Friday, June 28, 2024

This was Foodfight! the Videogame


A screenshot of the back alley level, 2006

In 1997 Larry Kasanoff and Joshua Wexler of Threshold Entertainment had the idea for a movie titled Foodfight!. It took 9 years to produce, 4 years to release, and is considered a colossal failure in the world of animation.

But, before everything went downhill, there were big plans for this film, to create an entire Foodfight! franchise, a Threshold Entertainment empire. With every successful animated film of the 2000s, there must be the video game adaption tie in.

In the beginning, in 2001, that first took on this challenge was Midway Games West. Not a lot is known about this version of the game, in fact the only reason we know it exists is because concept artist Jason Leong shared some concept pieces he did for the game. This was created during the time in which the character Dex was a human being instead of a dog, along with various other early differences such as the Keebler Elves still being part of the film. It's unknown why exactly this didn't go forward, likely because Threshold kept missing deadlines on the film's release.

Leong envisioned that the game could have
various mini games starring the mascots.

Around 2004, the game switched hands to what was then a fairly small game studio, Cat Daddy Games. But before I get into its development, I need to talk about how this was discovered in the first place.

Before now, all that was known to anyone outside of the studios about the Foodfight videogame was its appearance at E3 2006. No copyright information, no press release, no article on IGN, the game, seemingly, was never announced beforehand. Its existence was only known because of a few seconds of B-Roll at the E3 showing it as a playable demo. Later, it would be discovered that 2K was meant to distribute the game, and Global Star was a developer. However, strangely, when people contacted developers at Global Star, they had never heard of the game. This brings us to my friend, Reese, who after browsing Moby Games' catalog on 2K' licensed games, discovered that a heavily recurring name was Phil Mikkleson. Incredibly, after sending an email, Mikkleson knew exactly what Reese was talking about. Not only did Mikkleson recognize it, he was the producer.

Mikkleson stated: "I didn't know it ever came out as a movie. I expected it never would. When I was brought in on it there was a level or two that were playable (sort of) on the Wii. After a few milestones it became clear that this game was unlikely to be completed. I think it was going to be Wii, PS, and Xbox? ... It was pretty clear to me that this was not going to get done without more money and more time."

This was about a year prior to this post. After Mikkleson stopped responding to emails, Reese and nowhere to go. After I had released ROTTEN as well as the various materials I had accumulated during my research on the film, Reese mentioned this conversation online. After speaking with them directly, Reese directed me to Mikkleson and I decided to give him a call, and this is how I learned about the game's development.

Mikkleson stated, as said before, that the game was being developed for Wii, PS2, Xbox, and DS. It had a couple playable demos, but only demos, but he knew it just "wasn't going to happen." Even though Cat Daddy did a large amount of production and development on the project. He later mentioned that the game was headed by an "awesome game developer" Harley Howe, who just happens to be Cat Daddy's co-founder.

After calling Harley up, he told me that it was Cat Daddy's first "big" project, their first departure from smaller games like School Tycoon. Foodfight was being marketed as the next big thing, the rival to Pixar, and Cat Daddy wanted to be a part of that when they caught wind that Threshold was looking for a developer. After pitching their idea, Threshold signed the deal and it was officially in production. by this point, the film was being transitioned to motion capture and every piece of animation they had done to this point was never going to be used, but Cat Daddy didn't know that and neither did Foodfight's distributor, Lionsgate. Threshold sent Cat Daddy a large amount of files for reference including models for every main character, a teaser trailer, and environment and character designs. With just these for reference, the game was created as close as possible to what was presented. It was, according to Harley, created to look as close as possible to if you were playing the movie itself. With plans to even have the film cast to come back and record lines specifically for the game.

A comparison between the game and the original animation.

Harley recalled a specific story of Larry Kasanoff, Foodfight's director, visiting the studio to check on the game's development. According to Harley, Kasanoff arrived in a limo, in the rain, coming out wearing a fox fur coat with a six foot train. Kasanoff was very confident about the direction of Foodfight and as he toured the facility he kept reaffirming that Foodfight was going to be huge. However, the work that Kasanoff showed the development team from Foodfight was the same clips they had seen years prior. The movie, it seemed to them, wasn't budging an inch from the first time they saw it.

When Harley and his team visited Threshold Digital Research Labs, it was apparent to them that the animators were only rotating models to appear busy. (Very similar to what Mona Weiss, a texture artist on the film in 2005, also stated she was told to do during tours.) Harley recalls they left the studio simply thinking "oh shit."

As Foodfight missed deadline after deadline, Cat Daddy realized that it wasn't worth continuing production and it was cancelled in early 2008. With only a handful of levels completed for a demo, the game was far from complete when it was canceled. While most of the mechanics and ideas were put in place, much of the meat was still missing. It was far enough along, however, for a pitch reel to be compiled and was sent off to Sony and other companies for approval.

Though it was never finished, Harley said that without the game, Cat Daddy wouldn't be where they are today. With Foodfight they bridged the gap from their previous work to their first big hit, Carnival Games, which was ported to many platforms and I myself remember seeing at GameStop for years. Most of the team that worked on the game still work at Cat Daddy today.

During our contact Harley was kind enough to have his crew put together what they have from the game and what Threshold had sent them for reference. The game itself, unfortunately, could not be included due to there not being a build on hand and not having the resources or time to compile a new one from the surviving source. However, what was sent was an incredible collection of film and game assets such as models, textures, scripts, and music. You can download the entire collection here and dig through it yourself.

Special thanks to Harley Howe for entertaining my Foodfight obsession. While it is a shame the interview we had planned never happened, I'm glad it got this far. Special thanks also goes to Reese, without them I never would've found it in the first place.


1 comment:

  1. This was so good to read! I found out about this film first through hilary duffs imdb back in the day then later on in my life through jon tron. the game looks so good compared to the movie which is hilarious. thank you for writing this


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