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The Bard’s Tale Developer Diary #3

I get to play Frankenstein. Not the monster, mind you, rather the Doctor. I make monsters. Using leftover pieces (different team opinions) and a few tricks from up my sleeve, I have designed several of the creatures you’ll be encountering in inXile entertainment’s first release, The Bard’s Tale.

The Pet
Description: Unknown.

The Pet was the first monster I started sketching after joining inXile a few days into 2003. Within my first weeks of employ, there wasn’t yet a clear vision of what it was going to be, only what purpose it would serve. Maxx Kaufman (inXile’s Art Director) set me off on a ‘monstrous yet regal’ approach, so I went and sketched a variety of creature heads, some 40+ thumbnails.

I have been designing critters professionally for over a dozen years now and always try to present new ideas and approaches to show the audience creatures they haven’t seen before, but feel as though they could exist. When I am designing a character or monster I like to start with the head, ultimately growing the design out once the initial attitude and personality has been set.

We found a few heads that were interesting, but before we could continue, we shelved work on the character. Well, shelved isn’t the correct term, rather “put it on the back burner” while other matters took precedence.

Nearly a year later, the project well underway, the scheduled time for Pet design and construction came up. Should be simple, we’ll just go back and pick the best of the old heads, right?

At this point various key team members had a clearer picture of what the Pet was supposed to look like and what it was supposed to do. I broke out my old sketches, which sparked a few ideas, but ultimately a meeting was called.

Creature design by Committee!?

Sounds like a recipe for disaster, right? At several of the game companies I’ve worked at in the past, it usually was. Sequestered away for at least 20 minutes in the inXile conference room, ideas were put forth, concepts bandied about, and I’m pretty sure someone ate a few donuts, but I won’t name names. By the end of the meeting I had a list of the Pet’s qualities:

  • New supernatural creature
  • Big, Giant, Scary, and “flying”
  • Squash Roxy (a key canine character)
  • Pick up things and throw
  • Griffon-like
  • Animal basis?
  • ‘Ferocious’
  • Arms are wings?
  • Made in a Wizard’s workshop
  • Possible Amalgamation

The meeting broke, confident that we had brought this complex creature into focus. Meanwhile, I went back to the drawing board, literally. I developed a few more of the initial heads I had sketched early on, loosely inspired by my own past pet, A black and tan wire-haired terrier named Amos. I sketched several more heads, animal-like, but with intelligent eyes, still keeping with Maxx’s initial “monstrous yet regal approach.”

I emphasized the ‘pickup’ quality the creature was to possess, (picking up other characters and dropping them from great heights) giving it long forearms and spindly claws to clutch with, and went with individual fingers to splay dramatically from our game camera.

Within a few days I had a head and body that everyone seemed pleased with - it fit nearly all of the criteria yet hadn’t been seen before.

Ultimately, the Pet was handed off to Craig Drageset for animation, who brought a whole new life through motion, while Annie Sullivan (AI) gave the creature its brains, each making it more real than I could have alone.

Usually a nightmare, Committee Design actually works here. We’re definitely doing something right...

- Brandon Humphreys

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