By Jason "loonyboi" Bergman
But even more things were going on in the background, as Brian Raffel explained. "During that time period, we did Hexen II, Take No Prisoners, Mageslayer, built an engine, we were aquired by Activision, I had a baby during that time. It was crazy. And plus, when we were merging with Activision I was flying around talking to other companies." Bear in mind that Raffel was also making half the levels on Hexen II during this time while trying to run the company! With this in mind, it makes sense that they decided to merge with Activision. "It was mine and my brother's idea." Raffel explained, "We do run this as a business. Hexen II was a big one. We were looking at how many people it was taking to develop it, and we only had so much cash. Look at Dark Forces, which beat us out for the Codie with Hexen. They had twenty guys in there. It sort of felt like six guys competing against the world. We had a unique situation with id and we really wanted to take advantage of that, but we needed more resources. And I was sick and tired of playing the game of, 'where's the check.' I had to put large amounts [of money] on my credit card. If that had fallen through, I would have gone bankrupt! We recognized that if we wanted to really make the games we wanted to do and survive, we wanted to be part of a bigger family." Raven had fielded other offers before, but they felt that the time was finally right. They hired an investment banker to look into their options, and in the end they signed with Activision. "They were the one company who wanted to keep us the same size. They had a unique opportunity because they were publishing id to continue to do that. They really had a good idea of where they were going. So we had three games coming together at once, a merger happening, and trying to get games out the door. It was like gas in a fire," Raffel remembers. "We lost some people, we had one group break off." Those people would form Human Head, currently working on Rune for the Gathering of Developers.
Hexen II had some non-technological problems as well. "We misinterpreted what we thought people wanted. We thought people wanted more, deeper puzzles. We had the hub system, which most people seemed to like from Hexen, although now we hear later that people hated it. Another thing that happened that was bad, is we were about to go final on the project, and we realized that some of our levels were still too slow on a base machine, so we had to cut them--split them apart. This was like a week before we went final. What it made was more popping around, which made it worse."
Rick Johnson, perhaps because of some masochistic thrill found this period to be well…fun. "The last month of production, even though it was killer time here, and I slept on the floor on a little green rag because I didn't have a pillow here, it was still the best time. We'd go out back and play Laser Tag at three or four in the morning."
While they were adapting to the technology behind Hexen II, Michael Raymond-Judy was busy working on Take no Prisoners. TNP had some similarities to his previous project, Hexen, although he expanded on the hub system greatly. "There were restrictions on where you could get," he explained, "but basically what we tried to do was build a whole city. Any place that you could physically gain access to, it would let you get there. Now you might have to solve a puzzle to get access to that level, but once you'd been to a certain level you could go back. We had a subway system and a sewer system, and between those two connection levels you could go anywhere you wanted."
Unfortunately, Take No Prisoners suffered from the chaos at Raven. "I think it was a very good game design," Michael Raymond-Judy explained. "I think it was implemented as best we could, but the technology was not up to what it could have been. Again it was one of those efforts where we were working with new technology developed in-house, and new tools that had to be developed concurrently with the game. And as usual, the promises and expectations of what technology would be able to do were continuously being narrowed. I felt like the game had so much more to it than what you saw, because we couldn't show a lot of the stuff."
And then there was the viewpoint itself: Take No Prisoners was a top-down game. "I actually enjoyed the top-down view. I know that there were limitations to it…we got a similar reaction when we told people we were doing Heretic II as a third person [game]. There's just an instinctive gut-reaction on the part of the FPS players…they hear something other than first person, and they say no, and nothing you say or do is going to convince them differently." Ultimately, he thinks it all boils down to one thing, "we wanted to do something different…I think it would have been better if we had six more months to polish the technology."
The underlying technology for both Take No Prisoners and Mageslayer was the Vampire engine. The core engine was authored by Chris Rhineheart (now at Human Head) and some of the other major portions were by James Monroe. James came to Raven by way of Rogue, where he was lead programmer on their Doom engine title, Strife. As it turns out, both jobs were the result of a certain friend of his. "I'm friends with John Romero…I went to high school with him. So I was always asking him [for a job]. So one day he calls me, and says, 'hey, you want a job at Rogue?' Sounded awesome to me, so I said, 'okay, sure!' So I did that, and worked for a year and a half on Strife. We got that product shipped, and when I was done, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do next. At that time Rogue wasn't sure where they were going to go. I was asking around for what to do next, and Romero said [to Raven] 'sure, hire him.' And that was the extent of my interview, pretty much." There you have it…if you want to get into the gaming industry, be friends with geeks in high school. One of them may turn out to be the next John Romero.
James came on board Raven, and started work on Mageslayer, Raven's top-down Gauntlet clone. "I wrote the memory management system and the whole scripting interpreter…the basics for the compiler [were taken from] what they used in Hexen. Ben Gokey had written that, he had extended it a little bit for me, and I wrote the interpreter in Mageslayer. And I wrote all the scripting stuff to get that in there. I wrote a few other things…tools, [3D Studio] Max converter…we did all our maps in Max. I wrote a map exporter, and a texture converter for Max. A lot of that is what spawned, Spectre, me using 3D Studio Max."
Who? Oh yeah…Spectre. After the release of Hexen II, Take No Prisoners and Magelsayer, Raven suddenly went very quiet for a long stretch of time before the announcement that work had begun on Heretic II. So what was Raven doing during this time?
Why working on their own 3D engine, of course.
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.