• Happy Birthday Viva Piñata
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Happy Birthday Viva Piñata

Day 1

On 1st December 2006 a brightly coloured garden simulator for the Xbox 360 hit the shelves of the United Kingdom. It was called Viva Piñata and since its launch a dedicated and committed group of fans have worked tirelessly to find every secret, discover every Wildcard and perfect their digital, green-fingered skills.

To count down to VP’s UK birthday I have collected a group of seldom seen artwork that spans the game’s entire life time and will, just like an advent calendar, reveal a nugget each day to you.

Rather than attempt to over explain the situation, I’m just going to dive straight in and give you Day 1’s offering: entitled “Origins”, this slide shows the real beginnings of Viva Pinata.

Origins

On the right-hand side we have the original design document written by Tim Stamper many, many years ago. Although short, it still embodies the original, core gameplay that you can still see in today’s Viva Piñata: gardening, animals and the ability to trade.

During this early period, though, Xbox Live had not really taken off to the extent that you see today and so the chosen platforms were mobile phones and PDAs. The screenshot harks back to this time.

If you look closely at the image (click on it for a blown-up version), you can see that there were already trees, flowers, and ponds available for the discerning gardener. As for animals, you can see a pony and a warren of rabbits playing by the water’s edge.

The more eagle-eyed may also be able to spot a character or two borrowed from Banjo. When concepting a product it can always be prudent to borrow assets wherever possible so as to get things up and running quickly.

Here is a closer look at the animals in that screenshot.

The First Look

To the right are Ryan’s concept sketches. His first batch of animals were based around simple cartoon characters with a pastel colour spin and, as you can see, they don’t resemble the piñatas that you know and smash today at all.

In the main image you can find a cute little bunny-wunny being shadowed by a larger pink horse (or pony – hard to tell). These both obviously made it to the final cut but with drastic changes – the rabbit alone changed colour, style, posture and size.

This was still too conventional, though, and easy to lose in the mass of games that featured animals at the time. To try and get a unique style, Ryan went back to the drawing board and tomorrow we’ll see what he came up with.

Day 2

Welcome to Day Two of our count down to Viva Piñata’s one year anniversary here in the UK.

Today, we’re going to be looking at just exactly how Ryan’s warped little mind happened upon populating a garden full of piñatas, of all things.

Unhappy with his pastel creations, Ryan took a step back and began drawing inspiration from many places. Among his numerous sources he looked at ancient cave paintings with their simplified shapes, the appealing patterns of aboriginal art and the art within Aztec culture.

In a surreal manner, he then progressed to looking at the Mexican Day of the Dead festival with all the festivities, costumes and bright colours. At this point he sparked a memory of his childhood and visions of pinatas gave him an idea.

 Evolution

So the Piñatas were born! I’m sure you’ll agree that they definitely have their own look: something different; something new.

These Piñatas are made up of strong and simple shapes decorated with distinctive, brightly coloured patterns. If someone where to create a new species of Piñata today these are still rules you would have to follow so that every one has the same look and feel.

Flanking the quartet you see above are the Ponocky and the Rashberry, both pretty much unchanged from early drawings. The central two, however, are both Sours, but you wouldn’t recognise them as such by today’s standards. Rather than having red and black coats, initially Sours were differentiated from their milder cousins by their darker patterns, pointy teeth and angry red eyes.

 Inked up

We started with over 160 creatures and Ryan lovingly crafted and coloured each one numerous times to give them the image each one deserved. Again, you can see that the Chippo and Elephanilla (top row) have hardly changed, whereas the Fizzlybear (top right) has had a new paint job. The Mallowolf  (lower left) has even changed shape since the last slide showing just how much we wanted to perfect these bundles of joy even at this early stage.

Some of those initial batch have, of course, hit the cutting room floor due to various reasons but you can still see them peaking out from this style sheet. The rattlesnake can be seen in both sketch and final form and accompanying it are the cane toad and hamster.

Most creepy, however, is the original Whirlm. Hidden at the bottom of the sheet it actually has no eyes. Shudder.

Trying to shake that image from my mind, I’ll bring your attention around on tomorrow’s offering: I promise you more from the cutting room floor.

Day 3

Welcome back, I hope you slept well. You should now be rested enough to be able to cope with being faced with these mishapen oddities!

 The Outsiders

What you see here is the initial idea for non-resident Piñatas. Currently, any Piñata who doesn’t count your garden as their home can be seen as a monochrome version of their final selves but still very distinguishable by shape and size. This plan, however, was formulated to be quite different as these non-resident Piñatas would retain the same colours and marking but instead would be quite indistinguishable by shape. Once in the garden the Piñatas would have then morphed into their full form.

All the sub-sections of Piñatas, e.g. birds, quadrapeds, smalls things, slimy things, etc, would each have their own non-resident shape. On the slide above you can see this form next to their final form.

The Mallowolf and the Macaracoon were almost just jellybeans on stilts whilst the Parrybo and Crowla still retain some very distintive bird features. The cut duo of Rattle Snake and Cane Toad almost look like baby salamanders in their non-residency guise whereas the Whilrm and Taffly appear to have grown ears.

Most pleasingly, though, the Whilrm seems to have gained an eye. Although he still looks sinister.

One of the main reasons this feature never made it to the final game was because it would require yet another model for every Piñata. Given the overhead we have already this would have been very stressful to make space for although I do lament never seeing these jellybeans morph into a full Piñata.

Stepping away from the Piñatas, lets turn our attention to those in the garden who attempt to help you, the Gardener: the Helpers.

 Help Wanted

The three Helpers in the centre are yet more casualties of the chopping block. Despite making it a good proportion of the way through the development cycle, in the end their service was no longer required and P45s were handed out.

Their job was to help you were species specific queries, with each one of them having their own speciality. The chap to the upper left knows all there is to know about lizards; the girl with Flutterscotch wings can tell you about insects; and the one all dressed up with nowhere to go in the centre is your resource for birds.

They are what the journal used to be. Rather than flicking through the tome you would go and talk to any of them just as you would talk to Seedos or Leafos. Obviously, though, this was no where near as convenient as just having direct access in the book and so for usability reasons they were let go.

The other two Helpers shown above, though, survived, but in very different ways. The Stork Helper on the right is what Storkos used to look like and you can see how she did actually used to where a stork hat on here head rather than her now preferred egg headwear.

The Postman is what you get when… well, it’s best to not to know, I think. We have a suspicion something became detached when this was cooked up. Quite a far step from Fanny, really, as they were pencilled in to float through your garden, attaching balloons to any packages you wished to send. Needless to say this didn’t really work but this is one of the real gems of the discarded ideas, in my opinion.

Anyway, that’s all for today. Laters!

Day 4

Welcome back, avid reader. Let’s jump straight in.

The Offspring

They may just appear to be smaller versions of their grownup selves but these Piñatas, as I’ve waxed lyrical about before, are some of the cutest things ever conceived. How on earth could anyone not want the Baby Hen you see up in the top left hand corner in their garden?

Rather than being shrunken adults, these little darlings were going to be custom made pinatas with tiny bodies, large heads and even larger eyes. I also believe, if my sources are true, that they were to be a slightly more pastel shade of their adult colours, too.

This slide also reveals a few of our early attempts of naming. Note the baby “Padger” and “Vulpin”. I think you’ll agree that we’ve moved onto rather more catchy tags since then.

Central, as if baby sitting, is Toco, the long lost pet of Dedos/Leafos. This bird would sit on her shoulder and intermittendly fly outside the garden to retrieve seeds.

There have been many ideas of how best to deliver seeds to the players. Before Toco, any visiting birds would fly into the garden with a seed in their beak and you would have to tap them to release the seed. This, however, relied on your garden being friendly to birds and so a more consistent source in the form of Toco came along.

Unfortunately, Toco him/herself was eventually put to one side aswell with the advent of Seedos. This is what Leafos claims, anyway, but you know what she’s like with the truth.

Now, let us step back from the garden for a moment.

Promo Pinata

Not everything created has been done for in-game purposes. Despite art being one of the first things that is locked down during the run up to release, there is still an awful lot of work needs to be done right up to and beyond the shipping date because of all the promotional and comercial material associated with the product. What you see above is not just the most horrendously organised slide in my deck but a sample of these items.

Moving from left to right, at the top you can see a Paulie Pretztail costume design, first used at the Santa Monica Piñata party that was held roughly a year ago this weekend, and below that one of the early designs for the Viva Piñata faceplate.

Pushing onwards we find another Santa Monica Piñata in the huge form of a 10 metre tall Horstachio and cowering in its shadow is an early toy prototype of a Cocoadile. Beneath those pair are three alternate designs for the Viva Piñata disc, each taking its inspiration from a specific Piñata.

Finally, on the right, we have the original concept for the Limited Edition game case, a prototype Fizzlybear Piñata piñata and one of the many colouring in sheets that were handed out to children at the launch party.

And so, as you digest all that, I’m off to prepare for tomorrow’s final set of slides.

Day 5

Two more slides to go and for the first we’re heading back to a time where console were slightly chunkier than they are now…

Back on the 'box

This, my friends, is a screenshot of Viva Piñata when its home was the original Xbox. Dominating the background are a selection of trees, including oak and apple, but it is the foreground that is interesting because of faces that once again may be recognisable but somewhat foreign.

At this point in time we simply didn’t have the brute force to push all the spangly graphics that we can today and so everything is that little bit flatter and bolder because of it – or stylised, as it’s known. The papery effect that truly distinguishes the Piñatas wasn’t made possible until we start messing around with the 360 and realised just how much power we had.

In between the Pretzails, Zumbugs, Elephanillas and Ponockies are a handful of Helpers that have been through some changes since Xbox 1. Left of centre, by the Bunnycomb home, we see the Lizard Helper that appeared a couple of days ago. Even though they didn’t make the cut you can see the stylistic changes that was made during the generational jump.

To their right we find Dastardos during his low-polygonal-count phase. Broadly speaking, he’s stayed the same with one minor exception; when this photo was taken, he was transported around the garden by the large, orange balloon that you can see attached to his back. From this shot, also, it’s hard to tell whether those purple things are his arms or an early version of his scarf that you see him dragging around Piñata Island today.

Next to him is Dedos, or, to give her her full title, Verde Dedos. Here we can see how her mask used to be much larger and covered her entire face. Above her you can also find Toco from yesterday’s slide.

Some of you were asking about why “Dedos” transformed into “Leafos” and I will now take a stab at answering your question tactfully. When attempting to create a franchise that is intended to reach across the globe, many things have to be taken into consideration, not least of which is the language contained within it. “Verde Dedos” means “Green Fingers” in Spanish, and whilst the Spanish isn’t a problem using a common phrase as a main character can be. Due to the complications involved in such a matter, Dedos used Deed Poll and changed her name to Leafos, taking inspiration from the leaves surrounding her mask.

Summary: legal reasons.

Whilst it was unfortunate that a good name was lost, the “os” was then picked up and used to name the entire family of Helpers used within the garden. Although, given “Storkos”, “Seedos” and “Dastardos” I bet you couldn’t have guessed that already.

Finally, take a look at the monkey on top of chest of drawers. That fine, blue-headed chap is actually a small boy in a monkey costume and used to be the only shop in the game, before Lottie et al moved into the village. Underneath is his mute, monkey servant who would carry him and his wares around. Don’t ask.

 Proof of concept

As Tin Tin Out once sang, “here’s where the story ends.” Although, I don’t think they were singing in relation to Ryan’s home made Rashberry as I am.

I thought I would end the five day parade of images with this because I think it embodies the care and dedication that our team has put into Viva Piñata. Not willing to just settle for “yeah, it looks like a piñata”, Ryan took his own concept drawings of our Piñata pig and transformed it into a real-life version.

As you can see, the results are very impressive and this little porker still wanders around Manor Park to this very day, successfully avoiding the Cannonata and all small children with sticks.

We’ve had an awful lot of fun making this game and, since it’s launch, have taken just as much pleasure seeing every one of you out there playing and discovering the game for yourselves. It’s been a great year and every design document, texture, model and line of code written has proved worthwhile from our point of view for that very reason.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these little snapshots into VP’s history and it just leaves me to say thank you to you all and Happy Birthday Viva Piñata!