4. Tools Superpowers
Double Fine wrote a number of tools that, when added together, made for a streamlined development pipeline. It's hard to single out any one tool and express how it enabled efficient development. A couple of our weapons are described here.
The MUE (Multi-User-Editor) is our collaborative open world building tool which forms the backbone of our world production process. Its primary function is to allow designers and artists to work simultaneously on our large world.
The Brütal Legend world is divided into different "tiles", and the MUE allows for individual tiles to be checked out and edited by different individuals. In addition, any or all of the thousands of entities populating the world can be checked out and edited by different individuals.
The MUE also offers a propriety set of tools for editing height map terrain -- a bit like ZBrush lite, but specifically optimized for editing height map terrain.
In addition to the expected suite of sculpting and smoothing tools, the MUE has an innovative sculpting tool known as "terrain stamping" which allows artists to import pieces of mesh, arrange them on the terrain and then click a button to "stamp" that shape into the height map terrain.
It was an especially useful technique when creating critical gameplay areas that had specific height, angle, or width requirements for the terrain. In addition to sculpting the terrain, the MUE allows artists to paint down blended terrain materials and ambient mesh (grass, bushes, and so forth) in real time.
The MUE runs inside a Maya window, but under the hood lies a powerful SQL database. While having a database back-end may not sound exciting, it served as a powerful safeguard against data loss and enabled rapid worldwide changes. If an artist wanted to change all the poster trees into tire trees, he would run a one-line search-and-replace python script, which also handled the checking in and out of the data.
A second tool (called the Rigerator) was created to support our rigging and animation tools pipeline. Faced with the daunting task of creating and animating around 150 unique characters, some with upward of 40 facial shapes, as well as around 300 cinematic scenes, it was critical to automate the character rigging and animation pipeline as much as possible. Due to the high volume of art revisions made internally, we also had to enable making changes easily.
To achieve this we started by using Maya referencing and naming conventions assigned automatically by the tools to minimize user input, minimizing inconsistencies between users and files.
To author and edit character rigs, we created an automated process wherein a user could match a simple skeletal layout to their character's proportions and simply press a button to create the complex animation controls instantly with proper placement and naming based on whatever unique size or shape that character had. Prior to the development of this tool, the process would take one to two days to complete manually, but animators were now able to rig their characters instantaneously.
Additionally, since unique characters require many unique animations, we developed a tool that managed a library in which a character's unique poses and animations could be easily saved and loaded onto other characters in the game. While speeding up the animation process, this Anim Toolbox also kept all character animation sets creatively cohesive regardless of author, and it applied to both in-game animations as well as the cinematic scenes for the game. Without enabling this workflow we could not have created the vast amount of animation in the necessary time.
5. Big Names
Few games, if any, can boast the number of licensed music tracks or the number of signed celebrity actors/musicians that Brütal Legend can. It was a monstrous and painstaking endeavor to select each of the artists and tracks to include in the game, but it was worth the effort.
For licensed music, Tim and music director Emily Ridgway chose songs that had substance and credibility. Each song needed to both fit its use in the game and also be embraced by metal fans. For Brütal Legend to truly honor the genre, it had to be rich with heavy metal presence, since the music, lyrics, and imagery served as the game's creative direction.
Once songs were selected, it was then a Herculean effort to seek out, negotiate, budget, sign, and shepherd through the licensing process over 100 music tracks, each with a master and a synch agreement, many across multiple rights holders, and some from bands that had long since split up.
We sought permission for each song individually, and in some cases, Double Fine's personal outreach to bands on behalf of Brütal Legend resulted in the creation of original music for the game by the artist, such as Lita Ford's "Betrayal." The final soundtrack to Brütal Legend is epic, and the oft-unheralded licensing process that took the excitement of identifying and selecting tracks and translated it into permission to use is something we're proud of.
While our music content dreams were lofty from the start, we had not initially planned to cast Jack Black as the voice of Eddie Riggs. We approached him with the prospect after learning he was a fan of Psychonauts, and, as a metal fan himself, he signed on to do the voice acting for the game.
In addition to Jack Black, a number of other high profile musicians were identified and sought to provide the voices for the characters that would personify them in the game and honor their contributions to heavy metal. Each required outreach, negotiation, scheduling, and directing. Personality and humor always define the characters in a Double Fine production, and Brütal Legend is another example of casting and voice direction done right -- except this time around, the cast is a little more, well, famous.
Surprisingly for us, the beefy licensed music soundtrack, and the addition of a celebrity cast to voice the characters, especially the voice of Jack Black as Eddie, helped to inspire Tim's writing, motivate the team, and excite publishers.