PGC had the opportunity to chat with Chris Lacey, programmer for Ty the Tasmanian Tiger. See what he had to say about the game and the GameCube!
PGC recently had the opportunity to talk to Chris Lacy, Programmer on Krome Studios' recently released "Ty the Tasmanian Tiger". Chris is a long-time reader of Planet GameCube, and wanted to share some of his enthusiasm for Ty with our readers. Check out what Chris has to say about developing for GameCube, and about the new game.
Q. Tell us a little about Ty the Tasmanian Tiger. How is it going to distinguish itself from games like Crash Bandicoot and other platformers?
Ty has all the moves at his disposal that you would expect of a hero undertaking such an adventure such as running, tiptoeing, jumping, swimming, grabbing onto ledges, biting and even gliding. But the feature that really distinguishes Ty the Tasmanian Tiger from the competition is the boomerangs.
The boomerangs are the key element in the gameplay, and with good reason. There are over 10 unique boomerangs in the game, and each of them opens up a whole new dimension with regard to the puzzles we can create. Obvious uses for them are for hitting bad guys with and whatnot, but we have come up with some really cool features that go beyond what you would first think.
For instance, we have a 'rang called the 'Frostyrang'. When Ty has the Frostyrang active, he can do all sorts of things that a standard boomerang just won't help him with. e.g.: The most obvious use is that he can use the Frostyrang to put out raging flames, but if Ty is near a body of water, and one of these rangs should hit the surface, an ice block will be created. Ty can then jump onto that ice block and fire his Frostyrang again to create more ice blocks, thus creating a bridge of sorts that allows him to reach places in the world that he previously wouldn't be able to get to! Keep in mind that the Frostyrang is just 1 of over 10 that Ty can use throughout his massive adventure, and each of the rangs have their own unique special abilities.
As I said, the boomerangs open up so many new gameplay possibilities for us. John Passfield, the co-Lead Designer along with Steve Stamatiadis, has a concept likes to call "Emergent gameplay". It's really exciting because it means that there are many puzzles in the game that can be solved in many ways.
For example, there could be a Golden Cog, one of the games collectibles, standing on a pillar which sits in the water. When the player sees this, they naturally swim out to the pillar and try to grab onto it, but the pillar is just a bit too high for poor Ty to reach by jumping from the water. There are any number of ways he could get the cog, it's just up to the player to think of them! e.g.: He could swim back to a nearby bank, and if he has found the Frostyrang he could use it to make a path to the pillar with the ice blocks, similar to how I previously described. Or Ty could jump his way to a point above the cog and then glide down to the pilar. Or perhaps there is a raft nearby that Ty could activate that would take him close enough to the pilar that he could jump from the moving raft and reach his goal. It is this type of gameplay that makes Ty the Tasmanian Tiger unique and so much fun!
Q. Nintendo is somewhat under fire for gearing its console mainly towards kids. Is Ty going to appeal to the older gamer? What can Ty offer those that are growing tired of the standard cartoon platformer?
Ty the Tasmanian Tiger will hold plenty of appeal to gamers of all ages, be they kids, parents, or anyone in-between. Something that separates Ty from other games in the genre is that beginners and children who have never played a game before can actually make progress in Ty the Tasmanian Tiger. Sometimes action-adventure games loose sight of this, and anyone who has had to help a younger person get past a monstrous boss can attest to this!
As far as hardcore gamers go, there is more than enough to keep them occupied for a good while as well. Getting 100% of all the items in the game is no small feat - one which I have yet to fully achieve - and there are lots of little Easter eggs hidden in the game as well. For instance, when you collect the infrarang you can see all sorts of objects hidden in the world that you previously never knew were there!
Q. Judging from the theme of the game, Krome seems to take great pride in its Aussie roots. Was the intent always to make a very "Australian" game? What was the inspiration?
Well being based in Australia obviously had a fair bit to do with it! Right from the get-go, we always intended to give the game a very distinct Australian theme. Everything in the game, from the characters to the dialog has this distinct Australian feel about it. We really worked hard with the environments in particular so that people would take one look at them and be reminded of Australia. We have all the environments that you would expect in a game set Down Under, from thick, dense, luscious rainforests to the Great Barrier Reef and the Outback.
There are over 16 levels in the game, and I haven't seen too many games out there that has the attention to detail in their levels that makes the levels in Ty the Tasmanian Tiger so special. Our environments really are 'alive'. In the Barrier Reef, there are schools of fish that just swim idly about the place, but will scatter if Ty swims near them, and the rain forest is filled with wombats, crickets, fireflies, and everything in-between. Keep in mind that these levels are also filled to the brim with various enemies and friends as well.
We also use some unique grass technology that I have yet to see in another game. These blades of grass sway from side to side with the breeze, and even part when Ty walks through them! When you combine this fantastic grass with the number of trees, plants and ferns in the world already, the game really has to be seen to be believed.
While neither the grass nor the critters described have any great effect on gameplay, they do contribute greatly to the overall feel of the game, and succeed in giving the game it's own distinct and unique look and feel.
Q. Could you give us a little insight into the design behind some of the more colourful characters? Ty certainly seems to have a "mascot" quality to him. Was this the intent?
Thanks for the compliment. Ty himself certainly does have that "mascot" look and feel about him doesn't he? I remember when I first saw the design for him I just thought he was so cool. Steve Stamatiadis, the Lead Character Designer, is amazing. He just draws and draws and draws. About the only difference between the initial sketch of Ty and the version of the character that is in the game is the colour of his board shorts!
As for the rest of the characters, each and every one of them were designed by Steve using the animals that are all found right in our backyards for inspiration. Well, perhaps we don't have saltwater crocs and sharks in our backyards, but I did have a huge spider in my car the other day! :) There are over 50 unique characters that you will meet during Ty the Tasmanian Tiger, so you won't get lonely during your adventure that's for sure! A lot of them are based off of animals that I've never seen in any video game up to this point, which is really cool. My personal favourite is Dennis the Green Treefrog. When Ty meets him, he is a long way from home and scared of the dark, and it is up to Ty to lead Dennis back to his home safely.
Q. How did the programming team approach the task of developing for multiple platforms simultaneously? Was the game coded for one machine and "ported" as is commonplace, or was the game coded for each platform in tandem?
Ty the Tasmanian Tiger has been developed for GameCube, PlayStation2 and Xbox, so if you own any next-generation console you can play the game which is great.
The very early prototyping of the game was done on PC, but Ty the Tasmanian Tiger was always going to be a game for consoles, and PS2 quickly became the lead platform for the game.
In about July of last year we received our first GameCube DevKit, which was very exciting for me, especially because I had been following the development of "Dolphin" since the PlanetN2000 days when Rick first broke the story about the codename for the project. To see it in person was so cool.
Within a couple of weeks, Tony Ball, our GameCube engine lead, had the character animating and drawing and doing most of what was doing in the PS2 version. A couple of months went by and by that point the GameCube version of the Merkury engine was pretty much inline with the PS2 version, so from then on development was simultaneous between the PS2 and GameCube, and later Xbox versions of the game.
Q. What languages were used to code the title? C++? Assembler?
C++ was our programming language of choice, although not without many much heated debates! We also used Assembler in certain modules that needed it.
Q. How does writing code for GameCube compare to developing on other platforms? Is it as easy as has been reported? What was the learning curve like? Was Nintendo any help getting past any technical hurdles?
The only hurdle we had with GameCube was with regard to memory. Apart from the constant struggle of keeping the game running in 24 megs, GameCube was a fabulous platform to develop for.
As I mentioned, it only took a couple of weeks for one programmer to get the basics of our Merkury engine working on the hardware. That is a testament to the ease of development of GameCube, although the skill of Tony and modular design of the Merkury engine played a big part in that also.
We didn't come across too many technical hurdles developing the game that required direct input from Nintendo, but when we did they were great. They were very quick to answer emails or set up a conference call if need be.
Q. Are there any significant differences between the different versions of the game? We've noticed that many games are getting slightly better graphics on Xbox and GameCube compared to PS2 versions. How are the load times, for instance?
With the exception of a couple on tiny differences, all 3 versions are identical. The GameCube and Xbox especially do look a tad sharper than the PS2 version which is quite an achievement considering how that looks!
The Xbox version loads the fastest, followed by GameCube. All platforms have very acceptable load times, so you won’t be kept any longer than necessary before you are in amongst the action.
Personally, I like the GameCube version the most simply because of the GameCube controller.
Q. Specifically, what parts of the game were your programming talents used in? Did you have much say in any other facets of the game's development?
My role changed somewhat over the life of the project. I was fortunate enough to be one of the six or so team members that were prototyping the game from day one, and at that point I was one of only three programmers, and the other two had to split their duties across other tasks. Hence, my grubby little mitts were responsible for getting all sorts of systems up and running. Initially, I was responsible for looking after the movements of Ty, the camera, the HUD, adding SFX where need be, keeping the game running on PS2, making PS2 builds (which is a lot more time consuming that one would think) and lots of other little tasks like adding further functionality to things like crates, drums, the boomerangs, etc.
As time went on, we had more and more programmers come on board, and those programmers would take over a lot of the tasks I was previously responsible for. With the exception of the way Ty's head turns to look at objects in the world, very little of the code that I originally wrote during the prototype phase is present in the code that we shipped the game with, which is a blessing because it was getting pretty ugly!
Once the project moved from prototyping to full-on development, my main responsibility became the camera. I spent a good percentage of my young life working on that camera so I hope you like it.
Then during the last few months of the project, I was responsible for trying to fit the game in 24MB, make sure it doesn't drop frames, etc. That was pretty much a full time job, because we didn't want to have to water down the GameCube version in any way, which I'm pleased to say we didn't.
As far as my having input in the game's development goes, everyone at Krome has an opportunity to voice their opinions on the game. John Passfield and Steve Stamatiadis, the lead designers on the project, are always open to suggestions. If I ever had an idea they were more than willing to listen, but it seemed that whenever I had an idea that I thought was good and went to tell them, they had already thought of it themselves!
Q. When you say that you "fit the game into 24MB," are you talking about the entire game, or just each level?
I was referring to the effort that went into making the game code, as well as the model, texture, animation and collision data, all fit into 24MB for the current level.
This task was made that bit harder because all of our voice acting is recorded in 8 different languages, which means that while the level would load correctly in English, if the player was playing with German as the language setting, it would blow up. But we got there in the end, and as I mentioned previously, we didn't have to remove any content that was in the other versions to do so.
The thought of trying to fit each level, with all their unique characters and landscapes in memory at once - well words cannot describe how scary that is to me. I’ll just leave that thought by saying it simply would not be possible.
Q. These days, a lot of programmers, designers, and artists are gaining mainstream exposure, mostly through the proliferation of sites on the Internet. Names like Shigeru Miyamoto, John Romero, Cliff Bleszinski ... they quickly become household names. Do you have any "heroes" in the game development community? Feel free to name drop ... :)
Well, first of all I wouldn't totally agree that those names are becoming household names. Certainly hardcore gamers who, like you said, read sites such as yours would be aware of them, but I don't know that Joe Public who goes and buys a copy of Zelda knows who Miyamoto-san is.
Having said that, there are many people in the games industry I respect and admire a great deal. From a gaming perspective, certainly Shigeru Miyamoto is a big idol. Just look at his resume: Mario, Zelda, Donkey Kong, etc. I can't remember too many Miyamoto-san games that I didn't like, and I've played most of them. I also have great respect for a lot of the work Rare have put out over the years.
I also hold a great respect for a lot of the people at Krome who I have learned so much from.
Q. What's up next for Krome? Something online, we hope?
We have 2 major projects in development, and while neither are online, nor have they been officially announced, you could probably guess what one of them is. Plus we always have a couple of people prototyping potential new games, so you’ve not heard the last of us by a long shot!
Q. Lastly, in just FIVE WORDS, tell our readers why they should give Ty the Tasmanian Tiger a look. (OK, you can use more words if you HAVE to. :)
It’s great fun for gamers young and old!
Thanks for taking time to chat with us Chris!