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Interview with Large Animal Games

The CMP Game Group (producer of Game Developer magazine, Gamasutra.com, and the Game Developers Conference) established the Independent Games Festival in 1998 to encourage innovation in game development and to recognize the best independent game developers. They saw how the Sundance Film Festival benefited the independent film community, and wanted to create a similar event for independent game developers as well as the student population of game developers.

Large Animal Games has been running strong in the IGF for the past three years, starting with AlphaQUEUE in 2004, then RocketBowl in 2005, which was awarded the prize for Technical Excellence in the Open Category. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Wade and Brad once again to discuss their newest finalist, Saints & Sinners Bowling, nominated for Technical Excellence and Innovation in Audio.

Who are you and what was your role in S&SB?

Wade Tinney: I'm Wade Tinney and I was the lead game designer and producer on the project.

Brad MacDonald: I'm Brad MacDonald and I was the Art Director/Lead Artist on the project.

Congrats on making it to your third IGF. How's it feel this time around knowing that you guys are up for Technical Excellence and not just maybe winning one of the awards?

Wade: Well, it's nice to know that you're part of a smaller pool, I guess. I'm also very excited about the innovation in Audio nomination. I'm also happy to see that they're experimenting with the format of the awards, and giving more devs an opportunity to come to GDC and show their games.

Brad: And I like to think our nominations are a little nod towards consistency.

So do you guys feel the IGF's evolution is well on its way? Are there any change to the competition you would view as positive after 3 years of experiencing it?

Wade: One thing I really liked about last year's IGF pavilion in San Francisco was that it was not on the expo floor, but out on the "concourse" where more people were likely to see it. We got to meet lots more people as a result, I think. Hopefully they'll do that again now that GDC is moving back to San Jose . They also sent us some of the judge's comments last year, which was great. The comments were pretty sparse last year, but it was a step in the right direction nonetheless and I hope they continue the practice.

Brad: The evolution is definitely happening. I think overall the level of polish is increasing as better tools are in the hands of a broader range of developers. Both smaller teams and more established companies are seeing the benefit. It was nice in San Francisco to not have to shout over the din to speak with people.

So you have Saints & Sinners from Saints & Sinners Bingo , and bowling from RocketBowl ... what made you guys decide to bring the two together?

Wade: Well, we'd actually hoped to do a lot more with characters in Rocketbowl , but ended up scaling back. And we'd had a great time developing the NPCs for S&S Bingo . So this game was an interesting opportunity to build on all of the bowling-related stuff we'd learned with Rocketbowl , and the character-related stuff we'd learned with S&S Bingo .

Brad: SnS Bowling was a great opportunity to expand on the narrative structure we had established in Bingo . And having had some experience making a bowling game it allowed us to develop other aspects of the game.

Would you consider Saints & Sinners to be a franchise now? Or was this just and experiment in combining two popular games?

Brad: Do you need more than two to make a franchise? In any case it would be interesting to continue extending the SnS world.

Wade: It's definitely a franchise in our minds. There are actually a number of characters that appear in both games and a lot of references in Bowling back to Bingo . One interesting question is whether the two games will appeal to the same audience. Bingo and Bowling. Pretty different games, even though they've been given similar aesthetic treatments and the same general approach to characters and dialogue. There is also the similarity in the gameplay. Both games have the idea of "charms" as special objects that are collected over the course of the game and can be used to affect the outcome of a particular round.

Brad: I like to think of the Saints & Sinners titles as a franchise and hopefully the players also make that association. And it would be great if the players came to expect additional titles! We've talked about that a little over here...is the theme of the SnS world strong enough to make bowlers out of bingo players and vice versa. I think we'll really find out when we release Saints & Sinners Alligator Wrestling .

What's the idea behind the theme of saints and sinners?

Wade: Well, in S&S Bingo , there was a somewhat clearer distinction between the two camps. The idea was to recognize that bingo is played both in church halls and in Las Vegas . It attracts a very broad and varied demographic. So we have a set of "saints" venues and characters and the same for "sinners". With Saints & Sinners Bowling , we decided to relax that distinction a bit, and let people come to their own conclusions about which characters are "saints" and which are "sinners".

Brad: Forgetting about the bingo and bowling I think it's about the player's relationship with NPC's and the charms; Encountering people from a variety of backgrounds who all have a shared interest in a game (bowling or bingo). It's been a challenge developing characters who possess both positive and negative traits but aren't meant to be clearly 'good' or 'bad'.

Wade: Yes, our primary interest was in representing a very eclectic mix of characters, since both bingo and bowling are played by a wide variety of people. So, the player isn't really playing as a saint or a sinner, unless they want to. :) But I think approaching the characters in the game with those two extremes in mind yielded a more interesting set.

Brad: Right, the player never has to make a decision, okay, I'm going to be a saint or a sinner.

What's your most enjoyable part of the game and how did that feature come about?

Wade: Tough question. I like a lot of the charms. I think moon gravity and laser ball are probably my favorites.

Brad: As a player I really enjoy the charms and the NPC interaction. As a developer I loved the challenge of designing all of the bowling alleys.

Wade: I also really like the doilies in the trophy room. :)

Brad: Right! We all love the doilies.

Wade: And there are a bunch of particular characters whose dialogue I find really funny. Such as Gwendolyn the Good. She is a renaissance fair enthusiast who stays in character at all times, so all of her dialogue is in a sort of Olde English style. She also loves soft pretzels and is married to another character, a trucker named Cecil Shuggins.

Brad: And Mimi Beaujolais. I had a little crush on her for awhile but I grew out of it.

Wade: Yes, Mimi is an au pair girl from France . She takes care of Elias Silverado, who is a bowling child prodigy.

Brad: Of all the characters Elias come the closest to representing true evil. Not in an "Omen" sort of way but...ah, you just have to play him in a tournament.

Wade: Yes, he's a vicious competitor.

During the development of S&SB what were some major issues that caused problems and how were they solved?

Wade: Probably the single biggest issue was the QA process for a 3D game. There are just a lot of factors to account for in order to make sure the broadest group of players are going to have the best possible experience. Thankfully, Oberon was able to help out a lot with that question by doing compatibility testing on a wider range of machines than we have here in the shop.

What tools/technology was used for the creation of S&SB ?

Wade: We used the Torque game engine, from Garage Games, Photoshop, 3D Studio Max, Excel… Fogbugz for project management and bug tracking.

Brad: Illustrator

Wade: Byron Estep, our composer, used a whole host of audio tools to create the music, and then did the actual compositions using our custom composition tool within Torque.

What's the one thing about the way you develop games that you think helps you do your job best?

Brad: Yikes. It helps that we're mind-readers.

Wade: True. The telekinesis is convenient too. Saves time walking.

Brad: All kidding aside, and avoiding specifics, it helps that we all really want to make quality games. We love what we're doing.

Wade: Also, I think that putting a lot of energy into our production methodologies is critical.

Brad: Under that umbrella I would tuck a bunch of things like our time spent working with new tools, our focus on open communication, and our process for prototyping ideas.

Wade: Agreed.

How has game development on the east coast changed in the last few years?

Wade: Well, it seems that the community of developers has grown, certainly, or perhaps just strengthened.

Brad: And I think the developers becoming more aware of one-another.

Wade: I can really only speak to the situation in the NYC metro area, but the game industry events in this area have definitely grown in frequency, size, and quality.

Brad: True.

Wade: I think the collaboration between the New York and New Jersey chapters of the IGDA has been really productive.

Brad: It seems the community is becoming more of a community.

What's next for Large Animal?

Wade: Well, we're very focused on the casual game industry and so we'll continue to produce games for a mass market audience. We'll likely grow a bit faster this year than we have in the past, and start to produce new games at a slightly quicker pace as a result.

Brad: Right on.

Wade: We're also very interested in up and coming platforms for casual games, such as Xbox Live Arcade. Bottom line, we'll just keep trying to make the best games we can.

Well good luck at GDC!

Brad: Thanks, Drew. It was great chatting.

Wade: I also want to make sure that I take this opportunity to thank Oberon Media, our publishing partner on Saints & Sinners Bowling . It's been great working with them. Also, to give a shout out to the rest of the Saints & Sinners Bowling development team: Josh, Yossi, Coray, Jennifer, George, Byron.

Interview conducted by Drew "Gaiiden" Sikora

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