Former Acclaim/Iguana Entertainment employee Ryan Tracy is a very talented 3D modeler and texture artist who was involved in modeling and texturing the environments for all four “Turok” games for the Nintendo 64. This includes Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, Turok 2: Seeds of Evil, Turok 3: Shadows of Oblivion, and Turok: Rage Wars. He was willing to share his experiences on working on the Turok series, working with Acclaim/Iguana Entertainment, and working with the Nintendo 64’s hardware. We would like to personally thank Ryan Tracy for agreeing to do this interview with us.
The Turok series (which sold millions of copies) were the first major games you ever worked on. What were some things you learned about game development from working on the Turok series?
When I started on Turok, I was like “This is the strangest idea for a video game. A native american guy hunting dinosaurs.” I was delighted to be working on the N64 so I didn’t care what the game was, only that this is going to be a fun time. They started me out making rocks and no one had much of an idea how we were going to build terrain in the game as well as other level art. We experimented with many types of ideas. The basic problem was the cart was only 8 megs so building out custom level parts just wasn’t going to happen as it would quickly suck up all the resources. We eventually decided this has to be puzzle pieces that fit together to make massive levels to explore. There was also no lighting in the first Turok game. It was challenging using small tiling textures on the terrain and ground without looking repetitive. We made enough parts to keep it interesting enough and filled it out with plants that looked pretty good for their time.
This was I believe the first first person shooter on the N64 and pretty much the first of its kind so we had no other game to reference so it was trial and error to get it right. We, as you know, had fog in the game which helped stream in the parts without the player noticing it. Originally the fog was pretty cool, but gamers seemed to be annoyed with it being in so close. It was just the nature of the N64 and its limitations. This was pretty much the entire teams’ first game we all ever worked on, and 3D was new to all of us being fresh out of school. It was a delicate balance keeping objects in memory and also not being hard on the processor to draw all of the 3D parts.
The Turok games were licensed from the comics. Did Acclaim or Iguana Entertainment use the comics as major references for creating the game’s world in all of Turok’s N64 games?
We did indeed use the comics for reference as well as the bad guys in the game. I myself never read any of the Turok comics, but we had some laying around to gather some basic ideas of what the game needed to be. David Dienstbier, the lead designer, probably read the comics as he was the one responsible for coming up with the story and boss fights.
What were some limitations from the Nintendo 64 hardware that impacted your modeling/texturing of environments for the first Turok (Dinosaur Hunter)?
The N64 was very limited due to the cart size being 8 megs. We had to compress, as you can imagine, tons of data. When it comes down to it, the music used up most of the data as well as sound effects. This left art with a couple megs to work with to build out 8 levels I think it was. The largest size texture we could use was 64×64 pixels with 16 colors or 32×32 with 256 colors. Polygons had to be limited as well as we reused puzzle pieces to build out terrain and levels. Nowadays, next gen art is using 1024×1024 texture maps as well as 2048×2048 with no worries about it all fitting on a disc. On top of that, they are using multiple texture passes such as reflection maps and normal maps so there really is no comparing the two platforms.
Turok 2: Seeds of Evil was the first Nintendo 64 game to use the 4MB expansion pack. Talk about the different ways this expansion pack made things easier for you in modeling/texturing environments.
This was the greatest thing to happen to the N64. We popped those babies into the dev kits and away we went. This allowed a better variety of objects on the screen. We could make it chug too and had to pull back what we really wanted to push on the screen. This really helped with particles as well as Turok 2 used more of them than Turok 1.
The idea of a console expanding its RAM/Memory seemed ahead of its time. Would you like to see console makers use Nintendo’s idea for RAM expansion for future consoles?
I’ve seen graphic cards for the PC pushing 6 gigs of video ram now. I think it would be awesome if the 360 or PS3 could pop in that much memory. It makes things kind of tricky for developers however as they have to market the product as saying “requires memory expansion” to play their game, and not everybody would have the ram as it would probably cost a fortune. Games are looking pretty damn good without it too though.
The Turok series tried to differentiate itself from other first person shooters like Doom by placing more emphasis on exploration, adventure, and platforming. Today, do you think there are still ways to innovate the first person shooter genre to keep it feeling fresh and interesting?
We did have more puzzle solving as well as the shooting in the Turok series. I’m not a designer so it hurts my head to think what they could do to keep first person shooters fresh. They are all becoming the same thing as of late, just different graphics and story lines but core ideas are all the same across the games. Half Life 2 seemed to add some pretty cool puzzles using physics which was new.
Goldeneye 007 was released on the Nintendo 64 one year before Turok 2: Seeds of Evil. Goldeneye 007 multiplayer became a massive hit on Nintendo 64. Turok 2 was the first time the Turok series had multiplayer. Did Iguana Entertainment and Acclaim look at Goldeneye 007’s multiplayer for inspiration when creating Turok 2’s (and Rage Wars) multiplayer?
We did indeed borrow some ideas from them. I myself loved playing Goldeneye. They seemed to use less puzzle parts to build out their levels which was cool. I don’t know how they fit it all on the cart. The multiplayer levels had to be even more simple than the regular game. In multiplayer, the screen splits and the engine has to draw it 2x or 4x depending on how many players you selected to play the game.
Looking back at all of the Turok games you worked on, which game were you happiest with and which were you least happy with? For the game you were least happy with, what do you think could have been done differently?
I think I was the most satisfied with Turok 2 as we introduced lighting and some other cool effects. Turok 3 was the easiest for me to work on, but it came out when the PS2 was making its debut. Not too many people were interested in playing the N64 anymore with the quality that the PS2 was putting out graphically. Also, the PS2 had discs so they could build more custom levels and have larger textures so Turok 3 was bittersweet. It was great to make another one, but it couldn’t compete with the new stuff coming out graphically.
Were most of the people involved on Turok 2: Seeds of Evil also involved on Turok 3: Shadow of Oblivion? Or did many of those people leave before Turok 3 started development?
We had a lot of the same people, but lost some as they went on to begin work on the next generation Turok for the Xbox. I myself was moved over to the Xbox game (Turok: Evolution) when Turok 3 wrapped up, but left the company to go work with Rob Cohen, the lead programmer, whom started his own company.
Would you like to see licensing issues sorted out so the Turok N64 games can be released on the Wii/Wii U’s virtual console in the future?
It would be great to see the games available on that platform if there was enough interest. I’m not sure who owns Turok as of now since Acclaim is no longer around.
Were you a fan of the Turok reboot that was released in 2008 for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3?
I actually never got to play that game. It looked pretty and the outdoor environments looked amazing. Maybe it would have been fun to work on, but I never inquired to the developer about being hired.
Being involved on the development of the Turok games, you probably know many things that most gamers will never know. Are there any really interesting facts that you can tell us about Acclaim, Iguana Entertainment, or the development of the Turok N64 games that most gamers do not know?
They never thought Turok was going anywhere. In fact, the lead designer of the football game for Acclaim (Quarterback Club series) once told me “Turok hasn’t made us a dime yet”. I think he was quite proud that they made the company money pumping out a football game every year. It wasn’t until we started getting press that they knew they were sitting on a gold mine, and we weren’t the red headed step child anymore. There was lots of jealousy when this happened, and when it was time to pay royalties, “whew”. Everyone at the company wanted their name on Turok even if they had nothing to do with its development, and they wanted to split up royalties to all teams in the company.
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us, Ryan.
You can see some of Ryan’s 3D modeling work for other games and projects on his website.