Saturday, February 24, 2007

TA-ncient History #9: A New Cave

Okay. Before I get into the whole E3 thing I had some other odds and ends to cover...

The months leading up to E3 in 1997 were what you'd expect. For the first year of work on Total Annihilation I averaged 65 hour work weeks, but this soon went to 75. 80 and 100 hour weeks were common. This isn't a big deal to anyone who has worked in games. This was universal with the whole team on Total Annihilation. It's fair to say that most of the game was created in one type of crunch mode or another.

A screen from June of 1997. This was the last iteration before the look of the UI was finalized.

Features were flying in and my old temporary art was replaced at a steady clip thanks to our ever-growing art team. Units were in decent shape. Clay Corbisier, Mike Fisher and Keven Pun had been making them for almost year at this point. But I was still doing all the background and interface art.

An early, cheesy pass at the mission briefing screen. My layout would remain about the same, though the color and texture was much better in the final version.

By the spring of 1997 we finally added a few background artists and things picked up there as well. Artists John Baron and Mark West started with Bryce template files I supplied, but added plenty of their own ideas along the way. John came up with a handy Photoshop action file which aligned the height map to the rendered images more or less automatically. I was using a crude system with registration marks and basic eyeballing before this came along. Steve Thompson and Casey Burpee rendered a lot of trees, rocks and other planetary decor items.

Help with the background art came along a bit too late. We were barely able to create the custom maps needed for the missions, leaving very little time for modular map sections. This is why there are so many oddball chunks of terrain in the original Total Annihilation map editor. We did a better job planning the map assets for Core Contingency and Kingdoms, but I always wish we'd done more modular, reusable map segments for the original TA. Then again, there are tons of great tilesets thanks to the 3rd party community.

The biggest big change in early 1997 was to our workspace itself. Until then, the Total Annihilation team was scattered throughout the building occupied by Humongous Entertainment. Humongous went through a number of dramatic growth spurts over the years, and the company filled a series of rambling, segmented spaces at the Woodinville West business park as they took over more and more of the building. Except for a few of the programmers, most team members were sprinkled in ones and twos throughout the premises.

The Total Annihilation team was working in nooks and crannies throughout building A.

All this changed when Humongous nabbed yet another suite in building B, across the parking lot. The Total Annihilation team was finally in one place. The air had a strange stank to it. The floors were always kind of springy, but at least we had a cave of our own. The previous tenant had left all their furniture months before and never returned, so most of us finally stopped working on the ubiquitous folding banquet tables that have supported countless computers in the game industry.

The TA team was eventually housed here in building B. A suite on the second floor (other side of the building) is where we finished TA and TA:CC.

A large space downstairs was occupied by an evangelical church whose weeknight activities often spilled into the lobby area. We would carefully tiptoe around groups of kids reciting bible lessons as we made our way back from dinner to continue work on a game about killer robots. The whole thing felt pretty surreal.

TA was no longer the only game in the works for Cavedog. Preproduction for Amen: The Awakening, was underway at yet another office park a few miles north in Canyon Park. Good & Evil was also in the works, only months after we started Total Annihilation. A flying shooter called Glider Wars had already been started and canceled before TA ever made its debut.

Before TA was out the door, Cavedog had all sorts of irons in the fire.

Humongous itself was doing great with its kid's titles and was outgrowing office space faster than it could be leased. The church was nice enough to lend Humongous it's space for its weekly company meeting since the company had grown to over 150 people by this point.

The new space had good and bad sides. It was great to have everybody in one place. I wasn't wearing out a pair of shoes every week just checking in with the art team, and it was easier to pull together for TA's last big push. This definitely helped to cement the team's identity. The down side was that we didn't feel as much a part of Humongous, or even the rest of Cavedog for that matter. I think the fact that Cavedog wasn't so much one company, as a collection of separate fiefdoms would prove harmful to its long term success.

I was no longer sharing a dank little room with Chris, but there was almost no time for the spontaneous brainstorming that characterized our first year on Total Annihilation. We were both managing more people and the game had to get out the door. Working on TA at this point was less about chemistry, and more about just surviving.

The project had plenty of momentum by the middle of 1997. Once we got through E3 it would be time for the final stretch.

Ok... Next up, I'll really talk about E3. Really.



Darius Kazemi said...

Maybe I've said this here before, but man: I love reading these old war stories. Awesome stuff.

Anonymous said...

Hi. This week, I just did a LAN party at work with 5 of my collegues. Instead of the same old Counter-Strike and Quake 3 (the 3d cards aren't top notch :D), I reintroduced them to TA, since I'm into Supreme Commander now. :) Looking for old updates etc. I stumbled upon your articles earlier, and I just wanted to say "Wow! Cool!" Too bad TA never was released for free to the public. It's pretty hard to play with 6 to 10 players legally. Who owns the TA copyright anyways? Keep up the good work.

Dr. Device said...

Hey! I really enjoy reading these posts on the 'early days.' It's fun to see how these things evolved and hear the behind-the-scenes stuff.
I'm curious, what advice would you give to someone who's trying to break into the industry? It seems everyone wants you to have experience, but to get experience you have to work somewhere. Any suggestions on where to start?

MaulMachine said...

Ha, I thought you forgot to do these.

Mad_Bovine said...

Atari now owns the rights to TA.

Awesome articles, great reading!

eviltobz said...

I came across this blog whilst googling to try and troubleshoot setting up LAN games of TA for me and my 11 year old step son and got huuuugley distracted. It has been great reading about the story of the game. Even now I still haven't found an rts that just feels so right to control. well, at least with planes so there is no dodgy pathfinding ;)

It seems that the TA-ncient history has been neglected for quite a while now. Here's hoping that more gets posted soon. Oh, and thanks for making one of the best games of all time :)

Anonymous said...

hi,just want to say TA rocked!!
Anyway i wasjust wondering if any ofyou heard of TAspring.
Its an open source project,totaly free and being developed by enthusiasts.
It has expanded the Ta universe and gameplay to new hights.It has tons of cool features that even Supcom hasnt got.
I would liek to Invite all the reades and the writer of the blog of course to come and play it.
Taspring has many mods but it was based on the ta universe at first with
the most played mods still being mods that recreate and add to the TA universe.
You can find it at: .
I hopeim not offending anyone,as i saidtheprojectis free andimnot a developer of it i just saw some of the comments and hough that some of you guys might like to know about TASpring.

Anonymous said...

By the way,just so you will get a goodidea ofit here is a trailer: .
You can downoad and play it online with other people but legaly you need to own the original total annihilation game.HF and hope to see you there ;).

Clayton Kauzlaric said...

OF COURSE I've heard of TA Spring! It's totally amazing.

Otherside said...

man love your blog im a big TA fan :D

and spring continues the legacy for rts fans :]

how core would look nowadays based on concepts and ideas by a talented modeller

Anonymous said...

You'd be a welcome sight around Spring. We're moving away from just TA content, but we learned a lot from the legacy of TA and wouldn't exist without what ya'll did before us.