13 years, 6 month and 25 days. That’s how much time has passed since Voodoo Vince first appeared on the original Xbox in September of 2003.
Since we announced the revival of Vince six months ago, I’ve been asked a few times “Of all the games that could get a remaster, why Vince?” as if it’s a multiple choice, or a strategic corporate goal of some kind. Here’s the real reason: I didn’t want to see this creation that represented years of hard work, joy, tears, and laughter end up completely lost to time. If you’re lucky, every now and then you’ll get to make something you care about with people you love. That’s what Voodoo Vince represents to me.
Building Vince during those exciting early days of Xbox is still one of my favorite memories. There was a lot of innovation and creativity in the air as Xbox made its debut in the world of console gaming. The team was amazing. Beep Games was newly minted and eager to make its mark as well. Our passion for games, plus our hopes and ambitions for the future was all rolled up into that little burlap guy jumping around on your TV screen. The glimmer of an idea for a game set in the magical, mysterious South started during a trip to New Orleans in the mid-90s. This was my first visit to that part of the country. As a life-long Northwesterner, I was struck by the mix of strange and beautiful things that seemed to be everywhere. The West is built around wide-open spaces and a lot of our world has been shaped around automobiles. New Orleans was built for humans. It shows in every worn brick, their cities of the dead and the amazing culture that permeates everything. The history, culture and atmosphere of the place stayed with me long after I returned to Seattle.
Some years later I was sketching away in a notepad and a drawing emerged of a strange little Voodoo doll with one big eye. After that, the idea for the game just fell into place.
Starting in 2001 Vince evolved from a little thumbnail sketch to a fully-fledged character. We learned that the star of a character platformer needs versatility beyond core gameplay. We needed Vince to interact with Kosmo and his goons and connect with players in all those little cinematics and cutaways. As the game and the world Vince inhabited took shape he went from a silent, non-verbal, somewhat blocky looking thing to the expressive, snarky little jerk we know and love.
Of course, we had to return to the wellspring… A crew from Beep traveled through bayous, cemeteries and the streets of New Orleans gathering reference and images that often served as the basis for textures you see in the game. The Quarter and Crypt City levels both make heavy use of that hand-picked source material. Voodoo Vince
The team grew to more than 20 people shortly after we were greenlit in October of 2001. The milestones ticked by like clockwork. Our team was mostly veteran developers so the project management side was pretty buttoned up, in large part thanks to our stellar leads: Art Director Gary Hanna, Executive Producer Barb Hanna and Technical Director Matt Setzer. Add a team who understood what we wanted to build and how to build it and voila: We had a game just under two years later. Compromises were inevitable. Not every idea I had on the drawing board made it into the game, but that’s how it should be. Better to have too many ideas than too few. For its size and scope there is a LOT of stuff packed into Voodoo Vince. From puzzles to platforming challenges to vehicles and mini-games. I would approach how the game unfolds very differently today, but Voodoo Vince still offers a ton of fun gameplay.
The half-life of a game is unbelievably short. A game doesn’t get much time before it’s relegated to the past. The march of technology and player demographics weren’t on our side in 2003. Voodoo Vince was quickly lost in the shuffle and seemed like it would remain in obscurity. Once we missed the backwards compatibility train on the Xbox 360 this seemed even more likely. So, there it sat, at the back of the garage next to the half-used can of paint thinner and some rusty skates.
Voodoo Vince did find an audience who loved the game, but it was what you’d call a cult hit. That meant if it was ever coming back I would have to find a way make it happen through less conventional means. I described some of this in my Xbox Wire post in October. This revival of Vince would have been far less likely without the encouragement of Phil Spencer and the amazing team over at ID@Xbox. ID@Xbox made it possible for a small team to publish a game independently. Phil reminded me of what a game can mean to players when he described playing Voodoo Vince with his kids in a 2014 interview. Voodoo Vince
Once we had a path defined, the remastering project became a literal family project. We had a core team of 4 developers (3 programmers and myself) including Voodoo Vince original lead gameplay programmer, Kurt Pfeifer. Steve Lashower got the ball rolling by getting the original game up and running on new hardware before pushing us through multiple generations of DirectX, plus making countless improvements to the game’s tech. Chris Warner displayed true wizardry as he rewrote most of Voodoo Vince’s original rendering code. We had help from our original lead animator, my wife Mary Ann Flaherty, who dusted off a 14-year-old version of Maya to fix several characters and game assets. Our son Oliver was a production baby in the 2003 credits. He’s now an avid audio enthusiast who did a little sound design in the remaster. If this were a stage musical we would have had my mom sewing costumes and cousin Hubert building the sets. Voodoo Vince
The result is as much a restoration as it is a remastering. I’m amazed to think that we can watch a movie from over 100 years ago, but many games dating back a mere decade or two aren’t playable today. Our team was small, so we decided to target very specific things. After the game was running again the upgrade to widescreen format and an improved framerate was obviously job one. We tweaked several visuals and dealt with how colors look on flat screens vs. the CRT monitors that dominated when Voodoo Vince first shipped. The game’s inimitable musical genius Steve Kirk revisited a few pieces of the game soundtrack too, but we kept the gameplay and controls exactly as they were in 2003. It’s easy to look at our trailer and screenshots and conclude that Voodoo Vince looks like it did back in the day. I take that as a compliment, but my goal was to update the game carefully so it looks like we think it did.
Our villain Kosmo calls Vince a “mere pile of cloth and thread” near the beginning of the game. He’s technically correct. But Kosmo overlooks the fact that Vince, like any team effort, is greater than the sum of his parts. I’m excited that the world has a fresh chance to discover that