May 10, 2007 9:12 AM |
[‘A Game Collector’s Melancholy’ is a bi-weekly column by Jeffrey Fleming that follows the subtle pleasures and gnawing anxieties of video game collecting. This week we take a look at the iconoclastic game designer Kenji Eno.]
Kenji Eno founded Warp, his small, independent game studio in 1994. Coming from a background in music, Eno wanted to bring the same energy and spirit of the electronic music scene to the rapidly expanding world of video games. With long hair and black clothes, Eno would pose for publicity photos with his Roland Jupiter-8 synthesizer (analog of course), cultivating a rock and roll image at a time when game designers were still considered members of the pocket-protector set. He also made it clear that Warp was not part of some corporate hive.
The company’s first games were for the 3DO system. Its straightforward licensing structure dispensed with the cumbersome and arbitrary approvals process that other hardware manufactures required and the machine’s CD-ROM format made it easy to publish for, lowering the barrier to entry for the start-up developer.
Warp’s initial efforts were basic puzzlers and mini-game collections. Although somewhat primitive, they were done with an absurdist graffiti style that made them distinctive. One of these early games, a Tetris clone called Trip’D made it to America in 1995, but it was the horror adventure D that would make Warp famous.
D was a graphic adventure in which a young woman named Laura must explore a spree killer’s tormented psyche in order to solve the mystery of his murderous rampage as well as her own strange relationship with the killer. D played similar to Myst with nicely rendered cinematic transitions between static frames. To enhance D’s creepy atmosphere, Eno composed a suitably dark ambient soundtrack. Operating in true garage band style, Warp utilized consumer level Amiga computers to generate D’s visuals rather than the expensive Silicon Graphics workstations that were considered the standard tool for creating computer graphics.
D’s big conceptual trick was to require its players complete the game in one sitting. It had a two-hour time limit with no pausing or saving allowed. This was a bold stance for Eno to take, refusing to allow his game to be evaluated on the basis of length or replay value.
D was first created for the 3DO but soon ported to the PlayStation, Saturn, and even DOS. Of these, I’ll go with the Saturn because the Sega logo adds a nice symmetry to the collection. Published by Acclaim in 1995, D shipped on two discs so make sure both are present before committing to buy and expect to pay around $10.
The 3DO struggled against the newer 32-bit machines that were coming on the market and plans were made to create a successor called M2 that would be based on PowerPC chips. Warp began work on a sequel to D for the upcoming machine and work-in-progress screenshots were used to demonstrate the advance graphics capabilities of the M2 hardware. For the sequel, Warp seemed to be moving in a fantasy direction and early screens showed a richly detailed, polygon-based gothic castle as its play environment. However, by the end of 1996, the 3DO was discontinued and the M2 project was shelved less than a year later.
Putting the D sequel on hold, Warp turned away from cutting edge graphics and created a game called Real Sound: Wind of Regret that had no graphics at all. Released in 1997 for the Saturn, Real Sound was an adventure game played from the perspective of a blind person and relied exclusively on audio cues. Re-released on the Dreamcast in 1999, Real Sound utilized extensive Japanese language voice acting, making a Western release impossible.
Having stripped away everything that makes a game a video game with Real Sound, Eno decided to create a new work called Enemy Zero that would fully engage both sound and vision. Set on a deep space towing rig, Enemy Zero found Warp riffing on Alien as well as its own D. Although not a sequel, Enemy Zero featured D’s Laura as the main character, employing her as a “digital actress”.
Enemy Zero was a hybrid graphic adventure and first-person shooter, fast paced and cinematic in presentation, a sort of game equivalent to the summer blockbuster. The shooter elements were unique in that you faced invisible enemies, forcing you to depend on audio cues and sonar pings to locate your target. As you crawled through a maze of ductwork and darkened halls, a clammy, panicked sweat would trickle down your brow as the oscillating sonar warned of approaching enemies. Unfortunately, the shooting part was implemented in a painfully realistic manner, forcing you to draw your gun as the invisible monster approached, wait for it to charge up, and then fire hopefully hitting your target. If not, then you had to wait for the charge cycle to complete before you could fire again. Oh, and the gun’s batteries had a limited number of charges. Frightening? Certainly. Frustrating? Absolutely.
Published in America by Sega in 1998, Enemy Zero came on 4 discs labeled 0 to 3. Search for it online and pay around $25.
D2 had the distinction of being one of the first games announced for Sega’s new Dreamcast console in 1998. Rather than dust off the work that they had done for the M2 version, Warp went back to the drawing board and came up with completely new game. It would again feature Laura as the main character but moved the action to the snow covered Canadian mountains. Its story begins with a hijacked airliner being improbably hit by a meteor in mid-flight and crashing in the snowbound mountains. Laura survives the crash but finds her fellow passengers infected with an alien virus that causes them to abruptly burst into drooling bug/plant/cephalopods with an urge to mate. The game only gets weirder from there.
With the power of the Dreamcast, Eno was free to fully indulge his mash-up style, creating in D2 a game that was an elaborate layer cake of genres. When exploring D2’s massive environment, the game was played from a third person perspective and much effort went in to accurately depicting the frozen landscape. Distances were realistic and it could take many minutes just to trudge over an icy mountain pass. Periodically, mutated creatures would pop out of the snow and the game would switch to a fixed, shooting gallery perspective. Guns and ammunition were oddly plentiful and combat was over quick in a rapid-fire hail of lead and green goo. Sifting for clues was handled point-and-click style and the bizarre story was advanced by lengthy cinematics. On top of it all, D2 featured a Deer Hunter style mini game that allowed you to poach varmints for meat.
D2 was released in America in 2000. Published by Sega, the company thought it wise to make a few judicious cuts to the game, toning down some of the alien on human rape imagery. D2 shipped on 4 GD-ROM discs and can be found for around $20.
Despite the advance hype, D2 came too late in the Dreamcast’s short lifespan to really connect with consumers who were already looking to the PlayStation 2 for their kicks. Warp folded in 2000 and transitioned into Superwarp, a multimedia company whose focus shifted away from games. Eno resurfaced in 2006, announcing the formation of a new game development studio called fyto (From Yellow to Orange) and hinting that the Wii will be his platform of choice.
[Jeffrey Fleming is an East Bay writer. To read more, please visit Tales of the Future.]
Categories: Column: Game Collectors Melancholy