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TheRaider.net Features Interviews The Collective
 
The Collective interview
by Gilles Verschuere - posted on April 24, 2003
 

LucasArts' Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb is being developed in collaboration with The Collective, Inc.

The Collective is a leading developer of interactive entertainment software and technology for console and computer platforms. They have so far created groundbreaking 3D action adventure games, including the critically acclaimed Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - The Fallen, and the Xbox title Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The interviewed team:
Jim Tso .... LucasArts Producer
Bob Donatucci .... Senior Environment Artist
Nick Parde .... Senior Level Designer
Fred Corchero .... Senior Character Scripter
Brian Horton .... Lead Artist
Paul Lee .... Senior Animator
David Kelvin .... Level Designer/Environment Artist

Official sites:
CollectiveStudios.com
EmperorsTomb.com
 

First of all, can you all introduce yourself and give us a bit of insight into your history in the gaming industry?

Bob: Hi, I’m Bob Donatucci and the Senior Environment Artist on Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb. I’ve been in the industry for over 10 years now. Breaking away from the traditional Architecture I studied in Canada and Rome Italy, I work at the Collective and have conceptualized and created Environments for such titles as 'Aeon Flux', 'Deep Space Nine: The Fallen', 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' and 'Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb'.

Nick: My name is Nick Parde and I am a Designer here at The Collective. Games I have worked on (besides Indy: ET), include: 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' (– The Collective, 2002), 'Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Fallen' (PC – The Collective, 2000) and 'Nerf Arena Blast' (PC – Visionary Media, 1999).

Fred: Hi there. The names Fred Corchero, the position on IJET is Combat Scripter\Designer. I’ve been in the industry for nearly a decade and I’m still kickin.

David: I'm David. I've been around for a few years. I've made some games.

Brian: My name is Brian Horton, I’ve been in the industry for 9 years and have worked at Disney Interactive, DreamWorks Interactive/EA and my home is now at the Collective. I have shipped about 9 games and I was the Lead artist for the last two, Clive Barker’s 'Undying' and 'Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb'.

Paul: Paul (Grim) Lee; animator -- I started out as a level designer. Then moved on to making 3D character models and general 3D work. Then ended up specializing in 3D animation when I arrived at the Collective.

How did you all react when you found out that LucasArts wanted you to create their next Indiana Jones game?

Bob: I think I rubbed my chin and mumble something like "And the museum, the museum gets the Ark when we're finished?"

Nick: I was very excited, as I would consider myself a big fan of the films, because I could see the huge potential in having us develop an action game based on Indiana Jones, especially if we kept the combat similar to how it was handled in Buffy (which we did).

Fred: I felt as if the camera came on and someone shouted, "Action!"

David: I joined the project later on, but I know The Collective were pleased.

Brian: I joined this company because of it. I was the first member of the team and I couldn’t be more excited to work on what has been my favorite movie series of all time.

Paul: Yo Bammm!!!

How many times did you watch the Indiana Jones trilogy during the production of "Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb"?

click to enlarge
Indy in Tux concept art.

Bob: I was already extremely familiar with the trilogy well before this project, having seen each of these movies dozens of times. I suspect I’ve seen 'Raiders' close to 100 times for sure. But during production I suppose I must have watched the trilogy a least another half dozen times… sometimes analyzing particular parts and other times just enjoying the ride.

Nick: I personally only watched the films a couple of times during production, but I know many of the members of the team watched them many times.

Fred: Just once all the way through. I’ve seen it enough times prior to the project to have it in memory. Of course during the project I studied frame by frame, critical segments of Indy’s fighting style.

David: Bob hogged the tapes.

Brian: About 5-6 times.

Paul: Once.

What were your main source of inspiration apart from the Indiana Jones movies?

Bob: Architecture and Travel. The Environments were such that I really wanted to give them a richness they deserved. I found myself exploring works from the Romantic Age of Victorian Classicism and concentrating on the works of the Orientalism painters such as David Roberts who drew and painted many Egyptian ruins during a time when Europe was fascinated with exotic lands. I also dug through many of my own personal photos that I had taken over the years during my travels through Europe. A trip to 'Adventure Land' in Disneyland also aided in capturing the Ceylon mission, where I was able to get a lot of reference photos to keep in pace with the "Ruins in the Jungle" theme. While the internet also provided many examples of the 30’s era, I did in fact refer to TheRaider.net for it’s wonderful assemblage of Influence materials on Indiana Jones… Thank You… Along with a deep appreciation for old films and Architecture, perhaps one of my two favorite inspirations were for the Prague mission. For the interiors I wanted an ominous feel to the place that reflected the menacingly huge exterior, so I drew my inspiration from the lonely Castle "Xanadu" in 'Citizen Kane'… I even went to Hearst Castle just north of here to gather texture reference for some of the garish embellishment seen in Prague castle. For the Exterior I drew inspiration from the Canadian Parliament buildings (in Ottawa – which is where I’m from) which share the same period of Architectural construction….those who are familiar with the main center block of these building will notice the muse of it’s Peace Tower.

Nick: Previous action/adventure games mostly.

Fred: My main inspiration from non-Indy sources were old action movies that were created before the current martial arts trend. The 80s we’re the golden age of movie brawling. Schwarzenegger in 'Commando' is a prime example of a similar brawling style.

David: Mostly Chinese culture.

Brian: Golden age illustrators like Dead Cornwell, and Howard Pyle were constantly on my mind when I was designing the characters. Classic Disney films were my inspiration for the environments. Strong colors palettes that establish mood and emotion.

Which is your favorite Indiana Jones film?

Bob: 'Raiders'… "Nothing else comes close"

Nick: 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' (the original, and still the best!!)

Fred: Hands down, 'Temple of Doom'. My favorite scene of all the movies is when Indy enters the mine where the children are captive near the end of the movie. All you hear is a couple of meaty "thwacks!" before a guard goes sliding past the camera. For some reason that scene sings to me.

David: 'Raiders'…

Brian: 'Raiders' by far, it has everything I like about the series.

Paul: 'Temple of Doom'

Bob, I have read somewhere that you have a nice collection of Indy memorable. Did having such a collection help in creating this game?

Bob: Without a doubt, having such a huge number of books and images helped me and the rest of the art department… I always knew it would come in handy some day.

'Emperor’s Tomb' features The Collective's proprietary 3D engine that was also used for 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'. How much alike are 'Emperor’s Tomb' and 'Vampire Slayer'?

Nick: Really, the only similarities that Buffy and Indy share, in gameplay, are the hand-to-hand combat engine. Even that had been hand tailored to suit a more "Indy-like" fighting style

How much was Lucasfilm involved in the development of the story/game content?

Jim Tso: Lucasfilm read the initial story concept and approved it.

What was the most difficult aspect of creating the most convincing Indy possible?

click to enlarge
The streets of Hong
Kong, chase location.

Fred: For me the most difficult aspect had to be setting up his combat moves while being true to Indy’s particular fighting style.

Brian: Maintaining the high action pace of the films was a huge challenge, especially the chase sequences. Essentially our engine was geared toward 3rd person combat and navigation since it was built for 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'. This was a fantastic foundation for us to work with, but we did not have the tools we needed to recreate the signature chase sequences. We spent many months adding the chase tech to our engine to accommodate these sequences. It was very challenging, but we’re happy with the results.

Did you use real people their faces to model for the other key characters in the game?

click to enlarge
Mei Ying concept art.

Brian: Most of the characters in 'Emperor’s Tomb' were created from scratch, so we’d make maquettes for the main characters like Von Beck, Mei Ying, and Marshall Kai. Characters like Wu Han were created looking at photographs and reconstructing the look of his face with photo source and painting. I didn’t have any good shots of him so it was mostly a painting job. Indy was a combination of photo source and painting as well, I didn’t want a lot of lighting in the texture map since the model was so detailed. Every other character was created from scratch, mostly painted with some photo source to keep the style consistent.

The movement of the characters in 'Emperor's Tomb' is very smooth and realistic. A big improvement compared to 'Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine'. How did you achieve that?

Fred: Teamwork. Paul Lee did amazing work on the animation side while I scripted and tweaked each individual move. Through designing the mechanics and implementation, a harmony was achieved that now resonates in the finished game.

Paul: A lot of revisions were required to build visual-credibility. Animations looked a lot different from the program that we've used. Therefore, some hacks and a lot of exaggerations had to be incorporated into the animations.

A detail that everybody loves is the way that Indy can loose his fedora in combat and can pick it up again. Who's idea was that?

Fred: I’m not actually sure whose idea it was originally though I do agree that the overall effect was pretty fun.

What does a Environment Artist do exactly and how is the relationship between an Environment Artist and a Level Designer?

click to enlarge
Building Istanbul.

Bob: Both Environment Artists and Level Designers are involved with the creation of Levels. The relationship between EA and LD is crucial to the success of any map. Where the EA concentrates on the visuals, the LD concentrates on the actual gameplay of the mission. The efforts of both EA and LD will in fact have an impact the other.

An Environment Artist is in many ways a sort of Level Designer. What sets him apart from the LD is that he concentrates primarily of the Aesthetics.
He is responsible for the early concepts (dictated by the story and mission plan), the general layout (working closely with the LD) and then all of the Textures (creation and application), Detailed sections, Embellishment, Lighting, Fog, and much of the FX such as Fire and Waterfalls. Anything Art related is for the EA.

The LD deals primarily with the actual game play such as Mechanics, Enemy placement, Character AI, Tweaking jump distances, Collision, Movers, etc… Anything Gameplay related is the job of the LD. That said, the LD also pays close attention to the look of the map to ensure it’s visual appeal and will address these issues at times along the way.

There is in fact a lot of overlap here and the rapport between EA and LD can be very intense and rewarding.

To what extent did the locations need to be researched. Or were they mainly plucked form the designers imaginations?

Bob: Each and every Location in IJET was thoroughly researched. Even relevant paintings, sculptures, items, and terrain were carefully considered after extensive research to ensure a certain degree of authenticity. We even got some of the Chinese programmers here to make sure that our Chinese signage in Hong Kong was actually correct.

Can you explain which steps need to be taken to build a level, beginning from ideas to a completely finished location?

click to enlarge
Possessed Traid Grunt.

Bob: Each level begins with research material (images, photos, films).
Then Landmark illustrations are created to get a mood and atmosphere for the level.
Then a layout for the level is drawn out identifying the main areas of focus (puzzles, brawls, traps, navigation, and celebrated spaces).
Then Concept drawings and sketches are made to flesh out the design.
Texture sets are created in the flavor of the level.
The Level is then blocked out and slowly evolves while being handled by the LD and EA… back and forth.
Gameplay and Aesthetics is the main importance.
While the Gameplay evolves, the Textures, Lighting and FX are brought into the mix.
Collision is checked by the LD and the Level is optimized.
It goes something like that.

How difficult is it to build a location for a fast-paced game that must also contain a fair amount of puzzle’s and traps?

Nick: Not too difficult. The hardest part is trying to keep the game fair to the player (as much as possible) while still keeping the game interesting so the player wants to continue to play, and see the next sections.

Which of the 10 locations was the most difficult and/or fun to design?

Bob: I have to say that there is a lot going on in Prague than most people realize… It was a great challenge and a level dear to my heart.

Nick: I had a lot of fun working on the Ceylon levels. They were used as a training area, of sorts, but I think they had a lot of varied gameplay in them, and had a definite "lost in the depths of a jungle" feel to them.

David: The Netherworld was probably the most fun. As for difficult, I suppose the Emperor's Tomb itself. History assumes what might be buried with Qin, so the challenge was to create something that borderline fantasy and actual Chinese history. I think the result is a nice melange.

Which of the levels is your favorite and why?

click to enlarge
Prague under
construction.

Bob: In the early days of IJET we discussed many possible locations. I had always wanted to see Indy in a more European setting like Prague. I really pushed for this location and was so happy to have it in the game. It was a wonderful locale because it had a colder feel than the Asian locales. By existing in cool blue washes, it really accentuated the beautiful warm reds, and gold tones of the Orient in latter levels.

Nick: I think the Prague mission is my favorite, mostly because of the "grand" feel of the castle, and the feeling that Indy is sneaking around, trying to find these items to solve this large puzzle that ties it all together. All the missions, though, have their own "unique" feel, and are fun/interesting in their own way.

Fred: I’m partial to the Hong Kong bar fight. This level gave a good old fashion bar brawl… with kung fu.

David: Ceylon. It truly feels like the opening of 'Raiders'...

Were there any ideas for the game that didn't make it in the end?

Jim Tso: Originally, Abner Ravenwood was going to be in the game as a partner for Indy but it proved to be too unwieldy.

Were there any thoughts of making a multiplayer version of the game? Although everyone would want to be indy!

Jim Tso: No, it was always intended as a single player game.

Are there any in-jokes hidden in 'Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb' you can hint us about?

click to enlarge
Terracota Soldier.

Bob: “No Ticket”

Nick: Ummmm….there’re secrets? :P

Fred: … … ::grin:: No comment!

David: I knew we were forgetting something...

Whom of you wore a Fedora during the production of the game?

Bob: Me.

Fred: Bob. Or as I have come to know him by, Encyclopedia Indiana.

David: Elvis.

Which of the older Indiana Jones video games is your favorite?

Bob: 'Temple of Doom' Coin-op… I loved that midi soundtrack.

Nick: 'Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis' (boo-yay!)

Fred: I love the old 'Temple of Doom' game though it’s been years since I’ve reveled in that wonderful midi soundtrack.

David: The old coin-op Temple of Doom, of course.

Brian: 'Indiana Jones’ Greatest Adventures' for SNES, I just picked it up and it rules!

Thank you all for spending time with us. We wish you all the best.

Bob: “Fortune and Glory”

Nick: Sure, no problem.

Fred: No sweat. Catch ya later!

Paul: Wurd.

 
 
TheRaider.net would like to thank everybody at The Collective and LucasArts for this interview. Especially Bob Donatucci, his 5 Emperor's Tomb partners and Jim Tso for taking time out and spending it with us.

 

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