Sunday, September 10, 2006

TA-ncient History #.05: The Happy Layoff

This should have been the first post in the TA-ncient History series since these pictures predate that first TA screen by a few months. What we have here is one of those things you can chalk up to fate, coincidence, kismet, or whatever you choose to call blind stupid luck.

Before coming to work at Humongous Entertainment and hammering away on Really Cool War Game with Chris, I worked nearby at Squaresoft, Inc. in Redmond. That studio created Secret of Evermore for the SNES, but 16-bit consoles were on the way out. While our fate was being decided some of us worked on concepts for possible future titles. A small group of us started tossing around ideas for a real time strategy game. Warcraft 2 was a huge craze around the office and we were pretty thrilled about the notion of working on an RTS game.

The concept was tentatively called Alien Reign, which is ironic given how similar that is to Dark Reign, a much anticipated competitor to Total Annihilation. The concept never got past the early half-baked zygote stage, but some interesting things occurred along the way.

We were just ramping up on 3D at Squaresoft during the completion of Evermore, and I was interested in finding tools that would be simple and easy for artists to pick up and learn quickly. KPT Bryce seemed like it had possibilities. I also wanted a look that wasn't obviously made of tiles like most RTS games. I hoped our backgrounds could have larger pieces of nicely rendered terrain.

These pictures from March of 1996 are the result. I did the terrain. The buildings and robot were designed by our art director Daniel Dociu then modeled and rendered by Square's resident Alias guru Brad Clarkson.

This concept never went anywhere, but it helped get my brain in gear for what was to come. Some of the same factors would help my approach to building the art for Total Annihilation. The art crew at Square had little 3D experience -- most of the original TA crew had even less. Some had never worked in 3D at all. Accessible tools like Bryce and Lightwave helped make TA possible, and reasonably quick to produce.

This little thought experiment helped set the stage in more ways than that. Squaresoft laid us off and closed their Redmond office in the Spring of 1996. There were some very talented people looking for work, including our staff composer, Jeremy Soule. I doubt I would have given Humongous a shot if Jeremy hadn't encouraged me to check them out. Our presence there eventually helped to pull in other former Squaresoft folks, like programmers Bartosz Kijanka, Rick Saenz, Jeff Petkau (inspiration for the Jeffy) and artists John Baron, Rebecca Coffman, Jarrett Holderby and Peter Fries, all of whom contributed a lot to the Total Annihilation products. So, Squaresoft's loss was definitely TA's gain.

It's a small world. I was sitting in Redmond thinking up ways to incorporate 3D art into an RTS game. It turns out there was a guy just a couple miles away working on an engine for an RTS game with 3D height maps. Once those two thing met up, very good things started to happen.



Anonymous said...

Thank you for TA-ncient History, Clayton! I now realize there is so much I don't know :)


Clayton Kauzlaric said...

You're welcome!

DeltaBlast said...

Keep up the posting of these history lessons! :D

It's awesome reading how TA got started/made, and I'd love to see those early backstory drafts ^_^

I know there aren't many comments here, but your stuff is being read, I for one got linked here from a forum thread about these articles on :)

Clayton Kauzlaric said...

Thanks, deltablast.

I'm working on a post that deals with TA's backstory. I think the biggest delay there will be digging up all the visuals to go with it. Gotta have them purty pitchurs, y'know.

It may not be the next post, but I'll have it out here time soon.

Anonymous said...

This is one of the most interesting TA-related stuff I've read the last couple of months. I was actually quite shocked by your first TA-ncient History post, and since then I can't have enough.
Great stuff.

Peter said...

You know, I completely forgot about that stuff getting concepted at Squaresoft, and I sat in the next cubicle.

Clayton Kauzlaric said...

That's okay. I forgot who sat in the next cubicle. You are...?

Corncobman said...

You worked at Squaresoft? Wow.

Sorry you got laid off by them. No wait, I'm glad you got laid off by them. Well, you know what I mean. Probably.

James said...

That looks rather like the acid tileset. Just missing the gasbags.