Interview with Gregory Harsh
By Aaron Gantt
Gregory Harsh is the creator of the Manual for Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb. Now what makes him such an interesting subject, is his brilliant, and very cleaver work on the manual. It used to be manuals were dull, and boring. Nothing but instructions and that was about it. But Harsh has taken it to a new level. This time we have a manual styled as Indy's leather bound journal with lots of cool graphical work and a lot of references and jokes alone with it. It's all brilliantly laid out, it's fun, and it's very easy to use. So now we give you a look as to what went into making the Manual, with an interview with Gregory Harsh. Enjoy!
How did you get the job of making the manual, and how long did the whole process of its creation take?
Often it is difficult for an agency to “break into” new clients, and publishers are making a move from using agencies to doing the work in-house. Fortunately, my department has a killer portfolio. I have done everything from illustrations, ads, and animations to manual writing and design; and our portfolio reflects this versatility.
The process of the manual creation went very quickly. I had the idea in the car ride back from my meeting with LucasArts and from there it was a matter of research (lots and lots of research). I had a finished mock-up with diary entries and sketches by my next meeting.
The Manual is the best we have seen since the Grail Diary that came with the Graphic Adventure of The Last Crusade, it truly is a work of brilliance, what inspirations and motivations did you have while you made the book?
To be honest, I haven’t seen the manual for The Last Crusade game! I came up with the idea for the Indy diary because it really was the most obvious movie tie-in. I generally don’t like to see what other people have done until after I generate my own ideas, and had I known another diary manual concept had been done; I might have gone in a different direction!
I watched the movies for inspiration, of course, and read the comics and some of the novels. And while creating the manual I listened to the soundtracks incessantly! Oh, and I had to go Disneyland to ride “Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye”… though I wasn’t able to write it off as a research expense!
Good research materials are important. I found good examples of the grail diary in a LucasFilm Archive book, and did a lot of Internet research and newspaper searches. I think I know everything about 1935 now. I tried to squeeze in a lot of relevant historical facts into the manual to make it seem more “real”.
What constraints did you have to work with given that the Indiana Jones is a character which belongs to LucasFilm and therefore all development have to be okayed by the company?
Ultimately, LucasFilm Licensing had to check my Indy usage in the manual. And amazingly, they approved everything except for my reference to Indy’s Browning (I had already mentioned the Webley earlier in the manual). What surprised me is that there were no changes to my Indy dialog (his handwritten entries) or to the newspaper interview with Abner Ravenwood. All of my “dialog” remains intact. Also, LucasArts really liked the hidden dates, names, and phrases I sprinkled throughout the manual. I even had to point out what some of them were! It was really gratifying to have all my ideas accepted with little alteration.
What was the hardest part of making the manual, and what in your opinion makes a good manual?
The hardest part of making this manual was figuring out the correct controls and moves. Before I saw the game I was given the game outline created by the developers, which showed what the proposed movements, special attacks, and weapons would be. I wrote out the skeleton of the game play information, assuming that most of the information would need to be verified and changed. I begun playing an early build of the first level, and wrote out all the questions I encountered, such as “does gun recoil affect aiming?” Later, as the game play was getting finalized, I received control documentation from LucasArts and with their help we made sure all the information was correct. The rest of the manual was easy for an Indy fan such as myself!
I did complicate matters, though, by creating all of the type in Photoshop. I did this so the ink of the handwriting could vary in saturation, and also I could vary the line spacing and rotation to simulate real handwriting. The problem with this approach, however, is that it made type corrections and translations rather difficult. I think the results were worth the extra trouble.
A good manual should be as cool (or cooler) than the packaging. Unfortunately, most publishers believe that once a person buys a game, what is inside the box doesn’t matter. Fortunately, LucasArts has a tradition of going the extra mile. As a packaging and manual designer, I feel that the two components should complement each other. Both should speak of quality. The manual is the first thing I look at when I buy a game and often I am disappointed by the lack of good design. The execution of the design is important as well. Nothing bugs me more than a crunchy cutout image or low-res imagery.
What was your first impression when you knew that you were going to be the one making the manual for the new Indiana Jones game? ( Question Submitted by Adam Watts)
First I had to find my Indy hat. Seriously though, to have my first project for LucasArts be the Indiana Jones title was amazing! It really was the most exciting job I’ve had as a designer. As I’ve mentioned in a previous interview, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was the first PG movie I saw, and “Temple of Doom” was the first movie I went to by myself. These movies had a major impact on my childhood.
What other manuals have you done or want to do, and would you like to do another Indiana Jones manual or have you had your fill of Indy?
Oh, I’ve done many manuals throughout the years. The challenge comes in coming up with something different each time (gee look, another car racing game)! I think the last manual that I wrote from scratch was the Twisted Metal 2 manual for PSone. My most recent “designy” manual would probably be ICO for PS2. I also did the package 3D illustration, so it was easy to create additional artwork for the manual interior. Usually when I create the packaging and illustration I like to do the manual as well, so there is a unifying design throughout the product.
There are two main stumbling blocks to creative manual design – time and budget. Often the manual gets underway only after the game is in its final stages, and publishers like to get things out the door as soon as possible. Often there is not enough time to do real creative stuff when you’re busy making technical revisions. Or, there are budget restraints and you can’t create additional art. Fortunately, the Indy manual was not beleaguered by either and was printed in full color! Yay!
Would I do another Indy manual (or project)? You bet your whip I would. In the meantime, I am working on the manuals for Star Wars Galaxies and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.
In such projects there is often time constraints, which are often hard to meet, did you find yourself panicking that you wouldn’t hit the deadline?
I had no worries about the Indy time constraint, as I had the concept as well as the first draft created before my first comp submission deadline. From then on it was a matter of finding out which of the materials I had used would be permissible (from both a copyright and “Indy universe” standpoint). Actually, the manual content required very little revision, which was amazing. I have to give LucasArts credit for trusting my creative frenzy. Many owners of licenses are rather paranoid and don’t allow any freedom.
On the same note as the last question, if you had more time what would you have liked to add to the manual?
Whew that’s a tough one. It really isn’t a matter of more time, as the issue is actually space. There is a page limit to these manuals, otherwise they wouldn’t fit in the case! Since my approach was to fill the diary with items that would logically fit between the pages (OK the key was a stretch), it was difficult to come up with a variety of flat objects that Indy might actually tuck into the book. Fortunately the game play information for “the Emperor’s Tomb” was rather short, so I was able to utilize my page limit very creatively. The PC version of the manual has some different pages than the Xbox or the upcoming PS2 versions, such as a spread of fictitious classified ads. Had I more space I would have liked to have included some old photographs and more newspaper articles about 1935 current events (particularly about the Nazis, which were played down for print purposes).
Did you have any ideas that you wanted to add to the manual that LucasArts didn’t authorize?
LucasArts authorized everything I had done, and trusted my research into “everything Indy”. It was my company, actually, that was much more concerned with the use of names that may cause legal issues, such as “Red Cross” and “U.S. Patent Office”. Most of the historical materials had to be made generic to avoid any possible complications. Though LucasArts wanted to keep the swastikas in the manual (after all, Nazis play a big part in the Indy universe), it was ultimately decided between LucasFilm Licensing and my company to change the swastikas into iron crosses.
Finally, what are your plans for the future? Any more Indy game manuals on the horizon?
If there are future Indy games, I hope that LucasArts looks to me for ideas. I’ve played “Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb” and it’s really, really well done; and I have no doubts that it will be a successful title.
My future goals include moving from print graphics (some of my other works include the 3D illustrations for the PS2 games ICO, Twisted 2 and 3 packaging) and into film special effects. Perhaps the new Indy movie needs a prop person (are you reading this George and Steven)? But seriously, anyone with questions (or connections!) feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note that I cannot divulge any game play hints or similar details as only LucasArts can release this information.
Mr. Harsh, thank you for taking the time to do this interview, and congratulations on the Emperor’s Tomb Manual, we love it. From all Indy Fans, a big thank you.