By Jason "loonyboi" Bergman
Shortly after Black Crypt shipped, the boys at Raven realized that the Amiga wasn't really a viable platform any longer. When they placed an ad in a local paper for a new PC programmer, they attracted the attention of another developer in the Madison area, id Software. Raffel explained, "they came over to see us, and it was Tom Hall, and John Romero, and John Carmack, and Adrian [Carmack]…the original clan. They liked what they saw of our stuff, and we got to be friends." id had already achieved success with their Commander Keen titles, and were currently working on their first real FPS title, Wolfenstein 3D. "The thing that surprised us right away is how open John Carmack was…we saw Catacombs, the first [game from a first person perspective]. And my brother said, 'jeez, that's the way games are gonna go.' We thought Carmack could point to our programmers how to do that…we were kind of naïve at the time." While Carmack didn't teach the Raven programmers how to do it themselves, he did agree to license a version of the Wolfenstein 3D engine to them for Shadowcaster, their next title. This pre-Doom engine was more advanced than the original Wolfenstein engine, and had some pretty high system requirements for its day: it required a 386. This started a relationship with id that has continued to this day. Raven's current project, Soldier of Fortune uses a highly modified version of the Quake II engine.
"[Shadowcaster] was one of our first of many attempts to blend role-playing and action," Michael Raymond-Judy, one of the game's designers explained. Shadowcaster was to be his first game, as he came on board towards the end of the game's development. How he wound up at Raven is yet another one of those strange "friend-of-a-friend" stories that would appear to be a running theme. "When Brian [Raffel] decided to go full time, he had been teaching at one of the high schools near here. When he retired from teaching, the person who took his job, his wife worked with my wife. They passed along the information that there was actually a game company here in Madison that was looking to hire someone with a role-playing background to make maps, which was just unbelievable. I had just finished my degree in history, which I figured would get me a very high paying job at Burger King." He hopped on board, and finished up the level design on Shadowcaster.
Shadowcaster was also the first title for Raven newcomer Brian Pelletier, who actually turned down a gig at Marvel Comics to join the team (considering their current financial situation, you might call this an excellent decision). Brian had a mutual friend of Brian and Steve Raffel who told them about his work. They were looking to hire artists, as they were expanding, and Pelletier accepted the job. He explained, "Because I had just gotten in with Marvel, I was getting little things, and it was just really slow. And those guys offered me like a real art job full time, paying a lot more than I was making as a manager at a grocery store. So I took the job, thinking, okay, I'll work here for a while until the Marvel gig picks up and I get a lot of work." Obviously Pelletier decided to stay a bit longer than that. He's currently heading up the art team on Star Trek: Voyager, one of Raven's current projects. During Shadowcaster's development, id began work on the game that would change everything: Doom. Since they already had a solid relationship, Raven was asked to be one of the two companies who would work on Doom engine titles (the other one was Rogue, who used it to create Strife). Raven agreed, and Heretic was born.
But while Heretic was in development using id technology, another first person shooter was in the works at Raven Software using their own engine, written by Carl Stika (now at Crystal Dynamics). CyClones, a first person adventure that put the gamer up against a race of Cybernetic Clones (get it?) was made in 11 months. In that time they managed to create an original first person, sprite-based engine, finish the entire game, and get it on the shelves. Pretty fast, don't you think? They would later repeat this feat of speed with Heretic II, although that title used a licensed engine! Looking back on it, Brian Raffel sees it as a learning experience. "Even Spielberg has 1941…considering the time we had, and the budget we had, I think we did a great job. It's hard to beat Carmack…we didn't want to have all of our eggs in one basket, and it was something we wanted to try." Eric Biessman pointed out a few of the innovations in CyClones, "it was the first game to have mouselook, jump, flight and an inventory system. But, it was slow. That's what it came down to."
SSI published CyClones in late '94, but the boys at Raven didn't take any time off…they were already well into development on Heretic, the game that would propel them into the spotlight. Michael Raymond-Judy started work on Heretic just after completing Shadowcaster, and for him, this was a big transition. "It was a major leap in the sense that there weren't as many restrictions. You could very often do things that you shouldn’t do. I still remember quite frequently building these very complicated, convoluted pieces of architecture and as soon as you start it up you realize you've hit the max visible area and it dumps you out."
Heretic has a really bizarre publishing history, as Brian Raffel recalled. "First they did it shareware, it sold about forty or fifty-thousand units. At that time id had been putting out those little demo disks, and people were selling them for about ten dollars a pop, and they didn't care, they just wanted to get the word out, to get the shareware out. Which was a good concept. Well, GT [Interactive] came up with the concept of, 'let's try to sell this. You give us exclusives to these copies, and we'll sell it.' And so they boxed up the shareware version of Heretic and it sold, like, 500,000 units. And then, and this is the only thing I wasn't happy about, they decided to hold Heretic [the retail version] until after Hexen was done and through its sales cycle, and then they republished Heretic."
If that sounds strange, just wait…it gets better. After Hexen was released, the full version of Heretic finally hit the shelves. But it doesn't just stop there. In fact, after Hexen II was released, Heretic was released again, this time under the moniker Heretic: Shadow of the Serpent Riders. This was to be the final, final version of Heretic. I suppose it's no shocker that Raven's next game to arrive after Hexen II would be Heretic II. I guess they just can't help coming back to Heretic.
Credits: Illustration © 1999 Rowan Crawford. This article is © 1999 Jason Bergman. All other content is © 1999 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited, so don't try it...or we'll peck your eyes out.