Zak McKracken has to rescue the world... again!  Follow him on his new journey.
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Article by Ingo Eisenhard

Child’s play

Like many others on the team I grew up playing Maniac Mansion and Zak McKracken on the C-64. I played Monkey Island on the Amiga and by the time Monkey Island 2 and Indy 4 came around I was using my dad’s business PC to play adventure games. To me one of the most important aspects of these games has always been the animations. The animations were the rewards you would get to watch after solving a puzzle. Using the giant Q-tip to open the monkey head on Monkey Island, or picking up and using the dog in Monkey Island 2 are some of my all time favourites.

As a kid I used to do some animations in Deluxe Paint III & IV on the Amiga and for games I made using the Shoot Em Up Construction Kit (S.E.U.C.K.) on C-64 and Amiga. Years later, in 1999, when I designed my first website, I discovered the powers of Flash and spent hundreds of hours just playing around with it just for fun.

Just a few background animations

My brother had been involved with the Zak:btas project for some time already when in May 2005 he suggested that I could help out with a few animations for the game. He sent me a sample which I should try to animate. It was Sushi in her fish tank. Later that evening I finished the animation using 87 frames. Marvel, the project leader, liked it but told me to keep the amount of frames down for future animations, in order to keep the file size low…

When I joined the project I thought there were other people working on animations as well, I was told that most of the work on Zak had already been done and only a few particular animations were not done yet. As it turned out I was the only one working on the animations besides my brother who was busy doing music for the game. Soon I began working on more background animations and in the course of time my skills and speed increased and I was churning out several animations each day. Back then, the game was still scheduled for release later that year (2005). However that was about to change…

When our project leader sent me a demo with a few rooms so I could have a look at the engine myself, I was shocked! The backgrounds and music worked great, but Zak’s animations were clearly not on par with the rest of the game. I started to rework some of Zak’s animations, but Marvel was not amused due to some changes I made to the Zak sprite. So I turned my back on the Zak animations – for the time being.

Let’s start anew!

Christmas 2005 came around and we were getting along fine, but a release in 2005 had already been ruled out for a while, instead a new date had been set for summer ’06. Work was progressing at a steady pace. By the end of the year I took another chance and pitched the idea to our team to completely redo the Zak sprites. We agreed and aeyolscaer immediately started working on the new Zak. It took several weeks until we finally agreed on a Zak everyone was happy with. Since we had to redo some sprites several times, I ended up doing some of the animations for Zak up to 3 times. By the time the new Zak sprite was finally finished I had reached a point where the endless hours of fun had turned into a chore. From far too many hours in front of my pc (combined with my regular job), I started to get a stiff neck and back pain. I could hardly work any more – I needed a break! I finished the Zak animations and promised to do the few remaining animations for the game after the first beta test.

At the team meeting in July ’06, which I could not attend, the team decided to add more content. The engine had to be improved a little bit and the game needed more polish, including several additional animations for Zak and new locations. Of course all the new content that was being added took much longer to finish than we had originally planned; after all we are working on this game in our spare time. Personal matters made me take a break from the project yet again in fall of 2006. By the end of the year I slowly started working on animations again, but this time I took my time since a lot of other stuff was still unfinished. Some of these final animations turned out to be my personal favourites and really shine compared to my early work. By the end of April 2007, I finally finished the animations for the game. Some animations have far over 100 frames and are several megabytes in size – much more than Marvel had ever imagined. Looking at some of my early work now makes me want to rework several of these animations, but I better let it rest, otherwise we might never get to release the game…

By the way, the first animation I ever did, Sushi in her fish tank, won’t be in the final game since Sushi got a make-over and is now swimming in a fish bowl...