Thimbleweed Park Podcast #16
“Mark Ferrari joins us and talks about the quest for his happy pixel.”
Original airdate July 31, 2015
Transcribed by Sushi
(Ron:) Hi, I’m Ron Gilbert and welcome to the Thimbleweed Park weekly stand-up meeting podcast.
And this week I am joined by David Fox…
(David:) Hey there!
(Ron:) …and Gary Winnick…
(Ron:) …and special surprise guest Mark Ferrari!
(Mark:) [with a high pitched cartoon-like voice] Helloooo!
(Ron:) You know, there’s a lot of people that don’t believe you’re real, Mark. 1
(Mark:) [still with a high pitched voice] It’s really me.
(Ron:) They just… they think we’ve made you up as some artist, that you’re not actually a real person.
(Mark:) [still with a high pitched voice] Why’d they ever think that?
(Gary:) The best joke by far is that Ron has been doing your work for you.
(Ron:) I wish I could do art that good.
(Mark:) [normal voice] I was gonna say that is funny!
(Gary:) It is actually.
(Ron:) So yeah, it’s been a long time, Mark! I mean, I think Monkey Island was the last time that we worked together.
(Mark:) Yeah, I think so. Maybe a little bit on Indiana Jones and the Lost Secret of Atlantis [sic 2 ] if you were still around, were you?
(Ron:) No, I didn’t. I didn’t work on that.
(Mark:) OK then. Yeah: Monkey Island. Wow! Monkey Island EGA
(Ron:) Yeah, I know. The true version. The only real version of Monkey Island. The EGA version.
(Ron:) Right. All right! So let’s go through and let’s talk about what we did last week and what we’re going to next week and we’ll start with David.
(David:) OK, so I finished my first dialog tree puzzle. They’re hard, like I mentioned in the last podcast, I kind of overdid the first half. Well, the second half was a lot more straightforward because I pulled back and I think that at that level they aren’t going to be so impossible.
Also, we’re doing some debug work on getting the game to boot up and have different scenarios that you could set up to make it easier to test.
I worked on plopping in some new wireframes from Mark for the streets in Thimbleweed Park, the Main Street and so on. Fun thing was to start doing some flashback rooms. Mark had a couple of rooms that I took, one was 2 [rooms] in the circus where I made a version of how they would look in a flashback and another version of how they look now. That will be fun to kind of see the same room but in a totally different state.
(Gary:) Can I actually trigger a flashback in the build that I got today or not?
(David:) Yes, well, not a flashback, but you can just jump into one of the other rooms. There’s an “FB” at the end of the name of the room.
(David:) So for you to see it like “Big Top FB”.
(Gary:) OK. I clicked on something called “void” and it crashed the system.
(Ron:) Yeah, don’t go to the void.
(David:) You never come back from it.
(Ron:) Don’t go to the void.
(Gary:) OK, it’s on the list of rooms, but OK… [Ron and David laugh] Thanks for the heads up, guys!
(Ron:) Well the void, it’s a special room that we can send actors to if we just want them to be out of the game.
(David:) Or if we want to punish them.
I also start to add a bunch more of the characters using just the single frame facing version that we have, so that we can actually -even though that they aren’t going to animate- at least we can see what they look like and to be like a paper cutout that just slides around the environment. But at least you can talk to them and give them stuff and do things. Like with those in place we can just start wiring more interactions up.
(Ron:) I kind of like the sliding around characters. It’s got a weird charm to it.
(David:) Yeah I think we should just leave that.
(Ron:) We don’t need animation.
(David:) Gary, we just need a back facing and a side facing.
(Gary:) Or maybe we can have one that slides around, that’s trapped in some sort of a time warp or something, I’m not sure.
(Ron:) Well we don’t even need a side, right? Because it’s a little South Parky, right, to just have the front facing on them.
(Mark:) Like that cartoon character Flat Stanley 3 or whatever his name is. Yeah, he can just show up in our game because why not, he’s shown up everywhere else.
(Gary:) I have no idea what you’re talking about, but okay.
(David:) So next week I’m going to continue with the characters and I’m gonna start working on a pretty large puzzle that gets triggered partway through the game, where I think we have like five different actors involved, a combination of non-player characters and three characters that you control and that should be fun.
(Ron:) This is the puzzle that requires three characters to solve it, the one you’re talking about? 4
(Ron:) Yeah, that’s a fun puzzle.
Are you done David?
(David:) I am done.
(Ron:) OK, I will go next then. Last week, I did mostly a lot of dialog stuff, fixing bugs for David that came up and working a little bit with Malcolm [Stead] on the walk box stuff. He’s going to completely redo the walk box code so I spent some time working with him, getting him up to speed on that.
A lot of time in dialogs… I’m still trying to figure out , as David was saying, what’s the right complexity for the dialogs. Because on one level you can do these very very deep, complicated dialogs and on another, you can do these kind of more simpler ones and given the time constraints and everything else, I’m trying to figure out a good balance for that. So I wrote a dialog last week about this guy standing on the street corner dressed up as a big pizza. That’s a very, very simple one. I wanted to see what would happen if the dialogs were just super super simple and so I kind of created that one. Actually feels pretty good, so I’m pretty happy with that.
And then the other issue with dialogs that I’ve been kind of wrestling with is the issue of transference of information. So if you are detective Ray and you go to talk to somebody and then you switch to detective Reyes and then he goes and talks to that same person, is it like he’s never talked to the person before? Or is there some transference of information - magically- between Ray and Reyes? Because the player knows the information, so I think it’s a little bit monotonous to have to go through all of that information again in a dialog just because that one character hasn’t seen it yet. So I’m just trying to figure out a good balance for how that stuff works.
And then next week I’m going to be in Germany at Gamescom.
(Gary:) So are you finding out that when you are working on this system, does it feel like you’re reinventing the wheel and like recreating a whole bunch of stuff that you did before or are you adding a whole bunch of features that never existed in the gaming systems that you’ve done before like SCUMM?
(Ron:) Well, all the dialogs in the SCUMM system were all brute forced. We really programmed them all and so the difference between this system and what happened in SCUMM is we have the “yack” file format which I think allows the dialogs to be much quicker to write them, because they’re in this very simple little scripting language. So that part of it is very different, but I think the creative problems are similar. But the problem that we didn’t have in Monkey Island was we only had one character -it was just Guybrush [Threepwood]- so we didn’t have the switching of the characters to deal with, you know? I think we were a little naive as well, so we just kind of created a lot of very very large dialogs because we didn’t really know any better and so here I’m just trying to think through this a little bit more.
OK, let’s go to Mark.
(Mark:) Well, I have been doing wireframes of Main Street, “A” Street and “B” Street and getting things laid out and nailed down so that I can move on to doing final art for those things, which is what I will start doing next week. They’re big streets with lots of buildings, so they’re going to be kind of super-uber backgrounds. I expect that will occupy my time for the next couple weeks.
(Ron:) Yeah I think those backgrounds count as three backgrounds each.
(Mark:) At least!
(Gary:) Yeah but since Mark can draw a background in like less than a day , it shouldn’t be a problem. You know, the level of detail it’s just not that big a deal to Mark.
(Mark:) Right, right! I see that we’re dealing in hardcore truth here. [Ron laughs] That’s good!
(Gary:) Well, being as you don’t exist.
(Mark:) Yeah. I guess as I don’t exist, the rest is up for grabs.
(David:) Some people were asking on the blog how long it takes you to do a typical room?
(Mark:) Oh boy… well, first of all I think you’d have a hard time defining the term “typical room”. To do a wireframe I think probably the fastest I’ve ever done any room was one day but most of them seemed to take two and when it gets into the color work, so far it’s 2 or 3 days. It depends on how many of those individual pixels I have to place by hand.
And also, people don’t realize that it’s not just a question of you are told what to draw then you sit down and draw it. My mind is as blank as anybody else’s at first as to what these things look like, you know? I’m told to do the Doggie Diner, I have no idea… - by the way there’s no Doggie Diner in the game, I just made that up, I don’t want to alarm people.
(Ron:) We’re often telling you to draw rooms that don’t actually exist in the game.
(Mark:) Right, right!
(Ron:) Just for fun, you know?
(Mark:) And this is where I’m finding that out, folks… that’s exciting.
But when I’m given a room to draw oftentimes I have no more idea than anybody else about specifically what it looks like or what the architectural style is or what specific things are in it and so I begin trying things, sketching things. People would be surprised at how much time I just spend thinking about what should be in the room and how it should look. And oftentimes the first few things I try aren’t very good, so I have to keep trying until I’ve got the right direction . There’s a lot more to it then one might imagine. If one thinks that I just sort of sit down and begin drawing lines and pretty soon there’s a room there, it’s a couple days of work oftentimes to draw a room.
(Gary:) Programming: how hard could it be?
(Ron:) It’s not.
(Mark:) Yeah, ones and zeroes! I mean, you’ve only got two numbers to keep track of. How hard can that be?
(Ron:) Well, so I may guess the Monkey Island art was easier because you only had 16 colors?
(Mark:) Yeah, right. [laughs] It’s easier to draw the world when you only have 16 colors, and horrible ones at that.
(Ron:) So how are you finding doing the art for Thimbleweed versus the art that you did on Monkey Island?
(Mark:) You know, they’re both fun. They’re fun in different ways. The 16 colors for Monkey Island was both a constant frustration -because once you figured out how things ought to look, then you figured out that you didn’t begin to have the colors to draw them that way- but at the same time the puzzle aspect of figuring out how to take these 16 colors and come up with the best possible image was actually a good part of the fun. This process [for Thimbleweed Park], as everybody knows, I am using the pencil tool in Photoshop now and I am much more concerned about figuring out what the best colors are for things and then making them that color. I’m more concerned about that on this project than I am about making sure that I’m not using more than 256 in the scene. So I don’t have the limitations that I had the first time and therefore the puzzle solving is different. At the same time, I’m having an awful lot of fun figuring out how to draw things in pixels -I mean real visible pixels- rather than the kind of 32-bit infinite float that I and everybody else is growing used to working in the years since the old days.
Trying to figure out how to draw a face or a chandelier in three pixels is still a puzzle solving affair that is both entertaining and frustrating in that regard.
(Gary:) Yeah, but that three pixel face, I don’t think he looks happy enough. Can you make him happier?
(Mark:) I know. I’m looking for a happier pixel, I’m sure I have one in my palette here somewhere… “happy pixel” as soon as I find it, you can bet I’ll be making a lot of use of it.
Glad you guys are liking it and I’m really looking forward to seeing enough variety of finished art to really get a sense of how this is looking. Right now it’s just these few rooms and of course they’re all at the same time of day. I’m really looking forward to doing the noon time rooms.
(Ron:) Yeah you’re gonna have to redo every single room probably eight times during the day.
(Gary:) Yeah, right Ron, we have the budget for that.
(Ron:) All right, Gary?
(Gary:) OK, so I’ve continued to work a little bit on icons but mainly focusing on characters now in terms of getting the characters to look like they actually do belong in the world. One of the things that we did in the wireframe characters -as David was saying- are just these cardboard cutout things that you can just slide around. So now we’re having to take them to the next level, which is what are they actually going to look like standing in Mark’s rooms? And are they going to be convincing relative to this game? So the first thing I’ve been doing right now is taking characters and drawing them in their standing poses and also drawing them in their standing poses so they’re not this stiff thing but they have some ponderation to the character - you know, the hips angle one way or whatever 5 - so they are starting to look more like… they’re still in the same resolution, [we]'re still keeping them sort of blocky and still keeping them with the same aesthetic of everything else that we’re doing, but we are doing something that approximate much more of a living character for the game. One thing I will tell you is no matter what pose or what way I draw Ransome, he still looks like a dick, if you know what I mean. So it’s in fact the more rendered Ransome which I’ll show the rest of you guys soon -Ron has seen it- he definitely looks like an a-hole, so I think I’m accomplishing what I need to accomplish with Ransome. The other characters are not quite as annoying as he is, so we’ll see where that all goes.
So that’s been the main thing I’ve been working on . And there are two pieces to that: there’s having a more natural pose and then there’s the rendering of the colors.
The heads and the larger heads that we design tend to work pretty well and we’re going to stay with that aesthetic. There’s probably not a lot more rendering that’s going on on those heads, although we’re tilting heads a little bit or turning heads a little bit. It’s amazing how much different and how much more -I’m going to use the word- “natural” something looks when you sort of tilt it a little bit so it’s not straight on.
So that’s all coming along and that’s what I’m going to concentrate on when Ron is off in Germany, so we can all basically screw around and play for a week.
(Ron:) Excellent! Well, thank you everybody and we will have you back again, Mark.
(Mark:) Oh, you think so, huh?
(Gary:) We’ll try out some other actor or whatever to play Mark.
(Mark:) Exactly! You can find somebody to impersonate me.
(Gary:) I’ll grab somebody off the street and just say “Here’s Mark Ferrari!”.
(Ron:) All right. Well, see you guys later!
1: because of several announced appearances of Mark on the podcasts and then each time something getting in between things, people started to joke in the blog comments that perhaps Mark did not exist at all. As if Ferrari would be an actual person’s last name.
2: Mark is probably mixing up the titles “Raiders of the lost Ark”, “The Secret of Monkey Island” and “Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis”.
4: This is the puzzle where you need to play Willie’s favorite music.