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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 5 of 5

4. Transformation tech too expensive

If you look at how we split up gameplay areas in Grimm, you'll notice that we have extremely small levels, most of them containing not more than 400 actors in total.

On top of that, poly count on our models is very low, especially when compared to other UE3 games. Yet, you need a relatively beefy computer to run the game at a consistent frame rate of 30 FPS. So why doesn't it run much faster?

The answer lies in the technology we used for the transformation feature in our game. We worked with a team of programmers in the U.S. to get the transformation gameplay to work correctly in UE3.

They worked it out pretty quickly, but the tech had one major weak point: it could only work with skeletal meshes. So, instead of using mostly static meshes like other games would, we could only use skeletal meshes. Needless to say, this had a huge impact on our frame rate.

There was talk about further optimizing this feature by assigning a team of programmers to it, but this never happened. That is why our game runs slower than Unreal Tournament 3, which is quite bad for a game that is supposed to be "casual".

Five different ways of morphing were used, depending on size, type and importance of a given model.

5. Offsite Business and Finance

While we assembled highly-skilled production teams in Shanghai, we were less confident that we could recognize and secure comparable local talent for managing business development and finance.

Placing these functions offshore, however, turned out to be a poor decision. For a small, emerging, committed team, there is no effective substitute for sympathetic, face-to-face interaction with company principals.

Discovering a competent, local colleague and placing these critical functions in his/her hands from the outset would have been better. Way better.


It's not really possible to discuss all the good and bad things about the production of a game in a couple of pages. In the "good" side, I might have mentioned the digital distribution formula that gives our game a much longer shelf life than it would have as a boxed product, or how much more streamlined and coherent our team has become throughout the development.

On the "bad" side, the misconceptions the press (especially the hardcore gamer press) had about the game weren't mentioned either: a lot of people complained about the game's modest degree of difficulty and lack of significant challenge (even though the game had always been described as "casual"). Our lazy camera design could have been mentioned here, also.

In the end, though, the most important thing is that we managed to finish what we set out to do: we introduced the gaming world to a new formula of a game 'season' consisting of 23 episodes.

We created an interesting game, with a unique vision, fun storylines and engaging gameplay. By always keeping to our well-defined communication channels and creative pipelines, we managed to hit all our milestones and avoid all but two days of mandated crunch.

Game Data

Developer: Spicy Horse Games
Publisher: GameTap
Release: July 31, 2008
Platform: PC
Development time:
1.5 years from initial concept to release of first episode, with another 10 months until release of final episode.
Pentium Dual Core 2.2 GHz, with 2GB RAM and Geforce 7900/8600.
Software: Alienbrain, Bugzilla, MS Project, Soundforge 9, 3DS Max, Photoshop CS2, Google Documents
Technology: Unreal 3, AI Implant
Number of employees at Spicy Horse Shanghai:
Number of external modelers:
Lines of code:
approximately 45,000
Concept images:
7000+ individual textures
Normal maps:
Production time for one episode:
about six months
Number of episode review meetings:
approximately 271 for the whole project.

Article Start Previous Page 5 of 5

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