March 25, 2009
New Dev Diary for Ghostbusters
Atari has released a new developer
diary for their upcoming game, Ghostbusters: The Video Game. The diary, written
by Jeff Mills, Director of Production at Red Fly Studio, talks about the
development of the Wii version of the game and can be read in its entirety
How Red Fly Studio Started
Director of Production
Red Fly Studio
Stars Align (again)
At GDC in March 2007, Red Fly Studio
had only been in business for about three months. Studio founders Dan Borth and
Kris Taylor knew that we had to start immediately preparing for the future
beyond our first title (Mushroom Men). We set out for the Game Developer’s
Conference in San Francisco where we met with the top brass of half a dozen of
the biggest game publishers in the industry.
The one publisher who seemed
surprisingly uninterested in our demo was Vivendi Universal Games. They sat
impatiently through our presentation, and as soon as the standard demo spiel was
done, they drew us away from the screen and quickly got to the point. They had a
job, and they wanted Red Fly Studio specifically to do it.
Before I left Terminal Reality to
help Dan and Kris start Red Fly Studio, I had been part of production on
Ghostbusters, the project TRI had been developing in utter secrecy for the
previous year. Because of my foreknowledge of the project, the publisher could
cut right to the chase: The publisher wanted TRI to focus their entire attention
on the Xbox 360 and PS3 version of Ghostbusters without concerning themselves
with producing a separate Wii version as well. We were already licensing
Terminal Reality’s Infernal Engine to produce Mushroom Men, and our close ties
to TRI (Dan and Kris worked there along with me back in 1999) made us ideally
suited to produce Ghostbusters for Wii. And it was Ghostbusters, after all: a
dream job. Right?
"No way!" came the unanimous
response from Red Fly Studio.
If the release date for Ghostbusters
had been after Mushroom Men’s release date, then maybe we could have done it.
But the publisher required that we ship this new title at the same time as our
current project. Pushing a single title to completion is challenging enough, but
shipping two titles simultaneously is a monumental undertaking. The veterans at
RFS had seen a dozen studios explode by growing too quickly, taking on jobs that
they couldn’t handle. We knew better. We sadly but politely declined and bade
them farewell, wishing that the timing had been better.
A couple of hours later, we received
a call requesting a follow-up meeting immediately. So we met with four
executives from the publisher as well as TRI’s top brass. It was a crowded
meeting. Apparently that’s how many people it takes to force the stars to align
when they don’t quite match up on their own. With the publisher’s combined
executive influence and TRI’s pledge to increase their support, we agreed to
join the project.
The first three milestones of
Ghostbusters were accomplished without a dedicated staff. Thanks to the proven
workflow and universal, modular code developed for Mushroom Men by hotshot
programmers James Clarendon and Kain Shin, we were able to split our time to
prototype the completely unique gameplay of Ghostbusters. Everything about the
two games was different (camera, combat, interface) but the Infernal Engine is
versatile, and every improvement we had made during the early production of
Mushroom Men was forward-thinking, allowing us to enjoy the benefits of that
technology in future game development. (Or, as it turned out, tandem game
Our concept artists Frank Teran and
Thomas "TAS" Szakolczay went to work right away twisting the studio’s unique art
style to wrap around the Ghostbusters franchise. Characters and environments for
the Wii version of the game would have to be built from scratch. Instead of
making the same fatal mistake made by most developers when porting games to the
Wii, we wouldn’t even attempt to make our game look like TRI’s visually.
Photorealism on the Wii is not practical to attempt, especially in such a short
amount of time. Red Fly Studio was built on the strength of our artistic vision,
and we applied that to this beloved franchise from our youth.
When the time came for in-game art
assets, we were fortunate to be joined by Bill Daly, with whom we had worked as
far back as 1996 at 7th Level. Not only is he a fine artist, he was also able to
quickly and completely wrap his head around the methodology we would have to
employ in creating art for Ghostbusters.
We designed Ghostbusters to be
highly modular, knowing that our staff and time would be limited. We prototyped
the entire game with just two environment artists, several man-months of
outsourced character art and a small portion of the programmers’ time to
accommodate the changes to camera, combat and other systems. The whole time, we
were constantly interviewing new talent to bring the Ghostbuster team up to full
size by the time we completed pre-production.
The publisher had agreed back at GDC
that the Wii version of Ghostbusters should be its own unique product, standing
on its own apart from TRI’s next-gen version in more than just art style. It was
exciting to develop Ghostbusters for the Wii properly from the ground up. We
devised an art style that maximized the Wii’s potential without overwhelming it
or seeming reduced, filtered or watered down. We built the most obvious control
scheme that makes players feel like members of the movie’s cast, wielding the
erratic proton packs to direct that distinctive orange lightning across the
Every developer’s lament: "If only
we had a couple more months to polish this!" It doesn’t matter how long you’ve
worked on a project, there’s always some little tweak or additional content or
wishlist item that you want to squeeze in, but schedules are what they are, and
we wrapped up production on Ghostbusters mere weeks before The Merger. We were
satisfied with the results of our hard work. We had made a fun game.
Every developer’s nightmare:
Ghostbusters was punted out the door because it didn’t fit into the business
model of its newly-merged mega-publisher. Every veteran at the studio had
suffered such tragedy at some point in their career. It’s just something that
happens in this industry. But we took it in our stride, knowing that a property
as awesome and popular as Ghostbusters wouldn’t be left to gather dust for long.
Sure enough, in a double-whammy of good luck, Atari swooped in to rescue the
discarded title. But just as fortunate as the resurrection itself was the date
at which it occurred.
Every developer’s dream: Instead of
rushing the game out the door to compete with the dozens of other top-tier games
flooding the market for the holiday season, Atari wisely extended the schedule.
With the 25th anniversary of the movie coming up in just a few months, Atari
recognized that working with Sony Pictures Consumer Products on a combined Blu-ray/DVD
and videogame release would maximize the potential of the product . By picking
up Ghostbusters when they did, Atari blessed us with the one thing every
developer wishes for at the end of a project: More time.
Ghostbusters the Videogame has a new
publisher who understands what it is about and what it’s capable of becoming.
Their excitement for the game is unmatched. Dustin Dobson, Creative Lead, drives
the team on to success after the brief terror of floating in limbo before Atari
saved the game.
The story of the Wii version of
Ghostbusters is enveloped in good fortune and lucky timing. We were given
opportunities that most studios are not. We’re continuing production on
Ghostbusters right now: fixing, polishing and improving. As they did when the
project was born, the stars have aligned once more to see to it that
Ghostbusters the Videogame sees the light of day and satisfies everyone who saw
the movie in their childhood and wished to be part of that story.