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Thursday, March 05, 2015

Reaxxion interview

Reaxxion posted the translation of a recent interview with me by Werta Best of old-games.ru. Among other things it features the original CD sleeve cover of Rebel Moon that hasn't been seen by anyone in decades.
Who was the first member in your team who proposed the revolutionary idea to use the beautiful color lighting in the developed RM game engine? Attention please, it was before Unreal release! Did your team perform an overview of the graphics capabilities for other first person shooters published before RM?

That was my partner Andrew’s idea. We knew Marc Rein and the guys at Unreal very well, in fact, our audio guy and housemate is now their audio director. Because we came from a high-resolution graphics background, we always looked to push the envelope in one way or another. Expanding the color depth was something we wanted to do as soon as the hardware could handle it. The problem was that you were still limited to 256-color palettes in the textures due to memory limitations.

What’s in your opinion was the reason for poor commercial success of Rebel Moon Rising – is it because of previous game has low popularity (Rebel Moon, 1995) or due to low resolution of sprites used in both games?

One word. QUAKE. Rebel Moon Rising got pretty good reviews and was well-regarded by other designers, but once people had a taste of 3D, they didn’t want to go back to 2.5D. It’s not like that surprised us. After all, I was the one who originally trademarked “3D Blaster” years before and I’d spent a lot of time out in the Bay Area as a Transdimensional Evangelist trying to convince Creative, Hercules, and Diamond, among others, to adopt 3D acceleration long before Jensen Huang got Nvidea going. We knew 3D was going to be big for the shooter market, but we didn’t have time to write a 3D engine on Intel’s schedule. And more importantly, we discovered that the graphics bus was too slow to let the MMX properly support 3D at the higher resolutions we originally intended to support.

The original MMX was actually four times faster than it was able to deliver, but the limitation was the bus, not the chip’s performance. We were the ones who discovered the problem; Intel was absolutely horrified when we proved it to them by blitting a 2-bit black rectangle. Commercial success was always an afterthought, as our Intel relationship guided most of our decisions and generated most of our revenue.

We were very pleased with effects for varying of gravity on some level’s maps – it was one of the most original gameplay ideas in both Rebel Moon games. Has anyone used same method for walkthrough of levels in other games published in 90-s? Who was the author of idea in your team?


I don’t know. I asked Andrew and he doesn’t recall either. Our culture at Fenris Wolf was always one of pushing things further. We created the first escort mission in a shooter, we were the first to support MMX, the first to implement speech recognition in a multiplayer game (you could switch weapons and send predetermined messages using your voice), and we also introduced a number of smaller innovations like in-level variable gravity. Given that the game was set in space, the idea of blowing up a gravity generator and then having it affect the gameplay would have seemed pretty obvious to all of us at the time.

The net game levels walkthrough in RMR is more interesting than single player maps. It seems that RMR game originally was planned as a coop game only and single player levels are just the secondary product from net levels. Is it right?


No, it’s precisely backward. The problem with single player was that Intel’s testers simply weren’t gamers. We created the first two levels, which are borderline retarded and come complete with arrows on the floor pointing GO THIS WAY, rather late in the process because the testers couldn’t manage to complete levels that any competent gamer could play through in minutes. So we had to dumb everything down. We didn’t even do the multiplayer stuff until the retail release with GT, but because Intel wasn’t involved with those, we could design them for proper gamers. That’s probably why they are more interesting.

In our opinion, for Rebel Moon Rising game very effective way was used to a sharp change of the game environment – teleportation to another planet (in alien world). And it was made one year before popular Half-Life! (teleport to Xen…). This significant jump was originally planned in the RMR game scenario as well as concept art?

In light of the fact that we were using an expanded color depth for the first time, my decision to set the storyline in space, on the Moon, was a very, very bad one. I thought it would be visually impressive to have these rich jeweled tones of the lasers and lights contrasted against the grays of the environment, but the effect was just too subtle. And our artists, while smart and talented, were all very young and hired straight out of art school with no computer or 3D experience. We should have done something more wild and garish like Unreal.

The decision to shift the focus to the alien environments allowed us to bring in more color and interesting visuals than was permitted by an environment mostly filled with black space and Moon rocks. The jump was definitely planned in the design document and it was always part of the story, but we did end up putting more of the levels in the alien environments than originally planned due to the desire to incorporate more interesting graphical elements.
I'm always pleased to see that the old games aren't forgotten, including my own. Werta and his team of programmers are amazing; they not only ported Rebel Moon Rising to the modern versions of Windows, but even ported the original Rebel Moon to it. And they managed to get the nine demo levels of the unfinished Rebel Moon Revolution working so you can see some of the still-advanced twin AI systems at work.

It's good to see Reaxxion continuing to grow and providing more SJW-free game-related content.

Labels:

40 Comments:

Anonymous Daniel March 05, 2015 5:23 PM  

Dead-on on the modern problem of gaming: multi-player is limited by its nature, and solo hasn't innovated AI - or even really tried - forever. You can cover that up with atmosphere for only so long.

If your orcs in FS actually consider hiding, faking death, or offering a fighter a bargain or anything resembling that, it would be a big leap forward.

Blogger Vox March 05, 2015 5:31 PM  

If your orcs in FS actually consider hiding, faking death, or offering a fighter a bargain or anything resembling that, it would be a big leap forward.

That would be difficult in a gladiator game....

Blogger wrf3 March 05, 2015 5:31 PM  

Very nice, Vox. Very nice, indeed.

Blogger Student in Blue March 05, 2015 5:33 PM  

I actually already read it at Reaxxion before seeing this here.

I just wish the interviewer used less smileys in his questions - or at least had them removed in the final copy. It seems a bit of a russky thing from what I gather, but it's not something done in English interviews.

Speaking of innovation in gaming, it's actually very interesting to watch Blizzard with all the experimental work they throw in to keep WoW at the top of the MMO pile. Albeit, most of the innovations Blizzard does is focused on... well, "engagement" I should say, in regards of how to keep a player interested and keep playing. Almost like addiction but while being actively concerned about burnout (and hence, profit loss).

Increasing "engagement" is not necessarily making a "good game", whatever the metric for that is, but at least it's giving me a better understanding in human psychology via real-life examples.

Blogger Josh March 05, 2015 5:35 PM  

Awesome interview

Blogger LP 999/Eliza March 05, 2015 5:38 PM  

Kick ass image, way cool gear on bros, the moon is done so well.

Anonymous Daniel March 05, 2015 5:47 PM  

That would be difficult in a gladiator game....

Depends on the gladiators and the contests. If I had a prized fighter in a lot of trouble, I'd pay a pretty penny to see him tossed onto the dead wagon somewhat before he was technically dead. I'd imagine AI opponents might see the wisdom in that too, depending on the bank. If they are all 1-on-1 events, and no mass events, then yes, hiding in the traps wouldn't work, but offers of a fix would be a lot of fun to play in either scenario.

Blogger Vox March 05, 2015 5:52 PM  

Very nice, Vox. Very nice, indeed.

Thanks. The thing most people outside the industry don't know is how many unfinished games never see the light of day. For example, [very famous game designer] came to us to get the funding for a revival of [very famous game] with the IP-owning publisher's approval. I recommended it after extensive analysis, but the top suit chickened out on the [very large] eight-figure price tag.

Now there is absolute proof that the game would have out-earned our target goals because the designer finally gave up and did something else similar without the publisher-controlled IP. But that excellent IP is now dead for at least another generation because the top suit at the fund couldn't pull the trigger.

Blogger LP 999/Eliza March 05, 2015 5:55 PM  

Transdimensional Evangelist?

Even cooler.

3 cheers to rapid puppies and rebel moon 2015.

Blogger luagha March 05, 2015 5:55 PM  

Gragbol Man-killer never surrenders!

Anonymous Red Comet March 05, 2015 6:00 PM  

Vox, did you guys pre-date John Carmack's work on Quake 2 by having colored lighting in Rebel Moon Rising?

Anonymous Giuseppe March 05, 2015 6:07 PM  

Vox,
Any link to the now playable version you mention? I went to Werta's site but it's all in Russian and while I can read it a bit...I do it like a 4 year old with dyslexia...

Blogger Vox March 05, 2015 6:21 PM  

If I had a prized fighter in a lot of trouble, I'd pay a pretty penny to see him tossed onto the dead wagon somewhat before he was technically dead.

That's already in the design. You can't buy a win, but you can throw in the towel if you're willing to give up a few days' free play earnings.

Vox, did you guys pre-date John Carmack's work on Quake 2 by having colored lighting in Rebel Moon Rising

Yes, by about a year.

Any link to the now playable version you mention?

I don't have it. They sent me some stuff a while ago, but they've done a fair amount of work on it since. It's not really playable per se, but you can run around and see what is going on as the AIs battle. That's what we were showing off with the demo.

Blogger Nate March 05, 2015 6:33 PM  

"That would be difficult in a gladiator game...."

It would also get very boring after a while. Remember... most people playing FPS games just want to run around and shoot things.

That's what is so cool about Destiny. You can play it so many different ways... but if you really want... you can just run and around blow stuff up.

Blogger luagha March 05, 2015 6:38 PM  

"That's already in the design. You can't buy a win, but you can throw in the towel if you're willing to give up a few days' free play earnings."

I guess 'Gragbol Man-killer' should also be known as 'Gragbol Takes-bribe.'

Anonymous ZeroFill March 05, 2015 6:43 PM  

Vox, any thoughts about publishing not just books, but niche computer sci-fi tabletop-like war games from indie developers?

Anonymous daniel March 05, 2015 6:47 PM  

Oh cool. I think I also wasn't thinking clearly about it being pvp primarily.

Blogger Vox March 05, 2015 6:47 PM  

Vox, any thoughts about publishing not just books, but niche computer sci-fi tabletop-like war games from indie developers?

That's precisely what the First Sword system is designed to enable. Think of it as 3D VASSAL. That's not an accident. It's a little known fact, but I named VASSAL. You can ask Rodney. We have already secured the cooperation of three different game companies with four different games in the upcoming Kickstarter. They want their games in our system.

Anonymous NateM March 05, 2015 6:48 PM  

Vox speaks Russian?

Anonymous WaterBoy March 05, 2015 6:49 PM  

Vox: "but you can run around and see what is going on as the AIs battle."

Also in Destiny. Just sit back and watch the internal factions fight each other...until they notice you, and join forces against you.

Blogger Cataline Sergius March 05, 2015 7:13 PM  

Bullseye on the need for better AI.

I recently played FEAR for the first time in years. This is a ten year old game and the AI is still better than most of what is out there on AAA titles these days.

Blogger Nate March 05, 2015 7:14 PM  

"Also in Destiny. Just sit back and watch the internal factions fight each other...until they notice you, and join forces against you."

usually... I've noticed the Cabal will often shoot the Vex in the back while they are shooting at you. The worst are the Fallen though. I have been saved by vandals more than once. And all the get for the trouble is a taste of The Secret Handshake...

Anonymous Red Comet March 05, 2015 7:28 PM  

Yes, by about a year.

Interesting.

I'm sorry to say most of the people in the gaming scene tend to credit John Carmack with just about every 3D engine innovation, including crediting the Quake 2 engine for colored lighting.

Also interesting is that Super Mario 64 debuted in Japan a day after Quake came out in the US. This also makes it entirely possible that Nintendo created a working 3D engine with polygonal characters before id.

Guess this just further proves the point that the industry (and fandom too I suppose) shouldn't be writing the history of gaming.

Anonymous Red Comet March 05, 2015 7:34 PM  

Also, this should be of great interest to any aspiring developers:

Source 2 will be free to content developers.

Valve isn't even asking for Steam exclusivity. This could end up being a complete route of companies like Epic that charge hundreds of thousands of dollars to license their engines to developers.

Blogger David Richard March 05, 2015 7:42 PM  

I must admit a little jealousy. The software I created during my 20 years at a large wholesaler simply disappeared during their bankruptcy. Nothing as glamorous as video gaming, but I made IBM's VSE do some things that their Boeblingen lab techs claimed were impossible.

But, except for my bootleg copy of the code, it'll not be seen again - much less have any retrospective articles written.

My silver lining was learning not to equate myself (any longer) with my work.

Anonymous VD March 05, 2015 8:07 PM  

I'm sorry to say most of the people in the gaming scene tend to credit John Carmack with just about every 3D engine innovation, including crediting the Quake 2 engine for colored lighting.

I knew John back in the day. He's without question the most important guy on the software side of 3D in gaming. I have great respect for him. But that's simply not true and anyone who was there at the time will know it. Carmack wouldn't claim it himself. I don't know if he was familiar with RMR, but I know John Romero was, and the RETAIL version was out in December 1996. I think Intel was showing the bundled version that summer at various shows, and the color depth was one of the main things they were showing.

To be honest, we didn't think it was that big a deal. I mean, literally everybody wanted to do it. We simply happened to get there first because we were focused on bundling deals, not retail.

Anonymous feels like heaven March 05, 2015 8:16 PM  

"Nvidea"

Sounds like a better misspelling.

Anonymous Red Comet March 05, 2015 8:35 PM  

I knew John back in the day. He's without question the most important guy on the software side of 3D in gaming. I have great respect for him. But that's simply not true and anyone who was there at the time will know it. Carmack wouldn't claim it himself.

Sure...I've got no disrespect for Carmack and wouldn't hesitate to put him on the short list for best programmer in the industry. I'm just personally curious about who came up with what after having read a couple of books on the history of the game industry.

Speaking of which, anyone curious about id Software should read Masters of Doom. Very interesting history about the company and its core people.

Anonymous Harsh March 05, 2015 9:10 PM  

Speaking of which, anyone curious about id Software should read Masters of Doom. Very interesting history about the company and its core people.

Fantastic book, I've read it four or five times at least.

Anonymous The other skeptic March 05, 2015 10:42 PM  

Meanwhile, VMware rips off open source software.

Blogger mmaier2112 March 05, 2015 10:50 PM  

Sheesh... I'm still annoyed all the AI promised in Halo 2 never materialized. Not in any of the sequels, either.

Anonymous beerme March 05, 2015 10:50 PM  

This could end up being a complete route of companies like Epic that charge hundreds of thousands of dollars to license their engines to developers.
Epic just announced Unreal Engine 4 being free with you paying 5% on the gross after the first $3000 in revenue per quarter. It was $19 per month plus 5% before this week.

I find it interesting how the pricing for Unreal is essentially the same model for book authors switching from traditional publishing to independent publishing. Previously the money was primarily paid via up front payments for the completed work and now the money is paid off over time with the author receiving a % of sales instead of the upfront payout. I just wonder if they end up cashing in big on the trend of games to include microtransactions.

Blogger Danby March 05, 2015 10:55 PM  

RM
RMR
RMRev
Click on the "I'm not a robot" box, then on the "Получить ссылку" button. On the next page, click on the HTTP button.

Blogger Danby March 05, 2015 11:06 PM  

Oh and for future reference, the buttons mean as follows
Действия = Deistviya = Action
Описание = Opisanye = Description (links the page you're on)
Файлы = Failyi = files =Download
Скриншоты = Scrinshoti = Screeenshots
Видео = Video

Anonymous Jack Amok March 05, 2015 11:35 PM  

Q: Who was the author of idea in your team?

A: I don’t know. I asked Andrew and he doesn’t recall either.


That rings so true with my experience too. When you have a really good team, an awful lot of the good ideas can't easily be pinned down to one guy when you look back at it later.

Anonymous Peter Garstig March 06, 2015 2:31 AM  

Vox, I wonder, were you ever in contact with John Carmack?

Anonymous Peter Garstig March 06, 2015 2:36 AM  

Ah, catched up on the comments. Forget it.

Blogger Shimshon March 06, 2015 6:01 AM  

I'm not a gamer. I had friends into D&D and I did enjoy and play various early Apple and Atari games. But that was the extent of my interest and involvement.

I had some exposure to the business side of games as a first cousin of the owner of Fasa, and developer of BattleMech, among many other games, when I would occasionally drop in and see what was under development. As a geek, what was most cool to me was the nearly total custom computer design behind the early BattleMech centers. The company invested heavily in the tech from the early 1980s on. The BattleMech centers were incredibly impressive, though short-lived due to the rapidly advancing consumer tech of the early 1980s. Otherwise, the games were not of much interest to me, sadly.

My favorite was the hardware geeks. The control computer (along with the secondary display) was an Amiga 500. But all custom software, including the OS kernel, since they considered Amiga's OS pretty crappy (they liked the hardware). The primary display was controlled by an early TI 34010 custom board (later 34020), absolute state of the art in the mid 1980s. The inspiration was from a stint in the merchant marine where he was exposed to state of the art fighter aircraft simulators in the 1970s. He wanted to bring that tech to the masses as soon as it became barely practicable.

Anonymous NASA March 06, 2015 9:49 AM  

There would be no stars in the background. Your cover is all wrong.
Trust us.

Blogger Shimshon March 07, 2015 12:33 PM  

D'uh. That's BattleTech.

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