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Behind The Scenes With Twisted Pixel's The Gunstringer

In an in-depth postmortem in this month's edition of Game Developer magazine, Twisted Pixel details the fascinating backstory and production hiccups it faced while making The Gunstringer.
The December issue of Gamasutra sister publication Game Developer magazine is now available via subscription and digital purchase, and includes an exclusive, in-depth postmortem of Twisted Pixel's Kinect-based shooter The Gunstringer, written by game director Bill Muehl. Much like 'Splosion Man and Comic Jumper, The Gunstringer showcases Twisted Pixel's trademark tongue-in-cheek style, and presents an over-the-top, humorous rail shooter designed exclusively for Microsoft's Kinect hardware. The game was originally planned as a downloadable release for Xbox 360, but in September debuted as a full retail title for the console. Shortly after the game's launch, Microsoft acquired Twisted Pixel, making the once indie studio a wholly owned Microsoft subsidiary. In this postmortem, Muehl reflects on Twisted Pixel's experience working on The Gunstringer, outlining various "What Went Right" and "What Went Wrong" highlights from throughout the game's development. Along the way, he reveals some fascinating anecdotes regarding the origin of the title, its self-aware use of FMV, and the production bottlenecks the team had to overcome. The following are but a few highlights from the December 2011 issue of Game Developer magazine. FMV—Bringing Back The '90s Following the trend set by Twisted Pixel's 'Splosion Man in 2009, The Gunstringer is rife with campy full-motion video sequences that give a light-hearted edge to the game's already silly aesthetic. Looking back, Muehl says these scenes became one of the game's biggest strengths. "Despite the intentionally campy quality of the FMV elements in the game, these productions take massive amounts of logistics and preparation, especially since they are all shot on location. While green-screen elements take a lot of work, such as the hands that drop into the main gameplay sequences, the Paramount Theater and Wavy Tube Man Chronicles DLC productions were absolute beasts. These all had to be written, planned, cast, set up, shot, edited, and integrated into the game while we were making the main game itself. In retrospect, I can't believe we pulled it off, because they added a huge amount of complexity and risk, but they all made the final game a lot stronger. The Paramount Theater is a historic building in downtown Austin, and it was far and away our first choice to introduce the player to the stage-play theme at the start of the game. The theater is nearly 100 years old, with a fantastic classic look and feel inside and out. Once we had all the pre-production work settled for this shoot, the biggest challenge was figuring out how to recruit and organize hundreds of volunteer extras to make the theater look populated. I initially sent open casting calls to fellow Austin game developers and local universities, but I only got a few dozen responses. I needed more. A lot more. So I turned to the ultimate bastion of high risk/high reward to reach a massive number of candidates: Craigslist. Once I posted the vague casting call as part of an unannounced Twisted Pixel game, the floodgates opened. In a matter of two days, I received over 200 emails from strangers, some who lived hours away, and all were excited to be part of our production. We had no idea what to expect on the day of the shoot, but everyone who came was impossibly helpful and polite, especially during the downtime between takes. We are extremely grateful for everyone who showed up for the Paramount Theater shoot; the Gunstringer intro, finale, and crowd-reaction shots would not have been possible without them. The Wavy Tube Man Chronicles DLC was the second big FMV production for Gunstringer. Josh and I talked about going all-in with a modern interactive FMV game for a long time, but we knew the odds of being able to make one for a wide audience would be next to impossible. Who in their right mind would fund a game genre that's been dead for over 10 years? Once the retail option and budget for a few DLC packs were in the cards, I knew this might be our only chance to pull it off, and I thought an homage to Mad Dog McCree was a natural fit (or a close enough fit) to the Western theme of the Gunstringer. The Wavy Tube Man Chronicles production was insane. We shot a 40-minute movie in three days, and based on when the DLC had to be ready for cert, I had to schedule the shoot two weeks before our Gunstringer zero-bug release (ZBR) milestone. The timing couldn't have been worse, but it was the only way it was going to happen. With this compressed timeframe, I only had five weeks of pre-production to write a script, plan all the shot setups and stunts, cast the talent, find and rent the locations, and hire a bunch of crews. We needed a licensed pyro FX crew, stunt crews with horses, a helicopter and pilot, as well as hair, makeup, and costume departments. Of course, the spot-on weather forecast for all three days was a brutal 102 degrees. It can be tricky to make a game or film deliberately campy without driving it into the ditch but, believe it or not, having seasoned actors, stuntmen, costume people, and a veteran hair and makeup crew played a big part in pulling it off. They were all extremely professional and took every direction Josh and I gave them, even if they thought we were out of our minds based on the bizarre content and pace we were shooting." Boss Battles Slipped To The End Later in the postmortem, Muehl explains that once The Gunstringer was set to become a full retail product, the team had to make some very hard production decisions. Despite lofty plans for the game's boss battle Twisted Pixel chose to simplify them in favor of polishing the overall product. "When we knew we were making the shift to retail, we had to make a choice that would impact scope. We had enough time and resources to either add more content and polish to the main game or blow out our boss battles, but not both. The choice to add more content and polish was necessary, but it was painful to have such awesome boss character designs and lose the opportunity to showcase each of them in a unique way. Although we had extremely rough prototypes of a unique battle for each boss, they were way too ambitious for the remaining schedule and had to be scrapped. Josh came up with a novel MST3K-style presentation for the boss battles that would look and feel different than any other part of the game. The downside was that, other than the Wavy Tube Man battle at the beginning and the end, the boss battles are all pretty similar. The fact that the boss battles that shipped in the final game are functional and cool in their own stylized way is a minor miracle considering how little time was left to make them." Additional Info The full postmortem of The Gunstringer explores even more "What Went Right" and "What Went Wrong" highlights from the game's development, showcasing even more of the team's hardships, lessons learned, and more. In addition, the latest issue of Game Developer magazine also includes an in-depth feature on what it takes to create intuitive interfaces and game mechanics, as well as a detailed interview with Bungie's senior graphics architect, Hao Chen. Worldwide paper-based subscriptions to Game Developer magazine are currently available at the official magazine website, and the Game Developer Digital version of the issue is also now available, with the site offering six months' and a year's subscriptions, alongside access to back issues and PDF downloads of all issues, all for a reduced price. There is now also an opportunity to buy the digital version of December 2011's magazine as a single issue.

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