Hear It From a Pro: Diana Salles

90s/ 00s game dev Diana Salles tells me about her experience in the industry.

Last week, I took a trip to Mountain View/ San Francisco to visit my sister. While I was there, I took full advantage of my time and participated in the Global Game Jam at the Facebook HQ site. That is a WHOLE OTHER story that I won’t talk about here, but I did talk about it somewhere else.

Jamming at Facebook was as awesome as it sounds, but it wasn’t the only cool adventure I had last week. I also took a drive to Oakland on Wednesday to meet Diana Salles, an ex-Tiburon/ Konami artist who gave me some fantastic information on game development and the industry during the late 90s/ early 00s. And by “meet”, I mean I just happened to run into her at the Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment, told her about my blog, and then we had an impromptu interview of sorts.

Salles was the 35th hire at Tiburon Entertainment in Orlando, FL, and began as a texture artist. She described the work environment as “cutthroat”, with people being fired daily. Management themselves would come to someone’s cubicle and just start packing their stuff up during working hours. Salles likened the experience to the “Reign of Terror”, but she felt safe because they liked her work.

At Tiburon, Salles created textures for Madden ’96-’99 for the Saturn, PlayStation, and eventually N64. During production of Madden ’97 for Saturn, she explained that the engine was difficult to work with, because it would just plaster entire textures to a single polygon. She had to stitch textures together by putting pieces of them on polys, then snapping the vertices together. They were using the first version of 3DS Max for Windows at Tiburon for that project. The modelers used NURBS models to capture motion data of the players running. They captured the motion from 12 angles, and then this data was baked onto sprites. They used an SGI workstation for motion capture.

Salles later worked on the PlayStation port of Madden ’97, and Madden ’98 for N64… the latter of which was a total disaster.

Madden ’98 for N64 was a big deal, because it was the first time Tiburon was working with 3D models, and it was supposed to be a huge thing that Madden was finally in 3D. But of course, someone at Tiburon “forgot” to renew the NFL license that year… so the team had to make up fake football teams and rosters. The game bombed, and Tiburon lost a lot of money. This was likely what led the company to be acquired by EA that same year.

The acquisition didn’t affect Salles, however. Representatives of the Redwood City branch of Konami came to visit Tiburon in 1998, looking for talent. Salles wanted to live in the Bay Area, so she signed up. They interviewed her, then after 3 months of tense silence, she was hired.

At Konami, Salles worked on a fun project: Frogger’s Adventures: The Rescue for PlayStation 2. As a side note, during our talk, she mentioned something about Frogger’s Adventures on the Dreamcast. However, no such game exists. I suspect they were working on the game for Dreamcast at one point, then production was switched over to PS2 when it was clear the Dreamcast was fading away (RIP, [wipes single tear]).

Salles’ job on Frogger was to create all the animations for the cinematics. I believe she said character animation, specifically. She animated entirely in 3DS Max, and the models had IK rigs (which I specifically asked about, because I wasn’t sure if inverse kinematics in 3D animation was a thing yet). She rendered video out at 640×480, widescreen.

The last project Salles told me about was Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock for PS2. Yes, PS2. Her team’s job was to take the 360/ PS3 character models, and reduce their polys down to a manageable size that the PS2 could handle. A pretty cool job if you ask me, and a task I didn’t even know existed for that game. She said they were somehow able to use the same animations from the next gen models, even though the PS2 models had far fewer bones. She said it was challenging trying to figure out creative ways to reduce the number of polygons on small accessories on the body while retaining the level of detail. For example, belts could be reduced to a simple texture on the character model, but a small box on the belt might have had to be nixed to save a few polys.

So, that’s it! That was my brief but very insightful talk with Diana Salles, who is now a professor of computer art and game development at various institutions. I enjoyed my talk with her, and I hope her wonderful historical information and anecdotes were a pleasure for you to read as well.

I’ll leave you with this trailer for Nacho Libre for DS, a game for which Salles created all the original character art.


TRG

CORRECTIONS: Salles was NOT a children’s book illustrator, but a scientific illustrator with the position of Senior Artist at the American Museum of Natural History prior to working at Tiburon. She also did not create the animation for the clip of Frogger I had previously embedded. The article has been updated with a video of Nacho Libre for DS, for which she did all the original character art.

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~ by The Retro Gamer on February 5, 2015.

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