We had the chance to catch up with one of the talents behind “Terminator Salvation” The Game. As an environment artist on the game Tomislav Spajic was responsible for working on the architecture of buildings, roads etc but the main area of his focus was the maps of the rail sequences of the game as well as lighting passes for various gaming maps.
Terminator Salvation was not a bad game, its failings were in the length of gameplay which was pretty short and again failure to deliver on promises hinted at in the game trailers.
Tomislav was glad to answer some questions as well as putting his views across as a fan of Terminator himself.
So, sit back… “RELAX” and absorb some knowledge into your neural net!
How long have you been in the gaming industry and how has it changed in the span of your career… ?
I’ve been in the industry since 2006, I started right after finishing school aged 19. I was offered a job in Slovenia at Zootfly. This was the company that made the Ghostbusters pitch that was eventually made by someone else, we also made a prototype called TimeO where I mostly made environment/props textures/models. When I came in, I virtually knew nothing about Maya or any other proper modelling tool, I knew the halflife2 hammer editor and photoshop and that was basically it.
But being there in that situation and having a zeal for learning, I got to learn how to work for real in a relatively short time. And when my dedication was recognized, gradually I got more interesting and challenging tasks.
I mean, I have no amazing drawing or sculpting skills, never did. But by studying and paying attention to the working environment, and most of all taking criticism, sometimes doing tasks you normally hate and learning how other artists got it done so to speak. Because it’s not all about playing games and drawing pictures lol. For me to get better I realized I had to allow certain change of how I did my job, meaning, the more you kill your ego and work in a team for real, the better.
I’ve always liked to draw, geometry, architecture and that kind of stuff. For me, working in the game industry, is sort of serious. First of all it’s a job, and a huge team effort thing. During crunch time people might get really tired and stressed out, how do you stay sharp creatively after working 12+ hours a day for a month, sometimes weekends included? My motivation has always been this… I put on some good metal like Pantera, get a big coffee and get going. I guess when you love something that keeps you like a playful child inside, you usually have the energy and will to get the job done, not only because you have to but because you want to. But I’ve also found out that at crunch time while everyone is really into finishing the goddamn game, people sometimes tend to get closer and bond, which is not a bad thing. It only makes the end result better and you make a lot of new friends, the people you find in the game industry are usually really interesting people with interesting skills. And when you meet those kind of people, you’d better be honest; learn from the artist and respect the friend.
You are currently working for Black Rock Studio in Brighton (UK) can you tell us more about them and what you are working on… ?
I started working at Black Rock in September 09.
Black Rock studio is a big bunch of smiling Brits and I have to say I was amazed when I arrived. That kind of friendliness is rare, there’s a lot of people there that simply are really good people, not to mention the experiences they have in the industry. On the way to England I wasn’t sure of what to expect, one interview wont tell you exactly what the place is all about. But after a week I was convinced I was going to have a great time there…
We just finished Split Second, and so far the response has been amazing. I’m not sure if I can tell you what I’m working on at the moment, so better not to lol. But I can promise you it’s interesting stuff.
What’s your favorite Terminator movie?
The first and second were amazing, the concept and style was complete. The third and unfortunately the fourth where not as good because of the art direction, also story-wise they aren’t as original. I got creepy vibes from the first and the second movie, because of how realistic they are story-wise, maybe because they are made in the 80’s and 90’s, the two first movies made me think about a lot of things. The two last didn’t do it for me.
Grin Studios was building a good reputation for itself, can you tell us what happened and why the company was Terminated? Was The Halcyon Co’s demise pivotal to this?
Grin was amazing to work at. To keep it short, I heard Halcyon closed down. We worked with Square Enix on a project called Fortress, which was a final fantasy game. Now you can find in-game video footage on Youtube, look for ‘grin fortress’ there. From what I heard, for some reason, with a self evident stupidity from Square Enix’s part, they decided to terminate the project. Did they decide to let some other studio do it? Or were they unhappy with the progress? Or were they simply stupid? Because Grin would have released a insane game. The game was brilliant and really fun to work on. I think Square Enix made a bad choice.
What was it like to find out you would be working on a Terminator Computer Game?
I thought ‘holy shit I’m doing terminator’ =D I wasn’t on Bionic Commando till the end, they put me on the terminator prototype. It’s the first project I worked on from the start that actually got finished and released. It’s a shame I don’t have any pictures of the prototype, because it really reminds me of T1 and 2, with the blue-ish environment, and wasteland environment. Making assets for that was insane.
Originally the game was advertised as being the story of Blair Williams, why did this story take a different route? Did this become the Machinima series?
I actually have no idea. Either it’s because Halcyon made the decision or it’s something that got changed due to the lack of time. We only had basically 8-9 months to finish the game, which is a shame.
Did you have any involvement with the Machinima series? They used the computer game engine right?
I had no involvement in that. It’s rendered with the same engine, and uses the same assets.
Do you know why Christian Bale’s likeness was not used for the character of John Connor? including voice?
Because he’s Christian Bale. I don’t know for sure. I heard it was because he wanted more cash and didn’t get it.
So was Christian used in the game before he refused the use of his likeness ?
Yeah, we used Christian Bale (pictured below), until we were told not to because of legal issues…
Was the Harvester originally meant to have a more integral role in the game (as a “boss” character for example)…?
I don’t know for sure but it wouldn’t surprise me if that was the case. I mean, there’s a lot of stuff that didn’t make it in there because of the lack of time.
The only real complaint with Terminator Salvation (xbox 360/PS3/PC) was that it was too short of a game ( I myself as a gamer completed it in 3 hours) Why was the game so short? pressure from the movie big wigs?
Sort of yeah. I mean, if you get 2-3 years to develop a game, it will obviusly look better and play better then a game made in 8-9 months.
Was Grin meant to do more Terminator games?
From what I know, no.
What was the original concept for the Salvation Game?
I honestly can’t tell you, I really didn’t pay attention to that, neither did I have any reason to care that much, unless it crossed my work where I had to pay attention. A lot in the game got changed all the time. I was mostly busy trying to get my work done.
So, can you tell the fans what was changed or didn’t make it into the game?
Sure. A lot didnt make it. I don’t remember much in specific but enemies, certain scenes. And it should definitely have been longer.
Do you leave any secret messages or homages in your work (in the finer details)?
I actually wanted to put in the graffiti cover picture from the rage against machine album battle for los angeles, depicting a man with one hand in the air. Since the story is set in Los Angeles and you are fighting machines it would fit like a glove. But due to copyright mumbo jumbo I had to take it out.
What reference material was provided to Grin by the movie studios on the making of the game?
When we started we got the concept artwork from the movie production. Also we got pictures from the set. Grin also got to send two concept artists to Los Angeles to work with their concept artists there.
The fans have always desired the ultimate computer game… mainly the first and second movie turned into a computer game format. Do you think that this could ever happen and that a story could be followed exactly to the script for an entire movie/game experience? Would you like to be involved with something like that?
Sure its possible, I would love to do that.
What was your overall opinion of Terminator Salvation the movie?
It isn’t to be compared with the first two but it was sort of watchable, I saw the whole movie.
What was your experience of the now defunct Halcyon Co.?
It’s Hollywood, I didn’t want to care 🙂 I heard bosses and leads joking about a guy from Halcyon that they worked through.
Talks about a 5th movie have begun. What would you like to see from a 5th installment of the franchise?
I dont think I want to see a fifth, hehe.
Can you tell the fans and aspiring 3D environment artists what kind of equipment and software you choose to work with?
Photoshop for texturing. Mudbox for sculpting/high poly modelling/for baking into low poly. And I prefer maya for all modelling. I have used 3D studio max, and it is basically equal to Maya.
That’s it really. Sometimes you have to use in house tools and you have to get used to that.
What are your plans for the future and how can people keep an eye on the projects you will be working on?
I don’t know lol, I will probably stay at Black Rock for a while since it’s alot of fun to work there and living in Brighton is amazing.
End note: Pre-production work for “Fortress” began in the latter part of 2008 when Square Enix outsourced to Swedish developer Grin. The development team based in Stockholm began creating concept art, 3D models and a game engine, imagining “Fortress” as a “game with an epic scale both in story and production values”. However after six months of development the project was reclaimed by Square Enix without payment to Grin due to “concerns over quality”. Square Enix’s withdrawal pushed the Swedish developer into financial difficulty and with no other ongoing game project this led to Grin sadly declaring bankruptcy. The developer closed its offices August 12th 2009. RIP Grin, you will be sorely missed.
Special thanks to Tomislav for this enlightening interview. Cheers dude.
Check out Tomislav’s Official website at www.clayman.se