Thursday, December 25, 2008

Character Generation

Ron just posted some concept art I did for DeathSpank over at his Grumpy Gamer blog. These are two of the many characters we created to populate the game's world. The pieces portray Ms. Heybenstance, the demon witch and everyone's favorite stoner merchant, Bong The Potioner.


UPDATE: And just to prove I can put hands on my character's correctly, here is a revised Bong, with everything pointing in the right direction. Let this be a lesson to all you youngsters: Don't drink and draw.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

TA-ncient History #11: Around The World

This is skipping ahead a bit, but I always liked the visual simplicity of this French box that bundled Total Annihilation and the Battle Tactics expansion pack.

One of the last tasks as production nears completion on a game is translating the game into various languages. Humongous Entertainment always took a very aggressive approach to translating its games. When most companies in the US seldom went beyond FIGS (the oh-so-hip developer acronym for French, Italian, German, Spanish), HE was regularly releasing their most popular games in a dozen or more languages, including Hebrew, Dutch and Norwegian. That attitude carried over to Total Annihilation, though we settled for just doing FIGS. I like figs.

It's always interesting to see what issues arise during localization. For instance, in the UK I just misspelled the word "localisation." It's crazy... or mad.

Anyway, Total Annihilation was relatively easy to convert to other languages. The bulk of our in-game text used the same tools Humongous used, including their in-house animation tool, Splat, for the 2D artwork (this is what created those .gaf files you 3rd party folks know so well). It only took an artist a few days to replace the text seen in the interface and other parts of the game. Most of TA's movie sequences intentionally contained no speaking parts for cheap translation reasons. We made the game for a mere 1.1 million bucks, so we had to make decisions like that on a regular basis.

We did replace the voice narration for the mission briefings and the intro cinematic. Gamers in Germany might have recognized the voice of the guy who dubbed the German voice of James Bond for decades: Gert-G√ľnther Hoffmann. I'm told Total Annihilation was Herr Hoffmann's last project before his death in 1997.

The voice of Total Annihilation in Germany.

GT Interactive's marketing experts in some countries disliked the name "Total Annihilation." It can be difficult for many non-English speakers to say. Plenty of English speakers stuggle with it too.

The folks in France pressed us to change the name completely. They said they were concerned that "Total Annihilation" might sound too much like "Final Solution" to European ears. They suggested the name "Hegemon" instead. The folks at GT's French office also thought the Arm Commander on the front of the TA box was too similar to a character in Heavy Gear, so he was removed from their version of the box.

The strangely empty French Total Annihilation box layout.

The people handling the marketing for Germany had ideas too. They attempted to translate the English name and lobbied for "Ganz Vernichtung," which definitely has a cool ring to it. It also might have compensated for the fact that German words barely fit on our interface. The German box was somewhat different as well. They placed hash marks indicating the number five in the background. This tied in to their marketing campaign which used the number five to connote the five senses, along with the slogan "Use Your Senses." It's sort of catchy, but I don't remember how Total Annihilation smelled... or tasted. Anyone who does, please keep it to yourselves.

"Ich bin ein Riesen-Roboter."

Humongous was already established as a successful division within GT Interactive, so we were asked nicely about the the renaming ideas and not simply ordered to comply. We felt it was important to keep the name consistent throughout the world, so we did. It may be an awkward tongue twister, but it was awkward for pretty much everybody, including Americans.