October 25, 2006 9:21 PM |
[Having gained a mid-week day pass from his 3DO-specific blog, 3DO Kid peers down from his lofty tower and tries to convince you to buy games no sane man would conside. Fee now to explore beyond Hawkins' dream machine, he rambles incomprehensibly on... His first 'Beyond 3DO' column discusses why the dreaded 'FMV adventure' is much more pleasant that you might actually guess.]
What you find when you delve in to the sinister depths of the just-post-SNES, pre-PSX era - the 3DO, the CDi and the CD32, is that in many ways these machines were a Frankenstein’s Laboratory of game development. The results? Well amongst the ports, the Interactive Movies, the half-baked upgrades of the 16bit library and, of cause, the handful of actually decent titles, there is an oddity of a genre that has [crack of thunder] …no name!
I call them “Pre-rendered tat”. And they aren’t any good …to play… but as eye candy, perhaps worth a second glance if and only if, you happen to be a nostalgic graphics whore like me.
[Click through for more.]
How Real Is Too Real?
Like diamonds, I believe they are the fruits of an unnatural pressure. Why so? Well thanks to hindsight, I think I can guess: At around the time these game emerged, the insane power hungry P.R behemoths toiled day-and-night to over-sell the various technologies available. Meanwhile the ray-tracing obsessed masses bayed for photorealism. Even though they probably weren’t quite sure what that was.
The only thing that could happen did. Things turned ugly. Desperate even. Demand was high. Production times slow. The technology new. All the while Sony’s Playstation and Sega’s Saturn rumour mills were whipping everyone else into either a panic-attack or, if you prefer, into terminal Z-axis suicide lust.
The game developers for lesser machines were trapped. Caught then, so it seems, between a rock and hard place. They had to make beautiful 3D games on consoles not capable of running beautiful 3D games. The solution, for some at least, was simple. Pre-render the graphics on their shiny SGI machines, take advantage of the 16bit or 24bit graphics cards in the consoles and glue the whole bally thing to something that once ran badly on a Motorola 68000.
After moments of toil and years of combined rendering time, eventually – they succeeded. Focusing on graphics and not on game-play however has a nasty side-effect. They forgot the golden rule; if a game is pretty but rubbish it only amounts to pretty rubbish.
…but I’m not going to dwell on that. You see considering their age, even today, these games have an undeniably beauty. A sort of majesty. The production values and the vision shine through in my opinion. Even if the execution is a little weak. These games have some of the most marvellous pre-rendered sequences the world had ever seen and these sequences in many cases are actually integrated into the game.
Alien landscapes sweep majestically by, the pre-rendered internal organs of a man slip past and the megalopolis of Tokyo spreads out before us. Also don’t forget those times when the first 3D Star Wars walkers stomp on by on-screen. In the right frame of mind, one can almost remember the hysteria surrounding these screen shots and for moment, with a wistful glint, you can be swept along by it again.
You see – an old graphics whore like me can’t let these games simply whither in the darkness. No! Such is my want; I thrust them back into the light for people to reconsider. To enjoy. To watch through once and never play again but at least offer them a second chance. The ones below also encompass the spectre of Interactive Movie, so what you also find is the grandiose graphics are married to equally grandiose yarns…
Our Glorious Examples
Lost Eden. Probably Cryo’s finest moment - only in my opinion, of course. The game engine is borrowed from Dune, a game by the same development team. A game that met with mixed reviews, I hasten to add (screenshot-heavy review link). Free of Herbert's storyline, however, Lost Eden manages to mix an imaginative and creative mythological story, with some uniquely styled graphics and a sound-track to die for. While plagued with load-times that would disrupt a tortoise’s patience, the game does exude a certain charm.
The production values are high and while calling it an interactive movie would be a stretch – calling it an interactive young-adult story book would be fair. But it’s the graphics - they are simply beautiful. The dinosaurs, the citadels, the snowy scenery, the creepy dungeons, they are all magnificent. The hand drawn and dubiously animated characters are OK, but it is the pre-rendered game sequences that make this a nostalgic graphics lover's dream, and this is why it is first on my list.
The next I’d recommend is Creature Shock - a game by Argonaut (gallery link). It was the Doom 3 of its day. Not as smooth and playable, and despite being pre-rendered, graphically inferior but it is atmospheric. Claustrophobic in a good, unnerving way. Let down by an iffy first sequence. A sequence set in space with asteroids. And then to make matters worse, it has lousy controls. Still - the main dish of the game has you roaming caverns, shooting the living hell out of monsters. It is enjoyable! Well, to a point. Repetitive? Yes.
The game-play is trouser hem shallow, but the graphics hint at an Arthur C Clarke '2001' influence, and the story is very good. Junior cryptozoologists will enjoy roaming the maze of tunnels and witnessing Argonaut's wonderfully pre-rendered beasties. It’s worth in my opinion tracking a copy down simply to revel in the imagination – of which it has plenty. It's a game that I believe created by true fans of sci-fi with little interest in video games. Lots of vision, with no ability to execute on that vision. Perhaps given time and money… but hey - that never happened!
Cyberia. A game (gallery link) that puts the chore into sudden death. Die. Repeat. Die. Repeat. Die. Repeat. It really is the Charlie Manson of video games. That aside - those that remember it, may remember that it seems to be a tribute to the film and book Firefox, and has you pinching a top secret aircraft. It is all jolly awful until you get into the air. At this point Interplay, and Xatrix seem to have achieved what no-one else ever did- except for maybe Namco and much later Nintendo.
Heck, it's an on-rails, pre-rendered shooter, that actually seems controllable, achievable and fun. And other verbs you don’t usually associate with the genre. As your craft sweeps over the targets, the pointer moves easily and the shooting is reasonably accurate. Also, when your craft turns at the end of a run you are treated to pre-rendered flyby of a very nice, very well presented, futuristic aircraft. It’s all sown together well and is as cheap as chips on eBay to buy. How could you go wrong?
Again, given a little more execution this could have been the Metal Gear Solid of its day. Instead, today, it is the moist pre-rendered graphics fantasy of 'old man rotten crotch'. That's me.
Falling Over On Quality Street
…but they can’t all have been rubbish – can they? Erm. Well. Yes. Granted – in terms of play enjoyment, the highest level any of these pre-rendered games ever mustered was probably mediocre. Still, some are more mediocre than others. So it’s a great shame that even today on the plethora of bulletin boards and forums dedicated to retro gaming, that interest in this orphaned branch on the evolutionary tree of video games is practically non-existent.
Others of note that galloped from pre-rendered stable? Well, Novastorm. You can watch the splendid alien worlds roll impressively by for a few quid. And the urban (I can't believe I used that word) post apocalyptic graphics. Worth the money? Well – hmmm. There is no game to talk of, but the music isn't bad.
Next, I suppose? Well - you could get a copy of Microcosm and you can sit for 10 minutes and watch the delectable pre-rendered introduction. You shouldn’t trouble yourself with much more than that, though. Although armed with a cheat or FAQ you can be one of the few people on the planet to have actually witnessed the rather splendid end of level bosses Microcosm does have to offer.
An omission that some will whinge about for me not mentioning is obviously D, by Warp. It's a short-lived, cult classic sort-of survival horror - that most decent people will have played anyway. And the game was pre-rendered by a chap that went on to do Shadow of Colossus. Others may mention Hell - a pre-rendered star spangled cyber-interactive movie. That is just too slow going. …and when I say slow….geez.
I could go on and on.
All I'm suggesting is that people track them down. Are they games worth playing? That is debatable. It probably helps if you don’t hope for anything from the game play department. At least then you won’t be disappointed. But are they art? Stories? Experiences? Yes – undeniably. I admire the effort and the fantastic imagination. They are a small part of gaming history worth remembering, in my opinion.
[3DO Kid runs the only active 3DO blog on the internet, with the self made goal of reviewing, in one manner or another, the entire 3DO back catalogue. He's a bit crazy, really.]
Categories: Column: Beyond 3DO