1. Director. Although Last Call is known to many as a "Director" game, our choice of authoring software made a mammoth task easier. The ability to incorporate Flash assets gave us an instant ability to create character animation assets quickly and effectively, as well as positioned us for future reuse of the assets in a web environment. Working with Bruce Epstein, who worked off-site, let us address many of the issues plaguing Director games from the outset of the project. Bruce has done dozens of commercial CD-ROM titles, hundreds of Director-related projects, and is a world-renowned Director expert and author. The two books on Director and Lingo that he wrote for O'Reilly are considered the definitive works on the subject and were even chosen by the instructors at Macromedia's 1999 User Conference over the books from Macromedia Press. He has shipped over 3 million, yes million, CD-ROMs for companies such as Lucas, Chrylser, Dun and Bradstreet, Nestle, and many other Fortune 500 companies. Bruce's experience was invaluable.
Director was the only tool capable of handling so many assets in so little time. We simply didn't have the resources to build the game from scratch. Our original deadline called for a Christmas 1999 release, meaning we were shooting for a September GM. After months of testing, the product shipped March 2000. The fact that the game was authored in Director has made it more difficult to gain legitimacy in the game developer community. A closer look at the product, however, reveals a complexity almost unheard of in Director titles. At E3, an Eidos producer blamed Last Call for a work slowdown. Not bad for a Director title.
2. Time-saving tools. The "Character Action Database" let us refer to frames in the separate Flash movies by name (Approach, Greet, Drink, and so on). This allowed animators to combine "actions" in a simple language [#ANIM:"Walk" #ANIM: "Talk"]. This information was stored in Access and eventually imported into Director. The ability for student animators to interface directly with the game engine simplified the operation and allowed anyone with a free moment to add to the game narrative. Hilarious combinations of dialogue (recited with the character in base position), and actions (animations in Flash), resulted from the process. As bar patrons drink more, they progress (or digress, depending on how you look at) to more outrageous mannerisms. The eventual result was over 1,500 unique combinations -- a major accomplishment on such a small budget. Most were entered by people with absolutely no game-making experience.
The "tagger," our lip-synch software, saved us time and money. The 2D cartoonlike characters looked great when we applied a volume sensitive tagging system. Many development groups create such a tool, but luckily we figured this out on our first try.
3. Characters. Our goal when developing characters for Last Call was to create atypical computer game people. It may have been lucrative to stick with stereotypical T&A meat-head characters, but this didn't reflect the morals and humor of the team. Instead, we opted for less traditional characters: graduate students, gay robots, Bacchus the God Of Wine, etc. The writers were instrumental in taking our "ideas" and turning them into a deliverable. Most people who reviewed the game mentioned Cynthia, the whip welding dominatrix with the slave attendant. Few noted the coke snorting fashion model, the orgasmic couple with a penchant for small hedgehogs, or the grad student with projectile vomit. We took special care to make the game as intricately sick, engaging, and funny as possible.
An original sketch of Cynthia, the dominatrix, lunching on a rat.
4. Online marketing. Negotiating the rights to sell Last Call directly from a web site (www.lastcallgame.com), and the initiative to create the official Last Call site, have paid off. Orders come in each day (not many, but some), and we have been able to salvage a long-term strategy from poor retail performance.
5. Some QA was fun! (what we can remember of it). The Recipe QA party was a success. Although we did not manage to try all the recipes from A to Z, we got through the Ss with consciousness intact (barely). The Recipe QA party is a great story because it is really what people want to hear about. The sad fact is that I had managed to get out only twice in the five months preceding the tasting party, and my post-party snooze outside a Chase Manhattan bank, subsequent harassing by a security guard, and five-mile walk back to the office encouraged me to stay off the bottle during development! Bottom line: we had fun.