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Postmortem: American McGee's Grimm
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Postmortem: American McGee's Grimm

January 22, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 5 Next

2. Working in China

Starting up Spicy Horse in Shanghai, China, has played a major role in its success as an independent developer. As one of the biggest game-development zones in China -- especially when it comes to foreign development studios -- Shanghai is a very interesting location to start up a studio.

For one, it is easier to find experienced employees, while the vast numbers of university and college-trained people in China also provide a steady source for junior level designers, artists or programmers. And although Shanghai is a much more expensive city than most other Chinese cities, salaries and overall costs are still much lower than in Europe or North America.

The success of game developers in Shanghai (both Chinese and foreign studios) has spawned a lot of outsourcing studios in and around Shanghai. This enabled us to outsource all of our 3D asset production, while still maintaining a hands-on approach to asset production: our outsourcing studio being around the corner, we could go and check up on them and give them feedback whenever we wanted to.

About half our animation and concept art team were outsourced as well, but (again) because of our favorable location, we were able to have them work on-site, basically working as if they were a part of Spicy Horse.

This close relationship with our outsourcing partner enabled us to keep our goal of maintaining a relatively small core team of permanent workers, while outsourcing as much of the art production as possible.

What truly makes Spicy Horse stand apart from the rest of the studios in Shanghai -- and probably also makes it work better than most foreign studios in Shanghai and the rest of China -- is its balance.

Spicy Horse has become a delightful mix of Chinese and foreign employees, of industry veterans and young and inexperienced people who are eager to learn. On top of that, an overall sense of egalitarianism throughout the whole team makes for a very tight-knit group of equals working together to get Grimm out to the public.

Main room of Spicy Horse Offices

3. Creativity is paramount

Creativity and encouraging creativity is extremely important when developing a video game and Spicy Horse has done a great job at keeping creative thinking alive throughout the whole project. The episodic nature of Grimm actually encouraged creativity in itself: every time an episode is in its last stages of development, the team looks for ways to make the next one even better.

Although the team is divided into departments with their own leads, we encouraged everybody to actively take part in any discussion. This made for a democratic approach to making decisions: it was impossible for any one person to call the shots without the support of their team. This push for creativity really paid off in art and design.

Establishing a unique art design can prove to be pretty difficult, but Ken (the art director) and American (the creative director) quickly came up with the rough outlines for what would eventually be the distinct art style of Grimm.

The cartoonish looks of the game are a far cry from most of the other Unreal Engine 3-based games, and enabled us to be much more creative with the content than we could have been, had we chosen a more realistic feel. On top of that, since the art style does not try to emulate photorealism, it will still look good in five or 10 years.

Thanks to the episodic nature of Grimm, the overall design of the game could change in between two different episodes. Every episode had its own design meeting and its own design documents.

These design documents were always the result of a conversation between different people and were never dictated by the creative director or another single person. And even then, after a design document was finalized, it would not be an untouchable dictate, but a 'living document' so that the level designers themselves could add new ideas to it.

Grimm concept image. Every asset in Grimm has a light and a dark version.

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 5 Next

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