Welcome back to ‘War Stories’, an ongoing video series where we let game designers talk about development challenges that: almost– but not quite – their games derailed. In this edition, we focus on a genre that is particularly close to my dead, black Gen-X heart: the adventure game.
And not just any adventure game – we were lucky enough to sit down with Louis Castle, co-founder of legendary game developer Westwood Studios. Castle’s hands were on some of the most famous titles of the 1990s, including: Dune IIthe Legend of Kyrandia series, and, most famously, the Command & Conquer franchisee. But as great as those games are — and however many hours I spent in the forests of Kyrandia as a teenager — none of them mean as much to me as Westwood’s 1997 cinematic adventure game, Blade Runner†
You know the score buddy
Adventure games were one of the two genres of real computer games (and the other was the arcade-style shooter), and as a kid of the ’80s, adventure games were what got me into gaming. The genre peaked in the early to mid-1990s, with some of the best-remembered LucasArts and Sierra titles making their appearance there. But by the end of the decade, the wheels had come off, and it was clear that the genre had been overshadowed by the rise of the first-person shooter.
With the economic realities of the mid-90s adventure game market becoming apparent, Castle’s pitch is to create an adventure game set in the Blade Runner universe that would look and feel almost indistinguishable from the movie itself might have seemed a little barmy. Worse, for the game to justify the amount of time and money it takes to reach that level of fidelity, the title wouldn’t just have to sell well – it’d have to become one of the best-selling adventure games of all time (a hard thing to do). to do if your target genre is clearly past its prime).
Turning the Turtle
Castle’s team faced a significant number of challenges in bringing the cinematic world of Blade Runner come to life using the technologies of the day, most of which came from inventing whole fabric, a way to seamlessly combine their pre-rendered world with animated voxel characters (it turned out to be much more complicated than just pasting a sprite for the background). Addressing this problem has created an intertwined tapestry of difficult-to-solve problems, very few of which are faced by modern developers who can choose from out-of-the-box game engines to license and use. to use.
Luckily for all of us, Westwood held up to the challenge, even though completing the game required more money than originally planned. The company built a title that isn’t just a tribute or reflection of the original Blade Runner— it’s a legitimate addition to the film, fleshing out the world in complementary ways and answering some key questions about the fictional 2019 described in the film. While somewhat difficult to play on modern PCs and suffering from an unfortunate lack of legitimate buying options, it remains a game worth finding and playing – the branching story allows for a high degree of replayability ( something absent from many adventure games), and it still looks damn good.
And that budget goal of being the best-selling adventure game yet to make a profit? Blade Runner that also succeeded.
I will tell you about my mother
This isn’t the only thing we got to film with Castle – he was also kind enough to spend a few extra hours with us talking about Command & Conquer, which had its own surprising number of challenges (like figuring out how to do hundreds of units of pathfinding on a machine with minimal specs). Castle was happy to go pretty deep into the weeds about the technical issues we were dealing with, and we were happy to let him in. Stay tuned for that video in a week or two!