Pravin Wagh (interview)

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Pravin Wagh is a video game programmer who has worked for Sega and other studios on titles such as Garfield: Caught in the Act for the Sega Genesis and Spawn for the Xbox. This interview was conducted by Billscat-socks in 2012.

Interview

First, can you give a brief history about how you got into the game industry? How did you end up at Sega, and what was your time there like?

I got into the game industry because that's how I got into computers. I started programming on an old Atari home computer that my parents weren't buying me games for, and I realized that I'd have to make my own games. This got me into programming and many years later, that became a career. A friend of mine, Steve Lashower (this name will come up later), had been working for a company that Sega had contracted out to make some games, and Sega eventually purchased that company. This meant that they'd also want to grow that division and send more game projects. I was hired as part of that expansion when Steve referred me.


For the Garfield project, do you recall exactly when you got on board and how long were you on it for?

Disney's Aladdin had come out for multiple game systems and it set a very high standard for game animation. It was a clone of Virgin's earlier game, "Mick and Mac Global Gladiators" but their success at bringing the Disney animation over had created quite a stir. The search for other licensed characters made Garfield a really valuable property, especially in the 90s when Garfield was such a popular comic. Steven was the lead programmer on the Garfield project. I came back from a long Christmas trip abroad and found out that the Garfield project had been completely rebooted. Mike Fernie, was the new lead, and I was his #2. Ala Diaz was our #3. We took the project all the way to completion.

We finished most of the game and just sat on it for a few weeks. I went on a lengthy vacation in May of 1995 and came back with a fresh outlook and fresh set of eyes on the game and was able to better appreciate the animations. When you work on a game, you spend a LOT of time getting accustomed to everything in it and it doesn't look so special any more.

That's very interesting about Steve Lashower since his effort isn't mentioned in any credits, I guess since he had nothing to do with the eventual product. But I am familiar with his name since it also appears in a Star Wars 32X game which has a staff consisting of several from Garfield as well.

It's possible that Steve was not listed on the credits because his work was not used, or he might have requested not to be listed. In my career, I have seen a few people ask not to be listed on credits now and then. This is unusual because people are usually looking for any way to get included, even if it's the 'special thanks' section.


Besides yourself, programming was handled by a few other individuals with Michael Fernie as head programmer. What was your role in the grand scheme of the game's programming?

Sega Interactive (our division) had a game engine with various components, so a lot of programmers had a part in making almost any game that we released. Mike would have a better idea of how much of the Garfield code was kept vs. how much we might have scrapped and started fresh with. I was already good friends with most of the artists and I worked with them to help meet their animation goals. This also tied in with the AI and gameplay elements that I worked on. All the Garfield animations came straight from PAWS, but our team worked on everything else. The Genesis was getting to the end of its life, and we had some engine programmers who had mastered a lot of things about it. Kevin Burley was a programmer who worked on some lighting and particle effects and special features, like a game element that involved rotational movement (Egypt level). I took his particle system and found ways to put it to use in multiple levels to create some ambient elements such as floating leaves falling in the jungle environment. I believe Kevin did the PC port some years later, and this would have been easy for him since he had already worked on such low level engine components.


Are there any stories regarding programming for the Sega Genesis you have? Was it an easy console to work with? Any incidents during Garfield's development?

At some point in the life of a console, you get to know so much about it that you can come up with techniques that can squeeze out some really special effects and game features. I already mentioned how we had done particle effects. The whole game was written in assembly language, and many of us were transitioning to C and C++ as we made supporting tools. The 32X was starting to become a product around the same time we were completing Garfield (Steven worked on a launch title for it), and the Saturn was coming out soon as well.

The Garfield project gave us a pretty good platformer-capable game engine at the end. If we had that engine to start out with, as Virgin did when they made Aladdin, it's quite possible we'd have finished Garfield sooner and had more time to tweak and tune it. The game could have been more about Garfield rather than us trying to find ways to salvage a project that had already lost several months of its intended schedule.


How was meeting Jim David, and how involved was he with any of the team ideas for the game's conception?

I only got to meet Jim Davis at E3. We worked more with his animator, Glen (don't recall the last name), who sent in his hand-animations that were scanned, cleaned up, and eventually put into the game. Jim autographed things for us at the show, but that was really the extent of me working with him. I'm sure he might have been more involved in directing Glen or approving any ideas that we might have been sending out, but that process did not involve the development team.


A huge area of interest concerning this game is the fact that it originally was much huger with a few levels that eventually didn't make the cut due to time constraints and issues with programming. For example, the Catsblanca level was originally going to have a portion where you ride atop a train, but I am told it could never be programmed just right and had to be dumped. Do you have any recollection of this?

When Garfield first came through the company, many of us were working on other titles that were being put together as we went along, and in a very ad-hoc manner. In contrast, Garfield had a thick design document and every inch of it seemed to have been planned out, and we were quite envious. I'd only seen a few pages now and then, and wished that my project had come with such thoroughly planned out level maps and storyline. It made perfect sense that Garfield would be so perfectly executed.

But that turned out to be just another case of the grass being greener.

Just because you put a Hollywood superstar in a movie, doesn't mean that the movie is automatically good. While we might know what kinds of things are fun, it's not until we implement those features that we find out whether they really are fun or not. I never looked at the original Garfield "bible" but was told by the assistant producer later that it was a lot of impressive documentation, but ultimately it was not an entertaining game.

Catsablanca had a train level for a very, very long time, but I think we just weren't able to make it a satisfying game element. Maybe it could have become a mini-game or bonus round, but back in those days, cartridge space was precious and needed to be budgeted carefully. You can't allocate a large amount of storage space to something that's only barely used in the whole game.

I also recall that it was worked on by a developer who was really new to the company and he was caught up in a learning curve about our game engine and not able to make the tweaks required to save that level in time for our production schedule.

At some point, we had to figure out how we could meet a delivery schedule and cutting content was the solution. Cutting out content means that we don't have to spend more time fine tuning the gameplay, or bug testing those levels (which also takes a long time).

People do this even today with multi-gigabyte games, and they sell those cut levels as DLC. These options didn't exist for Genesis.

I'm sure there might have been some business reasons also forcing our hand for release, such as marketing dollars and schedules.


Besides that, there were other lost levels that have gained infamy, including Space, Viking, Robin Hood, and Ancient Rome. Do you have any memory of any such levels and their eventually cancellation?

I do remember Garfield dressed up as those characters and in those levels. Didn't Robin Hood ship in the game? I remember working on lighting and particle effects, and Garfield running through a forest canopy.

Cancellation of those levels would have had to be a combination of them either not being fun enough or distinct enough, and/or we didn't have any more time or budge to keep working on developing those levels.


One interesting thing about the lost levels is that eventually Sega compiled them into a specific download for their Sega Channel cable subscription service and had the game available for awhile as "Garfield: The Lost Levels." Did you have any part in this happening, or are you aware of it and how it was able to happen if the levels were cut to begin with due to possibly not even being completed?

I left Sega a few months after Garfield shipped and began working on Playstation games. That Sega division was eventually closed, and Mike Fernie and a few others from that team became my teammates at the company I had moved on to. I was not involved with Sega Channel, and was not aware of anything new happening with Garfield. Among the things I'd heard as we completed Garfield is that it would be the last in-house Genesis game that Sega would undertake. Any future Genesis titles would be done by third party developers. The rest of our division was already working on pitching game ideas for 32X and Saturn.


Did you have any involvement with the PC port or GameGear versions of the game? For some reason the cancelled Space level from the Genesis version did end up included in the PC port, but no one knows why only that one in particular. The Gamegear one also contains several of the areas cut from the Genesis game, although presumably with a completely different design.

Some years later, I remember hearing from Kevin Burley because he was going to port Garfield to PC. I think it was all being emulated, and he probably had access to the old codebase, even levels that we had discarded. Our Sega division had a GameGear group, but I don't recall if they worked on Garfield. I think the GG Garfield was probably made by someone else, which would explain it being a different game. Another reason for it to be very different is that GameGear had many constraints and you can't just blindly put a Genesis game onto GG and expect it to work.

This is similar to the PSP not being a 100% portable PS2, or GameBoy being a portable Wii. Likewise, the GameGear is not a portable Genesis and you'd have to make some gameplay and game design adjustments.

And then you have to throw in that the particular Sega Interaction division was eventually shut down and we may have lost code, graphics, audio, etc. in the process and are relying on any of the team still having some things around on their personal systems.

Regarding the 32X, Garfield was also touted as also being a 32X release at some point. Do you recall if it was ever really planned, or was it false info on the part of magazines? I think at that stage of development magazines were touting it as Garfield: Lost in TV Land or simply Garfield in TV Land or something to that effect.

The 32X was a system that essentially provided overlays to the graphics that your Genesis was already putting out. I don't think there was a 32X version of the game, however our studio was pretty far ahead in 32X development, enough to take on a Star Wars title. A 32X Garfield might just have been wishful thinking.