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Tim Weiss Interview

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[Tim Weiss the photographer]

The following interview has been adapted from email correspondence held between myself and Phantasmagoria 2 programmer Tim Weiss of Sierra On-Line during January, April, and May 1997.

Anthony: Who are the Sierra programmers who play the mental hospital orderlies who drag Curtis's mother away?

Tim: They're not programmers per se. One is the producer of Antara 2, and the other is head of Tech Support. They are: Gary Brown (the bearded guy) and Brad Tallman. The programmers are in Bob's murder sequence.

Anthony: What acting roles did you play in Phantasmagoria 2?

Tim: I was the crime photographer [in Bob's murder sequence]. I also played several body parts. When Allie is looking at Curtis and you see Curtis's shoulder and the outline of his face; and when you see Curtis eating guts in the background - that's my shoulder/face. It was also my arm/hands that pulled the guts out of Bob's body when you see a sausage-like intestine thing yanked out of his stomach. I'm also the hand that grabs the alien Curtis's face (but not the one that actually rips it off - that was someone else)

Anthony: Why did you play these minor acting roles?

Tim: It was because of the shots [Director] Andy Hoyos wanted. The camera would pan from Paul ["Curtis"] Stetler over to me in one motion - the idea being that Paul is seeing himself do nasty things to various entrails and such. I think the editing process may have "altered" the look a little, sticking in cut-aways during the pan.

Anthony: Who else from Sierra had acting roles in Bob's murder sequence?

Tim: Kenny Smith who did our database work and compressed all the video is the coroner. The two cops that walk around with windbreaker jackets and carrying flashlights near their heads are Wes Plate (the editor) and Brian Johnston (another programmer). The two EMTs at the beginning of the murder scene are Willie Eide and Jay Williams. Willie is the lead engineer for Shivers II and Jay is our Quality Assurance guy. There is another Sierra person there, Kevin Kubalsky, but the scene where you could see him clearly was edited out. He plays a detective who you can see towards the back.

Anthony: In terms of programming difficulty, how does Phantasmagoria 2 compare with other computer gaming titles you have worked on?

Tim: Phantasmagoria 2 was tough because the SCI [Sierra Creative Interpreter] system that we were developing on was being rewritten, almost from scratch, as we were making the game. Every few weeks we would get a system update from Oakhurst, and, because of the changes, we would sometimes have to change our coding. It was a real challenge sometimes. But SCI needed to be recoded in order to get the Duck [movie] player into it. [Which is why it is in version 3 whereas the previous game in the Phantasmagoria series used version 2.]

Anthony: On the basis of what may be read in Phantasmagoria 2 error messages, this game makes extensive use of scripts. What are scripts?

Tim: They are mostly individually compiled files linked together by the [SCI] interpreter. There are actually two different things we [at Sierra] call "scripts". The first are files (normally with a .SC extension). In them, we can put room specific code, class definitions, global code - anything really. They're pretty much like C++ .CPP files. Then there are "script objects", each of which have a state, methods to change that state, and code to execute when that state changes. They are used to model a sequence of actions that should be executed by an object such as an Actor (in a more traditional [animated] game that has moving people) walking to the base of some stairs, walking up the stairs, and opening a door. [SCI is an object oriented programming language. Object oriented programming languages make more efficient reuse of code than procedural programming languages (such as C and Pascal). Another Sierra programmer - Greg Tomko-Pavia - elaborates on similar programming issues on his Interview page.]

Anthony: How does Phantasmagoria 2 use a computer's RAM?

Tim: You need 2 megabytes (megs) [of memory] for the music loops, about 1 meg for code resources, 1-2 megs for the various fidgeters, 1 meg or so for the stills and views that go with them, and some extra space for things like sound effects, etc. [Despite this, Phantasmagoria 2 will never run on only 8Mb of RAM under any operating system. The true minimum is 12Mb.]

Anthony: What is the purpose of the *.CLU files?

Tim: They are pallete files for 8-bit playback. Any CLU file with a number is the pallete for that particular movie, with the exception of 999.CLU which is a generic pallete file for those movies which don't have a specific CLU file. Duck movies were never meant to be used in 8-bit DOS, so this is what we needed to do in order to get the game to play movies in DOS.

Anthony: The DUK movies use 16-bit colour. Why use only 8-bit colour for the fidgeting scenes? Why can the DUK movies not be played in 16-bit colour under DOS?

Tim: Duck was never meant to be used in DOS. However, we were able to get around that using CLU files. The 8-bit backgrounds are a limit of SCI. It's too bad too, because it could have looked so much better if we could have done 16-bit for everything. I think DUK movies can't be in 16-bit under DOS because of several things. One, SCI does only 8-bit color. Second, Duck was never meant to be run from DOS. We played 16-bit DUKs under Windows with SCI because, when the movies play, SCI is essentially shut down, and a new "window" over the game pops up and the movie plays in that. We could do that using the features of Win95 but not in DOS - although, in DOS, we were able to use SCI's 8-bit mode to play DUKs but we needed CLU files for the pallete. [This answer also explains why there are no interactive movie scenes in Phantasmagoria 2 as there are in Phantasmagoria 1 (at the very end of chapter seven during the chase sequence involving the demon). SCI is needed for interaction and it can only run in an 8-bit colour environment. Phantasmagoria 1 is all 8-bit colour while Phantasmagoria 2 (if played normally under Windows 95) uses 16-bit colour for the movie scenes and 8-bit colour for everything else.]

Anthony: Is it theoretically possible to overcome any of these movie playing limitations?

Tim: The DUK movies can be "interacted" with to some degree. You can track the mouse over the movies while they play and you can click anywhere on them as they play. However, in order for SCI to "use" 16-bit color movies, we had to essentially shut SCI down, put up a DUK window to play the movies, close that window, and reopen SCI again. We were considering rewriting SCI to use 16-bit color all around, but that would have taken way too long and we didn't have the time.

Anthony: Why is there no half screen movie playing option in Phantasmagoria 2 as there is in the original Phantasmagoria and in Gabriel Knight 2?

Tim: Phantasmagoria 2 was never designed to be that way.

Anthony: Is there an easy way to remove the black lines that exist in every DUK movie? Perhaps by a command in RESOURCE.WIN or RESOURCE.CFG?

Tim: No. I believe that is part of the Duck player. Once it gets magnified beyond a certain size, the black lines automatically get put in.

Anthony: What are the differences in the video technology used for the Phantasmagoria 1 robot (RBT) files and the Phantasmagoria 2 interactive / fidgeting scenes?

Tim: We were originally considering using robots like Phantasmagoria 1 did. Instead we decided not to use them but use the standard View (V56) format. This way we could cycle animations forward, backward, or any way we wanted - which we did. The fidgeters were composited on a Macintosh and then converted to the PC and compressed into the V56 format [which are almost always contained within the much larger RESSCI.* resource files]. Robots are streamed from the CD [as separate files]. The Phantasmagoria 2 fidgeters are in essence a series of bitmaps loaded into memory on every room change that we can cycle at our whim. There is a slight time cost on room changes as the fidgeters have to load, but we got more flexibility using V56s as opposed to RBTs.

Definition of the RBT file format and how it was used in Phantasmagoria 1

Anthony: Are you aware of any bloopers made during the filming of the Phantasmagoria 2?

Tim: Boy were there a lot of continuity mistakes made during the shooting! The ones I remember the most had to do with the Dreaming Tree and the various drinks/shakes on the table. One movie they would be full. In the next they'd be half full, then empty, then full again. It was pretty sad at times.

Anthony: Why wasn't the Rat Woman's prayer to the "Rat God", which is contained within the RESOURCE.AUD files, included in any of the Easter Eggs or indeed in the main part of the game itself?

Tim: The Rat Woman was originally supposed to go into those three verses every so often - sort of like a random ranting for atmosphere - but no animations were ever recorded. I put the audio in and tested it, but it didn't work and I really didn't like it either. I talked with the producer [Matthew Thornton] about it and we agreed to take it out, so I removed it. There was enough going on in the mental hospital anyways. In fact, the hospital scene was supposed to be longer. Once you got out of the room, you had some corridors and doors you needed to traverse through and unlock, but, when they went to shoot that area, they were refused - by the Army I think. That area had to be cut as a result.

Anthony: In the Phantasmagoria 2 manual, it says that you may have as many saved games as you have hard disk space for. Yet, when you try to save your 20th game (the "bookmark" is included in the saved game limit), a message appears that says you are currently up to the maximum of saved games and need to delete at least one to continue. Why limit saved games to 20?

Tim: That was out of our [the programmers'] control. The save game limit is a result of the system we programed in - SCI. You can have unlimited saves, but you have to put them in different directories. Brian and myself often questioned this, but there was nothing we could do with it. I never got a straight answer as to why the limit is 20. Another thing that really ticked us off was the fact that, if we changed code, the saved games would be useless. That was due to the way the saves worked. In essence, a memory dump was the save file [and this is still the case with the retail version]. If we would change a class or property, the memory layout of the game would change, thus corrupting and previous save games. You don't know how much of a pain this was while we were developing and others were trying to test (and saving along the way). Phantasmagoria 2 is the last game to use SCI as far as I know.

Anthony: What foreign versions of Phantasmagoria 2 have been produced?

Tim: Right after we shipped [the USA version], we worked on the French and German versions. Actors in France and Germany redubbed the audio and we reedited and recompressed all the movies for these two versions. It is funny looking at some of the movies in French. They did a real nice job. A lot of the French lines actually match up with the original actors' mouth movements. There are also British, Korean, Australian, and Japanese versions that I know of, as well as a special American version for stores like Walmart. There may be more versions that I don't know about.

Further details about the foreign versions

[Real world version of the Travel Map]
A scan of the real world version of the Travel Map

Anthony: Can you explain the origins of the Travel Map? It looks like it was taken directly from a real world street directory or similar publication and contains strange dark patches including what appears to be coffee stains.

Tim: According to Jeff Lane [Special Visual Effects artist and Lead Artist], "I got the Yellow Pages. I scanned it in. I may have been drinking coffee at the time." I know they [the Sierra Art Team] were planning on doing some actual art for it, but they had other priorities which were higher. The map seemed to work out, so they kept it.

Anthony: The final fifteen Easter Egg points have been found. What do you have to say about the ideas behind this newly discovered Egg and the reward one gets for finding all the Eggs in the game?

Tim: It's the sounds of a whip. I had planned on making it more kinky - with grunts and groans, etc. - all mixed over it. I never got around to it. The "reward" is seen on the Egg scoreboard. It may not be much, but I laughed my butt off when I did it - especially at the caption (all of which I wrote, incidentally).

[Gratuitous beaver shot]
Screenshot from a discarded movie component of the Therese's cubicle Easter Egg. Take note of the filename extension to this picture - AVI. This is further proof that DUK movies are merely specially compressed AVI videos. The logo in the bottom right hand corner is for Duck TrueMotion. The original screenshot (excluding title bar and border) is 320 x 168 pixels in size which are the exact dimensions of the DUK movies before the game doubles their size during playback through the insertion of horizontal black lines.

Anthony: What were some of the thought processes behind the other Easter Eggs?


Easter Egg Summary screen: I figured this was just as good as any other place to get access to the scoreboard, so I put it here [on the Travel Map]. I also did the scoreboard itself and wrote all the little captions that go with it. I had fun doing the Eggs and I hope players like them as well.

Complete annotated listings and descriptions of all Phantasmagoria 2 Easter Eggs

Anthony: What is your personal opinion of The Simpsons - Homer Simpson in particular?

Tim: I love the show. Homer is my favourite. I have a sort of "shrine" dedicated to The Simpsons in my office.

Anthony: Did you use actual Simpsons recordings for the Homer Simpson related Easter Eggs or did you and/or another Sierra employee imitate his voice? For that matter, is that your voice players hear when activating several of the Easter Eggs? Some are the actors' voices, but there are others that are hard to identify.

Tim: The bathroom and "eat" sounds are actual samples from the Simpsons show. All the low rumbled laughs are me as is the take off from the Impossible Mission game ("Stay a while, stay forever...") in the "BossVaders" game.

Anthony: Why does the Jukebox Easter Egg fail to work and crash the game in chapter 5?

Tim: We had to eliminate many of the chapter 1-4 songs from CD5 because we ran out of space for the chapter 5 movies. I never got around to taking out the ability to click on the radio in chapter 5 as it wasn't my highest priority at the time (it was just an Egg after all).

Anthony: Your programmer colleague, Brian Johnston, was personally responsible for a few of the Easter Eggs. Can you speculate on his motivations for doing them?

Tim: Brian had this sound effects CD from which he pulled his sounds from. When something caught his attention, he put the sound in with his Eggs. Brian was just as "crazy" as I was. When something popped into our heads, for whatever reason, we put it in.

Anthony: On the Easter Egg Summary screen, you wrote messages that change as the player finds more and more Eggs. At what scores do the messages change?

Tim: This was a formula I used. I set it up such that we had a max score define. Any time we added an Egg, we upped the max by whatever we decided the particular egg was worth. I didn't know what the eventual total of the define would be but I knew I wanted a "0" message, four messages in between, and the final message for all the points (six messages in total). The formula worked out this way (based on 480 points maximum):

Message # Point range Message text
1 0 "Zero? Come on, we didn't make it that hard!"
2 1 - 120 "Need some help? Try Tech-Support."
3 121 - 240 "You're probably saying to yourself, 'These guys must have a lot of time on their hands.'"
4 241 - 360 "You're pretty good at finding these things!"
5 361 - 479 "Hey you're almost there! Have you activated the nudity code yet?"
6 480 "Congratulations, you've found all our Easter Eggs. You didn't get any hints from off of the Internet did you?"

Anthony: Why are the awarded Easter Egg points so erratic in nature? In general, they do not seem to properly reflect the effort in finding each Egg.

Tim: We did this on purpose just to make things look weird. We ingested too much caffeine working on Phantasmagoria 2.

[Phantasmagoria 2 crew eating pizza]
Lorelei Shannon (designer), Gary Spinrad (composer), Andy Hoyos (director),
and others eating pizza.

Anthony: There are some randomly occurring occasions in the game where you see unusual things that are not counted as Easter Eggs (eg: Curtis's "goofy walk" and a picture of the Phantasmagoria 2 crew eating pizza.) that I term as "Curiosities". Please list them all and tell the stories behind them.

Tim: There are a bunch. I stuck in the Curtis walking thing. There is a 1 in 60 chance that, any time you walk into the living room, the "goofy walk" movie will play.

There are also the four pictures in the living room [next to the bookcase]. One you can always click on [at the left hand side of the bookcase], and then there are the three to the right [of the bookcase]. For those three, there is a 10 percent chance each time the bookcase still is brought up, that one of the three pictures will become a hot spot. Then, if one is hot, one of the three [normally unseen Phantasmagoria 2 production crew photos] will be displayed at random.

I also stuck something in the Borderline in three chapters. You can click on one of the bottles behind the bar. Once you do this after clicking on the patron at the bar, Curtis's head will jerk around really fast as it follows the cursor (because I set the fidgeter speed to 0). In chapter 2, I think the clickable bottle is in the top row - last bottle on the right, in chapter 3 it's the next row down in the middle somewhere, and in chapter 4 it's the next row after that on the far left. I'm pretty sure that is where they're located. Although, if you can figure them out, here are the relevant rectangular coordinates (I believe 0,0 is in the upper left of the screen):
Ch2: 241, 29, 246, 48
Ch3: 214, 60, 219, 72
Ch4: 232, 86, 238, 98
[At no point will the cursor highlight when you click on the bottles. You may need to walk around for a while (eg: to the bathroom door and/or towards the Pit) before this Curiosity will take effect.]

[Bottles curiosity]
Click here to activate the bottles Curiosity in chapter 4.

If you liked this interview, please read the following interviews with other Phantasmagoria 2 cast and crew members

Don Berg - Actor

Wes Plate - Editor

Lorelei Shannon - Designer

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