Behind the Screens: Movie Star
In November 2018, we released Movie Star, our fourth map in the the Creative Toolbox series, and the most different to its predecessors. With Movie Star, we decided to focus more on the roleplay elements of the map as opposed to building, which had been the focus of our previous installments. We found that the roleplay was lacking in our first three toolboxes and wanted to play with a more guided approach this time around.
To do this, we decided to create distinct movie sets for players to explore, finish and act in. As players are limited by their imagination, and their overall creativity, writing master Andrej wrote scripts for each theme to guide our builds, props and textures and aid budding actors in their creativity.
In our second peek behind the Noxcrew creative curtain, I’m going to show you the amazing work Andrej put into the scripts, how they influenced the development of the map, as well as give you some behind the scenes stories of what went on during the production of Movie Star.
The Nox Studios build was inspired by the movie studios of 1930’s Hollywood, such as Paramount Pictures, with hints of the current Warner Brothers lot and buildings on Hollywood Boulevard such as the Pantages Theatre. By looking back at architecture of these classic buildings in film history, we hoped to evoke the feeling of an established, working studio, rather than a sterle, newly constructed facility, with no sense of history to it.
Most of the buildings that inspired Movie Star can actually be visited and toured around, particularly Warner Brothers Studios. These tour bus attractions inspired our very own tour train, which you can drive your friends around in and check out all of the exciting sets and scenery around the studio.
But the tour trains aren’t the only vehicles in Movie Star that were inspired by real life, the golf carts in the map are real too! These cart are regularly used to transport actors - particularly those in delicate makeup or costumes - and staff around the huge lots, as well as quickly get props and equipment from storage to their required scenes.
When we first started to work on the concept for Movie Star, we set out to create up to 10 different plots and themes, including a wild west and fantasy zone. However, due to limitations on the number of entities we could create for the map, we scaled the number of themes down to four: action-adventure, sci-fi, superhero and horror. These themes were then developed and became the four film sets on the studio lot: Chad Venture, Space Crash, Teen Spirit and Witch Business.
Chad Venture is an obvious Indiana Jones parody, riffing on the action-adventure films of the 1980’s when archaeologists were cool and ancient ruins were death traps - thanks to boobytraps, not just structural wear and tear.
We had a lot of fun creating the textures for this section of the studio, particularly the temple set, as it was a theme that we had briefly explored during Adventurer’s Dream but never returned to. The egyptian theming for the cultist temple was the result of recycling previously scrapped ideas. One of the proposed movie themes that was cut at the beginning of this project was a stereotypical egyptian archaeology film, which would have included mummies, sarcophagi and scarab beetles. However, with no complete story for the set, these props were never put into production. That being said, you can still find a nod to this particular subgenre of archaeology films, such as The Mummy and Lara Croft, in Chad Venture.
In the script, Chad is a brilliant archaeologist who has just made the find of his career: the last dinosaur egg in existence. However, an ancient cult has resurfaced to steal it for their own nefarious purposes lead by his arch-rival, Herman Amevil! Now it’s up to Chad and his sidekick, Ron, to recover the egg and bring it back to the museum where it belongs.
The story of a stolen dinosaur egg was present from the beginning, even during our initial discussions. The story was developed much as it is now with only a few changes, most notably in the finale.
Originally, a baby T-Rex would hatch out of the egg, not the huge prop that is in the story now, and the heroes would be chased out of the temple by a giant rolling boulder. Only right at the end of the film, would the T-Rex grow into his humongous size within the zoo, setting up a conundrum about what to do with it. Unfortunately, this idea was scrapped due to the inability to create a convincing animation for the boulder to make it look like it was rolling, not just shuffling across the floor. This alteration to the finale did lead to the development of other interesting traps that we hoped to replace it with, such as the floor spikes, puzzle room and a railcar scene similar to the ‘Temple of Doom’ but they eventually became part of Chad’s great adventure and the giant T-rex came to the forefront of the final act.
Interestingly, Chad Venture is actually named after a discarded title for an old project. Created by Epic_Landlord, the premise was a puzzle platformer in the same vein as Noxcrew Gameshow games such as Pyramid and Python’s Crypt. It was based around an archaeologist breaking down in front of a mysterious temple and seeking out its treasure. It went through various iterations, including a time travel motif and a cartoon egyptian idea, until eventually being shelved for future consideration. Maybe this film is the spark we need to breathe life back into the old boy!
Heavily inspired by b-movies and sci-fi flicks of the 1970’s that we all know and love, Space Crash follows the adventures of Spaceman Zak and his trusty companion, Ziggles the Tree Loader. When evil aliens from planet Morg kidnap Emi, the galactic princess, Zak and Ziggles embark on a daring journey into the Morg citadel to rescue her, with lots of laser gun fights and spaceship crashes along the way.
Originally named ‘Crazy Galaxy’, we knew that we had to be cautious with Space Crash. With other space-themed maps on the go at the time, we didn’t want to appear as though we had just transferred stuff over from the two projects: SPACE and Escape From BLOZARK. We instead used them as inspiration for this new universe and recycled a few ideas that seemed fitting for this story.
With Space Crash, we focused primarily on Andrej’s story, letting its beats dictate what props needed to be in the map, which sets would be built by the build team, and which would be left for the player to create for themselves. As such, Space Crash has multiple sets that players can develop, including Zak and Ziggles’ spaceship, the space bandit attack, and an asteroid field that players can build and navigate with an old-school flying saucer.
The Morgs, the evil aliens in the story, also had to be different from other aliens we had previously created. We also had to consider that this map was set in a movie studio, and therefore had to respect that a studio would not spend vast amounts of money for an army of animatronic aliens to be shot and potentially damaged just for a few scenes! This might sound like a trivial issue, but it was important for us to stay true to the type of movie that we had set out to create. As such, the Morgs were designed as rubber suits, ala 1970’s Doctor Who, which actors would wear to simulate an army of alien fiends.
To do this, we toyed with the idea of the Morgs having different coloured eyes to show rank and ferocity, but no facial expression beyond a roaring mouth. Skyao later designed the leader of the Morgs with his harsh angry eyebrow, and because of that simple change, we decided to make the whole race look like him and differentiate the Morgs by overall colour, as opposed to just their irises. We felt that this gave the aliens a real identity.
Zak and Ziggles were far easier to develop. Concepted by Andrej as a cheeky Groot parody from the Guardian of The Galaxy series, Ziggles is the flowery antithesis to his tree-like inspiration. Zak’s pompadour hairstyle and general swagger comes from Skyao’s love of the anime Space Dandy giving him the archetypal look for the energetic and cocky character we wanted Zak to be. His pose on the Space Crash movie poster also mirrors Luke Skywalker’s pose from the original Star Wars poster, if you need any more proof of Zak’s main character status.
The one thing we did bring over from SPACE, however, was the terrain for the Morg homeland. This we based on the planet Uyrg, one of three planets within the expansive map, with its bright purple landscape and tall twisted plants.
During the development of Movie Star, Uyrg went through a complete overhaul as we were unhappy with its build. While Uyrg had always been purple, its original design included goo aliens who lived in high towers connected by water tubes. During the update, it was transformed into a developing planet, filled with flowers, but also processing fuel to power their burgeoning civilisation. We took the terrain design that we had been working on, as well as the textures, and reworked them for the Morg set, transforming the green glowing fuel into a river leading into the Morg citadel.
Lily is just your typical young teen, with the usual teen problems - boys, school, superpowers…
With her newfound powers and her best friend Dex at her side, Lily must learn to deal with her normal everyday problems, all while facing off against a villainous bank robber and his minions. The conflict comes to a head as Lily fights Dr Steel in his mech suit, destroying both the bank and the street in the process!
Teen Spirit is inspired by the recent wave of superhero films with Lily, a normal girl with abnormal powers of super speed and super jump, coming into her own as a heroine. Parts of Lily’s story are inspired by heroes like Spiderman and The Flash, ordinary people blessed (or cursed) with sudden superhuman powers and struggling to find balance. On the other hand, the overall tone for the film was envisioned as an urban, but plucky and bright cartoon; something more in line with characters such as Captain Underpants, rather than the gritty noir sensibilities of the DC/Marvel crowd. This is why, in the Teen Spirit poster, Lily is posed in a relaxed, rising stance, rather than iconic superhero poses, such as the classic Superman fist-first approach. She appears graceful and light, rather than tense and purposeful, a level of heroics that the questioning Lily hasn’t reached just yet.
Unlike the other movies in Nox Studios, we wanted to create a more realistic atmosphere to the film, focusing more on everyday items, such as police cars, fire hydrants and bicycles with suburban-style textures for the streets to develop world building. This gives the film the feeling of an origin story, where normal life is disturbed by this sudden transformation, rather than a world already turned upside down by superhuman beings. We wanted Ironman not The Avengers!
However, what we stripped back in design, we made up for in special effects. There are five detonation rigs in this part of the studio, where players can arrange and explode the scenery to replicate the huge final battle that takes place in every superhero film. There were plans to have a button that would make the scene reset to replicate the rebuilding and resetting of action sequences between takes, however, this rebuilding montage was very performance intensive. As it would have affected players enjoyment of the map on lower end devices, we scrapped the idea, meaning that actors need to be on point during their performances - no second takes when it comes to real TnT!
As you might have seen, Teen Spirit’s soundboard includes stereotypical American sitcom sounds including audience cheering, a sweet jazzy intro, and transitional music. That’s because Teen Spirit was initially concepted as a superhero sitcom, in the style of shows such as Full House, Fraser and Not Going Out. The idea changed as the concept developed, becoming a full movie instead on an episodic story but we left the sound effects in because the set can be used to tell sitcom style stories, should players feel inclined to create one.
Finally, on the topic of soundboards, give Epic Tough Music a listen for your chance to hear our in-house musician Isaac’s attempt at a kid-friendly rap song. It’s almost as good as the fishy game song from Monsters of the Deep… almost.
Finally, based on all those spooky stories we were told as kids, we have Witch Business.
Siblings Jak and Amy are forced to spend the summer at their aunt’s isolated old mansion while their parents are off doing parent things. But before they think that utter boredom will be the only thing they have to worry about, they discover that their aunt is actually a witch with a taste for the youth of children! With the help of a rainbow cat who was cursed by the wicked woman, the kids escaped the dungeon prison, destroying the witch and her house in a blaze of fiery justice.
The whole area, including the buildings for the sets, were given a murkier, gloomier tone by using dark, heavy colours like purples and browns with the only brightness coming from the witch’s evil eyes, and the children themselves. To increase the oppressive atmosphere, we also made it possible for players to set the weather to be stormy, with bolts of lightning striking the ground around them - because it just isn’t horror if there isn’t a storm going on!
We also make the spiders more realistic and, in my opinion even scarier, as well as hyper-detailed gravestones and gargoyles to give depth to the sets, rather than just huge set pieces with minimal detailing. We did also plan to have other props such as a hanging cage for one of the children to be trapped in. This was supposed to be part of the final act of the story which would have seen one of the children being forced to rescue the other, before both siblings burn the witch, in true Hansel and Gretel style. However, the idea proved to be too clunky, and a scene that would have seen the witch herself being burnt to death seemed far too gory, even for a horror film, so it was eventually scrapped.
The finale was changed to make the witch’s final, burny fate, more suggestive rather than literal, having the children burn down the mansion and destroy the source of the witch’s power. This proved to be a more exciting finale, allowing us to create a set that could be burned down in dramatic fashion.
Witch Business was the first of the four sets to include fake movie posters, and these were eventually added into the other three movies too. To emphasise the creepy atmosphere that we had worked so hard to achieve with the sets, Skyao focused on making the poster look as spooky as possible, with jittery line art over dark backgrounds invoking the frantic scribbles in evil books from the world of films such as the Necronomicon Ex Mortis from the Evil Dead series or Death Note. With the iconic character and costume for the film being the villainous witch rather than the protagonist, we wanted to hint at her presence in the poster, rather than have her front and centre. That’s why her silhouette looms over the haunted house, hidden in shadow, ever watchful and ready to drag the children, and the audience, into a nightmare.
Just before we go, one final sneaky addition to Movie Star. You might have noticed a path running into the hills behind the Chad Venture lot. If you follow the path towards the beach, you’ll arrive at the house of Larkin Porkins, an aspiring director who asks you to check out the progress of his magnum opus ‘Infinity Pie’. Return to the production office (the area where you find all of the film scripts) and head upstairs where you will find the script: in the trash where it belongs. Porkins was created as a joke character by Skyao and Andrej, using him to incorporate a 5th script that was created as a heavy parody to the newly released Infinity War film, a script we couldn’t develop into a movie set for obvious copyright reasons. Just another bit of inspiration for your own masterpieces.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this look into how we developed Movie Star. Let us know which movie was your favourite and which project you’d like us to pull the curtain on next!