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Making a Prototype of the Future: The Development of Immercenary
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Making a Prototype of the Future: The Development of Immercenary

September 19, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

Digitizing Personalities

Counterbalancing this tension was the DOAsys, a neutral healing zone in the city's center. Here, the player could recoup in safety and chat with various online users, including bosses. Shown as filmed actors against a pre-rendered background, some spoke aggressively to reinforce their dominance, while others explained the world's background and gave subtle clues to defeating rival bosses. Each had a distinct personality based on what today would be seen as common internet tropes.

Interestingly, several of the actors were staff from Five Miles Out, including company co-founder JD Robinson, who filled the role of the player's predecessor, and who was shown on the back of the box. "I think we all enjoyed the experience of representing characters in the game," says Stashuk, who played the role of the Chameleon.

Johnson-Norris explains the intricacies of digitally transitioning actors into the game in the 1990s. "For the movement of the characters, we bought a treadmill and coated it in Ultimatte green paint. Our construction engineer developed a giant platform around it, like a pool deck, also in Ultimatte green.

"We rented a studio at our local CBS affiliate and painted our backdrop. We rotated the whole platform for each of the angles needed, and had our characters make their signature moves and runs.

"I'll never forget going through all the frames to pick the right ones for the motion. The characters were so creative, and offered lots of options for fun voices and moves."

For Johnson-Norris, the game's creative success was also due to having a fantastic team: "Our planning process, led by Ken Hubbell, and game story, written by Elton Pruitt, kept us on target. Christopher's design of the characters and environments was spot on -- ambitious for the time, but realistic in terms of development.

"JD was brilliant. We also had a great make-up artist, Mitch Gates, so were able to make our characters come to life. The coders were focused and talented. Our contact at EA, Jim Simmons, helped us develop a realistic game plan, no pun intended. Everything went really smoothly -- on time and on budget."

From Pretend to Really Online

The company was never able to work on such ambitious project again. " "We developed some small games for EA after that, but nothing on the scale of Immercenary," says Johnson-Norris, who notes that as the publisher grew internal studios and acquired other developers, it "stopped outsourcing development to teams like Five Miles Out."

As Stashuk explains, "After Immercenary was published we started on another game called Shattergrid, which involved a spacecraft you piloted in sub-atmosphere/urban environments. We did a short demo, and I did an intro sequence and modeled the spacecraft as well. We looked to EA for publishing, but a contract was not realized. This time period saw the short-lived 3DO platform already falling away." The developers transitioned their business away from development and into an internet service provider.

"There was a lot of interest in us creating a PC version of Immercenary," says Johnson-Norris, "but since the game was specifically designed to show off the 3DO, it wasn't realistic." Due to low sales of the 3DO and therefore a small audience, Immercenary failed to influence the FPS games that followed. Compounding the tragedy of its obscurity is that while the freely downloadable FreeDO emulator for PCs will run commercial 3DO discs, it can't emulate Immercenary correctly, resulting in lost textures and frequent crashing. Anyone curious to play it has to purchase a 3DO system.

I asked the two former Immercenary creators what their enduring memory is. Says Stashuk, "I think the way in which we all fed off of one another's creativity and went about this production in such untraditional ways led to a unique product. We were not a well-established mega studio, but a small team of passionate people. I am proud to have been a part of such a dynamic team and to have shared and learned so much."

"Five Miles Out was in an old house where the rooms were all connected," says Johnson-Norris. "I recall Christopher blasting some rainforest music while he, the other graphic artist, and the coders all worked at their computers. It was just a great feeling. Another favorite memory is of the Mac station I had in my bedroom, so I could render scenes while I slept. I would set my alarm to wake me when it was time for a scene to be fully rendered, wake up, make some edits, set to re-render and go back to sleep. Good times!"

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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