Shadow Planet Productions Interview





Michel Gagné is a world-renowned animator that worked on such movies as The Land Before Time, Ratatouille, and the Iron Giant. Joe Olson and his company, FuelCell Games, have contributed to titles such as Call of Duty, Darksiders, Drakan, and Transformers. Together, they make up Shadow Planet Productions.

How did you get the idea for Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet?
Michel Gagné: The idea spawned from a series of interstitials called, Insanely Twisted Shadow Puppets, which I created back in 2005. These were shown on the Nickelodeon channel as part of their Halloween programming. Joe had seen the shorts on my website and suggested that they could be a great starting point for our game. The little retro flying saucer featured in two of the interstitials became our main icon for the game. Of course, things kept evolving from there and the world, concepts and art style of the game went way beyond what was portrayed in those interstitials.What were some of your major inspirations while making Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet?

MG: The fact that I could create an alien world and make it interactive was all I needed to get my imagination going. Seeing the game slowly coming together was a constant source of inspiration.

Joe Olson: Aside from Michel’s work being a huge inspiration for creating the game, on the design side of things we wanted to pay homage to the 8 bit games of our youths. Games like Metroid, MegaMan, The (original) Legend of Zelda. That was such a pivotal time in the video game industry, and to a certain extent those types of games are almost non-existent in today’s market.

What was the most fun part about designing Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet?

MG: Once we managed to secure financing, a big hurdle was lifted and I was able to shift my focus completely on the game, rather than pitching, worrying about money and reading contracts. So from that point on, it was all a mix of fun and extreme hard work. Designing the creatures, the environments and doing the cinematics was definitely fun and challenging. Seeing the game slowly come to life after all the sweat and tears is very rewarding for all involved.

JO: When all the pieces came together and it was finally playable from beginning to end, that was the most exciting time in the project. Also creating the DLC pack, Shadow Hunters, was really fun because we created a bunch of systems for generating the asteroid levels procedurally, and it was both challenging and rewarding to see that in action.

What do you think is the most important thing when working on games?

JO: You must enjoy what your doing. Video games are essentially toys, and if your having fun creating them it will translate into the final product, and therefore to the end user/customer.

MG: Whatever I work on, a good display of imagination is always number one in my book.

What are your favorite games?

JO: Aside from the aforementioned 8 bit games from my childhood, I enjoy a lot of casual games these days mostly do to time constraints. I do play a few matches of Tetris Attack (Panel De Pon in Japan) on the SNES on a daily basis. I also got a lot of use out of my DS through the years and thoroughly enjoyed the Professor Layton series. Portal and Portal 2 are pretty high on my list of all time favorite games as well.

MG: I’m not much of a gamer I’m afraid, but I do have very fond memories of playing the old 8-bit arcade games during my youth. In my early teens, I used to spend a big chunk of my allowance in our local arcade. In a way, ITSP harkens back to those roots. A big point of making ITSP was to create a game I’d enjoy as a non-gamer.

Do you have any role models? If so, who are they?

JO: Dr. Seuss!

MG: I’ve had the privilege to work with some of the best talent in art, animation, special effects, games and comics. I’ve picked up a lot of tricks along the way and was given some excellent tips that helped me become a better artist. But to be a bit more specific, I’d say the six years I worked for Don Bluth, at the start of my career, were instrumental in my formation and gave me the tools and confidence that allowed me to succeed in future endeavors. There’s a long list of artists and writers that have impacted me: Jack Kirby, Eiji Tsuburaya, Steve Ditko, Picasso, Kandinsky, Yves Tanguy, Yerka, Carl Sagan, Basil Wolverton, René Laloux, Oscar Fishinger, Osamu Tezuka, HR Giger, Miyazaki, Don Bluth, Walt Disney, Ishiro Honda, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Arthur C Clarke, Moebius, B R Bruss, Richard Adams, H G Wells, Jack Williamson, Leigh Brackett, Edmond Hamilton, M A Rayjean, Stefan Wul, Philip Wylie, and many, many more…

I see that both of you have experience working on large teams. What was it like working on a smaller team?

MG: I enjoy working with a small team because it’s easier to keep a strong artistic vision that way. There are many times in the movie industry when I felt like a cog in the wheel. Because our team on ITSP was so small, everyone had an important role to play and were able to bring ideas to the table without getting lost in the shuffle. When it came to the creation of the game there was no red tape involved, just Joe and I making the final calls, like a true benevolent dictatorship.

JO: Definitely enjoy the smaller team dynamic, not only does it have a much tighter creative vibe, but an individual on the team has the chance to contribute a greater amount to the final product.

What do you think is the future of gaming?

JO: I think we’re seeing PC gaming come back in a big way, while consoles are getting less and less of the interesting and innovative games. I think your going to see more advancement on tablet PCs, mobile devices, and browser based games in the near future.

MG: From my perspective, I see it as becoming an increasingly great platform for artists such as myself to express their vision. I got into games because I saw the potential of using the medium as a new canvas for my art, animation and ideas and I think more and more, artists and filmmakers are coming to the same realization.

Do you have any future plans for any new games?

MG: Joe and I are exploring some ideas right now. We know how intensive making a game can be so we want to make sure that we are moving ahead with the right project. I don’t want to make games just for the sake of making games. I want to bring something worthy to the table.

If you could tell beginner game designers anything, what would it be?

MG: Be an original. Look at other art disciplines and nature for inspiration. Nurture your imagination.

JO: Persistence is the key. If you have an idea that you strongly believe in stick to your guns!

You can find the homepage of  Shadow Planet Productions and more information on their game here. Michel Gagné’s website is found here and the website HQ of FuelCell Games is here.

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