Friday, September 01, 2006

TA-ncient History #1: Pixel People

I went to work in May of 1996 at Humongous Entertainment. I was hired to be the lead artist on something called Really Cool Wargame. For the first six months I shared a tiny, stuffy room with project lead and creator, Chris Taylor. That was a great time. By the time we finished preproduction we had concocted the Cavedog Entertainment brand to set our dark, explodey game apart from Humongous Entertainment's delightful family fare. The game was also given its final name, Total Annihilation.

Total Annihilation is pretty well known for its polygonal buildings and units, but in the summer of 1996 we were building a game that only had polygonal vehicles. We fully expected to use 2D sprites for buildings and human characters (yes, humans). Here is the sole surviving composite of Total Annihilation in its infancy, dating from June of 1996.

Copyright 1996 Humongous Entertainment

It's pretty silly, but keep in mind that one month before this the game consisted of a day-glo green mesh on a blue background and an untextured 20 polygon tank. The Commander is the big silly muscle guy beneath the placeholder, um... I'll say airplane factory. His strange appearance can be explained by an early version of TA's backstory, but I'll save that for a later post.

Once we were allowed to raise our minimum spec to a mighty Pentium 90 and a huge (though still laughable) 16 megs of RAM, we did some tests and decided to go all-polygonal for anything that moved in the game. The Pixel People were thankfully banished to the scrapheap of things that might have been. The rest is gaming history.

I have an immense trove of TA and Cavedog related memorabilia. I plan to display some of it on this blog. My mouldering heap includes concept art, original drafts of a couple different backstories, storyboards, early box mockups and loads of other strange stuff. So, stay tuned for more obscure crap than you can shake a D-Gun at.



Nexus said...


I look forward to more.

george said...

Incredible!I ever wanted to see something like the TA design history!

Warlord Zsinj said...

Great googamooga.

I want to see more TA goodies!

Especially the concept art...

(... thoughts on Supreme Commander?)

Anonymous said...

Hiya, Clay!

Now that is funny to see. I like those mountains, actually. Very nice. It all looks very cozy, but I'm glad you decided to go all poly. :)

I have to applaud you on some very nicely done art in TA. Take it from someone who has been playing the game since 1997 and still hasn't gotten tired of looking at it. (I had a break from it for a few years, but I came back and I'm still playing it these, and relatively often, too.)

Applaud applaud. :)

I was also wondering, if I may ask, are you still involved in games these days?

Well, good post, I'll be looking forward to some more nosTAlgia (har har) soon. :)


James said...

Well, at least the trees made it into the final release.

Clayton Kauzlaric said...

Very true. This stuff later became the "green" tileset. Good thing the shower stall glass door water didn't.

CornCobMan said...

What is that big balloon thingy in the upper left corner?

Clayton Kauzlaric said...

That was a test object. We wanted to figure out how to handle shadows and placement of flying units, but never intended that to be a real part of the game. I just called it the Lead Balloon.

Shadowsage said...

Indeed. I would like to thank you and chris for a game that will live on in our computers for all of time, and even longer in our minds.

although i wonder where u could've went with those crazy humans...

Clayton Kauzlaric said...


The whole concept behind the humans was definitely crazy. It sort of falls into the "what the hell were we thinking?!?" category. I plan to post something about that version of the TA backstory story some time soon.

James said...

I was wondering why in the world you went with humans in Kingdoms. That engine really wasn't suited to anything non-robotic.

Although from reading your message board around that time you guys were definately up to something strange. Short staffed, overworked and too much caffene perhaps?

Clayton Kauzlaric said...

It's very true that we were wired on espresso drinks much of the time.

We knew that making critters and humans would be a challenge with that engine. Then again, we'd been making robots for two years at that point. A lot of us thought it would be an interesting way to push both the engine and our skills beyond what we'd done with TA.

Clayton Kauzlaric said...

Well, damn. I just noticed that Blogger piles up "non-member" posts in a little pile, expecting me to sort through them before publishing them on the site. I didn't see Gnug215's post until today (Oct. 3rd). Sorry.

Anyway, thanks a lot for all the kind words. Yes, I'm still working in games. I've been involved in some casual downloadable games for the PC. I'm also working on a prototype for a new project with a few friends. I sometimes make horrible cartoons for my pal Ron over at, though we've been pretty lazy lately.

"nosTAlgia?" Ouch.

Guttenaffe said...

been reading / watching the comics from for a while, all of them are prime example of the crap that has leaked into the game indy. The link to this comic ( ) from ron's blog sums it up best. Or Grumpy Gamer #9 (same general idea)

Guttenaffe said...

(yes I ment to continue teh type-o in the URL guessing you didn't want it on here?)

Oh and by-the-by get Ron to plug your blog. :) or not, deponds on how many monkey islands fans would show up ;)

Clayton Kauzlaric said...

I love that comic. It's funny (and terribly sad) because it's true.