Finally, we spoke with High Moon's co-founder and chief creative officer Emmanuel Valdez, who has worked in the game industry for more than thirteen years on a number of titles including Midway's Ready 2 Rumble Boxing series, on which he designed characters and gameplay mechanics for the original title and its sequel. Prior to working with Midway, Valdez also worked at Sony Computer Entertainment's 989 Studios, where he worked as senior artist on a number of the company's sports titles, including ESPN Extreme Racing, ESPN Baseball Tonight, and ESPN Hockey Tonight.
I wanted to know a bit about the move away from Sammy. How did that come to pass?
Emmanuel Valdez: It was an interesting time,
because we started the company under Sammy Corporation. They dabbled
in games in the past, and they had another group called Sammy Entertainment
that imported games in Japan, but they weren't really into it. We were
the real first effort to get them into the video game industry, by being
a startup publisher. They really wanted to grow. We had a nice-sized
building and over 200 people, we were developing Darkwatch and
another title and funding three or four others, and it just wasn't enough
for them. That was over a period of a couple of years.
Then they decided to go big by acquiring Sega. By doing that, they got a brand name that everyone knows, a lot of great properties, and a lot of great development studios. It made great business sense for them to do that, but for us, we just became this redundancy.
Why have two publishing names and two marketing groups? We almost became obsolete at that point, and they didn't really need us other than for the stuff that we were developing internally that they liked. Then John Rowe and the directors all got together and decided that we liked the direction that we were going, so why not acquire the development entity? We retained the internal development group and everyone that supported internal development, and that's how High Moon Studios was formed.
I'm in charge of the art department, the audio department, cinematics, and the mocap studio. We also have a small outsourcing department here, and I oversee that too. From day one, I wanted to put a lot of emphasis on the process of developing and creating art, from previsualization and concept art to developing the best art we can.
Which tools do you use?
EV: We're pretty much an Autodesk house. We previously were a Maya-only house, but we started bringing in a lot of talented Studio Max artists. We also use Motion Builder, because we have a mocap studio. Maya is primarily used for some modeling, and it's our main tool for animation. We also use just about everything under the sun: Zbrush, ClayTools, and so on.
Over the last few years, we've really wanted quality art first, and efficiency after that. It's like, "Give me good quality art as fast as you can!" There's a number of things we can do to help that, and we use tools for that. If we had a really good artist that was comfortable with using a certain kind of application, our pipeline is accommodating to different toolsets. Though we do have primary tools, we do have people who can use just about anything that they're comfortable with, as long as we get the quality and we get it done fast.
So it doesn't really bother
you when people have a different tool skillset?
EV: As long as our pipeline supports it. Fortunately, we're using a lot of middleware applications and we're an Unreal 3 engine house, which is very flexible in regards to file types and file exchanges. We develop our own proprietary tools, and there's stuff off the shelf we can use to transfer data between different applications in different parts of the process. The pipeline isn't perfect yet, but on almost every single level, we're able to at least exchange data between applications.
What do you use for facial capture?
EV: We use our own proprietary
tool. It's something we've developed over the last eight months. Facial
mocap solving is a bear to work with, and we tried a number of solutions.
I think we're able to break through some of the noise and create a simpler
system that's more effective [than other methods].