Ripley's Believe It or Not!: The Riddle of Master Lu
Ripley's Believe It or Not!: The Riddle of Master Lu

* Part 1: The Story of The Riddle of Master Lu

* Part 2: Interview with the co-designer/graphic artist: Richard Hescox

* Part 3: Background of Master Lu

* Part 4: Some comments

Interview with Richard Hescox (by GN, 2005)

Richard Hescox in front of one of his paintings
Mr. Hescox, when did your work for Sanctuary Woods and what was your role?

I worked for Sanctuary Woods from 1993 to 1995, where I was responsible for the overall visual appearance of Master Lu. I created the conceptual designs and helped to develop the gameplay concepts, and oversaw and directed artists and modelers.

You were Art Director for Rama (Dynamix, Sierra On-Line) and Gabriel Knight 3 (Sierra On-Line) too. Was there much difference between your work for Sanctuary Woods and Dynamix/Sierra?

The main difference was that Master Lu was being worked on during the transition period between games with flat hand painted backgrounds and the early 3D environment games, When we started work on "Lu" we were planning to paint the backgrounds as we had on earlier games. Then 3D started to appear around the game industry and we started doing experiments with the sets trying to figure out what to do and how we wanted it to look. There was a lot more trial and error on that title than on the later ones for Dynamix/Sierra. We had to invent a lot of procedures as we learned how to make the backgrounds. And of course we had to build our own "Blue Screen" studio in which to film the live actors that we used at that time to create the in-game characters. Finally by the time of Gabriel Knight 3 the technology had settled down with fully 3D characters and sets.

H: "Lu-Gizmotron". This was the design for the very complex puzzle in the hidden lab below the billiard table in the "Ace of Spades" castle. During production everyone referred to it as the "Gizmotron" device.
For a bigger sketch, see here.
RH: "Lu-Viewer". This design was for the "Creature Feature" viewer in the Odditorium exhibit hall.
For a bigger sketch, see here.
On which locations of Master Lu did you work?

I worked on all of the areas and designed almost every scene in the game and all the props. Other artists worked on building and texturing the 3-D models from my drawings.

That must have been quite a job, as the game has so many rooms. And besides it has many scrolling screens too, such as the wings in the Odditorium, the long street in Peiping and the corridors and mausoleum in the Emperor's Tomb.

The east wing in the odditorium, one of the scrolling screens in Master lu.
For more scrolling screens, see here.

The long street in Peiping was in fact one of the few scenes that was drawn up by another artist Calvin Jones, although I did many of the other Peiping scenes. Which reminds me: In the metal dealers alley there is a sign with Chinese writing on it. I had the idea of putting a clue there that could only be read by those that knew that language. One of our programmers was from China and she translated the message to be added to the art. It says "Use the spokes".

The alley (with gamma correction applied to the - rather dark - sign)
Another nice idea, besides the scrolling screens and the windowed video pop-ups, were the sketches that Ripley draws during his travels. The cartoons in beginning of the game are replaced one by one by his new ones. Were these original cartoons made by Ripley, and is the style of the new ones based on his work?

Almost all of the cartoons were original ones done by Ripley. Starting with the rights to use Ripley's work in our game we began searching through the archive of his works to pick out a number of his existing cartoons that we could string together into some kind of a story. This gave us a series of locations and we then started brainstorming a storyline and puzzles that we could work in. In the early days, the writer designer Peter Donnelly and I created the basic plot together just thinking of wild ideas and trying to work in any subject matter that we wanted to see in the game. (One early rejected idea involved a puzzle set in the cave of a Yeti. This was tossed because we needed to keep everything in the real world.) Peter later left the company and Lee Sheldon took over as designer and finished up and polished and added to the story and puzzles.

Most areas are completely fictitious, except I believe the Hall of Classics and the strange Ace of Spades castle. The manual informs us that a similar house in England inspired the castle. Do you know where it is located and did you use photos of the location? (I take it that the interior - Hall, Sitting room and Billiards room - was fictitious again).

The real castle, from which we got the idea for the "Ace of Spades" castle, was actually based on a different suit of cards. (I can't remember if it was the Heart, Diamond or Club after all this time.) As such everything we used was a new design that I made up, including a cartoon of the castle in Ripley's style.

RH: "Lu-spider". This was the design for
a spider idol at the lost city in South America. Althought it is in the game it is so tiny that I don't think anyone ever could se it. I think it just looked like a little red lump.
For a bigger version, see here.
How was the large Quarry on Easter Island (32 screens! done? Was it one big image that was split up into a collection of images and adjusted?

The scenes in the game were all built as 3-D models from my drawings and textured and lit to look good. Then cameras (virtual in the 3-D program) were placed in the scene to take the background images we needed. The Easter Island quarry was built as one huge model with all of the statue heads set in several rows going back into space. Then the camera was moved around in that space to shoot each of the backgrounds. That way all of the perspective on all of the heads in the distance was correct.

Where any designs left out?

Yes, for instance, there was a scene planned in the basement of the Odditorium that was deleted. I will try to dig that one up for you.

Richard Hescox working on the farm at Mount Li
with the deleted scene to the left.
There was a sequel intended for Master Lu (The Siberian Cipher), and some work was already done. Were you involved in this project too?

No. This is the first time I have heard about that sequel idea. I had left the company by then.

Our final question: frequently it appears that members of the design team didn't play the finished game. Did you?

Yes I did.

Thank you that you were willing to answer these questions!

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(c) All artwork copyright Sanctuary Woods
(c) Text 2020