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Jon Decker, Mike Felker, Tom Freeland

By Geoff Howland | Published Jun 26 2001 04:49 AM in Interviews

If you find this article contains errors or problems rendering it unreadable (missing images or files, mangled code, improper text formatting, etc) please contact the editor so corrections can be made. Thank you for helping us improve this resource

On October 22nd, Tom Freeland, a long time reader and user of 3d Rad posted this message to the 3d Rad message Forums and just four days later, The Halloween Haunted Mansion was finished and The Games Factory was formed. Created by only 3 people, Tom Freeland, Jon Decker and Mike Felker, it is truly a testament to being able to accomplish a lot in a little time with enough fortitude.

Shortly after the game was finished and posted, quite a buzz started growing and it was listed as Happy Puppy's main news item of the day (here) and also on About.com's Art and Technology page (here). So for the inside scoop, we went straight to the source to find out more information about the team and the process of creating it. Below are some screenshots of the game.

Attached Image: gamesfactory_hhouse2.jpg Attached Image: gamesfactory_parlor.jpg

JD - Jon Decker. Programmer.
MF - Mike Felker . Sound/graphics.
TF - Tom Freeland. Project leader and modeler.

Jump To: Programming, Audio, Graphics, Design


Did you guys know each other at all before the 3d rad board? Or just hook up there?

MF - We met at the 3dRad board.
TF - We hooked up there. Geoff did you have a chance to play our game yet?


Yeah, I played it for about 45-60 minutes this morning.

MF - It's fun (biased - I know). I like it - I really do


I liked it a lot, though I didn't beat it

MF - Me neither, kinda hard


I found 6

MF - I found 7
TF - Only Jon knows where the pumpkins are I have no clue myself. LOL.
MF - Tom and Jon did a damn good job.


What challenges did you see about doing HHM? Did you go into it thinking about anything in specific?


TF - Many
MF - Well, that's a tough one.
TF - The only thing in mind was the challenge and being where no one else had gone before.
MF - Once Tom set the parameters, I had a pretty good idea of what we needed musically, since I have been doing this for so long, it was not very hard for me to bang out the 6 music pieces based on a spooky theme - which is fairly easy. All minor 7ths and 5ths. Tom then sent me a sound FX list and I did those too. Tom, would you say I did them in 2 or 3 days?
TF - It was as they wee needed instantly.
MF - Well, not instantly.
TF - Randomly yes, Jon coded it that way.
MF - (blush)


How was working together over the net? Any hang ups?

MF - No - it was very smooth, I must give Tom all the credit here, he was a master at coordinating everything. He was incessant, either his best or his worst trait, depends on my mood. LOL
TF - The hardest part I felt was to keep the team motivated across the distance, I mean with the timeline.
MF - I have always wanted to create a game like this.


Did you find any problems transferring materials around, or communication problems?

MF - Yes, very slow
TF - LOL
MF - I wish I had my cable modem, I used to have one before I moved into my new house
TF - That was a major problem in the process was the file transfer.
MF - So dang sllowwwww
MF - I emailed everything to Tom, even stuff that was 10MB. I could not believe he received it.
TF - LOL yes the USR was blinking all night. LOL


Did you use ICQ as well?

MF - Not for transfer, just for conference and communications. Just for conference and communications. I emailed everything - here's what I would do - I would create the music and then write a CD, put the CD into my network and copy the files. Zip em up, send em, and the process would repeat, over and over and over.


So you made the whole game in 4 days, how was working through that kind of pace?

MF - Tom, Jon and I were in hyper overdrive mode, it was unreal, all three of us shut out the world for four days.
TF - We created in four days, what in previous companies I have worked for would take 6 months.
MF - I did not even see my wife.
JD - I worked on it from 16 to 20 hours each of those four days.. I took days off of work to do it. My wife was pretty much fed up with it by the time I was done. I also lost over 10 lbs during that four day period.


Was that the time you were expecting to get it done in?

MF - What - 4 days.
TF - Exactly as we did.
MF - We were exactly on schedule.
TF - I knew it had to be out to make Halloween.
MF - We just had to leave some cool stuff out.


Pretty rare.

MF - Well, the three of us trusted each other.
TF - And it wasn't even an impulse in my neurons until Friday.
MF - There was a lot of faith in each other's abilities.
TF - Total trust and faith.
MF - I did not have to worry about the coding cause I new Jon or Tom had it covered. I knew the models were going to be great cause Tom was doing them.
TF - Exactly, I knew Mike would come up with the ultimate soundtrack for the mood.
MF - So I only had to do my tasks, easy. I have done more in less.

Programming


How long have you been programming?

JD - Not very long actually(seriously that is) I started way back when the apple Is came out and really got into the Applesoft basic for a while and last year I read many books on c++


On windows, DOS?

JD - Mostly I have worked with Windows, I never used DOS much at all


Have you finished any games before, or was HHM your first?

JD - HM was I would say my first successful attempt a game making. I have about a dozen or so "half-completed" games I've done for purposes of learning. I also have a children's game over 50% done and plan on releasing it at the end of the year.


Were your other attempts using 3D Rad as well?

JD - Yes.. I've tried other 3d engines but 3DRAD took very well with me


I can understand that, it seems to be very scene-graphish and very quick to move models into being able to draw them, which is a definite advantage. You have any problems adjusting to it?

JD - None at all.. I mean I really do have a limited programming portfolio, but in a matter of 1 week I learned enough to put together a rough game I found it very easy to learn and use


Sounds great. What's your children's game about by the way? There a theme or user-interface-genre you could describe it a bit by? I know kids games probably don't fall in line so easily as 'adult' games tend to (FPS/RTS/etc)


JD - It's a virtual farmyard. Children can interact with the animals, learn their sounds, learn their place on the farm, learn what they eat. It also has many activities that re-enforce counting skill and visual recognition skills. I would say it would belong to a toddler-preshool type grouping. I grew up on a farm so it has been a really fun project for me.


I'm guessing you have kids of your own?

JD - Yes I do. A 2 year old son and a 4 month old daughter. My son really enjoys the Virtual Farm, even though it is not yet complete.


Great, I have the same feelings of wanting to write kids games when I have children, seems like a pretty unique experience you can create for them.


JD - My son really enjoys the Virtual Farm, even though it is not yet complete. Yes, I plan on doing an entire children's learning series. I think it will be a pretty big success for my first release. I'm never happy with the titles I buy my own kids, so I'm incorporating everything I always feel is missing.


When you were finished, it feel worth it immediately, or did you have to rest before it sunk in?

JD - Not really.. The three of us are very prominent members and I knew them from previous posts, but it just came out of the blue. Tom initially posted the idea on the board. I was just happy we did what seemed impossible.. I had no idea it was going to spread all over the net like it did.


Had all of you worked with 3d Rad before?


MF - This was my first real project with RAD.
TF - Yes, I did the Azura Amazon Avatar game.
MF - I was depending on the guys to put my files in their proper places. I am, however, creating the coolest submarine game.


Had you worked on any games before Mike?


MF - Mostly multimedia projects, video and ad commercials. This is my first real game project. I have always been the producer, not the musician.
TF - I had Gary kitchens game maker on the Commodore and form that point loved the idea of making games.
MF - Ahhh yes, I remember that. STOS for me, and Klick and Play.


Tom, did you bring a lot for experiences over from Azura to this project that helped? What were the most beneficial?

TF - The most beneficial is the ability to know what is possible with 3dRad as it is very powerful if in the right hands. But mike Jon and I have seen all the engines, genesis 3d, acknex ect, and they all pale in comparison to the overall features in 3dRad.
MF - Yes, there is a learning curve with 3dRad, and Tom helped me through some of the hardest parts, but I am still the student there. 3dRad is awesome however. I have seen just about every tool there is for 3D and 2D game making and nothing compares. I personally own most of them, paid my money, but none of them work as promised. 3dRad delivers unbelievable power, code and do audio. Most of all lighting. Lighting is key. Without lighting games are boring.
TF - Lighting is definitely key.


Would you suggest 3D Rad to beginning developers? What do you think its biggest advantages are?


TF - With full confidence I say the only way to start out making games if you don't have a programming team, is with 3dRad.
JD - It is extremely simple to use.. And the most powerful I've seen from my searches.. I believe the next release will put it on par with the best of commercial engines and the support and community are the best! Give it a try sometime. I don't think you'll be disappointed.


Tom, when you made AAA, about how long did it take you to get proficient in 3D Rad?

TF - About one month I tore apart all the pre built resources and code, and learned how to get it to do what I wanted.
MF - (Yeah, but he's already good). Us amateurs have to suffer. LOL. Just kidding. I am not a very strong coder. It really does take a team, at least two people, one has to be a strong coder.

Tom, where did you and John split the programming responsibilities for this project?

TF - Jon rules in the code world, he is like Da Vinci, seeing in his mind the whole logic before ever writing.
MF - Too true, he is amazing.
TF - I basically touched up things here and there and added a few features, also I screwed up some of Jons code that a phone call fixed. :)
MF - He always answers people's coding questions on the message board, he's like the fairy code mother.
TF - That how I first knew Jon was a professional.


Did you meet the system spec requirement you were going for?


MF - Yes, I think so.
TF - 200 pentiumm, even my friends 90 runs it real slow though.
MF - I have never had a problem, but I have big machines.


Did any of you have problems with the mouse look being too fast? I know it was a little for me.

MF - Me too, I like the Unreal style better.
TF - Yes, we had no time to tweak the settings. I basically willed against sleep to make the deadline.
MF - The actual mouse look is fine, but the mouse buttons for movement, I'd rather use the up and down keys MF. This is true, he was a zombie.
TF - LOL
MF - What was hysterical, is that Tom kept emailing me all night long.

Audio


Did you make all the music and sounds from scratch for the project? Or use any kinds of sound libraries?


MF - Yes, totally [from scratch]. I have a recording studio here. Over 11 computers.


You want to list what kind of equipment you have in your studio?

MF - On a 10/100 network
MF - I own a company that build high-end servers for corporations - so they're my company's brand. CI - short for Creative Imaging, Inc. All of my computers are pretty much Pentium II 333 or above with at least 128MB of memory
MF - at least 30GB of HD space
MF - and every one has a voodoo2 texturing card or better with at least 16-32MB or video RAM. The recording studio, believe it or not, is the exception. It runs on a lowly (get this) Pentium 120 S. with 64 MB RAM. Gowever, it has over 100GB of storage, Fast SCSI 3 and dedicated audio hardware.


Any special sound equipment there? Make/model? This is for the audiophile readers.

MF - Three keyboards. [The List]

  • Roland Midi Master A-30
  • 81 key controller with weighted keys (ivory) and every possible MIDI accessory
  • Korg N1 analog/digital workstation synthesizer with AI synthesi. 6 octave with over 500MB of Sound RAM and over 30,000 patches
  • Kawai K1 keyboard (love those old keyboards)
  • Roland Boss tone module
  • Yamaha tg-55 rack mount tone module
  • Alesis SR-10 drum machine
  • Yamaha MJC8 MIDI patchbay
  • Yamaha EMP100 digital effects processor
  • A Lexicon reverb unit MF
  • An eventide harmonizer
  • Mackie 24 channel mixer. Awesome clean sound
  • Over 500 patch cords
  • Alesis Monitor one 500 watt monitor speakers set to absolute unity
  • A Crate Amp running at 2000 Watts
  • Adcom amp running at 1000 watts, pretty much runs my studio speakers.
  • Sound proofing foam MF
  • Many mics and sampling gear
  • Denon DAT pro deck
  • Sony Cassette Pro recorder with HX Pro and Dolby S MF
  • The Gina system
  • A smpling card from Digidesign
MF - You want more?


Heh, I think we got enough :) What software do you use on the computer, cakewalk, sound force...?

MF - My recordings are noise free (almost). All of the above. I use Cakewalk Pro Audio, Voyetra Sound Studio, Magix Audio Studio, Cool Edit Pro, Cool edit 96, Sound Forge, Acid, Samplitude. I mostly use Cakewalk for MIDI, although I am partial to Voyetra (about music).


Yeah, I really liked the tune, it repeated without starting to get old while I was playing and kept the suspension alive. Does it cycle through different tunes as you go? I didn't notice the song was changing. How many different tunes are there?

MF - Well, one piece is the music intro in the beginning, the Danny Elfman alike piece, (I was going for his style of playing) and the four modulars, each of 50 seconds. I spent one day on the music (about 6 hours) and about 4 hours on the sound FX, but of the 6 hours - 4 were to practice and get ideas.


If you were going to suggest a bare-bones budget system to the aspiring game-music/sound engineer what would you suggest? Best bang for your buck.

MF - Buy your standard AMD K6 400 system, available for well under $700, make sure it has at least 64MB RAM, at least a 15GB HD (try to get SCSI if possible, although ultra DMA will work), a Sound Blaster Live or any sound blaster audio card, a midi connector, some decent video card (but that does not matter too much for audio, a $16 S3 Virge will do), a CD-ROM (I highly suggest a writeable), and the Gina card is perfect for starting musicians.


Which software would you suggest for the beginner?

MF - Voyetra


For wavs/samples?

MF - Magix Music Studio Deluxe is available for $70 at your local computer store. Awesome, for the price. It pretty much is Samplitude and a pretty darn good MIDI sequencer as wel. Has the best algorithmic MIDI generator I have ever heard, which is awesome for quick projects. I had to do a video once in a weekend and had no time for a music bed. I used Magix to create an audio track (country music) and it did it in 10 seconds, and I could tell it absolutely how long it needed to be. It did it seamlessly and easily. So I would say for the PC, Magix is a great bang for the buck. Of course, anything by Syntrillium, Cool Edit Pro or Cool Edit 96, is a must have tool. I like it better than Sound Forge. Works fast and clean and never screws up. It works on monster files well, I once edited a 1,000 megabyte file with it, a four hour audio piece.


I know this is a big to-do with some people, do you prefer sound guy? Sound engineer? Musician? How do you like your audio label?

MF - Audio Engineer for the sound FX. Composer for the music. I also write scores and new age instrumentals (jazz), I have an album out, well, actually - it is in glass master stage.


Mike, what's the title of the album?

MF - Good question. I keep going back and forth with it. It's called - The Periot Waltz. My professional musician name is not Mike Felker, it is Illan. My middle name.

Graphics

Tom, about how many different models did you create? What did you use to make them?

TF - 174 3DS files in the source this doesn't count misc things placed in different directory. I use Nendo, and a host of others for different things


Did you make the textures as well?

MF - I sent tom a ton of textures, must have been 70 of em, and over 40 MB of sound files and sound FX.


What graphics programs do you use?

MF - I own Maya, Lightwave, Imagine 2.0 and many others.


What other tools did you use for doing the modeling Tom?

TF - The main tool was 3dMax With character Studio. I use Nendo, and a host of others for different things.


Tom, do you have a favorite among them?

TF - I would have to say for the fastest way to create game models quickly nothing beats nendo, but for characters MAX is best.


How are you differentiating between game models and characters?

TF - What I mean by game models are furniture the weapons hanging on the wall pumpkins etc.
MF - I am partial to Imagine and Organica. Imagine has one of the best polygon reduction tools I've ever seen.
TF - We had to leave a very cool vampyre out.
MF - Too bad too, it was awesome. Tom made the best vampire.


Why was that?

TF - Time and face count.
MF - Too many polys.
TF - He was to big, he had a flowing cape.
MF - And we ran plumb out of time to do a lot of things.


What was your poly limit on the characters?

TF - Around a 1000.
MF - I would get them down to about 650, but the vampire would break up below 1000.


Do you use any other 2d graphic editing programs?

TF - Ohhh I must thank Harms Tiles. :) That guy made such a great algorithmic freeware tile maker, that's what the rug and other textures was made in.
MF - To make the graphics for all of the titles I used Photoshop 5.0 and Ulead Photoimpact. For the tiles, I used Tilez and Terralogic, two amazing tiling programs. I also used Imagine 2.0 for some of the coolest tiles, like the coffin.
TF - Definitely that was an excellent texture.
MF - That was rendered using algorithmic textures, and bump maps.

Design


Who designed the maze layout for the game, it was pretty easy to get lost in the second level?

TF - LOL. Hmmmmm that is a long story. Basically Jon had to take over the whole level design after the original slated person had other things to take care of .
MF - Ahh yes, forgot about that.
TF - The whole level he built on Saturday.
MF - Jon did a fantastic job.
TF - He did it in Truespace.
MF - There are some problems with seamsm but for the time constraints, I don't know anyone who could have done what he did.


I think the real important factor of the game is the amount of time you made it in, and the fact that it is cool to play and creates an emotional response, the dark lighting and noises while coming around corners really built up a lot of anticipation for me. Did you get any similar feelings playing it, or did making it separate you from that?

JD - Funny thing actually.. It was just as spooky and unexpected for all of us too... I made the level so quickly, I didn't know they layout myself (neither did Mike or Tom). We would laugh at each other testing it because we kept getting lost and having to restart! It wasn't until 2 days after it's release that I had finished the game personally.. And I found it pretty hard.


Was there an editor for making the level, or did you have to model it after he built the maze?

TF - There isn't a level editor per se, which is great cause with one you get locked into a certain style.
MF - You bring in 3d models in the .3ds format, and work from there. 3dRad is kind of the editor in a way, but not for building actual models, it does everything else.


What was your inspiration for this game? You have any previous games or other titles you were trying to capture the essence of?

TF - LOL. Basically to just do it.
MF - Tom made a challenge on the 3dRad board, an open challenge to see if we could do it.
TF - I hate haunted houses I used to run scared when my dad took me to them when I was young. LOL
MF - Jon and I (and two others) accepted the challenge. As far as spooky musi, I thought of the Halloween series and Friday the Thirteenth. Or how about good ole Freddy? Pretty standard spooky music MF. A ha ha ah ch ch ch ch


Did you try to make the sounds and lighting match up so that the sounds would trigger when the lights got darker? I noticed this happening a lot when waking through the corridors and had a great effect.

MF - That is part of the modular player.
TF - Many things have a magic effect that were not intended.
MF - If Jon had more time, he would have created an "event based" player.
TF - The paintings too have a funny story.


What's the funny story with the paintings?


TF - They started out as clip art like 16 color forma royalty free CDROM my sister gave me a long time ago. I wrote a macro to make them in Photoshop appear as they do, spooky and eerier.
MF - Gotta love those macros. Photoshop is the necessary tool.


Any little Easter eggs people should look out for?

TF - Oh, we wanted to do a bunch. There is a hidden room, but with the time any Easter eggs if found are totally accidental.
MF - With the final pumpkin in it.
TF - Yes, two secret rooms. Only Jon knows where there are, the only time I have seen what's in he coffin is when I made what is in it.
MF - I have never seen the coffin animation yet.
TF - LOL. Maybe never will.
MF - Damn brain suckers.
TF - LOL


Does that have to do with the ending?


MF -Yes
TF - Yes
MF - Totally necessary.
TF - Mike had a great story but we had to cut some for time issues.
MF - Actually, the plot and storyline is a very funny story.


Is the ending going to be a surprise for the players?

MF - Yes


What would you say your favorite aspect of the game is?

MF - Working with these guys.
TF - Now that we formed a game company together is the best part.
MF - They were the best team I ever worked with on any project, although I never actually talked with Jon on the project.


And of the game itself?

JD - Wow... that's tough.. I think the jack-o-lanterns on the gate.. I made them last minute because we didn't have time to put gargoyle statues in :)
MF - I love the mood. The music and lighting combine with the spooky effects and monsters to create a truly scary atmosphere. Many people have told us that it scares their kids, which I LOVE to hear, cause that's what Halloween is all about.
TF - The game itself definitely the best part was seeing my friends and family play it. And of course being on the front page of Happy Puppy!


If there was one thing each of you could change in the parts you worked on, what would it be?

MF - Don't get me started, I am a perfectionist. My music was not tight enough. The modular pieces needed to be sequenced, and my damn program refused to work. I had to learn a whole other piece of software in like 5 minutes.


That's two. :)


MF - Well, they're related.
JD - I would actually change pretty much everything.. I mean the game looks and feels great to me, but because of time restraints it really does not show what we are capable of. Given even an extra week I believe we would have rivaled most any production game in both visual quality and gameplay.
TF - I wouldn't change anything. It was perfect for what it was, a four day record setting creation.
MF - True, I am just hard on myself.


Have you gotten a lot of feedback on it?


TF - Yes
MF - Ohhhhhh yes, TONS.
MF - Reviews, articles, job offers, criticism, jealousy from other 3DRaders. Yadda yadda yadda
TF - Exactly. The press has been mostly great.


Any in particular stand out?

TF - Talking with Charles Grey, he is the editor of Happy Puppy, is the most stand out for me press wise.
MF - Yes, although I liked Sharon's article too.
TF - We actually have an excellent full article submitted to gamasutra, but they are taking their time. Which is too bad because this project I want to serve as inspiration for all developers when the time gets tight or for beginners who think they cant do it.


I agree. So what's next for The Games Factory?

MF - Tom, take it away dude.
TF - Our first plan is to create plug and play game resources. Right now we are building the first of many, a female character, like hmmm you know LC. LOL
MF - (Hint - the next holiday).
TF - But a solid mesh with Jons excellent code behind her. Then like mike says, Jingle Nells. LOL. Plus a commercial release and publishing indie games.


Anything you are especially looking forward to on that project?

JD - I love the challenge of coding the games logic.. It's a real sense of satisfaction for me.. And coupled with the fact that we're physically not together it turns out to be a great challenge! We're still playing with story lines for theChristmas project.
MF - My next project is NASCAR based. They are my client - well - Maxtrax to be exact.


Official, or non?

MF - Official. Whalen2 is my client, and they are officially licensed by NASCAR


This for your present company? (Day job, so to speak)


MF - Yes. We do their web site and graphics design.


Are you sticking with 3D Rad?

MF - Yes, like glue.
TF - Definitely, it is the best.


Any last statements you'd like to make? Famous last words? Wisdom of the ages?

TF - Most importantly is any one who has the dream of making a game, to do it.
MF - Why do they call no salt saltines saltines if they contain no salt. Seriously, if someone wishes to do what we did or beyond, they need to learn their craft, their tools and have perseverance.
TF - Not just talk about it or think about it, but to do it, life has a way of making things happen when you actually do something to work towards your dreams.


One thing I noticed throughout the interview was that they were all very supportive of each others skills. I believe that this respect and admiration for the abilities of their coworkers is a major advantage into making this a team that works well together and look forward to what they will come up with next. -Geoff Howland






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