(continued from my LiveJournal blog)
First I wanna say thank you for sticking with me while I”ve moved to WordPress from LiveJournal… and I do apologize for the huge lag between postings! But now that we are settled into our new office, hopefully I’ll find a bit of time to work on this more often
Now back to more of “20 years and counting”
So.. after 5 months of incredible soul crushing crunch, we released McKinzie & Co… only to have one more blow hit us from the unstable management.
Back then I had essentially two bosses. I had my direct boss… the executive producer who I shall call Joe in this article… and then the woman who was the head of the entire division. Unfortunately the woman who was the head of the entire division had a very personal, very deep emotional attachment to the game. So she took it upon herself to oversee me and the project.
Now, of course as all games did back then (and some still do) we kept a “quotes” list of things people said during game development that – when taken out of context – just sounded really silly/funny. Often in those days this quotes list would be hidden somewhere in the game as an “Easter egg” for the gamers to find. I talked to Joe about our list and he agreed that we should put it in. I directed one of the programmers to do that. There was nothing bad in the list at all, we made sure we used only the “clean” quotes, as we were well aware of the intended audience.
We didn’t take into consideration the .instability of the executives. So, about a month after McKenzie had launched, Joe walked in to my cube and asked me to step outside with him. He then grabbed one of my main programmers and asked him to accompany us as well. We wound up in the back parking lot of the building, by the dumpsters. Joe then proceeded to read us the riot act about the quotes list. Told us our exec had heard from a fan about the list and just went ballistic. She was blaming me for “ruining” the game and that all lost sales due to this would come out of my paycheck. He then rounded on my programmer buddy and told him the same thing. I reminded him that he and I had talked about it and he waved it off, proclaiming to not remember it. He then told us the only reason we still had our jobs was because he had gone to bat for us but that we were not going to get the ship bonuses the rest of the team got.
I stood there in disbelief. After everything I’d gone through to get that game out in the time they required it, that he would throw me under the bus like that was just unbelievable. He went on to remind me that we had a company dinner party that night at a very swanky restaurant to celebrate the launch and success of McKenzie & Co. Which we did. Of course, in all the kudos, thanks and congratulations, my name was never mentioned.
Anyway, I stayed on at Her Interactive, mostly because finding another job in New Mexico was very difficult and I’m, by my very nature, stupidly stubborn. I still believed in what we were doing and how we were doing it.
While I didn’t get any recognition for McKenzie &Co, I did find out that we were in negotiations for a new license. This one was for a set of young adult books by Lisa J. Smith, called The Vampire Diaries. What a fun project this turned out to be! I loved the books and had great fun with the license. We worked closely with Simon and Schuster on it and I was given some leeway with the story line to develop a story that played off the characters in the book, but was different from the books. Our Exec brought in a woman who had formerly been a writer and editor with a New York publishing house. Elise was fun and easy to work with and helped us deal with the publishers.
One of the things about Vampire Diaries that stands out in my mind is the fact it was a FMV game (Full Motion Video) We shot live actors against a green screen and then put them into CGI sets. This meant we had to cast the parts. The Exec used a Hollywood agency to cast the parts then we brought them down and used a green screen facility in Albuquerque. I got to serve as the Creative Director on the green screen shoot. Man… talk about fun! Probably my favorite memory of that was when we shot the “bite” scene with Damon.
Vampire Diaries was played from a first person viewpoint. You never saw yourself, only the people you were talking to. I was adamant about this as I understood the “romance” of books and wanted to do all I could to put you (the player) into the game. However, there was a scene in the game where you could make a “wrong” choice and Damon would bite Elena (the main character’s name, played by the players.) We went to cast Elena and decided she would only be seen from the back, thus we needed someone with GORGEOUS blond hair. We ended up casting a 13 year old girl who had the most amazing long blond hair we’d ever seen.
The time came to film the “bite”. In the scene the actor playing the player would have her back to the camera, and the actor playing Damon would be facing her, thus facing the camera. He would say his line, then step forward, put his arm around the waist of the girl, tip her head to the side and “bite” her neck. We set up the scene, ran through quickly a time or two, then, it was time to actually shoot it.
Damon said his line, stepped forward, slid his arm around her waist, tipped her back slightly and she bent her head to expose her neck and Damon leaned in to bite, all the while keeping “eye contact” with the camera. He finished the scene and there was this audible “sigh” form around me. I looked around and realized that EVERY woman in the set was standing behind me, watching the scene in my monitor.. and they ALL nearly swooned! I knew at that moment we’d done it right!
As a side note, we got MANY letters from players who told us they regularly chose the ‘wrong’ path through the game so they could see the scene where Damon bites Elena over and over again!