GZ Interview: Warthogs Tim Heaton takes us inside the world of Loons

GZ Interview
10/1/02

Warthog’s Tim Heaton takes us inside the
world of Loons


By Michael Lafferty


Madcap
movie-set mayhem awaits you; the only question that needs to be asked is how
‘Loon’ey can you be?

Loons is a romp through the world
of the Looney Tunes characters vying for roles in Hollywood’s next big
blockbuster movie. The Xbox release features favorite cartoon characters, such
as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Taz and Sylvester, armed with an arsenal of classic
props, each out to sabotage the other hopefuls.

From disrupting the acting of other
characters, to creating havoc through a variety of movie sets, this is a game
about foiling the efforts of others, enhancing your own star power and doing it
all with the style and aplomb of classic cartoon characters.

Game features include 15 movie
sets, hundreds of props and gadgets to use, parodies of classic and contemporary
films, cartoon-inspired graphics and multiplayer action.

Tim Heaton, Warthog’s vice
president of production, took GameZone on a tour of this zany world.

Question: Does this game involve
any particular movie, or movie parody, or does it pick on a combination of films
as the Looney Tunes characters battle it out?


 

Tim: “It doesn’t use a single movie,
we picked a combination of film genres, and then tried to pick some of our
favorite films to mess about with.”

Q: What movie sets are used? Are
they recognizable?

 

Tim: “We took inspiration from many
films. It would be giving away too much to say which – see how many references
you can find. There are some obvious ones, and some fairly oblique ones!”

Q: With up to four players able
to participate in a multiplayer game, that must make for a very confusing
screen? How is the game configured to allow four players to compete
simultaneously? Does the mapboard remain the same size or get bigger if fewer
players are participating?

 

Tim: “We designed the game very
clearly from day one as a four-player game. You can do it if your arenas (film
sets) are reasonably sized – you simply pan back to keep all four characters in
shot at once. When they’re close together you can get the camera quite close in,
and at maximum zoom out the characters are still large enough to play fine. On
top of this we’ve added some horizontal and vertical movement, to allow for
‘filmic’ camera angles, and to avoid obstacles. It moves smoothly, and is a lot
more sophisticated than we first planned, and we’re very happy with the
results.”

Q: Is this game two- or
three-dimensional? Does it emulate the Chuck Jones’ style of animation? What
graphics engine did you use and how did it aid in creating the visual style of
this game?

 

Tim: “It’s fully 3D, and we certainly
tried to put as much of the ‘golden age’ of Looney Tunes into the game as
possible. We built an on-line library of cartoon clips and studied walk and run
animation cycles, as well as the way the characters undergo extreme deformations
(squashed flat et cetera).

“In 2D the character drawing often
‘cheats’ – they’re different looking characters from the front and the side. In
3D you can’t get away with that. We used a proprietary engine that allowed us to
morph characters, and mix layers of animation on different areas of the
character. This meant we could do a great walk cycle, and still have the
character using a prop without needing to re-animate the whole thing.”

Q: Can you tell us a little bit
about the sound of the game? Does it use vocal characterizations or is this more
of a silent, slapstick kind of game?

 

Tim: “There are obviously three
elements to the sound in a game. Firstly, music. If you listen to the
orchestrations for the original cartoons they are hugely dynamic, and contain
many pastiches from the popular music of the day.

“The music was scored partly as
sound effects as well – it’s all context sensitive with the action on the
screen. We wanted to emulate some of that so we produced very short orchestral
stabs of music, which could be used both as music and sound effects, which when
played sequentially in any order form a single musical score.

“Secondly, we added some sound
effects. Everyone knows what cartoon sound effects should sound like, and in
fact there are classic libraries of sounds, so we used some of those as well as
some new ones.

“Finally, there are voice-overs. A
lot of the humor of Looney Tunes is in their dialogue, so we have quite a lot of
banter. Voice-overs are used to both let the player know information, and also
just to let the characters set up jokes amongst themselves. The voices were
recorded at Warner Bros. by official voice-over artists.”

Q: Who is your favorite Looney
Tunes character and why?

 

Tim: “Daffy – he’s slightly deranged,
over optimistic and always suffers for his wild ideas. I think we can all relate
to that.”

Q: What elements do you think
will first snag game players’ attention? What was the hardest part of the game
to design?

 

Tim: “The immediate frenetic action
will grab players attention. We wanted as few preliminaries as possible; it’s a
quick play action game. The graphic look of the game is pretty strong, and we
have some lovely effects in there, so there’s plenty of eye candy.

“The hardest part of the game to
design was the balance, and the learning curve on the game. As it always is! We
added challenges to the game reasonably late on, but they work very well.”

Q: When you do a game like this,
when everything depends of the farcical comedic style of the cartoon, how much
time goes into scripting the action? Is there anyone that has to approve the
script?

 

Tim: “Every part of the game need to
be approved by Warner Bros. including dialogue scripts et cetera. However, the
‘action’ vs. the comedic timing is an interesting question. Looney Tunes jokes
obviously depend a huge amount of timing (that three-stage split second between
a character running off a cliff, realizing it, and then falling). That’s very
difficult to do in a game, as the character really needs to be under player
control all the time. So, it’s a trade-off between letting the animators go to
town on a long, finely timed comic sequence, and the game designers, who are
interested in the feel of play.”

Q: What elements of the Looney
Tunes cartoons do you think contributed to the lasting appeal of the genre, and
how were you able to translate that to the game?


 

Tim: “Looney Tunes characters all
have fairly flawed personalities. They’re irreverent, cheeky, greedy et cetera,
et cetera, but they always have redeeming qualities too. They mess about with
the popular culture of the day and they mess about with their media (the classic
jumping off the page, or off the sprockets of the film they’re in). Hopefully
we’ve used these elements from the level design of the film genre pastiches,
through to the little in-jokes in the dialogue, to make a game that’s both a
great action game and funny as well.”