Article 22—The Making of Primal Rage (1994)

Today’s entry is a mini-documentary that was made to promote Primal Rage, the popular arcade fighting game featuring prehistoric dinosaurs and primates. I don’t
remember where or when I got it, but there are several clues indicating that this VHS video was distributed to the press before the game was finished. A static screen shows the tentative names of five characters, two of which were changed during development (“Kong” became Blizzard and “Spike” was renamed Armadon). There are scenes that show people playing what appears to be the completed arcade machine, but the cabinet has a prototype marquee with the Primal Rage logo and no other identifying marks. Most notably, the video identifies Time Warner Interactive as the game’s publisher, while the completed game was shipped under the Atari Games banner. I guess it’s because Time Warner had not yet made the decision to continue using the Atari brand after reacquiring the name from Namco in 1993.

The video shows how the Primal Rage characters were modeled by sculptor Dan Platt
and brought to life by the late “Sneaky Pete” Kleinow, a veteran stop-motion animator who had a concurrent career as a virtuoso pedal steel guitarist. There’s also an awkwardly scripted interview in which Mullet Guy and Jason the Asian Guy explain how they came up with the idea for the game. Jason claims that the use of stop-motion animation in a video game “had never been done before,” but that’s not true. Trog!, Mortal Kombat, Mortal Kombat II, Clay Fighter and Claymates also featured sprites that were digitized from stop-motion model animation, and all of them predate Primal Rage.

It’s hard to tell from a VHS rip, but some of the “gameplay” scenes in the video appear to have a higher resolution and/or a greater number of colors than the final game
displayed. Also note the lack of interface elements, like energy bars or the characters’ names. I wonder if these brief clips might have been made with the original animation frames as captured by Kleinow’s camera, before they were converted to in-game sprite data. Anyway, they sure look great. I once inquired about the current whereabouts of the original Primal Rage animation models, but an ex-Atari employee told me that they had to be destroyed as part of the process of creating the molds for Playmates Toys’ line of Primal Rage action figures. I don’t really understand why it was necessary to dismantle them, but the action figures were very accurate reproductions, so I guess it was a worthy sacrifice.

It’s odd that the video glosses over the game design and programming aspects of the development process. It also neglects to identify all but two of the people involved in the making of Primal Rage. (I’m pretty sure the aforementioned Mullet Guy and Asian Guy are producer/programmer Dennis Harper and art director Jason Leong, respectively.) Maybe this is a condensed version of a longer behind-the-scenes documentary. If such a thing exists, I’d love to see it.

© 2011 Chris Bieniek. Certain video game images, characters and logos on this Web site are copyrighted or trademarked by their respective publishers.