|Interview with Dana Hanna - Producer Designer of The Crow|
Merijn: First of all, could you please tell us a bit more about yourself, your career at philips, any projects you've been involved with before and after "The Crow"?
Dana Hanna: I started my career in games at Philips. I didn't really think of it as something you could do for a living. But I had always loved games and been the weird little girl beating all the boys in the arcade growing up. I like a lot of folks who got into the industry a while back, kind of fell into the gig. I was working my way through grad school in film production / animation at UCLA, and I needed cash badly. I took a job as a temporary secretary and got sent to Philips. They liked me, and I just sort of...stayed.
I went from temping to doing cleanup animation on a children's title, to being the first hire in QA, to getting sent to front line QA a title in the UK, to somehow producing that title and living in the UK for a year. I still think QA is a great starting point for folks who want to be game devs. But now, universities offer entire programs for game development. I feel really old :)
Merijn: The first press release on "The Crow" was in December 1994, and I believe the project was cancelled in 1996, is that correct?
Dana Hanna: Not sure when the press releases were, but that sounds about right.
Merijn: Was "The Crow" being produced in house at Philips or externally?
Dana Hanna: Well, now, that's complicated. Here's where I have to haul out the history book.
Philips bought the license to do a game based on the motion picture "The Crow". They paid a pretty good chunk of money (for the time) for the rights. The execs originally envisioned it as a "mocap fighter" - a genre that never really went much further than Sony's Johnny Mnemonic game. The gig went to Philips POV, the folks who made the best-selling CD-i game "Voyeur". They were an external team, but obviously had very close ties to Philips.
POV was also doing Voyeur 2 at the time, and were stretched pretty thin. They did a prototype app for the mocap fighter, which worked well and demonstrated the basic game mechanic. It was quite an accomplishment, especially considering the workload they had at the time. I believe Philips decided to go a different direction with the game, though, and elected to start from square one. They let various external production groups bid on it, since POV was swamped with other projects.
At the time, I was running a small internal production team at Philips. We'd just finished localizing every flavor of Burn:Cycle you could imagine. We decided throw our hat into the ring on The Crow, and crunched out a pitch doc.
I knew we had an advantage over other bidders, because two of us on the team were bigtime comic book readers. Rantz Hoseley, our art director, was an experienced and published comic book artist. I'd been a reader since college, and knew a lot of folks in the trade through friends and animation work. We both loved The Crow. Our pitch really showed our appreciation and understanding of the material.
The execs reviewed our pitch and liked it. They tossed it over to Pressman Films (the owners of The Crow movie license) to get their feelings. Rantz and I met with the Pressman folks (as I remember, it was a meeting during the San Diego Comicon) to see if it was a good match. It was. We were two very happy campers. We were doing a game we really cared about.
Merijn: How would you describe your role in the project?
Dana Hanna: I was the producer and designer on it. Pulled the team and the design together, and handled a lot of the client relations part.
Merijn: What kind of game did you envision 'The Crow' to be, and how far from that was the project when it was aborted?
Dana Hanna: We were in the age of the "cinematic action adventure". Burn:Cycle had done that really well. The genre was more or less still viable. We were using the basic system that Burn:Cycle used, with some nice enhancements. Lots of full motion video (with hopefully nicer compression than had been done before), CG environments. The gameplay was an action / puzzle mix, with a heavier emphasis on action than Burn:Cycle had.
These games dried up in the market pretty quickly in the mid-nineties. I think it was a good choice at that time for The Crow, especially considering the target audience. But the novelty of this genre wore thin. Nothing really changes - the Next Big Gimmick always comes and goes in games, but really, it's about whether the game is fun to play. Most of these cinema games honestly just weren't much fun. Great cut sequences don't make up for poor gameplay.
Of course, I think The Crow would have been a great game, too :)
Merijn: How far in development did "The Crow" come, and why was it actually cancelled?
Dana Hanna: Oh my, we'd been crunching for about 6 months on it when it got killed. I believe POV had been going at least that long on it, too, and probably longer.
Saddest part is that we had *just* managed to assemble God's own dev team. We found a truly wonderful solution for getting top-notch 3D talent at a price we could afford by using the uber-talented Mr Daniele Colajacomo as a contractor. (Shameless plug: visit Dani's 3D artist resource site at www.3dsite.com). Dani put together a team of artists that could work from home, managed by him, saving us a ton of overhead. And we had also *just* decided on a director - the incomparable Mr Gustavo Garzon. Gustavo and I were students at UCLA Film at the same time. His visual style was exactly the right choice for The Crow. He's gone on to direct music videos for everyone from Ricky Martin to Shakira to Gloria Estefan to... Johnny Cash. Really.
As for why it was canceled, well, I can only speculate. We'd recently had a management change. The person who killed the project had never actually talked to me about it - or anything else. I'm not sure if he knew much, if anything, about the game. I really didn't know him. Perhaps he thought it was the wrong time to do this kind of game. Can't really say, since I never got a chance to ask him.
It was the first project for which I'd ever had full responsibility. Rantz and I both loved the material, so it wasn't really just another job for us. We were both really disappointed on a personal level when we got the news. But it definitely taught me that if you want to survive in the games industry, you have to be able to live with seeing some of your babies strangled. First and foremost, it's a business.
Merijn: "The Crow" was primarily developed for CD-i with CD-ROM and MAC ports planned as well. Did the PC/MAC versions ever see the light of day, and is "The Crow: Complete Interactive Collection" in anyway connected to all this?
Dana Hanna: Nope, no PC or Mac versions of our game, at least. No versions at all as a matter of fact! As far as I know, we had no connection to the other piece you mention. I left Philips a few months after The Crow was killed, so I'm not really sure what happened to Philips' rights to the license after that.
Merijn: Was conversion to PC/MAC going to happen using Philips Media's famous XP platform?
Dana Hanna: I believe so, yes. (Memory foggy... too many years of crunch...)
Merijn: How do you look back at working for Philips Media, any nice memories you wish to share?
Dana Hanna: Wow. What a question. :)
I wouldn't trade anything for my years at Philips. We used to call it Philips University, and for a good reason - many, many of the folks who started there are now making great games all over the world. You worked for Philips, you learned, and often, you moved on. And most of us didn't come in thinking of game dev as a real job. I still count lots of the Philips crew as close friends.
Many of the nice memories are not repeatable in polite company. I don't know which one to pick. But here's a random one I've always enjoyed...
When I worked in QA, we had one tester (who shall remain nameless... let's just call him Bob for the purposes of the story) who was a bit... gullible. We would test the games in desks that looked a bit like library carels - long rows of desks separated by little partitions. As you probably remember, Philips remotes were wireless gadgets with a little thumbstick in the middle.
One day "Bob" was testing a product, and someone decided to rib him by standing silently behind him and moving the cursor around the screen with their remote. Bob lifted his glasses to adjust them, and his cursor went up. Hmmm. He lifted them again. And the cursor moved the same way. Heavens! Stop the presses! A new bug!
The QA lead was called over. A group gathered around the machine. Somehow, everyone managed to keep from laughing and kept the Serious Face on. Wow! That's amazing! Do it again Bob! Move the cursor with your glasses!
It would have been only marginally funny, if someone had not then convinced him that he could do the same thing by sticking out his tongue and moving it. After a few minutes of this, someone lost it and cracked up. End of joke.
Danna Hanna was interviewed by Merijn
Game Artwork provided by Dana Hanna and published with permission of the original creater Rantz Hoseley who's current work can be found on Death March
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