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PostPosted: Mon Aug 23, 2010 11:17 am 
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General Questions with Richard Wyckoff

1. How did you end up working on Trespasser at Dreamworks Interactive?

I had worked with directly for Seamus at Looking Glass Technologies on Flight Unlimited, and was friends with the other Looking Glass members of the Trespasser team, engineer Andrew Grant and lead designer Austin Grossman. Looking Glass was beginning to have the business problems that eventually led to its closing, and I was in the first round of people to be laid off. Some time after this, Seamus started staffing up Trespasser to enter production, and invited me to come to Los Angeles for an interview. I officially joined the team around February or March of 1997 if I recall.

2. What exactly was your job description on the Trespasser team, and what parts of the game did you ultimately work with?

I was a designer, and was Austin Grossman’s first design hire, and the only other designer besides Austin who had any previous game design experience. When I joined, there was no overall design for the game. Working with Austin, we selected Cocos Island as the basis for the island map, then worked with the lead artist to sculpt the clay model (real height data simply wasn’t a possibility back then, and might not even be today - it just wasn’t available, and we needed it in a very high resolution.) Once we had the laser scan of the clay island model, I created around half of the overall level designs in the game, and built at least 4 of the levels from scratch. I did a huge amount of the finalizing work on the game (putting in the invisible walls, trying to make the trees not float, making keypads work, etc). The levels I remember doing a lot of work on were the Town, the harbor area of the Lab level, the monorail in Jungle Road, and the cut Pine Valley level with the geothermal plant, but I did a lot of work all over the place. About the only part of the game I never really touched was the summit.

3. How did the various team members get along?

It was much like any team situation, where various people had fights and disagreements (and I had my fair share of them, I was a much more volatile person in those days and was working 100 hour weeks for the last 4 or 5 months of development). I’ve actually worked on teams since then that got along much more poorly. At least no one on Trespasser was working to actively sabotage the work of other departments.

4. What happened with the team between the time Trespasser was finished and when it was finally disbanded?

I don’t know exactly, a lot of the team got let go because the game was rightly seen as a failure, and I was the very first one to get laid off, the day after I came back from a one week vacation after we went gold! Some people, notably Seamus and Austin, don’t even make games directly anymore. Seamus represents game developers for the big Hollywood talent agency CAA, and Austin wrote a book. This is probably typical of the games industry though, many people can’t stand it for much longer than 10 years.

5. What projects have you been involved with after that, including now?

Most recently I worked at Pandemic Studios for the last 7 years until it was shut down in November, primarily on the Full Spectrum Warrior series. I was the lead level designer on FSW1 and the lead designer on FSW2. Lead designer didn’t mean as much at Pandemic as it does at other companies, however, I was really just implementing the director’s vision instead of helping to shape it.
Once Pandemic closed I was able to start my own game and technology company, Reverge Studios (http://www.revergestudios.com). We’re currently presenting products to publishers and investors, and with luck we’ll have funding before the year is over.

6. Do you believe being involved with Trespasser helped or hindered your career?

It didn’t hurt my career at all and I learned a lot about game making by working on it (though mostly how NOT to do things).

7. Are you surprised that there's still an active community for the game?

A little bit, but throughout my career since Trespasser I frequently meet people who are still big fans of the game, and I have often been contacted by members of the Trespasser community.

8. What was the inspiration for the art style in Trespasser?

I’m not sure exactly. In my opinion, the art style was more a result of the fact that it was a very early time in 3D and many artists weren’t very familiar with how to make textures. Much of the Trespasser art staff had never worked in games before. I believe that the intention of Seamus and Austin was that Trespasser should look photorealistic (I’m sure they imagined it like Avatar in their heads), but instead what we got was a style that looked very painted. I wasn’t too happy with the painted look at the time, but I will admit it has aged better than a lot of other game art. There are a few textures that suck though, like some rocks you can see in Pine Valley that were very clearly photographs poorly mapped onto the geometry.

9. Do you feel the engine did justice to the artwork (rendering wise)?

Definitely, the game still looks really nice to me. Our engine was able to have a lot more texture variety than many other engines then (or even now), which helped make our levels look varied. If we had been making the game today with 3D hardware, obviously we could have had a lot more polygons for more-detailed models and more trees, but Trespasser was created just as 3D hardware was being introduced and the fact that we supported it even in a limited way wasn’t originally planned.

10. Was there ever a Trespasser Press Kit released? We've noticed some info and pictures repeated through various websites...

I don’t know. It’s probably more a result of all those websites copying from one original source article.

11. Did you ever play Trespasser after its release to see the results of your work? If so, what did you think of it?

I’ve never played the game all the way through and I doubt I ever well, as an actual game it’s just not very much fun!

12. Do you think Trespasser would have fared better if it had been done more recently, with the advances in PC hardware that only became available after that time?

Trespasser could have been better, for sure, but what people like about it is the fact that it’s a physics-based adventure and not a shooter, and that might still fail even today. Although Trespasser could only simulate about 10 physics objects at a time on the hardware of 12 years ago, the biggest problem was not that, but the fact that physics simulation on computers is inherently unstable. The problems you see in Trespasser with objects passing through other objects still happens today in even the best physics engines, like Havok, because it is a limitation of the fundamental algorithm that all physics simulation uses. The problem of static friction (the physics property in the real world that causes an object to come to a rest and not slide around) is also not solved in physics simulation. These really huge issues mean that physics in a 3D game are simply unable to simulate the real world well enough to build physics puzzles that are completely reliable, and unreliable puzzles are not fun. You will notice that most 3D games these days simply use physics for a special effect, and that the physics puzzle games that do exist are primarily 2D and only simulate a limited type of physics interaction (like the goo bridges in World of Goo).

There is also an input problem with 3D physics that is still not solved. Even if Trespasser had a second arm to keep big objects from dangling when you hold them, a mouse is not adequate to control an object in 3D space. The new Playstation Move controller promises true “one to one” movement in 3D space. It’s possible this would allow 3D physics puzzles, but we’re still stuck with the problem that physics simulation is not reliable enough.

13. If you had the chance to start Trespasser over again (say, you get sucked back in time), what would you do differently?

Trespasser taught me an important lesson that might seem like common sense, but is still the biggest mistake that game developers commit, and in fact it was the main mistake made on most of the other games I’ve worked on too. The Trespasser mistake was to design the game before the core gameplay was actually implemented. In the case of Trespasser, that would mean the physics engine, the character controls (including physics arm), weapons, and dinosaur AI. If you are trying unproven core gameplay, as Trespasser did, you also need to be able to abandon your ideas entirely if you cannot make them work - or even cancel the project altogether.

The game vision that Austin (and presumably Seamus) had was that Trespasser would be a game of physics puzzles in the real world - with dinosaurs. However, even when I joined the team (which was supposed to be about 9 months before gold), the only code that existed allowed a box to roll down a hill. There was no character you could control (let alone the physics arm), no dinosaurs, there wasn’t even a terrain engine yet so we couldn’t make a whole level. Unfortunately due to the schedule the team had promised, we had to go ahead and start designing levels.

Many of your other questions show that you have had team members tell you about the big dreams people had for the game (like drivable vehicles), but none of that was ever anything more than dreams. By the time we were trying to complete the game, we were just keeping our fingers crossed that the physics code was going to be stable enough that you could manage to stand on a box long enough to jump to the next place you had to jump to, and in fact it never was quite that stable. I remember in the early reviews and player feedback hearing time and time again about people getting stuck inside boxes or otherwise experiencing physics bugs that simply made it impossible to continue. Other people were cheating past what little game design we did manage to implement, like the rather tedious Town keycard search. People found that they could just jump against the corner of the town exit gate and eventually physics would fail enough that they’d squeeze right through it.
With my own company I am now fully in charge of how our game projects run, and we have made the hard decision that we will never actually enter production on a game (i.e. start designing and building levels) until we feel the core gameplay is not only working, but actually fun. It’s a hard decision because there are many forces in game development that will pressure you to try to skip past this crucial step. However I’m simply no longer willing to accept shipping broken and unfun games, and so far we’re managing to get by.

If I were making Trespasser again I would have either cancelled it or put it back into prototyping stage until the core gameplay worked and was proven fun.

14. What was the best and worst thing you remember about the time working on the project?

The best thing would probably be the first time I got to walk through a level based on the terrain I had made for the island. I have always been fascinated by realistic outdoor environments, and our engine and approach to designing the terrain obviously worked, because in watching the videos from the community, it is clear the Trespasser levels still feel more real than many outdoor games today. Possibly the biggest reason for that is that many designers create outdoor terrain without any reference to real-world data, just using tools to pull up or flatten down hills. It makes me sad how many games are still made like that, but I know how hard it is to do it the right way.

The worst thing was getting let go before we made the demo. Since my level Pine Valley was cut from the released game, I had been looking forward to polishing it and making the entire level the demo (instead of the time-limited, plotless physics playground they eventually released). I guess I’m glad that the community has salvaged Pine Valley, though looking at it now I would want to rebuild it completley from scratch.

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PostPosted: Mon Sep 06, 2010 7:03 pm 
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I’ve actually worked on teams since then that got along much more poorly. At least no one on Trespasser was working to actively sabotage the work of other departments.

Ouch.... sounds like a not-too-pleasant memory being hinted at.

This is probably typical of the games industry though, many people can’t stand it for much longer than 10 years.

Absolutely fascinating. Makes sense.

Most recently I worked at Pandemic Studios for the last 7 years until it was shut down in November, primarily on the Full Spectrum Warrior series.

Pandemic? There was a "Game with developers!" night on XBox Live after the release of Lord of the Rings: Conquest (made by Pandemic), and I spoke a lot with the devs at the time via headset about my aspirations at the time to start a computer game company... mentioning Trespasser as well. I wonder if he was one of them.

I believe that the intention of Seamus and Austin was that Trespasser should look photorealistic (I’m sure they imagined it like Avatar in their heads), but instead what we got was a style that looked very painted.

:lol:!!!

With the physics puzzles description, yeah I read this when you sent it to me earlier... I think we ought to pay some attention to it. He very knowingly points out ways that Trespasser would fall short of its vision even if started today with a massive budget and long development time. So everyone asking for better physics sim should probably not be expecting too much..

The worst thing was getting let go before we made the demo. Since my level Pine Valley was cut from the released game, I had been looking forward to polishing it and making the entire level the demo (instead of the time-limited, plotless physics playground they eventually released). I guess I’m glad that the community has salvaged Pine Valley, though looking at it now I would want to rebuild it completley from scratch.

Hah, nice..

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