Friday, August 14, 2009

Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet - Interview with Joseph Olson (Fuelcell Games) and Michel Gagné

INSANELY TWISTED SHADOW PLANET is an independent Fuelcell Games project being produced with the collaboration of the renowned cartoonist and animator Michel Gagné. In spite of his previous work in the field, this is the first venture where the Canadian artist is actively participating in the process of game design. The Seattle based studio is working on a very peculiar adaptation his series of interstitials entitled Insanely Twisted Shadow Puppets, consisting of brief, dark-humored segments of high-quality digital animation.

ITSP presents an incredibly smooth vector graphics environment - as seen in the recent HD trailer - where the player controls a vintage 1950’s flying saucer in the battle against an oppressive force of bizarre creatures inhabiting the obscure planet. Both Michel Gagné and Joe Olson, from Fuelcell studios, were kind enough to answer some of my questions for a brief interview regarding the production of this highly original reinvention of the old shoot'em up game genre.

CoreGaming | Mr. Gagné, given your wide experience in the fields of cartoons, comics, concept art, animation, cinema and television, it was rather surprising to learn that you had never participated directly in the creation of a videogame: how did the idea to adapt one of your animated features to this new format originate?

Michel GAGNÉ | About three years ago, I met Joe Olson at an FX workshop I was giving in Seattle. Shortly after, Joe emailed me and said that he’d love to do a videogame project with me. We met for lunch and started brainstorming about some ideas. I told him I had virtually no experience working in games, and to my surprise, he replied that it was a good thing. His thought was that the game industry was in need of fresh ideas and an industry outsider who has a strong artistic style could bring something unique to the table. I didn’t know much about the game process so it became a new challenge that I embraced with great enthusiasm.

Joe mentioned to me that we should do a game based on the design of a series of interstitials called Insanely Twisted Shadow Puppets I created in 2005. That was the starting point.

Joseph Olson at the Fuelcell studio space.

CoreGaming | Judging by the video presentations, ITSP seems to be a very ambitious project. Could you tell me more about the production team and the sort of technologies you're currently using?

Joseph OLSON | We started with Torque Game Builder, mainly because it was geared towards 2D game creation, allowed us to mix 3D assets in with the 2D in a convincing way, and most importantly it is fairly cheap for a source code license. Over the course of preproduction we’ve made various improvements and alterations in order to increase productivity and get the desired results.

The team here at Fuelcell is comprised of a handful of industry veterans - myself being in the industry for about 12 years now. Basically a bunch of guys in the Seattle area I've worked with over the years, as well as some newer folks brought in especially for this project. A good portion of us come from the special FX side of things, which is why creating a game with Michel made so much sense. Like most small independent studios these days we have taken on a lot of contract work for other games to keep the money flowing and the team together.

CoreGaming | I've read that the game is planned for release in multiple platforms: how is it like negotiating the game with different manufacturers?

Joseph OLSON | As we're still in negotiations, it's tough to answer this question. We're talking with a lot of different publishers right now and they all have slightly different visions for which platforms our game would appear on. We do wish to put this on as many platforms as makes sense, with the HD platforms (360 and PS3) being the main focus.

CoreGaming | Independent games abound at present. Everyday we witness the release of yet another independent title: some of them based on uprecedented concepts, whereas others are essentially modern-day homages to classic videogame titles. What do you think are the most innovative and interesting features in ITSP and to what audience are you aiming at?

Joseph OLSON | While the biggest feature is obviously Michel’s style and fluid feature quality animation at HD resolution, we’re very excited about our zoom technology, which allows us to zoom in or out in a given environment while keeping the resolution sharp. We first used it in our splash screen menu but have since started experimenting with using it in gameplay. One example I can give at this time is a viral attack game. Your UFO is attacked by a cloud of viral entities, at which point the camera zooms incredibly far in on the surface of your hull, where you then take control of a white blood cell type craft and have to frantically sweep up the virals before they infect your UFO. The transitions to and from this nano game and realtime are really quite impressive.

We're lucky to have a wide ranging audience for this game. Michel's stark art style appeals across age groups, casual and core gamers, as well as internationally. It's not often a western artist is so well received in the east, so we're fortunate in that respect. The development team grew up playing classic arcade and console games, so the gameplay is heavily influenced by games like MEGA MAN, R-TYPE, and the like.

CoreGaming | Is there a release date in your mind at the moment?

Joseph OLSON | No release date as of yet, stay tuned to the official blog for more news on that front in the coming months!


Xerxes said...

I know your focus is on the 360/ps3 market, but please for the love of all that is game, don't do a crappy job with the PC port. I've seen to many good games ruined with a bad port job.

dommafia said...

Nice interview. I'm also hoping for a nice pc release, hopefully STEAM is one of the pc options.

Илья said...

Double that, we just NEED a good PC port...