Summary of Responsibilities –

  • Created animations for character sets and cinematics.
  • implemented slider controls for facial animation.

This is where it technically started, for me – this was the first project I’d worked on in the industry, that had been published.  By the time the game was finished, I think I had 20-30 minutes worth of in-game cinematics under my belt.  It was also a memorable experience, because I was given a surprising amount of responsibility and control, considering I had almost no experience at the time.
Some things you might not know, unless you worked on it –

Originally, the game’s protagonist was an unnamed ghost, a half-skeleton (upper body with the spine trailing off as a tail) with tattered rags hanging off its arms and torso.  On one hand this was a fun character, because it was creepy.  It was the sort of design you’d expect for an enemy – in fact I think it was re-used later as one – but then this was a game about a ghost possessing people.  On the other hand, those rags were quite frustrating to animate – there was no feasible way to bake a cloth simulation to the bones, so it all had to be animated in FK.  The rags did offer a neat oppurtunity – during the possession animations, I had made it so they would wrap around the victim…  too bad the transparent shader made the ghost extremely difficult to see clearly.

Later, it was decided that the protagonist’s ghost needed to look more like his living counterpart.  Later still, the protagonist woul be completely redesigned, because up to that point he was just a generic soldier…  one we had taken to calling “Porn Star”, because of his mustache.  Porn Star did get a proper in-game send-off, though – when the first attack by the tentacle monster was pitched, I suggested we not only make the soldier’s face visible, but that it should be Porn Star who gets his head bitten off.

The tentacle monster cinematic was originally going to be pretty basic – a soldier walks across a bridge, gets yanked off-camera after a tentacle wraps around his neck, then the beast lowers into view so you can start shooting.  The folks from Nintendo were excited to see this scene during one of their visits… despite the scene having been pitched just a few days before.  They understandably couldn’t follow my crappy storyboards, so I was forced to rough out the animation as quickly as possible.  And by rough, I mean “almost shippable”…  they didn’t like to see truly rough animation.  This was especially frustrating, because the monster’s model was still being worked on.  Once the animation was ready, they wanted more – they wanted it to be bigger, scarier –

  • “What if instead of a tentacle, the soldier gets impaled by one of this thing’s legs?” I asked.   A good start, but they wanted more.
  • “He gets impaled by 3 legs?”   Still, they wanted more.
  • “He gets his head ripped off, on-camera?”  Still wasn’t enough.  Make it more violent!
  • “The monster latches onto his head, whips him around, and THEN rips his head off?!”   “Perfect!”
  • All told, this entire crazy cinematic came together in like 3 days, start to finish.  It wasn’t polished, but all the major beats were there.

Throughout the game, you’re aided by a little ghost-girl named Gigi.  That’s where her name came from:  G.G. – Ghost Girl.  She was also a rare case where I went above my pay-grade, to say nothing of my boss’ heads.  The situation was two-fold – I had wanted to impliment some slider controls to drive our characters’ face bones, so we wouldn’t need to animate them all by hand;  I also felt that Gigi needed to be able to at least as expressive as the other characters, since by this point she was become somewhat important to the story.  In both cases, my ideas were rejected, as there wasn’t enough time to experiment.  So I did them anyway, in my spare time, during my Christmas vacation – I increased the detail in Gigi’s face slightly, added a mouth interior, and then added the facial bones and controls.  When I returned to work, it all paid off – everyone loved Gigi’s expressions, but they especially loved the ease of the face controls, and that they could somewhat-easily be ported to the other characters.

Originally, Gigi wasn’t alone – there was also a ghost-boy who would pop up from time to time, who would lead you into ambushes.  There was also a ghost nun, though she was cut before her role went beyond “creepy thing in the distance”.  The ghost boy did end up in the game, with some tweaks – aged up slightly, he appears in a flashback as Gigi’s older brother, and again during the game’s ending.

Much of the staff was addicted to the Fensler G.I. Joe PSAs at the time.  When I was animating the scene where young Volks tries to resurrect his sister, I needed something to animate his chanting to… so I chose this Reggae bit.

There’s a throwaway line about mushrooms, at one point, from a pair of guards heading to the mess hall.  This is actually an in-joke – during the crunch-times toward the end of the production, or ahead of conventions, the studio had dinner catered.  This one catering company must have had an abundance of mushrooms they needed to get rid of, because used them in everything, to the point that most of use couldn’t stand the things anymore.

I’m not sure whose idea this was, but I knew it would get cut – at one point, you would be “directed” toward a female technician, who had the keys that would allow you to progress further.  You would be directed to her by possessing a secretary, afterwhich a flashback would show the technician is flirting with “you”.  The secretary freaked out at her friend’s advances, which in turn freaked out the technician (a reaction everyone got a kick out of)…  and would’ve give the player a chance to make up with her, before scaring the hell out of her and then possessing her.  Needless to say, Nintendo wasn’t too thrilled about the idea of one or both of these characters being lesbians.