November 10, 2000

MELBOURNE HOUSE INTERVIEW

Adam Lancman Talks Le Mans, Space Race & Gaming


Back in 1980 a small development company was started called Beam Software. Their first major title was released in 1982 and most older should remember The Hobbit, which was based on JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings books. It managed to sell a staggering million units, which even by today's standards is an amazing feat. Consider this, Sega's biggest selling game on Dreamcast is Shen Mue with total sales in Japan of around 750,000 units.

In 1984 Beam had success with a sequel to The Hobbit which sold a further 500,000 units. The companies' future was assured. 1986 saw the release of Way of the Exploding Fist, a fighting game which sold over half a million units and was number 1 in Europe. The next decade saw Beam Software develop a staggering 75 titles including Smash TV on the Super Nintendo and The Dame Was Loaded.

In 1996 beam became the fist Australian game company to become publicly listed on the Australian Stock Exchange. Since 1996 Melbourne House had released several hit titles such as Krush, Kill and Destroy (KKND), KKND2, Cricket 97, and the very cool Dethkarz. In 1999 Melbourne House was acquired by Infogrames Entertainment and the company changed names to Melbourne House Infogrames.

This Christmas the company will release two games for the Dreamcast. One of the games is Looney Tunes Space Race which is a racing game based on the Warner Brothers cartoon while the second game is Le Mans 24 Hours which is widely regarded as one of the most impressive Dreamcast games to date. Adam Lancman, the companies' Managing Director, has taken some time out to have a chat with Future Gamez.


THE COMPANY

Firstly Adam, can you explain how long you have been working at Melbourne House and what your role is at the company?
I am the managing director and I've been at the company for 18 years.

How many people do you have working there?
90 people including programmers, artists, designers, musicians, testers and producers.

Melbourne House is about to celebrate it's 20th Anniversary of game development. This is a huge achievement in such a volatile industry. What do you put the companies success down to?
Flexibility, innovation, good design and technology. Our approach to game development is platform and technology independent; first we establish what we want our game to be then we look at how we can deliver that game and on what platform. So, when the hardware base changes we can move quickly over to the new platform(s). If a razor becomes popular we'll develop the razorblade for it.

Are there any games that stand out in your mind as the most enjoyable to develop?
We have developed over 150 titles in our lifetime and the games that stand out are the ones that everyone in the company wanted to play as it was being developed. The Hobbit, Way of the Exploding Fist, Smash TV on the SNES, Star Wars, The Hunt For Red October on the Gameboy, Shadowrun, Dethkarz and KKND on the PC and of course Space Race and LeMans on the DC.

Are there any titles that in hindsight were failures and you wouldn't attempt again?
Failure is a relative term. We have developed games that were critically acclaimed but didn't sell "at the box office", like Shadowrun on the SNES for instance. We have also developed games that were very difficult to get out the door but worked in the end. Its probably games that we have to strain to make right that I would want to avoid in the future.

LOONEY TUNES SPACE RACE

Firstly can you tell us how you got the rights to develop this game. Was it a long negotiation period with Warner Brothers?
Our head Office in France was responsible for negotiating the license. Infogrames has a long standing successful relationship with Warner's so the process wasn't too difficult.

Looney Tunes Space Race is obviously based on the Warner Brothers cartoons. Did Warner Brothers have a lot of say in the title as in what characters you can/can't use and what things could be included in the title?
Warners has all the approval rights on the content in the game. We had to present our design, character and background art to Warner for approval. The characters used in the game had to be approved by Warner. This is not as difficult as it sounds. Any licensor has the right to protect the integrity of their property and if you go in with your eyes open and approach your design intelligently there won't be any problems. As was the case here.

Please tell me that Marvin the Martian is in the game?
Its a secret, sorry, did I say that. :)

Will there be voices during the game and if so did Warner Brothers help to record the sounds at all?
What would a game like this be without voices? Warner has the official approved voice talent for each character in each major language, (Space Race includes French, Spanish, German, Dutch, Italian as well as 2 versions of English). We wrote the scripts and sent them off to be recorded by this official voice talent and then we incorporated them into the game.

What frame rate does the game run at?
30 frames a second. There is always a trade off between frame rate and visual detail and appeal. At 30 fps we have been able to max out draw distance, animations and overall visual quality.

The 4 player split screen mode is a major boost to the game. Did you consider including online gameplay?
At the time we started development the online infrastructure at Sega hadn't been established so we couldn't incorporate any online features and still have the game ready for this Xmas.

How many people have worked on Space Race?
30 people for 14 months

LEMANS 24 HOURS

One of the most impressive games set to be released on Dreamcast this year is LeMans 24 hours. The screenshots are simply amazing. How long has it taken to develop this title?
14 months with a team of 20 people.

Did any of your team actually go to LeMans races to capture the graphics and sounds associated with the race?
Yes, we took over 1,000 photos and hours of video. The LeMans track is almost 14kms long and it was a bit of a challenge collecting all of the visual reference material we needed to create an accurate 3D representation of it. I will say that this is the first time the entire track has been modeled in this much detail and accuracy. We had to send the track to the ACO, (the licensors of the LeMans franchise), and the only thing they could find to complain about was in some places the white lines on the track were not exactly correctly positioned.

Was there a lot of input from the actual racing teams at all and how have they responded to the game?
We did work with a couple of the teams who were very helpful in testing the technical accuracy of our physics and handling systems. We have received universal praise from the LeMans drivers and the teams who have had a chance to play with the game. It was on show at this years race and lots of people had a go.

During the races you have some 25 cars on the track, each comprised of 2,500 polygons. Have there been many problems maintaining the frame rate in the game and if so how have you overcome this?
To be accurate we have 24 cars on the track in LeMans mode and the highest LOD for each car is 2,500 plus another 1,000 for the reflection map on top of that.

What is the final frame rate of LeMans?
As with Space Race, we went for a rock solid 30fps so we could achieve the amazing visual quality we were aiming for.

How is this game different from so many other Dreamcast racing games?
1. 24 cars on the track at the same time
2. A full day night cycle
3. Real time weather that can change as the race progresses
4. 44 different cars to chose from, each having their own realistic performance and handling characteristics.
5. Up to 4 player split screen at 30fps guaranteed.
6. 32 meg of high res textures giving you an amazingly realistic image.
7. 8 different championships that introduce the player to endurance racing.
I haven't mentioned how we compare to those features that exist in other racing games however I will say that this game has been tailor made for the DC and has been built from the ground up to take advantage of the DC's hardware.

THE SYSTEMS

How did you, and your team, find developing on the Dreamcast?
The DC is a programmer's dream. Graphics are also simple to create for the system.

Will you be developing more titles on that platform in the future?
That remains to be seen. It all depends on what happens to the market for the DC once the PS2 and XBox are released.

The Playstation 2 and Xbox are the two systems that you are starting work on now. What are each of those systems like to develop on?
The multiprocessor configuration of the PS2 could cause problems for some less experienced developers. Because of our sophisticated development methodologies we have already been able to produce significant results on the PS2 and we are very confident that LeMans 2000 will be a great game. The XBox is different again, the challenge here is not so much producing great looking and playing games but on how to take advantage of its extra features.

Can you tell us a little about LeMans 2000 on Playstation 2?
LeMans 2000 on the PSX2 takes what we did on the Dreamcast to another level and includes all of the racing field of the 2000 race, (and still has all of the cars and tracks from the DC), new tracks, more action in the pits, more special effects, blah blah blah. You get the picture.

Can you tell us about the ALMS game which you are developing for the XBox?
ALMS (American Le Mans) on the XBox is based around a new endurance racing competition started up by Panoz, a very wealthy US entrpeneur into motorsprt. The series is run over 12 races, 6 in the US, 3 in Europe and 3 in Asia including 1 in race in Adelaide in December.

PERSONAL

What are your thoughts on violence on video games? Do you object to games such as GTA2, Soldier Of Fortune or Kingpin?
Violence in video games is a hot topic. I personally don't believe they can turn a non-violent person into a homicidal maniac but in any case as long as games are given a rating, as they are here in Australia and most other countries, I believe it is up to an individual, or in the case of a younger person his/her parents, to determine the suitability of a game for that person. I personally don't believe we need to have such graphic violence in games but as long as the ratings system is present I believe it is an individual's right to chose.

Which game systems do you own and what are your favorite games?
I have a SNES, a Saturn, a Playstation, a Dreamcast, an N64 and Networked PC's. My favorite games not including ones produced here in no particular order, Unreal Tournament, Tetris Attack (I play head to head against my wife), Super Mario Bros 3 on the SNES, Crazy Taxi.

What is you favourite food?
Barbecued Steak.

Any final comments?
I have a great team of people here at Infogrames Melbourne House. I am continually amazed by what they produce.

Thank you very much for you time....
David Warner ~ Future Gamez


Melbourne House can be found at : http://www.melbournehouse.com

I hope you enjoyed reading this interview as much as I did in conducting it. If you have any comments or questions E-mail me at : phantom@winshop.com.au