By Eric Lindstrom – Creative Director for Tomb Raider: Underworld
I was going to describe the events of Monday, May 5th as a typical day, but it was far from typical because of what happened over the weekend. But there is almost no such thing as a typical day in my job really, so here it is anyway…
I had a lot of work pile up last week, as usual, because I never have ten minutes in a row to myself when I’m at the office. With my wife out of town and my kids busy with their own plans, I came home with only two aims in mind. First, catch up on work (yes, Lara comes home with me a lot), and second, when I needed breaks I would work on another origami model – I’m working on folding a model of every creature in Underworld. I don’t invent models, I only use existing patterns, but because there are creatures in Underworld that we’ve invented, I’ll have to start improvising soon. Not this weekend, though, as I was going to make a black panther, which turned out to be ironic because of what happened to keep me away from both Lara and origami. My stepson came home Saturday with a two-week-old kitten that he’d found alone in a bush. Jet black and less than a quarter of a kilo. If you’ve never seen a kitten that young, they’re smaller than you think. (And it just peed on me while I used one finger to type the previous sentence.) The shelter was going to euthanize it if we left it – kittens that young need bottle feeding and too much care, so that was that. I came to work Monday morning with very little sleep – even at night feeding has to happen every couple hours – plus a cardboard box holding a kitten that didn’t know how to suckle but just swallowed drops of formula I dribbled into her mouth. (Now she’s asleep in my lap – I’ll clean up later.)
The morning would have been hasty catching up on email except for people hearing squeaking from my cube – she’s pretty loud for such a small thing. Then it was feeding time, which ended in time for our Leads Meeting. (Damnit, she moved and now I’m holding her from falling with my right hand so I’m typing with my left hand…and I’m not left-handed…) The Leads Meeting is an hour of discussing status of interdisciplinary issues, which was mostly about the upcoming Press Demo next week – I don’t know offhand how long it will be before reports on that Demo will come out, or I’d say. It’s going to be great but as always there are, as we say, a lot of parts on the floor that we still need to put together to make it come alive.
Luckily the kitten (I haven’t named her – there are kids involved so the politics of naming her will be interesting and complex) sleeps through lunch so I can eat my hastily packed sandwich and junk from the vending machine. (There, I put her back in her box to sleep so I can type normally again.)
After lunch, I carry my kitten-in-a-box down the hall to meet with Toby and Forest, who direct and produce our cinematics, to go over progress on cut scenes and music. There’s plenty left to do but I finished the script long ago and they know what they’re doing and have advanced to a stage where I pretty much wave them on with only a few comments here and there. I’m very happy with the music coming into the game, and it’s a struggle because the sound design is so strong, and I like the mood and feel of strong ambience and light score, that I often need to choose between great music and great ambient sound design. It’s a good problem to have, and I like having the option to go subtle, which is something you can only do when the quality is high.
Then I go talk to Harley, the Lead Designer, and go over some combat reviews. We’re at the point where we are iterating on specific combat setups as a way of making the enemies better and better. We also talk about issues of ammunition, weapon balancing, and how to get the kitten to defecate. Yes, cats this young don’t even relieve themselves without help, but I won’t explain here – google it if you’re interested.
Today is our monthly development update meeting with the Directors and General Manager of Crystal Dynamics, so I leave my kitten with Harley to care for and go into a room where the Alex, the Project Producer, describes our current Alpha status, steps to Beta, and how well we’re tracking to schedule. We’re tracking well in most categories, but Next Gen – or Current Gen, as we are trying to get ourselves to say – is complex so we have to be wary about everything even when it seems to be going just fine. I don’t emerge from this room for a few hours, and I find the kitten has changed hands among the producers multiple times and I have no idea how much or if she has eaten. Oh well, she’ll tell me herself soon enough – she’s very vocal.
I end the day talking with Alex about a number of staffing issues. As you progress towards Beta, people shuffle around as it becomes clear which areas need more creative work and what is taking care of itself. Then I pile the kitten into the car for the long drive home – nearly an hour with traffic.
If it sounds like what I do as Creative Director is mostly management, that’s because I couldn’t be specific about the content or details, and today was more of a management day that happens from time to time. Most of my time is spent going over different aspects of the game with various people on the team, deciding together whether it should play like this or that, whether it should look like this or that. On other days it’s cameras, or puzzle layout, or visual effects, and on and on. Most of my time now is spent talking about closing out the rest of the creative elements needed to reach Beta, when we can concentrate on fixing all the bugs and polishing everything.