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Michael Mann

Michael Mann

Posted: November 27, 2007 09:21 PM

From the Rooter to the Tooter: Studies in Character


Hello loyal reader. I've returned from another Thanksgiving holiday chock full of pumpkin pie wisdom and turkey neck percipience to deliver unto you a new installment of my behind-the-scenes look at the making of "Hail to the Chimp," a politically-charged next-gen party game coming to the Xbox 360 and PS3 this spring.

As I sat at my holiday table surrounded by friends and family, watching them tear a turkey from the rooter to the tooter, I couldn't help but think of the cuddly, lovable animals that take the main stage in our game. "Hail to the Chimp" is a party game that pits 10 candidates against each other to determine who will be the next ruler of the animal kingdom. As anyone who has watched Planet Earth can attest, we had our work cut out for us when deciding which 10 animals would represent the various habitats and ecosystems from the thousands upon thousands of possible candidates.

Work started two years ago with a list of every animal imaginable. We had to figure out a way of narrowing down the possibilities. Dart boards, taking names out of a hat...All these methods seemed to lack a certain panache. Someone suggested we actually get hold of each type of animal and let them battle it out, gladiator-style. Our first test pitting an elephant against a dung beetle was a success, but future elimination rounds were postponed following public outcry and a funky smell that still permeates the office. Honestly, had I known the dung beetle would do that to the elephant, I would have stopped the fight after the first round.

Eventually we narrowed down our contenders to a chosen few based on a set of key criteria. First, the animals would have to lend themselves to great gameplay. They needed to be able to run, attack, and jump with conviction. In addition to each individual animal's abilities, we also had to consider the balance of the game. Sure, I'd love to take a blue whale and match it up against a koala bear, but that would result in one of us (me) having a lot of fun and the other (you) watching their poor koala get turned into something resembling Vegemite. The animals all have strengths and weaknesses that create a balanced, fun game for everyone. Finally, and one of the most important aspects of our game, the animals had to have personality. A hippo is just a hippo, but Ptolemy the hippo is like a cross between James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Each animal has a very detailed identity and back story crafted lovingly by our lead writer Matt Soell and his team of dedicated scribes.

The development of the character's, well, character is just one part of the sum. The appearance of each political hopeful was a lengthy process that involved taking the above descriptions, gathering reference materials, and giving each animal a look that is clearly identifiable while staying within the game's paper-art style. Tragically we lost a couple of good art directors (and nice digital cameras) to the not-as-tame-as-they-look inhabitants of the Brookfield Zoo, but the end result is well worth the sacrifice as our game looks like none other. Each candidate is animated to match the gaits, bites, and double-jump belly flop attacks that their real world counterparts possess, giving them a life-like palate of movement. Finally, the voice actors are selected and recorded, setting the stage for pompous debates and cutting political satire that puts the finishing touches on a cast of contestants that rival the personalities of politics today.

I'd love to take the time to tell you more about each candidate and their political platforms, but sadly I am out of space. Instead, head on over to www.chimplove.com and check out the party animals for yourself. I'll see you all in a couple of weeks, when my topics will be game types and what I want for Christmas. Thanks for reading!