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Tour of Chicago Pt. 5: Midway Chicago
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Tour of Chicago Pt. 5: Midway Chicago

December 27, 2006 Article Start Previous Page 6 of 6

What Price Art?

The most controversial piece of the Midway development puzzle is the creation of art. Whilst videoconferencing is an accepted tool, as is the sharing of ideas, best practices, tech, and other assets, Midway plans to perfect an art asset database – a limitless number of pre-created objects, that designers can then search, and place in a game’s level.

Game designers will be able to search a virtual backlot, similar to Google Images. If you need a chair in the room you’re building out, you search for it. Once you find the chair that fits, you add the asset. The idea is to save the amount of effort that artists put into creating models, objects, and animations. With the chair example, a universal object can go in any setting.

One common concern is that such a method would lead to completely generic games, where you wander through the same worlds, filled with the same objects…that nothing will ever be unique. Midway Chicago’s technical art director disagrees. “From the case of a fire hydrant, how more special can you make a fire hydrant?”

“You think of Brad Pitt, right?” further cites Martin Murphy, who spearheaded the program. “Legends of the Fall vs. what he’s doing for Fight Club. I could take the same Brad Pitt, put him in complete wardrobe, in a completely different setting, and see him be two completely different characters.”

It’s better development process to take generic objects, characters, animations, and apply a minimal amount of redress. “That’s the goal,” explains Murphy. “Either we solve an asset problem one-hundred percent, or we reduce the amount of art we need to make, in order to reach the visual goal.”

“You can’t ever eliminate asset creation,” Murphay notes. Ideally, artists and animators will look through the database before creating new assets from scratch. “If it doesn’t exist, you’re on your own.”

A shipping crate, from E3, filled with art assets.

Murphy describes it as being just like code. “Is there something existing that we can leverage? Would we create a completely new AI system without at least looking?” While this model might reduce production costs, there’s also an important artistic reason behind it.

“We’re not restricting our concept artists from coming up with the coolest imagery possible,” says Murphy. In fact, Midway will be releasing a book – The Art of Stranglehold – and expects the lavish coffee-table volume to serve as a recruitment tool
for future artists. And if the company can eliminate the dull and boring grunt work of creating the same assets over and over, artists can concentrate on the most creative portions of game development.

Murphy concludes with a favorite example, taken from the end of the television series NYPD Blue. There are three brownstones, shown on a backlot. A series a pictures, taken from the same angle, shows the buildings in a variety redress, from a barber shop, to a crack house, to a law firm – there are 180 distinct uses for these buildings.

That is exactly what Murphy hopes the art asset database can accomplish.

The end of another day at Midway’s flagship development studio.


Midway Studios Chicago is much like Midway itself. It’s under construction, a next-gen work in progress, in the middle of a major transition. Pundits, analysts, and experts are always ready to offer opinions on the future of the publisher.

But Midway Studios Chicago is in the business of making games. How these games will turn out is, as yet, an unanswered question. But there is an indication, from a story that studio head Scot Bayless tells his employees at every opportunity.

A story that, for Bayless, sums it all up.

“I was at GDC, back in ’88.” Bayless recalls, finding himself in the lobby of the Ramada in North San Jose, “ and there’s these two couches back-to-back. And there are these two guys on the couch behind me.” Potted plants keep them from noticing Bayless. “I’m not even paying attention, but somewhere in there, I picked up on the conversation.”

One guy says, ‘God, you know man, no one seems to understand how hard we work. I’m just working all the time, it’s just killing me, my girlfriend’s pissed…’ And the other one says, ‘Yeah, nobody cares how hard we work. All they want is a great game for their fifty bucks.

Bayless’ reaction: “Ding! Write that one down, man. It’s true.” Consumers don’t care how long a game took to make, how hard it was, or how much it cost. “They give you their money, and they want something really cool in return.”

“Ultimately,” Bayless concludes, “They give you money because you made the right thing.” Further, he believes that the company’s leadership recognizes and embraces this truth. “If that’s the root of our corporate courage, then right on.”

Article Start Previous Page 6 of 6

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