A day in the life: Radical Entertainment

Posted in Simpsons: Hit & Run
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Jake asked me to describe a typical day at Radical during the development of Hit & Run.

I'm going to say it's Tuesday. Tuesdays and Thursdays were the best because we'd start the day with an early game of ice hockey. Yes we are Canadians, we all play! Even the company CEO Ian Wilkinson played, and Radical paid for the indoor ice time twice a week (this is in Vancouver, not Saskatchewan - Vancouver is not cold enough for outdoor hockey rinks). I miss those games, so much fun! By the way I'll add at this point that one of the delights about working at Radical was our owner and CEO Ian Wilkinson. A real old-school salt-of-the-earth style boss. He expected loyalty. He would take it personally if someone left the company to go to EA or some other competition. Which was fine, because for Ian loyalty was a two-way street, he didn't just expect loyalty, he gave it in return. I always felt like I was valued as a person at Radical.

Here's a story about that. Once upon a time - before The Simpsons, before Road Rage even - Radical made sports games, competing with EA Sports. In fact that's why I joined the company, to work on a hockey simulation (I told you I was Canadian, this was a dream job for me!). Well six months after I joined, our publisher decides to cancel all four of the company's projects on the same day. Welcome to the game industry! How did Ian respond to this catastrophe? With not one single layoff. Not one. he decided we'd switch from sports to mass market entertainment, and got all the teams busy making game pitches and game demos. Which was actually instrumental in getting the Road Rage contract, because we had a driving car demo with physics and such running in real time, while our competitors only pitched ideas on paper.

But anyway, back to Tuesday. Hockey done, showered and changed, into work around 9:00 or 9:30am (which is uncommonly early for game developers, who rarely start work before 10). Get the latest build and run it, always the first thing I did. It's Tuesday so few if any meetings - not a meeting-heave culture, we would have done our planning for the week on Monday. I might spend the morning iterating on missions. Which meant playing locators in the level using Maya, and scripting the missions with our custom scripting language and playing them. Asking other designers to come over and give it a try, give feedback.

For lunch, we rarely went out, because we had the Great Room. Capitals intended! Check this shit out:
http://www.radical.ca/storage/GreatRoom.jpg?__SQUARESPACE_CACHEVERSION=1306953753189

It was a spectacular two-story high open space, so huge it had an actual log cabin inside it (inside the log cabin was a meeting room and hi-def audio-video setup, we used it mostly as a theater for watching movies). There are couches you can see, dining tables off to the right, a pinball game and bubble hockey arcade game (did I mention we were Canadian?) to the left. Fireplace in the back and another HD TV behind it. In the foreground you can get a hint of an amazing, fully stocked kitchen. You can see the fresh fruit and some of the dishes but there was also fully stocked fridges, salads, tuna, bread and sandwich fixings, snacks, drinks of every kind, all provided by the company. This obviously was not cheap but it was a smart investment, because the great room was the social hub of the company, everyone was there at lunch, you could drop in for a pinball game whenever you needed a break, and it was also a fantastic venue for company town hall meetings and special events like the yearly Christmas party for employees families and kids. Damn, I miss this company and this space! I would actually come to work on Saturday with my kids sometimes not to work, just to play in the great room.

After lunch I might meet with the world development team. This was led by our lead artist Jeff Pidsadny, an architect by trade, a skillset that greatly enhanced the design our our game world. If you think about it you will see the design of the world broken into somewhat natural zones ... the Simpsons house residential suburbia, the ritzier area where Mr. Burns lives, the trailer park on "the wrong side of the tracks", the almost-out-of-town feel of the power plant area ... all of this was informed by Jeff's training in how real cities are logically zoned and laid out. So they world team would bring visual and spacial inspiration, but the design team had to closely work with them since we were doing the missions. We'd brainstorm together what kind of gameplay and spaces might go well together.

I might meet with Chris Mitchell who, as I mentioned, wrote most of the dialogue - he also had to be close in touch with the mission designs.

I also worked closely with Jeff Plumly, designer, and Greg Mayer our physics programmer. They led up the vehicle design and implementation, also closely related to the missions. Jeff and I would spend time playtesting each others work, he testing my missions, me testing his driving physics tuning. (I wasn't the only mission implementer of course, other designers also did this work.)

Towards 6pm I'd be done for the day. I started early because I liked to be home in time for dinner with my family. Outside of crunch/OT periods of course. This was never a problem at Radical even though I was one of the older people working there, many of the younger guys didn't have kids yet. But Radical was a kid-friendly company by which I mean they supported this kind of work-life balance, as long as we were there when really needed. (At other game developers this is more of a problem ... early starting+leaving is frowned upon.)
I love all the comments about Canadians sprinkled in, made me laugh. Radical sounded like an awesome place to work. I find it so awesome that even Ian would get involved with the events taking place, seemed like he really cared about what was going on rather than just being totally business all the time.

I have some more questions, if you don't mind answering:

How busy was the team through development? I've always heard that the game development can be really laid back until you hit crunch time for release. Was this the case?

One question I have now that you bring up the world development, was there a reason that only 3 levels were made and their variations of those were made for the other 4 (4-7)? Or was that by design? I can imagine working with an existing series, you need to work within what places they've made up. Additionally, with the Simpsons, anything can be placed wherever and it will pretty much be fine, so was it a challenge to find the right places for specific buildings?
To add to Jake's question, was there ever meant to be a Level 8 and Level 9 at some point in development?

I ask because the PC version has two folders for "level08" and "level09" in the "scripts/missions" folder, and there are a couple of other folders relating to "level08" and "level09". To me, it would make sense that at one point the level count would be 9, since it would allow all three map layouts to be repeated three times. If this is the case, what caused level08 and level09 to be dropped?
I'd say either they didn't have time (was time for release) or they were just left there since early development. That would make sense to me. Also if i can ask, why was Level 7's richside blocked off? In Beta screenshots we could see in the minimap that it wasn't meant to be.. So what causes that major of a change?
>>How busy was the team through development? I've always heard that the game development can be really laid back until you hit crunch time for release. Was this the case?

"Relaxed" might be overstating it but it was like a regular job, 40 hours a week, and yes it was a super fun place to work. Never more than Radical did I actually look forward to going to work in the morning. Not to say there weren't big challenges or stressful times. But overall it was great (and as you guess, Ian had a lot to do with that, it was his company he set the company culture).

>>One question I have now that you bring up the world development, was there a reason that only 3 levels were made and their variations of those were made for the other 4 (4-7)? Or was that by design?

Time. 3 didn't seem like enough, there wasn't time for more, so variations (including different times of day) were the solution.
>>Also if i can ask, why was Level 7's richside blocked off?

Also: time. I don't remember exactly when we had the idea of L7 Halloween-themed level, but I remember it was super challenging to get in at all. The only reason it made it was because the team loved the idea so much, it was a real labor of love. Some of the details still blow me away. Did you ever notice the smoke coming off spinning-car-tires is different in this level? It peters out into little ghosts! And on grass little bones are churned up. All the halloween cars and everything that was all from the team especially the art team (the ones who had to do the work!) but the couldn't stop themselves.
>>To add to Jake's question, was there ever meant to be a Level 8 and Level 9 at some point in development?

No, I think that was just leftover directories from a programmer setup, they probably didn't know how many levels when they made the setup.
> Time. 3 didn't seem like enough, there wasn't time for more, so variations (including different times of day) were the solution.

Makes sense, 3 wouldn't do justice. Did you guys originally plan on more than 3 and then decided it wouldn't be time efficient. Or did you know right then and there that it wouldn't work.

> No, I think that was just leftover directories from a programmer setup, they probably didn't know how many levels when they made the setup.

I believe one of the directories actually contained some MFK scripts, but your answer does make sense.
[deleted user#317]5 years
I have some questions as well. I made a topic a while back, you can find here: https://donutteam.com/forum/topic/482/
It has everything I personally wanted to be in the game and I will start working on it in following months if I have time and desire to do it.

What bothered me as kid was the fact that some road vehicles such as Sedan A, Station Wagon, Ice Cream Truck and a couple of others don't appear at all on road. I just didn't like how for example Pickup Truck and Compact Car appear in 3 different levels, yet those vehicles don't appear at all. I think Pickup Truck and Compact Car were overused. Also I want to ask why when you drive the Cell Phone Cars, your character becomes invisible? Who had this idea? I know how to modify the script files and make the character visible but I just don't understand as it's only cars that do that. There are other things in this topic that I'd like answered such as if Lisa - Cool was meant to cost only 200 coins instead of 250 and other stuff. Thanks.
That's very specific things @[redacted], and some of them seem nitpicks. And your questions are so specific that I don't know if Joe would be able to answer, this was 2002-2003 after all. But.

> Also I want to ask why when you drive the Cell Phone Cars, your character becomes invisible?
You're never supposed to drive that car.
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