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Designing Orlando Bloom’s pecs: a game developer’s tale

The woes of limited video game graphics

Kiera Knightley and Orlando Bloom at the Pirates of the Caribbean II Premiere Photo: Ian West/PA Images via Getty Images

During the heyday of licensed video games, it was common to see movie-based titles try and translate big-screen stars into digital form. One problem: Older consoles weren’t always powerful enough to fully depict the real-life humans that game developers were aiming for. And when a movie star has to approve their likeness on the project, the graphical shortfall could cause tensions.

Over on TikTok, Cheryl Platz has created a series that she calls “tales from game development” that has, as of this writing, accumulated dozens of fascinating anecdotes of her time working in the industry. Platz was a producer at the now-defunct Griptonite Games, which was tasked with developing a Nintendo DS version of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.

One big challenge that came with developing the DS game, she notes, was that Nintendo’s handheld has a maximum polygon count of 2,000 for all elements depicted on-screen. Not a lot!

“Johnny Depp was fine with his character model,” she claims on TikTok, before playfully descending into a growl. However, there was worry that Depp’s Pirates of the Caribbean co-star Orlando Bloom didn’t have pecs that were “defined enough.” Reached via email, a representative for Bloom declined to comment.

“Our main characters had only 380 polys total,” Platz told Polygon over email. “That’s… not enough to accurately represent ANYONE’s physique.”

At the time, Platz says, Griptonite Games tried to explain to Bloom’s people that the Nintendo DS wasn’t actually capable of showing such defined details. Still, the artists tried to work with what they had.

“So I had my texture artists go in and put in shadow,” she recounts. (On TikTok, Platz said that the team went ahead and cut NPCs just for Bloom’s pecs, but in an email, she clarified that it was a joke.) She also added that, while this was her recollection of events, it was also a “classic game of telephone” because she never dealt with Bloom directly. Instead, a game producer spoke to the Disney art director, who then passed it down to a Disney producer, who then relayed that to the movie producer, who then passes that message on to the talent agency, and then finally, down to the talent themselves.

It’s unclear where the directive to make Bloom’s pecs came from, and in 2020, much of that documentation is gone. “I don’t have the original chain of correspondence, so this is all hearsay now; as I remember it, the feedback from Orlando’s agent was passed on verbally,” she said. Platz did, however, dig out the original character sheets for Bloom’s in-game depiction on TikTok, pointing out where, specifically, the team tried protruding the digital pecs.

Polygon attempted to contact a founder of Griptonite Games, but did not hear back. However, Platz does have a well-documented career that includes other licensed games and Disney properties. The production of Dead Man’s Chest, she says, was tricky from the onset because she was suddenly promoted into the producer position after another producer went on paternity leave. Except, at the time, she was already in charge of producing the Game Boy Advance version of the game, so she was juggling two projects at once. It was a “wish come true” when it came to her career, but it was still challenging to navigate.

Making things worse, prior to her arrival, the art team and the programmers usually weren’t in the same building at the same time — meaning that often, the team couldn’t get art assets to load at all.

“But after the texture changes and possibly ever so slight poly manipulations, we were able to come to an agreement,” she said in an email. “Whether the folks at Disney provided context on how bare-bones the DS really was or whether he just liked the changes, I’ll never know.”

Part of what makes Platz’s pecs story believable is that it is but one of multiple tales she has made on TikTok for the Dead Man’s Chest game, along with other games in her repertoire. The pecs story is episode 26 of her series, not an isolated anecdote. A different upload recounts her initial hype about working with Pirates franchise. At the time, she assumed she’d get to incorporate the actual official soundtrack, which she says “slaps.”

“I was envisioning game designs sitting in my car,” she says, all while the Pirates movie soundtrack blasted through her vehicle. But after sitting down with Disney, she discovered that they’d only get to use 30 seconds maximum of the official soundtrack for the licensed game, for both the DS and GBA versions. Fittingly, this recollection was followed by angry emojis in the TikTok. According to her, it all came down to lawyers and music rights.

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