Friday, April 27, 2012

Strange Happenings at the Circle-K

I couldn't figure out a title for this one. It's just a random story from when we were working on Radix.

We needed to outsource some of the art because we were mostly coders. Specifically we were looking for work on textures, the main ship and enemies.

So a couple of guys we were working with hooked us up with these brothers.  These two guys had been doing some playing around with 3d studio, photoshop and scanning slides to make cool images.  They were, I think, primarily interested in doing web type work.  Gaming always seems to attract people though and they definitely seemed excited about being involved with a game project.

Anyway, we meet them for the first time and talk about the project. They didn't have any kind of 3d model portfolio or anything because they had never done it before.  This should have been a red flag, but back then everything was new and it was kind of hard to tell if someone could do something or not. So we agreed with them that we would meet up again in a couple of weeks and they would create some demo stuff for us.  Specifically they were going to bring some frames of animation of the main ship flying and banking so we could get something better looking into the game, as a test.

So a week or two afterwards we all meet up at the office (not our office, our friends office) and they have a disk with them. We are all excited to see what they've come up with. We insert the floppy (!!) into the drive, list the files and they look good.  At the time we used Autodesk Animator for all of our texture needs which used  the .cel format natively.   We load up AA and try to load the first file.

AA pops up a message that says "corrupt file" and doesn't want to load it.  Dammit, we thought.  A bad disk.  Let's try the next file.  Same problems. Etc for about all 8 files. 

Keep in mind we were excited to see this stuff, we'd been waiting for weeks!  So we copy the files to the hard drive and take a closer look.  At this point we slip off to go have lunch with the guys.  I think it was $1 big macs or something because I seem to recall a giant stack of big mac boxes.  While we are away one of our coders was looking at the files.  Now you have to realize we used this format in our game engine so we knew what the header was supposed to look like.   In fact we used this format so much that we didn't even have to look at it in the debugger, we could literally interpret the files in a hex editor just by looking at them.

It was an early version of this format.  As you can see viewing this in a hex editor it would be pretty apparent if there was a problem.  You would expect a size number that was relatively close to the width*height with the header and the palette.  The magic number would be clearly visible as well as the width and the height.  In this case they should have been something like 128x128 (0x80).

Instead what we saw was something like:
20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 with the rest looking like it was valid.  E.g. it looks like there was actual image data in the file later but the header was stomped with 0x20 over and over.  What kind of possible bug could have caused this bizarre stomping, which was slightly inconsistent from file to file to happen?

Before we got any further worrying about that we sent the Brothers home so we could talk about it and look at the files more. Once they were gone we simply rebuilt the correct header and got them loading into AA.  It seem became apparent what had happened. Basically they did contain some rendered ship frames, but they were utterly atrocious. Yes, we did recover them correctly, they were just really shitty looking. Our theory was that they purposefully corrupted the files to make it look like they had made the deadline because they wanted more time. 

We didn't have much patience for that kind of bullshit so we told them not to bother.  I remember the conference call where we confronted them and we had it right on the money.

Eventually we ended up having the guys we were working with (more about them later) do most of the art.  We also outsourced quite a bit to Cygnus Multimedia but they were pricey and it was hard to get the exact results we wanted.

Anyway chalk it up to one more learning experience.  Sometimes bizarre shit happens.

1 comment:

  1. LOLz. I seem to remember reading instructions recently on how to corrupt a Word file so that you can submit something completely unfinished at school that's corrupted and buy yourself some more time... Exactly the same story as these brothers.