Monday, November 05, 2007

The Cool Cam - Worse Than Failure

The Cool Cam - Worse Than Failure

What's your cool cam?

"With all of the bugs he could get started on, he decided it was necessary to add a new feature instead. He developed a camera system that would focus on anything "cool" happening near the player. For instance, one plane shakes another with a delicate evasive maneuver. Or it'd mount to a bomb right as a B-17's bay was opening, following its descent onto the earth. Or it'd follow a plane being shot down, ablaze and spiraling toward the ground, engines sputtering.

The "Cool Cam" was cool. But it didn't change the fact that the game was almost completely broken. Brand wanted to confront Tim about bug priority and all of the code he was toiling away to debug, but held his tongue. No one could save the project at this point anyway.

At the next week's meeting with management, the air felt heavy. With each passing week the execs were seeing money hemorrhaged into a dying project that they'd had a full team on for four years. Tim started up the game and played carefully to avoid the obvious bugs. Getting a double whammy of tough questions ("How overbudget is this project?" and "Why shouldn't we cancel this right now?"), Tim made sure his plane was level and flying evenly and let go of the joystick and hit the cool cam button.

Brand sat there silently, watching the monitor. Tim turned toward the execs, about to stumble through an answer they probably wouldn't accept. The room was silent, save for the steady hum of the plane's engines coming out of the computer speakers. Suddenly, the camera zoomed in on an explosion, following a flaming plane barreling toward the earth, then the focus moved slightly to another plane quickly evading the flaming shell. Tim took the controls again when the execs lobbed another tough question about bugs they'd made no progress in fixing. Again, Tim leveled the plane and hit the cool cam button. And again, he didn't have to answer because everyone was fixated on the screen.

Tim's "cool cam" saved European Air War. It went from a money-leaking embarrassment to a top-tier release for MicroProse. The weekly meetings got easier, more developers were brought on, and the team managed to put together one hell of a game. It reviewed well after its 1998 release and is still a popular game for history buffs. And it probably wouldn't have been released if not for a programmer that knew what the project needed most; the cool cam."