insomnia, as I lay in bed my mind swirls to a million different directions; work, life, family, my pets, and on nights like tonight... the past.

I've been playing Strangers Wrath HD on the Playstation 3 which is an amazing game I recommend anyone with the system to play. However that's not what I'm up writing about.... but before I get to far ahead of myself let me back up.

In the summer of 1997 my friend Carmine and I went to the local mall with money to burn. He had an agenda, to buy Castlevania Symphony of the Night. I wasn't the biggest Castlevania fan at that point and knew little about the game (remember the internet wasn't what it is today). So I just went along to do some browsing. While he was paying for Castlevania I noticed Oddworld Abe's Oddysee. I was immediately drawn to it's box art.

The cool purple title, the awesome glyphs, and of course the weird character. I remember reading something about this game in a magazine but I knew next to nothing about it. I took a chance...

When I got home to play it I was immediately blown away by the cg opening. This was an era where even cg intros looked god-awful not to mention how bad the in game art normally looked in games. This was rivaling the stuff I had seen in Pixar films!

The game, I was pleasantly surprised looked just as amazing (in it's own way), but it also played great too! Like a mix of two of my favorite games, Out of this World, and Flashback. I was hooked and played through the game even going so far as to save all 99 Mudokens! No small feat as anyone who has played can tell you!

Time marched on, I played and loved Abe's Exxodus, I was there launch day to pick up Munch's Oddysee, and was blown away as to how far their cinematics had come! This time I was in college, going to school to learn how to make games for a living. It was around this time I became friends with Phill Gonzales. He saw me doodling an Abe head in my sketch book and remarked that OddWorld Inhabitants (makers of the game) were located not far from his home town in San Luis Obispo California.

Fast forward 2 years and we are on summer break about to start our senior year, looking to make connections and get our foot into the industry. Phill did something crazy and emailed OddWorld and inquired about a tour! I was shocked to find out they agreed to let us come up to SLO and check out the space! We also snagged a tour with Blizzard in LA through one of our professors, I was excited about Blizzard to be sure, but OddWorld? I was beside myself with anticipation.

We first went to Blizzard, after a hellish all-nighter driving from SLO to LA and failing to find an affordable motel, we TRIED to sleep in Phills car. No dice. So come morning we show up at Blizzards doorstep and get the dime tour. Now at the time this was pre World of Warcraft. The main team there had just finished WarCraft 3 and were on vacation. There was a skeleton crew around working on WOW and we got to check it out. Pretty cool, but the tour was over in about an hour and we were on our way. We were a little deflated, especially after our trek down there.

Well we pick ourselves up and did the unthinkable (and dangerous) we turned right around and drove back up to SLO on no sleep, after all the very next day we had a tour of OddWorld.

Once back at Phills house I immediately crashed into bed! I woke up the next morning fully rested and ready to check out what in my mind had become a place of legend.

We came up to off all places a ROSS (a discount clothing store). I was wondering if we had the right address, but then Phill pointed us in the right direction. Nestled in between Ross and another storefront was this ornate art-deco door that read: OddWorld Inhabitants. It turns out OddWorld Inhabitants is located ABOVE the ROSS. Talk about inconspicuous.

 Me, Pete, and Phill in front of Oddworlds Entrance AFTER the tour (note the bag of swag)

This blog is getting long, so I'll move on, but suffice to say we were greeted with open arms. Shown around the studio, got to talk to a bunch of people on the team, and although we didn't get to see their new game (unannounced at the time) Stranger's Wrath. I felt like I had come home. THIS is what I imagined game development to be like. Amazing people, and inspiring work place with artwork all over the place. I was in heaven. I collected business cards and were on our way. Phill and I were so inspired that we collaborated on a thank you piece to send them. We worked on it for a week or two after we got back to school, I'm told it was proudly hung on the wall of their community managers office.

I think Phill flattered me with huge muscles but it made for a comical picture

Phills amazing illustration far outshines my crude 3d and coloring abilities but we were proud nonetheless!

If I was obsessed before, now I was driven, determined to work there. If there is one thing I learned early on in school it was networking. I emailed politely from time to time as I worked toward graduating. Just to keep myself in their memory. Then one day 3 months prior to graduating I noticed a job opening on their site for a environment artist. The very same role I was aiming for in school. I knew I was still a semester away from graduating. So I emailed the head of HR and asked what they were looking for in candidates. It was framed purely as an academic inquiry as I had no intention of applying. Imagine my surprise when he asked if I'd be willing to take an art test.

Willing? I was waiting for this since the day I waked up to that art-deco door!

They sent me some guidelines and a piece of concept art:

While touring I had learned that they used the 3d program Maya, I was knowledgeable in a different 3d program called 3d studio max. I stupidly decided to tackle the test in Maya, and not my strong suite Max (I came across this same situation when testing for my position at Naughty Dog... I did the test in max this time!).  They gave me 5 days to complete the test. I barely slept in those 5 days, coffee and caffeine pills were my friends. Ultimately I came up with this:

I was not happy with it, but with 5 days in a program I had never used before it was all I could do... so with fingers crossed I sent it in.

I got the email back... that they weren't going to hire me... BUT their reasoning was that they had re-evaluated their art pipeline and decided they didn't need to hire any more artists. I'd like to believe this was the truth, but part of me feels like they were just being nice.

I was down but not out, I would try again someday. In the meantime I graduated and got my first game job in North Carolina. While there Strangers Wrath came out (the game I would have worked on). It was AMAZING. Once again stellar CG but the in game art, was even better than before, plus the game was fun AND original! I knew that they would be starting a new game soon and HAVE to be staffing up! I would have my shot again!

Only that never came. Not long after Strangers Wrath shipped it was announced that OddWorld Inhabitants was shutting down and ending game development. I was crushed, but time heals all wounds.... sort of

That fateful day I toured OddWorld was almost 10 years ago now. I've worked at a variety of studios, and even now I am happily employed at Retro Studios, owned by Nintendo, and responsible for the Metroid games!

Which brings me back to today; Playing Strangers Wrath again. Almost 7 years since it released. OddWorld is back... sort of. Instead of being made in California all OddWorld games are now being handled by a company called Just Add Water in the UK... I'm happy that OddWorld games are coming out again, it's sort of like seeing an old friend after many years in a weird way. New games are all well and good, but Stranger's Wrath? It is and always will be....

The game that got away.

In 2009 I decided to model some more OddWorld stuff just for fun:

The irony? I modeled it in Maya as practice for my then new job at Naughty Dog. :P

Postscript 2:
Phill now works for Blizzard on the StarCraft 2 team.