Afro Samurai's David Robinson: New Studio, New Problems, New Chances
October 6, 2008 Page 2 of 5
Do you have to work with them, in other words, to actually know how they're going to shake out?
DR: Yes. What we did was we created vignettes; Duke Mighten, our Art Director, who was on there with us, did a great job of giving us a preproduction process when it came to art. And it was a very long six-month kind of process where we would work with them, and we would give them a piece of concept art, and some rules, and they had to match it.
And they would send us back different iterations over time, and it didn't matter if they got it wrong the first time, what mattered is how quickly we could get them right, and how honest they were about screwing it up, right?
Then one of the trickiest parts was the language barrier failure -- it's one thing to be a polite professional saying, "This isn't right," and it's another when the outside studio doesn't acknowledge the severity of the problems. And we're burning time, we've got milestones, we've got the president -- at the time we were a really small internal studio, and literally the president was my boss. You know what I mean?
So it's really hard on the nerves to have him come by and say, "Hey, where's our stuff?" You know? Yeah, so, we started off with five companies doing that, and Igloo was the only one that survived.
And were you able to give them things like -- well, obviously, there's the show, so that's a pretty good visual.
DR: Yes. Yes. We flew them out, we showed them a lot of our preproduction stuff, and we gave them a lot of stuff -- we gave them a lot of our own art, so it wasn't like they went in flying blind -- and we asked them to hit it. We gave them a specific amount of time, and our art -- most of the people on the team are what I call "force multipliers", so basically they are just guys who are badass enough to do three or four disciplines really well.
I mean, they can do art, animate, do textures; they can just do everything. So it was very easy for us to get further down a very narrow path, and stop, and say it's not right. So when you have an extra team, and you have to review their art -- if you've got twenty guys on this, and it took them three weeks, and it's still wrong? It's not gonna fly.
Are you using any kind of agile methodology, or are you going traditional waterfall-style?
DR: Well, actually, we're just doing it ghetto style. I think that the cornerstone of the Afro team was that I hand-picked all the guys I had known who could ship a game with no babysitting. It was the guys from Gex and Soul Reaver and Crash, and the guys who've done it again and again and again, under crazier circumstances, right?
Because there literally wasn't a layer of management, it was just, "Dude, you got my art?" "No, I've got to work on this program! No, I've got to do this animation!" So it really worked out well. And the process was professionalism. That was our most salient thing in getting the preproduction; it was everybody knowing what it took to get something on the screen, and backing off from them a bit.
It sounds like it has the potential to get a bit crunchy.
DR: Oh, yeah, it was chaotic, and crunchy, yeah. It was -- well, I would say for the two and a third years that we were in production, it was seven day weeks, for everybody. Just, literally, taking a weekend off would feel like, "Where's all this time?"
I would never want to do that to myself. Personally.
DR: Well. Some of us are stupid enough to forget what it's like until you sign up again.
Well, I can understand, really. If you want to get it done, and make it good.
DR: And we had something to prove, too. I mean, the team had pretty much -- all the guys who'd worked on it had fifteen years or more in the industry, and we'd all worked games that were real safe, and Namco gave us an opportunity to do something really cool.
It's very rare that a studio says, "Do something cool; just don't fuck it up." I mean, what do you say? You show up for work on a Sunday, you work your tail off, just as long as you don't have to do something "safe".
Yeah. It's too bad that that's the way that the industry is set up right now, though.
DR: Well I think the reason is because there are a lot of teams that haven't been honest, and a lot of team members that haven't been honest with their team. When you screw it up, you've got to take responsibility and fix it, and a lot of companies have been burned by teams that kept it close to the vest -- kept their failures close to the vest -- and then they end up spending all this money, and the whole wide organization is screwed by it.
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