Behind the Art of Day of the Tentacle

Behind the Art of Day of the Tentacle

COVER STORY: LucasArts alumni Peter Chan and Larry Ahern chat about the challenges of making a "cartoon adventure" under the constraints of early '90s technology.

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Starting with a Bang

Even 23 years later, Day of the Tentacle's cinematic opening is still a show-stopper. Every element of this four-minute prologue—including the animation, music, sound effects, and jokes—ushered in a new era of excellence for LucasArts, and completely sold the experience as an interactive cartoon. Communicating this expressive chunk of DoTT via the technology of 1993, however, would take some work.

Larry Ahern: A lot of [the inspiration behind DoTT's opening involved] looking at previous games we had worked on and realizing, God, we put the credits at the front partially because the games are so crazy long, who knows if people ever see your name in lights. Like the old movies, credits at the front. But after a while, the team started getting bigger, and it just started feeling like, I'm sitting through a bunch of still frame pictures with names on it. This is boring, and—But I think we knew at the same time, you don't want a bunch of little pixelated characters walking around the bottom of the screen while the credits are rolling, because that's just not going to cut it. You want to do something impactful. Again, this was an offshoot of our exploration of what we could do graphically and stylistically, realizing that, you know what, if we keep the colors in our environments simpler, we can do more.

Peter Chan: We hired a hotshot from Cal Arts, I think he was still in school, his name was Kyle Balda, and he was just an intern. So, this young guy comes in and we give him something to do... but I remember the reason why the intro looks so good is Kyle, he did all that beautiful animation in the intro. And so, it was just a great exercise on trying to simplify the environments down so he can put in the animation without it being chunky, and so, for me, to do the backgrounds, it was like, I had to leave, and I had to turn everything into a nice monochromatic nighttime scene.

Dave Grossman, Day of the Tentacle Co-Director: There always was this idea that the first few minutes of the game are going to set expectations and are going to help you sell, and you've got to make demos and that's usually the piece that you show. So, typically, a lot of attention gets put into the first few minutes and the last few minutes of the game. In this one, we definitely concentrated all up front. In fact, it used to be even bigger, and, partly that was just inexperience on our part about how to best set up a story and what you needed to know up front and what you didn't. So, there was a lot of just expositional stuff that we had to take care of to get you to that mansion with some particular goals in mind, and get you running so you can play the game.

And, I think [the opening] was seven minutes originally, and it was [LucasArts game designer] Hal Barwood who played through it and said, “Guys, this is just too long, it's too much. You have to cut it somewhere.” So, we cut it in half. That whole part where you first arrive at the mansion and you split up, and one of you goes upstairs and one of you goes downstairs, and you go find the tentacles. You basically just go and you find them, and you free them, and that's all you do in that section. It was just put in there to break up the giant seven-minute cutscene that we had done for the beginning, and I think it's slightly more palatable now. [Editor's note: Day of the Tentacle's ending credits include "Opening Fixed By Hal Barwood."]

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