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Posts Tagged ‘Chris Hecker’

Chris Hecker and 23 other spore developers laid off.

Posted by ballightning on August 30, 2009

Chris Hecker has revealed that 24 members of the spore team have been laid off, including himself.

I would like to personally give tribute to Chris who not only creating the procedural animation, various prototypes many years ago and successfully developed assymetry, he also has helped the modding community with various problems on many occasions.

Chris and the other 23 members of the spore team will be missed, and here at sporedum, we wish them all the best in the future! Watch this space for news on Chris Hecker’s new indie game SpyParty.

I just got laid off from Maxis!

I can’t say that it was a shock, but it was still somewhat surprising. It’s funny, you occasionally hear about people who were laid off, and from the safety of your job you can’t help but think, “Even though it’s not supposed to be merit based, that’s gotta be in the mix; they wouldn’t actually let the good people go.” Then it happens to you, and you’re like, “Hey, wait a second…”  🙂

I had a truly great time working on Spore. I was lucky to get to contribute to some really amazing stuff over the past six years. In the past few months, I chose to work on smaller things that generated lots of goodwill but no revenue, which tends to be a problem when you’re expensive and the economy is down! Still, we got asymmetry into a patch, which has enabled some really incredibly insanecreatures and vehicles. Next I was going to do some research on improving searching and browsing assets in the incredible resource that is the Sporepedia. I think there are some amazing opportunities to mine the user created assets if the browsing and tagging facilities can be improved. Will and I used to debate the best way to classify the assets, and hopefully we’ll see some neat stuff going forward there.

I also got to work with some excellent game developers, many of whom have become my good friends. I hope the others who got laid off (there were 24 in all, I think) will land on their feet and do great work, and I hope the folks who are left will try to carry the Maxis torch and keep making games that are different and expand the boundaries of our art form.

What’s Next?

As for me and my future, if you attended the always-interesting Experimental Gameplay Workshop this year at the Game Developers Conference, you may have seen the indie game I’ve been working on in my spare time. I believe the idea is quite strong, so I was thinking about quitting to work on it more seriously in January. Now I guess the choice has been made for me, so assuming I can get the financial numbers to add up, I will start cranking on it.

Continue Reading


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SporeDay – Answers from Chris Hecker

Posted by ballightning on May 27, 2009

Maxis recently got people to ask questions for Chris Hecker to answer about the various areas of spore his has worked on. Maxis choose the top 50 and then users on the official forum voted for their top 10, through Chris has answered many more then that. Here are our two favorites, head over to the Official Forum for more.


What do YOU think of the asymmetry campaign? Do you think it may be a good idea? 

Asked by CubeTubeMan, Sgt.Waffles, TexasGamer, ZEE_EXX, poisfig, dinoboy300, nebula27, SPYDR 

I’m really glad this one got the most votes, because it happens to be what I’m working on right now! So, yes, I think it’s a good idea! First, some important caveats: this is research work we’re doing to investigate the feasibility of asymmetry in the creature and vehicle editors. It might not work for any number of reasons, and therefore, there are no guarantees it will ever see the light of day and ship, but please keep your fingers crossed and beam us good bug fixing karma! 

A bit of history about the creature editor and asymmetry to give context: there were actually three generations of the creature editor over the years of Spore’s development, lovingly called CE1, CE2, and CE3. Each successive editor built on the lessons learned from working on and testing the previous one. Obviously, only CE3 ever got to a shippable state, and the others were just prototypes. I think they all supported asymmetry to one degree or another at various points in their development, even CE3. However, as we fixed the bugs, figured out the final user interface paradigms, and polished up CE3 into the creature creator you all know and love, the asymmetry code got less and less attention because resources were limited and it was optional for shipping, while the symmetric editor manipulations were essential to making the editor work intuitively. As we say in the business, the asymmetry code “rotted”. This is a pretty natural process for complex software…the more important features get prioritized, and some cool-but-optional parts sometimes rot and have to get disabled due to time limits and resource constraints. We always hoped to bring it back, but we just couldn’t spend the time to do so before Spore’s release. 

After we shipped last year, Dave Culyba, one of the main editor programmers, and all-around awesome guy, started to resurrect the old asymmetry code and fix the bugs. Let me be clear: the old asymmetry code never actually worked well and it needed to be completely rethought, and so Dave had to do a ton of smart and hard work to get it up and going. He solved a lot of the difficult problems (like “How does the editor economy work when you can delete one of the pair of parts?”, “What do you do if you drag a symmetric part to an asymmetric limb, and then drag it back, without releasing your mouse button?”, etc.). After GDC this year, I decided to take it on, and now Dan Moskowitz, the lead editor programmer, is working with me and we’re giving it a shot. 

We’re really excited by the potential, and we’ll be able to talk more about it later, assuming our confidence in it shipping increases over time. It’s still buggy with lots of edge cases that we need to fix, but we showed it to the Adventure Camp folks last week and they all literally gasped when I did the first asymmetric operation, which was great. If it ever ships, you guys will go crazy with it, and I can’t wait to see what you make! 

Just remember, there are no guarantees this will get released, it’s still a research project at this point, so please be patient and think positive bug-fixing thoughts! 


 Why did you get rid of the procedural animation for Spore? Was it a play testing issue? Was it buggy? 

Asked by Bofosho2, Mystfan, TexasGamer 

Also, how did the original, (GDC ’05) Proc. Animation system work? (I know that it wasn’t a working game then, but you did have the editor, according to one of your interns.) It must have been a pain to code. 

Asked by Bofosho2 

First, it’s important to understand that there never was some other version of Spore that got changed at some point, there was only a growing number of technologies that solved problems and a constant learning on our part about what game we were making and how to best use those technologies to make it. To use an biological analogy, it’s not like there was an existing, fully formed species that then went through natural selection yielding other fully formed species over time, and then we finally decided to ship one of them. It’s more like a single creature gestating in utero, starting out as a clump of cells that looks nothing like a game, eventually forming into somewhat familiar shapes (maybe it had a vestigial tail at one point in its development that disappeared, etc.), and finally it develops lungs and a heart and becomes viable and it gets born. Or something like that. 🙂 

As for how the 2005 animation system worked specifically, I talk about it a bit in my GDC 2007 lecture. There’s a screenshot of one of the scripts in the slides at that link if you’re curious, and you can download the mp3 to hear the description. It was basically a scripting language built on top of Lua. There were two main problems with the original system. First, it was very difficult to get expressive motion out of it, because the motions it produced were very linear. In other words, a hand could grab towards a piece of fruit, but it was hard to naturally vary the hand’s speed during the grab, and it was even harder to script movement tangential to the direction of the fruit, both of which are absolutely vital to an animation reading as having anticipation and intent. Second, as I say in the lecture, because it was a programming language, it was unclear who we should hire: programmers who can animate, or animators who could program. Unfortunately, the intersection of those two sets is almost empty, which created a huge production risk because we had thousands of animations to create.

So, to solve these two problems, we redesigned the system to implicitly handle the proceduralism as much as possible, and expose the expressive parts to the animator, as you can read about in the SIGGRAPH paper. The final system has a lot of familiar controls to a character animator, and then it handles the heavy procedural lifting of applying the animations to the different shapes of the creatures. We’re pretty proud of the results, and you can see the animators were able to get a lot of emotional expression that reads even on pretty insanely shaped creatures! 

I also think there’s a misconception about the definition of the word “procedural” when it comes to Spore’s animation system in the first question. There isn’t really a consensus on what “procedural animation” means in the computer graphics community. It’s a pretty blanket term for “non-traditional animation”, so it’s not really very useful to try to label one system procedural and another not. A working definition could be, “is a given animation asset described only by code?”, in which case the old system was procedural and the current one is not, but that ignores how the line between code and data is quite blurry in practice, and so a more useful definition that would better fit the more common graphics usage would be, “is animation data just a recording of joint angles that’s played back, or is heavy processing involved in taking the source data and producing character motion?”, and by that latter definition the current system is highly procedural. 

Rather than labels, I think players are more interested in what the system can do, and although I think we did an amazing job, I also know the GDC 2005 demo showed a couple cool things that really resonated with people that the system we shipped did not do. The two biggest ones are what we callweapons-anywhere, which I discuss below, and drag-carcass, which is something we hope to get back in there at some point. Both were just time/priority issues during development; there’s no inherent reason they would work in one system but not the other. 

I hope that clears up some of the questions around these topics! 

More Questions and Answers

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Ask Maxis with Chris Hecker – accepting questions

Posted by ballightning on May 13, 2009

For today’s SporeDay, MaxisCactus is collecting questions from the Official Spore Forum community to ask Chris Hecker.





Ask Maxis with Chris Hecker 

Maxoid Chris Hecker is a technology fellow on Spore. A few of his major contributions to the project include development of procedural animation, painting, and skinning of creatures. 

You can find out more about Chris through his Liner Notes for Spore


This week, you’ll have a chance to directly ask him questions by posting them here. We’ll post the top 50 questions for you to vote on. The top 10 you choose will be answered by Checker. 

All questions posted will be considered, but I thank you in advance for keeping your inquiries civil. 

Guidelines for posting questions: 
– You can post as many questions as you like, here on the forum 
– Each question must be under 250 characters (including spaces) in order to be included in the poll 
– Post your questions by 10:00AM PDT 5/18/09 


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Chris Hecker’s Liner Notes for Spore

Posted by ballightning on April 18, 2009

Chris Hecker (Spore Developer) has posted on his personal blog about his notes and early documentations from Spore.  Here is his most recent post called liner notes of Spore, in which he shows the construction of Spore creatures – texturing, meshing and the behaviors.  If you’re a Spore fan, it’s a must read – especially the Behavior Tree Docs! Thanks to SporePrograms for the tip.

Chris Hecker – Liner Notes for Spore

This page is intended to be a sort of liner notes for my contributions to Spore. It’s a place for me to write up miscellaneous development comments about the parts of the game I worked on, while they’re still fresh in my mind. I think the game had over 80 people working on it towards the end, and it was in development for more than 5 years, so basically everything in the game was touched by more than one person and was a team effort. Given that, I will strive for inclusion and accuracy, and I will only talk about systems to which I made substantial contributions.

Head over to the Liner Notes for Spore page for more




654px-Behaviortree2 Intestisaur-alpha Intestisaur Beetle Lizard RedOgre Turtle Rhino TreeFrog2 Brushpsd Frog-diffuse Frog Squid-print Squid-cubes Squid-metaballs Squid-mesh Squid-skin

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Chris Hecker Discusses User-Generated Content

Posted by ballightning on March 26, 2009

Hecker split his talk into three sections: what user-generated content is, how to use it, and why to use it. He began by setting up a partial taxonomy of axes for UGC, including aesthetic content versus behaviorial content, parameterization versus raw creation, as well as a more vague axis of accessibility.

As examples of UGC interfaces that demonstrate various combinations of these descriptions, Hecker went through a number of screenshots — Wii Miis and City of Heroes for parameterization and aesthetics; Spore creatures and mods for aesthetics and creation; Final Fantasy XII‘s menu-driven battle queue system for behavior and parameterization; Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts and the Flash game Fantastic Contraption for behavior and creation.

The “edit/test” cycle, Hecker says, is an ongoing loop that users cycle through when creating content — which occurs in gameplay as well as players try different mechanics and approaches, but on a much faster scale. With user-generated content, that cycle can end up lengthening to the point that it approaches game development. That can limit accessibility and shrink the potential audience for such content.

Read here for more.

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Will Wright on Science vs Cute

Posted by ballightning on November 5, 2008

The so called battle between science and cuteness (or more appropriately simple gameplay) has been raging on the official Spore forums for weeks, with many fans blaming Chris Heckler fans found he made a statement which said that he pushed for a less complex game. Will Wright has posted in one of the anger threads called We Found Who to Tar and Feathers, you can see his post in its own thread here. He stated that all blame rests on him for it being designed simply. 



I’ve just recently tuned into this thread on the forums. I usually try to keep more up to date but I’ve been traveling way too much lately. Wow, there’s some rather intense discussion here I see about the design decisions we made in Spore. I think it’s really important for me to jump in and clarify a few things from my point of view.

First let me say a few things about the “Cute” vs. “Science” perspectives in Spore. It is true that during most of the design process we had team members on different sides of this debate. While I was officially on the science side at the same time I always saw this as a crucial tension that I wanted to foster, in other words I didn’t want the science side to win, I wanted to make sure both sides were represented in the game to some degree.

Two of the Chris’ on our team (Chris Trottier and Chris Hecker) were the most vocal representatives of what I started calling the cute team but they were by no means the only ones, they represented quite a large portion of the team. And their agenda in our design process was most certainly not to dumb-down the gameplay but rather to foster emotional engagement with the players in the game experience. An early example of this was the decision to add eyes to the cell game which in no way changed the gameplay, but we found for certain players made the cell experience more humorous and personal.

I see that many of the criticisms about the depth of play in Spore seem to be personally directed to Chris Hecker in particular. This is both ironic and incorrect. Chris was the leading talent behind the voodoo math of the procedural animation system in Spore, the system that brings the creatures you design to life. As the author of this system Chris was quite aware of how flexible and also how unpredictable it could be. I had many discussions with him in particular about how much of the players design decisions would affect the actual performance of your creature in the game world.

To take a quick tangent let me use the creature design vs. performance as an example. We had competing issues to face. First, we wanted the creature’s design to impact its in-game performance. Second, we wanted the economics of the editor to be simple and understandable and connected to performance. Third, we wanted a high amount of aesthetic diversity. We didn’t want there to be one ultimate design direction that the simulator was forcing all the creatures into. In other words if to be fast you had to have long legs that would have met the first goal, conflicted with the third goal and made the second much more complex.

As the lead designer my goal through most of the project was to make sure the gameplay didn’t end up too complex, which resulted in simplifying many of the level dynamics and editor consequences. I felt like we were already asking quite a bit from the players as we took them through the various level genres. This was totally my judgment call and not even part of the agenda of the “cute” team, and certainly not the fault of Chris Hecker. So to make a long story short I’m the one to be blamed for any faults in the gameplay, that’s my job on the team.

Chris is one of the most talented people I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with in the game industry and he takes his craft quite seriously. So it’s been very disturbing for me to read how he has been unfairly vilified for what were in fact entirely my design decisions.

A genre-spanning game like Spore is almost by its very nature experimental. Not only do we not have an existing game to learn design lessons from, we also don’t initially know what the demographic of our players will be (and hence their expectations for complexity and depth). As we move forward with the franchise we plan to listen closely and learn. Our plans for the first Spore expansions are already revolving heavily around what we’re hearing from our players so far.

I want to personally thank everyone who’s playing Spore, especially for the countless, wonderful creations that have been posted to Sporepedia. And I also want to give thanks and encouragement for the discussions here on our forum that will help us make Spore a cooler experience for everyone.

-Will Wright


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