Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Star Control post-mortem with Fred Ford and Paul Reiche III

Also present at GDC 2015 were Fred Ford and Paul Reiche III to talk about Star Control (1990) and Star Control II (1992). Developed by their company Toys For Bob and published by Accolade, the two space action strategy games were instant classics - especially the second game, which is considered to be one of the greatest PC games ever made.

I'm sad to report that I never actually played any of these games, so I don't know much about them. I did however learn some interesting facts from this post-mortem, which, a bit oddly, was conducted as a sort of interview as opposed to the usual stand-up presentation. The story about using Amiga module format music for the second game, and employing musicians via Usenet - some of them only 14 years old - had me smiling. As a programmer, I also found the detailed description on the procedurally generated spinning planets (29:10 in the video) particularly interesting.

Loom post-mortem with Brian Moriarty

So GDC 2015 took place just a few days before my last post here in March, and I have only now watched the online videos of this year's Classic Game Postmortem speeches, which are always my favourite part of GDC. I also noticed that GDC have made both their new and previous videos available on YouTube, which I think is great, because the video player at the GDC Vault website was driving me crazy!

One of the legendary speakers this year was Brian Moriarty, who had been invited to tell the story of LucasFilm Games' classic point-and-click adventure Loom, released in 1990. Moriarty, or Professor Moriarty (no, that's not a Sherlock Holmes joke - he is indeed a Professor of Practice in Game Design), was a game designer and writer at Infocom before joining LucasFilm Games in 1988. While at Infocom, he created the text adventures Wishbringer (1985), Trinity (1986) and Beyond Zork (1987). After Loom, he also worked on LucasArts' The Dig (1995) as a writer.

This is an extraordinary well-presented post-mortem, and it's clear that Moriarty is an experienced lecturer. Following some obligatory funny anecdotes on LucasFilm Games and Skywalker Ranch, we get to learn how the game was conceived, where the name came from, why Tchaikovsky's ballet Swan Lake was used for the soundtrack, the references to Disney's Sleeping Beauty, the graphical limitations at the time (and how artist Mark Ferrari overcame them with his unique dithering technique), and much more. We also take a look at, and listen to, the different versions of the game. Hardcore fans will be in ecstasy over some previously unseen screens that didn't make it into the final game.

All in all, this post-mortem is a must-see if ever there was one.

I'm sorry!

My apologies for not having updated this blog since March (!). I know it probably looks like I abandoned it right after I started it. As with most (or, I should say all) of my creative projects, I tend to easily loose focus or get burned out quickly. This is a problem I'm struggling with in my everyday life, and I know it can be frustrating to those who follow the things I do, but trust me when I say no one is more frustrated about it than I am. So, unfortunately, I can't promise that I'll be updating this blog on a steady basis. There could - and probably will - be large gaps of silence in the future too.

One positive thing though, is that the subject matter of this blog doesn't have any best-before date. This blog is more an archive of things and less a source of news, so it's not crucial that I add to it quickly. I do however hope to work on it a lot more than I have so far. Keep your fingers crossed!

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Blizzard Entertainment Retrospective

Blizzard Entertainment started out as a company called Silicon & Synapse in 1991, with Interplay as their publisher. Their very first game was RPM Racing for SNES in 1991, followed by The Lost Vikings in 1992, and Rock n' Roll Racing in 1993. They were then briefly known as Chaos Studios, before changing again to Blizzard Entertainment, with the 1994 releases of Blackthorne and Warcraft. The rest, as they say, is history.

This is a retrospective video produced by Blizzard themselves, which tells the story of the company, from their startup as Silicon & Synapse, up until the biggest game of all times - World of Warcraft. Featured in the video are (in order of appearance) Allen Adham, Mike Morhaime, Frank Pearce, Sam Didier, Bob Fitch, Joeyray Hall, Bob Davidson, Paul Sams, Jan Davidson, Chris Metzen, Nick Carpenter, Shane Dabiri, Matt Samia, Jeff Kaplan, J. Allen Brack, Chris Sigaty, Dustin Browder, Rob Pardo, and Mike Ryder.

Also, check out the timeline over at the Blizzard website, for a chronological summary of the company's history.

Diablo II post-mortem

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Prince of Persia animation reference videos

The animation of the characters in Prince of Persia (1989) was unique at the time, and was done by using a technique called rotoscoping - a live actor is filmed with a camera, and the animator then traces over the footage, frame by frame, to achieve a more life-like animation. This technique was also used in games like Another World and Flashback, inspired by Prince of Persia.

Here are some of the reference videos used for the rotoscoping in Prince of Persia. These videos were taken from Jordan Mechner's own YouTube channel, found here. The Prince in the videos was played by Mechner's younger brother David, who did the running and jumping in his high school parking lot!

And here are some of the early results:

Behind the scenes of The Last Express

Following up on my previous post on Jordan Mechner, here's a short behind-the-scenes look at his 1997 adventure game The Last Express. Unfortunately, the game was not a commercial success, despite receiving positive reviews. Still, Mechner considers The Last Express to be his greatest title.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

"From Bedroom to Attic: Making Prince of Persia" by Jordan Mechner

Jordan Mechner (Karateka, Prince of Persia, The Last Express) was a special guest at the onGameStart conference in Warsaw, Poland, in September 2012. There, he told a fascinating and inspiring story about his life and career, going from programming games in his bedroom, to writing scripts for movies in Hollywood. His most famous work is the Prince of Persia franchise, which began in 1989 with the release of Prince of Persia on the Apple II. Mechner spent three years creating the game almost entirely on his own, drawing inspiration from silent movies, and using a technique called rotoscoping to produce the game's fluid animation, which at the time was unique in video games.

He also talked about how technical limitations can inspire creativity, why being burned out can be a good thing, and how the "dumbest mistakes" sometimes lead to the biggest successes. A truely inspirational talk, and also a must-see for fans of Prince of Persia.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A visit to id Software

Ever wondered what it was like at the office of id Software (Commander Keen, Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Quake) back in the days? Ever wished you could go back in time and see what the guys were up to? Well, you can! In this video uploaded to Vimeo by John Romero himself, we get an exclusive behind-the-scenes peak at their office in Mesquite, Dallas, Texas, one day in November 1993. At the time, id Software were busy finishing up Doom, which shipped just a month later.

Romero writes:
In 1993, Dan Linton, owner of a hugely successful BBS called Software Creations, visited Texas and made his way to id Software. This is the footage he recorded one night in November 1993. Shown are several of id's employees at the time: Jay Wilbur, Shawn Green, John Romero, Dave Taylor, Sandy Petersen and Adrian Carmack. Bobby Prince was visiting to finish the music and create the sound effects. This video has 21 minutes of me playing DOOM before the sound effects were put in as well as some early deathmatching with Shawn Green.

You can also watch this video on YouTube, here.

We Play Doom With John Romero

Here's some more John Romero goodness. In this one hour and thirty minutes long video, Ryan McCaffrey from IGN sits down with Romero for a co-op playthrough of Doom's original episode, "Knee-Deep in the Dead". Romero shares some interesting stories and secrets about its levels, and we get to learn some fun trivia about the game (for example, how to properly announce "gib"). This is a great video both for fans of the game, and for people interested in level design.

If you enjoy watching this video, make sure you also check out John Romero plays the first episode of Doom.

Monday, February 09, 2015

The complete Another World with Éric Chahi

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Another World post-mortem with Éric Chahi

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The making of Another World with Éric Chahi and Jean-François Freitas

Here's something I found on YouTube just yesterday. I think I may have seen it before, but it wasn't in my bookmarks. In this short documentary video, Éric Chahi, the creator of Another World, reminisces about the process of developing his all-time classic. Chahi, a true artist, is almost a little uncomfortable while doing so, as he explains: "I don't like talking about Another World. The pictures speak for themselves". Which is actually true - the entire story of the game is driven by the imagery and the player's imagination. There isn't a single sentence, word or dialogue to be read in the entire game.

Also featured is composer Jean-François Freitas, who wrote the memorable intro music for the game, and also helped create the game's sound effects. We learn some interesting tidbits, like for example how the sound of an old dot matrix printer was turned into the sound of the lifts in the game, or how nuts became the sound of bones exploding.

I also found the video on Vimeo. You can watch it here.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Tim Cain on Matt Chat

In 2012, Tim Cain was another great guest on Matt Barton's Matt Chat show. The videos are a little short (I believe Matt was fighting some YouTube upload restrictions at the time), but very interesting to watch. Cain talks about how he got started on the Atari 800, how Fallout came to be, working on the game at Interplay, working on his other games Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura and Temple of Elemental Evil, and also gives his opinion on Fallout 3.

Fallout post-mortem with Tim Cain

This is probably my favourite of all the GDC post-mortem videos available online. Tim Cain is probably best known to gamers as the producer, lead programmer and one of the main designers of Interplay's post-apocalyptic RPG Fallout. Prior to Fallout, he was a programmer at Interplay working on various games. In this GDC 2012 post-mortem, Cain explains how his engine he began working on in 1994 evolved into the now classic RPG. He also talks about the popular culture that influenced the game, and shares some hilarious anecdotes about the game's development (the one about the Windows NT installer, for example, is simply priceless).

You can also watch this video at the GDC Vault website.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Llamasoft And The Space Giraffe

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The history of Llamasoft with Jeff Minter

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Julian Gollop lecture at GDS Bulgaria 2011

At the 2011 Game Dev Summit in Sofia, Bulgaria, Julian Gollop gave a lecture on how to get your career started in game development. This is not directly related to old school game development, but I felt like including it anyway since it's interesting to watch. In this video, Gollop talks about how he got started making games on the ZX81 and BBC Model B, and then proceeds to give advice for programmers, game designers and level designers.

The making of UFO: Enemy Unknown

Edge Online has a making of article on UFO: Enemy Unknown which, again, is a little short but still fun to read. Julian Gollop explains how he and his brother Nick pitched the game to MicroProse, and also talks about some of the problems that arose during its production.

Monday, February 02, 2015

NowGamer interview with Julian Gollop

NowGamer had a very interesting interview with Julian Gollop (Chaos, Rebelstar Raiders, Laser Squad, UFO: Enemy Unknown) published in August 2011, which can be found here. In this lengthy interview, Gollop talks about how he got started programming on the ZX81 and Spectrum, his love for board games, the many innovations in turn-based combat games that he and his brother Nick came up with, and the incredible success of UFO: Enemy Unknown.

UFO: Enemy Unknown post-mortem with Julian Gollop

Here's another excellent post-mortem video from GDC 2013, in which Julian Gollop, creator of Rebelstar Raiders and Laser Squad, revisits his biggest hit - the 1994 MicroProse tactical game UFO: Enemy Unknown (also known as X-COM: UFO Defense). This game spawned several sequels and also had a pretty successful remake of it released about two years ago, which I unfortunately haven't played much. The original game, however, is an absolute classic which me and my friends played a lot on our 486 PCs back in the days.

You can also watch this video at the GDC Vault website.

To see the game in action, or if you enjoy watching let's play videos, check out Kikoskia's Let's Play X-Com UFO Defense on YouTube.

The making of Alone In The Dark

Edge Online has a making of article on Infogrames' classic horror adventure Alone in the Dark from 1992. It's a little short and not very detailed, but tells the story of its creator, programmer Frédérick Raynal, and how he designed the game mostly by instinct. The game was a huge success, but the article ends with explaining how Raynal felt betrayad by Infogrames, and eventually decided to leave the company together with the rest of his team.

Alone In The Dark post-mortem with Frédérick Raynal

The various GDC post-mortem videos that can be found on YouTube and in the GDC Vault are truely awesome. In this post-mortem, presented at GDC 2012, designer and programmer Frédérick Raynal goes into great detail about the creation of his most famous game, Alone In The Dark from 1992. He is also the creator of Little Big Adventure (1994). Raynal talks about the 70s horror movies that inspired the game, early polygon graphics, the special 3D editor he had to program, and many other interesting things.

You can also watch this video at the GDC Vault website, which I this time recommend, because the YouTube version has some problems with the audio.

Maniac Mansion post-mortem with Ron Gilbert (again)

About a month after the post-mortem of Maniac Mansion at Game Forum Germany in January 2011, Ron Gilbert did a similar post-mortem at the Game Developers Conference in California, San Francisco. Again, Gilbert talked about what inspired the game, the famous SCUMM system, and many other things.

Unfortunately, the GDC Vault website won't let me embed the video, so you need to click here to go watch it. Once again, great stuff, and a must-see for fans of the early LucasArts adventure games.

Maniac Mansion post-mortem with Ron Gilbert

Exciting news struck retro gamers in November last year, when Ron Gilbert (creator of Maniac Mansion, The Secret of Monkey Island and Monkey Island 2) announced that he and Gary Winnick (co-creator and lead artist of Maniac Mansion) is developing a new point-and-click adventure together. Not only that, but a truely old school one with 16-bit era graphics! The game is called Thimbleweed Park and you can follow the development in detail at their website.

In this post-mortem, presented at Game Forum Germany 2011 in Hanover, Gilbert talks about designing Maniac Mansion, early ideas, his frustration with text adventures, the SCUMM system, technical limitations, the hamster in the microwave oven, and much more. Great stuff!

Doom post-mortem with John Romero and Tom Hall

Here's an hour long post-mortem video on Doom, which I find very interesting. This post-mortem was presented by creators John Romero and Tom Hall at GDC 2011 - the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, California.

You can also watch a slightly more interactive version of this video if you head over to the GDC Vault website. It won't let me embed the video, and I'm having some issues with their video player, so I prefer YouTube.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

John Romero on Matt Chat

Matt Barton, host of the excellent Matt Chat show, did a lengthy interview with John Romero about five years ago. In this interview, Romero talks about how he got started programming games, the early days of id Software, Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Quake, and the troubled production of Daikatana.

And if you can't get enough, there's also a two-hour long UNEDITED version of the same interview. This version is audio only, and the YouTube video found below is accompanied by slides. You can download the original MP3 of this interview at the Armchair Arcade website.

John Romero plays the first episode of Doom

Let's kick off this blog with something that was uploaded on YouTube just recently!

John Romero (creator of Wolfenstein 3D, Doom and Quake) sits down with BioShock level designer Jean-Paul LeBreton to play through the entire first episode of Doom, all while commenting on the level design.


And here's a bonus part, freshly uploaded less than a day ago, in which Romero checks out JP LeBreton's Doom remake of his BioShock level "Arcadia".


This is just another post in case I need this space for later.

testing testing

My first blog entry!