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volume 1, issue 36

Today in loonygames:

New!! The Archives have been cleaned up, fead links fixed, and printable versions restored! Also, don't miss the new comments on the front page!

Livin' With The Sims: theAntiELVIS explores the wild and wacky world that is Will Wright's The Sims, asking the inevitable quesiton, "is The Sims the first step toward a virtual life where everyone is Swedish?"

Pixel Obscura: Josh Vasquez on Omikron: The Nomad Soul.

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Inside Raven Software:
the definitive history

By Jason "loonyboi" Bergman

While Heretic used the Doom engine, it distinguished itself by adding the ability to fly and using a fantasy theme instead of Doom's "hell on earth" schtick. These features would be greatly expanded upon with the "sequel," Hexen. If Heretic II was the sequel to Heretic…where does Hexen fit into this? You may recall that GT marketed Hexen under the name, "the sequel to Heretic." Raffel explained the name game, "Heretic was successful, but they thought, 'maybe we need another name.' So we had a hell of a time coming up with a name for it. It was 'Apocrypha' for a while…to the marketing people that didn't seem to roll off the tongue."

Hexen just ruled.

Hexen added some remarkable features to the Doom engine: in addition to the ability to fly that was carried over from Heretic (and CyClones before it), Hexen featured scripted sequences, some of which were remarkably elaborate: leaves blew, walls opened before your eyes, and whole rooms moved about. Hexen also debuted a "hub based" level layout. In this structure, levels are "grouped" together, and you can freely walk back and forth between them. This was one of the features Hexen became best known for, but in fact it wasn't even working until late in the game's development. Michael Raymond-Judy explained, "the hubs weren't working until about six weeks before we shipped the product. We had all the maps built, we just didn't have any of the connectivity…you couldn't actually travel back and forth between them."

While work was proceeding on Hexen's development, the second team at Raven started work on what was going to be the sequel to CyClones. Instead of rehashing the CyClones engine (remember, Doom had been released at this point!) they wrote a new engine, again by Carl Stika, this time allowing designers to use slopes, bridges, buildings with multiple floors, and a number of other enhancements. The game outgrew its CyClones roots, and Necrodome was born. But Necrodome was an ambitious concept: it placed the gamer in the driver's seat of a battle machine, where they could control both the movement of the vehicle, and the turret as well. Like Battlezone after it, when your ship was destroyed, you could continue on foot. But despite this, the game wasn't quite what the designers had hoped it would be. Brian Raffel explained, "I think the concept was really good. But there were some things that weren't executed the way I wanted them done, and ultimately, technology was the problem."

Necrodome was also supposed to be Raven's initial foray into the world of console games. Raven hired a PlayStation programmer (John Scott) for this very purpose. Scott, an experienced console code monkey tried his best and even managed to squeeze a demo out of the code (PC conversions to the PlayStation platform can be a major problem…in many cases engines are completely rewritten from scratch). Unfortunately all that work would ultimately go unused. Undaunted, Scott is still with the company. He worked on Heretic II, and is currently hard at work on Soldier of Fortune.

With Necrodome and Hexen out the door, Raven decided it was time to expand yet again. Work began on not one, not two, but three simultaneous games: Take No Prisoners (TNP), for Broderbund subsidiary Red Orb, Mageslayer for GT Interactive, and the inevitable Hexen II for Activision. While Hexen II logically used id's next first person engine (Quake 1 at this time) Raven decided to try creating another original engine. The engine was the Vampire Engine, and it was used in both TNP and Mageslayer. The engine was remarkably versatile: it allowed for both the directly top-down view of Mageslayer (a sort of Gauntlet clone) and the three-quarter view used by Take No Prisoners.


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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.